Tag Archives: mote

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!

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.