Golden Triangle, Mekong River, Laos Snake Whiskey, Phowadol Resort and Chiang Rai Night Market

Time for lunch at our hotel in Chiang Rai, the Phowadol resort.  They had a very good lunch buffet with some things I liked (I’m picky).  They had egg noodles that you put a red chicken curry on that was delicious (and this is coming from me!).  Nok had told us about it and said it was a specialty of the region.  I think it is called Kao Soy noodles (or Chiang Rai noodles). There was a selection of Thai, Japanese and American food and salad makings and fruit and desserts. There was sushi and misc other things.  There was also a hot/fresh station where you could get something (I forget what – I think fresh made noodle soup).  It cost us 149 baht (total? apiece? not sure, still that is only about $5).

Next we drove to the Border town of Chiang Saen.  It was about a 1.5 hour drive from Chiang Rai. It is on the border of Thailand and Laos.  You can see on the map the Golden Triangle, which is the place where Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos meet. We walked to the river and there was a pier where you could catch a longtail boat and go down (up?) the Mekong river. From the dock you could see a giant gold buddha on the Thailand side that looked like it was sitting on a giant fancy boat. It sort of looked like an amusement park to me, but we didn’t get a close up look at it. I can’t find a lot of information about it, but it appears that it is part of a temple at Ban Sop Ruak and is one of the several attractions built around the Golden Triangle (which isn’t much to see here, just basically a sandbar). We did not really look around Chiang Saen and the area, we just took the boat ride from there.

Down a bit fom Chiang Saen, on the Laos side is a fancy, new casino with a big golden dome.  For the life of me, I can’t find the name of it. But this is a picture of it. The Chinese built this (and other casinos in the area) and are capitalizing on the poorness of the region to allow them to build. “The Chinese have a lot of money to invest and the governments of Laos and Burma have few resources or defences to control the intentions of China’s growth into the region“. The sign says “Welcome to the Golden Triangle Economic Zone”. There is also a large casino/resort down a bit that is in Myanmar (or technically in “no mans land” since Myanmar doesn’t allow gambling) called the Golden Triangle Paradise Resort. Reading about it on a travel site called ThingsAsianI came to discover that the Golden Triangle Paradise Resort is one of 34 casinos that ring Thailand’s borders. Together they bring in an estimated US $2 billion per year, as Thais cross into Burma, Laos, and Cambodia to indulge in games of chance outlawed in their homeland.” Thailand also does not allow gambling so there are a lot of Thai and other daytrippers to the casinos.

We stopped for a brief shopping trip on Don Sao island in Laos. You aren’t allowed outside of the shopping market without a visa but you can technically say you were in Laos. And can put some of your money into Laos instead of Thailand. Laos is a considerably poorer and less modernized country than Thailand.  Here is a tip from the website above: “(Hint: Get the post master on the island to stamp your passport with the Laos postmark, to prove you’ve been there).

The main reason everyone was looking forward to this stop was the chance to try and to buy Snake Whiskey (along with scorpion, lizard and other disgusting things). They had big glass containers of a murky liquid with decaying giant snakes, lizards, etc. in them that you could try a dipper of, and many of our group did. Not me, no way! It grosses me out to think about it.

And there were many bottles of the whiskey for sale (as souvenirs primarily, I hope) with various things in them (the snake being the main item). I did buy a nice tunic top of white crinkle cotton. That is my main purchases I made this trip – various tunic tops of crinkle cotton (which I find washes very nicely).  On the other side of the river, where we started, was a lot of shops also that I really wanted to shop at (and had seen some things I wanted to get). But unfortunately, when we got back we just had time for a potty stop and then we left. Can you believe we left somewhere unshopped?! Not typical for a tour company but something that set this tour apart, in a good way. We were not inundated with shopping, shopping, shopping.

