Hua Hin is a large seaside town pretty much devoid of attractions and not on the usual tourist trail but very popular with Thai Tourists and with ex-pats – British, American, Australian and others and because of the large ex-pat community we thought it worth a visit to see if it was a place where we might like to stay for extended periods.
Hua Hin is about 200km south of Bangkok, a three hour train ride or a bus ride a tad longer. We took the train and really enjoyed the experience.
We actually liked Hua Hin a lot and it’s one of several places that we would be happy to “over-winter”. The people are very friendly, it’s a cheap place to stay with cheap transport (tuk tuk rides at 20 baht), lots of nice apartments available on a monthly rental basis and as elsewhere there are some very good supermarkets well geared up for Western tastes. There’s a big night market, nightly and lots of street food available plus lots of inexpensive seafood restaurants. There are the usual red light areas but they are limited to specific neighbourhoods/streets and so its not “in your face” unless you want it to be! Here’s a few pictures from the trip
We spent five nights in Hua Hin and would gladly have stayed longer but decided to return to Bangkok for our final few days for some retail therapy before we left for Turkey. We spent five nights at the trendy THA City Loft Hotel in the trendy Ekkamai area of Sukhumvit and really did very little in Bangkok other than eat and drink and shop.
After almost 3 months in Thailand we finally left Bangkok on an early morning flight to Istanbul on 25th February, thirteen months after we had left Istanbul for Christchurch, New Zealand. Doesn’t time fly.
We landed at Bangkok early afternoon but had to wait a couple of hours until our onward flight to Dalaman. Thankfully flights were on time and we were picked up by our transfer service at Dalaman arriving at our apartment in Kalkan, well and truly knackered in the early evening.
Kanchanaburi was on our original travel itinerary for Thailand when we had planned to travel the length of Central and North Thailand from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train, stopping at various places including Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya, Lampang and others. We ditched our original itinerary but were pleased to get to see Kanchanaburi after all.
On the morning of 9th February, we took a taxi from the Red Planet Hotel Bangkok to Thonburi Railway Station in the northern suburbs of Bangkok on the East side of the river. It took us quite a time to get there in heavy traffic but despite the taxi dropping us at the Skyrail Station instead of the railway station necessitating a second taxi, we managed to get there in good time for our train north to Kanchanaburi.
Hualamphong Station Bangkok en route to Kanchanaburi
At Kanchanaburi we stayed at the almost new Bridge Residence on Mae Nam Kwai Rd and during our stay visited the famous Bridge over the River Kwai built by the Japanese using Prisoners of War and conscripted labour from Indonesia and other places in WWII. We also visited the mass graves of some of the POWs who died in the construction of the railway, museums commemorating the events of the time and stretches of the Death Railway where the total loss of life in horrendous conditions is estimated to be at over 100,000.
We had a very agreeable time at Kanchanaburi. The Mae Nam Kwai Rd area where most of the hotels restaurants etc are located is quite handy for the railway station but quite a distance from the town itself. The area has lots of ex-pats and is lively at night and probably a tad Wild West-ish at times. There are plenty of places to eat and drink, both local and western and plenty of massage places – we thought the town had a great vibe and not at all what we were expecting.
Death Railway Museum and War Museum Kanchanaburi
Most people, especially those of a certain age, will have seen the film and will know the story of the building of the Bridge on the River Kwai although the film makers used a lot of artistic licence in its making.
We are not big on museums generally but we couldn’t imagine visiting the area and not this museum and we thought it excellent with lots of exhibits both interesting and tragic – a very moving experience but a must visit. Going to this museum when first arriving is good prep for a visit to the Bridge and to Hellfire Pass.
The cemetery is the main Prisoner of War Cemetery for some of the Commonwealth and Dutch POWs who died and were buried along the railway. The American fallen were repatriated to the USA but almost 7000 casualties are commemorated here and others lie in 3 cemeteries elsewhere in Thailand and one in Myanmar – the railway was built by two labour forces working from either end of the railway line in Siam ( Thailand) and Burma (Myanmar).
The cemetery is maintained in immaculate condition – to say the least. The graves, lawns, flowers and bushes are literally manicured!
