A Travellerspoint blog

Chiang Mai - Wat Ket Area and Departure

As I stood by the river after leaving the Warorot Market, I noticed some people on the other side of the river sitting at what seemed to be tables. I had to investigate, and found a wonderful part of Chiang Mai - just a couple of blocks worth, but it had a lot to see and, above all, was relatively peaceful. It seems that areas are named after the local Wat, making this Wat Ket. The tables I'd spotted happened to belong to an odd sort of place - cafe, guesthouse, cat refuge and (dare I say it) junk shop - called Old No 89.large_IMG_8340.jpglarge_IMG_8350.jpglarge_IMG_8351.jpglarge_IMG_8348.jpglarge_IMG_8352.jpglarge_IMG_8353.jpglarge_IMG_8354.jpglarge_IMG_8355.jpg

I couldn't quite work out the theme of what was being sold in this place - some memerobilia, but a lot of other stuff. No matter, it was a nice place to sit by the river, eat lunch and have a beer. Across the road there's a much posher place - an air-conditioned cafe/restaurant with a shop selling posh gifts and the like. I didn't see anything there to take my fancy. There's also a flash spa and hotel, and a couple of bars right on the river. The place that caught my eye, however, was the Veng Joom On Teahouse - which also had tables on the river front and a proper tea shop.

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Of course, there's the Wat itself, as well as some traditional looking buildings, a small tour boat operator and people fishing the river.
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I have saved the best for last. Way back when I was staying by the University, I went in search of a craft beer bar I had heard about, but never found it. Its not the same one, but I was very happy to find the Craft Beer Factory here. No, they don't actually make any beer, but they have 12 craft beers available, including Tuatara from New Zealand, a big outdoor area, and a variety of spaces indoors. My only problem was that I had to wait for an hour or so for them to open - being awash with coffee and tea meant I didn't really want to go to a cafe to wait, so I just watched the fishermen and the man on his boat until it was time.

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The sausage is a local version, and contains lemongrass, galangal and some red curry paste - so it has a bit of a kick.

I had an early afternoon flight back to KL and, although I'd worked out how the airport bus operated, I waited for a long time at the bus stop with none in sight. Eventually I gave up and caught a songthaew - my first time in one. It is quite exhilarating, sitting on a bench seat, no seat belt, travelling at speed whenever possible. Of course, the airport bus materialised and actually drove into the airport just in front of us.

Bye Thailand - I'll be back.

Posted by NZBarry 19:08 Comments (0)

Chiang Mai - Riverside

sunny 30 °C

Riverside in Chiang Mai is between the western wall of the old city and, as you might expect, the river. It has two major markets - Warorot and the Night Bazaar - as well as many establishments for the consumption of beer, with a few nice places to eat thrown in and the biggest hotels in town. Despite quite a lot of negative feedback on tripadvisor, I went for the Chiang Mai Plaza Hotel, an older establishment just to the south of Riverside and near the largest bookshop in Chiang Mai, Suriwong. Apart from some initial hassles with wifi and a bar that never had any people in it, I was happy with my choice. It has an enormous restaurant which spills out into the garden where they run a great breakfast buffet and a nice lobby where a couple of musicians play in the evening. There is a bar, but no-one was ever in it so I didn't go in.
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I moved in there on New Year's Day. I was super lucky because I hadn't bothered to plan anything for the day until a couple of days earlier, when I found out that the best restaurant in Chiang Mai on tripadvisor was also the best fine dining restaurant in all of Asia. Despite the proximity of New Year's Day, I was able to make a booking. It says something about the nature of those who use tripadvisor that nothing on the menu was Asian - instead, David's Kitchen is pretty much a classic French restaurant, run by a Brit. He's quite effusive - greeting guests as they arrive and then wandering around as they dine, trying to talk to everyone. I went for a classic French dinner - chicken consomme, boeuf bourguignon and a molten chocolate pudding along with a G&T and an IPA. It was all very good but still surprising that this is the best place in Asia.
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I only actually went into the Night Bazaar a couple of times - once just to check it out, and the second time purely to eat. There's very little appeal in what is sold in the Bazaar - junky jewellery and tools, perfumes, clothes and dodgy souvenirs. It is in a building, but the stalls spread up and down all the nearby streets, making it very difficult to walk through. It is really for tourists. For me, the best thing about the market is that there are plenty of places to eat - by way of a complete contrast to my dinner at David's Kitchen, I was probably just as happy to hoover up a basil and beef with a cold beer in one of these places. I think it is the freshly fried egg which makes all the difference.
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Wararot Market is a day time market, where you can buy actual useful stuff, and where most of the customers are locals - come to buy a pound of chillies and some flour, or whatever. There are actually two markets in large three storey buildings, pretty much duplicates of each other and connected by an overbridge. I was surprised to find that there was very little to eat - the basement was set up as a foodcourt, but very few stalls were operational.
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Of course, my first need was for coffee and in my wanders, I found three great places (two actually had hostels above them). One was Marktel, just up the river a bit from my hotel.
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Another I found when I went on a wasted journey to find a cake shop I had heard about - after a long walk to the south, I did find it, but it was closed, so I decided I would carry on walking to the Airport Plaza Mall,, to see if there were any movies showing (nope) or donuts and orange drink available (yep). On the way, I found Volcano II (the original is back where I started, on Su Thep Road, although I never noticed it).
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The other was out near the Suriwong bookshop. I walked past one place a few times, it is on the road to the railway station, that intrigued me - it has a French name and a freezer full of New Zealand ice cream but the big draw was that it had lots of musical instruments, including a drum kit. When I finally made it in, I was not impressed with the food on offer or the coffee really, but it was a nice space in which to sit and read.
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One more Chiang Mai post - about an area I found by accident - and then I am off to Colombo!

