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Thailand

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)

On to Bangkok

sunny 27 °C

My last couple of days in Hanoi were basically spent wandering around without much of a plan, eating when I was hungry, popping in to look at things that looked interesting, sitting in parks and the like. The one specific place I visted was the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum. This did a good job of showing the historical development of local art, but I have to say that only about three elements of the collection really caught my eye. A large ground floor space was given over to the work of one artist: some of it was quite eye-catching.

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I couldn't quite work out the technique but assistance was at hand, in the shape of the artist herself. I had blundered into the space as they were getting it ready for the official opening (which I think means it was closed while I was there), and the artist came over to see if I was from the press. Even when I wasn't she gave me her card (if I had it with me here, that would be helpful as I have forgotten her name), so I asked her about the technqiue - lacquer. This is a big thing in Vietnam, which I would have learnt had I seen the rest of the gallery before I saw this work. Here is another, older, work of Hai Phong Harbour

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These just amused me

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and this one was vaguely intimidating:

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Early on Boxing Day, I was off to Noi Bai airport where I caught a Vietjet (totally innocuous) flight to Bangkok. Apart from a brief stopover between trains, I haven't been here since the late 1980's: it was the very first place that was not New ZealandI ever went to. My visit then was cut short by my need to flee (got caught up in something very dodgy, something that felt dangerous) so I had decided to spend a week exploring Bangkok. I had another reason: there was a particular hotel I wanted to stay in, not because it was flash, not because it was particularly charming but because it was an anachronism. Most people I am sure will be aware that Bangkok has a reputation for, shall we say, being a fairly easygoing sort of place, with Nana Plaza being one of the two most easygoing spots. My hotel was a mere block away, but it had a morals code, literally: long lists of do nots were posted on the wall (including "no catamites, junkies and degenerates") with the suggestion that if people did not like them - the rules I mean, not catamites, junkies and degenerates - they could go somewhere else. The poster went on to say that the staff may well be "sweet and ineffectual" so it might be up to guests to police the rules but reassured us that if we were not up to the task, people would be procured who could.

The hotel was originally a chemical factory, but in the 1950's its German owner turned it into a R&R resort (it had the first hotel swimming pool in Bangkok)

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for American soldiers. The owner died, the place went to the dogs and then in the 1980's the fellow who had inherited it visited and was shocked at what he found - hence the morals code. The outside was nothing special, the rooms were basic but its public spaces are a bit of a time warp. Here are the front and rear entrances

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the foyer

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I spent quite a lot of time in the dining room - I'd come home at the end of a day and relax here with a nice cold one, and use the internet. I had a couple of meals and snacks - I had thought that it was the sort of hotel that people would gather here and get to know each other a bit, but no. Maybe it had something to do with the staff - here is how one fellow describes them on tripadvisor: "However the staff are certainly quite stern, and any smiles in the restaurant seemed fleeting and strained, so it didn't feel that relaxed a place to eat for a solo diner."

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I spent my first morning in here making a long list of the things I would do during my week, and I did start off quite assiduously (I have a couple of posts for those things) but as the week went on, I moved more from an active sight-seeing mode into the hanging out not doing very much mode. But even on my first voyage to do something on my list, I went past this place

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and couldn't resist - the Scala is another piece of Bangkok history. 47 Ronin, by the way, would have to be the most ridiculous movie I have ever seen. It takes an actual Japanese historical event (Ronin are former Samurai, stripped of that honour), but brought in supernatural elements and, even worse, had a battle for control of Japan between north and south depend upon Keanu Reeves. I saw a much better movie at another cinema - I should have taken a photo. It had been a multi-story multiplex, but had not prospered so the building was largely abandoned - there was a go-kart track in the car park and a very nice arthouse cinema on an upper floor, simply called House. The movie was called "Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy" - based on a true story, a story told in 410 tweets. Mary was dropped by her parents into a boarding school and has no contact with them while she is there - the story is essentially of her adjustment, her being a teenager, the friendships she develops, the weird way that teachers have and a crush she has on a particular boy. I enjoyed it so much more than 47 Ronin.

Posted by NZBarry 05:33 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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