The Bridge over the River Kwai
The Bridge was made famous by the film but its worth reading the true story – a brief summary is here
This is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist attractions and as always there is a small army of people based near the bridge providing opportunities to buy refreshments and souvenirs of all kinds, though mostly tacky. There’s a walkway across the bridge even though the bridge is still used to convey a tourist railway.
A Day Trip on the Death Railway and Hell Fire Pass
Hell Fire Pass was the name given to one particular stretch of the railway that was especially difficult to build requiring a deep cutting through solid rock in a remote area.
The pass is noted for the harsh conditions and heavy loss of life suffered by its labourers during construction. Hell Fire Pass is so called because the sight of emaciated prisoners labouring at night by torchlight was said to resemble a scene from hell.
Despite the huge loss of life suffered in its construction, the Thai-Burma railway was demolished after WWII although part of it on the Thai side was later reinstated as far as Nam Tok. Hell Fire Pass is beyond Nam Tok and so it’s necessary to get a train to Nam Tok and then a bus or taxi for the final stretch to HFP. In the event, the train we planned to catch from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok was cancelled on the day we made the trip and so we hired a car and driver to take us. He drove us to HFP and waited whilst we went around the excellent museum and walked along the track. He then dropped us off at Nam Tok Station so that we could get a train back to Kanchanaburi. It all worked out pretty well; it was a long day but very very interesting and once again a very moving tour – there wasn’t a dry eye around the place.
The train journey from Nam Tok back to Kanchanaburi is a scenic one following the river for some distance and of course takes the route worked by the POWs back in World War II clinging to the hillsides in places.
On 12th February we caught a lunch time train back to Bangkok for another night at the Red Planet Hotel before we left on our next trip the next day to Hua Hin.
We flew from Phuket to Koh Samui on 13th January 2016. Our first stop for 7 nights was at the Secret Garden Beach Resort at Bang Rak a small on the beach resort with bar/restaurant literally on the beach. This place was very acceptable and although the rooms were a tad small, they had all the necessaries. Bar and restaurant prices were good and there was live music at weekends with decent good hot/cold buffet.
Secret Garden Beach Resort
The weather wasn’t perfect for our first week on Samui with the odd heavy shower from time to time but that didn’t stop us doing quite a bit of walking – there was always somewhere to shelter if the heavens opened.
On a particularly grey day we decided to walk to Wat Phra Yai, known in English as the Big Buddha Temple. This is a Buddhist temple on Ko Phan a small island offshore from the northeastern area of Ko Samui only a few kilometres from the airport and connected to Samui by a short causeway. The temple is home to a giant, 12 metre high gold-painted Buddha statue, one of Ko Samui’s main tourist attractions.
Halfway to Big Buddha we were be-friended by a timeshare tout and fearing an imminent downpour and a drenching we allowed ourselves to be persuaded to accompany him to a timeshare presentation in return for drinks, the usual offer of a chance to win a week’s holiday and a lift back to our accommodation. The promise of a lift back was quite appealing and so we took advantage of the offer and went along for a presentation. Five minutes into a 90 minute sell, it became clear to the salesmen that we probably knew more about how timeshare works than he did and we were quickly gone with a free tee-shirt as our prize!
With the sky clearing, we asked to be dropped at our original destination, Big Buddha.
Another popular place within easy reach of our hotel was
Fishermans Village , Bophut
Fisherman’s Village at Bophut was a few kilometers anti-clockwise on the main circular road which goes around the island. Its a small village just off the main drag and so away from the traffic but with a long main street which for the most part is lined wall to wall with bars, restaurants and shops selling the usual tourist goods. It made for a good walk from Bang Rak and a pleasant place for lunch. On Friday night, the main drag becomes a very popular walking street.
Mae Nam Beach
After our stay at Secret Garden, our next stop was at Wazzah Resort Bungalows outside the village of Mae Nam, still on the north coast but east from Bang Rak along the coast road.
Unfortunately, despite glowing reviews, our accommodation here was awful. It’s fair to say the accommodation was cheap but that was no excuse for the poor accommodation. After 2 nights, with no other (better) rooms available we left the place despite a refusal to refund the rent we had paid in advance. Happily, in the event, the hotel subsequently relented and agreed a full refund by which time we were well ensconced in the very comfortable Amarin Hotel on the main road in the centre of the village in a deluxe room at £20 per night. The Amarin was excellent with lovely staff and very good rooms in a great location only a short walk to the beach but for some reason the hotel appeared to be almost empty whilst other more expensive hotels seemed largely full.
