Near the border between Thailand, Laos and Myanmar or what's known today as the Golden Triangle (originally it was referred to designate a broader area where opium was produced) is the Hall of Opium, a multimedia exhibition established by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation just one kilometre north of Sop Ruak.
The museum, an initiative of the kingdom of Thailand, gives account of the fascinating history of opium and development of the trade in Asia in the XVIII century and after and revisit the causes of the 2 Opium Wars (the Western powers against China) and their consequences.
It also includes informative displays on the effects of abuse on individuals and society.
The visit is quite interesting and worth investigating.
The exhibition is well balanced and highly recommendable.
Photo: Opium poppy, by SuperFantastic, http://flickr.com/photos/superfantastic/68321333/
We met Rico during one of our usual stops at PTT tank stations (they have good coffee shops -Amazon Café- and convenient 7-eleven stores to refill our water and snacks supplies).
To be exact, we didn't meet Rico but his unusual baggage. A low wheeled cart with a hard suitcase attached and topped with a solar panel.
The curious cart was parked next to our car. We studied it for some minutes and then went to grab some food at 7-eleven.
We were somewhere between
It was almost noon, we were somewhere between Chiang Khan and the central plain and we were hungry.
We walked out of the shop with our food when we saw him. A tall young man eating an ice cream (it was nearly 36 C.
He was Rico and we can chat briefly.
Rico is a German young man who has been walking for two years. Yes you read well, 2 years and he's planning to walk another 3 before getting home.
In these 2 years he has walked from his native Germany to this spot in the middle of Thailand where we met. Most of the times he camps on the roadsides or if the conditions are bad he sleeps at hospitable people's homes or monasteries.
He told us that he only flew once to avoid walking in Afghanistan.
And also that the Iranian people are the most hospitable.
He crossed deserts at unbelievable temperatures, ancient rivers incredible wide, rainforests and mountain ranges all on foot.
Tropical depression Sonca also hit him as he walked in Thailand (as it hit us as well ) and he looked for shelter in a Buddhist monastery.
We were not told the powerful reason or the motivation that keeps Rico walking but we found he's admirable.
He plans to walk Australia east coast and also across Canada and USA before ending the walk back in Germany.
This is his website if you want to know more about him and support his long "long walk": www.ricoslongwalk.de or Facebook group: rico's long walk
- Being on the road always gets you to find weird things and surprising people.
Another long day driving to the northernmost point of Thailand.
We will stay in Chian Saen tonight.
From Phayao we drove our way to Chiang Rai, where we stopped briefly to visit the center and specially Wat Phra Kaew.
We also made a short stop to have a look at the modern White Temple – Wat Rong Kuhn (1997), that could have been the perfect scenario for the wedding of Disney's princess Li Shang from Mulan.
After Chiang Rai, we decided to take the long road to Chiang Saen along the Laotian border to the north, taking a combination of the roads 1020, 1055 and 1093 (a suggestion from Lonely Planet Thailand travel guide – check "The long road to Phayao", we followed it northbound from Chiang Rai.
It was a unique experience indeed but we wouldn't do it again.
At least not in one day and certainly not in the rainy season though it has nothing to do with the rain.
I will explain myself.
The trip is long and tiring and stressful. Mountain roads with great views and dramatic scenery. Some parts in very good condition, some parts not. You can find big holes, and sections where one lane or part of one lane has been affected by the rains and collapsed. Google maps also took us through smart shortcuts that were small abandoned roads downhill or uphill. That was the most stressful part.
We also found out that some of the most recommended viewpoints were not reachable or that once there climbing up to the viewpoint and back would taken too long. And we definitely didn't want to drive those roads at dark.
Therefore, we both agreed that it would be ok to do it in two days and during the dry season when the roads are repaired.
- Travel guides suggestions are not always the best thing
- Do not trust completely in Google Maps or similar
- We are very brave drivers
The drive between Chiang Khai and Sukhothai (almost 350 km) was long but interesting, going from the riverside village through the mountains and into the plain.
We stopped a couple of times, once to have breakfast and then visit Loei and Phu Rua national park. At the park the weather was not good but at the peak the light was interesting to take some shots of the landscape.
Phu Rua is a small park, with a couple of waterfalls that you can also visit.
The world, walking:
At lunch time we stopped for a break and grabbed some food at 7-Eleven.
It caught our attention a suitcase attached to a sort of cart and topped with a solar panel parked next to us.
It was Rico's. Rico is a German young man who has been walking for two years, from his native Germany to this place in the middle of Thailand where we met. He only flew once, he told us, to avoid Afghanistan.
A nice story I will try to describe it in a separate post.
In the meanwhile, this is his website if you want to know more about his motivation and support this long long walk: www.ricoslongwalk.de and on Facebook: rico's long walk
- Roads in Thailand can hide many surprises
We spent this day in Chiang Khan and its surroundings enjoying fantastic views over the Mekong and mountains of Laos on the other side of the river.
We found a complete list of activities to do "in and around" Chiang Khan in an article published by Travelfish.
The views from Phra Yai were stunning. The picture featured in this article is one we took from there.
Then we drove through the rural roads to Phu Tok. These more than 20 km can be a heavy task if it is raining hard but is more local and interesting than the main road along the Mekong.
In the afternoon we head to Khaeng Kut Ku to have a drink and a boat trip in the Mekong.
- Local roads can be a little more difficult but far more rewarding. In our experience small roads are quite ok in a 90 per cent of the cases. If it rains you need to be alert.
We left Nong Khai and took the route 211 in direction to Chiang Khan in the west. The idea was driving the 190 km along the Mekong visiting some villages and temples on the way.
The morning was rainy as the tropical depression was affecting the area besides the usual monsoon season.
As you travel west, the landscape turns more hilly and rural.
We stopped in Si Chiangmai and Wat Hin Mak Peng with nice views over the Mekong. Then visited the waterfalls at Than Thip, Bang Muang and Pak Chom.
We arrived in Chiang Khan when it was dark. Then by some reason all our systems went offline at the same time. No wifi, no gps, no mobiles. We thought that there will be no way that we could find our hotel being all the signs in Thai and without a GPS. Then we stopped at a local small shop in a corner. Even though the people there spoke nearly no English they understood our situation and called to our guesthouse to explain exactly where we were. Our hosts picked us up some 15 minutes later (by the way our hosts didn’t speak much English either).
Tip of today
- Locals can be very friendly and helpful if you are friendly too 😊
We followed the route 212 to the east to visit the Navel of the Mekong river in Ban Ahong and then to Wat Phu Tok.
From Nong Khian route 212 is a wide and well kept road that goes smooth until Pak Khat. Then it turns into a narrow road but no difficult at all.
From Ban Ahong to Wat Phu Tok we took the route 222 to go and the 2013 to drive back and we found no trouble.
The visit was very rewarding, specially the impressive Phu Tok and its whole system of wooden bridges, stairs and walkways to the top.