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Cooking in Chiang Mai & Driving Around Northern Thailand

Cooking in Chiang Mai & Driving Around Northern Thailand

Old Jan 1st, 2012, 11:56 PM
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Cooking in Chiang Mai & Driving Around Northern Thailand

Keen to escape at least some of the English winter, we happened across some cheap flights on Thai from LHR to BKK. Of course, virtually immediately after we booked, the hot topic in the news the devastating flooding in Thailand but as or intention as to focus upon the north of the country we just crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. As it happened, when we left on 6th December, the worst of the flooding appeared to be over, however when checking in online for our flight I noticed that more than half of the previous weeks flights had been cancelled! When we boarded the plane we were astounded at the lack of passengers – a whole 747 for probably less than 100 people. Virtually everyone had a row to themselves! Business and First Class accepted, this was one of the most comfortable flights we have ever taken, an old plane with no seat back entertainment but the extraordinary amount of space more than compensated. The sad fact of this is of course that the lack of traffic from Europe in this, the peak season, must be devastating for the Thai tourism industry.

CHIANG MAI

Arriving in Suvarnabumi in the afternoon we connected with our Air Asia flight to Chiang Mai with plenty of time to spare and arrived at our B&B, The 3 Sis later that the evening. http://www.3sisbedandbreakfast.com/ is a pleasant, mid-market place in nice quiet location just 10 min walk to the Tha Pae gate and directly overlooking Wat Chedi Luang and a. Spacious rooms, decent bathrooms and pretty good breakfasts we were only staying for a couple of nights before heading off for our cooking course.
By the time we arrived, it was around 8.00pm so after a quick shower we had a worded with the 3 Sis manager for restaurant recommendation and he sent us off to Huen Phen which was a 5 min walk around the corner. It was a very atmospheric place, although that night it was pretty empty. We opted for the “Khantoke” set dinner, a sort of tapas presentation of 5-6 different curries and dips served with sticky rice (white and purple) and a side order of Som Tum. We made sure to ask for both to be spicy and they certainly obliged. A few Beer Leos and back to the 3 Sis to get over the jet lag – chili and alcohol always seems to work for me!

The next day we set off exploring the old city and to source a SIM card for the BlackBerry. We found the main AIS office and it was a relatively quick and painless process to get up and running for both data and phone. I had opted for AIS upon the recommendation of Hanuman and it proved to be an excellent recommendation – great coverage and reception just about everywhere we went and the speed of browsing seemed to be equivalent to that at home (many thanks H!).

A little later we found the office of Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School - http://www.thaicookeryschool.com/ and arranged for them to collect us the next day to commence our course. We had approached this and a number of other schools but this one stood out head and shoulders above the rest in terms of helpfulness and response time via email. The really seemed to go out of their way to answer the many questions I had.

The school offers a range of 5 beginners and master classes all with different menus and activities on each day. After some pre-departure discussion with the school, we decided upon 3 beginner’s classes and 1 master class.

The beginner’s courses started at 10.00 and finished at 16.00 with a number of breaks throughout the day to consume the results of our labours! The day would commence with an “activity” which, in our case was a visit to the local market, a lecture on ingredients, their uses, preparation and alternatives if we can’t get them back home (very useful). The final activity was vegetable carving at which Carolyn was adept but for which I clearly lacked the necessary skills/aptitude. The format of each day was broadly similar. First, a demonstration of each of the courses was provided in the air conditioned demo kitchen with theatre style seating and an angled mirror on the ceiling so everyone gets a fantastic view of the demo. Once the demonstration is over we go outside to our own work stations to create the dishes ourselves. There are plenty of instructors and assistants around to provide additional help and guidance when needed. The instructors are really great – entertaining as well as good teachers. Pon particularly, who looked after us throughout our stay and “Big Momma” ( a bit like the Singapore TV chef Nancy Lam on speed). A number of the sessions each day were taken by the master chef himself Sombon Nabnian – a great character with a fantastic, laid-back sense of humour. Each day we cooked 6 dishes to make up a complete meal. With so much food throughout the day, we certainly didn’t feel like eating in the evenings.

