Christmas and New Years- Chiang Mai, Thailand
Happy New Year Campers,
And here’s hoping you had an ‘Ab-Fab’ Christmas and a relaxing or partying time, - or both, depending on what you wanted. Time to pull out the abflex and bullworker huh?!
We had a ball in Thailand - our first time there - as a way of escaping the Gulf for 3 weeks and to seek some warmer temps (It’s been a chilly 20C degrees in Bahrain - that’s winter for ya). We were seeking somewhere ‘economical’ to escape to, and my web searching told me that the beachy areas - ie Phuket etc, were OTT pricewise for accommodation, and we knew a Kiwi Biking Friend of ours with Thai connections ran “Dental Holidays” in Chang Mai, (Corny huh!), and Jude and I both needed some catch-up dental work, so it all fell into place.
It was a Rolfe Harris kinda trip with Three Legs: One hour to Dubai, then 6 hours to Bangkok, then an hour hop to Chiang Mai, which is North West Thailand, lush green and a sultry 30C. We were picked up by our lovely host Pam, who runs a 12 room Guest
house a few minutes walk from one of Thailand’s top Dental Surgeries, and 300m from a large shopping centre.
Accommodation was great value at $NZ46 a night incl a nice breakfast - and during high season, compared to $2-$300/night in Phuket due to New Year’s celebrations! We took advantage of a super sized pool at the very close Lotus Hotel for a few baht (as in Simpson) a visit.
The first week or so was pretty well dotted with dental appointments, in order to get things out of the way. With dental costs of between 25-33% of NZ + with world class Dentists and the best gear, we got everything all up to date with a huge $$ saving. For more info, check out www.gracedentalclinic.com - they have a price list on their site - if you have some deferred work to get done, it could pay for your holiday.
In between dates with the Murder House, we sunbathed, shopped at the “walking street” -a Sunday night of street stalls for miles and “night market”, imbibed fluids, swam, and explored the town of Chiang Mai, population 250,000. Chiang means City and Mai means new - ie new
city. Originally, the more Northern city of Chiang RAI was the Northern Capital, it was deemed too far North, so Chiang Mai became the new Capital of the North.
What a colourful, lush, vibrate and fun place Thailand is! And the Thai are such beautiful people, so gracious, service was nothing short of fantastic, great attitudes -no request is too much trouble and prices were very attractive, with cafés, bars and restaurants everywhere.
Changing from the Bahraini currency of Dinar to the Thai Baht (as in Simpson) took a while - we went out for dinner and drinks the first night, and enjoyed the super warm evening watching the passing scooter/tuk tuk and car traffic, thinking we were drinking 40 cent Heinekins, only to discover they were $4 Heinies - but hey, it still tasted great and $4 for a large bottle of Heinie was still ‘a buy’ LOL! The young waiter even stood at the end of the table and topped our glasses each time we finished our drinks - I bet he had a sore arm the next day.
Lunch/Dinners were from as little as 100 Baht ($4) but we took advantage of the exchange
rate and enjoyed such seductive haunts as the “Writers Club and Wine Bar” (Why is that such a natural combo, Gaylene?) and enjoyed a beautiful Thai dish with wine for around 10 bucks each! On other days we enjoyed a fresh fruit smoothie for lunch -yum!
Christmas day promised to be a lowlight with me being due to have 2 old roots extracted, so on the 24th - Christmas Eve, we spoilt ourselves and enjoyed a beautiful dinner outside at a top notch Pasta Restaurant - with live jazz. We kept our promise to toast our Kiwi friends and Family - one-by-one (hic) so it was a great night and a wobbly walk home. It’s amazing how many friends you find to toast when the wine is so tasting good.
Christmas Day crept up pretty fast - and other than the commercial aspect - shops pushing the Yuletide theme - they don’t celebrate Christmas themselves, so I had the dubious honour of spending a couple of hours at the murder house on the 25th! All together now : “Ohhhhhhhhhhh”. The extractions were then put off a day -great, just when I had gotten psyched up.
