I flew into Changi in the late afternoon and, even though a friend had told me how efficient their immigration process was, I was still surprised to be in my hotel in Changi village within an hour of landing.
Despite my body clock telling me it was almost midnight, in Singapore it was only 5.30pm so I set off to explore. I needed the walk after a 10 hour flight. Across the road from the hotel was the busy Changi ferry terminal, from which small ferries zipped in and out, and the beach park where families were enjoying the late afternoon sun, picnicking or just sitting on the beach. Unlike Western beaches, there was little bare flesh on display! It wasn’t long before my energy flagged though and I returned to the hotel where the rooftop pool beckoned. Here I soaked, admiring the view as the sun faded.
The following morning saw me back at the airport where, once again, passport control and security were efficient meaning I had plenty of time to admire the art installations in Terminal 4. Whilst I waited for the flight, I sat in front of a giant wall painted with shop fronts, whose shutters opened at intervals and the scene behind came to life, displaying animated people singing and dancing. Some other airports could take note of Changi’s departure areas and improve their terminal waiting zones. (Bangkok springs to mind!)
My flight to Chiang Rai took 3 hours. Once again it was a smooth immigration process, and I was soon on the bus into town where I had booked a room at the Connect hostel. I was meeting a German lady, Angela, who was also joining the 5W (Women Welcoming Women Worldwide) group visit to Luang Prabang, Laos. We had both opted to arrive by the two day slow Shompoo Cruise boat up the Mekong and Chiang Rai was the best place to meet. However, she would not arrive until late evening so I explored the town in the meantime.
It was quiet when I first arrived but siesta time finished and the town came to life. People appeared as the shops re-opened and food stall holders set up. As it was Saturday, one long street was closed off for the Night Market. This was huge, with a variety of goods, particularly clothing, on sale. There was also a myriad of food stalls with some recognisable and other not so recognisable foods. At one point, I realised everyone around me had stopped walking and talking. I halted and listened to what I assume was the National Anthem. I didn’t find out whether this was a regular occurrence or a special occasion.
The following day, Angela and I took the local bus out to the White Temple, which is about 7km from the centre. This edifice took us both by surprise as it was much bigger and more elaborate than either of us had expected. Constructed from concrete, the entire temple and assorted buildings were decorated with complicated swirls and mosaics. It was very glittery and resembled an overdone wedding cake! There were also a lot of visitors as it was the end of Chinese New Year and a Sunday. Many ‘selfies’ were being taken (but not by me!)
Back in town, we walked via the golden Clock Tower to two more temples, Wat Klang Wieng and Wat Phra Kaew. The latter housed a replica green jade Buddha, (the original having been moved to the Royal Palace in Bangkok) and had some restful gardens containing many large tortoises. Here we appreciated a respite from the heat before going in search of food. We found this on a street stall in the form of sticky banana rice wrapped in a banana leaf. I’m sure it was highly nutritious! Thus fortified, we made our way to the bus station and a bus that would take us to the Blue Temple or Wat Rong Suea Ten. It was not without a little effort we made the young lady bus conductor understand where we wanted to go.
The Blue Temple was blue; very blue, inside and out. It was also one of the few temples that had chairs to sit on. We took advantage and spent the rest of the afternoon people watching. There was a constant flow to keep us entertained. There is a dress code for visiting temples, this being no bare shoulders or knees. How it was enforced seemed to be dependent on the views of the individual “temple police”. One of them was vehement in her enforcement although it appeared her logic was random!
We had dinner on the way back to the hostel that evening, knowing that if we didn’t, we would be too tired to venture out again.