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Thread: Chiang Mai/ Chiang Rai Trip (Part 1)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2008

    Chiang Mai/ Chiang Rai Trip (Part 1)

    From the 15th till 22nd February, my dad, sister and I went on a vacation to North Thailand, primarily Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area.

    Initially I had it easy. Or so I thought. My sister, Mei, planned the itenary for the trip. In other words, she’s the organizer for the trip. Transport, accommodation and place of interests were all taken care of by Mei. On top of that, Mei was also in charged of recording every single cent of our expenditure, under my dad’s instruction. It seemed that Mei was doing all the donkey work while I slacked away.

    Oh boy, how wrong I was!

    Daddy made sure the both of us did not spend his RM3,150 on this one-week trip “for leisure”. Halfway throughout the trip, daddy announced me the reporter for this trip. I was to report on my account of this trip. So much for slacking away.

    The night before our flight, Mei insisted that we both shared a bag and bring an extra foldable bag, the one I call a “drag-body bag” (those that you often see in Hong Kong dramas, where the chopped up their victims into pieces and stuffed them into one of those huge bags, of which they disposed into the river), to carry our shopping load. It was clear from the start that Mei’s objective of the trip was to shop. Oh well, she’s a woman after all.

    Flight by AirAsia was as good as taking an air-conditioned mini-bus in Malaysia. The seats were narrow (anyone above the height of 1.7 meters would have had trouble in finding a comfortable sitting position), the flight bumpy, food and beverages are paid exclusively, and you get a whiff of cheap perfume whenever an air-stewardess strides past. My, they really squeeze you for the RM99 you paid for the flight! Well, let’s take it the bright side- we all landed safely, all in one piece, luggage bags alike.

    DAY 1

    Mei made a brilliant move by booking a hotel that provided free transportation from the airport. The driver brought us back to Lai-thai hotel in the heart of Chiang Mai city within a swift 40-minute drive. After a simple lunch of thai-styled noodle soup, we took a stroll around the city.

    Without a single high-rise building in sight and surrounded by green hills, the city gives one a rather relaxed feeling. The afternoon weather wasn’t too warm, unlike that back in Malaysia, the traffic around the city was moderate, the streets were relatively clean, teenage girls on scooters were common sights, and local taxis harassing you is something you wouldn’t miss when you’re walking around Chiang Mai city.

    Their popular local taxis come in a shade of dark red, are actually a modified version of Mitsubishi pick-up trucks. They charge by per-person basis and the distance traveled. The taxi can take up to 10-15 people at a time. Sometimes, it can be just the 3 of us in the taxi from beginning till the end of journey, other times, the driver can stop by and pick up new customers anytime if they were traveling along the same route. It’s reasonably comfortable if you don’t mind sitting sideways, but you gotta strain your neck to look out at the scenery because the window is really low. For me, at least. The best part about these taxis is that the drivers are willing to wait for you to finish your touring and then bring you to the next destination, no extra charges.

    Taking one of these songthaews, we traveled to Doi Suthep (Doi means temple in Thai). It was located on a hill top, 15km away from Chiang Mai city. The temple site reminds me strongly of Kek Lok Si temple. One has to climp a long flight of 309 steps to reach the pagoda at the top, along the sides of the wide steps are stalls selling local handicrafts and food/fruits. Once at the top of this sacred site, one is offered an impressive scenic view of Chiang Mai city.

    I spoilt myself with a cup of their fresh, mouth-watering strawberries, served with sugar, with a tinge of spiciness in it. Mei couldn’t resist herself from buying a pack of them yummy strawberries for dessert tonight!

    Before leaving the hill, we took a stroll along a handicraft village located at the foot of the pagoda steps. The highlight of this village was a jade factory, where you are guided by their staffs to take a glimpse of their jade-carving process.

