Category Archives: Thailand

Travel to and around Thailand

Border Run – Mae Sai, Thailand to Myanmar

As stated in the previous post, I went to Chaing Rai to see the place, and be closer to the Myanmar border. I rented a motorbike once again, this time a Honda Sh-150; yet another upgrade. I was looking for another PCX but the company I was at only had SH-150s. I was not disappointed. The SH-150 had larger wheels, was heavier, and had a bit higher seating position. This all made for a more stable ride on the road. In Chiang Rai the price was the same for an SH-150 as for a PCX, 400 baht ($13.00) per day so the upgrade made sense.

The Honda Sh-150 feels more stable on the road than the PCX. It also includes a handy storage trunk as well as under seat storage.

The Honda Sh-150 feels more stable on the road than the PCX. It also includes a handy storage trunk as well as under seat storage.

The road trip to Mae Sai was pretty easy, only about an hour. The highway was in good shape and there were no mountain passes or tight cornering. I didn’t stop at any of the small towns along the way but did see several markets and a multitude of road side stands selling produce and some local wine. I must have passed through strawberry farming country because there were dozens and dozens of stands selling strawberries.

One of the many roadside stands selling strawberry products on the way to Mae Sai.

One of the many roadside stands selling strawberry products on the way to Mae Sai.

Farm land prepared for the next crop. There were many miles of farm land on the route to Mai Sai.

Farm land prepared for the next crop. There were many miles of farm land on the route to Mai Sai.

Like many countries that are allies, Thailand allows some tourists into the country without prearranging a visa. Upon arrival the tourist is granted a 15 day or 30 day visa stamp in their passport depending on their country of origin. For longer stays, a 60 day tourist visa (or other type) must be acquired prior to arrival in Thailand. This is done by applying for the visa at a Royal Thai Consulate near where ever you happen to be. You can apply for either a single entry visa (which is what I did due to ignorance) or a multiple entry visa. The multiple entry visa allows you to visit other countries by departing from, and returning to Thailand without closing out the 60 day visa on departure. With a single entry visa once you leave Thailand the visa is closed so, for example, if you leave Thailand to visit Laos after only a week in Thailand your 60 day tourist visa is gone and when you reenter Thailand you’ll get a 30 day (or 15 day) visa stamp. If I had gotten a multiple entry visa I may have visited other countries, but the way it worked out I spent all my time in Thailand; which I don’t really regret.

Many people take a bus directly from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai to get a new 30 day visa for Thailand. They cross the border there into Myanmar (Burma) then, either immediately or after a bit of shopping and sightseeing, return to Thailand and get a new visa stamp. This is known as a “border run”. It’s also possible to get a new 60 day tourist (or other type) visa by doing a “visa run”, though not available at the Mae Sai/Myanmar border crossing. For a “visa run” you have to leave Thailand before your current visa expires, go to a country that has a Royal Thai Consulate and apply for a new 60 day tourist visa. Processing the application usually takes two to four days which you can spend sightseeing in the new country.

The road from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai runs straight into the border crossing so it’s not like you have to go find it. Parking is a bit of a problem if you’re not taking your vehicle across the border. There was a line of traffic about a half mile long waiting to cross to Myanmar when I arrived. The road going north to Myanmar is three lanes. The center lane is the queue for vehicles crossing the border, the left and right serve the traffic flowing on the Thai side of the border. There is also a multitude of street vendors on the left.

The Thai immigration office in Mae Sai arches over the bridge to Myanmar.

The Thai immigration office in Mae Sai arches over the bridge to Myanmar.

I’ve talked with some folks that park at hotels near the border, but since I wasn’t staying at a local hotel I opted to park at a shopping center about 4-5 blocks from the border up a side street on the west side of the main road.

The process of checking out of Thailand was pretty easy. Just fill out the departure card that you received when you arrived; it should still be stapled to the page where your Thai visa is. Wait in line for your turn with the immigration official on the left side of the large blue building. They’ll scan your passport, take your picture, and stamp your passport with the exit date. Next, walk across the bridge changing sides half way across since Myanmar drives on the right and be sure to look both ways since traffic could be coming from any direction.

Crossing the bridge from Mae Sai, Thailand to Tachileik, Myanmar (Burma)

Crossing the bridge from Mae Sai, Thailand to Tachileik, Myanmar (Burma)

Once across the bridge, I checked in with the Myanmar immigration on the right, just as you get to the end of the bridge. I was charged 500 baht ($16) by the official and got a stamp in my passport. I was officially in Myanmar. I was thinking of having a quick look around the local market before heading back to Thailand, but as soon as I got through immigration I was approached by several people trying to sell me Viagra and counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes. I quickly decided I didn’t want to deal with the high pressure sales and returned to Thailand after about 60 seconds in Myanmar. My passport was stamped with a departure date at Myanmar immigration on the opposite side of the road from where I entered. Back across the bridge, changing sides again since Thailand drives on the left, and fill out an entry and departure card at the table provided. After a short wait in line (the line to the right; the line to the left is for Thai citizens), the Thai immigration official scanned my passport, took my picture and stamped my passport with a new 30 day visa stamp. I would now be able to stay in Thailand for the Songkran festival (the Thai New Year celebration).

Mae Sai

One of major attractions in Mae Sai is the Wat Phra That Wai Dao Temple. Just before the border crossing there is a street to the left (west) that hosts a local market. If you pass through the market you’ll see a very long staircase leading up to the temple. 

A very long staircase from Mae Sai to the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple up on the mountain.

A very long staircase leads up from Mae Sai, to the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple on the mountain.

There’s also a steep road just to the right of the steps that leads up to the temple. On the way up you’ll have views to the right of both Mae Sai and Myanmar.

From the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple you can see the border crossing . The blue Thai immigration office is on the right and the bridge to Myanmar can be seen to the left of the central tree.

From the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple you can see the border crossing . The blue Thai immigration office is on the right and the bridge to Myanmar can be seen to the left of the central tree.

 

Myanmar as seen from the road to Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple.

Tachileik, Myanmar as seen from the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple.

 

Many of these statues line the road to the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple

Many of these statues of Ganesha line the road to the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple

Once you arrive at the top of the hill you’ll see the sizable Wat Phra That Wai Doa temple complex with plenty of gold and bright colors. All the temples I’ve seen always have serpents running along the stairway. The serpents called Naga, guard the stairs that lead to the temples.

A three headed serpent along a staircase looks north toward Myanmar

A three headed serpent, known as Naga, guarding a staircase as it looks north toward Myanmar

 

The "Wat Phra That Wai Dao" Temple in Mae Sai is definitely worth a visit.

The “Wat Phra That Wai Dao” Temple in Mae Sai is definitely worth a visit. This is one of the many shrines at the temple complex.

Probably the most famous statue at the temple complex is the giant scorpion. It faces north toward Tachileik, Myanmar (Burma).

The famous giant scorpion at the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple

The famous giant scorpion at the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple complex

I didn’t stay in Mae Sai after the border run other that to get a quick bite to eat. An uneventful ride back to Chiang Rai finished up the trip which took about four hours in all.