We enjoyed our stay in Mae Nam. A nice village with a night market on Thursday night but also some nice shops and restaurants including the excellent Fish Restaurant and a gapped Turkish restaurant, The Roman. The beach is quiet and although it’s narrow it made for some nice walks.
Mae Nam’s small Night Market takes place on Thursday evening on Soi 4 in the small China Town area. As always there is good food to be found and dinner can be had for less than a fiver for two including a beer apiece.
Nathon is a former capital of Samui on the west coast, a tuk tuk ride of about 30 minutes from Mae Nam costing little over a pound each. It’s a busy fishing town and is a ferry port for ferries going to other islands and to the mainland. We needed to visit as Nathon has an Immigration Office and we needed to extend our 30 day visa which turned out to be probably our easiest visa extension completed within half an hour in a single visit!
A few pictures
On the 1st February we should have started a 10 day excursion by ferry to Ko Phangan and Khao Toa but storms started to brew a couple of days before and although some ferries continued to sail, most were cancelled for at least one full day. We heard nightmare stories of the ferry crossing and decided against it. We cancelled our reservations for Koh Tao in time to get a full refund but our Phangan Hotel offered us an alternative stay anytime within the next 12 months which we may or may not take up.
Having cancelled our Phangan and Ko Tao trips we decided to spend a few days in the lively resort of Lamai before flying back to Bangkok for a night en route to Kanchanaburi, location of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, one of the places on our original itinerary which we had abandoned. We stayed in a small apartment at Chaulty Towers in Lamai, a place run by a very very affable Englishman, Steve and his Thai wife
Whilst the weather didn’t improve much (see the waves in the picture below), it did stay dry for most of our short stay in Lamai and we had a very enjoyable few days in a resort which has lots of bars, restaurants and an unbelievable number of massage places and its very own very naughty area with girly bars and more!
Chaweng is the biggest and busiest resort on the island and as it’s only a short distance from Lamai we had a day trip there by tuk-tuk. Again the place is full of shops (and at least one mall) restaurants and bars and whilst we didn’t hang around until the evening, the place is said to be much more “in your face” than Lamai.
At the end of our stay in Lamai, we left Ko Samui for Bangkok on 12th February and stayed at the Red Planet Hotel in the Surawaong District. This turned out to be a good choice with the Silom district and also the infamous Patpong red light district only a couple of hundred yards away. We had Sky Train stations nearby and the Chao Phraya River was only a 20 baht tuk tuk ride away with the main Railway Station Hua Lamphong also a cheap tuk tuk or taxi ride away – a great spot.
On 9th February we left Bangkok for Kanchanaburi. Pictures taken in Bangkok will be included in a later post when we return to BKK at the end of our Asia trip before returning to Turkey.
Our travels after Northern Thailand were mostly to beach resorts and most posts will be brief and largely photographic – I’m typing this no less than 6 months in arrears and if I’m not brief I fear I’ll never finish!
After Northern Thailand we had decided to visit the bigger islands in the south that we hadn’t visited before. Apart from anything, Ann was keen to ditch self catering for a while and enjoy being waited on over the Christmas period. Phuket and Samui Islands also Hua Hin on the mainland, are all potential candidates for a future winter retreat for us away from the UK winter and they are all fairly cheap to get to from Chiang Mai so we thought we would visit all 3 places
(and more besides).
We flew from Chiang Mai to Phuket on 19th December .
We had decided to stay at a couple of different places on Phuket that seemed both popular but quiet. Our first choice, Yanui Beach in the far South of the Island, definitely hit the spot.
Rawai Beach is the town nearest to Yanui Beach where we stayed at the Windmill Hotel over Christmas and New Year. Rawai Beach itself is nice enough but it’s not a swimming beach, lined as it is with speed boats, long tail boats and fishing boats .
I guess you could call Rawai a working beach. At one end stands Rawai Pier with a small scruffy market and several fish restaurants on either side of the beach road with some of those on the beach side nothing more than seafood shacks. At the other end there is a Sea Gypsy Village with maybe ten or a dozen or so fish restaurants on the sea side of the road.
Boat trips to Phi Phi, James Bond and other Islands can be booked at any number of kiosks and Tourist Offices along the beach but we declined the many offers we had. There are hundreds of boats and thousands of tourists descending on these beaches daily and it didn’t sound an attractive proposition to us.
