Our Travel Blog

Monday, January 16, 2006

Chiangmai & Pai, 12-16 January 2006

Our first trip of 2006 and also into to the Northern Thailand region. Unlike many other trips that we had taken before, we did not make any accommodation arrangements, we wanted to just “go with the flow” and be a little adventurous on this one. We did not know what to anticipate, with the exception of some quickie yahoo and google research on the net days before the trip, reading from some travel books, magazines and Jules’ dear ole’ Lonely Planet book on Chiangmai. In addition to this our friend Lim aka "BisonBull" had given us some tips earlier as he had just done a 10-day trip into Chiangmai, Pai and the region right up into the golden triangle. Although I just managed to mentally make some notes on mainly three places, Thapae Gate, Doi Suthep and the Night Bazaar, the rest of the names I struggled to remember was as if Bison had given me a crash course in the Thai language.

Touchdown onto the tarmac at a little past 10am at Chiangmai International Airport (CNX). You see, when you just disembarked from an almost 3 hours flight, cramped inside a 737, you tend not to remember some minute details such as the minutes and seconds of arrival. Do not tell me that I could have checked my flight details, as flying on AirAsia does not necessarily mean that your actual arrival time would correspond to what’s printed on your flight ticket. Nevertheless, my personal experience with AirAsia have been quite pleasant if not spectacular, with nothing much to shout about. Anyway, no complaints either as its suppose to be “no frills”…..Now Everyone Can Fly! Right? All we thought about was getting to a decent guesthouse with clean shower. A plain clothes guy approached me as soon as we collected our baggage, asking if we wanted a Taxi ride downtown for something like B200. Excuse me? The chap was talking to me in Mandarin. I was about to ask him…”Errr, do I look like a some Chinese tourist?” Apparently he thought I was from Singapore. He showed me his tag and claimed that he is an authorized airport cab driver. But we would be insane to have taken up on his kind offer of B200 as we know that is a frigging high price to pay to start off our trip. B200 could get me a scooter for a day in Chiangmai. Told him that we would be taking public bus, so I did not attempt to bargain further. After about 10 minutes at the pick up zone, we managed to buy a ride on a "Song Taew" for B40. For those of you who have not been to Thailand, a Song Taew is a pickup truck converted into public transport by having a high hard top canopy, and side benches installed to sit about 8-10 passengers. What the heck, for a 10-15 minutes ride, we can bear with that. But 10-15 minutes, that’s all anyone might be able to withstand, unless you are some bloke who likes getting high on diesel fumes if you know what I mean. The ride took us towards the Thapae Gate area. Thapae Gate is in the heart of historical Chiangmai, where part of the city is surrounded by a square moat.

