Feb 10 – 11, 13, 18-19
After a long night bus from Bangkok, Miguel and I arrived in Chiang Mai. It was still dark outside. And annoyingly, our bus dropped us off just outside of town and we all had to pile into songthaews (which conveniently dropped us all off in front of a hotel/travel agency where an annoying lady gave us a long spiel about their offerings). We hate pushy travel companies trying to manipulate us…so we got a free city map from her and then headed out the door.
Chiang Mai is a pleasant city and serves as a sort of traveler’s hub and gateway to Northern Thailand. The city’s historical center, which consists of many monuments and temples (with lots of shops, hotels, restaurants, and tourists sprinkled in between), is located in the “walled” portion of the city and enclosed by a moat. Some sections of the old wall and gates are still intact.
The Thapae Gate serves as the main entrance to the walled city. It’s courtyard is used for many exhibits and festivals, but it is also just a popular place to hang out.
The courtyard served as Miguel’s favorite skate spot.
This was one of the art exhibits on display at the courtyard when we were there. The artist was sleeping in the tent in the middle, but a few days later the display disappeared. I actually ended up meeting this guy later in Bangkok (I taught him to crochet with plastic bags) and he told me his exhibit got stolen.
We saw a lot of people (Thais and tourists) prancing around the courtyard taking glamor shots of each other. So I joined them and took a few of Miguel. Isn’t he glamorous?
Chiang Mai’s walled city is famous for its temples. But as Miguel and I were kinda sick of temples, we didn’t see many of them.
Instead, we preferred to wander around and take pictures of the signs and street art.
We checked out the Night Bazaar, but found everything to be way overpriced. I’m sure you could bargain, but as the starting prices seemed to be 4 times what they should be…the whole ordeal just sounded annoying. All I wanted to buy were some cheap sunglasses. But I didn’t feel like spending the time arguing the price of some crappy brand name knockoffs. We didn’t stay long.
In my opinion, the highlight of Chiang Mai was its food. Chiang Mai is famous for its food and because of this, there are many many cooking classes to choose from. I didn’t end up taking one, but certainly will next time I’m around. But while we didn’t end up cooking in Chiang Mai, we definitely did a lot of eating. There was delicious vegetarian food everywhere! We only tried a small handful of the veggie restaurants in town, but as you can see from this link, there are many. I’ll have to spend more time in Chiang Mai someday so I can try out all the other lovely looking places.
AUM was one of the first places we checked out. It is a cozy little place with good food, but I wouldn’t say it was my absolute favorite.
Juicy4U was a cute little place with good coffee, smoothies, and wheatgrass shakes. They have decent curries and veggie stir fries, but if you need a little break from Thai food…they also have great sandwiches and veggie burgers.
This place was just OK. It was definitely one of the cheapest places around though.
One day we stopped by the Vegetarian Society, but it was past lunchtime so they were already closed.
If you’re hungry late at night, this is the place to go. It’s a little food cart on Moonmuang Road. Their vegetarian curry, served up really fast by a tall Thai guy, is nice.
If it’s dinnertime and you’re ready to absolutely stuff yourself, you should find the vegetarian dinner buffet. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it’s at a nice looking hotel on one of the streets that intersects Moonmuang Road (there’s a large sign on the street advertising their vegetarian dinner buffet). I didn’t take any pics of the food the night we went, but trust me – it’s great! 90 Baht for brown rice, fruit salad, and 4 different curry dishes served out of large clay pots.
But…if you want to go to the ultimate veggie buffet, Khun Churn is the place! Seriously. Don’t miss it. Eat here every day for lunch! For 80 Baht, this is the most amazing buffet you’ll ever have in your life. Actually I would even pay twice the price and still feel like it was a good deal. Miguel and I ate here twice. Each time it made me want to cry with happiness. It gave Miguel chills. No joke.
I could go on and on about the things I like about this place. For one thing, I liked all the posters on the walls about not wasting resources. And while sometimes I think of buffets as places where the cooks slop hastily made portions of lukewarm food into large tubs as a cheap way to feed the masses, this is not that type of place at all! Everything is laid out on the buffet table carefully and neatly and the waiters refill the dishes with fresh ingredients as soon as supply is getting low. The buffet has a lot of variety, great care is taken to provide a nutritious meal, and best of all…the food is prepared with lots and lots of love.
This is the man who makes it all happen. And for this, he deserves the title of Papa Oi. This guy is so enthusiastic about his food that you can just feel the positive energy emanating from him and radiating all around the place. We fell in love with this man. I wanted to kidnap him and ship him home to Austin.
Papa Oi (I actually don’t know his real name) keeps a careful watch on everything and everyone, being ready at any moment to fix the situation – whether is is a serving plate that needs refilled or a person who needs help assembling their bowl of soup with the proper ingredients. Once I found him hovering over me while I was putting noodles into my bowl. He ended up grabbing the bowl out of my hand and explaining the way it should be done to achieve the best taste, while accompanying me to the condiment table and showing me to add lime, bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, chili, and toasted garlic. Later he made a visit to our table to see how we liked the food.
The buffet is very well thought out and all the menu items change daily.
There is a massive salad bar with fresh, raw ingredients and several different salad dressings.
There is a noodle soup bar with fresh vermicelli noodles and two different types of soups, along with and all the proper ingredients to add on top.
There are 3 other types of soups or curries.
