Getting to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai

Sunset at Chiang Rai’s bus Terminal 1

Hi again everyone, if you’ve been following my recent chain of posts you’ll know that whilst in Chiang Mai I had the pleasure of finding the “Silver Temple.” HERE’s the post if you’re interested.  I was so moved by the uniqueness of this temple, I went to look for other such artistic temples and find some I did. BUT… they weren’t in Chiang Mai, they were in another city named, Chiang Rai and luckily it’s close enough to Chiang Mai to warrant a visit.

How to get to Chiang Rai then? Well, there are no direct flights nor direct trains to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai. So that leaves buses, car (self drive or taxi) and motorcycle.  Keeping in mind that it’s at least a 3 hour journey, I chose go by bus because it was the cheapest and IMO most comfortable and safest. As far as buses to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, there’s really only one company that I could find whilst searching online (in English) and that is the Green Bus Thailand. They offer 3 “classes” of tickets…A, X and V (V for VIP, the costliest, roomiest and quickest. Plus there’s a toilet on board). I booked a Grab taxi and off I went to the bus station. There are 2 bus terminals in Chiang Mai and the one that I needed to go to was Bus Terminal 3. The ride cost me $200 TBH from around Tha Phae Gate to Terminal 3.

Entering from the front entrance, the Green Bus’s ticket counter is on the left and quite clearly marked, you can’t miss it. There’ll most likely be a lot of people yelling calling at you to get your tickets from them though as soon as you walk into the building. I just went to the line in front of the ticket agents under the Green Bus signage. Thankfully, the ticket agent’s understanding of English was good enough for me to pick my seat, ensure that my destination is Terminal 1 and book my VIP return tickets, two days in advance, at a cost of $560 TBH. Quite easy and hassle free. Here’s some photos of the front of the terminal taken at night because like this whole trip I’m winging it.

After purchasing my tickets I walked around a bit to try to find where I’ll be getting on my bus. I looked at my ticket and found two berth numbers. Great! Whilst looking around inside, I couldn’t find any berth numbers. You actually have to go outside of the building to find the berth numbers. The signage is on the outside walls. I actually lucked out and found my bus berth on the first try. It’s the first exit on the right when walking further into the terminal.

Chiang Mai’s bus Terminal 3 berths

The terminal has two floors but the second floor is basically empty with a small seating area and empty shops.  The only reason why I went up there was because there was signage indicating that there were clean toilets up there plus it’s relatively deserted so no need to wait in line. All the toilets in the terminal have an entrance fee but the main floor ones have an attendant at the entrance collecting the fee and selling toiletries like toilet paper just in case you didn’t bring your own. In my experience, when traveling in Asia always, ALWAYS have a packet of tissues and wet wipes with you (In Singapore you can also use them to reserve your seat/table at food courts)! The entrance to the toilets upstairs are coin operated turn styles but I’m guessing there’s an attendant around somewhere that cleans frequently because the toilets are clean. Here’s some photos inside the terminal, not of the toilets cuz that’s creepy.

If you have time, there is a mall next door with food shops and bars in  it, and at night there’s street food vendors in the parking lot. The bar on street level looked energetic and happening whereas the bar upstairs was more quiet and moody. I would have loved to grab a beer or three but I was on meds from the dentist. Around the corner is also some sort of religious area with statues and shops selling all sorts of religious items was pretty cool to just stumble onto something like this.