UPDATE 05/10/2014:

Thailand is cracking down on back-to-back border runs in an effort to stop foreigners from staying in Thailand long term without a proper visa. The stiffer immigration rules for border runs start today, May 10, 2014 and more restrictions will be added, on or about, August 12, 2014. I’ve read that multiple entry visas are not effected but you would be wise to do further research before attempting a border-run in Thailand. I suspect there will be a sharp increase in education visas.

More information at Thai Visa.

From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

Time waits for no man, nor does it wait for visas. My recent visa extension was going to expire in about three week and I had to start thinking about getting a new one so I wouldn’t be in Thailand illegally. One of the common solutions is to do a border run to a neighboring country. Exiting Thailand closes out the current visa and when I reenter, I get a fresh 30 day visa stamp. From Chiang Mai, the most common border run is to Mae Sai, the most northern district in Thailand, about four hours north of Chiang Mai. Along the route is Chiang Rai which is 3/4 of the way to Mae Sai, and just happens to have a couple very nice northern Thailand golf courses. I decided to combine a visit to Chiang Rai with my necessary border run. The trip would be by bus and take about 3 hours. There is a company called Green Bus that has buses leaving from Chiang Mai every half hour or so. There is a VIP class, an A class, and an X class. I opted for the VIP class bus as there was some thought from other travelers that it may be less likely to have trouble, either safety wise, or mechanical. The bus ticket was 288 baht ($9.30) and the bus was very comfortable with air conditioning and airline style seats with recliner type foot rest. There was a stewardess that served water and a snack, and the bus also had a small restroom at the back. The Green Bus departs from the new bus terminal, Bus Terminal 3, which is a couple miles east of Chiang Mai’s old city, very near the super highway.

Chiang Mai's new bus terminal, "Bus Terminal 3", near the superhighway east of the old city

Chiang Mai’s new bus terminal, “Bus Terminal 3”, near the superhighway east of the old city

I bought my ticket two days in advance and according to the seat map when asked what seat I wanted, no one else had purchased tickets for that day & time yet. How quickly the buses fill up depends a lot on what’s happening in Thailand with festivals and holidays. For example, I bought my return ticket three days ahead and there were only three seats left due to the Songkran festival, the Thai New Year celebration.

I arrived forty minutes early to be sure I had plenty of time. As I watched buses come and go, I noticed that some left ten or more minutes ahead of schedule. It must have been that all passengers were aboard and accounted for so there was no point in waiting for the scheduled departure time. There were several snack bars inside the terminal, a couple pay restrooms (3 baht),  a massage shop, a pharmacy, and an outdoor restaurant that had a good selection of larger meals.

An outdoor restaurant at Bus Terminal 3 in Chaing Mai

An outdoor restaurant at Bus Terminal 3 in Chaing Mai

I had expected to put one bag (I ended up buying another piece of luggage to supplement my backpack) in the lower cargo area of the bus and my backpack in the overhead area above my seat. Once on-board I discovered that the overhead storage area is MUCH smaller than on aircraft. Perhaps only 10 inches (25 cm) at the opening. The backpack went below with the other bag.

VIP Green Bus pulling into the bus station in Chiang Mai

VIP Green Bus pulling into the bus station in Chiang Mai

The trip was comfortable enough but I was a little surprised at how many turns there were in the road and how tight the turns were. This twisting and turning seemed to happen in two mountain passes separated by a mostly straight section between the two.

There were many twists and turns as rout 1 snakes through the mountain passes North of Chiang Mai

There were many twists and turns as Route 1 snakes through the mountain passes North of Chiang Mai

As the bus traveled through the Thai countryside, we passed miles of agricultural land, many small towns, and a few resorts. The air looked to have quite a bit of smoke, but I’ve come to the realization that much of the haze is moisture. It has rained here a few days in a row and cleared the air of all the smoke, but the haze remains as you look toward the distant mountains. It’s fog and mist, and it comes with the humidity from the rain.

A snapshot of the Thai farmland and mountains.

A snapshot of the Thai farmland and mountains.

 

Many, many rice fields are seen on the bus trip north to Chiang Rai

Many, many rice fields are seen on the bus trip north to Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is a much smaller town than Chiang Mai. I found that it is a bit more expensive, though not much. My hotel room and motorbike rental were perhaps 10% to 20% more than in Chiang Mai. Food was similar to Chiang Mai with the tourist area being pricier but the Thai restaurants on the fringes have very good food at lower prices.

A quick little story about a Thai restaurant I stopped at while out for a walk. I’ve read that Thai’s are a bit superstitious and one of the things they believe is that making a sale to the first customer of the day brings good luck for the rest of the day. It was mid morning when I happened into this place, there was no one there except the owner, his wife, and eight empty tables. There were no English menus and nearly no English was spoken. The owner, who was a bit inhospitable did know the English word “chicken”, that’s what he served so that’s what I had. Not more that two minutes after my chicken and rice were served, which by the way was excellent, three vans pulled up in front of the restaurant and out came about 20 Thai military guys. They were there for an early lunch. A minute or two later the owner looked my way, and with a big grin, gave me a thumbs-up. Apparently I had brought him good luck, and all those customers!

A look down Thanalai street in Chiang Rai

A look down Thanalai street in Chiang Rai

 

Most of the Song Taos in Chiang Rai are a smaller type than what I've seem in Bangkok and Chiang Mai

Most of the Song Taos in Chiang Rai are a smaller type than what I’ve seen in Bangkok and Chiang Mai

One of the major attractions in Chiang Rai is the clock tower in the center of town. It sits at an intersection and is the centerpiece of a traffic-circle (roundabout). In the evening, starting at 8:00 PM (I think), on the hour the clock tower puts on quite a light show choreographed to music. This happens three or four times each night and is a must see while visiting Chiang Rai.

The clock tower is quite a sight to see, I recommend being around in the evening when it puts on a light show with music!

The clock tower is quite a sight to see, I recommend being around in the evening when it puts on a light show with music!

The popularity of scooters here works out great for the pizza delivery business. It’s hard to beat a delivery vehicle that gets ~100 miles per gallon of gas!

Pizza delivery VIA motorbike

Pizza delivery VIA motorbike

Fresh produce is the norm everywhere in Thailand. Farmers bring freshly harvested goods to town each day picking only what they expect to sell. There are two sizable markets that I saw here in Chiang Rai, as well as street vendors selling their goods.

Street vendors selling a large variety of fresh produce

Street vendors selling a large variety of fresh produce

 

Fresh fruit at the central Chiang Rai market

Fresh fruit at the central Chiang Rai market

 

Fresh produce at the Chiang Rai market

Fresh produce at the Chiang Rai market

 

Curry pastes of at the Chiang Rai market

Curry pastes at the Chiang Rai market

As I write this there’s a thunderstorm with heavy rain… whew, and the lightening is close!

I spotted this scooter a couple days ago, a roof installed and ready for the rainy season. Not sure how it would be in 30 MPH winds blowing from the side though. Then again, not the kind of weather to be riding any bike in.

Motorbike fitted with a roof, complete with windshield wiper

Motorbike fitted with a roof, complete with windshield wiper

Well, posting shorter and more often didn’t really happen as I expected. More often, yes. Shorter, not so much. I’ll leave you with a photo of the local wildlife, the geckos are nearly everywhere. I find them entertaining, and they eat the pesky bugs!