The roadside opposite the beach is lined with restaurants, bars and massage parlours some nice but some a tad scruffy but there are also a number of modern and attractive residential/rental condo developments along the beach. A pleasant stroll of 20 minutes or so would get you from one end of the beach to the other though with temperatures every day in the mid 30s we would usually stop for a drink at some point along the beach.
Pretty Yanui Beach is small and secluded. Only 5 minutes drive or 20 minutes walk from Rawai Beach it stands between two promontories, Promthep Cape and the Windmill Lookout which provide stunning views of the beaches below and the islands beyond. There is a Life guard in season but the beach is nicely undeveloped with only a few operators renting beach cushions umbrellas, snorkel gear and other stuff and selling cold drinks and snacks. There are a couple of restaurants across the road .
The beach is apparently a great place to visit out of season when it is usually deserted – but not to swim as there are some difficult currents and no life guard.
Our hotel, the Windmill, is the only one in the immediate area and handily placed only a couple of hundred metres from the beach. A perfect spot.
This promontary above Yanui gives fabulous views but is always busy with coaches, full of tourists back and forth constantly. Their is a shrine here along with a lighthouse, memorials, shops and cafes.
We booked 2 weeks at the Windmill Hotel and were not disappointed. The room was large with cool marble floors and marble bathroom and the bed was comfy. There was a large flat screen TV, good wifi and a full size fridge with an inexpensive minibar. We had a large balcony overlooking the large swimming pool with views otherwise of jungle and the sea beyond with a small development of half a dozen villas being built beside the hotel.
The service and standard of food served in the hotel’s restaurant was very good indeed. The hotel is owned by an Englishman, Richard and his Thai wife who runs the kitchen – both Thai and Western food is tasty and inexpensive and with a very good breakfast included in the rate, we would survive on 2 meals a day in an attempt to keep the calories down and lose a few pounds, a plan destined to fail due to lack of any significant exercise in the hot sun!
The restaurant food is of such quality and value that there are a number of expats living in the area who seem to use the restaurant for both breakfast and dinner and many of the customers attending an excellent Christmas lunch were expats with Thai Partners.
Christmas and New Year at the Windmill
We chose to stay in a hotel rather than an apartment over the Christmas and New Year period to enjoy the festivities without having to fend for ourselves. We chose well. Christmas lunch was excellent with a traditional meal with all the trimmings and more – all at a very budget friendly price under £20 per head including wine! We enjoyed a lovely afternoon followed by a snooze before waking up to FaceTime with Matthew, Richard and Siobhan who were enjoying Christmas lunch at Matthew’s house.
New Year’s celebrations were a bit of a damp squib. A buffet dinner was on offer but wasn’t really advertised until a day or two before New Year and so numbers were a lot fewer than at Christmas and were mostly families with small children. We enjoyed the meal and then retired to our room seeing the New Year in a deux…
Nai Harn Beach
Nai Harn is a short distance from Yanui Beach as the crow flies but is a walk of about 5km. We walked there from the hotel but caught a taxi back!
The beach is quite a bit bigger than Yanui Beach and more developed with a couple of big hotels nearby and lots of timber built restaurants all selling the same local food and lots of shops selling the same tee shirts and tourist stuff nestled in trees at the back of the beach. A few stalls sit on the beach itself selling drinks and snacks. On the road leading to the beach there are street vendors selling fruit and snacks and a taxi place.
Although bigger and busier than Yanui, it is nevertheless a lovely beach.
There is a large ornamental lake overlooked by a temple at the back of the beach which somehow seems a little out of place in an area which is off the beaten track with no proper town or even village and only a few houses and hotels in the immediate area.
On December 28th we could no longer resist the urge to try the one and only Indian restaurant in the area and decided to walk the 6km from Rawai Beach up to Chalong – we also walked back! The place was quite small but fairly busy with every customer an ex-pat. The food wasn’t quite Indian as we know it but it did the trick for us. En route to the Indian we came across this market which we think is a Friday only market for locals.
We had an excellent 2 week stay in Yanui and Rawai Beach. The hotel and its location were so good that we didn’t often wander too far away except to do some walking or try a few different restaurants – favourites were Coconut Paradise and The Islander which we discovered only a few days before we left – a bar run by ex-pats for ex-pats providing some excellent western and local food and colourful language we hadn’t heard the like since we last went to watch Man City!