On the day of departure, I went about an hour early and bought some snacks and drinks, even though I’m supposed to get a drink and a snack on the bus (which turned out to be a small bottle of water and a small little cake, like a swiss roll).  At the berth, there are lots of attendants walking around in Green Bus  uniform (they are very easy to spot) so I asked one which berth will my bus be at and she looked at her clipboard and pointed. Easy Peasy. Looking at the buses coming in and out, you can’t visually discern which ones are the VIP ones and which aren’t. I would say 98% of all the buses I saw looked, um, dated.  Some more than others. There were a couple of really nice looking double decker tour buses but sadly not Green Bus ones. A bus arrived relatively close to the time on my ticket but didn’t look VIP at all to me but it looked newer than most of the buses that came and left this berth. There was only a paper sign on the window saying Chiang Rai, so I proceeded to get on the bus. I figured if it’s the wrong bus the attendant would stop me. Anyways, when the bus pulled in, I started having flashbacks of riding the Greyhound buses back in College.  I got on the bus and was pleasantly surprised. It was cold, seats were big and leg room was more than sufficient. I had my back pack on the floor in front of my chair and couldn’t feel that it was there.  My happiness subsided a bit when I sat down. The seats weren’t as comfy as they looked and mine felt a bit lumpy but at least mine reclined. I saw other fidgeting with theirs and eventually gave up. There were individual aircon jets you can adjust and I adjust mine away from me and I still had to put on my jacket.  Still for this price, well worth it and so much better than the Greyhound buses I used to ride back in day.

Things to note: I was told by hotel staff that there was construction on the roads to Chiang Rai that started last year and that my bus ride would probably be more than 3 hours. They recommended that I should not put my bag in the cargo hold of the bus as there have been reports of attendants climbing into the hold (while the bus is moving) and stealing things. I only had my backpack so I wasn’t worried about that plus I always have a TSA combination lock to lock bags’ zippers together. Anyways, I’m happy to report that we got to Chiang Rai in 3 1/2 hour and I didn’t get robbed. I did see some road construction going on outside Chiang Mai in multiple spots on the ‘highway’ between my naps.

Once In Chiang Rai’s Terminal 1 you can immediate tell it’s much more subdued and less busy than Chiang Mai. Terminal 1 is within downtown Chiang Rai with shops and buildings all around so most likely you’d want to alight here. Terminal 2 is on the outskirts of town and is the first stop, so make sure you’re aware of where you are and where you want to alight, as any instructions given by the attendant is in Thai. Frankly I didn’t have much time to look around Chiang Raias I only had one day including travel to see the three artistic temples that I planned on visiting. Long story short, I only saw two because they were just so awesome! Keep a look out for my posts regarding the white temple and blue temple, I’ll be putting them up soon. Anyways, I made it back to the bus terminal to catch my bus back to Chiang Mai about 30 minutes before the departure time. A bit too close for comfort. I shouldn’t have stressed because my bus was late.  How late? Well, 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time, a bunch of passengers bombarded the attendant with questions to which she only answered with wait (in English) she said a bunch of stuff in Thai but most of us couldn’t understand and those that did, didn’t translate so I went into the terminal to ask the ticket counter and they told me they don’t know where the bus is but it should be here shortly. 30 minutes turned into an hour, an hour turned into two. Yup 2 hours late. The most stressful part, for me, was the hopes and dashing of hopes every time a bus pulled into the berth. Then the thoughts of “I hope that’s not my bus” when a clunker drives in. I couldn’t wander too far off either because I don’t want to miss my bus. But just so you know, there is a night market that sets up just behind the parking lot. I saw a bit of it but not too much. There was even some comic relief that made my day a bit better. I found it quite entertaining to see some of the more irate passengers causing a fuss, and at one point a Chinese guy was literally jumping up and down screaming “VIP, VIP” while his buddies tried to calm him down but they too eventually moved away and left him jumping by himself. After he calmed down an attendant went up to him and noticed that he had some prohibited food items(the very pungent, durian) in his bag and when they tried to tell him that he can’t bring them on the bus, he began his VIP chant again but this time he pulled out his ticket out and waved it around. While waiting for the bus he and his buddies ate the durians. The best part about the wait was the sunset probably why I wasn’t all too upset about the delay.