A Tokay Gecko was hanging out on a utility pole

A Tokay Gecko was hanging out on a utility pole

 

Canyon View Restaurant, Chiang Mai

About 15 minutes by car/motorbike to the southwest of Chiang Mai is the Hang Dong District. I discovered there was a nine hole golf course there that was a very good value with a greens fee of just 350 baht ($12.00) for 18 holes. The structures are simple with a main building where you’ll find the cashier to pay for your round; a small pro shop with clothes, clubs, balls, etc; and a snack bar by the first tee that sells food and drinks.

The caddie heads to my tee shot at Hang Dong Golf Course in Chiang Mai

The caddie heads to my tee shot at Hang Dong Golf Course in Chiang Mai

After my game, I went to do a little sight seeing and find a restaurant for lunch. Only a minute or so further south from the golf course I spotted a sign for the Canyon View Restaurant. The restaurant is set back about a mile from the main road and is on the edge of a quarry. The open air dining room looks out over the quarry making for a great view while enjoying lunch.

 

View from the Canyon View Restaurant

View from the Canyon View Restaurant

 

Canyon View Restaurant, wider angle with pump house.

Canyon View Restaurant, wider angle with pump house.

I met a couple other travelers there that told me they were out on the high walls in the middle of the quarry where some local Thai kids were jumping off into the water. A great swimming hole for the kids on hot summer days.

I’ve been taking pictures of some golf courses and hope to post some of them soon. My time here in Thailand is nearing its end and I’m going to try to do shorter posts more often.

It Rained in Chiang Mai Today

We got the first rain of the “low season” today, March 24, 2014. I was on the 14th hole of a pretty decent (for me) round of golf when the thunder started. The wind was blowing at 25 to 30 MPH as I lined up my putt for a double bogey. I thought the wind was going to roll the ball without me hitting it. It was an 18 inch putt with a tailwind about 30 degrees off axis. I tapped it about six inches and the wind did the rest – in the cup for a double bogey on a par five. The rain started shortly after, and the caddie and I headed for shelter. High winds, pouring rain, hail, and blowing leaves & debris made for quite a scene. After 30 to 40 minutes, it subsided to a very light rain, and the golf continued… I parred the next hole.

A caddie avoids the puddles after some much needed rain.

A caddie avoids the puddles after some much needed rain.

 The rain clears away the smoke I mentioned in the previous post, and the Doi Suthep Mountains are easily seen with a bit of fog on them from the rain. As the rains become more and more common, the smoke will be much less of a concern and quite possibly the worst is behind us for this year. From what I’ve been told the rain storms tend to be often, perhaps daily, but are usually short like what we got today.

The rain clears the air and the Doi Suthep Mountains are clearly visible through a light mist.

The rain clears the air and the Doi Suthep Mountains are clearly visible through a light mist.

Just a short post here to mention the rain since it is the first of the year, and the first of the 2014 “low season”.

The Low Season in Chiang Mai

Thailand essentially has two seasons, [temperate & dry] and [hot, humid, & rainy]. November through February is the “high season” when many tourists come to escape the cold weather of northern latitudes. March through October is the “low season” when tourists mostly stay away to avoid the heat/humidity. Some businesses don’t adjust to the reduced “low season” pricing until April, but most of the people I’ve talked to here consider March the start of the “low season”. In Chiang Mai the temperature nears or exceeds 38 degrees Celsius (100 Degrees Fahrenheit) on a daily basis now. It does cool down at night however and is typically near 20 degrees Celsius (68 Degrees Fahrenheit) just before the sun rises. The humidity isn’t too bad yet since it still hasn’t rained since I arrived in January.

Like many others I choose to stay inside in an air conditioned place during the worst of the daily heat; malls, movie theaters, and department stores are good choices. Most pubs and restaurants are “open air” like big covered patios so  air conditioning is not an option. Instead they run a multitude of fans, sometimes with a mist system, that really helps to bring the temperature down – about 10 degrees. 

On the golf course, umbrellas are as common as caddies; nearly everybody has one (caddies are required for non-members). It’s portable shade and helps to keep you a bit cooler than just a hat. Drinking plenty of water is also a must.

A caddie totes my golf clubs and umbrella in near 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures.

A caddie totes my golf clubs and umbrella in near 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. The umbrella is for shade, not rain.

Another annual event that begins with the low season, and lasts about a month and a half, is farmers burning the rice fields and forest undergrowth. It’s an inexpensive way to clear the rice fields to prepare for the next crop and in the forest, the burning improves the mushroom harvest. Unfortunately it creates a layer of smoke that, on the worst days, will burn the eyes and may be particularly hard on those with respiratory problems. Every cloud has a silver lining as they say, and I suppose that the pleasing sunset created by the smoke in the air is the silver lining of the rice straw burning here and in neighboring countries. I’ve seen smoke like this before with the Southern California wild fires in October of 2007. I think the smoke in California was worse though as I remember seeing an orange sun in the middle of the day, not just in the evening.

A visually pleasing  sunset over Chiang Mai, due to the smoke from burning rice fields etc.

A visually pleasing sunset over Chiang Mai, due to the smoke from burning rice fields etc.

The Doi Suthep mountains are nine miles west of Chiang Mai. On clear days, you can see the Wat Phra That Temple on the mountain. On bad days, you can’t see the mountains at all. The photo below was taken on what I’d call an average day. If it weren’t for the distant mountains to reference, you might not know it was smokey at all.

Mountains are just visible through the smoke.

The Doi Suthep mountains are just visible through the smoke.

Twice during my time here in Chiang Mai I sought out medical treatment. The first was for upset stomach, likely from something I ate that I shouldn’t have. I felt the trouble coming on at about 10:00 pm and started a course of Ciprofloxacin that I bought when I first arrived in Thailand. Antibiotics are over-the-counter here and don’t require a prescription. 500 mg twice a day for 5 to 7 days (continue taking for two days after all symptoms have disappeared). The next morning I was feeling some better but wanted to get something for the nausea. After stopping at a couple pharmacies without much success I opted to go to the hospital nearby, partly for some medicine and partly to check out the medical system in Thailand which I’ve read was quite good. I was impressed with the efficiency of the medical treatment. Right outside the elevator door where I exited was a desk to check into the clinic. The check-in process took about three minutes and I went to the waiting room. I barely sat down when I was called to see the doctor who spoke good English. He checked me over, agreed with the cipro antibiotic course, and prescribed bismol tablets 524 mg (Pepto-Bismol) for the nausea. I inquired about a G.I. cocktail, also known as the green goddess, but was told it’s not as common in Thailand as it is in the USA. I was in and out in about 40 minutes with the bismol tablets from the hospital pharmacy for a total cost of 525 baht ($17.50). I felt fine in less than three days and finished off a five day course of cipro as recommended.

The second time I needed medical care was for a back strain. I pulled the muscles in my middle back while securing a box onto my motorbike. It was the worst back pain I had ever experienced. This time I went to the emergency room. Again, a quick check-in and in to see the doctor. He checked out my back and ordered x-rays. The x-ray film was quickly scanned into the computer and was up on the doctor’s monitor in his office by the time I got back to the ER from radiology. The x-rays looked fine and a mild pain killer and muscle relaxers were prescribed. Total time… less than an hour. Total cost for ER, Doctor, Two X-rays, and Prescriptions… 2,800 baht ($90.00). The worst of the pain subsided in 24 hours and I was back to normal in a week.