Next stop after Yanui/Rawai was Kata Beach which runs into Karon Beach with Patong Beach beyond.
We stayed at Mountain Seaview Apartments, a really nice small block of apartments perched on a hill with views over the sea which is owned and run by a helpful Australian and his Thai Partner. There is no restaurant or pool here but residents have access to the facilities of CC’s Hide Away Hotel across the road which has a nice pool and shaded area for sitting and a bar and restaurant with a Happy Hour that works for both food and drink. Nice food too! The only downside was the challenging hill climb necessary to get up to the place but we soon got used to that and didn’t need to trouble the hotel’s shuttle service to/from town which we could have used had we needed it.
There isn’t a great deal to say about Kata. Its much bigger and much more touristic than Rawai with some very large resorts along the beach road. Its a beach resort which seems to be a very very popular place with Russian holiday makers. The beach was almost always packed and watching the crowds watching the sunset stood on the waters edge was quite amusing.
We spent most days here by the pool as it was just too hot to do any serious walking during the day. We got into a routine of walking into town around 4 or 5pm, jwalk a few kms and then go for dinner. There is certainly no shortage of restaurants here and we tried Turkish (good) and Indian (so so) as well as local food. Probably our favourite place was a small local place near the apartment where the 2 of us dined for £6 or £7.
Patong Beach – Shopping Malls and a Walking Street of GoGo Bars and Ping Pong Shows
Patong Beach has a reputation as a wild “Party Central” and as such is definitely not our scene but it was only a short taxi ride down the coast so we thought we would have a look. We didn’t linger long. After wandering around the very large and flash Jungceylon Mall, more of an air conditioned street than a mall, we walked down Bangla Road which is the walking street where all the action is and then along the seafront. We found a highly recommended Indian Restaurant, Arabia, but left disappointed after a very average curry. Home to bed!
We spent 7 nights on Kata Beach and then moved onto our final stop on Phuket, Phuket Old Town.
Phuket Old Town
We decided to visit Phuket Town because we had read that it’s quite different from the beach resorts and an interesting place to see because of its restored Old Town area with its Sino-Portugese shophouses and several mansion houses. We had read one review saying the place is reminiscent of George Town, Penang and it is albeit on a much smaller scale as the re-developed part of the Old Town currently covers only 3 or 4 streets although we saw a lot of work going on which hopefully means more is due to be restored. The other reason we visited was to do some shopping – Phuket Town is a big place and has several malls.
This was a nice change after beach resorts. We stayed 3 nights at Baan S, a pleasant enough hotel with all the facilities we needed and with a great location right on the edge of the Old Town with its shops and restaurants.
Luckily we arrived on Sunday afternoon and so were able to visit the Sunday Market/Walking Street, probably the best one we have visited .
On Monday, after a lie-in, we took a taxi to Central Mall where Ann managed to buy a few bits and pieces over the course of several hours. Dinner was at the excellent Kopitiam restaurant not far from the hotel on Thalang Road in the Old Town
Ann was determined to make the most of the retail opportunities and so on Tuesday we tackled the shops around the Old Town and happily she was able to find a few more bits and pieces that she “really needed”. Following a late lunch we took a tuk tuk to Robinson’s Department Store for a look around and to escape the heat and where lo and behold we found a Boots The Chemist which added another 2 or 3 kilos to our baggage!
Here are some photos taken around the Old Town area.
Sunday Walking Street
This night market takes place in the Old Town on Thalang Road, a beautifully renovated street only a short walk from our hotel. It’s a family orientated market and we visited on what seemed to be a special “Childrens’ Day” when there was lots of stuff happening for kids with a free trampoline, loads of free entertainment and games with prizes. It’s a very busy place but there’s a great atmosphere and the food is incredibly good and as always incredibly cheap. Definitely our favourite night market so far.
Our final day was spent in similar fashion with a lie-in, followed by shopping with an early night for an early flight to Koh Samui the next day.
This was planned to be a short post but hasn’t worked out that way. Sorry! If anyone is still visiting this blog I promise the rest will be less wordy and more pictures…..
