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The Mystic East - a tale of hot food, hot weather, airmiles and imodium.

The Mystic East - a tale of hot food, hot weather, airmiles and imodium.

Dec 5th, 2016, 02:17 PM
  #1  
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The Mystic East - a tale of hot food, hot weather, airmiles and imodium.

Just back from three and a bit weeks in Thailand and Vietnam enjoying temples, street food, tropical beaches, cocktails, coffees, puppet shows and a lot of internal flights!

Fellow Fodorite Uruabam/Weegie/Stilldontknow (aka Tommy) organised this trip and will feature as co-star.

Nb. I am posting this TR in the lounge and Europe (in addition to the Asia forum) as I am not known outside of Europe really – I saw someone else do this earlier this year so hopefully that means it is allowed/and/or no-one hits the triangle. If you do santa will probably bring you coal!

Pictures to be uploaded in sets for each destination – here’s Bangkok to get you started.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/494523...57677450924765

Day 1 and 2 – Heathrow, Dubai and Bangkok.

Tommy and I were fortunate enough to have PPI refunds this year so the trip we’d started planning to South East Asia for Nov 2016 was suddenly upgraded to business class. I flew from Heathrow to Bangkok via Dubai with Emirates, which was almost as exciting as the holiday itself – a chauffeur picks you up and takes you to the airport, you can trough in the lounge (I had smoked mozzarella salad, then saddle of lamb stuffed with pine nuts and spinach served with roast root veg, plus a fair bit of champagne), and then you have a big seat on board that goes completely flat for sleeping, 1000s of telly channels and appropriately obsequious serfs. Despite the lounge scoff I managed to find room for artichoke soup with sumac cheese straws, Arabian spiced cod, and then chocolate delice with mango once airborne. I also had a breakfast martini (marmalade, gin and Cointreau) and a fair bit more champers. Tommy flew from Glasgow, also with Emirates. I can’t remember what he had to eat but he did show me photos, and I also recall he had a bit of red mist over the fact that you didn’t get amenity kits on the UK-Dubai leg as it wasn’t considered a night flight (despite getting in after midnight).

Dubai airport was vast, and unlike Heathrow, where you had the not insignificant luxury of boarding direct from the lounge, it was a 20 minute hike between gates. There was a lot of quite blingy décor in the lounge (ibex heads in ebony and rose gold and ornate fountains), but also good stuff like free ice cream, wifi, juice bars etc. On the second leg (Dubai to Bangkok) I only had breakfast as I was a bit stuffed. The all-important amenity kits finally arrived, full of Bvlgari goodies and I took everything out and admired it on my tray table about half a dozen times. The flight was smooth and uneventful and landed roughly on schedule.

Emirates car service efficiently picked me up right outside the main terminal then equally efficiently deposited me at the wrong hotel in Bangkok city centre. (I got dropped off in a kind of underpass, so it was impossible to spot the mistake until the driver had left.) Tommy, who had arrived first, came to rescue me in a taxi and I finally got checked into the correct hotel – Golden Tulip Mandison Suites - around 4pm. We were a 5 minute walk from the busy Sukhumvit Road, and about 10 mins from the nearest Skytrain stop. The hotel itself was very good value with big rooms in restful dark oriental colours, picture windows, a nice pool and good breakfasts (egg station, pastries, Asian congee type dishes, tons of fresh fruit, pancakes, and waffles).

After comparing flights and Tommy demo-ing the minibar etc we headed out for a bite to eat and to locate a suitable place to watch the sun go down. Our watering hole of choice was Above 11 – a rooftop bar with pink tree-shaped parasols. I had something with pomegranate in and it came with angel wings carved out of fresh ginger mounted on the rim of the glass which tickled me a bit.

We next moved on to Chinatown, grabbing a taxi from an array of bubblegum pink cars at the stand. Bit of a rude awakening here – our vehicle had no seatbelts and the driver drove like a maniac. Tommy found my consternation amusing and commanded me to abandon all notions of health and safety for the duration of our trip.

