Wat Phra Singh

This is most sacred wat in Chiang Mai. We passed it on our way to lunch and decided to take a detour. What was meant to be a quick 20-30 minute meander became a two hour tour (and we didn’t even go inside the main temple room).

I got lost (metaphorically speaking) in the temple gardens wandering from tree to tree, reading each proverb and reflecting on their teachings.

As we were about to leave, a novice monk or “samanen” asked if we could sit and talk with him so he could practice his English. Som, a 19 year old man originally from Chiang Rai, decided to become a monk when he was 12 years of age. We chatted about his life and daily duties, his hometown, California, food, the weather, and loud tourists. In the end we exchanged thank yous, bows, and said goodbye. Within minutes he had moved on to another pair of visitors. Our only regret was not asking to take a photo with him.

The Rose of the North

Chiang Mai is everything we were hoped for, and then some. It didn’t take very long for us to become smitten with our new home (for the next couple months). Friendly locals, bustling night markets, delectable eats, cheap massages, and temples galore – what’s not to love?

The Smith Residence

Our apartment is just outside the old city, south of Chiang Mai Gate. We have decent sized room with a microwave, TV, fridge, spacious bed, and a well working air conditioner. Sean has to get on his knees to take a shower (guess it doesn’t always suck to be short) but besides that, we are pleased with our accommodations. The complex also has a rooftop gym and pool that is open from 6am-9pm.

Transportation

Tuk tuks wait on every street corner and while there are a few standard taxis, most people  get around using red trucks with oversized campers (songthaews) that serve as mini busses which can take multiple riders at a time. They are not metered but are a bargain when compared to tuk tuks.

Food, food, and more food

We have barely scratched the surface when it comes to Northern Thai cuisine. Khao soi is my obvious go to (My new love) but there is so much more to be discovered.

Of course we had to hit up the notorious “lady with the cowgirl hat” for her khao kha moo (slow stewed pork leg). It was some of the juiciest, tastiest, most tender pork I’ve ever eaten!

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the woman, the myth, the legend – number 1!!!

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khao kha moo from Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak

Here are some other noteworthy dishes we’ve had so far:

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Chicken Noodle Soup from Buathip

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gai yang from SP Chicken

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Thai rotee with banana and chocolate

Smoothies are a typical refreshment here in Thailand. Our favorite so far has been the mango mania smoothie from Mango Mania in the MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Center. It was thick and sweet and could cure any heat stroke in three sips.

Italian, Mexican, Irish, fast food – they have a decent variety to choose from. Aside from the occasional American breakfast, we’ve only eaten Thai. At some point I’m sure we will crave a burrito or some tacos but I predict a disappointing experience. Stay tuned for that…

Train ride to Chiang Mai

Our train departed Hua Lamphong station at 7:40pm.

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There are a few different cart/seating options to choose from – first class, second class, and third class, carts with air conditioning and carts for women only. We decided to purchase seats in the second class sleeper cart with air conditioning (2,262Baht for the both of us – roughly $60USD).

About an hour into the trip, the steward converted our bench seats to bunk beds with blue curtains to provide privacy. The beds were stiff and the pillows flat but at least I was able to fully stretch my legs (Sean wasn’t so lucky). We popped a couple melatonin and slept through the night unexpectedly well. There was something soothing about the constant sound of the train chug-a-lugging down the bumpy tracks.

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We woke up early to amazing views of the lush green countryside, had a small, unappealing breakfast (best to bring your own food and snacks with you), and before we knew it we had arrived in Chiang Mai.

 

Chinatown Letdown

Hot, crowded, smelly (good and bad),  and stressful – a few words to describe Chinatown in Bangkok. We really wanted to love it but ended up a bit disappointed.

Maybe it is because we went in the middle of the afternoon when the sun was blazing down fiercer than usual. Sweat dripped down our backs (and cracks) as we maneuvered through the cramped, narrow alleyways, dodging motorbikes and men with dollies full of produce.

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It was here that we tried our first satay – the tasting experience that ruined the day. What we first assumed to be chicken, remains unknown, but what Sean now refers to as dog shit on a stick. My stick of [meat?] was tough and chewy. I took two bites before I had to toss it. Sean’s was even worse. After one bite, he immediately snatched the coke bottle from my hands and downed the few sips that were left. His face turned ghostly with disgust and rage. Whatever he had consumed put him in a bad mood for the next hour or so.

Needing a break from the crowds and a familiar taste in our mouths, we popped into Starbucks and refreshed our pallets. There we did some research on must-try eateries in Chinatown and decided on some crab noodle soup from Odean.

The soup was tasty but not worth the 300Baht per bowl. Definitely not worthy of all the praised it had received online, especially when compared to other soups we’ve had for a fraction of the price. The shrimp wontons were crispy and gratifying.

