For those of you who have been regular readers of the blog this post is mostly a repeat of places we have visited together before, although with updated information and photos. For newer readers this story will be of interest if you plan to spend some time in Chiang Mai. The next post will cover Chiang Rai so keep an eye out for that.

This trip came about because I had promised Gaun’s (my wife) younger sister Yuan and husband Lud that I would take them to Chiang Mai for a few days and include their first ever airplane flight as part of the experience. Getting them away from the farm is always a challenge and a slightly quieter time in the season gave me a window of opportunity to take them on a rare holiday.

Much of life centres around the "farmhouse" on the farm. Yuan and Lud use this as their working base, cook lunch and sleep here.

Much of life centres around the “farmhouse” on the farm. Yuan and Lud use this as their working base, cook lunch and sleep here.

My motivation for taking Yuan and Lud was twofold. Firstly they have been just delightful in-laws from day one and have offered as much support as they had to give in settling us into Isaan and with the house build. Hardworking, honest and undemanding folk, they are the very best of Isaan. Secondly I wanted them to expand their experience of their own country. I have seen more of it than they have! Like many rural people life revolves around farm, market and home 7 days a week 52 weeks a year. Holidays are a rarity and certainly going away for a break almost unheard of.

Yuan and Lud on the right helping out with the house.

Yuan and Lud on the right helping out with the house in-between a very full farming schedule.

Had we had more time I would have probably driven to Chiang Mai, a long nine hour 600+ km trip, but doable in the day and it is a wonderful journey. However because of the commitment to the farm we needed to maximise our time in Chiang Mai/Rai so flying was the only option. Both Nok and Bangkok Air fly direct from Udon Thani, our local airport, to Chiang Mai. Bangkok is more of a business airline and has several flights a day but is almost twice as expensive as Nok, who unfortunately only has the one flight leaving around 6.00 pm. I say unfortunately because you arrive at the end of the day and have a night’s accommodation before starting on the holiday. I have a suggestion as to how to make this work for you – read on. I managed to catch a special offer with Nok and the flights both ways for four people including luggage was 6,300 THB or about A$250.00.

It is hard for us to relate to what a big deal an opportunity like this is to Lud and Yuan. For many of us travelling, air flights and new sights are at least a once a year experience. Even Gaun has been to Australia, Hong Kong and a variety of places in Thailand since we have been together and has eighteen plane flights under her belt in two years.

Gaun in the gardens (of course) in the centre of Hong Kong.

Gaun in the gardens (of course) in Hong Kong. A seasoned traveller now.

For Lud and Yuan this was an occasion to get hair done, (Lud had his coloured twice!) buy new clothes and let everyone know what they were up to. In a small village everything is shared and there would be general knowledge of the family trip.

We are supposed to be well into the wet season here, although very little rain has fallen so far as the effects of the worst drought in a decade are felt in many provinces. However we sometimes get late afternoon storms and I was worried we would hit one of these flying out of Udon. I wanted Lud and Yuan to have a good view of the countryside they have only ever seen from ground level. My worst fears happened as we drove towards Udon and into very heavy rain and low clouds just an hour before takeoff. Luckily, as with most tropical storms it cleared quickly and thirty minutes before the flight the outlook was grey but clear. Phew.

Evidence of the downpour but clear skies.

Evidence of the downpour but clear skies. “Nok” means bird in Thai, which accounts for the face painted on the front of Nok airplanes.

Ready to go.

Ready to go. Happy so far.

Having lost count of the number of takeoffs I have done I had also forgotten just what a nervous time it can be for first timers, especially for people like Lud and Yuan who were already well outside their comfort zone. The takeoff for Lud in particular was a terrifying event and having given him a window seat the last thing he wanted to do was look out of it! Thankfully the Thai cure-all carried everywhere, a strong methylated balm good for headaches, coughs, mosquito bites and airflights, was at hand and a little under the nose brought things under control. Shortly after both Yuan and Lud were viewing the passing landscape and I was very relieved.

The window now in use!

The window now in use!

The paddy fields mixed in with the city on the outskirts of Chiang Mai.

The paddy fields mixed in with houses on the outskirts of Chiang Mai as we fly in at dusk.

Nok Air hostesses happy to have a photo taken with the first timers.

Nok Air hostesses happy to have a photo taken with the first timers. Yuan and Lud maybe happy to be back on the ground!

The photo above reminded me of the one taken when Gaun had her first flight, also Nok Air. In her slightly wilder times :-)

The photo with Lud and Yuan reminded me of this one taken when Gaun had her first flight two years earlier, also with Nok Air. In her slightly wilder times 🙂 She’s a sedate married woman now!