Each day there were around 12 – 15 people on the course, many there for just a day others returned for several days and some, like us were staying in Sombon’s home, but there was plenty of space for more students so it never felt crowded in the slightest. The course are held at the specially designed and built open air school adjoining Sombon’s lovely home out at Doi Saket , about 15 mins from the centre of town. Most people either came for one day only or for a few days but stayed in the city. We had chosen to stay at the home stay in Sombon’s home and were really glad we did. The bedrooms are all very large and well furnished and you effectively get the run of the house and beautiful gardens – the breakfasts, as you would expect, are amazing and vary from day to day. Pon is a sort of Mr Fixit and offers to run us anywhere we want to go in our spare time. Nothing is too much trouble for him. On our first night we had our gourmet dinner party accompanied by a Japanese lady who was staying for the same 4 days as us and an Australian couple who were leaving the next day. The food was fantastic and each dish was accompanied by an explanation by Sombon which, all in all made for a great evening.

One evening Pon runs us into town for our complimentary massage and to visit the “Saturday Walking Street” (transport was provided to take us anywhere we wanted to go) The walking street is alternative to the now huge night-market area which now appears to be selling only tacky souvenirs and tee shirts. The walking street (there is another bigger one on Sunday held in different streets). At 7,00pm when we visited it was very, very busy but the quality of merchandise was much more interesting, varied and better quality than the night market. We spent a couple of hours there before dinner at Aroon Rai a very old established, family run close to Tha Pae Gate. The food was really excellent, especially the Khao Soi (a Northern Tha Coconut curry soup with noodles and chicken) and Gai Phet Krabpao (chicken with chili, garlic and holy basil. We end the evening with a few beers at Pinte Blues Bar on Thanon Moonmuang. I have wanted to visit this place for years. It is very small and simple but places amazing music all night long with occasional live performances (sadly not when we were there). Simple food, cold beer all surrounded by black and white photos of all the blues greats from Robert Johnson & T Bone Walker to Jefferson to Eric Clapton and John Mayall – my idea of musical heaven!

On our final day the school driver took us back to the airport to collect our rental car for the next stage of our trip and we drove back to Doi Saket in plenty of time for our Master Class with Chef Sombon himself at 4.00pm. This class took a different format it was very fast paced and geared towards cooking for a dinner party (and indeed, by the time we had finished there was probably enough food for 12!). We had chosen a menu no. 4:

GAENG LIANG GOONG
Mixed vegetable soup with prawns.

GAENG PAA MOO
Jungle curry pork (curry without coconut milk).
PLAA CHON NEUNG MAANOW
Steamed snake head fish with a chili and lime sauce.

PHOD GOONG KAP NOR MAI FARANG
Stir-fried prawns with asparagus.

YAM NEUA
Spicy beef salad Thai Style.

This time, rather than “demonstrate and then do” Sombon took us through each dish, step by step creating each dish from the basic ingredients (including pounding away in a mortar and pestle for ages until the curry pastes had achieved a smoothness acceptable to Chef!). With Sombon’s guidance we managed to complete all the dishes to arrive on time and then sat down to eat them. If I do say so myself, this was one of the best Thai meals I have eaten in a long time and a vast improvement on anything we had cooked before back home. The only problem was the vast amount of food we had produced! Totally impossible to eat all of it !

This has been a fantastic experience and we really have learnt a tremendous amount, not only about cooking Thai food but also about Thai cuisine in general. We will be sad to leave tomorrow.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2012, 12:46 AM
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Wonderful info thanks for posting hope folks
start returning in droves soon to help the Thai
people.My wife has me booked for Eastern Europe
or I would be hopping a plane right now for some of
that yummy thai green curry.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2012, 06:03 AM
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Glad to be of help with the SIM card! We just returned from CM today but sadly we did not go there for vacation. However, a month ago we were there for a week of R&R during the flood and found many new unique places so I wish I had shared with you while you were there.


