What’s so great about the Tha Phae Gate?

Traffic in front of Tha Phae Gate’s plaza at night.

Chiang Mai’s Old City is on UNESCO’s list for consideration as a Heritage City and the Tha Phae Gate is the main gate into Chiang Mai’s old city located on it’s Eastern wall. The old city is shaped in a roughly 1.6 km by 1.6 km square area that used to be surrounded by a wall and moat with a gate at each section of the wall. With exception of the southern wall which has 2 gates. Tip: the ‘h’ is silent in the Thai language, this landmark is pronounced Ta Pay gate. That should help when you’re trying to let the driver know where you want to go/get to. Many will eventually understand if you pronounce the ‘h’ though.

A defunct stone elephant fountain at the edge of the moat.

So what’s there to do here? At first glance, nothing much. The first impulse is to get a selfie right in front of the gate and right in front of the metal plaque embedded in the wall. With all the mention of the Tha Phae Gate in anything related to Chiang Mai, when you’re actually standing in front of it, it’s pretty underwhelming, in my opinion. The walls on either side of the opening are rebuilt using red clay bricks (which looks too new) and has been said to not have been rebuilt according to historic records. The walls also end where the moat begins which may be an indication that the gate is not exactly in it’s original location. The wooden door and wooden door frame is mostly faded gray and water stained, making it look older than the wall. A hose runs up the door frame and across the gate’s opening to spray mist on people as they pass through the gate, not to worry it’s only on the really hot days and is quite refreshing. The stairs leading up to wall (from within the old city) are blocked at the top so you can’t get on top of the wall, too bad, but safety first. So just what is it about this place? I urge you to fight off the initial urge to snap the usual selfie’s and continue on your way, especially if you like to people watch or take candid photos. You’ll get lots of ‘usual’ shots like:

Female tourists interacting with pigeons.

I spent a lot of time around the Tha Phae Gate. Why? because I found it very interesting. At all times of the day there’s always something going on. I didn’t feel this way originally though. The first time I visited this gate was late in the afternoon, right after I checked into my hotel and found the dental clinic I needed to be at the next day. My trip to Chiang Mai was solely for my sudden need for dental treatment which you can read in my post entitled, “Dental Holiday in Chiang Mai. Wait what? SERIOUSLY?!?! and the hotel I chose to stay in was The Signature Hotel @Thapae you can check out my review of it here. Both of these places were within 100 meters of the Tha Phae Gate, in a straight line and on the same side of the street. There is even a 3 story Starbucks, a 24 hour, 2 story McDonald’s and a Burger King within 50 meters of the gate. Consider going up to the top floors for different angle shots, especially at night if you want to get some light trail imagery (like in the first pic above) or try a sunset shot from the upper floors.

The sun setting on Tha Phae Gate.  Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you don’t have much time for sightseeing, I suppose 20 minutes tops and you’ll be done getting the usual selfies in front of the open gate as well as in front of the plaque and a few pigeon shots. If you budget 45 min to an hour, you may be able to get some of the locals to help you get even more dynamic images. Here’s how, find the locals that are either holding a sack (full of bird food), stick, hat or ball or a combination of those items. They may even be taking pics of other tourists (with phones and usually low to the ground) already or just throwing down food to attract the pigeons to one spot. You’re not looking for the locals selling little plastic bags of bird food, unless what you want is to just feed the birds, have them land on you etc. Once you find the local “tourist photographer” (as opposed to the local photographer taking candid/street shots with DSLR’s) you can approach them, if they haven’t come and approached you already. For an increased chance of them approaching you, stand close to the wall and try take selfies with the pigeons. I’m always too busy shooting to see how much people were paying but it can’t be that much, lotsa people were doing it and I mean lots! Don’t forget to bargain. So here’s how it works. Once you’ve agreed on the price and paid the person, you hand over your phone. They will guide you to a spot, throw down some bird food, and give you some general movement tips. There are three ‘poses’ that I’ve noticed that they use every time. One is the normal standing shot, stand however you like, another is a walking parallel to the wall shot and the last is you twirling on the spot. The photographer with your phone is sitting or lying down on his side and when he’s ready says something to an accomplice who then scares the pigeons, either by stomping, clapping or tossing an item in the air to get the birds to fly up. As a photographer I’d have to say that’s pretty clever and bordering on professional, they’re just missing the more detailed posing and maybe some dramatic lighting. After each shot you’ll be able to check your phone and do a retake if you’re not satisfied. From a distance I think I got some good shots, so I’m sure they did too. I chose to shoot from a distance because I was uneasy with all those well fed, startled pigeons flying around. Yes, there are that many pigeons especially on weekends when I’ve seen enough pigeons for 4 of these “photoshoots” going on at the same time against the walls on either side of the gate (on the plaza side). Note: the lighting is better on the right side when you’re standing in the plaza facing the gate. Also if you plan on doing the “photoshoot” consider exaggerating your arm swings when walking/twirling. The purpose is to create lines and/or angles which should add “tension” to your photos, it’ll look much better and natural than just letting your arms hang down at your sides.