The highlight of the day turned out to be our discovery of Uber in Bangkok. It is about the same price as taking a metered taxi but you can get an estimate before your trip. Tuk tuks are rip off and only worth taking for a short trip at night when they have their lights flashing and music blasting.

Soi Cowboy

Soi Cowboy is a red light district in Bangkok where the pervy dreams of old white men come true.

Sean and I found the an open, “safe looking” bar with outdoor seating so we could have a few drinks and watch as men wandered down the alley, being summoned by groups of younger women (or men, I can’t tell) wearing tight dresses and sometimes only a long collared shirt.

We were curious about what waited beyond the closed doors of the sketchy clubs but not brave enough to find out. Watching the happy old men receive back massages at the outdoor tables was enough entertainment for us.

Halfway into our second beer it began to pour. The random thunderstorms in Thailand are magnificent, invigorating, and unlike any weather spectacle I’ve seen in California. Within minutes the streets were cleared of all food carts and the tourists strolling the streets were ducked under the closest awnings. We sat under the covered deck in awe of the lightning, thunder, and heavy downpour. By the time the storm ended (about 45 minutes later), we had a good buzz going and were ready to head home for the night.

Getting our footing

Our first full day was spent figuring out how to navigate through the city and visiting our first temple, Wat Pho – the oldest and largest wat in Bangkok.
We started with a less than mediocre breakfast at the hotel restaurant. For 200 Baht a meal, Sean ordered the standard eggs, sausage, toast, and hash browns while I opted for the American club sandwich.
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American Breakfast at our hotel in Bangkok

 Needless to say, we won’t be going back the rest of our time here.
After breakfast we walked to the BTS station and took the SkyTrain to Saphan Taksin for 25 Baht per person. From there, we hopped on the tourist boat (40 Baht per person) up the river to Tha Tien. There is also an express boat that can be taken for less than half the price (14 Baht per person) but we figured we would go the touristy route for our first trip.
We made it to the temple by noon and explored for a couple of hours. Admission was 100 Baht per person and included a small bottle of cold water. There were a considerable amount of people but the temple complex was big enough that we could to get away from the crowd from time to time.

Pictures around the temple grounds.

The most hectic area was, by far, was the temple with the Reclining Buddha. Upon entering any of the temple rooms you must take off your shoes and make sure that your shoulders and knees are covered.
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Reclining Buddha

 The temple was beautiful and did not disappoint.
We then decided to explore more of the city by foot. Attempting to make our way to Wat Saket, we got lost and ended up roaming the streets, heading in almost every direction with no clue of where we were. It took about 2 hours of walking and a stop in a coffee shop before we gave up and hailed a Tuk Tuk to the MBK shopping center.
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Our first tuk tuk ride in Thailand

MBK is more like a flea market than a mall, with tons of vendors filling 8 floors with everything from jewelry, shoes, sunglasses, clothes, and more. We haven’t had a chance to compare the prices to other markets but it seemed pretty reasonable for what you could buy.
We weren’t too impressed with the shopping center until we got to Food Island, a food court on the 6th floor consisting of a multitude of amazing looking and smelling delights. For 80 Baht we devoured a delicious bowl of beef noodle soup. Easily the best thing we’ve eaten since leaving the states.
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MBK Food Island

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MBK Beef Noodle Soup

With happy bellies, we jumped on the SkyTrain to Sala Daeng to hit up the Patpong night market – a small alley with street vendors and night clubs. There you can buy knockoff Berkinstalks, Nikes, watches, sunglasses, and more. Or, if you are feeling extra adventurous, you can head into one of the clubs for a “ping pong show”. I won’t go into detail but I know that it involves female genitalia and ping pong balls. We had heard stories of these shows and were a little too frightened and not drunk enough to check one out.
We capped the night off with much needed Thai foot massages (250 Baht for 1 hour and well worth it). Feeling both refreshed and completely exhausted, we walked back to our hotel and crashed for the night. Learning a new city can take some time but I think our first day was a success.

Jet lag

Were we stoked to be in Thailand? You bet! But more than that, we were drained from the long journey. After a couple beers at the hotel restaurant (an Italian joint), we checked in, unpacked a few things, and hit the streets to check out our immediate area.

There is always an initial shock when you are new to a country. Crossing the streets is a task in itself. With cars, motorbikes, and tuk tuks whizzing through an unfamiliar stop light system, the best method is to get behind some locals and follow their every footstep until you reach the other side of the street.

While roaming our new area, we popped into our first Thai restaurant – ‘Jim Thompson’ (named after an American businessman who helped revitalise the Thai silk industry in the 1950s and 1960s) for our first meal in Bangkok: shrimp Tom Yum soup and Pad See Ew with prawns. Not too adventurous, I know, but we wanted to ease our stomachs into the cuisine, saving the street food for another day.

We went back to our hotel for a 2-3 hour nap with plans to head out again in the evening. Instead we passed out for 7 hours and woke up just before midnight still pained with jet lag.

At least we will be well rested for tomorrow…