Chinatown was everything I had hoped it would be – an explosion of neon juxtaposed with silk lanterns, people tucking into bowls of rice at tiny zinc tables whilst seated on even tinier plastic stools, hawkers pulling carts, tuk-tuk drivers touting for business, scrawny cats and dogs begging for scraps. Down a side street we found a massage parlour offering hour long foot massages for 200 baht (circa £5). Our feet were washed in petal strewn tubs of water, then lotion massaged in with varying degrees of force. Tommy’s masseur was a ladyboy and he pronounced her to have very good firm hands. Mine an older women who chatted non-stop in thai with the other spa staff. We left refreshed and fragrant, to hunt out a late night eating spot, bypassing the fish stalls and settling on roast duck with rice (me), noodles (Tommy), Asian greens (both). Back to the hotel for a decent night’s sleep once we’d mastered the aircon.
RM67 is offline  
Dec 5th, 2016, 03:39 PM
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Looking forward to the rest of your report. I was just telling someone that it is a dream of mine to fly with Emerates Air.
schmerl is offline  
Dec 5th, 2016, 04:23 PM
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Enjoying the report! Our favourite part of the world.

Emirates is pretty great, though we were well back further in the plane when we flew them to Sri Lanka. You've made it a goal to someday make it near the front.

Look forward to more.
CounterClifton is offline  
Dec 5th, 2016, 04:49 PM
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Can't wait to hear more about it. We're planning a trip to Thailand (maybe in 2018?) but there will be no Emirates in our future, so glad to hear about it from you.
xyz99 is offline  
Dec 5th, 2016, 05:09 PM
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Oh, this is going to be good!
muskoka is online now  
Dec 6th, 2016, 06:57 AM
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Day 3: Bangkok

Our first full day in Bangkok and we decided on a trip to Wat Pho temple for a bit of culture. This necessitated taking the skytrain down to the Chaopraya river, then hopping on a boat to the Phra Nakhon district. Frankly, our walk to Asok BTS was a bit of an assault on the senses - in addition to the teeming traffic and its constant blaring of horns there was a cacophony of smells - durian, mango, chargrilling, raw sewage, diesel, incense, jasmine and fish sauce - and a blanket-like humidity wrapping itself around us. I can easily see why many people find Bangkok a bit full-on, but once you've acclimatised to the heat and noise and mastered the art of crossing the road (just go for it - cars and motorcycles weave round you effortlessly) - the chaos is magical.

The sky train ticket purchasing system is a bit daft - they have staff in cubicles but all they are allowed to do is give out change, and then you queue a second time at the ticket machine to actually buy your ticket. The Silom line is quieter than the Sukhumvit line. Sadly we needed to spend more time on the latter than the former for our trip, so found ourselves standing rather than seated most of the way (albeit in relative air-conditioned comfort), watching the little in-car tvs, playing solemn music and showing pictures of the recently deceased king.

At Saphan Taksin we boarded an express ferry (rather than one of the tourist boats or junks) and sped off up the muddy brown channel, passing giant riverside chain hotels and rickety houses on stilts over the water, greenery hanging from narrow balconies. Every now and then the boat would stop at piers for passengers to embark or disembark, the arrival, departure and mooring of boats controlled by agitated marshalls blowing furiously on whistles.

The walk from the river to the temple wasn't that long but we struggled a bit to find the entrance (canny touts try to redirect you to their stalls and shops, though Tommy was fairly wise to this having visited before). Once inside we wandered the courtyards in scorching midday heat, taking off our shoes to nip in and out of temple buildings, admiring gold buddahs, lacquered columns, gilded panels, knobbly spires, and rooflines edged with dragons. Sitting on the edge of a carp pond we rubbed our blisters and gave thanks for the occasional cloud intermittently relieving us of the tropical sun.

