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"And we'll go to the North." To the far north ... Thailand

In the far north of Thailand is the Golden Triangle - a geographical area located in the mountains at the junction of the borders of the three states of Southeast Asia: Thailand, Myanmar and Laos

Having found myself on a burning December ticket in the city of Pattaya on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand, I was not at all going to bask on the golden sand for two weeks. My plans for voyages in Thailand and even beyond its borders were mapped out and calculated in advance, back in Khabarovsk, and they looked impressive.

"And we'll go to the North." To the far north ... Thailand
The first point, of course, was Cambodia with its main attractions - the medieval temples of Angkor and the ruins of Phnom Kulen. Then - Ayutthaya, one of the ancient capitals of Siam, plus a trip to the far west of Thailand, to the River Kwai and to the Erawan waterfall, offered by travel agencies. And Bangkok was a must-see.

But a special thrill was caused by the opportunity to go to the far north, including the so-called Golden Triangle at the junction of the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (former Burma).

The hardest part turned out to be ... no, not booking all these trips. All kinds of large and small travel agencies in Pattaya - even a dime a dozen, they are located on every corner, in most cases our compatriots work there, who excitedly describe the delights of each trip and the benefits of purchasing a tour from them. It turned out to be much more difficult to dock all the planned trips in time, put them in a kind of network schedule in order to have time to visit wherever I planned. Moreover, some trips, including those to the Golden Triangle, were not daily.

Be that as it may, everything seemed to settle down. And Ayutthaya with Kwai, and especially Cambodia left indelible impressions. In the interval between them, I even managed to visit the marvelous white-sand islets in the Gulf of Thailand, plunge into the warmest and cleanest water far from Thai megacities.

But now my trip to the far north of Thailand almost fell through due to the mistake of some idiot clerk from a tour operator. In the application for a trip, he did not put my name, but the personal data of a colleague, with whom we just went to Thailand. Everything would be fine, but the air ticket was written in someone else's name. To the north, to the city of Chiang Mai, it was necessary to fly on a plane of a local airline, and the mismatch of the surname in the passport and ticket is a serious problem. I found it only at the Bangkok airport. I do not argue, it is my own fault: when I received a ticket from the traveling guide in the hotel lobby, I did not check it, I did not look into it carefully. But there was also a mitigating circumstance: the ticket was handed to me at three in the morning. And the head was almost bamboo: the day before I had just returned from another voyage to Cambodia, and after 23.00. There was simply no time to take a nap, and I was afraid to oversleep. Therefore, after a shower from a long journey (about 500 km and eight hours of travel from Siem Reap to Pattaya), I decided to wander the Internet, read the news and look for at least some information about the region to which I was going to fly.

As a result, they stopped me on landing at the airport - because of the very mismatch of names. Worse was something else: just the day before, in Cambodia, I managed to bathe my cell phone in a sacred waterfall on the Phnom Kulen plateau. Despite the sacredness of the local water, Nokia showed no signs of life. When traveling and excursions as part of a tourist group, this is not fatal, especially since upon returning to Pattaya I was going to acquire a new smart "talker". But in force majeure situations, it is impossible to contact a travel agency or a guide without a phone, and alone on a hitchhiker to get more than 100 km from the Bangkok airport to Pattaya is another problem. Well, at least not all fellow travelers from the group went into the drive, so I asked for a phone and called the guide who was in charge of us.

After a small and polite scandal, arranged by me upon my return to Pattaya to a representative of a travel agency, they promised me that in three days, on Wednesday, I would certainly find myself in the north. This was the last chance to go there, because on Friday I had to return from Thailand to Khabarovsk.

On the night before the flight to the north, the guide called and advised me to take warm clothes. It turned out that the day before in the northern provinces of Thailand it got colder: night temperatures in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are plus six to eight degrees, compared to Pattaya + 25 ° C, + 30 ° C.

The flight to sleep did not dispose: painfully interesting things opened up to the eye behind the plane's window. In the beginning - the boundless quarters of Bangkok, 15-millionth metropolis, then equally endless rectangles of fields and chaotic tracts of forest spaces, and closer to the north - mountain ranges. 700-kilometer the length of the flight, together with takeoff and landing, took about an hour. And now we are met by the concrete airfield in Chiang Mai running under the wing.

