Crackdown on Thai amulets and Buddha themed items in Thailand?

Over the past couple years, I’ve been to Thailand multiple times, I love the culture and the relatively inexpensive yet high quality dentistry (I posted about my dental experience HERE). It is only this most recent trip (to Bangkok) that I’ve noticed the signage regarding the “respecting of Buddhism”. The various signage that I’ve seen, seem to indicate that having the Buddha image as tattoos, t-shirts designs and such are prohibited as is the export of such items. At first, I didn’t know what to expect, as in how this is actually going to be enforced because I’m still seeing t-shirts, carvings, statues, artwork etc depicting Buddha in the shops albeit not as abundantly as before. Note: I’m interpreting, “Buddha image” as anything depicting the likeliness of Buddha (in any form/medium).

Frankly, I didn’t think anything of it, even though I had my heart set on acquiring a Thai Buddhist amulet. I had asked some Thai friends where I could acquire an “authentic” amulet and was told amulets are readily available “everywhere”, there’s even a street specifically selling such items but they advised me to get one from within a temple, those should be authentic. This amulet market, I was told, is near Wat Pho and a ferry terminal, I couldn’t miss it. Well, I walked from the Grand Palace to Wat Pho and visited 2 ferry terminals, I couldn’t find this amulet market. Maybe most of the shops were close since it was raining? Or maybe the crackdown is really happening? The most probably reason why is because I’m just an idiot and couldn’t find it, lol.

Now what is the big deal with Thai Amulets? Well, supposedly they have spiritual powers (if you’re so inclined to subscribe to that notion and belief system). Authentic amulets are the ones that are hand made by monks and have been “enchanted” through prayer. The more famous the wat and monk, the higher the “power” and worth/price the amulet will be. Some amulets cost in the 100’s of thousand US dollars range! There are different amulets covering different aspects of “life issues”. For example, luck and or success in your career or school, love life charms, warding of bad spirits, omens, calamities etc. Much like the plethora of different charms sold at the Japanese temples (Shinto temples, I think they were). Unlike the Japanese charms, you don’t have to return/recycle them after a year (I’ve seen big drop boxes at these temples for you to drop your old charms into. Instead Thai amulets (again this is what I’ve been told so I don’t know exactly how accurate this info is) are given out on loan and the monetary amount you pay is the rental/donation fee. Once your “crisis” has been averted and/or you feel better, you’re supposed to return the amulet. When I acquired my pendant from Wat Pho (first image of this post), I didn’t see any signage regarding the “rental” practices and I tried to ask but the language barrier was to great I think. So I have no idea if this is true and if so where to return the amulet to. What happens if I lose the amulet etc.

This is the one I got from Wat Pho (I picked the least expensive one that I felt “comfortable” with, the charm inside is suppose to be 22k gold foil). I also bought the stainless steel necklace for the charm at $100 Baht the charm itself set me back $400 Baht. Expensive or not, in my mind, the dollar amount that I’m relinquishing goes towards something I subscribe to, at a place that’s absolutely stunning plus authentically religious with historic significance and it gives me peace of mind (it can’t get much more authentic than this, right)?

Anyways, sorry for the lack of photos in this post, I really didn’t intend to post on this topic. So why am I? Well, I’ve always had a Buddhist pendant on me since childhood, so I never thought twice about the “warning” signage and although I’m not a full fledged follower of Buddhism, I’m still a believer in most of the teachings that I’m aware of. So these signs don’t pertain to me, right? Well, apparently not.

I had forgotten I had my new amulet on (I put it on at the temple and haven’t taken it off). So at the at the airport security screening I place my bag on the xray machine and walked through the metal detector, which didn’t beep but the guard beckoned me over, so I assumed the position, legs spread and arms out to the side. The usual waving of the wand, then he waves it up and down just below my chin, I thought he wanted to see the tattoo on my chest (it’s happened before at LAX they made me take off my shirt so they can full body scan me). He shakes his wand from side to side and says, “no” (when I showed him my tattoo) and uses the wand to point at my neck. I think I gave him a funny look cuz then he starts wiggling and pointing the wand at my neck, it’s then I realize he wanted to see my necklaces/pendants. I reach into my t-shirt to pull out my necklaces/pendants for him to check out. Which he does by leaning in for a closer look and then waves me off with the wand. Much ado about nothing?

I have been wearing this one for at least 3 years.

And my new amulet’s casing is showing quite a bit of tarnish. Maybe I was let go because of the state my pendants were in? Maybe they look inexpensive/fake etc? I don’t know but I’m not complaining. Note: some amulets you can purchase without a case so you can find/purchase higher quality ones..

