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On Tour with Journeys Within: Luang Prabang, Laos

Journeys Within staff on tour inspection in Luang Prabang, Laos.
Journeys Within staff on tour inspection in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Journeys Within is on our annual inspection tours this spring and traveled on from Thailand to Laos. Read about our recent experiences in our last update On Tour With Journeys Within: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai, Thailand to learn about some of our guests’ favorite tours in Thailand.

Follow our journey for updates and travel tips on some of our key locations and tours throughout this spring, and get inspired for your own next adventure.

For travelers who seek to acquaint themselves with highlights of Northern Laos, these Journeys Within tours are ideal:

Days 1-2: Pakbeng to Luang Prabang: Luang Say Cruise and Lodge

Day 3: Luang Prabang Temples and Villages on the Mekong

Day 4: Luang Prabang: Morning Alms, City Tour, and Kuang Si Waterfall

These tours are customizable to the guest’s preferences and schedules, though Journeys Within can make recommendations on the best timing to schedule certain tours and activities to beat crowds and the sun on hot days.

Day 1-2: Pakbeng to Luang Prabang: Luang Say Cruise and Lodge

My final morning in Thailand I departed early from Chiang Rai by van and drove through the countryside to Pakbeng. The scenic drive includes spanning views of green rice fields and tropical trees, shrouded in a layer of morning mist, with occasional thatched-roofed huts and small temples.

This drive provides visitors a peek into the lives of farmers and daily life for people who live in nearby villages. Monks dressed in orange walk through villages for morning alms, and occasional colorfully woven flags can be seen along village roads that indicate to passersby there is a celebration in town, and all are welcome.

Upon arrival in Pakbeng, I was escorted by my guide to immigration at the border of Thailand and Laos. Visitors obtain their visas, and are greeted by Luang Say staff. The staff provides guests name tags that identify they are traveling with Luang Say, and then wait to be transported to the Luang Say Cruise, first by a short van ride then a short bus ride.

One of the riverboats used for the Luang Say Cruise down the Mekong River in Laos.
One of the riverboats used for the Luang Say Cruise on the Mekong River in Laos.

Luang Say Cruise boats are quaint 34-meter wooden riverboats. Guests relax in rattan chairs or lounges at either end of the boat, and get acquainted with their fellow travelers as they cruise down the Mekong River. The riverboat provides a shaded, breezy means of transportation to Luang Prabang as guests watch villagers and water buffalo pass by along the way. The staff of the Luang Say Cruise is gracious, often refilling water glasses and treats such as fresh fruit, banana chips, and tamarind. A home cooked traditional Laotian lunch is provided, including Lao sausage (a Laotian specialty) and cooked meat, fish wrapped in banana leaves, vegetables, and rice.

A typical lunch aboard the Luang Say Cruise.
A typical lunch aboard the Luang Say Cruise.

A scheduled stop on the first day of the cruise includes a small village along the river known as Khmu. The tribe originated in India and the people relocated to their current location in 1995. The tribe now consists of 85 families (about 500 people). They farm crops including rice, corn, and hops. Modern advances in the village include running water, electricity, roads, support from Red Cross, and a school that is now five years old. Visitors walk through the village, guided by Luang Say staff, and learn about the way of life for these humble people.

A traditional home in the Khmu Village.
A traditional home in the Khmu Village.

Remember to ask your guide questions, being inquisitive is what enhances these unique tour experiences. Also, it is tempting to take photos of the tribal people and their children, but still polite to ask first. You can also ask your guide to ask people and the parents of children for permission prior to taking photos. These people are gracious to welcome visitors and it is a display of respect to request their images before taking such liberties.

Guests are welcomed with cool drinks upon arrival at Luang Say Lodge. Upon check in to individual private pavilions, guests find their accommodations complete with wood shutters that open to views of the Mekong and mosquito nets over the bed. Each guest room is beautifully appointed in teak wood finishes and made up in crisp white linens, providing a rustic and tidy feel. Insider tip: Luang Say Lodge offers complimentary next-day laundry service to its guests. Not many people know about this, so take advantage!