The Golden Triangle is in the far North East of Thailand and is the point at which three countries meet – Myanmar (Burma),Thailand and Laos. It is so named because the area was once the largest area in the world for illegal opium production. Although no longer the largest producer, the trade is still significant and apparently increasing along with the money laundering activities that go with it.
Like Mae Hong Son and Pai, this is another far flung area well away from any large cities which is becoming more popular with travellers who have the inclination to visit. There are any number of travel companies and agencies offering tours to the Golden Triangle but we had a Guide, Joy, who knows the area intimately.
Driving directly from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle takes over four hours and so too far for a day trip. We opted for a an overnight stay in Chiang Rai which is just over an hour from the Triangle. Chiang Rai is the largest city in the far north of Thailand with a population of around 70,000. A standard organised tour would include visits to hill tribe villages, elephant camps and possibly tiger “sanctuaries” but we chose not to visit these places when we came to finalise our itinerary for the trip.
We had spent the first three days of the week commencing 7th December with Joy and his wife Goy travelling the Mae Hong Son Loop. On Thursday 10th we set off for the Golden Triangle. This would be a long day with a lot of driving but no hardship as the scenery for the most part is through a picturesque mountainous region.
After a coffee break at Thaweesin Hot Springs (totally underwhelming), our first proper stop was at Baan Dam, the Black House, near Chiang Rai.
The Black House is a weird but interesting place. Various buildings with interesting architecture are dotted around quite a large site and contain a large collection of art exhibits created by a single artist.
Thawan Duchanee, a local Thai artist now regarded as a Thai National Artist, developed a style of work representing the darkness of humanity.The exhibits are mostly coloured black and red and more than a little macabre as the artist is fond of using bits of animals, skulls, skins and other parts in his artwork. The buildings themselves are adorned with animal parts and apparently you can buy products made with animal parts, such as crocodile handbags, in the souvenir shop! We spent an hour and a half or so here but could easily have spent longer – there is a lot to see. Here are some pictures …..
Next stop was Mae Sai, the northern most city in Thailand where there is a border crossing into Myanmar much used by Westerners on a visa run. Not an especially interesting town but there’s a busy market and the town is apparently a shopping paradise for precious stones and jewellery – the wealth perhaps not un-connected to the main trading in this Golden Triangle area. There is an unusual temple high on a hill with views over the border crossing to Myanmar. The Scorpion Temple includes some interesting statues including memorials to King Naresuan famous for beating back several Burmese invasions and killing the Burmese Crown Prince in a duel back in the day. As a reminder to all concerned, a giant scorpion statue stands facing Myanmar in a threatening pose.
From Mae Sai our next stop was the Golden Triangle, the point where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos can be seen from a viewpoint over the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak Rivers.
After a break here it was on to Chiang Saen, home to a big golden Buddha, actually a rather tacky looking Buddha in a tacky touristic place packed with Thai and Chinese tourists on the day. From here we took a short boat trip on the Mekong with a brief stop on Don Sao Island Laos – actually a large Laos island on the river – for an opportunity to buy Snake Whisky, luggage, handbags, tee shirts and other Laos souvenirs and to be badgered by Laotian kids begging for money.
The constant badgering by stall holders and begging kids was rather tiresome and so we didn’t hang around in Laos for long. We had a short ride upriver where Laos has an economic zone which houses, in an area which is totally rural, the Romans Casino. The casino sits in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone created when Laos agreed a lucrative lease with a chinese gambling operation to build and run the casino.
Chinese love gambling and since casinos are illegal in China, high rollers flood over the border to gamble here in an area which is rife with drug trafficking and other illegal activities. Inevitably the colossal amount of money washing around in the area doesn’t exactly stifle the already high level of corruption in this part of Asia where the Chinese are investing more and more, building dams, rubber plantations and casinos along its borders. The building of dams to generate electricity in the upper Mekong is controversial since the river runs the entire length of this region from China through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam providing water and food to the people. The impact on the control of the water flow from the upper river by the Chinese will inevitably impact countless people who live on the river.
After our interesting boat ride we hit the road for Chiang Rai, a drive of an hour or so. We had booked a room at Nak Nakara Hotel which was quite a bit over our budget but recommended by Joy and we didn’t really fancy any of the budget alternatives. It was a good choice with a nice room and a very good breakfast.