Having told my story to my Thai buddies, who had a big laugh, they related to me some instances in the news where some people were fined/jailed for having tattoo’s of a Buddha image, taking photos at religious places in “disrespectful” poses, standing/sitting on things that people normally wouldn’t etc. I have no idea what would have happened if the guard took offense to my amulet and pendant but it is something to think about, wouldn’t you agree?

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My accidental visit to the Grand Palace complex and the surrounding vicinity.

Although I would like to tell you the most efficient and inexpensive way to get to Wat Pho, Grand Palace etc. I can’t. Due to my time constraints as well as there being no BTS station close enough (the closest, on the same side of the river, being Sanam Chai) to walk from I chose to take a Grab taxi. As usual nothing goes exactly as planned (well for me anyways), my plan was to get a Grab taxi to and from Wat Pho, piece of cake, right? I managed to get a Grab taxi pretty easily and quickly from where I was staying (near On Nut BTS) at a cost of $271 Baht which is an acceptable fare if I had been dropped at the correct location.

The journey towards the Grand Palace was relatively quick traffic wise but that all changed when you get close, specifically around the the large oval field. The sight of things was both spectacular and scary. The streets became “managed” as in funneled and directed by gates, barriers and security check posts. Starting from the huge parking lot of tour buses and fences to herd, I mean, direct people in an orderly fashion towards the Grand Palace which is a good 15 minute, mostly uncovered, walk without any crowds.

Having gotten through the traffic choke points, my Grab driver indicated we had arrived so I paid and got out in front of the Ministry of Defense building. If you’re interested in a vast display of cannons, you’ll enjoy the view here. On the opposite side of the road was a wall and behind it I can see the roofs of wat styled buildings. I had a choice go left or right. Since I saw the majority of people going right plus the Grab driver should have dropped me at the closest entry point to my destination (Wat Pho), following the crowd was the correct choice. Well, it turned out it wasn’t (going left would have taken me to Wat Pho). After about a 15 minute walk back from the direction I came including wait time (I had to get into the line that I had passed while in the taxi) I got to the entrance gate. It was here that I realized (after seeing the guards in full military uniform) that I was about to enter the Grand Palace Complex. What else could I do? I was already there, so I went to the ticket counter and paid my entrance fee of $500 Baht and proceeded in. The details of which I’ll put in a separate post.

Oh, unlike the soldiers in front of the Ministry of Defense building, the soldiers at and around the Grand Palace don’t appreciate, like or permit their picture being taken. If you ask they will say, “NO” if you don’t ask and get caught, they will just yell, “NO PHOTOS” at you. I decided not to press my luck so I stopped.

After the Grand Palace, whilst walking around the complex, looking for Wat Pho, I was able to find 2 ferry boarding points, to take you to Wat Arun, (which is another top 5 spot to visit in Bangkok) amongst other places and a historic river side, dried seafood market. Although it was quite interesting to see, the aroma was a bit too strong for my liking and coupled with the fact that I still needed to find Wat Pho, I didn’t explore it. Eventually, I managed to find and enter Wat Pho, but I didn’t find the amulet market. I wish I had more time or had properly planned to visit this area but as luck would have it I didn’t and plus it was raining hard which limited exploration and photo taking. If I had to do it all over again, I definitely would plan a whole day in this area.

Here’s some tidbits of info. Due to the size of the complexes, it could be a long walk between destinations. I didn’t notice many taxis or tuk tuks around but there were a few here and there at the areas with shops around, like the ferry access points. Be wary of the tuk tuks as they will try to tell you of places they think you should go and will probably take you there even if you say, “no.” There aren’t many people walking around this area at night and it’s not that well lit in most places. I’m not sure why, but Grab taxi in Bangkok is not as convenient or efficient as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or even Singapore. It took me an hour to get into the 4th Grab Taxi I booked as the first three cancelled. Maybe it’s just my luck or lack of it but it would be less stressful for you if have an exit plan.

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The beginning of the end for fiat currency in Singapore?

Green colored currency

This came as quite a shock to me the other day when I was shopping for hiking pants. Why hiking pants? I find that hiking pants/shirts are the best for travelling in S.E. Asia because they are light, easy to pack and dries quickly whether from sweat, rain or a washing. So instead of the branded lines like Columbia that retail over $100 Sgd per piece, I opted to check out the “no name” brands which are about $30 Sgd.

My “go to” chain of stores when I’m looking for sports stuff in Singapore goes by the name of Decathlon. They carry a lot of “no name” brand goods as well as branded goods at good prices. Anyways, I heard a new branch opened up in a mall named Velocity @ Novena, which is really close to where I am and I needed to be as time efficient as possible. Check out my post Bangkok Dangerous – a temporary relocation experience if you wanna know why, it’s kinda funny now but not so much while it was happening, lol.