    Our next stop was the night bazaar. Now, it’s important not to mix up between the Night Bazaar and the Sunday Night Market. The Night Bazaar is a daily event whereas as its name suggests, the Sunday Night Market is held only on Sundays. Stopping at the Night Bazaar (because it was nearer to our hotel) was the wrong choice on a Sunday night because we later heard that, apparently the Sunday Night Market is much, much better, in the sense that there are more things and cheaper than the Night Bazaar.

    The Night Bazaar is exactly like our Petaling Street, the only stark difference here is that the stall vendors speak Thai. Here’s were your skin colour comes in handy. If we’re lucky, seeing that we looked like locals, they would give us a “local price”. Otherwise, we still have the privilege of what they call “Asian price”, which in their sense, is still considered “special”. Mummy said we should normally bargain for 60% of the price offered.

    Surprisingly, the Night Bazaar did not have food stalls, how disappointing. Well, I have expected to walk, eat and shop at the same time, like how we do it in our Pasar Malam. Here, it’s just handicrafts, genuine goods and fake goods- no food. So we decided to give Kalare Food Centre a try, since it had good reviews in the internet. Except for the opened stalls, the food centre was empty at 6pm. It sure wasn’t popular, I thought. But we were too exhausted by that time to look for another local food centre (there were plenty of pricey western and exotic food restaurants around- we weren’t too keen on those), so we settled for this one. It had a coupon system, whereby food at the stalls are paid by coupon, which could be bought at the counter. Overall, I think this food centre was overrated and overpriced. Food wasn’t all that fantastic, drinks (I ordered iced coffee) were horribly sweet- left the whole cup untouched, and portion pathetically small. But I must say, hawker drinks throughout Chiangmai (or maybe Thailand!) are rather too generous with their sugar. I give Kalare Food Centre a 5 out of 10: 1 for the hygiene and provision of free public toilet, additional 4 for the food.


    DAY 2

    We had a driver to pick us up for a day tour. Nevermind that he was almost an hour late; he spoke decent English- that is all that matters! The 3 hour journey brought us to Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand (2,565m), however still paling in comparison to our Mt. Kinabalu (4,095m)! Here’s a bit of history- The name Doi Inthanon was given in honour of the king Inthawichayanon, one of the last kings of Chiang Mai, who was concerned about the forests in the north and tried to preserve them. He ordered that after his death his remains shall be placed at Doi Luang, which was then renamed (as Doi Inthanon).

    Our first stop was at Vachiratharn Waterfall, where clear rainbow could be seen forming near the base of the waterfall. Mei and I tried smoked pork wrapped in what I suspected to be banana leaf- too salty for my liking, but I liked the smoked taste it has.

    We then proceeded to the two Napamaytanidol Chedi. These temples were built by the Royal Thai Air Force, on opposite hills to honor the 60th birthday of the King Bhumipol and Queen Sirikit in 1987 and 1992 respectively. I was impressed by the architectures of the temples, as the temples were built 60 stories to represent the king’s and queen’s age during those respective years. The walls and ceilings of the temples were painted with historical art. Pictures of the Buddha and his followers were carved on the outer and surrounding walls of the temples. I even noticed a gold chandelier at the Queen’s temple that was absent in the King’s temple! Daddy tried his meditational “OHMMM” sounds within the hollow temples and enjoyed the soothing vibrations the echoes gave, while I was busy snapping photographs of the walls. I hope daddy hasn’t deleted all those photos now!

    What I appreciated more was the flower garden that flourished at least 10 different-coloured flowers of different species, arranged into patterns and words! Such beautiful, brilliant-coloured flowers! The Thais sure do honor their Kings and Queens well, I must say!

    I have to admit I was a little disappointed by the peak of Doi Inthanon. Nothing spectacular, really. The only interesting features of the summit are a meteorological institution (not accessible to public) and a large sign “The Highest Point in Thailand”. So, we took some pictures with the sign and moved on.