Thankfully on the bus everyone just slept. Even more impressive that being two hours late, this bus driver might actually be a retired rally car driver. We still made it back to Chiang Mai in about 3 1/2 hours, on winding roads and in the dark! Keep in mind that there are scattered construction areas along the way. Yup you can tell because those were the only areas with lights aside from the roadside establishments that our driver liked to stop at so frequently.  He stopped far enough away where I couldn’t see where he was going or what those stalls/huts were for. Maybe checkpoints, I don’t know but he wasn’t gone long, a few minutes at most each time. There were a couple times at the construction areas where I couldn’t tell if we were on the correct side of the dirt road because sometimes headlights were on our right and sometimes on the left. The area wasn’t lit well enough for me to see any railing or traffic cones or maybe there weren’t any but like I said, this driver is impressive.

All in all, I will take this method of transport again because well, it was fun and I don’t think there’s a better way from Chiang Mai. I’ll probably be back in Chiang Mai before the year is done and I’ll definitely go back to Chiang Rai but next time I’m gonna spend at least 2 days in Chiang Rai.

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Wat Chiang Mun, you had me at oldest…

Wat Chiang Mun Chiang Mai’s first and oldest temple

Wat Chiang Mun Is said to be not only the oldest temple in Chiang Mai but also the very first one! Construction was ordered by King Mang Rai in 1306 after making Chiang Mai his new capital city in 1296. WOW! They had me at “oldest!” I love looking at historic stuff, soaking up the ambiance, touching (if possible) a bit of history, yeah I’m weird that way. Just so you know, if you can’t find it on the map, it may be spelt Wat Chiang Man on your map. I “found” Wat Chiang Mun while doing my usual urban exploring, it was such a treat for me to read all the plaques and learning about this wat and its’ historical significance. YAY explorer me!

The main religious attractions of Wat Chiang Mun is the Buddha statue holding an alms bowl. This statue is reportedly the oldest statue in Thailand and is currently housed in the larger of the two viharns. I couldn’t tell which one of the four “standing buddha holding the alms bowl” statue it was and I couldn’t get close enough to check.  In the smaller viharn is the Crystal Buddha carved from a clear, quartz crystal and has a base and canopy made of gold. An estimated 6 kg of gold! You can catch a glimpse of the 1800 year old Crystal Buddha and a 2500 year old marble Buddha statue through the metal bars that is the vault’s door. Also in this viharn is the stone monument depicting Buddha taming an elephant that dates back to between the 8th and 10th centuries ( I guess scholars can’t decide when it was made).  I didn’t see this monument though and later learned that it’s not always on display (neither is the Crystal Buddha). They’re usually only on display during celebratory days or on an occasional Sunday. So I guess I really lucked out having found Wat Chiang Mun and being able to see the Crystal Buddha or maybe the info I got was outdated.

Vault housing the Crystal Buddha and the Marble Buddha

View of the Crystal Buddha

One of the four standing Buddha statues holding an alms bowl is Chiang Mai’s oldest statue

The structural attractions are the Elephant Chedi because the chedi looks like it was built on top of the elephants backs as opposed to just having an elephant statue or two sticking out of the chedi’s foundation. It’s noted on a plaque, that enshrined in the chedi is a Buddha Relic, in this case, a strand of Buddha’s hair. This is a first for me! I’ve been to several buddha tooth relic temples but never a hair one and since it’s enshrined in the circular, gold gilded chedi, I couldn’t see it. The other structure of note is the scripture library and the twist on this rare structure (when it comes to structures on wat premises) is that it’s built on brick stilts, in the middle of a pond! I sat at the entrance looking at the library wondering how the monks got in because there was no bridge and I didn’t see any other means of getting across. Must be some sort of high level ninja skills…just kidding, there seems to be a retractable plank under the library that can be pulled out (if you have a really long pole with a hook on the end), you can see it in one of the images below. Moving on now to the ubosot (ordination hall) which is, as customary, off limits to the public.  On the front porch is the monument with the inscription detailing the exact date and time of the founding of Chiang Mai as well as the premises being the location of the King’s residence at that time. It’s the dark gray thing in the photo below just behind the white fence.