When I arrived at the Decathlon store in Velocity @ Novena, I found it underwhelming, I was expecting the usual huge shop with lots of stuff in it. This branch was claustrophobic-ly small, ok maybe not that small but close. Anyways, they had what I was looking for and after trying it on, I went to pay. Here comes the WTH moment…

So I’m standing behind this lady, probably looking as confused as I looked, because there wasn’t a cashier or cash register at the counter. There were employees walking around but none came to collect the money. So she waved an employee down and he came to assist. So apparently the whole system is self service and if you want a bag, you’ll have to pay for one and then ask someone to get you one. I don’t have an issue with the self service system as I’m getting pretty used to it. Singapore is highly into the self service/pay systems. Almost all fast food chains have a self order/pay system, many restaurants have ipad (or equivalent) menu order systems. The local grocery store near me only has self check out booths with machines that collect payment, although there is still a cashier at each kiosk to help. Same with convenience stores, the cashier rings you up and you shove your cash into a machine. What I have an issue with, is the “we are cashless” stance that this particular Decathlon is taking. When it was my turn, the Decathlon employee was still there watching as I scanned my item and when I handed him the cash, he pointed at the sign. I asked him, “seriously, you don’t take cash?” in which he replied, “yes, we don’t take cash.” Well, nothing I could do about it, plus I was in a rush and had to finish packing and catch a flight so I charged the pants to my credit card. Thankfully, Decathlon isn’t a store that charges an extra 3% if you use a credit card. If you’re not aware of this practice it’s pretty frustrating the first few times.

Now someone correct me if I’m wrong but “this note is legal tender” printed on fiat currency means that business’ must accept it as a form of payment, right? Well, that’s the way I understand it. Apparently, this isn’t the case in Singapore? OH, another thing I’d better mention, when it comes to paper money, in Singapore, you can use the Brunei dollar as equivalent to the Singapore dollar. I found out the hard way years ago when I received change in Brunei currency and caused a bit of a ruckus, lol. Back to this issue of business’ not taking cash. Since my purchase at Decathlon, I’ve asked some Singaporeans for their thoughts. One person vehemently defended the right of business’ not to take cash citing that it’s the government of Singapore’s push for a cashless society and that even the hospitals are telling people to pay at the 7-11 if they insist on paying cash. Wait, what? Really? I haven’t followed up on that but a few others believe, as I do, that it is illegal for business’ doing business in Singapore to not to take Singapore currency. These people have suggested I lodge a complaint with the Monetary Authority of Singapore and when I asked, “why me,” they said it’s precisely because I’m a foreigner that I should be the one to complain. I don’t understand that logic but I’m probably not going to lodge a complaint since (in my opinion) it won’t matter one bit. Equally confusing to me is that, of all the people I asked, the majority just didn’t care.

I think a cashless society would be just one Mt. Gox hack away from anarchy and I’m of the opinion that when the masses are being herded in one particular direction, it’s not gonna be too good for the herd. Of course I’m no expert and I don’t know if cashless business’ are going dominate the shopping landscape or not but I do know that the push for going cashless is real and relatively quick. There is an increasing amount of crypto atm’s popping up in more malls in Singapore and I’ve seen establishments accepting crypto, which may or may not be a good thing. Have a read of my post, Funan DigitaLife Mall’s rebirth. What’s the big deal? Something you’ll want to think about for more info. If you’re looking for crypto atm’s they maybe hard to spot as they are not heavily advertised. I plan to compile a list with pictures and detailing what services are offered at these atm’s in the near future. It’s on my to do list, lol.

So what do you think about a cashless society and as a tourist being forced to use online payment (potential loss of anonymity assuming your particular online funds is accepted) or use your foreign credit card (potential additional fees). Thankfully, it’s not that prevalent now but it’s happening. I kinda feel sorry for the smaller ‘mom and pop’ shops that will need to “subscribe” to all the services necessary to make them cashless and what will happen to the extra 3% increase that a lot of business charge to the consumer for using credit cards? All those fees are inevitably gonna be added to the purchase price, that sucks.

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

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Bangkok Dangerous – a temporary relocation experience.

Ok so if you’ve read some of my previous travel posts, you know that I’m always rushing, more often than not plans don’t work out and that something weird/funny/stupid usually happens. This most recent trip is no exception but by far the least planned and most rushed ever! In fact, I don’t think it can get any worse than this. Curious? Read on, my friends…

Long story short, my daughter’s final year course work includes an optional 5 months overseas internship program. She got an offer from a company in Bangkok but at the last minute things fell through. Even more last minute was the school being able to find 3 alternatives. By the time the dust settled (interviews and choosing which company to go to), my kid would start work in 8 days. So being the ~~busy body~~ concerned parent that I am, I booked a flight, a room and packed. I was in the air within 12 hours. The premise was I would go check out the office and the vicinity as well as start apartment hunting. The school had a rule that students must stay in the same apartment complex/building but at that moment nobody had picked a place yet so I was flying blind with only the office address to go by.

