December 30, 2008

To Chiang Mai and the North

Planes, trains, and automobiles. That should sum up my trip from southern Thailand, all the way up to Chiang Mai in the north. Okay, so there weren't any planes involved, but I felt like Steve Martin trying to get to Chiang Mai for Christmas. I took an overnight bus from Krabi to Bangkok, followed by an overnight train that evening, that got me into Chiang Mai in the morning, two days after I started my journey. Surprisingly, after all my travels around the world, my body has somehow adjusted, and I wasn't the least bit tired when I arrived. Although it was nice to get a shower, and a change of clothes.

The bus from Krabi to Bangkok was on a company called Lignite, and I have to say, they were almost as good as the luxurious Argenitian buses that we encountered in South America. The seats reclined pretty far back, I was served two meals by a bus attendant, and you couldn't beat the price at $15 USD. I arrived in Bangkok early in the morning and spent a good half of the day traveling to the train station and then back to one of several bus stations, in order to secure my onward travel to Chiang Mai, and then back home the following week. It always sucks to travel around Christmas and New Years back home, and I thought it would be better in Asia, but it seems most of Europe comes to Thailand for the holidays, and finding last minute tickets was tough. I was lucky to get one of the last sleeping berths on the train that night to Chiang Mai, and also scored one of the last seats back to Krabi on a bus in about a week's time.

With my eight or so hours remaining, I thought it would be fun to hit up the MBK shopping center by Siam Square in central Bangkok. I had been to Bangkok three years ago, and didn't feel the need to do tons of sightseeing, or even spend another night in the city, but I did need a new mobile phone, and MBK is a shopping mecca for cheap electronics and clothes. For $50 USD I got myself a new unlocked quad band GSM phone, suitable for travel in any country!

The train to Chiang Mai left from the beautiful Hualamphong train station in Bangkok, and took about fourteen hours with stops. I was passed out for most of it on my upper bunk in the second class air-con cabin, thanks to Tylenol PM, my new best friend for overnight trips. But I did manage to wake up for a gorgeous sunrise over the hills outside of Chiang Mai on Christmas morning.

The trip was fun, and since it was Christmas eve, there was even a little party on board. Not as rowdy as one might expect, but the beers were flowing from the dining car just next door. At about 10 pm, the attendants came around and fixed up our bunks that were converted from the seats facing each other. They provided pillows and a blanket, and curtains for privacy. The last time I traveled on an overnight train was from Agra to Goa in India, almost eight years ago, and it brought back fond memories of traveling alone again in a foreign country. When I woke the next morning, I dug into my Christmas flip flop/stocking like any good Jew. I should probably mention that this is the part of Christmas that I find fun, and since I don't own any socks, I thought my red flip flops could do the trick, so I balanced some peanut brittle and dried mango on the strap.

Once I got to Chiang Mai, fate that came in the form of an old motorcycle taxi driver, brought me to a perfect guest house called the Chiang Mai Inn. It cost me 200 baht a night (about $7 USD) for a private room with bathroom, and the place was off the main road so it was quiet and relaxing. There was a good mix of young and old travelers staying there, so I didn't feel like I was in a party hostel. As soon as I arrived, I rented a motorbike for the day and took off touring around the city.

Chiang Mai is now one of my favorite cities in the world, and it reminded me a lot of Mendoza in Argentina. The city is surrounded by hills, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy for weeks. There are treks to nearby hill tribes, elephant riding, a tiger sanctuary, culinary schools, Thai massage schools, night markets, and a ton of temples to visit. I decided to start my first day by seeing the Buddhist temples.

There are numerous wats (Buddhist temples) located in and around the old city of Chiang Mai. I basically just drove through the town stopping off whenever I saw a nice temple, or a street snack that caught my eye. I don't know what it is about traveling, but I seem to be hungry all the time, and there are so many good street vendors in Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai. One of the nicest temples I visited was Wat Phra Singh. It had beautiful grounds around the temple as well. Not too far away from Wat Phra Singh is the amazing restaurant of Huen Phen, where I tried the local curry soup called Kao Soi. Normally the restaurants recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebooks are overrated, but I have to say that this one was packed with locals and the food was damn good.

Around sunset I took off to visit the temple of Doi Suthep, one of the North's most sacred temples, about 20 kilometers from the city center. It's located in a national park up on the hillside, overlooking Chiang Mai. The drive was fantastic and I highly recommend making the trip.

I definitely made the most of my first full day in Chiang Mai and finished it off with a trip to the dentist. Yes, the dentist. Thailand has some of the cheapest and best dentists in Asia, and my teeth cleaning at the Chiang Mai Medical and Dental Polyclinic, cost me a whopping $22 USD.

As for nightlife in Chiang Mai it's best to kick it off with the famous night bazaar, which happens every evening. The bazaar is pretty touristy, but it's fun to walk around and see all the stalls, and sample the street food. There are tons of bars on Th Loi Kroh on the way to the bazaar, but I finished off my evening at the THC roof top bar which is a chill lounge on a roof top overlooking the canal of the old city. If you're up for an after hours bar, I heard that Spicy is a good spot, but it doesn't get going until late night.

My second day in Thailand was spent at the Thai Farm Cooking School, located on an organic farm just outside the city. This place was recommended to me by friends Matt and Siobhan from Australia, and Jodi from Montreal/NYC. People say that the best way to a woman's heart is through her stomach, and I figured learning to cook some Thai food might come in handy in the future. For 900 baht, or $26 USD, I had a full day of cooking instruction where I learned to make five dishes, and I ate them all in a nice big communal meal at the end. Just to get your mouth watering, I now know how to make green curry, tom kaa soup, papaya salad, pad thai noodles, and a coconut banana desert, all from scratch. I will start taking reservations for chez Jared shortly. I had been wanting to do this since I heard about the school back in November, and it was one of the reasons I came to Chiang Mai.

After getting stuffed at the cooking school, I figured a movie would be a nice way to finish off the day. I hadn't seen a new movie in several months, and Australia was playing at the local mall. I had wanted to see this movie ever since Julie and I saw the trailer for it while in Australia, and the movie brought back some good memories of that country. We even visited the town of Bowen in Queensland, which doubled as the location of Darwin for the movie. I loved it, and highly recommend seeing it if you can sit through the two and a half hours of screen time.

The rest of my trip is to be continued in Part 2. here are my photos from Chiang Mai part 1.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yay! Chiang Mai! I knew you'd love my favorite city in Thailand. We had the same instructor for the Farm Cooking class - he was hilarious, non?? How much do you love Khao Soi? I miss it terribly. mmm... chicken curry soup.....