    We had lunch at the Doi Inthanon National Park Headquarters. Apparently visitors may put up the night at the headquarters after their day of exploring/ jungle-trekking. Mei spotted a tiny little dog wearing a T-shirt, and was since occupied by it.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2008

    Chiang Mai/ Chiang Rai Trip (Part 2)

    DAY 3

    We took a VIP bus up to ChiangRai early in the morning and reached by lunch time. ChiangRai wasn’t as tourists-oriented as ChiangMai, which is probably why I find things cheaper in ChiangRai. You can even notice from the streets- they are less decorative and not as well maintained as those in ChiangMai.

    Since we spent the whole morning travelling and checking into our hotel, we decided to get a good rest and started exploring the city after our hungry tummies were filled!

    Our taxi driver brought us to King Mengrai’s statue, situated in the middle of the town. Next was a temple that houses a museum (can’t remember the name), apparently a popular tourist destination.

    We were at the night market by evening. It was my dream-come-true to see the bustling night market with fresh fruits and different types of local delicacies! Now, this is what the real Pasar Malam should be! The best part is- the night market in ChiangRai was CHEAPER!! Woots! I didn’t stop hunting for big, juicy strawberries and I wasn’t disappointed at all. To sum it all up, we ended up buying sweet corn, strawberries, mango salad, orange juice, unripe mangoes (with spicy sauce), guavas, steamed mussels and cockles, leaf-wrapped pork and bamboo mushrooms. All for only RM43. And mind you, it was really A LOT of food for the 3 of us. We had a fantastic feast in our hotel room after that!! Mmm… I especially loved the mango salad! On our way back to our hotel, we had a glimpse of the famous glimmering, golden-coloured clock tower, located in the heart of a round-about. At 7pm sharp, it lit up magnificently in green, blue, yellow, red and purple.

    We had an early night with happy, full stomachs


    DAY 4

    The Monkey Cave was our first destination. Well, what can I say. There were monkeys clambering around. Nothing extraordinary, really. Gave our donations and left.

    We went all the way to the Mae Sai border at the north of ChaingRai. It is a major border crossing between Myanmar and Thailand. “1 day passes for non-Burma nationals are issued at Burma customs in Tachileik, passports are confiscated and a travel temporary travel permit is issued which is exchanged for your passport upon crossing back into Thailand.” Source: Wikipedia. Here’s the catch: non-Burmese are also obliged to pay 500 Baht per person to cross over!

    The Tachileik market is located just next to the customs. 2 trips around the big outdoor market and we bought only 2 kg of chestnuts. Yes, only. That tells how interesting Tachileik market is. Honestly, there aren’t anything there that our very own Petaling Street doesn’t have. And the prices are tourists-priced. Not my idea of fun.

    We found a small chinese food house located a short distance from the Tachleik market, the most decent-looking one in the vicinity. To our delight, the shop owner spoke Mandarin! He took our orders, and after being questioned by my dad, we found out that he was the 2nd generation of Chinese that migrated from China.

    Bringing only our chestnuts, and Papa’s new pants, we returned to Mae Sai, bought 2 shoeboxes of strawberries at 100 Baht each and proceeded to the Golden Triangle. Golden Triangle is one of Asia’s main opium-producing areas. We came to the junction point where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet, the 3 lands separated by Ruak River and Mekong River. Standing at the Golden Triangle in Thailand, we had a clear view of both Myanmar and Laos across the rivers.

    Next, our Song Thaew driver brought us to the Hall of Opium. Built entirely in white, the museum is a magnificent building covering 11,000 square meters. It is built by Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra to educate people on the history of opium in the Golden Triangle and throughout the world, and to build their commitment to join the fight against illegal drugs. Using multimedia technology, the museum educates through visual, hearing and touch. What caught my attention most was the Virtual Exhibition room, where one listens and watches as images light up while a narrator tells the history of opium. Wax figures of emperors, opium addicts and other important historical figures were made, giving more ‘life’ as history unfolds itself in this museum. The 300 Baht entrance fee per person was rather pricey, nevertheless worth it.