While waiting at the airport, I found some info that taxi fares are about 400-700 from the airport to where I was going, Ekkamai. What I didn’t know was that the taxi’s from the airport are metered. You line up to get a ticket on which a number is printed and you go to that berth where a car will be waiting. So thinking it was like Chiang Mai, I asked how much before I even let the driver take one of my bags (I was packing my kid’s stuff too). He said $500 Baht including highway toll and since it was within the range I read about, I agreed. So off we went. Not much traffic, it was night time and I arrived at my hotel in around 40 minutes. The other choices at the airport are limo taxi’s which start at $1000 Baht depending on distance and vehicle you choose to ride in. Another choice would be a VIP service type deal which you have to arrange in advance and that starts at $700 Baht. You can also take the train (cost dependent upon destination).

What about sim chips? Well I bought my sim chip at the airport (after getting my bags and clearing customs) at a cost of $599 Baht (upgrade able to a 3 months plan at the end of 15 days for around $1200 Baht (check the photo below for the specs). If you need one for longer, the 3 months plan that I bought for my kid was $1400 Baht. It may be a bit more than some of the other plans but apparently DTAC’s wifi is more consistent as some of my kid’s colleagues have switched from Tru (?sp). We can both tether/hotspot our laptops to our phone and access the internet without any issues. My Nintendo Switch acted squeamishly though but maybe because my laptop was tethered too. Oh, the phone numbers with a zero in the front, that’s part of your number so people calling you will have to “dial” the zero as part of your phone number. Making calls will cost $1 Baht so use internet calling (Whatsapp or Line for example) to get around that. I used AIS the last time I was in Thailand and it was just as good as DTAC but I didn’t see one at the airport that’s why I got DTAC.

After settling in, I went out to grab a bite to eat, it was around 8pm and I was super tired and super hungry. Some eateries were already winding down for the day so I just went to a shop that looked open, looked willing to let me order and order the special which was a platter of sausages which included a chili dog. I love chilli dogs and was really looking forward to it. Well, it wasn’t a hotdog with chilli on it, it was a hotdog with chili peppers in it. It was so spicy I could only eat half, ya that sucked! Anyways, while eating i realized that I didn’t notice having to stop to pay a toll on the way from the airport and figured it was an automatic thing like they have in Singapore. While entering the meal receipt into my expense tracker, I noticed that it my meal wasn’t cheaper than a meal in Singapore of the same standard. Oh well. Back at the hotel I asked how much a taxi ride from the airport would be and the lady said around $500 baht, so I felt relieved but I still had a bad feeling for some reason. So fast forward a few days…I had to take a taxi two more times to and from the airport. Once in the afternoon, metered, at a cost of $300 Baht including highway toll and once in the evening via Grab taxi at a cost of $383 Baht. The toll booths are manned so they’re not automatic and the driver asked me for the cash to pay the toll on my afternoon, metered fare trip from the airport. I was guessing no toll at night since both times I failed to notice having to stop and pay the toll. However, after Google’ing, I found that there is a way to get to and from the airport without using the highway and thereby bypassing the toll, so that’s more likely what happened on my rides in any event, I don’t mind paying the toll if it means getting to where I need to go, faster. Word of caution, the traffic gets pretty bad around 6-8 pm and Grab drivers are more prone to cancelling or accepting from far away. My return flight was at 9 pm, I started to booking Grab taxi’s at 6 pm, got into one at 6:30 pm and arrived at the airport at 8 pm.

Ok enough of that, continuing on now, I spent the next 3 days going back and forth between Ekkamai, Thong Lo and On Nut BTS stations because that’s the general area of where the office where my kid was going to intern at and the recommended housing areas. I did a lot of walking and waiting in the heat and rain, being orchestrated by my kid in Singapore and rental agents in Bangkok, not fun. The most frustrating part was finding some place suitable but having to wait for confirmation from the school to see if there were any students currently in the building. Yup, that sucked too! I also did a lot of window shopping and eating. I really thought Bangkok was going to be similar to Chiang Mai in terms of cost of living but Bangkok is more expensive. The restaurants (fast food/chain type) are roughly the same price as I would find in Singapore. The same cafe chain (Black Canyon) I ate at in Chiang Mai, although different items, seemed more expensive. I’m basing this solely on how the bill made me feel. The bill in Bangkok made me think “wow, same as Singapore” and not “wow, that was inexpensive for good food” (as was my reaction in Chiang Mai). Eating at food courts in a mall is generally cheaper but many require you to get a proprietary meal card which you deposit money into and funds are deducted at each food stall you purchase from. Make sure you spend all the money you put on the card because most are 1 day only cards meaning after the day you buy it, whatever amount is left, it’ss gone. Happened to me at MBK’s food court I lost about $100 Baht, I think.

