A Travellerspoint blog

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)

Off to a Literary Festival

sunny 19 °C

Work finished on Thursday before Christmas and I had a flight out of Auckland late on Boxing Day: I could have done the boring thing and flown up, but I thought I would try my luck with relocating rental vehicles. Several weeks before departure, Transfercar obliged with a Jucy campervan for four days ex Christchurch. I was just about to bite the bullet and get on the bus to Christchurch when they released a bunch of cars needed to be taken from Dunedin to Christchurch. All I knew was that they were Budget cars, but I had the vague hope that I might get something decent to drive: I really lucked out and got an XR6, a car I have been thinking of buying as it can be both a tow car for the caravan and a normal car. It was a nice car to drive, although I found I had to clamber a bit to get between the steering wheel and seat.
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Leaving after work meant it was about Timaru that I started to feel the need to eat - although Macs do a great fish and chips, I was sold when I saw the sign for Saikou Teppanyaki & Whisky Bar: obviously, I couldn't sample their whisky but a quiet beer with some gyoza and chicken karaage hit the spot. This place (opposite the old Hydro hotel) looks like a real asset for Timaru - it had quite a decent crowd and a nice feel. I'll be back.
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Bed for the night was a pod in the new Jucy Snooze just outside Christchurch airport: I found the pod a wee bit claustrophobic and the mattress thinner than expected but it is great to have this here: it has a wonderful big social space and they deliver guests to the airport and to the Jucy depot, which suited me just fine.
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With a ferry to catch and concerns about the state of traffic (given the closure of SH1 and the proximity of Christmas, I didn't dilly dally: a quick coffee at the first place I saw, then a bigger break in Hanmer to wander around (it has more than doubled in size since I was here last) and another coffee break in Murchison.
River near Hanmer

River near Hanmer


I was really surprised at the lack of traffic: I drove for long periods with no-one in front of me or behind me, and maintained a good speed, so that I hit Blenheim at around 5:00 p.m. I don't know this town at all in terms of finding good places to eat, but Tripadvisor came up with Gramado's - it is a Brazillian restaurant just as you come into town from the south. I had two dishes I have never heard of - Feijoada (a black bean stew with chorizo, ham hock etc) and Escondidinho (a kind of shepherd's pie).
Escondidinho @ Gramado's

Escondidinho @ Gramado's

Feijoada @ Gramado's

Feijoada @ Gramado's


I was well in time for the ferry, which is a bit of a pity because it was a tough crossing: so rough that the staff forced sickbags and ice on the passengers and closed the bar! It was also very noisy: the whole ferry boomed as it crashed through the waves. I don't think many people actually got sick - I didn't even feel queasy. We were a bit late so it was around 2:30 a.m. when we hit Wellington: I needed a loo break at Mana and discovered that the Domain there is actually available to self-contained campervans. It was a great place to wake up.
Ngatitoa Domain

Ngatitoa Domain

Once on the North Island, I had a bit more time up my sleeve: even so, I think my brother was a bit shocked when he phoned me quite late in the day, and I had only made it from Paremata to Fielding - a total of 135 kilometres! I basically popped into anywhere I thought might be interesting - so had coffee in a very busy cafe in Paekakariki, went down to the beach at Otaki (it is not a great beach and wandered the streets of Otaki town centre. I was most impressed with an idea I discovered in the Otaki library: to facilitate bookclubs, they have bags of ten or a dozen copies of the same book, along with suggested questions and some background. Across the Kapiti Coast library system, they have quite a decent selection.
Bookclub in a bag @ Otaki Library