    At the end of the day, we found out we were conned by the strawberry sellers! Those attractive big, juicy strawberries the size of half my palm were arranged nicely for a reason: to hide the spoilt parts, smaller strawberries and a 2cm-thick later of strawberry leaves (adds to the weight) beneath the obviously-non-transparent shoeboxes! Daddy spent 20 mins cutting off the spoilt parts which on average, takes up 15% of the whole strawberry. Our only comfort was that the remaining good parts were really yummy! To think that the lady refused to let us check the strawberries beneath the first row- dirty trick she had there! Moral of the story is, do not buy shoebox strawberries unless they allow you to check them.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2008

    Chiang Mai/ Chiang Rai Trip (Part 3)

    Day 5

    I finally got to go to the temple I most wanted to go- Wat Rong Khun. It is a very unusual temple, very unique indeed. First of all, the temple being completely and entirely white, makes it look completely pure, as if coated in snow. Mosaic mirrors lining the walls of the temple caused it to glitter magnificently under the sun. In contrast, the way the building was designed, should I say, was rather devilish. Demonic art, hellish fire, a pool of human hands reaching out as though in agony, skull sculptures, etc, are among sights to be seen at this beautiful temple. It is however, still under construction. This temple, is in fact an offering by famous artist Chalermchai Kositpipat to Buddha.

    Up and off to ChiangMai again!


    Day 6

    We found yet another Chinese-owned restaurant! The owner of this restaurant was chubby and jolly, but his food was as salty as those in any other restaurant!

    We missed the elephant show (a real pity.. ), so we went on the elephant ride, buffalo ride and bamboo rafting at the elephant camp. This package cost us 1200 Baht per person., exclusive of elephant snacks! Although a little on the pricey end, I’d say this is the highlight of our trip. Missing the elephant camp would have made our trip incomplete!

    Mei and I sat on the same elephant (Mei thought the elephant tilted to my side because I was heavier – absolute rubbish) while daddy had his own young elephant. Our elephant was rather mischievous- loved spraying water over its back- over us, when it felt a little cross. We gave it a treat of bananas and sugar cane for 30 Baht, from a ‘stall’ that was built high enough for us elephant riders to reach! We rode pass the shelter for elephants, and took notice of a baby elephant clutching a strand of wheat grass, swinging its head from side to side playfully, seemingly practicing for its elephant painting show! We regretted missing the elephant show.

    We came to Chiang Dao cave by mistake, but we explored the cave anyway, since we were already there. When we asked for the price of the entry ticket (in Thai), the lady told us 10 Baht per person, having mistaken us as locals. But the moment we started conversing in English, we were asked to buy the 20 Baht ticket! Damn, we shouldn’t have opened our mouths then!

    We had a personal tour guide who took us through the cave, carrying a sole oil lamp and occasionally stopping to pump the lamp to keep the fire going. It was obligatory to have a tour guide with us as the cave wasn’t lit by lamps at all, and to show us the way through the cave, which has dangerously low ceilings at some paths and deep sink holes at other paths.

    He was friendly, and has an exceptionally good command of English for an old man like him. We walked through the paths, frequently avoiding the lowly-hung stalactites and occasionally stopping at an oddly-shaped stalactite that resembles something, more often than not an animal. I remember seeing a snail, tiger, human palm, hat, eagle, etc. It almost felt like a zoo of animals that froze into limestones. The tour lasted for about 45 minutes. Before he took us to a Buddha worship place in the cave, he brought us to one side and told us boldly, “now you can give me tips. Some people give me 100B, some 200B, 300B, 400B, 500B…”, fingering the figures while at it. What other choice did we have? Haha! We gave him 200B, for a service worth paying for.

    The very last attraction of our tour was a dinner at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center. At 370 Baht per person, we had a free-flow of delicious, typical Northern Thai cuisine. The unusual thing about this center is that patrons were to sit on the floor during dinner, while graceful Thai dancers performed in the middle ring for all to watch. After dinner, we were entertained by Hill Tribe Dancers.


    Day 7

    Off and back to Malaysia! Overall, I felt that this was quite a well-planned trip by Papa and Mei. :)

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