Posted by NZBarry 20:54 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Chiang Mai - Old City

sunny 30 °C

There is some irony in referring to the old city, given that Chiang Mai actually means new city. This is because it was established as the second capital (after Chiang Rai) of an area of northern Thailand in 1296 - probably because of its location on the Ping River, which made it important for trading. The original city was constructed within walls and a moat - it is this which is now called the old city. Not much of the walls survive - just the four corners really, but the moat is still there.
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I spent a couple of nights in the Old City - near the Thapae Gate, which is half way up the western side of the city, and the most heavily touristed area of the city, probably because it is the first entry point when you arrive by train. Last time I was here, I simply walked in Thapae Gate and went to the first hotel I found: an $8 concrete walled box. This time, I planned ahead and stayed in one of the most highly rated guesthouses in town - Thongran's House. I walked in from my previous hotel near the University - about 3 km. I got so overheated that when I saw a nice looking place for lunch, I went in, not noticing it was a salad bar.
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Thongran's house was pretty luxurious - not that you could tell from the street, as it was behind a coffee come massage place and a tattoo shop - and had a nice outdoor area where I could hang out, drink beer and read Infinite Jest.
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It was actually quite a nice place to spend New Year's eve - the people who ran it invited me to join them for a barbecue, but I felt that would be a bit odd, as they didn't seem to have much food and there were a lot of them, so went off to a nearby cafe for dinner (my big night out was on New Year's Day - coming up in the next post). At around 10:00 or 11:00, I happened to look outside, and thought "golly, those stars look strange and there's a lot of them" - it turns out they were little lanterns floating off into the sky. I know that I should have done a bit more to organise something proper for the night, but it turned out OK.

Over my time there, I walked most of the streets and lanes of the Old City as well as completely around the outside. The area around Thapae Gate was chocker with tourist-related businesses - guesthouses, cafes, tour providers, currency exchanges, hotels, massagers, tattoists, new agey helth nut providers and the like. The further away you got, the harder it was to find a currency exchange (which is why I walked all the away around), and the more the shops and businesses responded to the needs of the local community - shops selling coils of rope or tins of oil, mechanics, rice traders etc. The one thing I actually wanted to see in the Old city was the National Museum - but it and the nearby art gallery are closed for renovation, except for one room with some black and white photos of Thailand's coast.
National Museum Chiang Mai

National Museum Chiang Mai

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The Three Kings stand outside the museum - the first King of Chiang Mai (Mengrai) and two of his mates, kings from other areas in Thailand. There are also several Wats (temples) in this area - I made the mistake of going on a Wat tour the first time I visited Thailand, which left me pretty much watted out. Still, I thought I should take a photo or two.
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I was amused by a form of mobile banking outside one of the Wats - complete with currency exchange and ATM.
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I did venture out of the Old City a couple of times - once to the railway station, as I had to buy a ticket for the last part of my trip. Going out Charoen Muang Road, the character of the street changes dramatically once you cross the river - it is once again far more about serving the needs of locals, rather than tourists, and the price of coffee drops by about a half.
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Charoen Muang Road

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Naturally, there were more Wats - this (I think) is Wat San Pa Khoi.
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The station was almost deserted when I got there, but I had lunch and hung around until a train came in. I couldn't have a beer with my lunch - there was a pretty horrible "incident" in 2014, when a drunk railway employee did terrible things to a young girl on a sleeper train, which led to a total ban of booze on railway properties.
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The front of the station became an almost solid line of tuktuk drivers and guesthouse operators, each trying to secure business from those getting off the train.

