As the plane started its decent into Chiang Mai I had that sinking feeling…. And the feeling wasn’t from the altitude drop… it was from the sight of a thick haze over Chiang Mai city. This was perhaps the worst I’d seen it. My immediate thoughts turned to inaspin and his trip in 5 weeks time – ahhh – the gloating! How would I cope? Once landed it was just so overwhelming good to be back with my feet on the ground in my favorite city. Not even the haze could dampen the feeling when gliding past oh so familiar sights on our way across town to the Baan Orapin. ‘Why is it when you are back somewhere you love, it seems like you have never been away’ I thought as I even fondly looked at the rusty play equipment in ‘death trap park’ (you know the one, in the corner of the old city)?
If that feeling was good, how much better was it to arrive at the Baan Orapin – a reunion with Pepsi and Opas, to be told that at 9am our room was ready! You can’t help but relax the second you walk into this place – it is so serene and so beautiful. We book the suite and double adjoining room right near the pool – which we quickly put to good use. After a swim it was up to our favorite restaurant Ginger Kafe in the old city where we sat for a couple of hours over a number of beers. Forum member Sooty Cat and her family were due to arrive on the same day and ended up next door to us. It was great to meet up with them and share some of their adventure as well.
We had ten days ahead and very few concrete plans. A full week in Chiang Mai before heading up to Chiang Rai, then back for Easter before heading to Kuala Lumpur. I, of course had a huge list of places to try and things to do, but this was all on a ‘as we felt like it basis’. The only things we really planned was a day trip to Doi Inthanon with our guide Joy, and The Jungle Flight.
On our first night we headed up to the Saturday Walking Street Market. This is held just outside the old city, not far from the Chiang Mai Gate. It is like a mini version of the Sunday Night Walking Street (not quite the same atmosphere) – but well worth doing. There aren’t as many food stalls or as much entertainment by local musicians. Still, really nice walking around and fantastic hand made things. Keep your eye open for leather goods at these markets. A number of stalls sell hand made leather wallets, bags, phone cases etc.
While walking around at the market my eyes started to get really sore – the haze was thick and really unpleasant. We later read the levels that day were 190 – when normal is somewhere around 30. I can’t even imagine how much this would impact on those who live with this for a whole month over the March period. By some stroke of luck – the skies opened that night. We woke up to much clearer skies after heavy rain overnight – fresher air and cool temps. Perfect for walking….
Sunday was spent walking around the old city – it was over cast, a bit wet from the rain last night and really pleasant. We walked for a few hours – from the Chiang Mai Gate up to the middle of the old city – stopping in at all of the temples along the way. NC map in hand. We came across the little travel agent on Ratchadamnoen Road (Walking Street) – about half way up opposite Tamarind Village. It has a juice bar next door/adjoining – the boys sat in the juice bar while we booked our bus tickets to Chiang Rai and booked the Jungle Flight tickets.
In hindsight – I wouldn’t advise booking bus tickets here. Yes, it was nice sipping on a smoothie while someone else did the hard work, however, you are much better off in the long run going directly to the Arcade Bus Station. When you book at the agency they don’t issue tickets, so when you arrive for your bus you then have to queue to have tickets issued. We didn’t realize this and there was a huge queue. We would have missed our bus for sure – we went to the bus instead and the guy loading the bags took us back to the queue and took us up to the front to get the tickets. It would have taken an hour if we didn’t do this – and bye bye bus. There is also a surcharge on each ticket by not booking direct.
That night was Walking Street – the boys ditched me to hunt down their favorite t.shirt supplier in Anusarn ‘Smock t.shirts’. This is partly why I had to upgrade the baggage. No copy Billabong for them. They seek the quirk. About 35 t.shirts later they are very happy. Extra happy in fact because after a week of nightly visits the guy has given them his email address and catalogue. Brilliant, all my airfare $$$ is now going to go into online t.shirt buying. To the point, Walking Street by myself, for as long as I wanted, is heaven. It’s so good to pick up odd bits and pieces, all hand made and individual. I even got the coconut shell tea light candle holder back through quarantine in Aus (which is a feat).
