We were up bright and early to make our journey to Chiang Rai which was about 4 hours. With Contiki you're never stuck on a bus for too long and they make frequent stops. We stopped off at the amusing Condoms and Cabbages restaurant. As funny as the name is, it actually does a lot for the Thai Community. Condoms and Cabbages is a Population and Community Development Association's (PDA) public-benefit restaurant. Founded in 1974 it set to educate both urban and rural Thai people on family planning. They set out to train respected members of the community to distribute and provide avoidable contraceptives directly to their communities. They are also heavily involved in the prevention of HIV/AIDS throughout Thailand. Proceeds from the restaurants go directly back into the Thai community.
After stocking up on snacks and novelty key chains from Condoms and Cabbages for my friends, it was back on the bus for a Temple that wasn't on the itinerary. The White Temple or Wat Rong Khun is spectacular. It's definitely up there along with the Grand Palace as my favourite Temple. It's just picture perfect. It's magnificent and if you're in Northern Thailand I can't recommend it enough. What makes this Temple different is that it's a contemporary, unconventional, privately owned, art exhibition in the style of a Buddhist Temple. It's owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat who designed and contructed it opening it up to the public in 1997, and to this day there is still no entrance fee. Last May it was damaged by an earthquake, but none of the buildings were structurally damaged. Having first thought that the buildings structures were unsafe, Kositpipat was going to demolish the entire Temple and not rebuild it - so luckily for us Tourists it's still going strong. Although it's not a conventional Temple it's still a place of worship and you have to dress appropriately. They have skirts free of charge at the entrance for those wearing shorter shorts!
After we checked into the Hotel we had some free time to get a bite to eat. We all decided to meet in the lobby for a family meal after we all got settled in. Ignoring the "Divide and Conquer Rule" (where you all split up to eat in different places so it doesn't take too long) we all went to a typical Thai restaurant. I ordered Chicken in Cashew nuts, as clearly I hadn't had enough of it the previous night! It was delicious and I had no trouble wolfing it down as we were on a very tight schedule. With minutes to spare to catch our bus, we all ran in to the only department store in Chiang Rai to buy some presents for the children of the Hill Tribes. A few euro's is nothing to us, but the kids were thrilled when we pulled up with toys and colouring books! One word of advice however is to keep some of your gifts until near the end to make sure everyone one gets something. We had to frantically find someone in the group with gifts left as one little girl didn't get anything and we couldn't break her heart. All of the group partook in this optional extra and it was a great insight into Thai culture and great to enjoy it with everyone. We saw five different Hill Tribes, including the Long Neck (Padaung) which were by far the most interesting. And as you can see in the photo's the girls wear neck rings from a very young age. We spent a few hours at the Hill Tribes and I bought a few souvenirs, I'd much rather buy off the Hill tribes, than the markets!
After the Hill Tribes we went back to the Hotel for a quick shower before going out to explore Chiang Rai's Night Bazaar and to get a "Shit Shirt" and some cheap food for dinner. We got some Pad Thai for something like €4 and it was good, not as good as the previous night but saying that I didn't leave much on my plate. We also picked up some Pork Skewers for €1 each and man they were good! In terms of dodgy stomachs I'd just err on the side of caution. If something looks funny don't eat it and when in doubt opt for vegetarian. After dinner our search was on to buy the Shittest Shirt in Chiang Rai! All the shirts were pretty awful and we all had a great laugh, at each other's expense of course. We pretty much took over the small bar and danced (I remember "Shake It off" distinctly!) and drank copious amounts of Cocktails as they were dirt cheap. We all took over as DJ for the night and blasted all the music we wanted to hear. I wasn't allowed, as my taste in music is definitely shitter than the shittest shirt.The bar was in stumbling distance to the hotel which was great after all the cheap cocktails! I wasn't too crazy and I don't do well in the morning and if you add a hangover to the mix it's a disaster!
After retiring to bed at a not too unreasonable hour it was up bright and early to say goodbye to Thailand and Hello to Laos, our destination for the next 6 days.