Christmas Eve Dinner
...at a beautiful Pasta restaurant with Jazz accompaniment and oodles of nice wine with which to toast our friends!
Day = 2 root extractions for me and with Jude recovering from Gum surgery, we were a sad pair, existing on liquids only - and advised to avoid HOT liquids…………now how can we make that work……..?
All the Seven-11 stores sold beers and spirits, but it took some hunting to find Tonic water, but we did. So G and T’s through a straw it was!
Singha and Chang, the local beers are both up to scratch, and good value, - generally 10 Baht cheaper than Heineken - and it’s nice to support the locals. Well I tried my best.
The City of Chiang Mai - we were staying 2 or 3 km away from the CBD, has the ruins of an awesome ancient wall surrounding it, and a moat still in place, and was laid out in a square. There are plenty of expat haunts - Irish Bars, British Pubs, German Bars and you can understand why they would retire there with amazing property prices, and a great climate.
Evidently “Retirement Visa’s are quite easy to obtain - you need only demonstrate either a modest income or show them $NZ30,000 in the bank and you’re in. You
do need to check in with Immigration every 3 months I think, no big deal.
Strictly speaking Farang’s cannot own property, however there are several ways around it with long term leaseholds etc - and with a 2 bedroom condo for as little as $50,000 - or less , why not? The cost of living is very attractive, and there are plenty of Euro’s taking advantage of it.
We know some Kiwi’s teaching in Bahrain, who rent a 3 bedroom home all year ‘round near Chiang Mai - and just use it for holidays - and it works out about the same as the cost of storage of their furniture at NZ prices!
Cars and motorcycles are a different matter, with a new model Fiat Bambina ragtop going for $NZ92,000 new, and the new Triumph Thunderbird 1600 (motorcycle) at an amazing Baht 1,090,000, or $NZ45,000 - they are around $NZ25,000 in NZ.
When out at night, we would just grab a tuk-tuk ($4.00 pretty much anywhere) or a “Red cab” - which is a Ute with a canopy and seats in the back. They cost 20 Baht (83 cents) per person and you have to agree with
the Driver where you are going, like a bus, they collect people who are going in the same direction. That was never a problem as there are 1500 Red ones wandering the streets. They also have yellow, green and blue ones as well - the colour denoting their area, for example, yellow might be west Chiang Mai, Red east etc - all very efficient.
With a full morning free, we hired a recommended Guide for the morning who took us to the teak carving, umbrella making, silk weaving, the country’s largest gem store - all pretty much commercial - and to a significant local Temple. Being an Engrish speaking local, she was able to explain the significance of the various parts of Buddhism. We had earlier in the week come across a massive festival to farewell the most Senior Monk, who had died 100 days earlier. A huge pyre in which to burn (cremate) him in public - nice - fortunately it happened at nightfall, by which time we were long gone.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a scooter - and once again, why not? They run on the smell of an oily rag, park anywhere, carry
up to 4, and are quite safe.
Apparently while small bikes are cheap - (we saw a second hand scooter @ $400 ) - large bikes and imported bikes and cars are heavily taxed. I was told that large bikes were legislated against…until Yamaha and Triumph and Harley started assembly plants there that is!
We hired a scooter - a 125cc Honda Wave, - front disc brake, kick start 4 stroke, for a paltry Baht 120 a day - that’s 5 bucks. We used it to explore - including a jaunt out in to the country to the Masae Elephant Village - which was amazing. The trip itself was fun, and with scooters everywhere, really felt part of the scene. The wee Honda powered us up the long and winding hills no sweat - it’s incredible how these things with a piston the size of a sausage roll, deliver so much.
We saw scoots with sidecars attached, with BBQ’s and ice cream fridges attached, or huge trailers behind them, four adults aboard, you name it. Being the 2 wheel nut that I am, I found many with high mileages on them - over 100,000 km’s - and
still working faithfully.
