Getting lost in Chiang Rai

We stayed 5 nights in Chiang Rai at a hotel called Na-Rak-O — pronounced locally as Nalak-a which we were told is like “cute with an ‘a’ added to make it cuter”. This made a lot of sense as there were random cuddly bears hanging around behind the curtains.

The hotel was nice. A big double bed on a concrete slab, a shower room with a toilet and as we found out on the last day — an awesome spot to watch the sunrise.

Chiang Rai seems fairly new to the tourism boom. Initially it seems like a hotspot for tourists but spend a few minutes walking in any direction and it’s happy smiles, waves and curious stares again from the locals. I’m not sure many visitors venture too far out from the centre.

We arrived by bus and when we got off we had an ordeal finding the hotel. The tourism officer told us to go left as we leave the bus station following the road to the traffic lights where we turn left, but there were only traffic lights to the right. We walked a bit and returned to her to confirm that it’s definitely not right as that’s where the only traffic lights are. She got a bit moody that we questioned her and insisted we go left.

We did. This is where the story begins.

We follow this road for about 10-15 minutes hoping to come across some traffic lights, we finally did and from here were told to go left, so now we’re walking along a highway… this can’t be right but she was insistent so we continue and take the next left again. Walking down a dimly lit street a pair of dogs come charging at us aggressively barking their faces off. Luckily there was a chain fence separating us! Dogs are usually quite relaxed around people here so maybe not many people come to this part. We carry on and hit another main road. This definitely isn’t right. We see a Seven Eleven so pop in for directions.

Not a word of English to be spoken or understood.

We were lost in Chiang Rai with a language barrier and no internet. We show them the map but they’re confused and of no help. We leave and stumble on a hostel. Thank you Lord! We go in and they upgrade our shitty black and white printout map that we were given at Tourist Information to a colour leaflet that they draw directions to our hotel on. They were confident so we were happy and left smiling.

They didn’t have a clue.

An hour and a half pass and I hate Chiang Rai.

Further into unknown territory with no one on the streets we see a buffet restaurant. We chance it.

“English?”

“Little bit!”

That’ll do. We show the map, we explain we’re lost. The waitress gets the manager. The manager gets the waiter. The waiter gets the cook and there’s another waiter hanging around. There’s like 5 of them — two on Google Maps and three looking at the leaflet.

There’s a lot of talking. Luckily the place wasn’t that busy and they were more than happy to help. 20 minutes / half an hour of running about they figure something out. They’ve pinned the hotel down and know how to get there. They try to explain the road we’re on but quickly give up, opting for a more fail-safe solution…

Mopeds.

The cook and the waiter are ushered outside and given directions. They get on their scooters and the manager looks at us all like “This is happening. Get on”. We’re standing there with all our travelling gear and are like “Yeah. It’s happening”. I thank him and the waitress, offering a tip and they profusely decline so instead we shake hands.

With no helmets and no hesitation we jump on.

Okay okay. Some hesitation. Shit was getting real.

Charlotte and the waiter on the scooter behind, me and the cook leading the pack. Weaving in and out of traffic, holding onto the bike and our bags simultaneously; we turn up at the first set of traffic lights the Tourist Officer told us was the wrong way! Two minutes later — literally two minutes — we’re there. Only accepting a handshake before their departure they leave us and we check in with a relieved smile on our faces.

I love Chiang Rai.

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