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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Traveling along the Thai country roads I came across many rice fields. Thailand is the second largest exporter of rice, India being the largest.
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.
Pop gan Mai (pronounced: pope gan my) – See you later.