Outside the temple we found a small cafe serving iced coffees and sat slurping noisily on our drinks. There were some lovely leather goods - wallets, purses and bags - on sale in the coffee shop, but Tommy ruled it too early in the trip to be looking for souvenirs, so we carried on our way back to the ferry terminal without any purchases but full of caffeine. The walk talk us past a number of stalls set out along the road, which we'd obviously also passed on our way down, but had not really taken in at the time. When we looked closer we saw that the stalls were in fact manned by various national organisations - naval cadets, scouts, nurses and so on - who were giving out free food and drink to any and all passes-by as alms to honour the dead king. We were both really touched by this simple act of generosity. The food was delicious and varied - all home cooked. Bowls of curry, grilled meats, and wanton-like dumplings filled with pork and lemongrass. There were also sugary doughnuts, ice-creams and lollies, and bottles of water and fruit juice - all chilled on ice, and all free for the taking.

Once off the boat, we retraced our steps to the BTS, spotting chickens and a cockeral strutting round Saphan Taksin station(!), and a bizarre sign proclaiming 'No balloon!' There are a lot of things you can't do on the BTS, apparently, apart from 'no ballloon', including eating, drinking, leaning against pillars and talking loudly - all verboten. On the way back I kept an eye out for infringments but everyone - school children, office workers, and tourists - were all remarkeably compliant, glued to their phones or e-books.

Walking down Sukhumvit 20 alley back to our hotel we noticed numerous stalls set up cooking lunch for local shop staff and construction workers, so purchased some chicken skewers and grilled pork which were neatly bagged up in polythene for us (like funfair goldfish!), and took them back to the hotel for a nibble. After our portable lunch we headed down to the pool for a bit of a chill out. I swam, catching my feet and knees on a number of hidden ledges (I told you health and safety was not a thai strong point), whilst Tommy mostly sunbathed - he'd burnt his chest the day before so needed now to burn his back to match .

Evening activities started with a visit to an IT mall to try to find a cable for transfer of photos from camera to tablet, since Tommy's transfer app and wifi wasn't working properly. Unfortunately the mall (which was vast) seemed to consist of kiosk after kiosk of mobile phone cases sold by teenagers, and it's not very easy explaining 'USB to micro-USB' in thai to someone who thinks you probably want to buy a pink Hello Kitty iphone 6 cover. We left without a cable (which seems only fair considering I didn't get a bag from the coffee shop-cum boutique earlier - ha!) and headed for a district known for its street food.

There's been a concerted effort to clear up roadside traders and stalls recently in Bangkok and when we found the area (sorry, cam't remember the exact Soi) there wasn't as much choice as we'd been hoping, so we passed on eating and headed for a bar instead. I think the place was called The Rock Pub, and it didn't initially hold much promise, being half empty and with the barman struggling to assemble anything that didn't come straight out of a bottle, but first impressions can be very wrong indeed and ours certainly were. First off, although my cocktails and mocktails took an age to make, they were delish when they were finally served up, and as we were imbibing, a band came on stage who were so good that we revised our 'one quick drink then home' plan and spent the entire night there. The band were thai, performing a mix of punk, rock and indie classics (The Clash, Chilli Peppers, Rolling Stones) and were frankly, utterly brilliant. Great vocals and very tight instrumentals, blowing all the X-Factor type crap out of the water. After settling the bar bill (they had slightly reproachfully lined up all of Tommy's empty bottles by way of a tab!), we headed back to the Asok area for some late night eats.

Our destination was a tiny alley Tommy had visited before - possibly off Soi 18? - I'm not 100% sure - really no more than a narrow passage lined with tables and stools and woks over gas burners, though the occasional motorbike or scooter did thread its way through. The heat was fierce in the constricted space, smoke laced with chili catching at the back of our throats. We definitely ordered omelette and pork belly and probably two other dishes - possibly morning glory - and maybe some fish - which was all cooked to order and utterly delicious. Tommy showed me how to use the condiments provided to spice or freshen everything up - wedges of lime and chili flakes, and my favourite - vinegar loaded with mustard seeds - which I soaked the whole omelette with. We drank cokes from the fridge buzzing noisely beside us, eventually heading home for bed full of chili heat and hoarse from shouting in the pub.
RM67 is offline  
Dec 6th, 2016, 09:05 AM
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I've made 3 visits to Bangkok - you are doing a great job of calling up memories. The day we took the express boat it got so crowded my husband became very anxious that we were in peril. When we got back to the hotel we googled to see if there had ever been a sinking, evidently not.