Transportation wise, if you’re going to use the BTS a lot (mass transit train) I would suggest you get a “Rabbit Card” it’s a card that lets you store a balance and you use that to tap in and out of the gantries. It is a lot more convenient than lining up every time to buy a one ride ticket, as the lines can get pretty long some times. Whilst the lines to top up your Rabbit card do get long, you won’t have to do it as often and you can choose the time to do it. As far as I can tell, the cost per ride on the BTS is about $15-20 Baht per station and going in and immediately from the same station still incurs a $15 Baht charge (I did it twice unfortunately). The initial cost of the Rabbit card is $200 Baht of which $100 Baht is the deposit on your card and “top ups” must be in multiples of $100 Baht. I found that out the “hard” way as well as not being able to “top up” from within the station. You have to exit the gantry first. I don’t know if you get a refund for the card as I still have mine. If you’re a student, you can get a student’s Rabbit card (show your student ID or student visa) and that card has concessions on fares.

OH! the Rabbit card can be used at some places like 7-11 but cannot be used for the train to the airport from Phaya Thai station, you have to buy a token for that ride ($45 Baht). Meaning when you’re on the BTS line that has the stations Ekkamai, Siam etc. you have to change trains at Phaya Thai and that other train line does not accept the Rabbit card for payment.

Please note: if you’re trying to get on the train between 8 and 10 am it’ll be an experience (an uncomfortable one if you’re a girl). While people are more civilized when it comes to lining up for the train they are a less so when it comes to getting on so don’t be surprised if you really get wedged in, think of a can of anchovies, seriously. Almost every morning I had to skip at least one train and I’ve witnessed my fair share of pained/uncomfortable looks on peoples faces the times that I do make it on. Lucky I’m a dude and wear a waist pack in the front when I travel!

Housing wise, it seems that Airbnb’s are illegal in Thailand. There are signage in some condo lobbies saying they’ll turn you in if they find out, referring to both guest and host. Anyways, for the most part, the agents I spoke to were unwilling to rent for durations of less than a year (I need one for 5 months) without “consulting with the owners” then coming back with an inflated price. It also seemed to me that they only want to show you one as in they’d say they have more but when you ask to see them they just start talking about the first one they recommended. I had to ask several times to see the others and of those times only twice did I get to see the other units.The other times the answers ranged from “I’ll have to ask the owners”, the “duration isn’t long enough” and or “it’s out of your price range.” The price ranges I’ve come across from studios to single bedroom apartments were between $11000-$16000 Baht a month for 1 year contracts. Terms are first month rent and a security deposit equal to the first and last months rent upon getting the key. A small amount will be withheld from your deposit when the contract expires since you would have left before the bill arrives. All the places I checked out had a “pool” but a few of them were so small that if you were to jump in, you’d hit the other side. Most were ok, just don’t expect to be doing any “laps”.

Unanimously, the water and power bill are sent to your mailbox and you pay the water bill to the property management at the office/front desk and the power bill to the gov’t at a 7-11 or bank so you won’t have to set anything up yourself.

Shopping…I must not be going to the right places because everyone tells me that Bangkok is the place to go for shopping. Well, from what I’ve seen, not really…maybe for women’s clothes because my kid seems to think it’s cheaper there (compared to Singapore). What I’ve seen is things like fun electronics/appliances down to usb cables, the prices are on par with Singapore. Things like games/accessories for the Nintendo Switch can be even more expensive! Yup, I had to buy a wall adapter powerful enough to charge my Switch because I thought my powerbank would last long enough, but nope I played more than I planned, lol. I didn’t look much at men’s clothing but I did buy some outfits, even after bargaining for a better price it still came out to what I’d pay for something similar anywhere else. I’ve shopped at 2 Walmart/Kmart/Superstore type hypermarts by the name of Big C and Tesco Lotus. I would recommend buying household items from Big C and food items from Tesco Lotus because Big C’s household items are cheaper and Tesco’s food freshness is better. In general necessity appliances like rice cookers, water bottles and toasters are much cheaper than what you would be able to find in Singapore. Fortunately for me, both shops were in a small mall and i felt that the Big C and the shops around it are more “local.” Please keep in mind that this is only my opinion of the two stores/malls and only for the days that I shopped there. Oh, I’ve never noticed anyone bargaining at the Big C, Tesco Lotus so I’ve never tried. I did buy a potted plant from a shop just outside the Big C and was able to bargain a bit.