Female tourists interacting with pigeons.

Female tourists interacting with pigeons.

Female tourists interacting with pigeons.

Female tourists interacting with pigeons.

Warning for the ladies…if you’re wearing a light, loose dress and stand near the wall, if there’s even a slight wind, it’ll hit the wall and lift your dress/skirt. Even the mass of pigeons taking off from around your legs is enough to lift your skirt. Trust me on this, I’ve never been flashed so many times in my life! Not only that, there are A LOT of photographers around. Could be tourists snapping selfies with the pigeons around you or taking pictures of the pigeons on you or the locals just hanging around some selling bird food, some looking out for the cops. Then there’s local photogs getting their street/candid photography fix, or tourist photogs like me, people watching, sniping shots when something happens. On the off chance that you get there and no one is feeding the birds, it’s because the cops just went by and confiscated all the food. There’s signage around to let you know that you’re not supposed to feed the birds. Just stick around for a bit, the locals will come back with more food.

Local police confiscate a big bag of bird feed from the locals.

Local police confiscate bird feed from the locals.

If that’s not interesting enough for you, there’s local ice cream sellers (coconut flavor), artists doing portraitures (I didn’t notice any caricature artists). Then there’s the odd trinket souvenir vendor walking around. Most of the vendor come out after sunset. I was fortunate enough to catch a tv commercial in the making complete with “fake family,” backdrops, shooting assistants and a model shooting water from a fire hose attached to the fire truck. I’ve also seen some kind of parade/procession start from the plaza and then proceed down the street. Most nights there is a musician or 10 sitting around playing tunes. If you’re lucky, like me, you might run into a protest. The one I saw was a cruelty to animals / don’t partake in the animal sanctuary attractions protest.

A family taking refuge under a big unbrella

A woman spraying water from a fire hose.

A tourists taking photos on the stairs going up the wall at the Tha Phae Gate.

Individuals wearing masks protest against animal cruelty.

To get the most out of your time, if you like taking photos and shopping, is on Sunday around dusk to try to catch the sunset a bit earlier if you’re into the tourists and pigeons schtick and later if you like light trails by traffic. You can sit upstairs in Starbucks or McDonald’s to get some traffic light trail shots. Other things to do at night would be wait for the hand crafted (mostly) vendors, toy sellers, ice cream vendor and occasional a snack vendor. If you’re here on a Sunday evening you’re already at the easiest starting point (from outside the old city) to the famous Sunday Night Market. Just walk on through the gate and you’re at one end of the main street of this market. Be careful though because the gate is actually part of an intersection although not many vehicles go through the gate, there are some once in a while. If you’re a morning person, you can also get a sunrise shot over the gate when you’re standing facing the gate from inside the old city.

A car driving through the Tha Phae Gate at night.

Nightly market at the Tha Phae Gate.

Local couple shop at the Sunday Night Market

Watching the sun rise over the Tha Phae Gate from within the old city of Chiang Mai.

Here’s a few more shots:


Sunset at Tha Phae Gate

A couple sneak a kiss while feeding pigeons.