For the UK I think sea bass will make the perfect substitute for the "snake head"!
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Old Jan 2nd, 2012, 06:22 AM
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great report...what were the costs for the school and the B&B?
happy new year
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Old Jan 2nd, 2012, 07:27 AM
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Wonderful report - looking forward to more.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2012, 03:08 PM
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Yum!
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Old Jan 2nd, 2012, 09:50 PM
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Oh I am so glad you used that cooking school. That is the one we used in CM and we loved it, in fact it was the main reason we originally went to CM.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2012, 09:51 PM
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Hanuman - I agree that Sea Bass would be a good alternative or maybe "Vietnamese River Cobbler Fish" which is now becoming widely available here. Thai ingredients are becoming a little easier to source with Thai owned supermarkets opening up in a few towns. Ingredients can be expensive though - I mentioned to one of the instructors that we had to pay £4 (200 baht) for a green papaya and she thought I was crazy!

Bob - I am remiss in not outlining the prices (will try harder in future lol). The beginners course are 1450baht per day with reductions for booking more than one day. Master's Classes are 3000 baht, again with reductions for multiple days.
The stay and study option was very good value starting at Single = 4,990 Double = 5,990 for one day with discounts for multiple days. We paid around 22000 baht for 4 nights accomodation, 3 beginners and one master's class (includes free transport, excellent large room, free transport, 1 massage and a free apron).
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Old Jan 3rd, 2012, 07:50 AM
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sounds like an affordable and great experience...
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Old Jan 3rd, 2012, 10:56 PM
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MAE HONG SON LOOP

We first did this trip back in Dec 2003, the year of the Tsunami. As every tee shirt on the loop proclaims ther are 1864 bends on the MHS loop as the road winds through the mountains. We enjoyed it immensely the first time and were intrigued to see how much, if anything had changed. The first thing we noticed as we drove out of Chiang Mai through the Mae Rim valley was the increased development, an indication of how much the Thai economy has powered ahead over the last 10 years, and the increased road traffic. As we drove towards Pai we quickly appreciated that this would no longer be the leisurely drive through the countryside it once was! However, as we continued away from Chiang Mai the traffic eased in volume but the proportion of lunatic drivers and kamikaze motorcyclists on the road remained astoundingly high! A few miles later and my Thai driving skills had returned. It seemed much safer to adopt the “when in Rome” approach to driving.
Our original intention had been to spend a night or two in Pai. The last time we were there it was a sleepy little town and we stayed in a place called Belle Villa amidst the mist covered rice paddies – very peaceful and atmospheric. Pai has grown – a lot! The town which once hosted just a few restaurants, unusual shops and a resident community of farang hippies is now home to dozens and dozens of tourist shops selling mostly “I’ve been to Pai” T shirts. Apparently it is now THE day trip destination for domestic tourists from Chiang Mai and elsewhere. We saw very few foreign tourists but that was probably down to the flooding in Bangkok. We decided just to have lunch and move on to Soppong. I will not go into detail here but the lunch, tasty though it was, in what seemed like a very nice restaurant proved, a few hours later, to be a huge mistake! Thankfully by the time this became evident we had reached our next destination.
En-route we stopped at a number a places to take in the stunning mountain scenery which was as unspoiled and as breathtaking as we remembered. At one place we stopped at a small roadside market to view the wares of the Karen villagers at the same time as a group of monks arrived to distribute sticky rice and sweets to the children – I have never seen kids move so fast!

SOPPONG

By mid- afternoon we had arrived in the small market town of Soppong and sought out the Soppong River Inn http://www.soppong.com/ a Thai/American owned place overlooking the river just off the main street. We had a look at the room ( a nicely furnished wooden bungalow in the gardens for 1200baht) and decide to stay for a couple of nights as there is a lot to see in the area, in particular, one of the largest cave systems in SE Asia. We have a quick look around the town before heading back to the guesthouse. Still suffering from the lunch in Pai, I forego dinner at the River Inn which is a shame as Joy, the owner is noted for her culinary skills, but Carolyn opts for a light supper of a local noodle soup with pork balls and declares it to be outstanding.