Anyway, back to the Elephant Park. Despite getting lost, - and back on track due to Jude’s diligent map reading, (refer pics) lol we got there early for their next show at 1.30pm, so bought tickets for the show and a 30 minute elephant ride (We thought a 60 minute ride with us two would constitute animal cruelty) - then we cranked Rhonda the Honda further up the hill in search of lunch.
We dined al fresco in a beautiful restaurant set in a lush valley in the middle of nowhere, enjoying some beautiful Thai cuisine, washed down by a Heinie each for the equivalent of $15 for 2. Then back to the Village to give our soon to be new friends their lunch. The Village has 36 or so elephants, as shown on a cool info board inside the entrance, showing pics, their names, ages, Handlers names etc
Getting back early, we bought bananas and hand fed them to some tethered elephants who were (obviously) friendly and grateful and lots of fun. For a small tip to the handler, they would pose for pics with us sitting on their knees, with 2 or
3 trunks hugging us - or perform a trick, such as the elephant reaching back and grabbing the Handlers hat with their trunk and putting it on your head, tapping it on - SO funny! They were incredibly gentle.
As the crowd built up, the elephants were taken in to the river to wash and cool down. They clearly loved it and had a good old play while we watched. Then up to the arena where they played soccer - with one elephant taking shots at goal with a huge soccer ball, while his Mate tried to defend goal- very cool, and it’s amazing how handy a trunk is when you are taking a drop kick!
They also demo’ed how the Handlers mount and dismount - with the elephant helping out - gave a log handling display, and generally showed off - clearly enjoying themselves.
What really blew me away was how the elephants painted pictures with paint brushes gripped by their trunks. We’d seen the ‘elephant art’ for sale, and thought ‘yeah right’ - the handler must guide their trunk or whatever, but NO! The Handler did hand different colour brushes, but the various elephants drew
plants and flowers with minute accuracy and delicacy - seeing was believing!
We snuck away a few minutes early and got the hole shot on the queue for rides. There is quite literally a village here, housing for the elephants, lush green areas for them, housing for their handlers, elephant shower, restaurant etc etc, and it was around this we strolled atop our 30 year old elephant.
At one point we strolled in to the river with us both thinking “Uh oh - don’t go for a dip now!” It was here that another elephant - also taking a couple for a ride - joined us. It was impossible not to notice the state of arousal of this male pachyderm, with a female tourist/photographer getting right in there for a photo opp! We were just praying our elephant wasn’t female at this stage!
What a great experience!
Another glorious day led us to take the scoot for a spin up the nearby hill to take in views of Chiang Mai, and also to explore the waterfalls there. Paying a nominal entry fee, we powered up a 4 km driveway to the waterfall entrance and a nice green
camping area, with all the tents nicely laid out, and all the same colour. It seems you just turn up and they supply the tent. We parked the mighty Honda and started walking up the trail. The first stop was a series of pools where there were also 4 or 5 Thai Teenagers, clearly very stoned, and unresponsive - oh well, step over them and carry on.
The trail soon became almost vertical, so at the next stop area, we shot some pics and descended to some get some nice cold bottles of water.
We booked a day trip up to the Golden Triangle, renown for drug trading in years gone by, and where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (formally called Burma) join up. Getting up early for the pickup provided the added bonus of watching the neighbourhood squirrels race around the place on their ‘super highway’ comprising the dozens of overhead power and telephone lines which abound. It started with Jude saying “I think I just saw a cat go flying across the road on a power line” - then as we watched, there were a bunch of them racing about - most amusing, and cute cute cute!
Our pickup arrived - a new Toyota HiAce, and after some dicking around with other pickups, we were off. The first stop was a touristy shopping/toilet stop, where their draw card was being able to cook some eggs in natural hot water from an underground spring (Yawn).