I have no medical insurance over here so all medical costs are paid directly by me. Other people that I’ve met that live here full time buy catastrophic coverage medical insurance for about $1,000 to $2,000 per year depending on the policy, and pay for minor medical treatment (like above) out-of-pocket if not covered by their insurance plan.

Chiang Mai Ram Hospital

Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, one of several hospitals in Chiang Mai.

Ambulance at Chiang Mai Ram Hospital

Ambulance at Chiang Mai Ram Hospital

The Honda click that I had been renting for more than a month without any problems finely gave me a minor one, a flat tire. The rear tire on the bike was getting pretty bald in the middle, though as it turns out, the hole in the tube was in the side wall not the tread area. Strange, but it is what it is. I took the bike to a bike shop and called the rental company figuring they would take care of the flat tire problem. I was wrong. I was required to pay for the flat tire repair which meant putting a patch on the tube, not replacing the worn tire. The cost was only 40 baht ($1.35) and the job was done in under 15 minutes. I was assured that the tire had plenty of life left in it.

Replacing the tire would cost about 750 baht ($25.00), nearly 1/3 of the rent for the month for this bike, and the bike may not be rented again until the next “high season”. So, I understand why they try to get as many kilometers (miles) out of the tires as they can. In reality, the purpose of the tread on a tire is to provide an exit path for water from under the tire to prevent hydroplaning. Since there has been no rain here, the lack of tread is of little concern. During the rainy season however, it could be very dangerous.

The rear tire on the Honda Click was showing some wear.

The rear tire on the Honda Click was showing some wear.

After the incident with the flat tire, I asked around at various motorbike rental shops – “who pays for a flat tire repair, the renter or the shop?”. As it turns out there is no standard and the results were split about 50/50. Some shops said the renter pays for the tire repair, others said they would pay for the repair.

At the end of the monthly rental agreement I decided to change motorbikes, partly because of the tire problem (with the rainy season imminent) and partly because I wanted a bit larger bike for longer, more comfortable rides. What I settled on was a Honda PCX 150 from a different rental company. The PCX’s engine is 25cc (20%) larger than the Click’s, but the bike is heavier so performance is similar at the low end, though faster at the high end. I’ve heard the PCX is governed to a top speed of 115 KPH (71 MPH), though I’ve never gone that fast on it. The larger tires and upgraded suspension make for a more comfortable ride, and I’d recommend the PCX to anyone renting a motorbike here. This upgrade, of course, comes at a higher price; 4,500 baht ($145) per month and a 2000 baht ($65) security deposit. Shop around; I found one place renting the same model for 9,000 baht per month.

Other advantages of the PCX are larger on-board storage under the seat, and a larger fuel tank. With the Click I had to get fuel nearly every day; with the PCX I refuel only once or twice a week. It was only an inconvenience but, with the Click, I found myself driving around looking for gas stations fairly often; sometimes driving miles out of my way to refuel.

Honda PCX 150cc Motorbike. Up to 100 MPG if you take it easy.

Honda PCX 150cc Motorbike on the west bank of the Ping River. Up to 100 MPG if you take it easy.

In an effort to reduce costs, I moved into a one bedroom apartment which was cheaper than the hotels. I was able to get this apartment for just over 15,000 baht ($485) for one month which comes out to $16 per day. That is 10 to 30 dollars cheaper than a hotel and in some ways nicer. It was also available for 13,000 baht on a 6 month lease, but I wouldn’t be staying that long. The apartment complex also had studio apartments available for 6,000 baht ($195) per month on a 6 month lease.

The furniture was provided, but I had to buy bedding, cleaning supplies, kitchen necessities, etc. It was a corner unit and was nice enough, but in the end turned out to be too noisy since it was right along the road. I left at the end of the one month lease term in favor of a quieter place.

While I was there I met some other foreigners that were staying in the complex. They hired a cleaning lady to come in once a week and clean their apartments. I could do that minor cleaning myself, but it was a minor expense for me and a big help to the cleaning lady so I hired her too. She did a good job sweeping and mopping the whole place including the balcony, wiping down the counters, dusting, and cleaning the bathroom. She spent an hour there each Friday and charged me 200 baht ($6.25) for her services.

The apartment had a Thai style kitchen with no cook top/stove. Hotplates and counter-top small kitchen appliances are used instead. I just ate out or brought food home from a local market instead of purchasing a bunch of kitchen appliances. Also notable, there was no hot water at the kitchen sink, or the bathroom sink for that matter. The only hot water was for the shower/tub. There were two air conditioner units, one in the living room and one in the bed room.

Living room of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

Living room of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

Kitchen of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

Kitchen of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

 

Bedroom of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

Bedroom of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

No matter where you go, laundry is created on a daily basis. The apartment complex I was in had a laundry room with ~10 washing machines. There were no dryers since all laundry is hung out to dry. The balcony of my apartment had a clothes rack bolted to the wall for drying clothes as seen in the photo above. The washer takes 20 baht ($0.65) to do a load and runs for  42 minutes. The design of the washers was different from anything I had seen before and they use substantially less water than the top loading machines found in the US. The water level is set automatically, just put in the cloths, soap, and money and press start.

Clothes washer, 20 baht per load.

Clothes washer, 20 baht per load.

 

Clothes washer drum has no center screw like in the US. This design uses less water; more efficient.

Clothes washer drum has no center screw like in the US. This design uses less water; more efficient.

Since I have left the apartment I no longer have access to the washing machines and now opt for a laundry service. The friendly Thai lady speaks English well enough and charges a reasonable 4 baht ($0.13) per item (a pair of socks counts as one item). I just drop off the clothes and pick them up the next day washed, dried, and folded.

Laundry done at a local laundry service. Four baht per item - washed, dried, and folded.

Laundry done at a local laundry service. 52 baht ($1.65) for 13 items.

I arrived in Thailand with a “tourist visa” that was valid for 60 days. Before the visa expired I had to head to the Chiang Mai immigration office near the airport to request an extension. I had read that the process takes a couples hours and the 30 day extension costs 1,900 baht ($61). For me, it took all morning. The immigration office gets quite busy during the “high season” since there are many tourists applying for extensions. The motorbike parking lot had about 100 bikes parked there the day I went.

The process was pretty easy and there are several food vendors in the area that make the wait more comfortable with a snack or drink. I think Chiang Mai Immigration is doing a great job serving the multitude of tourists that come through there.

Motorbikes parked at Chiang Mai immigration near the airport.

Motorbikes parked at Chiang Mai immigration near the airport.

While driving along the mote in the old city one day, I noticed that a section of the mote had been drained. I was told that this is done from time to time to change and freshen the water and to prepare for the Songkran festival (the Thai New Year celebration). The Songkran festival lasts from April 13th to the 15th (often longer here in Chiang Mai) and is touted as the worlds biggest water fight.  Throughout the city people douse each other with water from squirt-guns, buckets, hoses, etc. These soakings are usually desirable because April is the hottest month and I’m already seeing temperatures forecast to be 41 degrees C (106 degrees F) in March.

Changing the water in the mote in Chiang Mai. I was told this was in preparation for the Songkran festival in April.

Changing the water in the mote in Chiang Mai. I was told this was in preparation for the Songkran festival in April.

 

The northeast corner of the wall around the old city with the water drained from the mote in that section.

The northeast corner of the wall around the old city with the water drained from the mote in that section.