One of the more notorious streets in Chiang Mai is Loi Kroh Road - it runs between the wall and the river, and has lots and lots of bars. I ventured along here one evening - most of the bars had groups of local young women, playing pool or generally lingering: the internet suggests that you can talk to these young women by buying an over-priced "ladies drink", and that many will be willing to leave the bar when you go. It all seemed a bit sad - I was probably a bit early when I walked along, because they didn't seem to have much custom, and called hopefully to me as I went past. I don't want to be prejudiced, but they didn't seem to be wanting a conversation about Infinite Jest, so I kept on walking.

Posted by NZBarry 04:27 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Chiang Mai - Su Thep area

sunny 30 °C

I have already been to Chiang Mai a couple of times - in fact, I was there the very first time I left New Zealand. I got myself in an awkward position in Bangkok, so fled north in a bus which seemed to take forever. On that visit, I did a pretty good job of exploring the local tourist attractions, without spending much time in town. I went back a few years ago, but was seduced into flying to Luang Prabang. So, the plan this time is to simply stay in Chiang Mai for a week, to get a proper feel for the place.
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I arrived mid-afternoon: after a coffee just outside the airport, remembering that I'd walked out to the airport last time I was here, I decided to walk to my hotel - about 4 km. Big mistake! I'm a bit older now and it took forever in the heat. At one point a fellow tried to organise a songthaew (a ute with bench seats in the back) for me, but I couldn't communicate where I was going so I was committed to the walk. Unusually, my route didn't take me past any 7-11's or bars, so it was dry work - luckily it got dark and cooled down considerably. Eventually, I got to my hotel - the grandly named Sinthana Resort which was nothing of the sort (unless putting a few trees in the car park counts). The next challenge was to get dinner - I wanted a normal Thai dinner with a beer, but the only Thai food I could find nearby was from street stalls.
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There were a couple of Korean restaurants, a rather nice ice cream parlour and a great cafe - the Sode, which became a regular stop whenever I walked past. The customers of the ice cream parlour were a little unusual - groups comprised of a single older foreign man and a bunch of Thai women, which I worked out to be English language students. They were having a great time.

I could not dine on ice cream and coffee, however, so kept walking - nearly walking past a place called RAW, because I took the sign quite literally, and thought it would just be trendily presented salads. Looking again, I found it to be quite the opposite - a very new Korean Fried Chicken joint. Although it lacked the beer (very unusual for such places), I gave it a go and was very happy - they gave me so much, I had leftovers for breakfast, and I could buy beer at the several 7-11's surrounding my hotel.
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My first exploration was of Chiang Mai University - it is huge, and largely deserted when I was there, although I did find a coffee shop with about the best coffee I found on my entire visit to the city. The fellow running it was keen to talk, so we discussed the nature of Christmas, as you do. This picture speaks volumes of the level of activity I saw as I walked around.
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I liked the campus - there are lots of trees, including a couple of smallish forest parks, a pond and some interesting buildings. I was amazed at the size of the Political Science Faculty, and found the Law Faculty right on the edge of campus, in the bush almost. There seemed to be some sort of singing competition happening there while the law professors were off enjoying their break.
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The campus is so big, they have a shuttle system to take people around it, and have shuttles of a different colour to run what looked like orientation tours for intending students. There is an area where these shuttles herd together when not in use.
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I had heard that the emerging action was on Nimmanhemin Road, which is a short distance from the University, so this was my other destination for the day. On the way, I encountered the University stadium and popped into the first cafe I saw, Taste Cafe, for a coffee. The other customers didn't seem too focused on whether the coffee was any good, but more about how it looked: everyone was busy taking photos of the coffee. One of the guys looked like he was doing a photo shoot - having his female companion pose with a coffee and a glossy magazine. I liked the look of the space, and the coffee was well made but a bit underpowered, flavourwise.
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Ironically, given that I was visiting Nimmanhemin Road because it is where all the new bars, cafes and hostels are starting up, I lunched at the least trendy place on the road - the Hong Tauw Inn is probably the oldest establishment around, with dozens of old clocks lining the walls, and run by some rather ancient looking women. I thought if anyone was going to make a proper Khao Soi, this was the place - I was certainly happy with it. I took the photo with my phone, so it isn't that great.
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One of my fixations when visiting Thailand is to get a donut and the overly sweet orange drink that most donut places seem to have, and you get this combination in malls. It is the only reason I visited MAYA, the new mall at the end of Nimmanhemin Road. Although I didn't actually find a donut shop, I was very impressed with the food court I found on the top floor - lots of little stalls, just like you'd find on the street.
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Here's how the world looks from the top floor of MAYA, and a failry random photo as I can't actually remember what it is.
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There's also a 24 hour co-working space - CAMP - which I wandered through but had no actual work to do so left, and went to the movies - Rogue Wars. By this time I was thinking of dinner, but that didn't work out too well for me. There were lots of nearly empty Indian, Italian and other foreign food restaurants but I wanted either an authentic Thai dinner or to go to a bar. In fact, I had a particular bar in mind - Beer Republic, which is a craft beer bar, but I never found it. The bars I did find were either packed or selling terrible versions of Thai food, and the nice Thai cafe I'd spotted closed as I walked in. So it was back to the hotel with what I could scrounge from the 7-11.