Guest Pavilion at Luang Say Lodge.
Guest Pavilion at Luang Say Lodge.

The evening at Luang Say Lodge is a lovely time to stroll around the lodge’s long deck and take photos of the property’s distinct architecture. Multiple sitting areas and an organic vegetable garden are found along the way. The lodge hosts an outdoor traditional Laotian song and dance performance. Some of the guests are even invited to join in the dancing, including me!

Local children singing during the welcome performance at Luang Say Lodge.
Local children singing during the welcome performance at Luang Say Lodge.

Guests who stay at Luang Say Lodge enjoy some genuine time in a locale that is truly secluded. This is an ideal opportunity to ‘switch off’, as limited internet is available only in the main lobby, not the guest rooms. The guest rooms maintain their rustic feel with the absence of television sets. It is truly an experience to spend an evening without attention focused on electronics and, quite literally, leaves guests to their own devices for amusement. Pretend like it’s the 90s again… bring a game, deck of cards, or a good book – a tablet with movies already downloaded, if you must.

A buffet is served the next morning and guests depart for the second and final leg of the journey down the Mekong. One scheduled stop includes Ban Baw Village. While there are no handicrafts available for sale at Khmu Village the first day, there are wonderful goods to purchase at Ban Baw. I did not bring any money with me for our walk through Ban Baw-do not make this mistake. Visitors see how traditional rice alcohol is made and it is also available for purchase for roughly fifty cents for one six-ounce bottle. This alcohol is also sometimes referred to as “LaoLao”. It is stronger than saki, and it is delicious. Also, many textiles are available for sale, such as scarves, blankets, and stuffed animals. Insider tip: Ask your guide to help you distinguish which textiles are factory-made and which textiles are locally-made. The factory-made textiles are also attractive, but it is best to support locally-made textiles from the village. Children sell colorful silk bracelets along the river as the Luang Say Cruise arrives on the riverbank. The bracelets cost less than one US dollar and make for great souvenirs.  

Another stop along the river includes the Pak Ou Caves ‘Tham Ting’ and ‘Tham Phoum’, which house thousands of Buddha statues. Make an offering of flowers and incense to one of the Buddhas, along with a good intention, and explore these small caves. Please remember to dress and behave respectfully while visiting the caves. While the caves are not religious temples, the image of Buddha is sacred.

We continued down the river and I was met by my guide in Luang Prabang, then driven to the main part of town for an orientation tour and dropped off at my hotel, Luang Say Residence, to refresh for dinner.

Luang Say Residence in Luang Prabang, Laos.
Luang Say Residence in Luang Prabang, Laos.

One tour option for guests that is built as a package includes the Luang Say Cruise, Luang Say Lodge, and Luang Say Residence. Luang Say Residence is a gorgeous French Colonial style accommodation with a grand bar and restaurant located in the main residence and five guest pavilions situated on the large, lushly landscaped property. To stay at Luang Say Residence feels as if to be transported back in time, with white lattice accents and antique style furnishings. Ask one of our tour consultants about Luang Say packages. Different packages are available up and down river and are customizable.

What to wear for this tour:

Breathable clothing

Hats, sunscreen, and insect repellant while stopping along the river

Sandals or walking shoes

Day 3: Luang Prabang: Temples and Villages on the Mekong

What better way to further explore the wonders of the Mekong than by riverboat? We make an early start on this tour, crossing the river from Luang Prabang to Xieng Mien on a shaded longtail boat. This means of transportation is efficient in taking guests from place to place.

A typical longtail boat seen on the Mekong.
A typical longtail boat seen on the Mekong.

Guests on this tour should be prepared to climb flights of stairs and some small hillsides. However, this tour offers sanctuary for the soul with nature walks and visits to several historic wats (temples). Very few tourists can be found in this area at any given time, so it’s a good opportunity to see special parts of Laos in peace and quiet. Monks reside in parts of this area and can be seen dressed in their orange orange robes and going about their day.  

Upon return to the longtail boat we continued down river visited a local fisherman for a Lao-style fishing lesson, using only nets. Some guests may join the fisherman in his boat for an up close look.