Stone elephant foundation for this gold gilded chedi

Ubusot at Wat Chiang Mun

I would rank this wat as fourth on my list of must see wat’s in Chiang Mai. It’s probably about a 15 minute walk from the Tha Phae Gate heading north.  As with most temples in Chiang Mai, there isn’t an entrance fee but unique to Wat Chiang Mun (to the best of my knowledge) are the few but highly noticeable donation boxes which are actually safes. Their hours of operation are 8 am to 5 pm and is definitely worth planning a trip to and since the premises is small, an hour should be enough time to see everything and get some nice photos, I took 2 hours but you know I linger and the timestamp of my last shot was at 6:28, time really flies when you’re having fun and no one to rush you out.

Donation box at Wat Chiang Mun

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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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a jewel in Chiang Mai’s crown

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

If you’re ever in Chiang Mai and can only choose one temple to visit, choose Wat Phra That on Doi Suthep. Doi Suthep is the mountain West of Chiang Mai, the smaller of the two in that area. The other being Doi Pui and together make up the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Although I haven’t been to every single temple in Chiang Mai, I have been to several and what makes Wat Phra That so special? It’s reportedly the temple that has a Buddha Relic, a piece of his shoulder, if I heard correctly. Now I didn’t get to see the Relic but this wat, to me, has a tranquil/serene “feel” to it, more so than any of the other temples I’ve been to in the Chiang Mai region. I truly lack the words to describe that feeling. No, it’s not like a life changing OMG Hallelujah kinda feeling…it’s more like a peaceful at ease feeling. I imagine “resting in peace” would feel like this. I’m not particularly religious but I do believe in certain principles from different religions. Yes, I’m a “confused child” haha.

Back to the Doi Suthep and one of Chiang Mai’s crown jewels, Wat Phra That. I’ll just do what the locals do and refer to the area as Doi Suthep. So how can one get to Doi Suthep? There are a number of ways both public and private. If you choose the private way, have a read of my post “Did I get scammed in Chiang Mai” for my recounting on private hire fiasco/scam that was run on me whilst going to a different “must see” Chiang Mai crown jewel. The most convenient way is to take a red songthaew to Doi Suthep. It can be as easy as flagging one down anywhere around the old city. A songthaew is a pickup truck with the back converted to bench seating. They operate like a public bus/shared taxi but with negotiable fare. The way to get a ride is you flag one down (like flagging a taxi) or they will honk at you, in which case just wave back if you want them to stop. Before you hop in, you have to negotiate your fare. The price will depend on where you’re going, how many passengers already in the songthaew and probably the way you look. So the better dressed you are, the less they will be willing to drop the prices. The number of people already on board will help decrease the price as well and/or if there’s no one already on board, you can pay a bit more and the driver will not pick up anyone along the way to your destination. Trips within the old city are $30-$40 TBH (as told to me by the hotel staff and $30 TBH is written on all the red songthaews (I can’t read Thai so don’t know what the context is) but as soon as you get outside the walled city they will start at $100 TBH (at least that’s always been the starting point whenever I asked). There are also different marked songthaews, the markings will indicate which attraction they are going to, so you can look out for those as those may have people in them already going to the same place making it cheaper for you to tag along (or at least you won’t be “forced” to pay the full single rider fare). If you prefer to hire out a songthaew (have it all to yourself) you can probably negotiate a price for him/her to wait for you and give you a ride back. If not, there are a lot of songthaews waiting up there to give passengers rides back into town. The only drawback is that they will not leave until the songthaew is full with 8 passengers so if you’re first on, there may be a wait. For me, I was lucky, I was the 8th. As I was about to pay the driver, 1/2 the other passengers started to negotiate a lower fare but to no avail so ya that’s something to consider too. Just to give you an idea, hiring out a songthaew cost me $350 TBH, I needed to get there as fast as possible but coming back only cost $80 TBH. The other public way are guided tours. Your hotel lobby will have info and be able to help you out, or you can find tour agent kiosks everywhere, seriously you can’t walk a block without seeing one. These are convenient if have minimal time and need a guide to show you around and/or rush you plus you won’t have to worry about haggling prices everywhere, where to go to the ticket booth etc. The private vehicles are in the form of metered taxis although you have to specifically book one from somewhere as they are nowhere to to be found on the streets. The only time I saw any were at the airport and twice in town dropping guests at a hotel. I’m pretty sure they will be the most expensive private car option with Grab taxi being the second most expensive. The least expensive is the non grab, private hires which the hotel can arrange for you and the tuk tuk’s (they look like motorized rickshaws) which you can flag on the street. Note: if you get motion sickness then take some motion sickness pills if you plan on taking the songthaew or tuk tuk. Also try to get on a newer model vehicle or at least one that doesn’t look beat up as that will affect the bumpiness of your ride as well as the amount of exhaust (if any) you’ll be subjected to.

Stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Local tribes girls on the stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Local tribes girls on the stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Local tribes girls on the stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Now that transport is sorted out and you’re at the drop off point of Doi Suthep, there’s two routes you can take up to the temple but first, there are shops/markets by the road side you may want to check out. If not, make your way to either the steps with the big archway (the left most stair case as you’re facing the mountain) if you’re looking to walk up to the Wat. If walking up stairs is not your cup of tea, take the path on the right where you can see ticket booths. That’s where you can buy tickets to ride the gondola up. I didn’t take the gondola so I can’t comment on the fees nor the ride. Taking the stairs isn’t that bad. you go up a short flight of stairs and it opens up to a plaza of sorts with statues to see and more shops and restaurants. From this plaza you can see the flight of stairs leading up to the Wat, kind of steep but not scary steep. If you see adorable little kids dressed in (I’m guessing) traditional attire of their culture, it’s ok to take photos but be prepared to offer a donation. They won’t be shy in asking for it. Although I had sniped a few shots of them from afar, pretty much without them knowing, as they were busy posing for other photo’s, I still walked by and gave them each a tip. I couldn’t help but feel sad, I didn’t notice their parents around and they were just hanging out, walking around the stairs. When you reach the top of the stairs you’ll be at the entrance to the temple area (not the temple grounds itself) and you’ll have to detour to the right because that is where the ticket office is and a snacks shop in case you need to buy a drink. Entrance fee is $30 TBH. Having taken care of the entrance fee you can enter the premises of where the actual temple is, you can see the stairs into the Wat in the photo below. The premises is quite big with lots to see and you can walk around with your shoes on but if you want to enter the Wat grounds, you have to take off your shoes at the designated area about a hop, skip and a jump away from the Wat’s entrance. No big deal, it’s relatively clean, as in free from debris as you can kinda see in the photo below. There’s more than enough room for shoes on the racks but there’s shoe lockers behind the benches too, just don’t forget where you put your shoes.

Pavilion area provides shade and benches for rest and removal of shoes.