From here we went to our hotel for the next 2 days, the Phowadol Resort and Spa. Here is the TripAdvisor page on the Phowadol which is very detailed and has reviews, pictures and more.The Phowadol Resort was very nice and very picturesque. It had separate pavilions with open air lobbies where the rooms were located.  The reception desk was in a separate pavilion (see picture). And there were private bungalows around some of the small lakes that you could also rent.  It had a very open, tropical feel with lots of lush vegetation, winding paths, little lakes/lagoons and a very nice pool that I actually got in and spent some time in.  I am typically an “indoor Susie” so this was an unusual occurrence (and I may have gotten a touch of heat stroke, unknowingly). But the weather was just ideal, warm but nice breeze and not too hot like it was further south.  The rooms had lots of wood and a private patio with a large palm.  An oddity of the room was a beautiful painted mural on the wall next to the bed that slid open to reveal the bathroom. The question, of course, is “why???”  Other than being great for a puppet show, it is just plain freaky-deeky. But I guess you did have a nice view outside through the patio doors from the toilet… Other bath news: the bathtub (an important fixture for me) was wide and deep. It was a little shorter than usual perhaps, but plenty long enough for me and the deepness and wideness were excellent.  Unfortunately, even with the panels to the bathroom open, you couldn’t see the TV from the bathtub. That would be the only real advantage to having the panels that open, in my opinion.

The room also had this ultra-modern unit that controlled the TV, the air conditioning, the lights (every one individually) and any thing else you can think of. Of course, none of us could figure out how it worked… That seems to be a theme with the hotels, that there is always something no one can figure out.  It turns out there is a master switch on the unit that turns everything on.  We got that part, but I tried and tried to figure out how to turn on the lamp next to the bed on my side.  The lamp itself had no switch, the cord had no switch and none of the buttons on the control panel worked for it.  I went to a friend’s room and asked them how they got it to work.  As it turned out, the light bulb was burned out in our lamp.  I think there is a joke in here somewhere about how to keep an idiot busy…

Now is a good time to talk about the bed mattresses.  Ever since Bangkok, the bed mattresses have been getting harder and harder.  These were a thin batting on a wooden platform.  It was extremely firm, but surprisingly comfortable (once we got over the surprise of a mattress that is even significantly firmer than ours at home, which is just a bed quality futon on slats).

We all wanted to see the musical light show clock tower and to go to the Chiang Rai night market so Nok arranged the bus to take us and to stop at the clock tower just as it was doing its thing and then we walked to the night market.

This is a shrine we passed while walking to the night market.  It was beautiful and was all silver (actually tin) filigree.

Chiang Rai has a very nice night market with a food place with a stage and entertainment that was quite varied, from a duo on acoustic guitars singing ’70s easy listening music like “Summer Breeze” and early beatles, to a quite extravagant Ladyboy show in Chiang Rai (aka he/she, aka katooey, aka transvestite). Click on the link to see a video I took. He/she’s (as Nok says) are very common in Thailand and no one thinks anything about it. At many stores and markets, there was a ladyboy working and no one gave it a second thought.

We asked Nok what the feeling was about them and Nok said people liked them because they were so cute and girly. Actually, Bangkok/Thailand is one of the best, if not “the” best places to go for transgender surgery. They have the most up-to-date, experienced surgeons and tools.  But just because a boy acts/dresses like a girl does not mean he is working on being changed physically into a female. It seems to be a way of life that is complete the way it is.  The ladyboys in the show were so beautiful and feminine that several of the guys in our group absolutely refused to believe they were men and went up to take a close look and still didn’t believe until a few of the performers were a slight bit more male looking and they said it was possible.  Many a man has ended up being surprised that the “woman” they picked up, was really a man.  It is just a common thing.

They used to have the same setup (night market, food area and entertainment) in Chiang Mai. I went to it when I was in Chiang Mai in 2001. But Nok says it closed that down and just has the night market now.

This is a picture of the delicious fish dinner that Sean had at the night market.

Sean and I did a little shopping at the night market and then we took a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. We paid 120 baht to get back. It was nice to know that we were not traveling tomorrow! Tomorrow is a free day and we plan to just hang out and maybe take a swim and just generally be lazy. Maybe we’ll go back to the night market.

By the way, to see all my posts from my February 2010 Smartours Amazing Thailand trip, you can select the category “Thailand” from the category dropdown on the right.

And a quick note, I may not post again for several days as Sean and I will be at the happiest place on Earth – Disney World next week.

Until then,

~Susan Mellott

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