 

Another picture of the northeast corner of the wall around Chiang Mai's old city with the mote drained in that section.

Another picture of the northeast corner of the wall around Chiang Mai’s old city with the mote drained in that section.

In closing, I’ll just mention an interesting observation regarding international phone calls between Thailand and the US. I got a prepaid SIM card for my smart phone when I arrived in Thailand. Calls to the US cost 1 baht ($0.03) per minute and the call quality is very good. When people call me from the US the cost ranges form $0.20 to $1.25 per minute and the call quality is fair at best, but is typically poor. Because of this whenever someone calls me, we end the call immediately and I call them right back for a cheaper, better-voice-quality conversation.

There is a lot to like about Thailand!

Getting Comfortable in Chiang Mai

By now I’m feeling pretty comfortable with Chiang Mai. There’re still many places I haven’t explored, but I can find my way around the major streets of the old city as well as many of the most popular tourist areas around its perimeter. The Tha Phae Gate (pronounced Tah Pae) is a major land mark for the biggest tourist area of Chiang Mai. It’s the site of the Tha Phae Sunday Night Market, as well as many shows and festivals. All around the Tha Phae gate area is everything the foreign traveler might want or need. There are restaurants that will satisfy nearly every culinary desire as well as Thai cooking schools if you want to learn how to cook Thai food. There are Thai massage schools and the massage shops are a great place to have sore feet and muscles rejuvenated for more sightseeing. There are spas, hotels, hostels, banking, currency exchange, pharmacies, bars, shopping, bakeries, and so on.

Tha Phae Gate, east side of the old city, standing outside the gate looking into the city

Tha Phae Gate, east side of the old city, standing outside the gate looking into the city

 

Tha Phae Gate during the flower festival, 2014

Tha Phae Gate during the flower festival, 2014

 

Tha Phae Gate flower festival 2014

Tha Phae Gate flower festival 2014

 

Tha Phae Gate flower festival 2014

Tha Phae Gate flower festival 2014

This sort of thing reminds me of a county fair, but it happens every week here in Chiang Mai. It seems there’s always something going on nearby that will provide entertainment or relaxation, or both.

Even though my motorbike was a rental, and some would argue not to waste money on washing a rental vehicle… I prefer my ride to be “not too dirty”. There’s been no rain here since I arrived so my Honda Click had acquired a fairly heavy layer of road dust. As I was exploring the southeast area of Chiang Mai, I happened upon a car/motorbike wash and detail shop. I’ve had vehicles washed in many places around the world and I was very impressed with the service here. There were five attendants that seemed to swarm around my motorbike like it was the queen of a bee hive. They washed, cleaned, scrubbed, sprayed, dried, and polished what seemed like every millimeter of my bike, including under the seat! The cost… 80 baht (about $2.50).

My red and white Honda Click rental is next in line to be washed.

My red and white Honda Click rental is next in line to be washed.

Prior to coming to Thailand I had researched the various housing choices – hostels, hotels, apartments, resorts, and houses. Hostels are the least expensive, often just 100 to 300 baht ($3 – $9) per night. This gets you a shared room with several beds, often bunk beds “dormitory style”. The hotel I referred to in my last post had both hotel and hostel rooms. I keep in touch with the staff there because they are amazingly friendly and helpful! They just added air conditioning to the dorm (hostel) rooms  which is a definite plus when the Southeast Asian summer heat arrives, often topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius). So far it’s only been in the mid 90’s (mid 30’s Celsius) each day and has been clear and sunny since I arrived in January. Hotels and resorts are available by the day, week, month, or longer, and of course may offer a very high level of service (restaurant, bar, spa, golf, tours, etc.). I started in hotels, then moved to an apartment for 30 days because it was less expensive per month than a hotel. The advantage is lower expense, the disadvantage is mobility. If you don’t like where you are, you’re stuck ’till the lease expires; or forfeit the cost and move.

 While exploring the area outside of Chiang Mai’s old city, I came across a gated community called a Moo Baan. There were two security guards at the gate keeping watch as I approached. After explaining that I wanted to have a look around because I may want to move into a Moo Baan in the future, I was allowed in. Not long after, I was passed by one of the guards as he kept track of my whereabouts. There was new construction going on and sparse landscaping for many of the houses. The house below stood out as one of the nicest houses in the Moo Baan right on a water reservoir.

Very nice house in a Moo Baan (gated community)

A very nice house in a Moo Baan (gated community)

Drive through for tax? Must be like using a 1040EZ. I just happened across this building while out for a ride. Looks like a pretty streamline tax collection system to me.

Drive through for Tax

Drive through for Tax

In the southwest corner of the old city is a tranquil little park. It’s a great place to spend an hour or two taking in the colorful gardens and scenery. Watch your step at the entrance, which is along the southern street, there’s a bar across the path to keep the motorbikes from coming into the park. Just step over it.

Chiang Mai park entrance

Chiang Mai park entrance

A noteworthy sight that caught my eye was some of the trees in the park. They had very colorful bark; I believe these are rainbow eucalyptus trees. They shed their outer bark annually revealing the new bright green bark below. Over time this new bark takes on a variety of hues as it matures.

Colorful tree

The colorful trunk of the rainbow eucalyptus tree. The photo doesn’t do it justice, Google it.

As I stepped around a corner on the path through the park, I was greeted with a vibrant dragon floating in the water. Vibrant colors seem to be around every corner; they’re almost as common as the beautiful Thai women.

Dragon at Chiang Mai park

Dragon at Chiang Mai park

As I tend to do, I’ll make mention of some food offerings here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Salmon is one of my favorite foods back in the U.S. and since it is commonly found at latitudes much farther north, I rarely see it offered here in restaurants. While doing some shopping for a new shirt and cleaning supplies at a local “Big C”, a combination department/grocery store, I came across some fresh Norwegian salmon for 1,250 baht per kilogram ($17.75 per pound). I would have bought a little bit if I had some way to cook it.

Fresh Norwegian Salmon, about $17.75 per pound. It's available if you want to pay for it.

Fresh Norwegian Salmon, about $17.75 per pound. It’s available if you want to pay for it.

Another restaurant that I discovered is the UN Irish Pub located in the northeastern area of the old city. They have Guinness on-tap and a menu of both Western & Thai dishes. On my first visit there I had beef stew and a Guinness. The condiments included a pepper mill which is something of a rarity here and which I appreciated because I prefer coarse ground pepper. What’s most common is very finely ground peppercorns referred to as “pepper power”.

Irish beef stew and Guinness beer (on tap)

Irish beef stew and Guinness beer (on tap)

I often have days with nothing planned and just jump on my motorbike, pick a direction, and go. On one such day, I chose to head north out of the city toward the Mae Rim District. This area is known for several tourist attractions including a tiger camp, an elephant camp, an insect zoo, waterfalls, and more. I saw the entrances to these places, and others, but I didn’t venture in on this particular trip. I was out to explore the area rather than see the exhibits. Along the way I ventured off the main road to see what was down a road less traveled. I found what looked like a resort that had closed many years ago. Looking across a stream and through the dense vegetation there were a dozen or so bungalows still standing in the jungle. Their roofs were beginning to grow small trees and grasses, as the porches were being forced aside by the relentless jungle vegetation. Nature is a powerful force and will tear down anything we build if we don’t perform the required maintenance to keep it at bay.