Final notes, there is a lot of traffic in Bangkok and a lot of it is comprised of motorcycle/mopeds. If you see a seemingly random line of people on the sidewalk, they are lining up for the motorcycle “taxi’s”. From what I’ve been told, the driver’s wearing the reflective safety vest are the more “legit” ones and there’s usually a sign board indicating the prices (at the head of the line), I couldn’t read it but the numbers looked significantly cheaper than a taxi/or tuk tuk. I’ve seen girls riding side ways because they’re wearing skirts so that’s an option if you’re so inclined. I was told helmets were mandatory in Thailand too but I don’t recall ever seeing a passenger of one of these “taxi bikes” wearing a helmet. My kid tried it and reported they didn’t even offer her one. Being a pedestrian crossing the street isn’t much better and can be just as scary. Just keep in mind that yielding to pedestrians isn’t at the top of a driver’s list, seemingly even on a cross walk so so be extra careful especially at an intersection when a car has already stopped for you. Some drivers in the outer lanes will be reluctant to stop or may even take advantage of the stopped car to change lanes, yup almost got my feet rolled over, twice! Same intersection different days, lol.

After all the prep, shopping, route finding, transport timing and stuff were done, I found one day for my self to check out Bangkok, obviously not enough time, so I Googled “must do’s in Bangkok” and found some interesting places to check out. I’ll be posting this adventure soon, stay tuned…

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

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16 days in Chiang Mai’s Old City

pedestal with the map of Chiang Mai’s old city on top

Chiang Mai’s “Old City” is the area, roughly 1.6 km by 1.6 km, surrounded by a moat and at one time walls. There’s not much left of the original walls, only the bastions on each corner and at remnants at the 5 gates. All look like they have been mostly restored, you know they look old but not as old as they should look according to how old they are supposed to be. Also some look too straight and symmetrical for that time period. Anyways, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city nestled in a valley next to the Ping River. Thailand’s highest peak is about an hour or so drive away which is one of the tourist attractions of Chiang Mai. It’s call Doi Inthanon if you’re interested in checking that out. I tried, it didn’t work out, more on that in my post entitled, Did I get scammed in Chiang Mai? Chiang Mai is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage candidate list has been granted the title of Creative City by UNESCO. Not really sure what that means, but it sounds cool.

So what is it that makes Chiang Mai such a hot tourist destination and blogger destination? I’m really not sure. Maybe its the cost of living being so low coupled with the adequate internet Wi-Fi service? Maybe its the allure of potential legal marijuana? The flower farmers were opium poppy farmers before so you know they have the know how to grow stuff. As for the tourists there are a ton of things to do in Chiang Mai from temple visiting to mountain hiking, a water park in a canyon, river rafting, atv riding and taking cooking classes, paintballing and zoos. Then there are tours on Segway’s, bicycles and mopeds/scooter in addition to the bus/van tours. If you’re not into tours, you can rent cars (need an international drivers license), mopeds/motorcycles, bicycles or those electric skateboard things with the handle. The more unique activities would be the elephant sanctuaries and tiger sanctuaries. I’ll let you decide for yourself whether they are “good or bad”. I personally don’t mind them if the animals look well treated but I never got around to going. What I’ve listed is probably only a drop in the bucket as to the amount of activities there are judging by the display of brochures I see in the shops. The reason why I went to Thailand, this trip, was because I needed some dental work done and I was informed that Thailand’s dental practices were top notch and inexpensive. I chose Chiang Mai over Bangkok because Chiang Mai was cheaper both in dental prices as well as accommodations. If you’re interested to know more, here’s my post about it, Dental Holiday in Chiang Mai. Wait what? SERIOUSLY?!?! Overall, I found Chiang Mai to be less ‘hustle bustle’ and less traffic than Bangkok but more “touristy”. What do I mean by that? Well, many Thai people in Chiang Mai, can speak Mandarin. I thought it was because of the amount of Chinese tourists at first until I was kind of forced on a hike (Details in my upcoming failed Doi Inthanon excursion), on which I had to pay for a local hills tribesman to guide me on, told me (in very broken, sporadic English) that people on the mountain speak Mandarin because of their proximity to the border. He tried explaining it in Mandarin to me but I can’t understand Mandarin. Although I tried to reason it out, I couldn’t. The northern borders of Thailand are Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, I didn’t think they spoke Mandarin there. Anyways, I was quite startled to be spoken to in Mandarin by customer service staff in many, many shops/restaurants I visited. Another indication of the large number of tourists are the sheer number of shops offering tour packages, it’s like there’s one every 10 shops as you walk down any street. If you’re interested to visit the Hills Tribes people, there are plenty of tours. The “Golden Triangle” tours will take you to the area/river delta where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. Don’t worry if English is your only language, I’ve found that speaking English in Chiang Mai isn’t an issue as everyone could understand me and for the most part I could understand them. The only time I had a language barrier was the time I had a tour guide, yup, I don’t understand that either.