The next day is market day when the people from the surrounding villages in the area come to town to sell their produce and get their supplies. This really is a local market with some very “unusual” stuff for sale and is very colourful. The people are all very friendly and keen to stop and have a chat (good job I brushed up on my Thai before we came). After browsing the market we decide to pay a visit to the most famous cave complex in the area , THAM LOT. We turn up at the national park office and hire the (compulsory) guide for 200bht which includes a bamboo raft trip along the very shallow river through the cave complex. I have seen a lot of caves in many parts of the world and this, was really quite impressive. Not the largest by any means but quite pretty with loads of stalactites and stalagmites and a few coffins! At sunset each day the colonies of bats inhabiting the caves apparently make quite a sight as they leave their home each evening in search of insects. Well worth a look if in the area.

After a delicious dinner cooked by Joy, we retire for the evening ready for our drive to Mae Hong Son the next day. I would highly recommend Soppong River Inn as a place to stay on the loop. There are a wide variety of rooms at different prices, ours was very comfortable as I am sure, are the others. Joy is a mine of information and the food is outstanding.

The next morning we leave for Mae Hong Son, again stopping at various places of interest along the way. Part of the joy of travelling in this area is just to stop and admire the scenery. In 2003 we rarely saw another vehicle, now it is definitely a little busier but still a very pleasant experience. The problem is not so much with the volume of traffic Which is still quite light on most of the loop) but the frequent encounters with the aforementioned lunatic drivers hurtling around sharp bends on the mountain roads often on the wrong side of the road, usually on the phone and always with a complete disregard of anyone’s safety including their own. It only takes a couple of near (very!!!) misses before we begin to assume that there will be some around the next bend driving on the wrong side of the road and drive accordingly. Is there any sort of driving test in Thailand?

MAE HONG SORN

Arriving in Mae Hong Son it is good to see that the town is much as we remembered. We are once again staying at the Fern Resort http://www.fernresort.info/index.php which is about 6 km outside of town. There are a few more bungalows this time around but it is still as nice as we remembered. It is based on the concept of Community Based Tourism i.e. involving the local people in the running of the resort and operating it on what seems like good Eco credentials. The bungalows are well appointed and comfortable and spread throughout the wonderful gardens and rice paddies. There are streams everywhere so you are never too far from the sound of running water. No TVs in the rooms so it is really quiet and peaceful, definitely a place to enjoy nature at its best.

One of the many delights of staying here are the walks through the forest and hills which surround the resort. We opt for the long loop walk which is about 9 km through the forest and although quite steep in many places, the walk takes us across numerous streams to a number of beautiful waterfalls and look out points to see the surrounding mountains. A couple of the bridges across the river have collapsed but it is easy enough to scramble across the rocks to ford the river. The Fern dogs will guide you along the walks if required, although in 2003 they got us lost and we ended up walking closer to 20 kms!! This time, despite sleeping right outside our door every night the dogs really were not up for the walk on the day we went so we went accompanied only by the hand drawn map produced by the resort (a human guide is also available if required). If staying here I would highly recommend this walk.