A resort that closed and is being reclaimed by the Jungle.

A resort that closed and is being reclaimed by the Jungle.

Traveling along the Thai country roads I came across many rice fields. Thailand is the second largest exporter of rice, India being the largest.

A rice field near Mai Rim

A rice field near Mai Rim

I am missing my computer with Photoshop and Windows, which I left at home in favor of lighter travel. I find it arduous writing this blog on a tablet which is why there’s so much time between posts. I have a keyboard and mouse, but it still doesn’t come close to a notebook/laptop PC for this kind of work.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a couple more images of the wall around the old city of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai wall 1

Southwest corner section of the wall around Chiang Mai’s old city. Inside, as seen from the inner ring road.

 

Chiang Mai wall 2

Southwest corner section of the wall around Chiang Mai’s old city. Outside, as seen from the outer ring road looking west.

Pop gan Mai (pronounced: pope gan my) – See you later.

First couple weeks in Chiang Mai

Out of one hotel and into another. The hotel that the tour agency booked for me for the first two days in Chiang Mai was just outside the mote, north of the old city. There were street food carts right outside every evening and a shopping mall about half a mile to the west. It was fairly quiet there, which I would come to appreciate later. Double-decker tour buses are fairly common; this one was parked outside the hotel for the two days I was there.

Double-decker tour bus

Double-decker tour bus

I would be spending the next two weeks in a new hotel that I had reserved in Chiang Mai more then a month ago. It is about a quarter mile south of the old city and within walking distance to many things. The staff at the new hotel was absolutely fantastic. Cheery, smiling and happy to help with directions and even made an effort to teach me some Thai phrases. Breakfast, lunch or dinner was available from 7 AM to 7 PM and laundry was 50 baht (or was it 60?, about $2.00) per kilogram, and ready the following evening.

Hotel room south of the old city

Hotel room south of the old city

Desk, small fridge, coat rack in hotel room

Vanity, small fridge, coat rack in hotel room

This room had the same power control device near the door that the other hotels had. Inserting the key fob turns on power to the room and removing it turns it off. The one difference here was that the refrigerator also gets turned off with the rest of the room’s power. I liked to have the power on while I was gone to charge my computer tablet, camera battery, or phone and in the other hotels, I plugged the chargers into the fridge outlet. I did eventually find a work-around that kept the fridge powered up and let me charge my devices.

This hotel was in a more exciting location and it was only $23 per night. One of the two weekend markets in Chiang Mai was only 100 feet or so from the hotel. The Saturday Walking Street Market draws crowds of tourists and Thais alike, though mostly tourists I’d say. There’re vendors selling everything from food to jewelry, clothes to art.

Saturday Walking street market, Wua Lai Rd

Saturday Walking street market, Wua Lai Rd

The police close off the road to vehicle traffic mid to late afternoon as the vendors come in and set up their stands. The market is about a kilometer long (almost 3/4 of a mile), and branches off slightly down side alleys, and into parking lots.

My room at the hotel was right on the street, so traffic was a bit noisy, especially in the mornings. There was also a loudspeaker on the utility pole 10 feet from my balcony, and about once a week or so the monks would say prayers to the people over this PA system… Starting at 7:45 AM and continuing for hours.

Loudspeakers used by the monks for prayers

Loudspeakers used by the monks for prayers

It actually only took four to five days to get used to the new environment and then I had no trouble sleeping through the night with only the occasional loud noise pulling me from slumber.

The “Old City” was surrounded by a huge brick wall long ago. Most of the wall is gone, but the four corners and several gates (or gateways) have been preserved and rebuilt over the years. This new hotel is near Chiang Mai Gate where there is a daily farmer’s type market as well as food carts set up every evening.

A rickshaw outside Chiang Mai gate

A rickshaw outside Chiang Mai gate

 

Food cart vendor at Chiang Mai Gate in the evening

Food cart vendor at Chiang Mai Gate in the evening, all meals 35 baht.

One of the corner sections of the old wall by the mote

One of the corner sections of the old wall by the mote

I spend a good bit of my time out riding around, exploring, and looking for new places to eat. About a half mile or so outside the old city to the southeast I found an american style restaurant called Butter is Better. Most breakfast entrees that you’d find in any american diner could be had here. I opted for Eggs Florentine and coffee.

Eggs Benedict at Butter is Better

Eggs Florentine at Butter is Better

I venture back there for breakfast once a week or so, though I’m still looking for a place that makes great huevos rancheros.

While I’m on the subject of food, I’ll share this photo I took of a sign at a 7 Eleven; a Ham Burger.

Triple cheese hamburger at 7 Eleven, Chiang Mai

Triple cheese ham burger at 7 Eleven, Chiang Mai

It has long been Thai tradition to leave your shoes at the door when entering a home, or most definitely a Temple. Some places you leave your shoes on, others you take them off. The best way to know what to do is to look to see if there’re shoes outside the door where your entering. At my hotel… it was a shoes off policy. I had no problem with this, but it quickly got me thinking about buying some flip-flops or sandals like the Thais wear.

Leave your shoes at the door please. Notice, mostly flip-flops.

Leave your shoes at the door please. Notice, mostly flip-flops.

Another place I went to was a shopping mall, southwest of the old city, near the airport. I’ve mentioned before that motorbikes are the most popular transportation here, and this photo will help to make the point…

A motorbike parking lot at the mall near the airport, Chiang Mai.

A motorbike parking lot at the mall near the airport, Chiang Mai.

This was one of at least two parking lots for motorbikes. I parked in another one just as big. There is separate parking for cars, but I’d say that the scooters easily outnumber the cars by two to one or more.

Well that’s about it for now. I’ll leave you with a couple photos of Temples that are just amazing with their gold, silver, brilliant colors, and dragons…

 

A Silver Temple near the hotel

A Silver Temple near the hotel

A Temple south of Chiang Mai in Lamphun, if I remember correctly.

A Temple south of Chiang Mai in Lamphun, if I remember correctly.

Temple in Lamphun

Temple in Lamphun

There be dragons here.

There be dragons here.

 

Around Chiang Mai

The new hotel room isn’t quite as nice as my last one, but it’s clean and comfortable. Again, there’s a device near the door that controls the electrical power to the room. The power comes on when the large rectangular key fob is inserted into it.

Hotel room in Chiang Mai

Hotel room in Chiang Mai

An interesting difference with the bedding here in Thailand, is that they don’t use a top sheet, only a bottom sheet and a comforter. I don’t really miss the additional sheet too much, but sometimes it’s nice to have a cover somewhere between a comforter and nothing.

I have rented a motorbike; it’s a 125 cc Honda Click scooter. Top speed is governed at 90 kph (56 mph) at wide open throttle. That’s not a problem around town, but can feel a bit slow on the super-highway. The first day’s rent was 250 baht ($7.80). I opted to keep the bike for a week and the price dropped to 220 baht. At the end of that week, I opted for a monthly rental package finalized at 3000 baht ($94 or about $3.15 per day), playing one rental company against another.

The 125cc Honda Click I rented, in front of one of the many Temples.

The 125cc Honda Click I rented, in front of one of the many Temples.

The bike has a 2 liter gas tank and filling it up costs about 65 baht ($2.00). This lasts me nearly two days of zipping around town, sightseeing, shopping, and running errands.

