We spent a total of 4 1/2 weeks in Northern Thailand and we loved it! The majority of our time here was spent in a tiny little Northern town on the border between Thailand and Laos, the two countries only separated by the Maekhong River. As we were teaching here for the four weeks we stayed, we settled into a normal routine of day-to-day life (a novelty when traveling around), and here we are going to share with you our favorite things to do during our time here. We will also be following this with individual posts about our day/weekend trips to nearby places in Northern Thailand. 1. Visit the local markets or “Da Lat” as they call them in Thailand. In Chiang Saen they have a Thursday Night Market, a Saturday Night Market (this is called walking street market as it takes over the whole road parallel to the river), and the Sunday Morning market. These became our regular hang out spots with the other volunteers, to grab some dinner, and other little treats.
2. Eating street food. I can honestly say, after having left Chiang Saen, that their street food is the best I have ever come across. Our favorite being the Stir Fried Ribbon Noodles with pork and lots of lime (Phat Si Ew), and Khao Soi Noodles. It was also really nice to get to know the locals who worked on the street stalls (converted tuk tuks), who all referred to us as ‘teacher’, as we were working in the school that most of their children went to.
3. Visit the Golden Triangle. An 11km cycle on flat roads is a perfect way to spend a pleasant afternoon. We visited the Golden Triangle itself, which is the point at which Loas, Myanmar and Thailand meets at the Maekhong River, and is notoriously know as a prolific area for illegal opium trading throughout the ages. There are two particularly good look out spots and plenty of things to do in the small town of Sop Ruak.
The Hall of Opium Museum is probably the best museum we have ever been to. It was created by the King’s Mother as an attempt to raise awareness about the dangers of Opium, and create a different revenue stream for the local people who had been affected by the illegal opium trade, by initiating farming projects and improving education. Walking through the museum which was fantastically laid out, we learnt so much about the impact the British Empire had on Opium trade through India and China, and how Thailand had somehow avoided any of these effects through savvy politics. There may have been some amount of bias here, however it was eye opening nonetheless. At 200B entry fee it is a steal and well worth the money. If you do visit, just be sure to go a bit further up the road to the Hall of Opium Museum, and don’t get stopped by the smaller Opium Museum with is 30B entry fee, but nowhere near as good.
4. Find a swimming pool. For us, having come from the South Islands, the North of Thailand was a bit strange, as there was no opportunity to swim anywhere to cool down on a very hot day. However, we did manage to find 3 different places to swim. One was a school’s swimming pool which was huge! 100 Baht for “felangs” (foreigners) for the day, this was a great place to do a few lengths. You can find signs for this on the main road in Chaing Saen.
If you prefer a place where there aren’t random school kids peeping out the windows at you, and you can relax and have a little sunbathe, there are a couple of local hotels who will let you use their swimming pool also for a small fee. The Siam Triangle Hotel had a beautiful pool, which was essentially an infinity pool, from inside the pool all you could see was the Maekhong River, so you are literally swimming on the Northern Tip of Thailand, which is pretty cool. The other place we went to was the Maekhong View Resort and Spa, and we got free entry as one of the volunteers had proof read an English essay for the owner’s son doing his Masters. The field of sunflowers behind this pool was spectacular and well worth a gander if you are in the area.
5. An afternoon bike ride around Chiang Saen Lake. The pictures say it all really. And yes, it was as idyllic as it sounds… So if you’re heading to the northern tip of Thailand, maybe to travel to Laos, pop into Chiang Saen, it is a beautiful little town with lots of character and you’ll find plenty to do.