Saturday, February 4, 2017

Revisiting North Thailand – Route 118

It is a truism to state that North Thailand has changed in the last thirty year; the development is ubiquitous in this part of the World and differences are only found in the scales of the metamorphosis. My first trip to the “Golden Triangle” was twenty-nine years ago (June 1988), and, as I have kept pictures of this early sojourn, I “revisited” the region, following the same itinerary, searching for the places and folks that I had seen at that time. I was lucky to be able to localise most places depicted in my photographs and, even more, to be able to meeting with most portrayed people.

Despite all the changes, I experienced the same kindness and joviality from the north Thailand dwellers, even more cheerful when I handed them pictures from themselves or, sometimes, from family members who had already passed away.

An Akha lady with her portrait picture taken twenty-seven years earlier.

My full story about “Revisiting  North Thailand”, will be published in a series of six accounts on GT-Rider website .The first part relates the itinerary along Route 118, from Chiangmai to Chiangrai, unfortunately, nowadays, one of Thailand’s most treacherous trail.

Just at the journey’s beginning, after leaving Chiangmai’s outskirts, the gulden hillside Phratat Doi Saket temple watches over the speeding cars.

Wat Phrathat Doi Saket in the afternoon light.

About thirty kilometers uproad, an infamous sharp curve is nicknamed “one hundred corpses” by locals.

The sharp curve nicknamed “one hundred corpses”, 

At the border with Wiang Papao district and the entrance to Chiang Rai province, many drivers happily “sound their horns”, a devotion sign when passing “Nang Kaew’s shrine”. 

Nang Kaew's shrine some years ago, close to the road.

The Nang Kaew legend, narrated by locals, has several variations. One of them tells the story of a young Burmese lady, seduced by a Thai man who promised to return to marry her.  After waiting desperately for her lover, she went on a journey to look for him. Exhausted, she passed away as she wandered through the hill which, today, marks the limit of Chiangrai and Chiangmai provinces. The phallic offerings are meant to bring her solace and, in return, grant fertility and other supplicants’ wishes.

In the 80s, the first possible pit-stop was fifty kilometers after Doi Saket, at the “Pong Nam Ron” hotsprings.
A romantic setup of wooden barracks, along the Mae Lao river, was an attraction for foreign and local travelers. Small wells dug out of the earth and filled by boiling water served to cook small eggs sold on the spot.

The hotspring in 1979, the first attraction on Route 118 after Doi Saket.

A new hot water and geyser attraction, with restaurants and shops catering to an increased flow of Thai and foreign visitors, was set up on the road’s north rim. It includes a large mock up temple building, which, till now, and after far more than a decade, is still not finished nor opened to the public. 

Pong Nam Ron with recent developments, both on the north and south side.

New hotsprings on the road’s south rim.

Further down Route 118, the journey passes “Buak Khon” hamlet, known for its basketry and handmade “tiger grass” brooms. Since forever, at least when the upgraded road provided traffic and business opportunities, roadside stalls are selling these prized items.

A road stall selling brooms and woodenware

In Mae Kachan, it is worth to climb the hill to Wat Mon Pra Jao Lai (the many Buddha mountain) to enjoy the panoramic view over the Mae Lao valley lowland; it is a regional landmark, particularly pleasant when glittering in the sunset light.

Wat Mon Pra Jao Lai chedi

Travelers without a vehicle are not let alone along Route 118 which is well deserved by all type of public transportations, like the comfortable “Green Line” coaches, smaller local buses and yellow songtaew (“double line seaters” taxis).

Well loaded songtaew desserve Route 118

Pong Nock, a Hmong village used to be a touristic attraction. This hamlet has changed a lot over the years; it is now made from mostly concrete houses and dwellers no longer wear their traditional cloths.

Hmong people in Pong Nock village

A “compulsory” stopover, particularly for sweet lovers, is the iconic “Charin Garden Resort”, a site which exists, in its actual setting, since about twenty years. Before that, it was a rose garden with a stall serving noodle dishes and Nescafe. After spending time in America, to learn about pastry, the owner’s mother came back to produce the arguably best cakes in the North, a fame still unchallenged these days.

Charin Backery, arguably the best pastries in the North.

Route 118 joins National Highway 1 (Phahonyothin Road) in Mae Lao (Ban Mai). A couple of kilometres further, a famous attraction, one of Chiang Rai’s landmarks, lures visitors with another compulsory pit-stop, it is “Wat Ron Khun”, one more temple, and another important site to visit. 

“Red sins” contrast with the purity of the Buddha and of the mind.

I am unsure about the itinerary, twenty-seven years ago, to cross Chiang Rai. It was maybe not along “Highway 1” and could, alternatively, be on Route 1211, a more appealing trail through the “backland”, passing a couple of villages and the Rai Boonrawd Singha Park.

For casual visitors, a, cum Singha lion, selfy is a must.

The comprehensive illustrated story can be read on GT-Rider website.

Revisiting North Thailand Part 1: “route 118” To Chiang Saen
Discussion in 'Northern Thailand - Road Trip Reports' started by Jurgen, Jan 18, 2017.

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