There are 4 stir fried dishes.
There are 4 different teas.
And there is always a desert.
I’m glad the magic of Khun Churn and Papa Oi has not gone unnoticed. This place is always really crowded during lunchtime (with a population of about half Thai people and half foreigners).
And the food is absolutely amazing!
Even if you don’t make it for the buffet, it’s still worth a stop. The outdoor garden area is pretty.
And they have an extensive menu with some of the most creative concoctions I’ve seen. The time we stopped by, we weren’t hungry enough to try anything fancy. But we did end up sampling a few snacks.
And if you want a cute guest house where you can sleep comfortably and eat delicious food all at the same place, Grace House is the place to be. We tried to stay there the first few nights, but they were fully booked. During our second time in Chiang Mai, we managed to get a room. Nice place. Good people. They even have a small health food store downstairs.
And their menu had all kinds of interesting pancake flavors (like green tea and cashew nut) and curry flavors (like avocado and pumpkin).
Chiang Mai has a college campus, so there are lots of students in the area to help give it a nice vibe. But because of the massive amounts of tourists that flow into this city on a daily basis, some sections of town don’t even feel like Thailand anymore. And in addition to the amazing Thai food all around, there are lots of restaurants specializing in Western food to keep the tourists happy. We found a surprising amount of Italian, French, and Mexican restaurants. We even found a Thai Arby’s.
After we had hung out in Chiang Mai for a few days, we were itching to go on another motorbike trip. We checked the numerous motorbike rental places for the best deal and end up settling on a company called Mr. Beer. At all the places, it was 50 Baht cheaper per day if you got the manual bike, but we decided to play it safe by getting the automatic one. I had begun to see quite a few tourists with nasty scrapes and bruises on their legs and I’m pretty sure most of these injuries were due to motorbike accidents. Some people even jokingly called it “the Thailand tatoo” (as getting your knees banged up from a motorbike crash has become a sort of right of passage among tourists in Thailand).
Once we secured our motorbike rental, we set off. There was a good deal of traffic on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, but by this stage in the game Miguel had become a pro Thailand motorbike driver. I’ll talk about our motorbike trip in another post.
This was around the time that Miguel called the airline and told them he wanted to postpone his return date for another few weeks. I think it was a great decision! But because his visa was only valid for 30 days, we found out that we would have to leave the country and come back. If Mr. Beer hadn’t kept my passport, we could have driven the motorbike straight to Myanmar during our excursion up north. But since that wasn’t possible, we decided we’d go to Laos.
Many tourists in Thailand end up staying longer than they expected and they realize that their allowed duration of stay is about to expire. So to solve this problem, they have to do a visa run. And while this is inconvenient, luckily it is quite easy (all you really have to do is leave the country, then reenter again). Here’s an article explaining how to renew your Thai visa. And depending on where you are in Thailand, there are several different border crossings you can choose from (each with their own set of fees and rules). There’s a really helpful Travelfish post about this, but I can’t find it right now. I’ll post it later.
Anyway, because this is such a common thing, there are many travel agents in Chiang Mai offering visa run packages (basically they drive you to the border, wait for you to cross and come back, then drive you back to Thailand). But Miguel and I figured we may as well take some time to visit Laos, so we cut our motorbike trip short so we could leave the country before his visa’s expiration date. To get to Laos, first we would have to take a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, then take another bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong (the Thai border town where the boats cross over to Laos)….But I’m getting ahead of myself….
We had one hour to kill before the bus left for Chiang Rai. And rather than sitting at the bus station and waiting, we found the perfect thing to do with our time: Explore an abandoned roller skating rink!
- I already wrote about how medical tourism is a popular thing in Thailand. In Chiang Mai, you can find all kinds of doctors offering cheap treatments or adjustments.
- Sometimes dogs get to ride on motorbikes too!
- This is the type of motorbike contraption Miguel and I will need for our motorbike trip to South America. Any welder friends of mine want to make me one?
- Here is a small collection of Dang photos for my friend Josh Row.
- I saw this large sign on one of Chiang Mai’s main streets. Now what in the hell is this all about?
- If I could buy my roommates every tacky thing I found in Thailand, they’d have a closet full by now. Here are some nice items. Thai people definitely have style!
I did end up buying Agnes some awesome pants (basically leggings disguised as faded jeans with rips). But of course I had to model them before I sent them home.
- Some popular beers in Thailand are Leo, Chang, and Singha. Singha beer seems to be the favorite among Thai people and is supposed to be a higher quality beer. Chang beer, a lower quality beer, seems to be the favorite among foreigners (due to its cheaper price and higher alcohol content). No matter which beer people choose, they tend to have a strong preference one way or another and can be quite opinionated about their likes/dislikes. Here is an overview of Thai beers.
- I like this motorbike!
- Many places in Thailand (like most of Asia) require you to take off your shoes before entering.
- Now here’s some good English.
- I think this No Smoking sign is cute.
- I also like this toilet sign. Wow – these people really have to pee!
- I’m not sure what this sign is telling me. What is not allowed exactly? No strutting your stuff when walking?
- Sometimes the songthaews squeeze so many people in that some have to hang off the back.
- In Thailand, they seem to be strongly against trumpets.
But they do seem to like pants.
- These are popular ingredients for Thai cooking: Galangal, ginger, lemongrass, shallots, kaffir limes, tamarind.