Gas station in Thailand - about $4.50 per gallon, Jan 2014

Gas station in Thailand, prices are baht per liter – about $4.50 per gallon (US), Jan 2014

There are many,many temples here in Chiang Mai, and all around Thailand for that matter. I haven’t started to venture out to look at them yet, but I snap the occasional photo now and then, as I pass by.

One of the many Temples in Chiang Mai

One of the many Temples in Chiang Mai

The “old city” is a nearly perfect one mile by one mile square within Chiang Mai. Also in a square shape, are two ring roads separated by a moat, around the perimeter. The outer road’s traffic runs clockwise and the inner runs counter clockwise. There are at least 16 bridges that cross the moat as you travel around the ring roads, so switching direction is pretty easy. There are many fountains in the moat that make for a very pleasant scene as you wander along water’s edge. The water appears as unspoiled as a mountain stream due to renovations of the moat started in 1992 that included filtration, as well as the fountains.

The mote around Chiang Mai has many fountains

The moat around Chiang Mai has many fountains

It’s not uncommon to see workers around the city keeping it free of litter. I often find it difficult to find a trash can for an empty cup, or skewer left from a tasty food-cart snack, but I almost never see trash on the street in any quantity. I have discovered that the 7 Eleven convenience stores always have trash cans out front, and there almost everywhere.

Caption here

A city employee working to keep the moat area neat and tidy

I’m finding that I don’t have as much free time for blogging as I thought I would. I’ll keep posting, but probably at a slower rate.

I seem to have lots to do, and I was once told, when you have lots to do, get your golf game taken care of first.

From Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Sleep is finally starting to get straightened out. I woke at 2:00 AM, but managed to roll over and nap several more times until 6:00 AM. If I can’t stay up late enough, I’ll just stay in bed longer in the morning.

One thing I didn’t mention that I also got done yesterday, was laundry. The hotel had laundry service, but they charged by the item, $1.20 for a shirt, $2.00 for pants, etc. While I was out wandering, I came across a little laundry shop just a block from the hotel. The lady there charged 50 baht per kilogram for regular laundry, and 30 baht per item for launder and iron. I had 1/2 a kilo plus one pair of pants to iron. Total cost, 55 baht ($1.70). The clothes were ready for pickup at 6:00 PM the following day, washed, dried, and folded. Since then, I’ve seen signs for laundry service as low as 30 baht per kilogram.

The hotel in Bangkok had a fairly typical western style bathroom, though the addition of a phone on the wall near the toilet was something I hadn’t seen before. It was clean enough, though there were some dark spots here and there that may have been mold. I suspect it’s quite a chore to keep it down in the warm and humid environment.

Bathroom with phone

Bathroom with phone

There was also a device on the wall near the door that would turn on (or off) all the electric in the room, with the exception of the refrigerator. This is a power saving device for the hotel and prevents the air conditioner, lights, TV, etc. from running when the guest leaves the room. The key-card for the room is inserted when you enter, activating the electric. The A/C and lights come on automatically, at the previous settings.

Electric Cut-Off Device, Savetech

Electric Cut-Off Device, Savetech

Today I went looking for breakfast from one of the hundreds of food carts that set up along the streets of Bangkok. It was 75 degrees at 8:00 AM and I happened upon a cart that was making omelets, Thai style. The omelet is cooked in a wok with a couple tablespoons of cooking oil. Beat an egg in a coffee cup, add chopped onions and carrots then pour into the hot oil in the wok. Turn once, then serve over rice.

Thai Style Omelet with Rice

Thai Style Omelet with Rice. The map was offered for sale in the room, I didn’t buy it.

This wonderful breakfast was 20 baht ($0.65), which I ate along with one of the free bottles of water from my hotel room. A quick note on the water. Almost no one drinks the water from the taps here. Hotels and restaurants provide free bottled or filtered water (reverse osmosis / UV), and the ice cubes are also bought or made from locally filtered water.

Today, my last day in Bangkok, I planned to ride around on the Skytrain and see as much of the city as I could in six or seven hours. I bought a one day pass for the BTS Skytrain at a cost of, 130 baht ($4.00). I was a bit limited on time because I had to catch the big train to Chiang Mai, at 6:00 PM. Bangkok is a very large city, 50% larger than New York City by population. There’s lots of construction going on, and many construction cranes dot the skyline. There are also miles of elevated sidewalks called Skywalks. These make getting around on foot pretty easy since your elevated above the traffic.

Elevated Sidewalks - Skywalks

Elevated Sidewalks – Skywalks

The shops and carts on the streets are colorful, and most places are free from litter. Most of the shop owners seem to start every day cleaning up around their store and sweeping the sidewalk. I often see people cleaning up, hosing down a walk way, or even buffing outdoor steps with an electric floor buffer. One thing that’s a bit of chaos tossed into this modernizing  city, is the electrical infrastructure.

Motorbikes and Street Vendors Are Everywhere, So Are The Electrical Wires

Motorbikes and Street Vendors Are Everywhere, So Are The Electrical Wires

A few more images from around Bangkok…

A street in Bangkok, on the left the steps lead down to the street from the BTS Skytrain Station

A street in Bangkok, on the left the steps lead down to the street from the BTS Skytrain Station

One of the many Shrines in Bangkok

One of the many Shrines in Bangkok

A street cart vendor with some tasty offerings. There's plenty of meat available here

A street cart vendor with some tasty offerings. There’s plenty of meat available here

Traffic backed up on a street in Bangkok. The small motorbikes (scooters) zip in and out of stopped traffic making them a good choice for getting around.

Traffic backed up on a street in Bangkok. The small motorbikes (scooters) zip in and out of stopped traffic making them a good choice for getting around.

Just a few of the many, many big buildings in Bangkok

Just a few of the many, many big buildings in Bangkok

 

A small sample of the Bangkok skyline

A small sample of the Bangkok skyline

Since I already had a Day Pass for the BTS system, I decided I’d use it to get to the train station instead of taking a taxi. I’d have to connect to the subway which goes right to the train station. A quick look at the BTS map showed the connection was at Asok Station.  The fare to the Hua Lamphong train station was 27 baht ($0.85) and the whole journey from hotel to train station took about 40 minutes.

BTS Skytrain Map

BTS Skytrain Map, the thin blue line is the subway

I arrived about an hour and a half early and quickly found a Thai food restaurant on the second floor of the station called Anna. I had a beef curry dish with rice and a Singha beer. It was authentic Thai, by that I mean spicy. I really like spicy food, but this was approaching my upper limit for spiciness. The cold Singha was a welcome addition to cool down my palate as I dabbed the sweat from my brow.

Panaeng Curry with Beef, and Singha Beer
Panaeng Curry with Beef, and Singha Beer

On board the train, I settled into my first class sleeper compartment, and the stewardess came around offering orange juice, water, and beer, as well as dinner. I accepted a water and an orange juice, but skipped any dinner since I had already eaten. It was only later that night that I was told I had a bill for 50 baht, and needed to pay for these items.

1st Class sleeper compartment

1st Class sleeper compartment

The backrest swings up to make an upper bunk for double occupancy. This is done by the porter at your request.

The the train moves along at a meager pace for most of the night, stopping now and then at stations along the way. I felt the conductor was a bit heavy handed with the break at times and the motion woke me a few times during the night. I probably slept about four to five hours throughout the night during the train trip.

