Northern Thailand – Opium trade, fast WiFi, and long neck tribe refugees from Burma

The North of Thailand with its lush green forests, high mountains, fresh air and lower temperatures is a nice break from the heat and smog of Bangkok. The last time I was here the journey north stopped at the river Kwai, but this time I went all the way to the borders between Laos, Burma, and Thailand. I chose to base myself in Chiang Mai, the digital nomad capital of Thailand. I heard so much about it when I lived in Ubud so I was happy to finally arrive. My first stop was the Nimman area and I immediately felt at home. Live music, nice bars, and restaurants, a nice art marked, massages and free fast WiFi everywhere. It seems that every coffee-shop, and there are many, has specialized in catering for the Nomads. Several coworking spaces where you pay a daily, weekly or monthly membership is also available everywhere. However, if you are here to work, there is no need to pay to get access. The nomads are working from the many coffee shops that give you free access to the internet, air-condition and themed inspirational interior environments for the price of a cup of coffee. One of the many rewards of staying in Chiang Mai is cheap and reliable internet access. You can also buy a free data plan per month for 600 bath and be online wherever all the time. If you want to socialize or attend a meetup there are numerous free groups you can join, like Digital Nomads Chiang Mai, TEDx Chiang Mai or Chiang Mai events on Facebook.

If you like hiking, this is close to beautiful mountain trails and jungle treks to help you with your wanderlust. The beautiful Lake is a great place to wander as well and the surrounding area has got trails for both bikes and walking going high up into the mountains. Remember to bring enough water and good shoes as the hills are steep and uneven. The rewarding view at the top is always worth the trip. From the university, you can follow a trail to the top of the mountain Doi Suthep, or get on one of the shared red taxi trucks, called Songthaew to go to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep on top of the mountains overlooking the city. Halfway up there is also an ancient temple called Wat Umong is worth a visit. The Songthaew is shared taxi trucks. You just wave at them and tell them where you want to go and pay between 20 and 40 bath within the Chiang Mai town area. Different trucks are going different places, and if you meet one with no customers he takes you wherever you want to go. A great way to get around wherever you want to go for a low price.

Accommodation is the cheapest I found in Asia all together and the quality of both hotels and rooms for rent is great value for money. The price and quality of food are also amazing in Chiang Mai. I tested everything from street vendors to fancy upscale restaurants. Happy hour is everywhere in the afternoons if you fancy a beer or cocktails after a day of wandering the sights.

The Thai tradition with monks in monastery’s and temples is something you will encounter a lot in the old city of Chiang Mai. The 1,8 * 2 km squared city within mots and walls dating back 700 years, is home to about 100 Temples. In Wat Chedi Luang you can talk to the monks. They are attending a program where they learn about other cultures and get to practice their English with us, the travelers visiting. They are really open about their religion and reasons for being a monk. This sacred place is worth a visit if only to take in the architecture of the buildings. A beautiful combination of temples from different eras of time. Then the best way to see the old city is to get lost between the walls and experience the beautiful temples, green gardens, and back alleys. There are numerous boutique hotels as well as hostels within the walls and the Sunday night marked is along the main street Rachadamnoen Rd, selling souvenirs and offering massages in the streets. Stop by the Wat Si Koet temple to have your fortune told. During the day, you should try the woman’s correctional institution`s offer for massages. It is located on the corner of Ratvithi Rd and

During the day, you should try the woman’s correctional institution`s offer for massages. It is located on the corner of Ratvithi Rd and Jhaban Rd in the old city. Tell the friendly prison warden what kind of massage you need and you are on the inside with the inmates before you know it. This was the best massage I ever got so far in my life. You also support the woman in getting an education they can make a living from by supporting this great initiative. The 3D museum was also a fun couple of hours taking photos in Indiana Jones settings, on the bottom of the sea, sharing a coca cola with a polar bear or a selfie with angel or devil wings. The zoo was also a great place if you got the wanderlust. It is like a mountain of animals and you can walk up and down hills, between the compounds, to see the animals. I went to see the Panda bears and they were really worth the tour. I also loved the flamingos and the lions playing on their own little mountain top. If you think walking around the mountain Zoo is too much in the heat, you can drive by car or use the Zoo`s bus.