I want to add tho, for readers that may be considering a trip, we stayed at the Chatrium Riverside for part of our visit. Great location, you can watch all the river traffic night and day and it makes some of the sightseeing a bit easier as you don't have to trek to a BTS station. We were never able to fully enjoy walking about / sightseeing because of the heat...and we are from the south!
suec1 is offline  
Dec 6th, 2016, 11:09 AM
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Thank you everyone.

Suec1 - I thought exactly the same thing about the boats - we were standing at the back as it was packed, but I was still a bit nervous about the huge bow waves potentially swamping the front of the boat as we sped along at formula 1 pace. I think Thailand and Vietnam are an exercise in letting go of any control freak tendancies tbh!

To anyone contemplating Emirates, we were both impressed with the service. Business isn't cheap but they have a great wine list and you could (almost) get your money back on the XO cognac alone
RM67 is offline  
Dec 6th, 2016, 12:51 PM
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This the first trip report that has ever compelled me to consider a Bangkok trip.
Thank you. Following madly.
muskoka is online now  
Dec 6th, 2016, 01:01 PM
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Enjoying your wonderful trip report. I've been to Bangkok 5 times, it is my favorite city. Your report is reminding me that I am due for a visit. Looking forward to more.
laurieco is offline  
Dec 6th, 2016, 01:15 PM
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Thank you both - it was my first visit to Asia so please do add your own recommendations those of you who have visited before. Laurie - I hope your back is better!
RM67 is offline  
Dec 7th, 2016, 02:14 PM
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I'm really enjoying this report although it is about the kind of trip I am probably never going to take.
Nikki is offline  
Dec 8th, 2016, 08:42 AM
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Day 4: Chiang Mai

After 48 hours in Bangkok we headed north to Chiang Mai, Thailand's second city. Our flight took only 50 minutes on one of Air Asia's red and white Airbuses, leaving from Don Mueng late on Sunday morning. Our cases fortuitously appeared seconds after we made it to baggage reclaim so we were almost first in the queue to grab a taxi from the well organised rank, which transferred us to our next base - the Thannattee Boutique hotel - around a 15 minute drive from the airport.

Chiang Mai, although fairly sizeable (population 150,000) has a very different vibe to Bangkok. It nestles at the foot of the mountains, surrounded by national parks replete with waterfalls, elephants and tigers, and the air is clearer and cooler. The city itself is bounded by ancient walls and a moat system. Our hotel was just outside the city centre in a residential area of houses with walled gardens, and small local shops and cafes. As in Bangkok, overhead was a mass of tangled cables and wires supplying homes with high speed fibre optic despite their antiquated telegraph looks. The hotel building was lanna style - a lot of dark wood, the bathroom with a beaten metal sink and turquoise tiling. We had a small balcony that we never used, and at the back was a sheltered swimming pool. Whilst nice enough, we felt that our accomodation wasn't that well located as we had to cross a busy road every time we wanted to get into the city centre, and although probably no more than a 10 minute walk to the ancient walls, anyone who has visited south east asia will know that that's plenty long enough to be dripping with sweat on a hot day.

We decided that we'd laze by the pool for a bit before heading into town for the night market. Unfortunately there were only a handful of loungers and these were all taken, so we sat at a small table with low wooden stools, baking in the midday heat. Tommy attempted and failed to put up a parasol, so to evade the sun I decided to have a swim instead. Navigating the narrow ledge along the edge of the pool I managed to lightly brush the parasol holder and the brolly tipped over and fell in. Tommy pretended he didn't know me while two Aussie girls swimming in the pool helpful rescued the parasol and fished it out. We left it dripping against a wall and pretended nothing had happened, doing comedically short lengths that consisted of about 4 strokes and listening to the thrum of insects. When it became clear no-one was going to vacate a lounger any time soon, we cut our losses and got dried off in the room before heading into town.

