A town near the border with Burma, Thaton is about a four-hour bus ride north of Chiang Mai. It’s a beautiful, quiet, laid back valley town with the Maekok river running through its center and surrounded on all sides by picturesque hills and mountains.
The heart of Thaton is Wat Thaton, a Buddhist temple a located a short hike up the hillside.
The temple had lots of statues, including a tremendous Buddha that’s visible over the trees from miles away.
After exploring the temple area, we took the rest of the afternoon to wander through side streets and scenic neighborhoods.
Our accommodations were a small riverside bungalow at a place called Apple Resort, which proved to be a nice place to watch the sunset.
The journey from Thaton to Chiang Rai
Connected by the Maekok river, Chiang Rai can be reached from Thaton with a three-hour longboat ride. The scenery was incredible.
On the way we saw water buffalo, small cows, villagers and fisherman. We waved at most of them.
Chiang Rai is actually slightly older than Chiang Mai, which itself is almost 800 years old. There’s a lot of gold decorating the town, and the atmosphere is like a smaller Chiang Mai. We were lucky to be in town for the ASEAN Flower Festival, which we didn’t realize until we arrived. We just have all the luck.
After our songthaew dropped us of at the Chiang Mai clock tower, we wandered around a while and found a guesthouse nearby. We settled in, then headed back out to make the most of our 24 hours in Chiang Rai. We walked through the night market and came to the Wat Mung Muang temple around sunset, which made for a great photo op.
Walking back through the night market, we found a street food stall selling chicken with sweet Thai chili sauce, which was thoroughly enjoyable. We also happened upon an incredibly friendly Thai family, who graciously let us sit with them when there weren’t enough tables to go around. We shared our drinks, and they shared their som tum (a sweet-spicy shredded green papaya salad). They asked if we wanted to go dance, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It seemed as though we had accidentally crashed a huge Thai wedding, and we felt like the guests of honor.
The following morning, we took a local bus out to Wat Rong Khun, better known as “The White Temple.” It’s located about 12 km from the city center, and was definitely the most touristy, strange, and modern-looking of all the temples we’ve seen in Thailand.
Since the White Temple was more crowded than we’d anticipated, we didn’t stick around too long. Instead, we headed back into the city to take a look at Wat Phra Kaew, an older and more traditional temple with a longer history. Housed in this temple was an incredible Jade buddha inside of a really interesting jade-tiled room whose green glow gave it a science fiction feel.
After Wat Phra Kaew, we spent our last hour visiting the ASEAN Flower Festival, an installation of thousands of flowers including lilies, tulips, begonias and roses, among others.
That evening we took a bus back to our Chiang Mai home base, and for New Year’s Eve we’re going to see the ladyboy cabaret. Should make for a fabulous evening!