Tag Archives: travel

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!

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

Flying to Bangkok, Thailand

My sister would be driving me to the San Diego airport in the morning. We agreed on the schedule, 20 minutes to the airport, and arrive a bit more than an hour before the flight, plus leave extra time for good measure. I wasn’t checking any bags so I could skip the lines and use a kiosk for check in.  The next morning, we left the house only about 5 minutes behind schedule. A quick stop for a coffee at Starbucks, then on to the airport. The morning rush hour traffic was just getting started so there was little worry even though we were about 15 minutes behind schedule now. What happen next however, ate up all the spare time and then some. While chatting about my trip, we got distracted and missed the exit to the airport, now we were headed for downtown San Diego. After waiting anxiously at several red traffic lights, and dealing with the one way streets, we got turned around and headed back toward the airport. By the time we arrived I only had 20 minutes to get my boarding pass and get though security.

When I tried to get my ticket at the kiosk, my flight was no longer listed! Off I went to the counter to see the friendly ticketing agent and find out what has gone awry. As it turned out I was too late, and they could no longer issue a boarding pass for that flight. Oops. The next available flight was in about 2 hours, but making the connection would be challenging with only 30 minutes between flights in Seattle. With little choice I booked the flight. The ticketing agent mentioned than I may be able to get transfered back onto my original flight once I pass through security and get to the gate. The travelers in line at the security checkpoint were helpful, and let me jump to the head of the line. I put my backpack and jacket on the conveyor to be xrayed and headed for the metal detector. BEEEP.  In my haste I had forgotten my mobile phone was in my pocket and it set off the metal detector. Now TSA decided a full check over was in order, shoes off, through the back scatter x ray machine (aka naked scanner), and backpack searched and rescanned. No problem of course, but a loss of time that I didn’t have to waste.

With my shoes back on, and my backpack zipped up, I was finally off to the gate. To my amazement my original flight hadn’t left yet. The ticketing agent at the gate was very helpful and was able to swap me back onto my original flight to Seattle.
Piece of cake. Lol.

Forty minutes later the Boeing 737 was crusing at 35,000 feet and bound for Seattle, Washington. Breakfast was offered, and since I hadn’t eaten yet, I opted for the egg sandwich on ciabatta bread. It was scrambled eggs (powdered) with cheese and some sort of meat-like patty. I think it was what they refer to in Sci-Fi movies as, a protein pellet.  It was really, really awful. Reminded me of a scene from the movie “Crocodile Dundee” where, refering to a goanna lizard roasting over a fire, he states, “Well, you can live on it, but it tastes like shit.” I ate it anyway. The TAZO black tea, that I chose for a beverage was a welcome accompaniment.

Two hours later I landed in Seattle and settled into the two hour layover before the next flight to Tokyo, Japan.

The flight from Seattle to Tokyo was just over 10 hours; a long flight by almost anyone’s standards. On board the Airbus A330-300, all food and beverages were complimentary, including beer, wine, and spirits. With the recent troubles now behind me, and looking forward to a long, relaxing flight I ordered a libation. Dewar’s blended Scotch whiskey was the house brand which was fine with me. At the same time dinner was being served. Teriyaki beef with a salad, vegetables,  rice, and a dinner roll. It was decidedly better than breakfast, of course that wouldn’t take much. It was a good flight without much turbulance, but long and tiring. The entertainment system, which had dozens of movies on demand, helped pass the time, and I watched three or four movies before we landed.

A two and a half hour layover in Tokyo awaited me as I disembarked. I’m not one for sitting still for long periods of time, so I wandered around the terminal and fiddled with my phone a bit, swapping out the SIM card so it would work in Thailand when I arrived. The boarding seemed to take longer than usual, but maybe it’s just because I was getting tired. I walked around some more, waiting for my boarding zone to be called, zone two. After what seemed like half an hour, and lots of wandering around, it was time to board. I guess all that wandering made me look suspicious, I was pulled aside and searched again. Backpack checked, shoes off, arms out, and the metal detecting wand scans me once again. Maybe I’ll try to sit still next time. Na, probably not.

On board the Boeing 747-400, I was feeling pretty weary. I had been traveling now for over 23 hours without sleep and still had this six and a half hour flight, plus a cab ride to the hotel. I did mange to nap a bit on the plane dispite sitting nearly upright, maybe two or three hours.

