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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

 

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.

 

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

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.