It is only a one hour flight Udon to Chiang Mai and we were in the airport with our luggage at around 7.30 pm. I had arranged a car for the three days through North Wheels, there website HERE. Their representative was spot on time, the car clean and although not the newest was did the job. 1,200 THB/A$48.00 a day for a four door Honda City sedan including unlimited mileage and first class insurance. Super easy paperwork and we were on our way in no time.

I had booked us into Baan Kaew guesthouse for the two nights we were to be in Chiang Mai. Thier website is HERE and also covered on Trip Advisor HERE . We had stayed there many times when living in Chiang Rai and travelled to Chiang Mai for a long series of dental treatments. It is a pretty basic Thai style guesthouse but clean and well run with friendly staff. It is a short walk to the evening markets on Chang Klan Road, which you can read about HERE, and is set in quiet gardens so you get a peaceful night’s sleep. The reason I had chosen it was because we were able to dumped our bags and ten minutes later were in the heart of the night markets.

Our first priority.

Our first priority.

You will find this little Thai restaurant at the back of the arcade almost opposite Pantip Plaza on Chang Klan Road. It has a mix of Thai and western meals, pretty quick service and moderate prices. Nothing outstanding but a good place to kick back, have a beer and watch the passing traffic. The latter proved to be a big attraction with the in-laws. There are very few farang in our bit of Isaan and they have never seen such a concentrated number before. I am not sure we present the best when on holiday but that just added to the interest.

Our next stop was to book into the ladyboy show, which is in the same arcade about halfway down on the right if you have your back to Chang Klan Road. I have covered this before HERE and the show is in my Chiang Mai Top Ten HERE and I do recommend it unless you are offended by ladyboys. This is a professional cabaret type show, entertaining and not at all risque or offensive. I have been here a few times with various visitors and previously entry was free and they made money on the drinks. UPDATE: Entry is now 200 THB pp but you do get a free small beer or softdrink. As I have previously advised get there early and reserve a table at the front. This will cost you a ladyboy tip of 50/100 THB but is well worth it. You can then turn up just before the start time of 9.30 pm and get the best view in the place. The music is VERY loud so bring earplugs if that bothers you.

The costumes are great and the lipsync and support dancing is mostly spot on.

The costumes are great and the lipsync and support dancing is mostly spot on.

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Bright doesn’t really cover it!

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A range of attractiveness on offer but all the acts displayed a lot of energy and gave it their all.

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Before……………….worried.

A tourist getting more than he had planned - or maybe not! This was the only slightly "naughty" act and in a very modest way. This is not Pattaya or Patong.

And after………………getting more than he had planned for – or maybe not! This was the only slightly “naughty” act and in a very modest way. This is not Pattaya or Patong.

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This lady gave 110%. A funny session.

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This ladyboy has been there long time and is relying more on her character for impact rather than looks 🙂 Yuan having a good time.

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We had a packed agenda planned for our only full day in Chiang Mai. Starting with a visit to the Royal Gardens, which I wrote about HERE , coffee with three farang I had “met” via the blog who are visiting us in Isaan later this year, Doi Suthep, the famous temple on the hill overlooking Chiang Mai, tigers, a quick trip through the farming communities at the back of Mae Rim to the North of the city and a visit to the night markets for shopping and Boy Blues Bar for the music.

You can see why it is hard to find places in Thailand. My original post had these gardens spelt as Ratchaphruek, which is a legitimate spelling, and the sign on the gardens as show below. Gaun’s pronunciation of the name is a whole different thing again if you are trying to give instructions to a tuk tuk driver. I can quote myself from my previous post and tell you “The basis of its name, ” Ratchaphruek” or Golden Shower Tree, is the de facto national flower of Thailand”.

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If you enjoy gardens then this is a good one to spend a couple of hours or more exploring. There’s plenty to see as it covers over 180 acres. This map gives you some idea of the size HERE. The names are in Thai but if you hover your cursor over each name it shows in English.

Entry will cost a tourist 100 THB or 50 THB for a local farang with a Thai driver’s licence. 50 THB for Thais too. An all day hop on/off bus pass costs 20 THB and bikes can be hired as well as golf carts for those who don’t want to walk.

The view from the entrance to the Royal temple at the back. That wat on the hill is worth a visit too if you have transport.

The view from the entrance to the Royal pavilion at the back.

The Orchid display was being updated last time we were here and the renovations have now been completed. It is my favourite area of the park and worth a visit if nothing else. The flowers were a little light on this time of year but the new greenhouse is a super addition.

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The Orchid Park is reasonably close to the front gate off to the right – refer map.

The new greenhouse.

The new greenhouse. This is airconditioned so a wonderful place to drop into on a hot day.