Stayed overnight in Chiangmai city at the Gap’s Guesthouse(B650 per night with breakfast for 2) instead of 2 nights as originally planned before we proceeded to Pai, northwest of Chiangmai on the way to Mae Hon Song.As for the rest of the day, we rented 2 automatic scooters(B250 per bike, gas excluded), rode around the city before we decided it was getting somewhat risky, riding with traffic building up later in the afternoon. I was certain this was my second time riding a motorbike in my lifetime. In the evening, we strolled along the night bazaar. If you have been to Bangkok's Suan Luam and Chatuchak market, you would be in for quite a disappointment. Chiangmai is somewhat dusty and a little polluted, probably due to the cold and dry season during this time of the year. We decided to retire to our guesthouse with a couple of chilled Jasmine flavored “Cheers” beer. Back at the guesthouse, we had 2 pussies who came a callin’ to our unit. Dear ole’ “Chinky eyes” invited herself into our unit and we spent a good hour or so feeling, rubbin’ and strokin’ her until her boyfriend came along. Jules said the female pregnant one has Chinky eyes!!! Both pussies(real cats, what were you thinkin’ man?) became our conversational piece for the night. Looks like they musta been hired to entertain guests on a full time employment contract for….what’s the cat food called? Whiskers? Friskies? or something?
Following day Friday, we took a minivan(B220 per pax) to Pai. Pai is a small town north-west of Chiangmai on the way to Mae Hon Song, approximately 130km from Chiangmai. We were told the journey would take us about 3.5 to 4 hours. It is located on higher altitude, sitting on a valley and is popular for its hot spring. Left at about 9.35am, the minivan made a round to pick up more "farangs"(Thai term for foreigners, especially Caucasians) before heading out of the city and towards the scenic mountains route. On the journey, we were entertained by various conversations from fellow passengers, including 1 German with a Korean wife, 2 Aussies, 2 Pommies and 1 American who happens to be a permanent Pai resident. This guy said that he was sick and tired of the rat-race, chasing after material living and has permanently given up the American dream for subsistence living in Pai. He now owns a paddy field in Pai and is a self-declared farmer. He claims to be from a middle-upper class family in the states and from the way he carried his conversation, he appears to be a well educated guy, highly likely a graduate, from Harvard maybe? Who knows. Anyway, half way to Pai, we took a brief pitstop at a food stall for the inevitable nature’s call, coffee and junkfood.
I asked driver if he could drop us off to Thapai Spa Camping Resort. I recall two words coming out from him, i.e. "no service". As I prodded on, he could not give an elaboration of what he meant. Anyhow, he said that he would take us there to enquire if there are any rooms available.
After another hour or so, we arrived at the resort at about 1.30pm. The driver disembarked, told us to wait in the minivan and walked, we assumed to the reception counter. Within 2 minutes he returned with a smile on his face and told us we could get down. To our delight, we were told at the counter that there were two rooms still available, one a riverview unit next to river Pai and one with a hot spring pool right at the door steps. We took the former, as the view was just too awesome to resist. About 5 meters from the unit, we could see the river, a paddy field with about 3 attap huts with the rolling hills behind….hmmm talk about Feng Shui here! Reminds me of a scene from the movie, the Killing Fields. The scenery is so beautiful. We were very sure we wanted stay in at this resort in Pai for 2 nights instead of the original plan of 1 night(B1000 a night with breakfast and free use of the Hot Spring 24hrs). During checking in and a quick shower, we booked for the spa package(B1490 per pax for 3 hrs) at 3pm which includes a salt body scrub, mineral bath, aromatherapy massage and body lotion rub. It was great as we also discovered that the shower and piped water in the rooms are all directly sourced from the mineral hot spring....hmmmm.
Lunch was "Bai Kraprow Mu”(basil leaves with minced pork) and Fried Rice with Northern Sausage complemented with a bottle of Singha Beer. Temperature was colder than we had expected and we were quite ill prepared as there was no heater in the room. In broad daylight, with sunny clear skies, the temperature was already a cool 20 degrees celsius and at night, it dropped to 9 degrees celsius. Humidty was probably around 30-40%. We were told the resort provides free shuttle to Pai town which is about 6km from here, so we took the opportunity to hit town for dinner hoping we could find some variety for our meal. The owner of the resort, Mr Worathep kindly offered to take us personally in his new Toyota Fortuner to town. That suited us very well as we had always wanted to ride on a the new Fortuner. After 10 minutes ride passing through scenic villages with rolling hills, we could not see much along the way as it was already dark by 7.15pm and the road was not very well litted. Mr Worathep dropped us in front of what it appears, the only bank in town and we were told to be at the exact same spot for a shuttle van pickup at 9.00pm, that’s when the last of the shuttle service will return to the resort for the night….so there goes partying until late night in town. So folks, this means if you have plans to go to Pai and have plans to party all night long, stay in Pai town itself, there’s plenty of guesthouses too. However, Thapai Spa Camping Resort, you must NOT miss….stay at least two nights here, you will not regret it! Great service and clean rooms, it's family managed, and the owner Mr Worathep is a fantastic guy! He goes all out to satisfy his guests! But don’t take advantage of him LAH!
At the bank where we alighted, we were greeted with reggae street baskers performing to the public. They performed for donation towards the rebuilding of the local school which was damaged during the flood last October. Memorabilia items and collectables of anything to do with reggae, Bob Marley, were up for sale. It was a surprise for us to find that Pai has a huge community of "farangs" living amongst the locals, who are mainly hilltribes comprising of Karens, Hmongs, and Shans. The other tribes are the Mein, who are former Kuomintang who have migrated from China(mostly Yunanese) in the earlier years. Most of these Farangs seemed to have assimilated themselves with the locals very well, speaking even the Thai language. It's indeed ironic, as we know that it used to be the case where most Asians would dream of immigrating to the Western world and spending a great deal on procuring western culture and arts. However, here in Pai, the opposite is happening. Well, I guess this is the case of the “grass is always greener on the other side”.

