Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand

Chiang Rai is the furthest northern city in Thailand of any size.  Any further north and you bump into Laos and Myanmar (Burma) across the Mekong river which is shown here.  It is very wide and apparently shallow according to locals who say you can wade across it in the dry season.  The floating structures along the shore are restaurants which I did not investigate, but apparently specialize in fish.  The Mekong is where the largest catfish in the world are caught, some weighing more than a large man.

Chiang Rai is small enough to get a good sense of the city within a few days and large enough to realize there is more to it than the central city.  I needed to buy a cell phone here because my European phone wouldn't work outside Bangkok.  It was quite a distance to the outer ring road to the Tesco Department Store.  With my rented Honda Wave 125cc moto (left) it was an easy trip since motorcycles can go to the front of the line at stop lights and go around traffic backups.  I wish I could have rented the covered moto (above) because the sun was hot on my trips out of town.

Besides the side trip an hour north to the Mekong River, I rode an all day loop trip into the northwest mountains to explore the tea plantations.  Thailand is somewhat famous for tea growing, at least in Southeast Asia.  The tea plants are of the Oolong species, but they mostly do not ferment the tea into black tea.  It is mostly dried into green tea and is for sale everywhere.  I find the tea to be very flavorful, but I wonder if pesticides are used in the growing process, a question language limitations would not allow.  Another thing I learned is that one cannot pick buds and leaves directly off the plant and make tea.  On one of my stops along the way I found workers out in the field hoeing weeds and they showed me how they pick and gave me a good handful of tea.  When I returned to my guesthouse and tried to brew these fresh leaves nothing happened... just hot water, not even any aroma.  They didn't even taste like anything but a green leaf when I tried chewing the fresh leaves.

Tea plants produce a pretty flower and a berry which I assume is a seed pod.  Even though the language barrier prevented many questions I had about the tea industry here, I learned quite a bit and this was my first encounter with live growing tea plants.

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