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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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 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.
It is hard to resist taking pictures of these magnificent colours.
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!)
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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” 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.