SO MUCH GOLD!!! Was my first reaction as stepped through the entrance into the wat. I don’t know if it was gold leaf, gold paint, gold plated or what but boy was it impressive. Pretty much in the center of the temple grounds is the gold stupa with the prayer path around it. There are flowers you can buy and hold as you walk and pray on this path and then offer them to an altar of your choice. This prayer path is in between the stupa and a stone fence that has opening at the corners for entering and exiting the prayer path. On top of this fence, on two of the sides, are various statues and religious relics. Lining the walls to the temple complex are altars, prayer halls, statues and other religious artifacts. There are monks walking around doing various duties as well from what I saw when I was there such as “monk chats,” blessing ceremonies, sweeping of the grounds, putting up decorations etc. Along the walls that define the Wat grounds are open air but sheltered corridors with religious statues and artifacts and enough space for visitors to pray in front of. These corridors are sometimes broken up by rooms housing religious statue(s) with all the prayer amenities like kneeling mats, incense pots etc. There is also a larger prayer hall which more detailed and ornate and is where the monk chats/blessing were held. If you want the on location tourist shot, look for the golden tree/umbrella statue. This is the designated spot where an “in house photographer” will take the “tourist shot” that all the marketing shots were taken. The spot features a golden umbrella (or maybe it’s a bamboo tree), under which you’ll stand with the golden stupa in the background and hopefully a blue sky with a fluffy cloud or two. There will be assistants walking around that area trying to drum up business. If you don’t want to engage their services you can just wait until the umbrella is vacant and go get your shot. Although I planned to photograph everything, I kinda forgot to or maybe just too “taken in” by beauty, splendor, calmness and serenity of this place I really don’t have the words so here’s a few shots:

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

When you’re done inside the Wat, have a look around the grounds. There’s a huge hall, gift shop (the usual items that you’d find in a temple’s gift shop are cheaper here than in any other place that I’ve been to), café type eatery, prayer bells, prayer halls, large statues, defunct museum (well that’s what it looked like to me) and a very ornate pavilion that over looks the valley. If you walk to the railing you will see the city of Chiang Mai and the airport, it’s quite a view if the weather is clear. I visited in early May and got ok weather, a bit too smoggy for detailed images but still a spectacular view. There were not many people so I was able to set up my tripod for some panoramic shots however I did get interrupted by a tourist who came right up next to me to shoot her panoramic shots, so I took some candid profile shots of her instead of landscape shots for a minute or so, lol. There also a very beautiful, colorful and well landscaped flower garden. It wasn’t until I was looking through the photos back at the hotel that I realized the flowers were fake.

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

I spent 3 hours at Doi Suthep not including travel time but could have easily spent hours more. I didn’t visit any of the markets or explore any of the areas not part of the temple grounds. I was there around dusk and the sunset sets behind the mountain but with the smog/haze/clouds it wasn’t that ‘wow’ Perhaps sunrise would be better as it would rise over the city when you’re viewing from the pavilion.

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.

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!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

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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

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.

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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The Signature Hotel @ Thapae Review

Signage at the entrance of The Signature Hotel @Thapae

The Signature hotel @ Thapae (in Chiang Mai, Thailand) was the perfect hotel for me because it was only a 3 minute walk from the dental clinic that I had chosen to have my treatment done at. Check out my dental vacation post for more info on why I chose to have my teeth fixed in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My online search for accommodations was actually really frustrating as I was juggling the cost of a 16 night stay with proximity to the clinic balanced with cost as well as safety/security and cleanliness. There are a lot of accommodations around Chiang Mai’s Old City ranging from hostels to 3 star hotels. The four and five star hotels are further out from the Old City. After having walked around and seen much of the area, I consider myself very fortunate to have chosen The Signature Hotel @Thapae.

I basically skipped over the hostels, even if they offered private rooms. These hostel are really inexpensive. I’ve never tried staying in one but considered it at one point until I realized I needed somewhere safe to store my camera gear while I was at the dental clinic. So I started looking into 3 star hotels because the lower starred ones, I think, were also the hourly ones but don’t quote me on that.  Plus a lot of the reviews on cleanliness wasn’t flattering at all for many of them. There were quite a few 3 star hotels in the area around the Tha Phae Gate, where the dental clinic I went to, Dental4U is located (just a hop, skip and a jump away).  I had a difficult time choosing one but I finally settled on The Signature Hotel @Thapae because it had the least amount of negative reviews (well, negative in terms of what I wouldn’t tolerate). What I mean by that is the complaints of neighbors being too loud is something I chalk up to as “normal” and things like “room was too small” don’t really bother me because I only use a hotel room to sleep and I don’t need much room for that. The reviews that do bother me are the cleanliness ones and safety/security ones. Another major consideration for me was vicinity to food. With my many food allergies I wanted to know where some major fast food outlets and their distances to the hotel. There was one that I was seriously looking into because there is a 24hr McDonald’s on the premises but the cost is significantly higher per night than the Signature Hotel plus I got a really good discount booking it via Expedia. The great thing about booking through Expedia is that you pay the hotel via Expedia so there’s less opportunities for checkout shenanigans like what happened to me at the Datong Hotel in China. Oh, the fast food joints are within 10 minutes walking from The Signature Hotel @Thapae.

