Tag Archives: song tao

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

 

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.