A fresh cooked traditional lunch is served aboard the longtail boat-bring your appetite! Lunch is a generous spread of chicken, curry, soup, and other treats made by the boat captain’s wife.

Another hidden treasure we visited on this day is Ban Jan, a pottery village that produces all sorts of wonderful clay goods. Again, do not forget to bring some money with you while visiting this village. Ban Jan offers unique hand made souvenirs, and it can’t get any more authentic than to purchase goods straight from the artisans. Visitors may also see artisans at work, expertly creating a new pot or figurine from start to finish.

A man and his wife work as a team to create a new clay pot.
A man and his wife work as a team to create a new clay pot.

The tour ends with a Lao baci ceremony hosted by the village chief and elders of the community. Buddhists believe that the body is comprised of 34 souls, and the baci ceremony calls all souls back to the body that may have gone missing. The village chief chants and asks the spirits to bare witness as the visitors take part in the ritual. The ritual consists of exchanging food and drink, and villagers tie white strings around each wrist of the guest while offering good intentions of health and prosperity. The strings would traditionally remain on the wrists of the wearer until they fall off naturally, but in modern times, people wait three days and then untie (not cut) the strings, so as to not break the spirit.

The villagers are exceedingly warm and kind. The baci ceremony is a special experience to share with loved ones to commemorate a special occasion, or simply, for the experience itself.

What to wear for this tour:

Breathable clothing, with the knees and shoulders covered for entering temple sites

Walking shoes, no sandals

Sunscreen and insect repellant

Day 4: Luang Prabang: Morning Alms, City Tour, and Kuang Si Waterfall

The earliest start yet in this series of tours was this day at sunrise, and with good reason; to meet the local monks as they walk about town for mornings alms. This ancient Buddhist ceremony is the way in which monks break their fast every day.

My guide took me and my colleague and travel companion, Naida, to a spot set up for us to properly take part in the ceremony. We tied traditional scarves around our shoulders and sat on a blanket with pots filled with fresh-cooked rice. We scooped portions of rice from our rice pots into the food pots of the monks as they passed by and opened their lids. As simple as this process sounds, it is a wonderful experience to make a meaningful interaction, one that I’ll never forget. Our guide was sure to take some photos for us.

Naida (left) and Kena (right) from the Journeys Within Team giving morning alms to the monks of Luang Prabang.
Naida (left) and Kena (right) from the Journeys Within Team giving morning alms to the monks of Luang Prabang.

An added bonus to the day was an annual elephant parade through town for the Lao New Year, Pi Mai. We got to see several elephants walk through a small section of town, and spectators had the opportunity to feed them sugar cane.

We returned to our hotel for breakfast, then moved on to visit the National Museum. The museum is a former palace with its rooms staged and preserved as they were once lived in by royalty. This is an interesting opportunity to see the fine craftsmanship of vintage furniture, garments, jewelry, paintings, and gifts to the royal family from other countries over the years up close. Visitors may also visit the royal automobile garage which showcases some of the cars gifted over the years, including an Edsel from the US-pause for reaction.

We continued on to see the beautifully ornamented temples of Wat Sen, Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Visun, and Wat Aham. Our guide told us the stories behind the temples’ decoration, and we came face to face with wood-carved Buddha statues over a thousand years old.

One of many temple interiors in Luang Prabang, Laos.
One of many temple interiors in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Our next destination, Ock Pop Tok Living Craft Centre, is a veritable textile institute that includes a hotel, restaurant, workshop, instruction space for weaving classes, and an exhibition for antique textiles. We had the pleasure of meeting founders Joanna Smith and Veomanee (Veo) Douangdala, who shared with us the story of Ock Pop Tok’s evolution.

Joanna (left) and Veo (right), giving Journeys Within an exclusive look at their textile catalogue room.
Joanna (left) and Veo (right), giving Journeys Within an exclusive look at their textile catalogue room at Ock Pop Tok.

