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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

24 November 2018

Mountain coffee, valley tea

Stupa

Stupa

17 November 2018

We explored Chiang Saen some more this morning, and although it can’t boast anywhere near the scale of ruins as Sukhothai or Ayutthaya, it’s still evocative to poke around for an hour or two. And it was fun to juxtapose a wander around an old ruined Wat of crumbling red bricks with plants growing all over the walls, with a wander around a living Wat with insane gaudy gold-painted statues of nagas and garudas and smug lizard creatures, and rows of placid buddhas gleaming golden in the sun. There’s no bling like Thai temple bling.

After this we drove to the northernmost tip of Thailand, to climb into the mountains along the road that follows the Burmese border. This road climbs up a snaking ridge and you really can often gaze to the left of the road over an enormous vista of northern Thailand, and then gaze right of the road over a huge sweep of Burmese valleys.

In the mountains

In the mountains

In a village perched among the peaks we found a perfectly modern little cafe that made a good cappucino. So that was odd. Further up the mountain we found coffee bushes growing in the shade of towering pine trees. Further up still we found the highest village where the roastery that turns the fruit on the bushes into black gold was. This was clearly a tour minibus destination, so I’m glad we had our coffee earlier.

Full of amazing mountain vistas, we headed back down and rather rudely gave the dowager princess’ botanical gardens a miss. We picked a minor and more circuitous route back down, which took in a few local villages as well as a few hair-raising moments (to be honest, only hair-raising because I had absolutely no faith in this useless car’s ability to get up even the slightest hill if the road surface wasn’t dry tarmac). We passed one motorbike in almost an hour’s driving.

Mountain coffee

Mountain coffee

Back down in more amiable hill country we stopped at a local market to nose around, and to eat a chocolate filled crepe that unaccountably left a layer of gritty chocolate plastered to the roof of our mouths than no amount of licking or drinking water would shift.

Then we found the tea plantation. And I may have thought the mountain coffee roastery was popular with tours, but I clearly knew nothing about how popular a place could actually be. I’m not sure there’s anything to actually do here, apart from admire the neat ranks of camelia sinensis on the hillsides and have something tea-based to drink at the cafe. The drinks were great, though. Maureen’s lychee oolong was almost like drinking a delicate sweet wine, like a Beaumes de Venise or something.

Monks in the tea

Monks in the tea

We left the tour buses behind and made our way back to Chiang Rai, to ditch the car back at the airport and find our hotel in town (Sleepy House, with kittens on the pillows, awww). We had one last treat: it was Saturday, and on Saturday there’s a walking market in the middle of Chiang Rai. Something like a kilometer of street entirely thronged with vendors selling, well, pretty much everything from tourist souvenirs to knock-off Lego products and miracle vegetable peelers. There are also, of course, an awful lot of street food stalls. In fact it’s just amazing how many there are. We stuffed ourselves happily. The skewer of chicken hearts was one of my favourites.


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