After happening upon our mini-bus tickets the day before, Dylan and I weren't too confident about our impending trip to Chiang Rai. But as promised, the mini-bus driver showed up at our hotel to pick us up around 9:15am. We were funneled into the third of four rows on the bus, sitting next to a small window which wasn't ideal, but things seemed to be going well, all in all!
But over the next TWO AND A HALF HOURS, we learned why mini-buses are the worst. The driver spent two and a half hours driving all around the greater Chiang Mai area to pick up people until the mini bus was full. At one point, about two hours in, we ended up right back in front of our hotel.
Finally, after picking up the last person at her house at the super outskirts of town, we started the three and a half hour drive to Chiang Rai.
Dylan took this picture of me around noon (after about three hours in the mini bus). Between my expression and the look of the girl sitting next to me, you can get a sense of how we felt.
At about four and a half hours in, we stopped at a hostel where one person got off the mini bus and someone else got on. It was a beautiful area and I was super grateful for a chance to get out of the bus to catch my breath and use the restroom. I didn't even mind too much that we had to wait around for an hour while our driver and people on our bus ordered and ate food from the restaurant at the hostel.
Here's the view from the hostel...including the chickens eating offerings left at a small temple.
Right around 3pm (six hours after we got on the mini bus), we arrived at the White Temple, at the outskirts of Chiang Rai. We had been told we would stop here when we got the mini-bus tickets, so this was all according to plan. The driver only gave us 20 minutes here, but Dylan and I speed-toured through this super ornate and sometimes creepy temple. The whole thing is the ongoing creation of an artist, rather than a traditional temple.
The temple grounds also had a golden building, a grotto-like area, and a weird artist-creature statue in the peripheral area. We saw it all and made it back to the mini bus on time!
After getting back onto the mini bus, we drove a little farther before stopping at a plaza. Most of us on the bus looked at each other confused, because we were still 15 minutes outside of the main area of Chiang Rai. Turns out that our promised destination of "Chiang Rai Central," is actually a plaza 15 minutes out of the city... not the center of Chiang Rai.
I would have just been happy to be done with the mini bus, but when we went to the back of the bus to get our bags I discovered that the driver had smashed my bag under a seat to fit all of the other passengers' bags in. A trail of laundry soap was oozing down the side of my bag. There was little to do at this point, though, other than pay full tourist-price for a tuk-tuk to our hotel.
By the time I unpacked my soap-filled bag and rinsed everything off at the hotel, it was 5pm. Our promised 3.5 hour mini bus ride had taken about 8 hours total.
It was tempting to give up on the rest of the day, but we ventured out to see the clock tower near our hotel, eat dinner, and check out the Saturday Night market.
Here's the clock tower
A ton of restaurants in Chiang Rai specialized in burgers, which was surprising. We decided to embrace some American comfort-food with a Thai twist. The buns were made with Butterfly Pea Flowers, which are normally used to make tea. It was delicious!
After dinner, we headed to the Night Market, which seemed to be where everyone in the city of Chiang Rai was also hanging out. It felt like one of the biggest and also most local/authentic night markets we've been to. At one point, we came across a plaza with a whole bunch of different groups dancing. I wasn't brave enough to join in, but it was fun watching for a while.
Dylan ended up buying a cool Thai shirt after we spent a while looking through a lot that were Thai size, rather than Dylan size. And I got a durian ice cream bar, thinking I would try the stinky fruit in its most tasty form. I ate one bite and wanted to puke. Dylan did the same. We melted the rest in the hotel sink rather than having to smell it in our trash can. No more durian-flavored anything for me!