The concept began as a small public showspace that featured unique collaborative pieces created with Veo’s knowledge of traditional Laotian weaving and Joanna’s formal education in fine arts. The result; vibrant textiles that represent the intersection of historic culture through the modern interpretation of two creative minds. The first tour group to visit the show space bought nearly all of their textiles.

Joanna and Veo designed their first official collection and eventually relocated the show space to their current location in Luang Prabang they established ten years ago. The evolution of Ock Pop Tok’s expansion is the result of their collective response to fulfilling the needs they identified in their market and in the preservation of their craft. They began to offer weaving classes by popular request. The weavers on staff also prepared lunch for the students in the weaving class. The response to the food was so positive, they opened their restaurant, Silk Road Cafe. They found that many guests were seeking to take different classes over the course of several days and wished to stay on the property overnight, so they opened a villa with guest rooms.

Ock Pop Tok now houses a hotel, restaurant, workshop, instruction space, and textile exhibition.
Ock Pop Tok now houses a hotel, restaurant, workshop, instruction space, and textile exhibition.

The efforts of Ock Pop Tok over the years resulted in a textile empire and fair trade business that employs and empowers local women through a financial model that supports growth, diversity, and preservation of authentic textile weaving.

Ask your Journeys Within tour consultant about options to include a tour of Ock Pop Tok and weaving classes into your itinerary while visiting Luang Prabang.

After our tour and lunch at Ock Pop Tok, we ventured on to Kuang Si Waterfall, which is over an hour trek by car. We were transported by air-conditioned van, occasionally splashed with water by the local people for the Lao New Year with the traditional water celebrations. Insider tip: If you visit Laos during their New Year, do not drive through town with your windows down-you could get splashed! Also, place your cell phones and other electronic devices in plastic bags to protect them while walking through town.

Local people enjoying traditional water celebrations for Pi Mai.
Local people enjoying traditional water celebrations for Pi Mai.

An added bonus to this tour, we stopped at the Laos location for Free the Bears, Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, a sanctuary for Asiatic Black Bears (also known as ‘Moon Bears’). Free the Bears is an organization that rescues and rehabilitates bears that have been abused. The Asiatic Bear population is declining, due primarily to illegal poaching and deforestation. Visitors can see rehabilitated bears from a distance as they play, climb, and sun themselves in their enclosure.

Kuang Si Waterfall is not far from the rescue centre, where visitors enjoy a tree-shaded oasis in one of the many crystal blue pools throughout the area. Visitors can swim, hike, picnic, and lounge at this scenic retreat. The hike in particular offers an exciting excursion for the day, with a half hour trek to the top of the highest waterfall. There are some steep areas on the hike, so mind your steps. Once at the top, visitors may explore the pools in a small boat with a guide. The top of the waterfall is also an opportune vantage point for photos, just remember to be safe and mind the signs.

What to wear for this tour:

Sandals or walking shoes for the city tour, walking shoes for the Kuang Si Waterfall

Hat

Appropriate clothing for giving alms to monks and for visiting temple sites

Sunscreen and insect repellant for the Kuang Si Waterfall
Next up in this series of blogs, we further explore Laos including Phonesavanh, Vientiane, and Paske. See more photos of this journey on our Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/journeys_within/. Stay tuned to get an insider account of more of our tours!

On Tour with Journeys Within: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai, Thailand

Some of the Journeys Within Team (from left to right) Sone, Nicole, Ounkham, Onkeo, and Naida
Some of the Journeys Within Team (from left to right) Sone, Nicole, Ounkham, Onkeo, and Naida

Over the next several weeks, some of the Journeys Within team is on our annual inspection tours throughout some of our Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia tour locations. This is an exciting time of the year for us to visit the countries we love and return home from our journeys revived with inspiration for travel, and with new stories to tell our followers.

I am Marketing and Booking Coordinator, Kena Cataneso, for our Truckee, California location. I will be blogging on behalf of Journeys Within this spring as I make my way through Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Luang Prabang, Phonesavanh, Vientiane, Pakse, and Siem Reap.

Kena Cataneso at the Grand Palace in Bangkok
Kena Cataneso at the Grand Palace in Bangkok

Follow my journey for updates and travel tips on some of our key locations and tours throughout the months of April and May, and get inspired for your own next adventure.