Chiang Mai. Doi Suthep Temple

The weather in Chiang Mai that day, as promised, was much cooler than in sultry Pattaya: during the day, only plus fourteen to sixteen degrees Celsius. Even the Russian guide Igor, who came to the airport for tourists, was in a sweater and jacket.

Acquaintance with northern Thailand and its capital began with a trip to the Doi Suthep nature reserve and the temple of the same name 15 kilometers west of Chiang Mai. The bus climbed up the temple mountain along the serpentine road, winding among the green thickets. The climatic delights of the north made themselves felt - tourists and local pilgrims are equipped in autumn. And even the dogs that were sitting in large numbers near the entrance to the Phrathat Doi Suthep temple complex also turned out to be ... dressed in warm woolen vests and jumpers. Moreover, the various breed watchdogs were not at all in loitering, as evidenced by the boxes for alms for food that stood at their paws. Well, how can we not take care of our smaller brothers!

Thai kids in national costumes, who sit on the steps of the stairs leading to the top of the hill, earn money by taking pictures with tourists. A stream of people streams past them up to the shrines. And here is a staircase of more than three hundred steps behind, we pass by two mythical monsters - the guardians of the gates of the sanctuary, and in front of us is the noisy courtyard of the temple complex. A lot of people - Thai pilgrims, tourists of European and Asian (primarily Chinese and Koreans) appearance, local monks in orange robes, some in sandals, and some barefoot.

We had to take off our shoes and enter the temple along the stone slabs that burned in the morning cold. True, some of the fellow travelers refused this pleasure and went to wander through the less holy nooks of Phrathat Doi Suthepa, where it was not required to take off your shoes.

Even without being a Buddhist, or even being an atheist or an agnostic in the depths of your soul, you still imbued with a sincere reverence for someone else's spiritual heritage, admire the beauty of this place and the gold-shining pagoda towering in its center. And from the observation deck, hanging over the green sea of ​​the jungle, a marvelous view opens up of the outlines of Chiang Mai swaying through the foggy haze, spaciously stretching in the valley to the east of the Doi Suthep reserve.

From this vestibule of the sky, you really don't want to leave, much less go down to the tourist minibuses. But you can't go anywhere - in the local blitz tours, everything is scheduled every minute. And we still had to visit local sights, more precisely, objects for the potential devastation of tourists' wallets - jewelry and silk factories, a factory for the production of umbrellas and fans.

By the way, both in Thailand and Cambodia you immediately notice the closest bundle of travel agencies and their guides in the field with all kinds of factories, souvenir workshops and shops, tea and other shops, pharmacies of local drugs. They will certainly bring you there, arrange a presentation or tasting, smartly and slightly obtrusively advertise the exclusivity and miraculous properties of their goods, as well as the profitability of the price. And most tourists buy at least something. Therefore, guides, presumably, regularly receive their commissions ...

Some of the tourists are habitually outraged by the commercial overload of travel, because they want to get acquainted, first of all, with objects of cultural and cognitive interest, especially since there is not much time. But, what can you do, you have to put up with it, unless you think: whether next time you go on a trip on your own? By the way, many of our compatriots do just that.

Of course, in Chiang Mai, a city with a population of over three million, founded more than 700 years ago and once the capital of the northern Thai kingdom of Lanna, it is advisable to come not for half a day, but for several days. There are many attractions here: Buddhist temples (there are almost 300), each of which is a kind of architectural monument, museums, national parks around the city, markets where all kinds of exotic products of local craftsmen are sold. Nevertheless, we also saw something of the local flavor. We visited a silk factory, at an umbrella factory admired hand-painted umbrellas and fans (one of the fans is up to one and a half meters unfolded), as well as picturesque canvases by local artists - if you wish, all this can be bought in the store. We also stopped at a jewelry factory with an indispensable store, where women’s eyes run up and drooling. I was more attracted by the sight of craftsmen, disconnected from the bustling tourist world and bending over tables with drilling and grinding machines, carefully inserting all kinds of precious stones into the frames with tweezers. This is how jewelry masterpieces are born - labor, without exaggeration, hard labor ...