A little kitsch but nothing wrong with that.

A little kitsch but nothing wrong with that.

The outside areas are lush and colourful.

The outside areas are lush and colourful.

Photo opportunities aplenty.

Photo opportunities aplenty.

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Sisters and orchids.

Sisters and orchids.

Yuan in her new gear.

Model Yuan in her new gear.

It is hard to resist taking pictures of these magnificent colours.

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The formal parade leading to the temple at the back of the park.

The formal parade leading to the Royal pavilion at the back of the park.

Ho Kham Royal Pavilion

Ho Kham Royal Pavilion.

This structure is described as “The Royal Pavilion, or Ho Kham Luang in Thai, was the most impressive architecture of the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2006. Built in the style of a royal pavilion of the ancient Lanna Kingdom in the Northern part of Thailand, the architecture portrayed the exquisite grandeur, beauty and grace of Lanna architecture which has been passed down through generations.” and you can read more HERE (note the different spelling of the park’s name in this official website!)

Pretty impressive.

Pretty impressive.

There is a whole section of the park given over to international and corporate garden displays. We always visit the one from Holland as we have a good friend from the Netherlands, now living in Australia, who has visited us in Thailand three times.

A Dutch Gaun.

A Dutch Gaun.

The Thais are big on windmills, which they call "pat lom" the same as their name for a fan!

The Thais are big on windmills, which they call “pat lom” the same as their name for a fan!. Small versions can be found in many garden centres.

Saskia - this photo is for you. Memories!

Saskia – this photo is for you. Memories!

These international pavilions are on the right hand side of the park. To the left you will find lots more displays and in my experience almost no people. Make sure you find the Shaded Pavilion, which is worth a look. The following photo was taken just outside this display. It shows three Isaan farmers discussing the edible value of these plants. Most of them are “medicinal”, which in Isaan-speak means they are good for you but taste awful 🙂

Just greenery to me but much more to those in the know.

Just greenery to me but much more to those in the know.

Looking across the lake to the hills of South Chiang Mai.

Looking across the lake to the hills of Southern Chiang Mai.

 

That temple on the hill is access from a road at the roundabout just outside the park.

That temple on the hill is access from a road at the roundabout just outside the park. It has a large Buddha statue and views over South Chiang Mai – although that’s nothing special.

Coffee with our farang contacts after our time at the gardens was most welcome and it was great to put faces to names only shared via email as a result of the blog. Thank you Jenny, Bob and Soun. We look forward to seeing you in November and showing you a few of the local sights of rural Isaan.

After coffee we headed North side and a drive up Doi (Doi means hill in the North) Suthep to the temple that seems to be on everyone’s to do list when visiting Chiang Mai. If you have time make sure you call into Doi Phalat on the way to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. I wrote about our visit to this secluded forest wat HERE. We returned this trip to the wat because it has a water cascade running through it which was dry during the 12 months we spent in Chiang Mai. As we are supposed to be in the wet season I was hoping to find water this time. Not to be or not much anyway.

Far better than the better know big brother up the road.

Far better than big brother up the road – in my eyes anyway.

Almost dry cascades but the view over Chiang Mai is still worth it.

Almost dry cascades but the view over Chiang Mai is still worth it. One day I will see them running.

An original well still in use.

An original well still in use. I love these lush forest wats. This one is peaceful and mostly tourist free if that’s your thing.

The entrance.

The entrance.

Signs of the neverending building you will come across in most Buddhist temples.

Signs of the neverending building you will come across in most Buddhist temples.

I originally wrote about Wat Phra That Doi Suthep back in September 2013 HERE, when we were living in Chiang Rai. I have been there a couple of times since and my opinion of the place hasn’t changed. For Thais it is important as it is a temple supported by the King and has strong Buddhist connections. For farang it ends up on the list because it is at the top of the things to do when in Chiang Mai. Interestingly if you read the reviews on somewhere like Trip Advisor HERE many talk about the view – not the temple.

I have never understood the attraction of this place for westerners. It is one of the very few temples in Thailand where a tourist is charged an entry fee. At 40 THB it is nothing in itself but most other temples live on donations and I don’t see why this one is different. Once you get inside you will find a messy, crowded site that seems to be in a state of permanent slow renovation and construction.

Not my idea of a good time.

Not my idea of a good time.

The temple area itself is small and cramped and the surrounding structures uninspiring. The tiling has been designed to be a deadly as possible in the wet and the views across Chiang Mai great but you can get equally good ones at a three stopping points on the way up the Doi. As a Thai would say “up to you” 🙂

Lunchtime and this guy was THE DUDE.

Lunchtime and this guy was THE DUDE. The tatts are cloth sleeves if you thought he was too authentic!