The first three days – An Introduction to Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai

For travelers who seek to acquaint themselves with highlights of Thailand, these Journeys Within tours are ideal:

Day 1: Bangkok: Public Transport City Tour with Klongs 

Day 2: Chiang Mai: Elephant Daycare at Patara Elephant Farm

Day 3: In and Around Chiang Rai

These tours are customizable to the guest’s preferences and schedules, though Journeys Within can make recommendations on the best timing to schedule certain tours and activities to beat crowds and the sun on hot days.

A view from one of Bangkok's many canals.
A view from one of Bangkok’s many canals.

Bangkok: Public Transport City Tour with Klongs

Guests who arrive in Bangkok via international flight late in the evening prior to this tour have the option to be picked up at the airport by van with a Journeys Within guide. This is a favorable option as guests will typically experience fatigue, jet lag, and if you’re at all like me, disorientation and irritability after a day of flying with potential connections and delays.

I arrived in Bangkok an hour late, around midnight, due to a delay with my connecting flight in Korea. The process to go through immigration and to pick up my baggage took about one more hour, putting me at nearly 1 am. At that point, I would not want to navigate my own way to my hotel. Bangkok is large and taxis are expensive, and public transportation does not run 24 hours a day.

Guests can choose to arrange their own transportation or use a taxi from the airport to their hotel, but it’s worth speaking with a Journeys Within Tour Consultant to discuss their priorities, options, and budget. Our Journeys Within Tour Consultants are transparent with our guests about practicality with logistics.

I was thrilled to be met outside the baggage claim by my guide. He took my bags, and walked me to my air conditioned van where I was provided ice cold water and a fresh, cold towel.

Kena, from the US Journeys Within office and Guide Ron, from the Bangkok office.
Kena, from the US Journeys Within office and Guide Ron, from the Bangkok office.

This time in Bangkok I inspected VIE Hotel, which is located a half hour from the airport. I was pleased to stay with VIE Hotel on my introduction night to Thailand. VIE is a large, modern hotel situated in the heart of Bangkok.

I haven’t traveled since last year, and frankly, it was a huge comfort to stay on my introduction night in an immaculate hotel with all the luxuries I would expect from a high-end hotel in the US. An insider tip to VIE – they automatically upgrade all guests to nicer rooms if they are available. I was upgraded to a suite.

The rooms are appointed with dark wood and the high ceilings provide a feeling of grandeur. Once I arrived at my room I promptly charged my electronics, which require no adapters for the power outlets, as they are compatible with standard US power cords. The restroom was equipped with a rain shower and fresh white bath robes.

I awoke the next morning reborn and ready to tour the city, especially after the complimentary international breakfast buffet, which is a veritable feast of international options.

Why public transport for the tour? The answer is simple; public transport in Bangkok is incredibly accessible, efficient, and inexpensive. The option of private transport by van may offer some guests a feeling of privacy and independence, however, traffic in Bangkok is heavy and guests using private transport will find themselves often sitting in traffic and with considerably less available time on their itinerary to tour.

I was met in the lobby by my guide and we were only a few minutes walk to the Skytrain, which is immaculately clean and air-conditioned, and then we took a short boat ride to The Grand Palace.

An exhibit of the Royal Family's history at The Grand Palace in Bangkok.
An exhibit of the Royal Family’s history at The Grand Palace in Bangkok.

The Palace is, by every meaning of the word, grand, with what seem like miles of murals that depict an epic Indian poem, multiple Temples highly ornamented with gold leaf and glass mosaic, a miniature construction of Angkor Wat, many Buddha statues, a weapon museum, and gift shop. Another insider tip – visitors may stand in line at the box office to buy tickets for entry, or there men and women sitting at the gates near the entrance who also sell tickets.

I asked my guide if they have ever been known to sell fake tickets, but he said no. I enjoy having  guides whenever I visit historical landmarks, as I prefer to have a historical and religious context of the places I visit. My guide gave me information about every building and temple we saw at The Grand palace, and information about the Royal Family and how the buildings were influenced over the years.