The next stop was yet another Wat (Temple) - though I have to admit this one was out of the ordinary - created for the King by a controversial and well known Artist, the interior décor was a detailed mural depicting modern issues. Anyway back in the Mini bus and off to the tip of Thailand and a 15 minute boat trip across the Mekong river to Laos. A 20 Baht ‘fee’ in lieu of a Visa mean’t we could tick off another country visited, with the option of tasting their snakehead whisky - no thanks! Picture boating upstream, North on a wide river. Straight ahead is a "Y" junction with the river branching to the left and the right. On your immediate left would be Thailands Northern most tip. On your immediate right is Laos. Looking forward and left is Myenmar (Ex Burma) and up the river to your front/right
260km's is China!
Some of the long boats which ply this river are pretty amazing - only a couple of metres wide and with a hurring big block V8 up the back attached to a long outboard shaft into the water - quite cool, sounded good and could really motor. Could be handy for the odd crop transfer at midnight one would imagine.
Just over the border in Myanmar, and on the shore of the Mekong is a big new Casino, ½ owned by Thai interests. (Casinos aren’t allowed in Thailand.) There was also one on the other side of the river in Laos.
Off to a buffet lunch, - Thai Dishes with a beer chaser, then in the van and off to the land border with Myanmar, where we watched people streaming through the Customs post on foot going both ways. BTW you can tell the Burmese Monks from the Thai Monks cos the Thai Monks shave their eye brows off! Now there’s a handy fact if ever I heard one.
Bedlam, but fun, and everything “copy” you could ask for - copy watches, copy DVD players copy binoculars - it was all there.
The Painting Elephants
The Trainer would hand them the paint brushes diped in the appropriate clour and the elephant did the rest!
stop before a crazy drive home was the Long Neck Karen Village. These are the Women with elongated necks who wear brass rings around their necks and knees. Historically this comes from them protecting themselves from wildlife, eg Tigers, while the Menfolk were at the pub, er, - I mean out hunting food.
This Karen tribe extracted themselves from Burma were they were down trodden and were embraced by the Thai who have them settled in their own area, preserving their traditional village atmosphere for tourism, providing conventional housing as well, including an authentic guest house where you can stay overnight. They do local handicrafts also. As you will see from the photo’s Jude tried to infiltrate them, - good try - nice tan, but the nice teeth gave her away!
They are in a ‘Royal Programme’ where they are cultivating their own crops for their own use and for sale to others, for example the village we visited were growing a crop of pineapples and coffee.
A ‘donation’ for another photo opp, a personalised dance and we were outta there!
Talk about a crazy 3 hour drive home. The Thai Driver (His Name was “Boy”)
was obviously trying to make up time and it was 120-130km/hr all the way, - he had a few other names by the time we got home to a late (9.30pm) dinner and bed. Oh well, we survived and have another tale, plus they gave us a Feedback Form which I availed myself of. On hindsight, we would have preferred to hire a couple of bigger bikes and done the trip ourselves with an overnighter somewhere, but we did cover heaps in one day I guess.
It might sound like an unusual choice of holiday activity, but it was a popular one here and for good reason - Thai Cooking Classes! We enrolled in an evening one - 4-8pm, and were picked up and delivered home afterwards. The price was great value - something $20 each from memory, and we were part of two groups of 10 - all tourists and young people just like us.
After a welcome juice, we went with our lovely Tutor Maam, for a 5 minute walk to the nearby markets to see the ingredients as they are sold. Maam also explained what we could substitute in NZ/Bahrain if anything wasn’t available and
also showed us the green ingredients growing in her garden, - as Jude and I were keeping a wary eye out for snakes!
Then back to the cooking stations. We had all chosen 3 dishes to cook each - a soup, a curry and one other. Jude and I did different ones so we could compare. It was real fun - we had a ball, - all the other Guys and Girls had a great sense of humour.
