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Peace Out Chiang Mai and Rai, Good Afternoon Lao.

THAILAND | Tuesday, 7 May 2013 | Views [941]

From Ban Krut to Chiang Mai the train takes all of 24hrs or so. Moving across most of Thailand north to south the landscape changes from lush flat rice paddy fields to mountainous jungle and small valleys. 

Arrival, Chiang Mai, the former royal capital of the Lana Kingdom. Transferred to the Thai Kingdom in 1932, the Lana people still hold on to their regional pride. We check into a cheap backpacker place and give Chiang Mai a good look around. It's ok. Not entirely sure why it's the number one destination on Tripadvisor. Lots of wats around town. But of course, we've seen a lot of wats already. Food is ok, though nothing we hadn't had before or better (see Vietnam, Ban Krut or Lao). After a few days we decide to kick out of Chiang Mai and head to Chiang Rai, or more specifically, the Bamboo Nest.
The Bamboo Nest is a guesthouse located 24km from Chiang Rai up in the mountains of Lam Nam Kok National Park area and about another 24km from the Burmese boarder. This place is perfect. Wonderfully kept off the grid, no wifi, iffy power from 6pm to 8pm, run by a lovely Thai couple Nok and Noi and surrounded by rice paddies and bamboo forest. We've found it. It's like the perfectness of the "Beach" but in the mountains. Nok cooks us up lovely Thai dishes and the occasional western comfort food and travels into town to pick up supplies. Noi directs construction on a new kitchen and eating area (the last hand been damaged in a storm). Their son Fluke helps set up for meals and does so with such humbleness, it might make a monk jealous. Noi loves dogs and has adopted three so far. We named one Scruffers because he's, well, a hilariously scruffy guy. One ear up, the other ear flopped down with off white Einstein hair, and a personality to match, the dog is hilarious. The others, Lady and Alpha, although lacking the hilarity of Scruffers, are still great dogs. Beyond the great family running the place, there's a nice hike to a waterfall, lychee orchards, pineapple fields, over 10 varietals of bananas and so many birds. Jill even learned how to weave the traditional style without a standing loom, known as back-strap loom; she now has a scarf she made herself with nothing more than some carved sticks and some thread. Pretty awesome.
After Bamboo Nest we decide to skip the main Chiang Rai town and head straight for the border! Back to Lao we go via the boat crossing over the Mekong in Houayxai, Lao. Located in the Golden Triangle, this area was used for hundreds of years as an poppy seed (i.e. opium producing) growing region by the H'Mong tribal peoples, and then durring the French occupation, by several H'Mong opium lords. During the French occupation of Indochina it was even "endorsed" and heavily taxed. When the French were kicked out of Vietnam and Lao by the North Vietnamese and Pathat Lao, the USA moved in to fill the colonial void. The US's supposed non-interference policy in Lao, as Lao was technically a neutral country during the American War, made it so the US couldn't have standing troops in Lao. Instead, the US sent CIA operatives and equipment to the region to train local H'Mong peoples in Lao to fight the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao. Coming back to the Golden Triangle, the Royal Lao Government, H'Mong opium lords and the CIA used the opium trade to fund the secret war going on in Lao. The world was supplied opium to make heroin throughout the American War by American cargo planes bussing opium to factories in Thailand and Burma. Now how's that for some hypocrisy. Anyways, the Golden Triangle doesn't grow poppies anymore, or at least in any substantive way as narcotic trade has moved toward meth labs and away from poppy fields. 
Houayxai is now a bustling trade port and a gateway for travelers from Thailand into Lao. From Houayxai we caught the evening bus to Luang Prabang. Now here I am typing this post in our room only four hours since we got into Luang Prabang. It feels good to be back in Lao. Good people, good food, great atmosphere. 

Tags: bamboo nest, bus, chiang mai, chiang rai, golden triangle, houayxai, laos, luang prabang, thailand, wat

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