Tag Archives: old city

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

 

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.