Chiang Rai: Northern Thailand

One trip that we still haven’t blogged much about is our 2011 trip to Thailand and Cambodia.  We wrote about the last few days and our time on the beach in Krabi, but we also visited Chiang Rai, Bangkok, and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Finnegan was 20 months old at the time of the trip and Russ’ Facebook statuses clearly document his trepidation about taking such a long flight with a toddler with gems such as “I’m prepared for this (departure day) to be the worst day of my life” or “I fully expect this trip to end with our names on the no fly list” and he even recently stated, “I can’t believe we had the balls to fly to Thailand with a 20-month old.”  But we did – and you should too.

There is no denying that it’s a long flight.  It’s about 24 hours of travel time from the east coast, but Finnegan did great on both flights and it was completely worth the effort.  And we used this trip as our motivation to break Finnegan of his bottle.  We were worried about finding clean water to wash his bottles and we were not sure if we would be able to easily find pasteurized milk.

We arrived in Bangkok late at night and since we’re gluttons for punishment, we decided the best way to plan our trip was to stay one night at an airport hotel and get back on a plane the next day for an 80 minute flight to Chiang Rai.  Most first trips to Thailand include a visit to either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai – we chose the later because it’s smaller and located closer to the Golden Triangle region where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.

We stayed in Chiang Rai for two nights and did a Golden Triangle tour that included a visit to a touristy town in the hills with the Akha tribe, a ride on the Mekong River with a short stop in Laos at another very touristy island (Don Sao), and a visit to the excellent Hall of Opium, which covers the history of the crop and the devastating effects it had on people.  We booked our guide through the hotel and she was really good – her English was great, she was willing to talk about her life, and she loved Finnegan.  In general, the culture is extremely accommodating of children and Finnegan received a lot of extra attention because of his blond hair and blue eyes.

finnegan and guide

Eating fried meal worms – he even asked for more!finnegan eating meal worms

Trying on an Akha hathat

The sun was too bright for Finnegan to face the camera (he is NOT camera shy).hill tribe2 hill tribe

Arriving in Don Saolaos river2 river tour

Snake whiskey.  We’re brave, but not that brave.whiskey

On our second full day in Chiang Rai, we went on a bike tour and elephant trek with Chiang Rai Cycling.  The ride was really beautiful and took place mostly on back roads and farm trails.  We stopped at a small temple, a rice ‘factory’, and the White Temple (or Wat Rong Khun).  The White Temple is one of the most incredible places that I’ve ever seen.  If you go on a sunny day, you definitely need sunglasses since it can be blinding with the small pieces of mirror and glass that are incorporated into the designs.  Finnegan had a tough time without them.

temple rice factory rice factory2


Image Credit: asiarooms.comwhite temple white temple4 white temple3    hands reaching up

After the White Temple, we rode to a park and then took a long-tail boat to an elephant camp.  We met up with the tour guide’s niece waiting for the long-tail boat and she and Finnegan became fast friends.

finnegan and juan

She came with us on the long-tail boat ride, which Finnegan obviously appreciated!


At the elephant camp, we bought bags of food to feed them and then took a one hour trek through the river and forest.  Elephants are amazing creatures and while it was neat to sit on top of one, I would not be in a hurry to take another ride.  They offer 3-hour treks, but trust me when I say one hour is too long.  Finnegan enjoyed the ride and the scenery was nice enough, but I was relieved when the hour was up.

elephants elephants 2 elephants3

We thoroughly enjoyed the day and were really glad that we used the Chiang Rai Cycling company since the guide was patient and their equipment was in great shape.  We rode in the back of a truck on the way home.  I’m sure this picture will make some parents nervous and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous at times, but we went with the “When in Rome” philosophy.  It actually seems pretty safe compared to the common practice in SE Asia of having entire families (sans helmets) ride on the back of a motorcycle.

end of tour

We spent our two nights in Chiang Rai at the Le Meridien hotel.  It’s a large hotel with a beautiful infinity pool that generally gets very good reviews.  Our room was huge with a nice walk in shower that Finnegan loved.  The only downside to this hotel is its location outside of town.  At night, you either have to take a cab to town (which adds up) or eat at the hotel restaurant.



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