Looking out the back at the Thai countryside as the train rolls along

Looking out the back at the Thai countryside as the train rolls along

We finally arrived at the Chiang Mai Train Station a bit late. Apparently there was an accident of some kind that had the train stopped for a couple hours about 60 miles south of Chiang Mai.

A lady from the tour travel agency was there to pick me up along with a couple others that were also on the train. She dropped me off at the hotel and as soon as I was settled in, I’d be ready to explore yet another new city.

Chiang Mai Train Station

Chiang Mai Railway Station

First Day in Thailand

Sleep, sleep, I just want to sleep. It’s Friday morning, early Friday morning, like, 5:00 AM Friday morning. I can’t sleep. My mind is racing, the sun will be up soon anyway, I may as well get up and get some things done.

On the list of things to do today, my first day in Thailand: Eat, get data service (internet) on my smart phone, and check on availability of a train ticket to Chiang Mai, a smaller city in northern Thailand.

A quick look at the hotel’s culinary offerings sent me looking for something cheaper. The hotel’s breakfast buffet was $12. I was  heading out to the streets to see what else I could find. This was my intended plan from the start. A bit of research before my travels taught me that eating what the Thais eat will be the best value, and I bet Thais don’t eat $12 hotel buffets. As I exited the hotel, I felt the warm morning air, it was 72 degrees F at 6:30 in the morning. The forecast was for a high of 92 today. After a short walk to the right and finding only a Seven Eleven convenience store, I back tracked to the hotel and went left. Within a block I found a restaurant with an espresso machine sitting on the counter. On the menu were several breakfast offerings, including an “American Breakfast”. Not sure if the lady understood my English, I pointed to my choice on the menu. She nodded and proceeded to make me a coffee.

My breakfast arrived at the table where I was flipping through a Thai newspaper and drinking the coffee. A sunny-side-up egg, half a slice of bacon, two sausages that resembled foot-long hot dogs, and two slices of toast.

 

American Breakfast

American Breakfast

The coffee was excellent, the bacon was a bit under-cooked for my liking, the egg was very good, though I don’t usually order sunny-side-up and the sausage (hot dogs?) were tasty. I had my first meal in Thailand and it was good!

After breakfast I went for a stroll, and in the back of my mind thinking about what I just ate. Hmmm. Within a block I came upon a pharmacy. I knew that antibiotics were over-the-counter here and I decided to stock up on some ciprofloxacin, a common prescription for lower abdominal issues (traveler’s diarrhea). As it turns out, my fears were completely unfounded. I have not been sick at all since I landed in Thailand and I still have all 20 tablets of Cipro, 500mg, that I bought for 110 baht ($2.80).

With breakfast done, I headed on to the next task, a train ticket to Chiang Mai. With the pending protests threatening to shut down Bangkok, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to leave the city in a few days as I had planed. I chose to advance my schedule and head to Chiang Mai a couple days early.

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand. It’s about 430 miles north of Bangkok, and is a popular destination for expats and tourists. From the beginning of this trip, Chiang Mai was to be my primary destination due to it’s size, not too big and not too small, but it’s growing rapidly.

Looking at a map, the train station was only about two and a half inches from the hotel, so I figured I’d walk on over and see about buying a ticket to Chiang Mai. After about 45 minutes of walking in the sunny 92 degree heat and realizing I was only half way there, I needed to get into somewhere air conditioned. I also wanted a Gatorade or something similar to quench my thirst. Looking around I saw a big grocery store right in front of me, a Tesco. Once inside I discovered it was a massive grocery/department store that also hosted smaller stores and restaurants on a few different floors. Serendipity, as it turned out, one of the stores was True, the mobile phone service provider I had gotten for my phone while in Thailand. I needed to go there to add internet service. With the data package up and running, I now had Google maps available. With digital maps and GPS in the phone I could now navigate around Bangkok with relative ease.

In the grocery store it took me a couple tries to find someone that spoke English to point out the location of the Gatorade.

Gatorade at a Bangkok Tesco

Gatorade at a Bangkok Tesco

Now that I was hydrated, cooled down, and finally connected to the internet, I set off for the train station. As I exited the Tesco I saw a Tuk Tuk driver waiting for a customer, I decided that would be me since I wasn’t looking to walk another 40 minutes in the heat. I got in and told him where I wanted to go, but before we started I knew I needed to get a price set for the trip. He said 100 baht. Hmmm. A 25 mile taxi ride was 270 baht, I think 100 baht was a bit steep for the 2 miles or so to the train station. I got out and said no, I’ll walk. He stopped me and asked, how much? 50 baht I replied. 60?, he asked. I agreed, and we were off.

A Tuk Tuk in Thailand

A Tuk Tuk in Thailand

It was my first Tuk Tuk ride. They can be a bit noisy, and smokey if it has a two cycle engine, but I’ve heard that two cycles are being phased out. They maneuver into anyplace there’s room, and they’re just plain fun to ride in.

At the train station I headed to the information desk. The pretty Thai girl was eating her lunch, but set it aside and smiled. She spoke good English which was great because I speak very little Thai. I asked how to get a ticket to Chiang Mai, and she walked me over to the ticket booth. Speaking in Thai, she told the agent what I wanted, a sleeper compartment (they call them 1st class). He replied, saying that all the sleeper compartments were sold out and all that was left was 2nd class sleepers. Second class sleepers are sort of like two bunk beds side by side separated by a walkway. I figured that was very likely to be noisy and getting sleep would be a problem. It looked like I might be flying to Chiang Mai, a more expensive option at about $100. After thinking for a moment, the Thai girl smiled and said I might be able to get a 1st class ticket at a tour travel agent upstairs. The tour companies buy up tickets ahead of time and resell them at a profit, but apparently they are only allowed to do it if they sell the ticket in combination with a tour or hotel. Serendipity again, I needed a train ticket and a Hotel in Chiang Mai for two days since I’d be arriving two days ahead of schedule. The price for this package? 5,000 baht or about $156.00.

Narrow Gauge Passenger Train in Bangkok

Narrow Gauge Passenger Train in Bangkok

I had walked about half way back to the hotel when I came upon a BTS Skytrain station. It’s an above ground rail system that makes getting around Bangkok a breeze. All the maps and signs are written in both English and Thai. I had to go two stops to get to the hotel, the ticket was 22 baht ($0.69) and was probably the cleanest and most hospitable mass transit train I’ve ever been on.

Bangkok Mass Transit System - BTS Skytrain

Bangkok Mass Transit System – BTS Skytrain

Now back at the hotel at 4:00 PM, I really just wanted to go to bed. I had hoped to stay up until seven or eight, but knew there was no way that was going to happen. I headed out to the streets again, in search of dinner. This time I chose a meal from one of the ubiquitous food carts that line the streets. Roasted fish from one cart and pineapple slices with a sugar/hot chili pepper mix for dipping in, from another. 20 baht for the fish and 10 for the pineapple, $1 for dinner.

Roasted Fish

Roasted Fish

Pineapple Slices with Sugar and Chili Pepper

Pineapple Slices with Sugar and Chili Pepper

I was completely wiped out now and turned in at only 5:30 PM, hopefully I’d be able to sleep 12 hours or more.

Tomorrow I’d go have a better look around Bangkok.