Posted by NZBarry 10:15 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Jetlagged KL Stopover

sunny 30 °C

The Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur was brutal - not because of Air Asia, the plane and crew were fine, but because of the timing of the flight. I left Auckland at, I think, 8:30 in the evening and had a not bad meal served to me but then we had to stop at Gold Coast airport. We had obviously gone through security before boarding in Auckland but in Gold Coast, all passengers had to leave the plane and go though a mickey-mouse security setup, hang around in a gate lounge for a bit and then carry on. No meal for me on this leg: although there was a meal service, the website hadn't allowed me to book a second meal. We hit KLIA2 at 4:40 in the morning, nearly an hour early, there was no delay getting through the formalities, so I had a fair amount of time to wait before it was worth heading into the city. I have not actually been to KLIA2 - last time I flew Air Asia, they were still in the LCCT, a big shed-like structure which was pretty chaotic. I took a look around - there are a few food outlets on the second floor, plus space to look at some planes lined up - pretty much a standard sort of airport. Australia and New Zealand have become squeamish about even acknowledging they have tobacco products - here it looks like they've decided to make a feature of them!
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I lingered in a hard chair in a quiet recess of the airport, then went to find a bus into town - at the bottom of the shopping mall that has been tacked on to the airport. I was in KL Sentral by around 10:00. There's been quite a bit of construction since I was here last, so I was not entirely sure of the direction to my hotel, so I cheated, and caught the train to the former main KL rail station. This is the site of one of my all time favourite hotels - the Station Heritage - I've stayed there twice, last time for a week. I enjoyed its timbered rooms, its long gloomy corridors, its near emptiness and even the fact that when something went wrong with a room, they'd just move me rather than fix the problem. It was built in 1910, but it obviously needed quite a bit of investment which has not been forthcoming. So now it is closed and the station just has a few commuter trains and a canteen.
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Luckily, I had a back-up - the Majestic is just outside the old station but, because it is no longer an important hub, the hotel is ridiculously cheap to stay in for one of this class.
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Showing its class, when I showed up all sweaty and dishevelled at 11 in the morning, I was able to check in immediately. This turned out to be a mistake - I had a few ideas of things to do but they transformed into "stay in the room", "have lunch in the Colonial cafe", have a beer in the Smoke House. The Colonial Cafe was almost empty - one person at one table, a group of three at another and then two more came in as I ate my Hainanese Chicken Chop - basically a chicken thigh de-boned and belted flat, with a sauce tasting most strongly of worcestershire sauce and a few chips. Not my best dining experience.
Hotel Majestic - Colonial Cafe

Hotel Majestic - Colonial Cafe

Tempting as it was,
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I couldn't spend all day in my room. I had to go back to the station to organise some train tickets. They have one of those queuing systems where you take a ticket and wait to be called - someone had checked the train I wanted as I joined the queue but, by the time my number was called more than two hours later, the train had sold out. The joys of booking a train around Chinese New Year. Luckily I found that I could get as far as Butterworth on one train, then catch another to where I need to go. By this time, I really didn't feel like doing much other than finding some food and then go to my room. I hadn't seen anything very appealing as I looked around the station and its new shopping mall (they're all the rage here), so popped over to the Suria/KLCC mall and just went into the place with the most people - Madam Kwans, for a curry. Since my hotel had a wee bar, I thought I should give it a go, having something they call a Straights Swing. It was an odd experience - I was the only one there, and the barman kept hovering, just across the bar from me.
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Posted by NZBarry 10:19 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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