MHS town itself, although larger than Pai, is still relatively unspoiled by tourism. It has a pleasant enough night market around a pretty the lake in the centre of town with some very good food stalls around the lake area – had some great Som Tum and grilled chicken livers one night as well as some other stuff which I couldn’t even identify but was delicious all the same! One evening we had dinner at Salween River. a small, highly recommended restaurant. It has moved from the address shown in the guidebooks and is now at the top of the road overlooking the lake. The food was absolutely superb. THE best Khao Soi (Northern Thai curried noodle soup) that I have ever tasted all the dishes we sampled were of a similarly high quality. Probably the best place to eat in the town.
Another evening we wander around the small night market, walk around the lake in the centre of town alongside the two Wats – Chong Klang and Chong Kham which are beautifully lit at night and very atmospheric. After grazing at the food stalls for dinner of Som Tum, Grilled Chicken and Dosas we have terrific foot massage provided by the students from the Public Health College – fantastic value at 75baht for 45 mins.
The main reason to visit the area is to get out into the countryside either on day treks which we opted for, or on overnight trips of up to a week. The trekking here is much less commercialised than Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai and is often promoted via community based projects involving the local minority peoples. The trekking operators here tend to be much more sensitive to the needs of the communities involved and far less intrusive. There are however, still a number of operators promoting trips to visit “the long necked women/giraffe women etc.” referring to some Karen people which persist in adding brass rings to the necks of young girls pushing down the shoulders, giving the impression of a long neck. Not wishing to help perpetuate this barbaric practice we avoid these places like the plague, instead opting for trips into the hills and countryside and hills using maps and predefined walks.

One trip definitely worth making is to Wat Doi Kong Mu atop a hill on the outskirts of the town. It can be reached by car up a winding road but we decided to park up and climb the 300 steps to the top. The views are spectacular over the town on one side and the Burmese border and mountains on the other.
There is a lot of other stuff to do in MHS and its environs – rafting on the river, elephant rides etc. are easily arranged or simply driving around the countryside to some of the villages.

On our final night in Mae Hong Son we decide to try out the restaurant Bai Fern –The best known and biggest restaurant in town. It looks very nice from outside but as we are led to our table we realise that it is a massive place and, judging by the diners sitting at long tables, clearly aimed at package bus tours. The service is appalling and the food barely adequate. I mentioned this to someone who appears to be the manager but he is not really interested so we head off back to Fern Resort. Apart from this teh food we have eaten in MHS has been really very good. Not a place to return to I feel.
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Old Jan 4th, 2012, 03:41 AM
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Thanks for a great report. We will be doing the MHS loop in a few weeks and your experiences are god to read.
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Old Jan 6th, 2012, 01:03 AM
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MAI SARIANG

Having spent 4 days enjoying the Fern Resort and the delights of the surrounding countryside, it is time to head onwards along the loop back to Chiang Mai. Our next stop is Mai Sariang, a small riverside town close to the Burmese border. It is also close to a number of refugee camps and is home to a number of foreign NGOs. (We had tried to get a posting here when working with the UK voluntary agency, VSO but ended up in Sierra Leone instead!. )It is very much a working town and the last time we were here there were few concessions to tourism and even fewer places to stay. Tourism is still in its infancy but appears to be developing fast with a few more choices of accommodation and yet more being built. We stop at small development of 5 or 6 newly built bungalows on the main street close to the river and negotiate a very nice room for 700bht.

By the time we have dumped our bags etc. it is late after noon so we decide to take a stroll over the bridge in the centre of town and along the opposite bank of the river. Although still in this small town, we take a step back to a more rural Thailand. We meet a woman herding goats along the riverbank as the sun sets – really quite tranquil. A bit further along we come across a massive pile of bones. On closer inspection these appear to be the bones of freshly slaughtered cattle (in some cases the horns are still attached to the skulls!) not sure why they are here and there is no one around to ask (even if there were, I am not sure my Thai language skills would be up to that conversation!). On our way back we stop and have a look around a couple of Wats. Mai Sariang seems to be the place just to wander around aimlessly soaking up the chilled out atmosphere.

Walking back into the town we decide on dinner at Inthina, a small local place on the main street close to the market. On our way there, a food street had been set up. We cruised for a while, sampling a few appetizers from the stalls along the way. The grilled chicken livers in honey and soy and deep fried chicken feet were especially tasty. There is a huge variety of very tempting and sometimes unusual food on display but few places to sit so we move on to Inthina. It is a basic looking family run place with at least four generations working that night. We ordered two mains and some rice. A good job we did not order more as the portions were enormous. The food was excellent, particularly the stewed pork curry with herbs and astoundingly cheap at around 40-50 baht per dish all rounded off with a couple of beer Chang.
We rise early for a wander around the morning market and, tempted by the delicious aromas, we at a market stall on bowls of brown noodle soup with stewed pork knuckle – again delicious and a diversion from the ubiquitous Ba Mee Naam or Kuaytiaw Naam – this one is heavily flavoured with star anise. On our way back to the bungalow we stop at the Black Ant coffee shop overlooking the river for a cup of excellent local coffee.

