Friday 9th November 2012
30.10.2012 - 26.11.2012 30 °C
As we weren't driving so far today we didn't have to meet Charlie until 9am. First we drive to the white temple which is still being built. It is the brain child of Thailand's most famous contemporary artist (I am ashamed to say I can't remember his name). He bought the land and started working on it 25 years ago it will be finally finished in 2070. He has already got young people trained up to continue his work after his death. It is quite extraordinary. Not sure whether it is ghastly or beautiful - it glistens in the sunlight and is actually made up of tiny mosaic of mirror tiles on a whitewashed surface. The gallery in the grounds showed some of his paintings. There was a striking one of George Bush and Osama Bin Ladin seated on rockets going up into the sky!
We then had a quick trip to the food market. The variety of fresh fruit and vegetables was quite astonishing. All sorts of roots and pods and green leaves we had never seen before, live turtles and various fish in large bowls and even live quail in tiny little wicker baskets. Charlie picked up some things including mangosteen as I said I had never tried one for our lunch as he is cooking for us today.
Next we visit the Buddha cave where the locals hid rockets from the Japanese during the Second World War. After this we drive for about an hour into the hills, occasionally catching glimpses of the river and at one point we stop and walk through jungle for a while eventually arriving at a lovely waterfall with plunge pool. we then drive on for a few more miles past an elephant camp and more remote villages. Eventually we come to a stop and we see the bamboo raft we are going to drift down the river on. Two men who Charlie tells us are from the Karen tribe prepare the boat for us, laying out a carpet and cushions for us to sit on. Charlie gets out from the back of the car the food and an odd collection of pots and pans. Everything is finally on board and the men cast off, guiding the boat down the river easily negotiating currents and rapids. The river after the summer rains is flowing fast and high but the bamboo raft stays very stable. This turned out to be the most magical, relaxing and fabulous afternoon. Amazingly Charlie cooked us a delicious meal using a few twigs in a bucket with a few bricks to hold them in place. Firstly he lay some whole Chinese leaves onto a steamer, then he placed coriander, lemon grass, ginger and lime and finally a whole fish on top then placed a lid on top. He then started chopping lots of vegetables and finally some pork. His mother in law had prepared the rice and a hot sauce. When the fish was cooked he used a metal pan to stir fry the veg and meat over the bucket. The food was all delicious. The peace and quiet was only occasionally disturbed when a long boat drove past. After a couple of hours we moored and went to visit another hill tribe - the Lahu tribe. This time the villagers did not seem to take as much care of their surroundings and there was quite a lot of discarded plastic and litter around. The main crop was wild rice and they were busy harvesting it and drying it out in the sun. I also walked along a suspension bridge that spanned the river. It seemed very unstable but we had seen scooters driving over it so I knew it was ok but Tony didn't risk it. We then drifted for another hour before visiting some hot springs. Tony wasn't terribly keen but I got in so he followed suit. The mineral waters made us both feel good and the cold shower afterwards cooled us off. The water came out of the ground boiling and had to be cooled down with cold water. Even so it felt pretty hot. The last part of the river cruise went all too quickly and before we knew it we could see our driver waiting for us to disembark. The drive back to Chiang Rai took about three quarters of an hour.
We had a rest for a while in the hotel and then went for a coffee (and free wifi) and a massage before going to a restaurant Charlie had recommended slightly out of town but overlooking the river. We had a really nice meal and a long chat with the owner who used to work on the Princess cruise liners. He knew Southampton, Liverpool and Glasgow well but he said it was very hard living away from home for ten months at a time without eating any Thai food and having to cope with our weather. However he did enjoy the Caribbean!
Got back to hotel to find wifi working in our room!