An exerpt from the extensive mural at Bangkok's Grand Palace.
An exerpt from the extensive mural at Bangkok’s Grand Palace.

My guide took me to a massage parlor once we finished our tour of the The Grand Palace, which was heavenly after my long flight the day prior. The rest of the day was spent strolling the nearby flower and produce markets, we had a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, and concluded the day with the klong tour. Klongs are the canals that run throughout Bangkok. My guide told me that Bangkok is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of Thailand”.

What to Wear for this Tour: 

Sunscreen

Insect repellant

Hat or umbrella (seriously, the sun is very hot)

Loose fitting, breathable clothing, i.e. cottons, linens, long skirts and pants, and shirts that cover the shoulders

Sandals or walking shoes

Chiang Mai: Elephant Daycare at Patara Elephant Farm 

My departure time from my hotel was at 6:30am. My guide met me in the lobby of VIE Hotel and rode with me in the van back to the airport so I could make my transfer from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. My bag was overweight and I opted to pay the charge rather than fuss with having to carry something more. Insider tip: If traveling to Thailand via Bangkok Airways, go to www.bangkokair.com, register for Premier or Priority Flyer Bonus, and get 10-20 additional kilograms added to your standard luggage weight limit. Other airlines will have similar options.

The flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is one hour and a half, then a couple hour’s car ride. Once again, I was met by my Chiang Mai guide and given ice cold water and cold towels.

Chiang Mai is quaint, the original city measuring only roughly one square mile. My hotel, the Rachamankha, is located within the boundaries of the original city. This place is so incredibly unique, I could do an entire blog on the hotel alone. The Rachamankha, designed by a renowned architect father and interior designer son, has received numerous accolades and press for its design. The accommodation is the essence of Zen with ornate roof lines, the rooms centered around courtyards with beautifully manicured landscaping, rock walkways, and the entire property is decorated in the family’s own personal art collection. To stay here feels as if to be a privileged guest at an acquaintance’s extraordinary property. In the evening, spiral sticks of incense burn and subtly fill the space with fragrance.

Rachamankha in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Rachamankha in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I met with the General Manager, Paul Walker, who has been managing the property for over a decade and is an utter wealth of information about the hotel and Chiang Mai. We spoke over tea, which was served out of gorgeous blue and white china. Every detail of Rachamankha is the well thought out construct of taste and imagination. Walker explained to me that the design at Rachamankha comes first over pragmatism. This is not a property that was designed under the constraints of compliance for accessibility or safety regulation. In fact, here’s another insider tip: this hotel welcomes guests age 12 and older. This is for a few purposes, one being the potential for slips and falls of smaller children; the art collection that decorates the guest rooms and common areas is priceless and must receive the necessary respect of all guests; most guest rooms (with an exception of the suites) face one another in a courtyard, so noise from small children could disturb the zenful state that this property has worked so hard to achieve.

Walker showed me the property in its entirety, which also includes a pool, a library with a collection of the owner’s books, a restaurant, and a studio upstairs from the restaurant which may be used for small meetings. Walker said small yoga groups have visited and held classes in the studio on occasion. Insider tip: there is complimentary cogniac for guests in the library. 

The library at Rachamankha.
The library at Rachamankha.

The hotel has been a Chiang Mai favorite of celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, according to Walker. He says that they receive repeat guests every year from all over the world, and that Rachamankha is a true home away from home for people who have come to know and love Chiang Mai. Insider tip: there is free live music from local artists almost every night in the courtyard at Rachamankha.

The months in late spring and early summer are considered “low season”, primarily because many tourists would rather not travel in the hotter months. I’d recommend travel in Thailand in April to anyone. It is hot and humid but worth experiencing the benefits of low season, like less crowding and more privacy at accommodations. For example, I went for a lovely night swim at Rachamankha and had the pool entirely to myself.

I could have spoken with Walker all afternoon about the property’s design theory and Chiang Mai’s architectural history, but I had to stay on tour schedule and visit Patara Elephant Farm.