There were two of these dogs sitting exactly where their signs were placed.

There were two of these dogs sitting exactly where their signs were placed.

Past the dogs, food and souvenir shops are the steps to the temple.

Past the dogs, food and souvenir shops are the steps to the temple. There is a cable car lift to the right of the entrance if these steps seem a little daunting or you have mobility issues.

The family pay respects.

The family pay respects. People in the background walking three times around the temple clockwise.

REALLY??? This is a Thai lady so you can't put it all down to tasteless farang everytime.

REALLY??? This is a Thai lady so you can’t put it all down to tasteless farang every time. An interesting choice of clothing to visit a temple.

Not all bad news. These type of shots make the trip semi-worthwhile. You have to do roof photos though because of the number of tourists at ground level.

Not all bad news. These type of shots make the trip semi-worthwhile. You have to do roof photos though because of the number of visitors at ground level.

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Extensions rather than maintenance.

Extensions rather than maintenance. You get an idea of the scope of the views though don’t you.

Unlike the gardens at Rajapruek these are plastic!

Unlike the gardens at Rajapruek these flowers are plastic!

Our Buddhist duties completed we headed back into the hectic Chiang Mai traffic and the drive to Mae Rim on the North side of the city off highway 107. I wanted to show Yuan and Lud the tigers at the Tiger Kingdom and then take them on one of my favourite drives through the hills at the back of Mae Rim. If I had the inclination and money I would make this part of Chiang Mai my home. It is a largely rural/natural landscape although there are plenty of tourist adventure type activities and other attractions located in the area, which you can read about HERE. However once you head off the main road you are into lovely hilly and non-touristy scenery and a piece of land here within 30 minutes of central Chiang Mai would be the best of both worlds.

I wrote about the Tiger Kingdom and how to get some free tiger photos HERE. Nothing has changed and you can have a coffee or cool drink and watch the tourists get eaten/play with the tigers.

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The central courtyard of reception.

The central courtyard off reception. It’s tiring work being a tiger.

This photo gives you an idea of how close you get to the action from your free seat in the cafe.

This photo gives you an idea of how close you get to the action from your free seat in the cafe. It had just rained when we arrived and this area was closed off as it is not undercover.

Those important holiday snaps.

Those important holiday snaps.

Beautiful animals.

Beautiful animals.

The cafe is to the right of reception. If you walk to the left you can look into the nursery room and take non-flash photos through the glass once again for free. I didn’t do very well with my shots but you get the idea.

Ah.

Ah babies. Not the most photogenic moment for the carer.

On the move. This one escaped from the playpen.

On the move. This one escaped from the playpen.

Collected..........

Collected……….

......and returned.

……and returned.

A formal photo session with the cubs will cost you 1,000 THB or A$40.00. Packages for the big cats are cheaper.

Our final drive for the day took us up into the beautiful hills behind the Tiger Kingdom and through many small rural villages. Many of the larger farming communities in this area are Royal projects, originally set up to change people’s dependence on opium growing to other cash crops. It is a drive that takes a comfortable hour and a half with photo stops along the way. There are many small Thai coffee and eating places along the way, some with wonderful views so come hungry.

Picture postcard views.

Picture postcard views.

Yuan and Lud were very impressed with the difficulty and hard work involved in growing crops on these steep hillsides. Isaan is a basically flat place and you won’t see the heavily tiered paddy fields you might see elsewhere in Asia.

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A stop to inspect the crop being grown here.

A stop to inspect the crop being grown here.

Chatting to the farm workers.

Chatting to the farm workers.

Lud finds an admirer.

Lud finds an local admirer.

Another scenic point. This MAY be looking towards Myanmar. Anyway nice whatever.

Another scenic point. This MAY be looking towards Myanmar. Anyway nice whatever.

A different set of workers. Same steep fields though.

A different set of workers. Same steep fields though.

Gaun reflecting that it was genuinely cool in the hills.

Gaun’s posture reflecting that it was genuinely cool in the hills.

We finished the day with a return visit to the night markets for some very modest shopping. These markets are certainly one of the best in Chiang Mai for their variety of tourist oriented and packable goods. Masses of small gift ideas as well as the usual copy watches and other standard ways to part you with your holiday money. We also visited Boy Blues Bar, number one in the nightlife category of Trip Advisor HERE. Unfortunately Boy wasn’t playing and the music wasn’t to my taste so we left after a couple of drinks. This blog shows what a variety of things you can cover in a short period of time in Chiang Mai. I hope that at some time you have the chance to dip into this selection.

I had planned to include our day in Chiang Rai in this post but it would make it too long. I will write it up soon.

Thanks for reading.