Again food and beverages were complimentary, though I only had water and tea on this flight, skipping any meals and adult beverages. I wanted to be sure I had my wits about me (as much as a sleep deprived person can) when I arrived in Thailand.

The plane arrived almost an hour late due to a delayed departure from Tokyo. A retativley short, 30 minute foray through customs and immigration and I was officially in Thailand.

Having read internet posts about getting a taxi at Suvarnabhumi (pronounced: su-wan-na-poom) Airport in Bangkok, I knew I needed to head downstairs to the public taxi stands. No waiting. I was assigned a cab, and handed a form with the cab driver’s information on it and my hotel destination. This is used to report the driver if he tries to overcharge you or take you somewhere other than your requested destination. The cab was an older model and had no rear seatbelts. A few small dents and scratches, but clean and reliable enough to get me to downtown Bangkok. A twenty minute ride later and I arrived at my hotel. The cost for the taxi ride was 270 baht, or about $9.00.

Now, a little problem at the hotel with check in, the room I booked on Expedia was not available. I booked a room with a single king size bed, and all they had left was a room with two smaller beds pushed together. They wouldn’t upgrade my room, and I was in no mood to argue after traveling for 34 hours. Up to the room I went. Make some phone calls to update family on the progress of my trip, and finally into bed at 4:30 am, in Bangkok.

image

 

Up next, my first day in Bangkok. Feel free to leave questions or comments.

Last Few Days in Portland

 

After Christmas – On one evening I took my daughters out to dinner, but let them choose the restaurant since they knew what the city has to offer better than I. The destination was to be, Le Bistro Montage. This Cajun gem is on the East side of Portland, over the river. As might be expected at any popular place,  there was a 45 minute wait for a table. We started off with Gator Bites, though the Frog Legs were tempting (see the Menu). Jambalaya seemed to be a specialty, so I ordered up Alligator Jambalaya for dinner. Having never had alligator before, I wanted to give it a try. I found it very tasty, sort of a cross between fish and chicken.

image

Alligator Jambalaya with Cornbread mini-muffins

Theaters – We took in a couple movies  too. The first was at Laurelhurst Theatre  7 Pub also on Portland’s east side. This cool little theater serves up beer, wine, pizza, wraps, snacks, and more. There were small tables in front of many of the rows of theater seats for food and drinks. Since they serve alcohol everyone is carded at the ticket booth. No minors allowed after 5:30 pm when they start serving alcohol. The movie we saw was All is Lost with Robert Redford. I had wanted to see that movie for several months due to my interest in sailing. I thought the movie was average.

The other theater was McMenamins Kennedy School. A very fascinating place. This was an elementary school that was closed in the 1970s, then bought and renovated into a hotel, theater, brewery, and restaurant. Again, food and drinks (alcohol) were served at the theater. The seats were nearly all living room style sofas and chairs set side by side. The movie was Enders Game. The storyline appealed to the younger generation as it was a teens- in  –      space      fighting aliens sort of fair. I’d rate this one average too.

One of the bars in the school was called, The Boiler Room (click on “GALLERY”), pretty cool use of old plumbing for railings and decor.

Old Plumbing Used as Railing

Old Plumbing Used as Railing

Portland – Portland is a crunchy town that has a great public transit system and sparkling clean. It’s very artsy which makes for a lot of visual stimulation as you stroll around the city. There is a myriad of delicious restaurants and extensive shopping.

Brick Sidewalks of Portland

Brick Sidewalks of Portland

My time in Portland is done for now. Off to San Diego, California.

Happy New Year to all!!!!

Merry Christmas from Portland, Oregon

I’ve arrived in Portland!

Air Travel – The rerouted flight went along without much trouble at all. The final leg of the flight was non-stop from Charlotte, NC to Portland, OR. The Airbus 321 departed only about 25 minutes late due to an issue with the paperwork. Seems some fuel was unaccounted for. Part of the delay was made up during the flight, despite a 136 knot headwind, and I arrived in Portland at about 9:15 pm. The first class seat was a welcome, and unexpected addition to the trip. The jovial lady taking care of the first class cabin was a veteran stewardess, professional, courteous, and witty. The dinner she served was barbecue beef, garden salad, shrimp cocktail, mixed vegetable (broccoli and carrots), and a dinner roll. The beef was tender and tasty, the veggies were a bit over cooked for my liking and the salad was getting a bit limp as might be expected having been prepared many, many hours earlier. Pairing with complimentary cocktails, vodka tonic was my choice du jour, rounded out a tasty meal for this hungry traveler. Things were looking up.