Aside from the abundance of non Thai speakers everywhere, so are the local forms of transport, songthaews and tuk tuks. Songthaews are pickup trucks with the bed converted to benches on either side and a roof. The red ones service the general vicinity of the old city and the yellow ones travel further out, although you can hire a red one to take you wherever you want provided you can agree to terms on the price. I’ve also seen black ones and maroon colored ones, but have no clue where they go. Songthaews operate like shared taxis, anyone can flag one down, negotiate a price and hop on. Usually, the more riders, the cheaper the fare gets. Although all the red ones have $30 TBH fare written on the side in English, the rest of the wording is in Thai and I’d like to think it means minimum amount because every time I’ve flagged one to ride in the vicinity of the old city, the first amount the driver would say was $100 TBH. For some reason I was always flagged the empty ones. Note: I always check the price on Grab before I try to flag a songthaew, so if I can’t get a ride on a songthaew for significantly cheaper, I just book the Grab taxi. Having said that, I only rode the songthaew’s two times in the 16 days I was there. There were a few occasions when the songthaew was $20-$30 TBH cheaper than the Grab but I took the Grab anyways because I didn’t want to deal with the heat, sit on a bench in the back of an enclosed pickup truck (the small little side windows didn’t help much, and the exhaust smell ain’t that great either) and I got motion sickness the two times I rode in the songthaews plus it gets so tedious to negotiate a price every time. I tried taking the tuk tuk’s (motorized rickshaw) too, the motion sickness for me was not that bad, much more ventilation and the driver doesn’t stop to pick up passengers. Tuk tuk’s are usually more expensive than songthaews which puts them in the Grab taxi price range, unless you’re really far from the old city. You have to negotiate a price before you get in too. Thank goodness for Grab because while exploring on foot, I found myself in many places where I didn’t see any songthaews or tuk tuk’s around. If you do plan on using Grab keep in mind that you can’t use the funds in your Grab wallet to pay for your ride because it’s not available at the time of this writing. Almost forgot, there are metered taxis but the only place where I saw them was at the airport and only once, in town, that was dropping off tourists at a hotel.

Hailing a songthaew, then negotiating the fare with the driver.

View from the inside a songthaew

Neon lit Tuk Tuk’s available for hire

Metered taxi

Languages and transport aside, I found Chiang Mai to be abundant in artistic stuff like paintings, drawings, carvings, crafts. I even found some graffiti! There are many night markets that open up on the streets/sidewalks in different areas around Chiang Mai and they all start around 7pm and you can watch them start setting up around 6pm. You’ll find a lot of hand made stuff along with all the art stuff. The big nightly street market is the Night Bazaar which is East of Tha Phae Gate, lots of stuff to see there. There are a handful of vendors at Tha Phae Gate too but mainly just handmade souvenirs and an artist or two. On Saturday’s just outside the Chiang Mai Gate (also called Pratu Gate) is where, from what I was told, the silver smiths peddle their works. I went there once didn’t see much silver. Saw a lot of street food vendors though! If you’re into silver jewelry, there are plenty of shops all over the place, good prices too. On Sunday’s is the mother of all night markets. They close off streets within the Old City to facilitate this night market, it’s pretty awesome, I got to see it three times! Prices are low and then you can bargain if you so choose to, they kind of expect you to anyways. It gets really crowded but civilized. For the most part people try not to bump you and give an apologetic gesture if they do. The vendors aren’t pushy and genuinely nice, IMO. Never did I feel threatened or mobbed by a bunch of kids asking for money, nor were there homeless/less fortunate people sitting/lying around unlike Bangkok. Most of the less fortunate were actually trying to earn instead of beg by playing a musical instrument, dancing or singing.

Street artists selling his drawings in front of Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you’re into seeing/visiting temples, then Chiang Mai is for you. They have big ones, small ones, new ones, centuries old ones, and nationally recognized ones. It’s impossible, I think, to walk 10 minutes in any direction and not see one. After a week and a lot of walking, I thought I saw them all which I later learned was a mistake. One evening as I was returning from one of my walk abouts, the front desk clerk asked me how my trip was thus far. I told him it was awesome, I loved all the temples and stuff and now that I’ve seen them all, didn’t know else I should do. You should have seen the wide eyed look on his face as he said, “all 300?!” You should have seen the wide eyed look on my face as I said, “300?!?!” I think I visited maybe 30ish. In my defense, I was only looking at the ones with stupa’s and missed a lot of the smaller ones because I just didn’t see/notice them. So upon further “inspection” on my walk abouts, I don’t know if there really are 300 temples but there are a lot, some are really, really small as in just a small shack or two housing a statue or two and a space for prayer. Anyways, it became an adventure of sorts. Speaking of adventure, there is also an area where excavations have yielded ruins of temples. You can take a buggy ride, for a fee to visit them all or you can try to find them all by yourself. If you do try to find them all yourself, please, please don’t walk! I tried didn’t get very far, plus there are loose dogs (don’t know if they were wild or not), a lot of them not too friendly, had to fend a couple off with my tripod once. I did find a few pretty cool looking ruins though, made it worth it for me coupled with being able to see how the local people live because these ruins are scattered in residential areas (found horses in some yards too)! Wish I had more time to go back and take the buggy ride though. If you’re interested in that area, it’s called Wiang Kum Kam, I’ll make a separate post about it soon.