DOI INTHANON

Fed and refreshed, we head off for our final destination on the loop, Doi Inthanon National Park. As we leave Mai Sariang the scenery gradually becomes less dramatic – the hills are smaller and the bends in the roads more widely spaced. We make good time on our journey south and stop for lunch at a small town just outside of Doi Inthanon National Park. We find pass a very old lady grinding away at some Som Tum in a mortar and pestle and stop for two plates – again amazing food and amazing value. It does seem that some of the best food we are finding on this trip is at some of the least impressive looking places.

As we leave town after lunch, we start to ascend into the national park itself and the road becomes ever more tortuous, tight bends and steep hills all the way until eventually we reach some sort of high plateau with great views of Doi Inthanon, some 30-40 kms in the distance. All the way along the road there are market gardens growing everything from tomatoes, fruit and potatoes to flowers and salads – anything suited to the more temperate climate at this altitude. The driving for miles through these market gardens becomes much slower as we get stuck behind trucks piled high with loads of melons and cabbages crawling up the hills.

Eventually we reach the main gate to the park and decide to carry on up to the summit and the two massive stupas one each built for the king and the queen to celebrate their 60th birthdays. The views here are spectacular and already in the late afternoon it is getting quite cool so we continue on to the National Park headquarters to find some accommodation for the night. There are basically only two places to stay in the park, the government run headquarters accommodation and the rooms at Uncle Daengs Birds Visitors centre close to the Park headquarters.. I had called ahead and checked that Uncle Daeng had a room so we checked in to what is best described as a basic but comfortable room before heading off to the local market which is selling a variety of souvenirs for the day trippers from Chiang Mai and a huge variety of dried and fresh fruits. We buy some semi-dried and fresh strawberries, both of which are superb.

A short walk back to Uncle Daengs to get dinner before the kitchen closes at 7pm. We choose a selection of dishes and a couple of beers. The food is good but as the restaurant is open air and it is now getting very cold, it is not too long before the food gets cold and so do we. After chatting with the extended family for a while we decide to retire to the “comparative” warmth of our room. Despite, the altitude and the fact that it is always cold at night, there is no heating in the room. As if to reinforce the fact that it is cold, there is a thermometer in the bathroom???. A glance reveals that it is now down to 6 degrees C so we don our thermal underwear and get under the covers for extra warmth. In the morning the thermometer reveals that the temperature in the room has dropped to 2 degrees. We haven’t been this cold since we camped up in the Andes!

The next morning we head straight off along the road to Chiang Mai through the park making a few diversions to view some of the many waterfalls for which the park is famous. At one, there are a number of food stalls and the aroma of barbecued pork proves irresistible so we stop for a breakfast of BBQ, pork, sticky rice and a variety of (very hot!) chili dips. It really hit the spot!
We have been very impressed with our visit to Doi Inthanon but it is now time to return to Chiang Mai and a little bit of luxury. The drive back from Doi Inthanon is the least impressive scenically and it is not long before we reach the urban sprawl. We are a day early in our return to so we need to find a place in town for the night with parking before we return the car. We are booked into the Shangri la for the following night but they are the 3 Sis and all the other hotels we tried by phone as we drove back. We pass a big hotel with loads of parking and cheap rates. The room isn’t great but it is only for one night before we move to the Shangri La for our last night in town. We check in and dump our bags and only then notice that the rest of the clientele appear to be single, middle aged western men accompanied by their Thai “girlfriends”. All a bit sleazy and Carolyn is none too pleased about where we have ended up but it is only for one night (no wonder it was cheap!).