Once we were finished, we sat down to a beautiful 3 course dinner each - which we had made ourselves! Jude and I passed with flying colours and will probably open a dozen restaurants I would think. We were all presented with cool cooking books with the recipes we used plus others and all the little ‘Thai secrets’ we had been taught. Look out for our soon to launched Cooking Show on TV3.
Finally our last full day in Chiang Mai came around. We both felt we’d had a long relaxing holiday, and done heaps, had topped up our tans, which was great, as well as some recreational dentistry.
So it was a chilled out day at the pool,
Medicinal purposes only of course
1. Open can of cold tonic, pour off an inch into a glass. 2. Pour sme gin into the can to top i up. 3. A few drops of Gin into glass. 4. Scull glass, insert straw in can. 5. Consume. Repeat as necessary.
returning the scooter and getting ready for a BIG night out - for tonight was New Years and that is HUGE in Thailand.
After Jude had a play on the mighty Honda, I saddled up for the ride back to the hire place. Like all the other rides, it was a great fun. Up to the traffic lights, and despite initial intentions to just line up with the cars, the urge to filter to the front was once again irresistible - and it’s expected here.
There’s no grumpy jealous car drivers trying to cut you off - they all own scooters too.
So anyway, somehow I ended up at the front of the pack of a dozen or so scoots waiting for the green. Talk about the Leader of the pack, talk about peer pressure, talk about rehearsing the gear change in my head. Bang goes the green, I snap the throttle open and struggle to keep the front wheel down as I hurtle across the intersection, into second as I fly into the right-hand corner - the last corner, may as well give her heaps, phew, no one even close to me, as I pass over
some paint marking an earlier accident scene, whoops, into third, no one in sight, then all too soon the rental place comes in to view - with a gear to spare - oh well, quit while I’m ahead, so in we pull with a grin like a Cheshire prat. So much fun in 400 metres.
We had heard several stories of how busy town would be tonight, so we got “dolled up” and grabbed a Red Taxi before they all got stuck in traffic and headed for a street several blocks from the action, where we knew there were a selection of bars/Café’s to choose from.
The streets were buzzing, Locals and tourists alike all out to have fun, the skies alight with fireworks. Neither of us really like the crush of being in a huge crowd, so our choice was spot on. It was a casual open bar with pool table, good service and fantastic food. We both had to have Thai again on our last night - and we were both treated to another exceptional dish each.
After some drinks, watching locals light fireworks on the street outside, we wandered off to another
bar, only to be transfixed by the dozens and dozens of lanterns floating in the sky burning a bright orange. We couldn’t fathom what they were for a start, but then saw people launching them. We quickly bought a couple and asked some younger (as if it were possible) Tourists for the loan of a lighter. They proceeded to help us launch our lanterns - and it may have been the time of the night (hic) but we were both in awe of them floating off into the sky so gracefully.
(As we left the camera at the Hotel!) Picture this - a white paper Chinese lantern the size of an inverted garbage bag with a solid fuel burner hanging underneath. After lighting the solid fuel tablet, a couple of people hold the top afloat while the bottom is held to the ground to allow the hot air to build up.
You can feel the pressure of the beast trying to rise, then letting go, she’s away! Way cool. We then invited these young-ins for a drink to thank them, and a great night followed. Everyone was in great spirits (+ wine and beer) and we tottled off
home about 1.30pm, having contributed to the local economy and grateful for a ‘great-full’.
Without the boring details of a Rolfe Harris trip home, that was it - we had a ball, adored the sunshine, loved the elephants, enjoyed the fabulous value to be had.
Next visit to this country will be to the coast to taste another variation of the same.
Right, here’s the deal; The first thing we both do when we get up in the morning, or get home from being out, - is to check the LapTop for ”mail from home”.
Consider our Blog a ruddy great e-mail. And if you’ve read this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed it!
Sooooooooo - send us a reply e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) It doesn’t need to be a blog or pages and pages - just a ‘reply’ and say howdy - and what you’ve been up to - cos we just lurve mail from home!
Cheers and Happy New Years!
Pete and Jude
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