Patara Elephant Farm
Patara Elephant Farm

Patara is located 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai. Journeys Within can coordinate transport for guests from their hotel in Chiang Mai to Patara. Once at Patara, guests are provided fruit, juice, and all the water they desire. I did a half-day at the farm due to my schedule, but whole day visits are also available. We first got to observe the elephants and play with a baby elephant. Then we fed the elephants, learned about the elephants, their names and commands, and bathed them. The elephants are gentile and the staff of Patara very attentive. The elephants are humanely cared for, an objective that Journeys Within prides itself. Our brand is cognizant of the humane treatment of animals on all of the tours we book. Insider tip: The staff takes photos and GoPro video which they provide on a complimentary DVD at the end of the day. 

Kena at Patara Elephant Farm.
Kena at Patara Elephant Farm.

What to Wear for this Tour:

Lots of sunscreen

Lots of insect repellant

Hat

A swimsuit as a first layer, do not intend to bathe the elephants in a swimsuit alone. Thai people are modest, so visitors should dress accordingly.

Swim trunks, board shorts, tanks tops, quick-dry shirts

Sandals

Waterproof camera or camera in a waterproof case

In and Around Chiang Rai

My departure from my hotel was at 7:00am. I was met at my hotel by my guide and the drive was a few hours throughout the countryside, stopping first at natural hot springs, where visitors may dip their feet if they like, and do a little shopping and barganing. Then we stopped at The White Temple, or Wat Ong Khun, which was built in 1997 by a man renowned as the greatest artist in Thailand, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed and funded the project. He volunteered himself to build it, at the cost of 400 million Bhat. Insider tip: admission to the temple is currently free of charge until October 2016. 

The White Temple in Chiang Rai.
The White Temple in Chiang Rai.

My guide told me the history of the temple and its artist, and explained details of Buddhist beliefs and how those beliefs are reflected in art. The exterior of the temple is ornate and stunning, regardless that it is only one color. There is also a museum located on the temple grounds that contains artwork by Kositpipat. The inside of the temple as well as the paintings in the museum include some unexpected depictions which are both commentary and satire on American politics. These provide an interesting Thai perspective on the Bush Administration, 9/11, terrorism, and American pop-culture. Also located on the temple grounds is “The Golden Toilet”, an ornate golden temple-like building that houses a restroom, which visitors readily wait in line to use. Insider tip: there is another restroom down the walkway behind The Golden Toilet and to the left, which is very clean and there is no line.  

Throughout the rest of the tour day, we visited the villages of the Akhe tribe and the Mien tribe, stopped for an authentic local lunch, and then visited a street market just outside the border of Thailand and Myanmar. To finish off the day, we visited “The Golden Triangle”, renowned for centuries as the epicenter of the opium trade. This location offers a hilltop view of the Mekong River, with a temple situated at the top that is 1000 years old. We also visited the nearby Opium Museum, which provides a history of the opium trade, as well as information about local tribes.

The Opium Museum, located at the Golden Triangle.
The Opium Museum, located at the Golden Triangle.

There are many stops throughout this tour day and a lot of walking. As usual, I returned to an air conditioned van, ice cold water and cold towels. I stayed at Laluna Hotel & Resort, which I was relieved to find to be like an oasis away from the city after a long day of touring. Laluna’s guest rooms are centered around a large pool, and while it feels like a retreat it is a short taxi or tuktuk away from city life. Insider tip: taxis are available right outside the hotel. 

What to Wear for this Tour:

Lots of sunscreen

Insect repellant

Hat or umbrella

Loose fitting, breathable clothing, i.e. cottons, linens, long skirts and pants, and shirts that cover the shoulders

Sandals or walking shoes

Next up in this series of blogs, I will journey from Thailand to Laos via riverboat on the Mekong. I will spend 12 days touring throughout Luang Prabang, Phonesavanh, Vientiane, and Paske. See more photos of this journey on our Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/journeys_within/. I will post blogs weekly and photos depending on the strength of my hotel Wi-Fi connections, so stay tuned to get an insider account of some of our tours!