On Monday morning we were picked up by our guide Joy at 8.30am. Joy has just bought a brand new 10 seater van. It is very smick! We had a full day planned that included Doi Inthanon, the waterfall, hill tribe market and Baan Tawai. This is one of the best day trips I have even done. On the way we passed 1) the Aussie cricket team in the nets practicing for their 8s match and 2) a procession of young boys about to do their stint as Buddist monks. (diverse!)…
The King and Queen’s Pogoda on Doi Inthanon is just awesome. I would have made the trip just for this alone. Beds with thousands of flowers surround the pagodas – what a sight. We came back and had lunch at the waterfall and visited the Hmong hilltribe market before hitting Baan Tawai for some serious ceramic shopping. Joy’s aunty has a ceramic shop and small factory in Baan Tawai – this was my destination. About 5kgs later I left the shop very happy. Very unique pottery – not the usual celadon ceramic. Stunning. It’s on a corner in the main street, right on a little alley way with coffee shops in the alley.
After a few days eating our way around Chiang Mai and luxuriating in the massage opportunities the boys went to Jungle Flight and I went to Nimmanhaemin Road for a shop and look around. The boys loved the Jungle Flight – it went straight to the top of the ‘best thing of the holiday’ list. They did the 4-5 hour package but it ended up being 6 hrs from pick up to drop off. They were pleased they didn’t do the full day because they thought it looked more of the same and didn’t feel they had missed anything. Very professionally run and loads of fun.
I’ve got to say that looking around Nimmanhaemin was less than fun. I find this area frustrating – I’m on one side of the road and see something on the other side, but crossing that road is hell. I didn’t buy much – some nice shops like ‘By Design Chiang Mai’, which use to be in the night bazaar area. ‘Kasama’ is a good find – inbetween soi 1 and 2 – a ceramic shop with an outlet in the front and shop behind. Fantastic prices in the front section and lots of variety.
We had a great hunt around Wararot Market area this time. Lots of colour and life. I bought a couple of really nice tops in one of the shops, watches and sunnies are very cheap here as well.
We especially enjoyed Charoen Rat Road – the road along the river (other side of the river to the night bazaar). This is where the Baan Orapin is, so I had lots of opportunity to look in the shops/galleries/cafes along here. I can give a very high recommendation to ‘The Meeting Room and Art Café’ (no 89) right near the foot bridge. If you are in the area drop in. The owner and his partner have made an amazing space for local artists to come in and work and hang out. Beautifully designed, relaxed and inspiring. They have a bar and café in one corner and a whole wall of interesting books from all over the world. The owner saw our son reading a book on sound mixing and told him that he was a sound recordist himself. Our son showed him one of his songs on tumbler – and he played some of my sons songs in the café for a while. Very cool…
I can give a big recommendation to Padma massage – no 204 Charoenrat Rat Road. (especially since I spend a significant part of my Chiang Mai days there). Of course, another big recommendation for Jun, the washing lady not far from Padma towards the Baan Orapin. 40B a kilo for an excellent job. She has no teeth, so have fun communicating.
There is a new ceramic outlet called ‘Earth and Fire’ just past Padma - no 397 Chareonrat. If you like Celadon ceramics this is the place to go. Lots of things around 20 – 30B a piece. Of course the Healing Family Foundation is always worth a visit (in the soi directly opposite the Brasserie) – as is ‘Vieng Joom On’, the Pink Tea House for amazing banana caramel crepes.
I’ve written up JBR’s on the Chiang Rai forum on our visit to the El Shadai Orphanage and our day rafting on Jermsak’s raft down the Mee Kok river. Both amazing experiences that went to the top of my list of best day trips ever. It was wonderful to see the El Shadai kids again and to spend some time with Jermsak. What an inspiring man he is. We always learn so much from him. He took us to the Lahu hill tribe where a lot of the El Shadai kids come from. Chiang Rai is a side trip well worth doing.
On our last day in Chiang Mai, it was Easter Day. We decided to go to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church for the 11am English service. This was excellent. Lots of people and great music from the band. We went from there to Antique House II on the river for lunch. This was one of the best meals we had. The food was excellent and the tables along the river front are relaxing. They also have dinner cruises from here. Set in an old Thai House full of antiques – I would definitely come back here.
Our last night was spent at Walking Street Market and then we went back to pick up the portrait we were having done in the night bazaar building. This cost 2500B for two people in the portrait. We had one portrait done about four years ago of our boys so this was part 2 – however, it didn’t quiet turn out as well as the first one. The first one was so amazing no one could believe it was real… this was good, but our youngest thinks he looks a bit like a girl in it (and sadly I agree).
A few storms had swept through with strong cool breezes over the week. The air was fresh – but not hot. We really got lucky. The city was gearing up for Song Kran – stalls of water pistols lined the road – and Pepsi at the Baan Orapin was beside himself with excitement. Lots of fun was ahead… but we were on our way to Kuala Lumpur … now I’m waiting for the next Air Asia sale to get back again … asap…