An ornate white and gold stupa with a cloudy blue sky in the background

Chiang Mai’s famous bar street has a lot of bars and happy ending massage shops (you can tell because you can’t really see into the shop and there are plenty of girls trying to entice you inside) on both sides of the street. The other massage shops that are on the up and up, in case you’re wondering, has people, usually female that just greet you or just smile and nod as you walk by. You can see into the shop and you’ll notice it’s an open area, many times not even curtains to separate the patrons. So you can be pretty sure there’s no “extras” in those. Back to the bars, on the weekdays, it’s really, really quiet like I’m one of 5 guys walking around and there aren’t many customers in the bars either, maybe 1 in 5 bars and the few bar girls around won’t even bother to look up. The weekends aren’t much better although there are more bar girls hanging out in front of their shops and more enthusiastic about trying to get patrons plus the music is louder. There are days when there’s Muaythai bouts held in the boxing ring which is located down this sort of alley lined with bars that opens up to a sort of cul de sac in which the boxing ring is in the middle surrounded by more bars. Those days make it more interesting although you have to pay an entrance fee but since some of the bars have a back entrance off a side street, you could enter those, buy a beer and sit close enough to see the action thereby skipping the entrance fee to see the fight. As much as I love beer, I didn’t see any bar that was interesting enough to drink in. It was much more fun sitting in a restaurant facing the street near Tha Phae Gate and watch the tourists or head into the Night Bazaa where there’s this area like a huge outdoor food court and beer stalls. Much, much more people here than on the bar street. They have live bands too which (I don’t mean this in a mean way) perform covers in the local style English which I found very weird yet interesting. Some people get up and dance when they hear their jam, so that’s fun to watch too.

Muaythai Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium.

There are (as far as I saw) 3 shopping malls, two modern ones with global brand name shops and one older, more local one. I went to one of the newer ones, called Central Festival, to extend my phone plan since the sim chip that I got from the airport was only good for 8 days (there’s one kiosk selling sim chips where the luggage belts are and one after you exit customs). Central Festival was pretty new looking and prices were not local prices, I checked out some camera gear and it’s pretty much the same price as in Singapore. The local mall, named Kad Suan Kaew, I literally just walked into it without knowing it at the end of one of my walk abouts. Most of the shops were closing up so I didn’t get to see much. The local shops prices looked reasonable, the recognizable, global brand names were the usual price so really nothing special about the shopping malls. I much prefer the street markets.

One of the newer shopping malls in Chiang Mai

Local style shopping mall in Chiang Mai

The more I think about it, the more I’m thinking that Chiang Mai is my favorite destination thus far I think Chiang Rai has something to do with it too. I’ll post a write up of Chiang Rai soon too. So consider following me for updates to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry. The only thing I have to “complain” about is that, to me (and don’t flame me for this) I found that in general, it’s all about the money in Chiang Mai. What I mean by this is when you’re going about paying for your songthaew/tuk tuk ride and don’t give exact change, don’t be surprised if they don’t give you your change unless you ask for it or remind them what the agreed upon fare was. I’ve had this happen when buying food or souvenirs from street vendors too. In the temples I found the sheer number of donation boxes somewhat of a let down. Some temples have an entrance fee too with different prices for locals and tourists. It’s my theory that your attire will have an impact on pricing as well and be aware of this in the shops that don’t have price tags on their items. Grab drivers may try to offer you their services for your other trips which is good, but the prices may not be. Best to know where you want to go and a general idea of how much it would cost via other modes of transport. Almost forgot, if you take pictures of locals who look dressed up in cultural garb, chances are they will ask you for money afterwards, especially the kids. If people offer to take your picture, they’ll ask for a tip afterwards. The amount of the tip they ask for depends on what they do to get  you a nice shot (more on this in a later post). Don’t be put off by this though, it’s just a part of life, I suppose and happen everywhere too.

I love Chiang Mai mural by the roadside at night

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