I think our first port of call was an ex-pat bar called John's Place. I'm not normally a fan of anywhere full of middle aged men whinging about home from 5000 miles away and demanding egg bacon and fried bread, but this was actually quite a nice spot, on a corner, so good for people watching, and open to the elements. We ordered Khao Soi (chicken and noodles in a coconut broth with chili and coriander, with more noodles, fried and crispy on top). Tommy was mildly outraged that our khao soi came without the correct final layer of crispy noodles but despite that it was delicious - just the right level of (medium) spicing for me. I can't remember what we drank but unless I say otherwise you can take it that typically any imbibing session consisted of fruit juice, beer and cocktails. The bar girls, in between orders, tonged their hair with implements plugged into massively overloaded sockets on the wall by the bar like a scene from a health and safety video (the 'do not do this' version, obviously). We also watched as some idiotic french men tried to drive off on a scooter under the influence, and listened to gasps and honking of horns as they nearly came to grief.

Next on the agenda were foot massages for both of us. These were similar in price to the Bangkok ones (in the 200-300 baht range) and decent enough, but probably not quite as stellar as the Chinatown rubbing. I don't think it helped that we both had blisters - or that I'd worn capri pants that didn't roll up far enough for my masseuse to get as high up my legs as she would have liked. But they were perfectly ok massages and its always good to get away from the bedlam of any asian city centre for an hour or two. A nice touch was the ginger tea we were given to drink afterwards.

Tentatively easing our shoes back on, we headed for the Sunday market on Walking Street, starting out at the food stands, passing vendors juicing sugar cane, gutting fish, ladling out curries and bagging up sticky sweets. We tried coffee ice cream - sold in little blocks wrapped in waxy paper, dispensed into a paper cone when you purchased and a somewhat dodgy version of the famous banana pancake, in which a raw banana was wrapped in a crepe and smothered in nutella (the inside is meant to be cooked too!). The sign over the stall pronounced 'Only Banana in Chiang Mai!' and this became a standing joke for the rest of the trip whenever we saw a banana pancake vendor elsewhere in the city. Tommy bought a coconut to drink the water from and some thai sausage which was meaty and coarse. We tried to look at the stalls of silk goods and lacquer but the street was rammed here, and we ended up ducking out to go to a wine bar, sitting on a balcony at first floor level, watching the street below. My tummy wasn't feeling great at this stage so we headed back to the hotel, which I felt bad about as I know how much Tommy loves night markets, but as it turned out, similar venues would figure later in our trip, so it wasn't the end of the world. 'I told you to take Imodium' was Mr M's one and only comment as I nipped in and out of the bathroom at regular intervals during the night!

And photosbr />
https://www.flickr.com/photos/494523...57673541563414
RM67 is offline  
Dec 8th, 2016, 09:08 AM
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Loving this report and the pictures.
schmerl is offline  
Dec 8th, 2016, 12:16 PM
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Thank you Nikki and Schmerl
RM67 is offline  
Dec 10th, 2016, 12:33 PM
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What fun! Looking forward to reading more.
Toucan2 is offline  
Dec 10th, 2016, 01:08 PM
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Day 5: Chiang Mai

After a mediocre breakfast at the hotel I took a prophylactic Imodium, and we made our way back to the city centre to explore further. We were planning a temple fix, visiting Wat Chedi Luang, and the adjacent Wat Pan Tao. Wat Chedi Luang reminded me somewhat of an Aztec pyramid with almost impossibly steep steps leading up the sides, and impressively large stone elephants looking forbodingly down from the middle tiers. Huge stone snakes guarded the staircases. Although the temple dates to the 14th century a certain amount of restoration has been carried out in the last couple of decades with UNESCO funding – the level of restoration has been somewhat contraversial. Just next door we found Wat Pan Tao, completely different in style, this time recalling a Norweigen stavekirk with its staggered rooves and dragon like prows. In and around Wat Pan Tao, banners and lanterns were being erected in soft pastels and pale golds. These flapped gently in the lightest of breezes, as tuk-tuks queued in the courtyards and feral but benign dogs roamed the grounds.