On the way to the town of Chiang Rai, located even further north, in accordance with the local tradition and the tour program, we were brought to the hot springs. Fifty meters from the road - stone-lined baths and small one-meter-wide canals and barefoot men and women sitting along them. Water up to + 45 ° С, or even + 55 ° С. You sit on the parapet, take off your shoes, lower your legs - and you get excellent pleasure, especially considering the memorable barefoot walk on the cold slabs of the Phrathat Doi Suthep temple. Here, in the water baths, those who wish can, as they say, choose a hotter one. But, of course, you need to know when to stop. Indeed, in one of the baths, apparently, the temperature is very high: local women put wicker baskets with chicken eggs into it and cook them for themselves for a snack and for sale.

By the way, about the locals. All tourists and travelers celebrate the hospitality, friendliness and peace of mind of the Thais. Although in Pattaya they warn: "Protect money, documents and valuables from thieves and fraudsters!" So, in the traditional, patriarchal north of Thailand, stealing and cheating is not accepted, but the people there can be considered almost the standard of honesty. However, even in a Buddhist country, consciousness is largely determined by being: in Thailand, the comparative prosperity of the northern rural hinterland is immediately apparent (especially against the background of poor Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar). Of course, all this is achieved not only due to the heavenly climate and the enormous fertility of the soil, but also, most importantly, thanks to the ability of people to work hard, as well as the smart and caring policy of the state.

Chiang Rai. White temple. Village of Mountain Tribes

Southeast Asia, including Thailand, is the focus of thousands of temples, primarily Buddhist and Hindu, many of which are several centuries old. But among them there are truly unique sanctuaries. Such as the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun, located 13 km southwest of Chiang Rai, the capital of Thailand's northernmost province.

This is a private temple, built according to the project and with the money of the famous artist and architect Kositpipat Chalermchay. Especially for his idea, he acquired a piece of land, and in 1998 began the construction of a unique architectural complex. Numerous sculptural compositions are located on the temple territory, there is also an art gallery, where Chalermchay's paintings are presented. The original wall paintings can be admired in the temple itself: along with traditional subjects related to the religious mission of Buddha, there are also those that are inspired by modern geopolitics. For example, former US President George W. Bush and Islamic terrorist Osama bin Laden, hugging the warhead of a flying intercontinental ballistic missile. Or - one of the heroes of the popular film "The Matrix" performed by film actor Keanu Reeves.

Wat Rong Khun is not only a Buddhist temple. Kositpipat Chalermchai created a real cultural and educational center here, where dozens of his students and like-minded people work. There is also an art school for everyone interested and interested in the fine arts. Chalermchay himself conducts classes there. We were lucky to see how he conducts his master class - brightly, interestingly, emotionally, acting as a master of painting and a teacher of life, as well as an eccentric mime who turns his stories into mini-scenes.

By the way, in Chiang Rai, among the many interesting objects for tourists, there is another one, created by the same Chalermchai. This is a source of pride for the townspeople - an artsy clock tower in one of the squares. We found ourselves near it at about 19.00, heading to the night market. And exactly at seven in the evening the clock struck, a light show began ...

As for the night market, at the sight of the local prices for clothes, shoes, paintings by local artists, the hand itself reached into the pocket for money. Just have time to turn on your brains with sacramental questions "Why?" or "So what to do with it then?" and stop yourself in time. Moreover, the Russian guide advised not to overload with shopping - the next day I had to go to neighboring Myanmar, where, according to him, the abundance of all kinds of things and the prices for them would pleasantly surprise, even in comparison with the provincial Thai Chiang Rai.

That evening we managed to visit another temple, Wat Phra Kaew, known since the XIV century for the so-called statue of the Emerald Buddha. True, now this is just a copy of the statue taken to the royal temple in Bangkok, but no less revered.

The weather of the Thai north reminded of itself in the evening at the hotel. Taking into account the night temperatures at + 8 ° C and + 10 ° C, in the absence of the usual home heating, we had to warm ourselves at night: sleep under a blanket, and even put on a shirt. One consolation and salvation - a surprisingly hot shower that functioned properly ...

The next day, our group went further north, to the Golden Triangle - to the junction of the borders of Thailand, Myanmar (former Burma) and Laos. However, the route also included a visit to an exotic village, where representatives of local national minorities, the Shan and Karen mountain tribes lived. These peoples are considered to be masters in weaving and silver processing.

