We headed up to Chiang Mai for the weekend. It is a city in the mountainous north part of Thailand that is synonymous with expat retirees due to good weather, cheap cost of living and young beautiful women for all the 70 year-old British guys.
At the airport, the duty-free was stocked with Johnny Walker. For some reason the Thai love their JW. I guess it is a status symbol that they adopted from the west. Oh, well, not everyone is perfect.
We arrived ahead of the rest of the family because they had to put in a day’s work on Friday. We hired a Tuk-Tuk driver, after dropping bags at hotel, to show us the city. If I did not have Amy with me I would not have been able to get this idea across to the driver. We told him to just drive around the city for a half hour to get the lay of the land.
The city, Thailand’s second largest, is centered inside an old walled square neighborhood. The wall is crumbling, restored in some parts.
After our city tour we returned to our hotel, The Phor Liang. It was a hidden gem full of Terracotta beauty in the Old Town. Once everyone arrived we went out for dinner at a traditional Northern Restaurant. I had experienced similar food traveling through the north part of Vietnam. Lots of pork sausages, sticky rice and a different type of noodle.
We had the waiter take a picture of everyone. Amy wanted another picture, and I was not complaining, as for some reason I looked like I weighed 300 lbs in the first picture. On the reshoot, I looked like more awkward, even with the stupid hat on my head
I forgot my baseball hat on the plane and needed something in a hurry to protect from the sun’s death rays. It was a $2 impulse buy from a street vendor. I enjoyed the time with the fedora in Chiang Mai, but that personality had to remain there when I left.
After dinner, we walked around one of the walled gates, and over to a night bazaar
For some reason on this trip I was stopped multiple times by kids who wanted to interview a gringo. I think my hat and pleasant disposition made me more approachable than most.
We had a full day of sightseeing the following day. Amy’s sister, like me, wants to make the most of her travels and fills the time with hitting all the best venues in the area. Before we left in the rental car. I took a swim in the pool and walked behind the hotel where a local Saturday morning market was going strong.
After finding someone selling iced coffee I went back and got Amy and her mom to dip deeper into the shadows of the market
Frogs on a stick anyone?
Our first stop was Wat Phra That Doi Suthep at the top of a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. The road up was incredibly windy. They have different road regulations here in Thailand, and same goes for Japan for that matter. It feels like in the USA you need a certain number of feet of straight road before you place another switchback to get up a hill. Here it is just an unending run of turns that make San Francisco’s Lombard Street look like a joke. I was almost puking by the time we got to the top and had to take motion sickness medication on all subsequent road trips.
We were up there in elevation among the clouds, making the heat a bit more bearable. After parking we had to walk a few hundred feet more to get to the actual temple. I saw these bottles in a store during the walk. I had heard about Thai Whiskey being a novelty to be tried, but what was this? Half empty bottles? Was the shop owner that brazen, not only might he be selling repurposed bottles but also just casually left the funnel there as well?! I am sure I am missing something, but seemed odd from a foreigner’s perspective.
The temple sits atop a peak, of which 100sq miles of the surrounding landscape make up a National Park.
After the temple, we worked our way back to town. Stopping at another lunch spot in the Old Town that specializes in Northern Thai Noodles
Then it was off to more Buddhist Temples! I was wondering why there were so many temples, but there really are not any more than there are churches back home. The difference is that these temples are much more grandiose. It is strange how a people who I have stated are not too concerned with materialistic status symbols, spends so much money to construct these visually stunning edifices. I guess they get all those Louis Vuitton dreams out on the temples and have nothing left for themselves.
I thought the following sign was curious. I had never gone to a public restroom where they ask you to remove shoes before entering the wash closet.
And another ambush by Thai school children
2 temples down, 2 to go. I should mention something about the smoke here. It seems where pollution is problem in Bangkok, you might think out here in the mountains it might be all nature and songbirds, but Chiang Mai has one of the highest smoke pollution issues in the world. During the burning season in the Spring it gets so bad that people just leave town. In addition, more and more people are taking advantage of the burning season, by adding their own burning of garbage under the veil of forest fires.
Our final stop seemed to be more of a Buddhist training ground or school. Lots of chanting monks and rooms where students would sit for hours on end to test their limits and profess their devotion.
An offering? Don’t worry he was just sleeping
We were templed out. Back to the hotel to regroup
Our final meal was at an organic restaurant that was extremely popular. We waited about 2 hours for a table, and even ordered while waiting to move things along. No problem, as all the food was great, as usual.
After dinner we walked to another night market the front desk at the hotel told us about
The following day we had till 5pm for our flight (family flew out early) so we Tuk-Tuked around town. Like everywhere, there is a wide range of prices you can be told when asking price to ferry you across town. But like good little tourists we just paid what they asked.
We walked along the main river in town
After a stop at Sturbucks, we went to a women’s prison for full body massages. Best $15 massage you can get and it helps provide vocational training for women trying to turn their life around from drugs and prostitution.
I thought this was humorous. I walked to bathroom and could not tell which side was for men
I had to look closer at the picture to see that they had painted a mustache on the female picture. I expect nothing less from the country that specializes in ‘Ladyboys’ and a city that offers a cross-dressing Cabaret show.
Our flight back to Bangkok was smooth and tomorrow we were headed to Amy’s hometown of Chanthaburi.
Chanthaburi is a few hours East of Bangkok, closer to the border with Cambodia. I had an idea of taking a day to cross the border by ground to see Angkor Wat, but I heard land crossings are a nightmare of delays and paperwork so will have to save that for another trip.
Chanthaburi seems to be a great exporter of natural rubber as I see the trees being tapped all over the place.
On a side note, you know how you wonder how places like 7-11, Pizza Hut and Radio Shack are still around (well maybe not the last one). It is because they have such a presence overseas. There are more 7-11s in Thailand than Starbucks in the US.
After grabbing lunch along the highway we headed into the city to walk around and visit her parent’s sowing store
That night we had dinner at her parent’s house after Amy went to visit relatives for a couple hours.
The next day we headed to the coast and spent a little downtime getting ready for our long flight back to the US.
Spending a lot of time in the car, I came to a realization that all Asians are not bad drivers, contrary to what we think in the US, they just are a product of necessity. It is so crowded, that if you waited to merge into traffic you would be waiting for hours. Instead you just make slow deliberate movements and let others work around you. It is the same when trying to cross a busy street. You just start walking slowly and the river of chaos will envelop you and deposit you on the far curb. So next time you see an Asian driver drifting into your lane, just smile and drive around them, and then pull up next to them and give them the finger and yell at them.
It was a fun trip to The Land of Smiles. I got to see both rural and urban areas. Like everywhere you go, you wish you could have seen it 100 years ago to really appreciate it’s uniqueness without all the western influence, but I probably never would have made it here as I would have had to stow away for 30 days on a steamship bound for Hong Kong. Just be glad you saw it cause in another 100 years it may be no different from Los Angeles or Chicago.
I can say that I wish I saw Thailand through the eyes of my younger self who had never left American soil. Just like the first and subsequent times you see a Glacier or Leopard in the wild, the second, third and fourth time you land in an exotic location is always a little less breathtaking. Don’t get me wrong I love it and appreciate the culture and the food, it is just a little less earth-shattering as that first immersion.
Now it was time to fly back to Japan for a 12Hr layover before back to USA….or that is the way it was written up to take place
Click Here to continue reading the rest of this trip as I head back through Japan.