We arrived in Chiang Rai at dusk dropped our bags and headed out for dinner. This was one of very few occasions where we hadn’t researched eateries in advance. We had Tripadviser to advise us but it was difficult to get our bearings in the darkness and we headed for one and then another restaurant which we failed to find. Thus our only evening in Chiang Rai was spent wandering the streets until after over an hour or so, desperate, we stopped at a burger joint consisting of a few tables and benches and a couple of wooden cabins, one a bar and the other the kitchen. It turned out to be a great pick as we had the best burgers we have ever eaten anywhere! Amazing !
After a comfortable night and an excellent breakfast at Nak Nakara, we had quick look around some Chiang Rai temples which, frankly, we found unremarkable – maybe we were getting templed-out! We then made our way back to Chiang Mai via the famous White Temple , a visit to Doiluang National Park and then a lunch stop before the final stretch to Chiang Mai.
Wat Rong Khun , more popularly known by Westerners as The White Temple was built in the late 1990’s on the site of an old temple of the same name which had fallen into disrepair due to lack of public funds. A Thai artist agreed to re-build a temple to his own design and at his own expense and the White Temple is the result. The temple was opened to the public unfinished and is still unfinished. An earthquake caused damaged in 2014 but the damage repairs and work carries on and is not expected to be completed for at least 50 years..
This is an awesome place to visit. It’s very big and very white! The white cement render has slivers of mirror set into it so it is ultra shiny in the sunlight – striking to say the least. Each of the buildings and various features, for example the bridge by which the main building is accessed and the “Sea of Hands”, are symbolic. An explanation as to their meaning and significance can be found via google.
The White Temple is really quite extraordinary and is considered to be an outstanding example of modern art.It has become the Artists life work and he believes it will give him immortal life. When it is completed will include a centre for learning and meditation .
After a couple of hours at the White Temple, ahead of schedule we drove on to Doiluang National Park. Joy had never visited this place himself but had heard it was good and was keen to take a look to see if it was place that he could add to his tours.We agreed and were glad we did as this is a lovely forest park with lots of walking trails including an uphill up-river climb past a series of waterfalls. Unfortunately the walk turned out to be longer and tougher than we had expected and running out of time, we had to give up and turned around half-way (we think) before we reached the end of the track.
Our final brief lunch stop was at Phayao. Joy wanted to drive us around a very large and beautiful lake but for some reason many of the roads had been cordoned off. Joy and Goy went off for lunch but Ann and I didn’t want a big lunch and ended up with a beer and a packet of crisps sat by the water watching a fisherman work his way around the lake with his net.
As we were sat enjoying our beer, crowds of Bike for Dad bikers started to arrive in numbers apparently getting ready for the off.
Ever since we arrived in Thailand, even for the first time back in September, we had seen hundreds, thousands, of men, women and children wearing yellow tee-shirts emblazoned
” Bike for Dad”. It turned out that this week was the culmination of the “Bike for Dad” Event,
a mass bicycle ride taking place all over Thailand to celebrate the King’s 88th birthday.
Today, Friday 11th December, the Crown Prince was leading over 100,000 cyclists around Bangkok with hundreds or thousands of other rides taking place in cities, towns and villages all over Thailand. It’s estimated that well over the 600,000 registered cyclists took part! Chiang Mai was grid-locked for hours.
Joy eventually dropped us off around 6pm. For a final time we walked down to Nimmenhaemin for a few beers at the Kamrai bottle shop followed by a curry. Tomorrow we would leave Chiang Mai and move out into the countryside for a few days of R&R at Baanpong Lodge about an hours drive from Chiang Mai.
Baanpong Lodge is a small hotel on the edge of a tiny village Ontai in the San Kamphaeng area outside Chiang Mai. It’s a rural escape which seems to be popular with Thai and ex-pat families living in Chiang Mai and it’s popular for cycling, walking, climbing and chilling out. We were there to chill and do a bit of walking and thats pretty much what we did.
This is a rural area with small villages nearby but with several surprisingly large Temples. There’s a man-made lake quite close which is popular with the locals for fishing but with a long period of drought the water level was low for the few fishers we saw but adequate enough for the water buffalo. Here are a few photos….
After 5 relaxing days at Baanpong, we left on 19th December to fly South to Phuket Island .We had spent 20 days in Northern Thailand and had very much enjoyed our time here but we were now looking forward to spending Christmas by the sea.