For the everyday night bazaar, you need to exit the old city to the east and continue towards Loi Kroh road to Chang Klan road where the marked stall is being constructed at around 18:00 every night. Go bargain hunting and taste hawker food before entering a bar for happy hour drinks.

To the north of Chiang Mai there are several elephant sanctuaries. I spend a day in one of them, playing, feeding, bathing and scrubbing elephants. One person was allowed to ride on the elephant’s neck. We learned that the elephants don’t have a strong back like a horse and should not have a chair strapped to their back. I have done this several times before in other countries, but it is an amazing experience every time.

Further north you find Chiang Rai and the new white temple, Wat Rong Khun. A tourist magnet built by a rich Thai artist. There will be 7 buildings when it is finished. It is still under construction, has a wishing well, the artist’s paintings are for sale in the store and there are numerous surprises throughout the grounds of things you would not expect to find at a temple. These surprises include movie heroes and antihero’s heads hanging from trees, a giant golden restroom with funny sculptures representing the sexes and Christmas trees made from silver hearts the visitors buy and hang on designated areas. When you enter the Temple, you first have to go through hell, to get to heaven (the temple) The artist and architect of this project have got a sense of humor.

The Kayan people, a subgroup of the Red Karen people from Burma, with their traditional long neck women, was a special encounter in the North. The girls start wearing these brass coils at 5 years of age, and they add more turns as the child grows into an adult. The weight of the brass collar pushes the collar bone down and compresses the ribs. The neck is not lengthened, it just appears to be because of the deformation of the clavicle. There are numerous stories as to why they were the coils. Protection from tigers biting their neck, to keep them safe from slavery, to look like a dragon and desire to look more attractive. The women themselves say it is for beauty reasons. The tribe we visited was refugees from Myanmar but they made a good self-sufficient life for themselves, selling their merchandise to tourists visiting.

Sop Ruak is in the far north of Thailand where the tree countries Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar borders interact and the Mekong river meets Ruak river. More famously known as “The golden triangle”, historically known for growing Opium in large quantities, smuggling and guerrilla war. If you want to learn about the history, the Hall of Opium is an edutainment theme park teaching the history of opium through a multimedia exhibit. The Hall displays information truthfully and admits that they were a part of the problem as well as how the CIA used this blood red history to its advantage. It is also full of propaganda displaying the horrors of addictions. I joined a boat trip to go over to Laos side of the Mekong river for a couple of hours. You could do that without a visa. It was a been there done that thing, nothing more.

Politically, Thailand never stops amazing me. My first visit to Thailand was in September 2010. The Norwegian government along with most European countries warned the public about visiting Bangkok because of the riots. According to newspapers worldwide, the «mob» had conquered the parliament grounds, put up barb wire around the parliament quarters and chased the government out of the area. My travel mate James and I tried many taxi drivers and tuk-tuk chauffeurs to hustle us to the parliament buildings, but no luck. Instead, we found a temple nearby, told the driver to take us there and walked the rest of the way. At the barbwire checkpoint, we met some incredibly nice, well-educated people, happy to see us and invited us behind the scenes of the worldwide daily news story. We spent the day in the parliament area, behind the barbwire, with the «mob» – the stories from de inside was quite different from those of the outside. They – the Mob, was young educated people who had been studying in Europe and America and had learned about democracy and social security for the people. Their goal was to raise awareness about the corruption and bad government of Thailand. They wanted better social security for the low-income families and fair taxes, welfare, and healthcare for everyone.

We met one person from associated press on the government grounds that day. The next day we read about the horrors of the mob in the world press again. I wonder who told that story. After the riots in 2010, they had an election giving Thaksin’s sister the role of prime minister. In 2014 there was another military coup, where general Chan-Ocha was appointed prime minister by the military-appointed government. In august 2016 the army and its allies legally cemented control over politics via an approved referendum changing the constitution. The election planned for 2017 will probably be postponed due to the mourning period of the Kings death in October. The King Bhumibol`s son accepted the invitation to take the throne, offered him by the National assembly president in December 2016. The Thai military has historically intervened in politics and seized power 12 times since 1932. Today the corruption still exists – not much have changed.

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Norwegian Nomad

Norwegian Nomad

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