Bookclub in a bag @ Otaki Library


It is a long time since I've been in Foxton, so I stopped off there for lunch and a wander - there's a sort of trolley bus museum (really, just half a dozen buses, but they'v set up some wires so they can actually take them somewhere.
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The leather seats in the penultimate photo smelled fantastic - I could have just sat in there all day and soaked them up. I liked the signs in the last photo, as I am pretty sure there was no actual conference centre. More impressive was MAVTECH (formerly called the "National Museum of Audio Visual Arts & Sciences Of NZ" - lots of old movie cameras, TVs, radios, cameras, record players... There were a few items in there that I or my family have owned.
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In addition, there were a few things I remember really really wanting and never having:
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This radio is quite quaint as, like most of its time, it listed all the radio stations around the country on its dial
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I'll put the rest of the photos of MAVTECH at the end. Of course, the major feature in Foxton is the windmill, which is still put to regular use to grind wheat into flour.
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Nearby there is a collection of murals which were painted for some competition or other - some are better than others. and they've faded a bit.
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I carried on up SH1 because I'd heard there's a great new cafe called the Woolshed just south of Sanson, but it was closed so I diverted to Fielding, hoping to see a film in its cool little cinema, but they weren't showing any. This led me to Palmerston North, where I watched United Kingdom - a movie based on a true story in which the future leader of what is now Botswana met and fell in love with an English woman. The romance side of the movie was dealt with pretty quickly: the main story was about the political ramifications for both of them when they married. It was contrary to English political goals to have a white woman have power in Botswana and the people of Botswana felt cheated by not having one of their own marry their leader. I finally hit the road north at about 9:30 and found a quiet spot above Tokaanu to sleep.

Things actually worked out for my two brothers and their families and I to all get together in Tauranga for Christmas dinner: after sleeping that off, I headed off to Auckland to drop the van off and embark on the next leg of the journey - to Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia.
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Posted by NZBarry 10:19 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Caravan Diaries Part VII

Around Collingwood

sunny 24 °C

I am ashamed at the way I have neglected this space: since I have some more travels coming up, I am going to try to get things a bit more up to date. When I last wrote, I had just arrived in Collingwood, at the far north west of the South Island, for a four night stay over New Year's. It is a fairly small, but has a decent pub (albeit one that takes you back to the 1970's in its style, even has fish and chips in a basket),
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a good cafe in the old courthouse which I visited each morning for coffee and a danish,
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an ice cream place I visited each evening, a hand-make chocolate business I went to more than once, and a shop selling all sorts of bits and pieces in the Post Office (which still functions as a post office, although it is for sale so maybe its days are numbered).
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Apart from a day on which it rained continuously, I took wee trips out to see what could be seen. There seems to be a taste for eel farms at the top of the South Island - there was one just out of Collingwood: much closer than I realised, so that I had to make an abrupt turn to go in, much to the mingled consternation and amusement of my passenger: the latter was increased when we found a Police car waiting for us. There were plenty of eels - not very attractive, I've decided - which became quite animated when we fed them. large_IMG_3142.jpglarge_IMG_3143.jpg
They faced a certain amount of competition from the ducks with which they shared their pond.
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There were a couple of tortoises as well, in a blue plastic kiddie pool: unfortunately, my camera became confused by the netting but I quite like the effect.
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One of my trips had me go down as far as the entrance into the Heaphy Track - I actually walked in as far as the first hut.
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Not really as significant as it sounds, as Brown Hut is maybe 500 metres from the entrance. On the way down, I had to stop at Bainham, for the oldest store in New Zealand, Langford's: it has been run by the same family since 1928. I had to have tea and a scone and a general mosey about.
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Carrying on down the road, I saw a sign for the Salisbury Footbridge, over the Aorere River. The footbridge was built in 1887 but has been washed away twice, the more recent one being in 2010 and it looks like it will not be replaced - the wee frame is all that survives.
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The river at this point is a popular local waterhole, and it was a good spot to just hang out for a bit.
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Something I didn't really expect to come across in my travels was a museum - The Rockville Machinery and Settlers Museum, located in the former Golden Bay Dairy Company cheese factory out in the country, and carrying the overload from the Collingwood musuem. I didn't know this last detail when I visited and it explains something - the relative lack of household items (it is really about the machinery). When I arrived there were two kids playing outside but it was otherwise deserted, and stayed that way the hour or so I wandered about (even the kids left).
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Posted by NZBarry 20:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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