It is clear that the aborigines of the hinterland, living in a kind of "reservation" and deprived of the right to settle in Thailand, have long been tightly embedded in the tourism industry. And the village, located just a few kilometers from the highway leading from Chiang Rai to the northern border, is not at all an ancient and distinctive cultural oasis, but only a show center and a brisk souvenir trade. Yes, you will be guided past primitive huts (there are, however, scooters and other modern means of transportation nearby). They will show you scarves and bedspreads woven by local craftswomen, and other souvenirs (and, of course, they will offer to buy them). Of course, they will certainly be allowed to take pictures with long-necked women from the Karen tribe, each of whom wears several kilograms of jewelry ...

And finally, the border town of Mae Sai is the gateway to neighboring Myanmar, where the town of Tachileik is located on the other side of the Ruak River. We hand over our passports to the guide and rush after him to the bridge and the border crossing on it. No, stop! They ask to wait - a motorcade of one of the Thai princesses who went on a pilgrimage to the Shwedagon Pagoda, towering above Tachilek, is about to proceed to Myanmar.

Tachilek. Shwedagon Pagoda and the delights of Myanmar markets

The wait for the meeting with Myanmar did not drag on. Without any special formalities (it seems that tourists are simply counted on their heads here) we cross the bridge and find ourselves in another world, in many respects different from Thailand. First of all, the familiar left-hand traffic immediately catches the eye (in just a few days spent in Thailand, you imperceptibly get used to the right-hand traffic). The people in Myanmar are dressed more simply, if not poorer. And the houses are kind of shabby, although the city is a kind of "showcase" of the country, and a lot of money goes here along with tourists, traders (and smugglers). In short, one more evidence of the economic leadership of neighboring Thailand.

And local tuk-tuk are already waiting for us - not just cars, as in Thailand, but motorcycles with covered bodies, in each of which six people can fit on the benches, and if stuffed more tightly, even more. And the excursion to Tachilek started, the town is clearly not small and very colorful. Groaning and stumbling, our tuk-tuk climbed up the temple mountain to the Shwedagon pagoda. The first thing we looked at was a bus with local military men armed not with American M-16s, as in Thailand, but with the usual Kalash. But my hand, already reaching for the camera, was stopped by the guide's call-warning: "Don't!" As it turned out, the army people here are not as meek as in Thailand: several decades of almost continuous civil wars, ethnic rebellions and coups made the "man with a gun" in Myanmar tough and unpredictable, not liking to be targeted even by cameras.

The Shwedagon Pagoda, as it turned out, is the namesake of a more famous temple located in the capital of Myanmar, the city of Yangon, or, in the old way, Rangoon. But the local "clone" of the capital's temple is impressive and mesmerizing, dazzles with the golden shine of the stupa rising upward. It is also customary to walk barefoot not only in the temple with four curly golden Buddhas, but throughout the huge courtyard around the pagoda. Fortunately, the day was not only sunny, but also much warmer than the previous one in Chiang Mai.

Along with the two temples, a huge market is an indispensable object of a blitz voyage to Myanmar. It looks like smuggled goods (or confiscated goods?) Not only from Asia were collected here. Rows are bottles of Italian, Spanish, Australian and other wines. And the prices are enticing: 500 Thai baht for three bottles, plus a corkscrew as a present. Some of the Russian tourists, surprised at the prices, even joked, they say, weren't pirates from the Strait of Molucca or even from Somalia driving their trophies here over the air bridge? Be that as it may, I could not resist the acquisitions either, having bargained for order (in the east without this it is impossible - they will not respect it) got hold of a durable, comfortable and roomy backpack for only 400 Thai baht.

And soon, driven by the guide who kept glancing at the clock, we left Tachilek, crossed the border bridge and, seated in minibuses, headed towards another small Thai town of Sop Ruak. This is where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos converge.

Sop Ruak, the heart of the Golden Triangle

From the observation deck, overhanging the road and huts at the entrance to Sop Ruak, an impressive view opens up of the confluence of the Ruak River (which we met in Thai Mae Sai and Myanmar Tochilek) and the great Mekong. The Mekong River, originating in distant Tibet, for 4500 km washes the shores of six countries - China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. In its valleys, in ancient times, brilliant civilizations arose, unlike those that we know from school and even university textbooks. After all, Southeast Asia, unlike China and India, not to mention Europe, unfortunately, is almost not represented in the compulsory course of history and cultural history. But more than 10 thousand years ago, it was here that for the first time in the world ceramics production appeared and rice cultivation began ...

