Not wanting to miss seeing one of our great friends who was traveling through Southeast Asia, we caught up with him in Chiang Mai. Despite fond memories from a prior trip to Chiang Mai, this time through the region was a different experience as we had the privilege of tagging along with our friend and his relatives on their adventures.
Day 1 – Sunday, February 15, 2015
We flew into Chiang Mai from Krabi on a direct flight. Since it was only late morning, we decided to take a taxi to the old city for 160B ($5) and grab some lunch. We asked the taxi driver to take us somewhere with food, he drove us to a small produce market which was already starting to shut down for the day. Because it was hot and we were carrying our bags, we chose one of the first restaurants we came across while walking around near the market. I had a curry dish, Alexis had a chicken soup, and we both had fruit shakes. The food was okay, but nothing to rave about.
We had discussed wandering through the old city further, but the thought wasn’t flying and we instead wanted to go relax at the hotel. Our friend Alvin advised us to get a hotel near where he was staying in Doi Saket, about 20km east of downtown, so we had booked a cheap place nearby. A little bit of research told us that the red pickup trucks were the best way to get around town. We flagged one down and negotiated a price of 400B ($12) out to our hotel.
When we arrived at our hotel, the Him Doi House, we were immediately greeted by the extremely friendly couple who run the joint. They showed us to our room on the first floor and we were surprised to find that it was a large suite with a living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom! We got settled in and spent the afternoon catching up on our blog.
We heard from Alvin and he invited us to dinner with some of his relatives. Alvin’s father and his father’s four brothers live in different spots around the world and have reunions annually, picking somewhere different in the world to go each time. This time Chiang Mai was picked and they stayed with one of the brothers’ friends, a Thai man and retired 3-star general, who lives in Doi Saket. He also was their guide for their time in Chiang Mai. To get around, they hired a driver and a large van.
Wanting to bring a small gift to dinner, I had asked the hotel owners where to buy some food or drinks. They mentioned a 7-Eleven that was near, but not walking distance, and the husband graciously offered to take me on his scooter.
Alvin arrived in the van to pick us up and take us to their host’s house for dinner. When we arrived, we were surprised to find that the dinner was more of a party to celebrate the Chinese New Year, as there was a karaoke machine and loads of food and drinks. We had a wonderful time meeting all of the brothers and their wives and of course catching up with Alvin. The food was also very good, including beef and pork jerkies, chicken curry, and tom yum soup. A traditional Chinese New Year salad was prepared, which requires a multitude of ingredients, each separated in their own sections on a large plate. Using chopsticks, everyone cheered and mixed the ingredients together (and sometimes the food went airborne!). Now we know why Alvin is such a foodie – his relatives love food just as much, or even more!
After a few drinks, the unique and strange food came out – we had fried bamboo worms and fried crickets (more of a mental challenge as the taste was good). Everyone had to sing karaoke at least once and a lot of laughs were shared. The Uncles chose that we join Alvin in singing ‘Born in the USA’ but it couldn’t be found on the machine’s catalog. Instead we sang a terrible rendition of Sweet Caroline which got even worse when the lyrics froze mid-verse and we had to continue by memory. At the end of the night, we set off several Chinese lanterns before getting a ride back to our hotel.
Day 2 – Monday, February 16, 2015
We walked next door to a small gas station and mini-market so we could get some snacks for breakfast and I could grab a coffee. Alvin and his relatives picked us up in their van shortly after and we headed out for a full day of sightseeing. Our first stop was the Inthanon National Park and the highest point (or roof) of Thailand. After about an hour of driving through the park we reached a parking lot where a few short trails led to the highest point and other natures areas. On our way back down we stopped by a nearby attraction of Napamaytanidol Chedi and Phra Mahatat Napaphon Bhumisiri, or the king and queen’s pagodas, each of which had impressive gardens and murals. We also stopped in the national park for a Thai lunch at a small food stand next to the Wachirathan Waterfall, which Alexis and I had seen our previous trip to Chaing Mai.
After lunch, we drove to the Royal Park Rajapruek where we took a tram ride around to see the grounds. The tram guide did not speak English, so we were very confused about what gardens we were seeing. However, we gathered that they were cultural gardens. The tram did a quick loop around, after which we decided to leave. We did have the option to get on and off the tram, but heard you may have a long wait to get back on. If we had more time, I think we would have liked to spent longer here.
We returned to Doi Saket and relaxed before going back out again for dinner. Dinner was at Jia Tong Heng, a Chinese restaurant near the famous Chiang Mai night market. Again, Alvin and his relatives ordered an incredible amount of food, much of it being very unique. Some of the memorable dishes were suckling pig, 100 year old egg, fish maul, and goose feet. Afterward, we wandered around the night market for half an hour before heading back for the night.
Day 3 – Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Once again, Alvin and his relatives picked us up and allowed us to join them for their fun in Thailand. This day was lower key and we didn’t travel as far. The first stop was the Doi Saket market, but unfortunately they were already closing up their morning stands. We continued to the Wat Phrathat Doi Saket on top of a hill overlooking town (we could see this from our hotel). We explored the temple and our Thai guide gave us flowers to put on effigies of monks.
Our next stop was the Bo Sang umbrella factory where handmade paper umbrellas are created. The factory is completely a tourist trap where workers demonstrate how the umbrellas were made in the days before machines. We speculated whether the full umbrella was actually built in that location, or if the finished products came from the machine driven factory. Regardless, it was an interesting experience. At the end, painters were offering to paint people’s clothes and other articles. Alvin had a dragon painted on his wallet and his dad had another design painted on his hat.
For lunch, we stopped at a restaurant we’ll call the Doi Saket Noodle Shop, but actually the name is only in Thai. We had some goose soup, as well as more pork and goose meat. It seemed like a very popular place with the locals, and our hotel owners later that night had mentioned they were there and had seen us.
After lunch we dropped off some of the relatives at the airport and we made a durian run. Durian is the fruit that comes in the spiked shell and can be very smelly if left out too long. A ripe one was selected and the fruit was extracted.
The rest of the afternoon was open, so we quickly stopped by the Super Rich to obtain some crisp USD bills for our trip to Myanmar. Afterward, we got dropped back off at our hotel so we could get some laundry done.
We were picked back up for dinner and we went to Samsen Villa Thai restaurant. This meal was very good but not as adventurous as the previous two meals. The highlight for me was the jumbo prawns and the soft shell crab. After dinner, we said goodbye to Alvin and his family as everyone was departing the next day.
Day 4 – Wednesday, February 18, 2015
We were leaving today to fly to Yangon, Myanmar. After getting a goat milk coffee from the Dairy Goat Cafe, our hotel owners were again very nice and let us print out our visas for Myanmar. Then, they personally drove us to the airport for our flight, although we did pay a 500B ($15) fee for it. We were flying Bangkok Airways again, so we took advantage of free food and drinks in their lounge for breakfast. Then we were off on our 11am flight!
Special Thank You:
We’d like to thank Alvin and his family for being very accommodating and lovely hosts who included us in their travels for three full days. We really enjoyed our time with them and being part of a family for a few days while traveling so far from home.