Following day, we went on my maiden elephant ride near the resort. We rode on a 43 year old female elephant named “Mai”. She was either stubborn, lazy or bored with her job, as we could not figure that out. Mai has a habit of stopping on her tracks, turn her entire body sideways to look at every single vehicle that passed. The most hilarious part of the journey came when she trumpeted and startled a “veggie” dog when the latter crossed her path as she was walking along the river bank. The mahout has to scold her all the way for not keeping the pace. The scheduled one hour ride was completed in one and the half hour. At the end of the ride, I almost could not lift my legs to dismount the elephant as my legs were stretched in the same position for the last one hour and the half. I felt and walked like John Wayne after dismounting from the elephant. Another contributing factor was the fact that we rode her bare back instead of having to opt for the ele chair, which I personally felt it's not a really kind thing to do on the elephant. Well, imagine getting on all fours, having a wooden chair mounted on your back and in addition to this, with two humans sitting on it. Apparently, the mahout told us that Mai does not like the chair during the ride.
On our return to the resort at about 11.30am, we took a quick dip in the hot mineral spring pool before we hired two motorbikes(B160 per bike per day) to take to town. Bike riding in Pai was much more relaxed than earlier in Chiangmai as there were lesser traffic to deal with. However, that was no consolation for me for the fact that this is a manual motorbike and I had to do an OJT to get to Pai, and worrying about not landing myself inside some pretty nasty ravine. On the way, we passed the 2nd World War Memorial Bridge that took us across Pai River into the town. We briefly lost our way heading to the other side of town and to add to the excitement, Jules fell off her bike and sustained some injuries on her elbow and leg. As they say, a bad carpenter always blame his tool, she blamed me for the accident. After getting first aid for her, our first stop was on a street that ends with a bamboo built pedestrian bridge where we parked our bikes. Rest of the day in Pai was lunch at a restaurant and bar and strolling along the streets of Pai. About 4.30pm, we headed back to the resort, as we knew that we did not want to ride back to the resort when the temperature drops. Before dinner, I decided to check out a small path that leads to the river bank by the resort. However, as we were riding towards our intended destination, we were stop dead on our tracks as we heard barking from a distance. First we heard a small bark, followed by a loud booming bark, which followed by even louder noise galloping towards us. Lo and behold there came a small dog and a really humongous Black Great Dane charging towards us. As we attempted to do a 180 degrees maneuver, Jules almost rode her bike into a ditch. Fortunately with my cool head, I managed to pacify the stupid looking dog. Jules said if she had her stun-gun, she would not hesitate to zap the bugger right onto its #$@&! And she hates dogs. After and eventful day, with Jules almost fuming with her luck, dinner at the resort was fried fresh Pla Nin(talapia) with garlic, Northern pork salad and soup.
Temperature was getting colder by the minute, fortunately we purchased a pair of woolly socks and a bottle of Seagram's 100 Piper Whiskey to keep us warm and sane. Has anyone tried, soaking their aching feet into a hot mineral spring water with a glass of whiskey in hand under cold weather? That’s was exactly what we did that night. The rest of the night was history, all we remembered was reading the Lonely Planet book to each other sipping more whiskey. Sleep was interrupted on several occasions by rude and loud neighbors, probably from Bangkok, chatting and puking till the break of dawn.
Sunday morning, we checked out at 12 noon. Mr Warothep drove us to Pai to catch the minivan at 12.30pm. The ride back to Chiangmai costed us B160 per pax. The return ride seems to be much shorter than when we came. The driver dropped us at the Bus Arcade Terminal, and we took a Tuk-Tuk(B80) to the Diamond Riverside Hotel(Phet Ngam) by Mae Nam Ping(Ping River). The quality of service and the room was worst than what we had expected. However, due to the close proximity to the Anusarn Food Market and the Night Bazaar, we decided to stay there rather than back in the moat. We paid B1070 with breakfast for two. So folks, listen up, DO NOT stay here, NOT recommended ok. After check-in, we took a stroll to Anusarn Food Market and found that it was not opened for dinner yet, so we did some shopping at Boots for some personal care items. The night was spent at the night bazaar and dinner. Bought some yummy northern thailand sausages, and a bag of crunchy crunchy oinky oinky snacks which was yummy, this is recommended if you take pork. At the stalls, I tried some samples of fried silk worms snacks....not too bad, but I decided not to buy them home...hahaha.
So there goes our last night in Chiangmai. Called a masseur to the room for a traditional thai massage, price? B200…..ok lah quite cheap by Malaysian standards. Next day, hired a minivan(B150) for the airport at 9.00am to catch our 11.05am flight back to KLIA.


For more 2006 photos, visit http://pauljules2006.shutterfly.com

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

City in the Sky - New Year 2006

We decided to head up towards Genting Highlands as a prelude to our trip to Chiangmai. For foreign visitors, Genting Highlands is a City of Entertainment located some 51km from the city of Kuala Lumpur at an altitude of 6,000ft above sea level. Somehow, we craved for cooler weather, was better than KL. Stayed at First World Hotel. While city folks stared at the fireworks when the clock hit 12, our eyes were focused on the slot machine…haha. Also how exciting can Genting be huh? Well, at least Moggy got to stretch her legs…..or her wheels rather.