When the taxi driver dropped me off in front of the hotel I was like, “what the heck? Where is it?” The driver pointed down this lane looking walkway and I thought, “aw **** what did I did I book this time….” Once out of the taxi I had to cross the road, although it was a one way street it was pretty busy and in between the vehicles there were mopeds, scooters and motorcycles zipping and weaving about. Walking down the path was pretty nice actually. It was mid afternoon and an employee was spraying water on the plants on either side of the walkway and wetting the pavement in an effort to cool the area down. Once seeing the hotel at the end of the path, I was relieved, it looks good, clean and well maintained as opposed to some of the ones I’ve seen on the way there in the taxi. I walked through the door and was greeted cordially by the front desk employee who was checking in other guests at the time. When it was my turn to check in, he apologized for the delay and proceeded to get me checked in but couldn’t match the name on my passport to the name I used to book. When I told him to look under ‘Ray’ he exclaimed “OH! It’s you…we upgraded your room, for free of course, because the room you booked is too small to stay in for 16 days!” All I could say was, “awesome!” After getting my room key and a printout map highlighting where the local areas of interest were as well as “good” restaurants he remarked that 16 days was a long stay and that I must really like Chiang Mai, I chuckled and told him this is my first time here and that the dental clinic that I was here for needed 14 days to complete my treatment he looked surprised/shocked and wished me well and pointed to a stack of binders with tour info in them that I could peruse if I wanted. I thanked him and went up to my room. It’s worth mentioning that everyone I’ve come across in the hotel could converse with me in English and every single one was polite and courteous…every single time I saw them. It was quite refreshing especially the days when my mouth was sore/sensitive and those time when I was hangry (angry when hungry) because I couldn’t eat yet. Be sure to have some cash when you check in, as there is a $1000 TBH deposit fee refundable upon presentation of the receipt at check out.

Narrow driveway leading to the entrance of The Signature Hotel @Thapae in the morning.

Narrow driveway leading to the entrance of The Signature Hotel @Thapae at night

Below are some photos of the room. As you can see, the room is quite nice! Well, I’m impressed, I’ve been in worse and certainly not expecting this nice a room for the price I was paying. So awesome! There’s a bathroom, a closet, a full length mirror on the wall, a safe, a mini fridge, a night stand and a desk and a huge bed with a cushioned step (I have no idea what that’s for. I used it to put my phone on). Also plenty of outlets for me to plug my devices in. The only thing fixed so that you can secure your laptop on with a laptop cable lock is the metal bar to hang your clothes on in the closet. Not really a problem for me as my laptop (more like a netbook) will fit in the safe. I do use a laptop cable lock to secure my rolling suitcase for when I have to leave some camera gear in the room. Basically I loop the cable through the closet’s metal rod and the tumbler section of the lock goes into my suitcase and I use the built in zippers TSA lock mechanism to lock the zippers. The space between the zippers has just enough room for the cable to fit through. The room had no odor, the toilet was clean, as was the shower stall (I read a review that the shower stall was really dirty, so I brought slippers and never used them) and a large sink. The sliding closet door also doubles as the bathroom door, meaning when you close the closet, the bathroom is open and when you open the closet, the bathroom is closed. No biggie, only me in the room so I never have to close the door while in the bathroom. House keeping comes everyday and replenishes/changes what you’ve used, like the soap, shampoo, sanitary pads…at one point I had like 8 of them because I kept putting them on the shelf under the sink along with the other stuff I don’t use. Anyways, they finally noticed and stopped giving them to me. On the days, I was too tired/sore/lazy to get up and requested not to have my room cleaned, they’d tie a plastic bag on my door handle with two bottles of water. I’m not a big water drinker but there in Chiang Mai OMG it feels like I’m in a desert and along with those 2 free bottles of water a day, I consume 2 bottles of Gatorade and at least one more bottle of water! It’s SOOOOO HOT THERE (late April to mid May)!

