11 February 2011 | thailand
michael and jackie
High in the mountains in a bamboo hut we sat down to write this blog. Our journey to the North of Thailand had brought us to some amazing deep caves and up to the Burmese border in sight of the Burmese army. We found an English speaking driver, Pop, to take us up to the mountains. Pop turned out to be a mine of information. He had spent some time as a monk and was able therefore to give us some insight into Thai culture. He suggested we stop at the chiang dao caves. We paid 20 baht, about 40p and entered the caves. We were amazed - the first part of the caves had been turned into a buddhist shrine. Apparently in the past the monks had used it as a place of retreat. It was claimed that some monks had lived there for a year without food! Not sure about this particularly given our ex monk's appetite for food. The buddhist iconography blended brilliantly with the limestone formations. The caves themselves stretch for miles with numerous side caves. Many of the corners have small shrines. Two French tourists were the only other people there when we visited making for an even more spiritual and genuinely awesome experience.
Our next stop was at a small town on the Burmese border, Tha Ton. The small town clusters around the bridge over the River Kok, from where you can get a boat to Chiang Rai. Overlooking the town is a tall peak with a razed summit marking a Burmese military post, and another summit with a massive white Buddha. Inside the temple you ascend a spiral walkway designed as a serpent wrapped round a globe. You circle the globe until you reach the top of the building which is painted blue representing heaven. From here you can see small Burmese villages, the high peaks and the rice fields along the river plains.
Skirting Chiang Rai we arrived at the Phuchaisai Mountain resort. We were greeted by a Neehow ie the Chinese hello. This area was settled by a Kuomintang army after the victory of Mao's Red Army. They defeated the local warlord and devoted themselves to growing and selling opium. Their military support for the US giving them indemnity. Opium now comes from Burma, but the area still has many Chinese villages.
Phuchaisai is constructed in the local tradition from bamboo which is then covered in mud, a bit like our wattle and daub. Very attractive and in keeping with the surroundings. One problem though bamboo is a natural material which natural things like. To our horror the day we left our luggage was covered with ants. Still this was the only blemish. You eat in the open air on the top of the mountain surrounded by flowers and vegetation. There is a beautifully set swimming pool and the spa provides the best massages we have come across yet.
All in all a must see place.