We spend the evening doing a little window shopping - some great stuff here in CM and much better prices than BKK. We walk across town to the night market close to Le Meridien. There are some nice shops in the vicinity but the market itself is now huge and VERY tacky - wall to wall tee shirts and fake designer rip offs. The Saturday and sunday walking market streets are really much better. The evening is rounded off with another great dinner at Aroon Rai before returning to our delightful hotel for the night.
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Old Jan 6th, 2012, 01:40 AM
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Really sounds good !
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Old Jan 11th, 2012, 09:44 AM
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After returning our car to Avis we get a taxi to the Shangri La and check in for our last night in Chiang Mai. We have stayed at many Shangri La properties around the world without a problem, unfortunately, when we got to our room it had not been cleaned – dirty sink, banana skins on the floor, grubby shower and faulty TV. I requested a move to another room and, unfortunately this was no better. It was time to have a word in the ear of the manager who took us to the lounge whilst sorting out another room. 15 minutes later and she took us to a third room. This time it was a suite on the Horizon Club floor which was VERY spacious, perfectly appointed, spotlessly clean and access to the club floor facilities – a great result in the end. That evening we take advantage of the club facilities before a not very inspiring buffet in the hotel restaurant. I guess the measure of a good hotel is how they deal with problems - in this case they dealt with it VERY well!

We agree a late check out with the manager as our train back to Bangkok is not until 17.30 so we just relax at the hotel, pop out for a massage. As always, I opt for the standard Thai massage but Carolyn opted for having her feet chewed by fish in a tank for half an hour followed by a foot massage- each to their own I suppose!

We head off to the station to board our train. A private 1st Class compartment awaits us which is reasonably comfortable. Having travelled on Thai trains before we have brought our food with us rather than relying on the at seat service provided in 1st (expensive and not very good). It is a long trip anyway but the diversion we have to take because of the floods north of Bangkok adds another 2-3 hours to the 13 hour journey. There is no getting away from the fact that it is a long journey and there are only so many games of Scrabble we can play to pass the time. Much as we enjoy train travel thios journey is a bit tedious to say the least.

We stop for 30 mins at Ayutthaya station and, although the floodwaters appear to have almost completely receded, the after effects of the devastation are clearly visible. The water marks on the walls seem to be well over head height. Amazingly, some of the shacks/shanties on the outskirts seem to be still standing (or maybe they have been rebuilt). It is difficult to comprehend how much these people must have suffered. This suffering will no doubt continue for a long time yet. I do hope that the Thai government gets its act together and provides help to these people as I cannot believe that the majority will have any form of insurance cover for their losses.

At last we arrive in Huamlampong station, grab some breakfast at one of the noodle stalls close to the station before descending into the MTR to travel to our final hotel.
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Old Jan 11th, 2012, 11:01 AM
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Thanks so much for your report. Good for the Shangri-La making things right with you!

I was especially interested to hear your comments on Ayutthaya, as our Bangkok driver is from there.
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Old Jan 15th, 2012, 03:36 AM
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Double thanks! Very interesting to me as I've not been to the North in about (shudder) 30 years!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Old Jan 15th, 2012, 02:56 PM
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great reporting
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Old Jan 24th, 2012, 11:12 PM
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So u didn't visit Pai this trip or did I miss it? We are in Pai now. Any recs for things to do, places to eat? Thanks
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Old Jan 24th, 2012, 11:39 PM
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yestravel,

We were in Pai last week when it was very cold - 5c.

One of the best Thai restaurant in Pai and elsewhere in Thailand as well is call "Benjarong" Location near to the PTT gas station. Very, very good food but be warned that the owner is a bit of a recluse and will open and shut his restaurant on a whim. He does not tolerate impatient customers so if you go there to relax and don't rush the food then it will be very rewarding. Best for lunch IMO.
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Old Jan 24th, 2012, 11:39 PM
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That's suppose to read 5c not -5C!
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