The muddy brown waters of the Mekong splash below, washing a slice of Myanmar's low meadowshore, while port and industrial buildings on the Lao coast are visible to the right across the river. Further to the north, the river goes to the foothills of low (1000 - 1300 meters), but impressive looking, wooded mountains. The view is amazing, especially when you realize that you have ended up where in childhood you could only travel along the map, repeating gibberish names of cities, villages, rivers like incantations. And past along the Mekong, up and down the stream, all kinds of boats and barges slowly stretch, long boats with tourists gallop briskly on the waves.

“The next stage of the program is House 212,” the guide encrypts, and we go up the worn and cracked stone steps of the staircase, which is guarded on both sides by statues of naga dragons.

On the way through the forest park, another surprise is the ruins of a Buddhist sanctuary, as it turned out, built by Thai princes at the turn of the XIII-XIV centuries. Hence, their expansion to the south began, leading to the creation of the Kingdom of Siam-Thailand.

And here, finally, the same "212 House of Opium", that is, the Museum of Opium, a drug, the production of which for centuries the local people earned their living and food, along the way poisoning (together with Afghanistan) the rest of the world.

The museum contains exhibits that tell not only about one of the pernicious addictions of mankind, but also about how local crafts and trade technologies developed on the basis of the sale of opium. There are many sets of all kinds of weight standards, weights, which are also works of art: elephants, monkeys, figurines of other mythical animals. And one of the halls is dedicated to the political history of the twentieth century and the drug lord Khun Sa (or Zhang Shifu). The fate of this ethnic Chinese, a Sunni Muslim, who became the stepson of the prince of the local unrecognized state of Shan, and then the commander of the separatist Shang Army and the organizer of the opiate drug production in the Golden Triangle, is similar to the plot of an adventure novel ...

From the museum, looking into the shops there, Russian tourists head to the pier.

A speedboat or speedboat ride on the Mekong is another must-see on the tour, plus a photo session on the water against the backdrop of the Golden Buddha statue on the Thai coast, and against the backdrop of the luxurious Paradise casino, which is said to have been built on the orders the same drug lord Khun Sa on the Myanmay coast. And then - landing in Laos, in the trading zone on the Donsao Peninsula. Here, in huts under wooden, thatched and plastic roofs, Lao souvenirs and goods from all over the world are presented in large quantities. Local spirits with snakes, lizards or scorpions swimming in them, and elite (at least judging by the labels) varieties of whiskey, cognac and wines. Bags made of crocodile and other exotic leather, silk and all kinds of other fabrics. Aboriginal Medicines and Edibles. In short, buy, tourist, do not skimp! If, of course, you need it ...

I also wanted to look at the exotic, not related to trade, so I headed along a barely perceptible path into dense thickets. And he was lucky: he captured on the camera not only the local landscapes, but also a Lao peasant woman who was collecting brushwood. The local "fashion model", however, looked with such a pitying look that he could not resist, gave her a fee for the photo, 20 Thai baht, - and was awarded a grateful smile.

What else I paid attention to in this patch of Lao territory is the Chinese penetration. Directly on the pier in Dongsao, there are advertising stands telling about the construction on the Chinatown peninsula and the special economic zone "Golden Triangle", of course, Chinese. By the way, space images on Wikimapia and Google's topographic services are clearly evidence of a really rapid construction. However, I happened to hear about the powerful expansion of Chinese capital in Southeast Asia in almost all the countries of the region that I visited on that trip - in Cambodia, Myanmar, and even in Thailand, which is so proud of its independence. What can we say about poor Laos, directly bordering on the richest Celestial Empire ?!

So my voyage to the Thai north and the Golden Triangle ended. On the same evening, our tour group went back to Bangkok via Chiang Rai airport. Peering into the black silk of the sky, hung behind the oval of the porthole, I was already with leisurely pleasure, in order to firmly imprint everything into my memory, laid out in my head the thoughts and unique impressions left from such a rich trip. And then, returning to the hotel room, for a long time he was sorting on a laptop a huge amount of photographic material captured on a SONY camera. Another dream ... of a traveler came true, as they say, and my acquaintance with countries unknown to me before took place. Let, due to the circumstances, the acquaintance is short and largely superficial ...

But why not go back there again?
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