We are back from Thailand following six fun-filled (but exhausting) days in the country’s northern cultural capital of Chiang Mai. Lori had a work function to attend there Monday-Thursday. Given our current state of being in transit waiting to move into our long-term housing, stockpiling breastmilk for Noe wasn’t going to happen, so Noe and I decided to pay our own way and tag along for the ride. The three of us arrived on Saturday — a few days ahead of Lori’s official duties — and got to retrace old footsteps and enjoy many of Chiang Mai’s world-class amenities. Coincidentally, we ended up visiting four years to the day of our initial five-day visit in 2012.
Saturday, 15 October 2016
It’s only about 250 miles between Vientiane and Chiang Mai, but you’d never know it without a map. There are no direct driving routes between the two major cities, and no regular non-stop service — the quickest airline routes are through Bangkok. Two 55-minute flights plus 90 minutes of layover time isn’t bad, but just a bit frustrating — particular flying with a little dude.
Noe’s been great on his flights (this trip marked his 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th), but still needs to feed on take-off and landing, which can be an interesting juggling act with two short flights right after the other. Oh, and add a three hour delay in there for fun and now you have yourselves a real party. This essentially meant that on Saturday, we left our apartment at 9am and arrived — exhausted — at well after 7pm. Ten hours of travel time to go 250 miles (which is slow by any measure), but even more ridiculous when considering that this was jet travel.
But we made it to Chiang Mai, got a fixed-price cab from the airport and a short time later, found ourselves at our guesthouse. There seems to be a pattern emerging here, given that we arrived late into Chiang Mai on our last trip as well (albeit by train). At least this time, our guesthouse reservations were secured with a deposit.
Noe may have been the happiest of all of us to arrive…
…considering that this is the ‘outfit’ he had to endure for the prior hour.
Moments before landing in Chiang Mai, the Mister had a blowout (his timing is impeccable!). With little else we could do, Lori had the brilliant idea of throwing another diaper over everything to contain the damage, and it worked (but probably scarred — or at least confused — poor Noe for some time, in addition to not leaving a great first impression with our hosts — “Crazy Farang, don’t they know that the diaper goes under the clothes!”)
Sunday, 16 October 2016
Throughout our travel day Saturday, Lori felt like she might have a cold coming on. She made it clear she wanted to be able to sleep in the next morning. Noe thought this was a great idea too. I wanted to get an early start, so it worked out perfectly for getting a few hours alone out and about.
I was up around 7am and stopped in at a place up the road from our guesthouse called Angel’s Secrets — if I had been a backpacker, this place would have been a dream come true. Actually, this place is a dream come true by any standard. Some of the most amazing breakfast offerings I’ve seen in one place. Extensive menu with lots of pictures, its hard to choose just one thing, but I’m glad I did as the portions are huge.
I got the banana, peanut butter and chocolate crepe with a coffee. Awesome.
I don’t get much time to myself these days, so it was nice to be out and about on my own. Unfortunately, there was a steady drizzle, which made wandering around for its own sake more trouble than it’s worth. Later, when Lori and Noe were up, we returned to Angel’s Secrets to wait out the rain and for Lori to sample some of their tastiness.
Since we had such a great experience staying at Rendezvous Guesthouse four years ago, we assumed we’d stay there this time. However, there rates have risen significantly (US$15 to $25 per night) and when I checked the current reviews on the place it seems that they are not as well regarded as they used to be. Chiang Mai has no shortage of guesthouses, so it seemed silly not to try something with better reviews — and bumping the nightly budget up to $25/night opens up a world of possibilities. We ultimately chose Awanahouse and were quite pleased with our decision.
Awanahouse is located on a quiet road about a five minute walk to Thapae gate, which is an ideal location in the Old City. It was started by a Dutch couple about a decade ago, but is run by a gaggle of friendly and knowledgable Thai staff. It’s a lush and pleasant oasis within the larger oasis that is Chiang Mai Old City.
For US$25/night we got an ‘Extra Large Double Room’ with balcony, AC, and fridge. We splurged for the ‘extra large’ room because we wanted to make sure there was enough room for Noe’s travel crib — and yes, the room was plenty spacious for all parties.
We stayed at Awanahouse for the first two nights before moving to lodging provided at the facility where Lori had her work obligation.
Awanahouse also has a cool covered rooftop deck with sweeping views of the neighborhood.
Rainy Morning Around Chiang Mai
The rain intensified throughout the morning, but seemed appropriate, given that we got some of our most memorable rain storms here in Thailand in 2012. Shoulder season means a greater chance of rain, but it also means fewer crowds. It’s hard to believe that in a month, this place will be crazy with the dry season and Chiang Mai’s most popular festival (Yi Peng) in full swing.
A walk down Old Town’s main drag, Rachadamnoen/Tha Phae Road, offers a glimpse of numerous Buddhist temples (wats) and historic sights, along with an abundance of cafes, restaurants and shops. There are so many historic wats in Old Town that the ones I’ve included in this post don’t even get a mention in most guidebooks — put any one of these in almost any other city and they’d be the main attraction.
Songthaews (shared pickup taxis) rule the center of town and these are some of the nicest I’ve seen. This is how the locals get around, and its not uncommon to see a group of Buddhist monks in their bright saffron-colored robes crammed into one whizzing by.
Four years ago, Thapae Gate seemed to be just a quiet plaza with the best preserved remnant of the ancient wall dividing it. Four years later — no matter what time of day, rain or shine — it is packed with Chinese tourists taking selfies in front of the Thapae Gate sign.
It’s no secret that Chinese tourist numbers worldwide have increased dramatically in recent years. What was perplexing to us was the constant concentration of them here. Does the gate hold some sort of significance to the Chinese or is it simply a hottest place in town to get your selfie?
We couldn’t return to Chiang Mai and not pay a visit to the old Rendezvous guesthouse where we spent five nights in 2012. The alley has changed dramatically, with more vegetation and eateries, that we almost missed the guesthouse.
One thing is for sure about Thailand, and particularly Chiang Mai — they no how to do ambience.