Arrival in Portland – By the time we landed I was feeling pretty exhausted, and experiencing that wired feeling you get from being over tired. My daughters met me at the airport to give me a ride to the hotel. Hugs and seasons greetings all around. We had not seen each other for many months and it was good to see them again. Our spirits were high and everyone was happy knowing we’d be together for Christmas.

Within an hour we arrived at the hotel. It’s usually a 20 minute ride but, due to distractions from conversation and the general euphoria of being together with family again, we missed an exit and took a bit longer sightseeing route. My youngest daughter was pretty tired and opted to head for home as we arrived at the hotel.  My eldest daughter, who lives about 12 blocks from the hotel in downtown Portland, opted to stay a little longer. We enjoyed a cocktail at the hotel lounge and chatted, catching up on what we’ve both been up to. After a half hour or so I walked her back to apartment and headed for the hotel.

It was now just after midnight here in Portland and I had been going for about 24 hours.  The king size bed was a welcome sight. I expected to be sound asleep within minutes of hitting the pillow but, it took over half an hour to finally fall asleep.  Five hours later I awoke. It was nearly 9:00 a.m. Eastern time (6:00 a.m. here in Portland) and my internal clock decided it was time to wake up. Oh well, I guess I’d have to catch up on sleep another day.

Christmas Eve – Ah, what to have for breakfast? I ventured out of the hotel to have a look around and see about finding something for breakfast. The first thing I saw were some street food carts directly across the street from the hotel. There was Mexican, Falafels, Greek, and a Thai food cart. A Thai food cart! Perfect I thought. I knew from researching about Thailand that I would be eating from Thai food carts very often, and very soon. I figured I may as well get started  and it would also give me a reference point to compare the carts in Portland to the carts in Thailand. Hmmm, not really what I had in mind for breakfast though. I opted to get an egg-roll for $3.00, and to keep looking for somewhere for breakfast. The egg-roll was tasty, but still cool in the middle, not quite long enough in the deep fryer.

Back at the Hotel, I stopped at the front desk for a recommendation for breakfast. The athletic looking young lady was more than eager to offer her opinion. After a short list of near-by eateries was discussed, I opted for her top pick of Tasty n Alder. It was a bit more than a mile walk through the streets of Portland but, as I discovered, more than worth the effort.

Tasty n Alder is one of the “diamonds in Portland” as a tourist put it that sat next to me as I enjoyed a fantastic breakfast. I had: Polenta & Sugo with mozzarella & over easy egg.

Polenta & Sugo with mozzarella & over easy egg

Polenta & Sugo with mozzarella & over easy egg

After breakfast I texted the gang and a plan for the day was set. We’d go for dinner and head to Peacock Lane to see the Christmas Light display. Apparently, the residents of Peacock Lane have been doing, and overdoing, Christmas light displays since 1920. A quick Google search will likely give you a bit more insight than I can offer here.

Dinner was at Thai Chili Jam.  A preview of the many Thai meals in my future. The food was excellent and the owner taught me a few new Thai phrases as a bonus. Life is good.

Christmas Day – I joined the family at their three bedroom apartment late in the morning. A cozy place on the first floor. In the living room was a natural Christmas tree with brilliant silver and blue ornaments and twinkling lights to set a festive mood. Beneath the tree were many cheery, brightly wrapped gifts with shiny gold and silver bows.

“A Christmas Story” marathon was playing on the TV as friends and family watched the traditional show. The air was filled with the aroma of Christmas dinner being prepared in the galley kitchen; a bone-in ham, with sides of scalloped potatoes, and corn. Christmas cookies made by Grandma, from old family recipes handed down from generation to generation, would finish the feast.

After dinner the younger generation played a multifarious board game called “Terra Mystica“. I watched as they moved their pieces and planned their strategy. My eldest daughter won in the end, and all declared the game to be exceptional.

It was truly wonderful to be able to spend Christmas with my children.