Room 202 at the Signature Hotel @Thapae in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Room 202 at the Signature Hotel @Thapae in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Room 202 at the Signature Hotel @Thapae in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Room 202 at the Signature Hotel @Thapae in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Room 202 at the Signature Hotel @Thapae in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Room 202 at the Signature Hotel @Thapae in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The only thing that I wished were better at the Signature Hotel @Thapae is the food. Why? Because there isn’t any. The restaurant was “permanently closed” but the seating is still there. No vending machines either. Not that big a deal I guess, as there are street vendors, restaurants and a 7-11 within a minute’s walk. Speaking of restaurants, there is one called Ratana’s Kitchen a few shops down from The Signature Hotel, the food there is good and the prices are lower than any of the restaurants up and down the street though not tourist prices they are higher than the mom and pop shops. What else is up and down the street? Of course there are massage shops, as far as I can tell, the legit ones, as there aren’t any curtains or barriers so any “extras” will be seen by all. There are quite a few jewelry stores (silver), some art shops, tour agencies and a coin op laundry mat which was well lit and very clean! A packet of detergent costs $10 TBD as does a packet of softener. The washers and dryers are a bit small and costs $40 TBD each. Takes about 2 hours to get a load washed and dried. I had to do laundry twice because everyday my outfit will be sweat soaked! The hotel did have laundry service but I figured it was more expensive, plus it was a great way to use up the $10 TBD coins that were getting pretty heavy.

NOTE: when I went to checkout with my luggage, I took the elevator down and noticed that there was a sign indicating that some snacks and drinks were available for purchase at the front desk, don’t know how I missed it but I did (you can’t see any drinks or snacks at the front desk either).

Some final notes on the Signature Hotel: It’s very close, as in walking distance, to many of the touristy stuff as well as the night life. I didn’t see any real parking areas on the premises, just enough space around the entrance to fit 2 vehicles or one vehicle and maybe 5 or 6 mopeds/scooters/motorcycles so if you’re planning on renting something, keep that in mind. Also note the width of the path, it’s just barely wide enough to fit an SUV. Oh, a few more hangers would have been nice too, I only had three.

I’m really impressed with this hotel, some of the fixtures and things look pretty new, especially the elevator which uses touch buttons like on your smart phone, I found it kinda annoying because my fingers sometimes aren’t able to ‘activate’ the sensor (on my phone too) and so I have to press/touch repeatedly to get things to work, I ended up just using the stairs as I was only 1 flight up. The aircon unit the room is the split type and the outside section is right outside the window so if you’re not used to hearing aircon noise or you’re a light sleeper, it may disturb you. I only really noticed the aircon when I first get back to the room and turn it on then it quickly just fades from my mind.

Elevator touch panels inside

Elevator touch panels outside

My overall impression of the Signature Hotel @Thapae is that it is more than adequate for a family vacation hotel. The price was great for the quality of room and the service/staff was awesome too. When I go back to Chiang Mai, I will definitely be staying there again.

I will be posting more about my shenanigans in Chiang Mai. Consider following me for updates on this Chiang Mai trip or to find not only my toys and collectibles posts but also my travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans posts, photography related news/reviews posts 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!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

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