We woke after a deep sleep and had a leisurely breakfast at the guest house. Then we were on our way, knowing it was only a couple of hours to the major city of Chiang Rei. We were back on our old friend, the “1” road, but this time going South. We were doing a little bit of a triangle because we wanted to see Chaing Rei and could not be in Laos until Friday because we were booked into the “Gibbon Experience” (maximum recommended age 50) on Saturday. The road to Chiang Rei was a dual carriageway with a hard shoulder, and was slightly downhill and slightly with the wind in our favour – so we averaged about 20kph. We arrived at our guest house in Chiang Rei too early to check in, so we left our panniers and ambled the 4km across to the Mae Fah Luang cultural park. Before doing so we had an extended conversation with a couple who are about 10 years older than us and come from the UK.
They were travelling by car around the north of Thailand and described how they took 2 months here to get away from the UK in the winter, fuel prices and generally how they felt our country was going downhill. We could agree – up to a point – but I hope we are mainly driven by positive reasons to be here rather than negative reasons for not wanting to be in the UK. I accept that I have to keep my natural tendencies to be a curmudgeon in check (glorious as it can be to occupy that space) but others may not see the need for that discipline.
The Mae Fah Luang cultural park was one of the highlights of the trip so far. It was only created between 1984 and 1990 and is a gift from the people of Chiang Reii to the Queen Mother, Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra to mark her 84th birthday in 1984. The late Queen Mother (who died in 1995 at the age of 95) was the mother of King Bhumibol (who reigned until 2016 and was the world’s longest serving monarch until overtaken by HM Queen Elizabeth II of GB). She must have been the grandmother to the present King. The Royal family hold a special place in Thai culture and saying anything bad about them is a criminal offence – so I will not to do so.
The cultural park was a place of solace and beauty. 32 ancient teak houses in the city had been dismantled to create a wonderful pavilion which displayed words of art from throughout the Lanna tribal region, which stretches across Northern Thailand and well into Myanmar. The pavilion had openings to allow cool air to circulate and it was surrounded by lakes, all covered in water lillies. The photos will not do justice to its sense of calm.
There were also beautiful grounds to wander around (almost deserted of visitors today) and a teak exhibition showing this versatile wood in everyday uses as well as for art and construction. There was also a modern art exhibition which – as with all modern art – we find hit and miss but this was more hit (in an impressionist style) than miss.
After that we did some shopping, read, I got beaten at scrabble and we did numerous jobs before leaving the last major Thai city of this trip. In contrast to the Mae Fah Luang cultural park, the city was teaming with tourists this evening – even though there is not a great deal to see here. It is not Chiang Mai, but maybe some got confused between the two places and intended to come to Chiang Mai and ended up in the industrial city of Chiang Rei instead! We had an indifferent meal (curmudgeon tendencies coming back) and went back to the guest house to prepare for a 100km day tomorrow.