A man decorates his motorcycle with colorful materials he finds on the street

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

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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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Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

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

Fine Art

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Review of Datong Hotel, Shanxi Province, China

Datong Hotel
Datong, Shanxi Province, China.

Front view of Datong Hotel.

Datong Hotel looking out from hotel window.

Datong hotel is located in a relatively convenient location to most things. The Datong Great Wall is just a 20 minute walk if you don’t stop to look at things. The train station is a 20 minute taxi ride away (cost me 15 Yuan). Right after the front yard of the hotel is a major street with a small area where taxi’s and buses often wait. There’s an overhead bridge crossing this street with restaurants, convenience stores all around.

During our 3 day 3 night stay, we encountered 3 staff members that could converse in English. All were met at the front desk. Other staff may seem rude and just ignore you if you don’t speak Mandarin, they get nicer if you try to communicate with a different Chinese dialect.

The hotel itself is rather old. Dimly lit in many places, thin walls, faded paint and carpets and the like but most importantly, it’s not dirty. The beds and pillows were way to soft for my liking, it felt like i was embedded in the mattress and had to stack 2 pillows to even feel there was one. We got a street facing hotel on the 5th floor. Nice view but you can hear the street noise. Doesn’t bother me but if it bothers you, you may want to request for a room on the other side. Don’t hold your breath for an email response though. They’ve NEVER answered any of my emails both pre check in and post check in.

I booked via Booking.com and as stated on the website, Datong hotel does take Mastercard/Visa and payment is at checkout. Whether or not they honor the rate confirmed via Booking.com is a different story. It’s not that they flat out deny it, they just over charge the security deposit and refuse to rescind the security deposit charge and charge the correct rate. To date, this has not been resolved and the total overcharge amounted to 188 Yuan which comes out to roughly $28 USD. I think that had I had time to argue they would not have pulled this fast one on me. As it stands, we were in a rush to catch a train and the taxi we had per-arranged to pick us up was already 20 minutes late. As the amount is smaller than the cost of re-booking train tickets, I just took my lumps and will regard this as a cost of travel / education. So that’s what this post is for, to save you some $.

UPDATE: As of 9/30/17 The security deposit is gone from my credit card statement and the proper charge is reflected.

There is free WiFi in the rooms and the whole floor shares one password. So while in the lobby, I couldn’t get free Fifi. Lucky I brought my travel router with wifi, just buy a local sim card with data and you’re set. Our rooms had air con,a sit down toilet, a bathtub and all the toiletries.  Rooms are arranged by even numbers on one side of the corridor and odds on the other. Size of room was normal, 2 beds, a desk, a night stand, a coffee table and chair, a closet with extra blankets/pillows and a safe. The one in my room was locked and housekeeping came in and punched in number and it opened, don’t know if they locked it or they have a universal code.

View in a 5th floor room of the Datong Hotel.

View of the hotel room's bathroom in Datong Hotel

There are 2 restaurants in the hotel, one is only for breakfast (at least we’ve only seen it in operation during breakfast hours 7-9:30 am) and the other is on the mezzanine and looks like a small coffee shop area. Don’t be surprised if the waitstaff / management are a bit rude. It seemed like they only had one menu so we had to wait our turn for it. This was after we tried to get a table and the Manager just grunted and walked away. So we went to the front desk and asked what was up and they called someone and told us to go back up and everything should be fine and it was. The food was good and well presented. The free breakfast had a large selection of food, mostly of the Asian variety. You will find cereal, bread, bacon, eggs (egg station), some pastries and coffee. Be aware of the closing time, we almost missed one because we didn’t know it closed so early.

All in all, I think this hotel gives you good bang for your buck if you don’t mind a good stroll to older parts (touristy) places. Should you brave this hotel, At check in, make sure they charge a security deposit amount you are comfortable with. Make sure you allot PLENTY OF TIME to deal with any shenanigans they may pull on you at check out (including paying cash because their machine is “broken”).


For more photos from Datong, check out my flicker page.