Doi Mon Lan | Chiang Rai, Thailand
After a week of endless rain clouds and a constant series of monsoons in Phrao, I now know “rainy season,” as they call it. I had heard a lot of people talk about rainy season and warn against traveling during it but after over three months of my time in SE Asia during what was apparently part of rainy season, I hadn’t experienced more than a rain storm in the afternoon or a rainy day or night here and there. I was beginning to think all this talk of “rainy season” was over exaggerated. Then the never-ending clouds that rolled in and large amounts of water that fell from the sky told me loud and clear what rainy season is.
With all the rain, James and I have been able to make some pretty gnarly adventures happen. They haven’t all gone smoothly, thanks to Mother Nature, but we’ve rolled with it the best we can. Friday, I followed James on a journey up one of the mountains near Phrao called Doi Mon Lan because although there were plenty of warning signs of it being a rainy day, I didn’t want to miss out on the chance of a nice ride and a great view. We rode about an hour and a half past Phrao up Doi Mon Lan when we got confused at where the viewpoint was. We passed a few on the way up but the one we were trying to go to was difficult to find. Meanwhile, it had begun to rain and we were climbing further and further into the clouds that had taken over the top of the mountains already. We ended up going about 8km past where we think we should’ve stopped but did reach a large village that was beautiful to look at from a far, nestled perfectly into the lush, green mountains with thin, misty clouds lingering just above it. I had to enter it as it was one of the more unique and large ones I had scene.
On the way out, we must’ve run over the bumps too hard or run over something sharp because just a few km more up the mountain, we noticed each of our motorbikes had flat tires on the front wheel. We slowly rode them back down into the village to try and find a motorbike shop. I called to the first person I could and pointed to the tire in hopes she would lead me to a shop. Sure enough, after a few confused looks, she hopped on her bike in the rain and took us to help. At first, a man at the shop shook his head at the tire and we were able to gather he didn’t have the right size. So we went inside, sat, looked at each other, and tried contacting people at Warm Heart to see if anyone could come up and get us. Lucky for us, they found a couple tires because we found out later nobody from WH would’ve been able to do that.
We sat inside this shop in a random hill tribe village way up this mountain eating noodle soup and admiring the randomness of the situation. Children kept running into the shop to see what all the excitement was about and like any other hill tribe visit, many adults just looked at us and would laugh at our whiteness and presence in their village. When the bike was fixed, we waited a bit for the heavy rain to calm down but eventually went ahead down the slippery mountain road slowly and cautiously. Crisis averted.
The next day me, James and another volunteer from France named Romane, caught a couple buses to get to Chiang Rai, a city and province north of Phrao. Chiang Rai is known for its temples and views outside of the city so we rented motorbikes one day and headed south from the town. We stopped at the famous White Temple first. This temple is actually used more today as an art display than a temple for worship. People come from all over to observe the interesting decor and paintings inside, which involve modern day characters like Spider Man, the Minions and depictions of events such as 9/11 in NYC. Although it was very beautiful and unique, it was also overwhelmingly crowded with tourists when we first arrived so at times it was difficult to truly appreciate.
Our next stop ended up being the Khun Korn Waterfall. To get there, we had to ride through a lot of muddy ground but also some really beautiful scenery back in the mountains where the road ran next to a fast flowing river. The waterfall required us to trek about 30 min. into Khun Korn Forest from where we parked and it was the loveliest, most serene walk I’ve had yet in Thailand. Bamboo and large, old trees lined the trail and the green color of the trees and plants was extra vibrant because of the raindrops making them glimmer. When we reached the waterfall, I was completely taken aback by the size and sound. Because of all the rain lately, it was fully gushing and roaring from the sound of all the water falling into the river. It’s been years since I’ve seen a waterfall of that size and power so I cherished every minute of the time we stood just staring at it, letting its mist fall all over us and it’s sound overcome anything else going on in the world.
We finished the day with a ride up to a viewpoint that overlooks Chiang Rai Province. On the way up to the top, the rain begin falling hard again and while going on a steep and slippery part of the road, my motorbike slid and I fell with it to the ground. I remember feeling surprisingly calm after it happened and just picked myself and my bike right up. Luckily I recovered with nothing more than a skinned knee and scrapes on my big toe and hand. After a bit of a breather to let go of the shock and reassuring James and Romane I was ok, we continued up to the top and enjoyed a view that was wonderful- maybe not motorbike fall wonderful but wonderful nonetheless.
That night we went to the Sunday Market to try new foods and were surprised by a monsoon about an hour in. The rain was coming down stronger than I’ve seen it yet- so much so that the streets flooded and we had to walk through about a foot of water just to get back to our hostel. Again, rainy season making itself known.
On our last morning we checked out a couple more sights before turning the motorbikes in and heading back to Phrao. Our first stop was the Blue Temple, which was cool and different because of its themed decor. It was not only painted blue on the outside but also had blue walls and blue-based paintings on the inside. I enjoyed the more futuristic vibe it gave off for a change. Last we walked around the Baan Dam Museum, or “Black House.” It’s an arrangement of 40 different hand-crafted houses that display the works of a internationally known artist named Thawan Duchanee. He spent 50 years building the museum to display his art in his hometown in Chiang Rai. It was beyond impressive to wander around and think about the fact that one old man made all that.
Chiang Rai, you were beautiful, cultural, unique, fun, dangerous and very wet. We’ll see what else the rain brings in.