We left the temple complex and found a small café – Jario Coffee – on Prapokklao Road – very modern in design, with a good choice of cold drinks and smoothies, and techy types sat at a long bar by the window gawping at their Macbooks. I had a blueberry smoothie and got lots of seeds in my teeth which Tommy didn’t tell me about, but luckily I needed the loo so was alerted to my purple mouth in the bathroom mirror. We then headed to the north of the city, looking for (another) IT mall to continue the cable search. This was again unsuccessful. Tommy bought some sort of hard drive storage thingy instead which was also not quite the right thing as it turned out when we checked the connections, but I soothed him with promises of beer later.

Because of my dodgy tummy we had western food for lunch just to be on the safe side – I think some sort of club sandwich and fries which was ok but felt like a cop out with all the great thai food on offer. Then back to the hotel, passing interesting looking shops and eateries that we mentally bookmarked – for example a great little gift shop full of tiny earthernware cups and teapots, plus a number of café come art galleries – café/coffee culture is huge in Chiang Mai.

We got back to the Thannattee mid to late afternoon for a brief rest – this would become standard practice on our trip, allowing us to cool off a bit after the midday heat, and recharge any electrical devices that were flagging using Tommy’s ‘Tower Of Power’ – a gadget that had about half a dozen USB ports. Sitting in our underwear(!) to chill a bit quicker we’d compare photos and post updates to Facebook to torture colleagues at work back home.

We had big plans for the evening as our trip to Ching Mai coincided with the Loi Krathong festival, in which lanterns are launched into the sky, and krathong (little floats made of flowers and candles) are set adrift on the river. As soon as it got dark we headed back into town following the crowds thronging down the main street as they turned west toward the river. Stalls were set up along the road selling krathong, trinkets and food. As we got closer to the river the crowds got denser and denser, until we could barely move. Luckily, at the this point we were able to break off to the left and head down some steps to the river bank. From here we could see many krathong already floating along with the current and hundreds of lanterns being launched into the night sky from a bridge over the river. The krathing and lanterns illuminated against the dark water and dark sky looked magical.

The main krathong launch point – a wooden pier leading out into the river - was about 100m to our left. Most people were releasing their krathong from here. However, a few intrepid (read ‘daft’) individuals had chosen to launch their krathong directly from the river bank, and these were now trapped in weeds by the bank, unable to get out into the main navigation. One guy was teetering on the edge of the riverbank, using a long stick to try and free his krathong. We waited gleefully for him to fall in though sadly it never happened. Equally daftly, a small group of westerners were trying to launch a lantern from more or less the same spot down at water level, rather than on the bridge. A combination of tree branches overhead and inexperience with how long to allow the lantern to warm and inflate before launching meant it came plunging back to earth almost immediately, initially accompanied by giggles and then screams as it disintegrated showering everyone in the vicinity with embers. We enjoyed the more successful lantern and krathong launches for a fair while, before slowly heading back into town.

Our late evening entertainment was a trip to the ladyboy cabaret, located in a building tucked round the back of Anusan night market. Truth be told we weren’t expecting a lot from this, having heard the shows can be short and badly choreographed, but it was absolutely brilliant - 2hrs of bird of paradise-like costumes, music and dancing. All lip-synched/mimed but this didn’t matter one little bit, as it was all about the colour, energy and camp. Think Abba, Rhiannon, Patti Labelle. There was a fair bit of audience participation, for the most part with volunteers rather than ‘victims’, and ‘spare’ ladyboys served as waitresses during the show, fetching drinks and snacks for nominal tips. Tommy tipped quite well so I got a lot of candid shots of the ladyboys as they came in and out of the dressing room or bar area. We had a great time here and so did the rest of the audience judging by the noise level!

On our way back to the hotel we grabbed kebabs from a street vendor and they were honestly the best kebabs I have ever eaten – chicken rather than the more usual unidentifiable pinkish brown lump of flesh, with tomato, great Asian coleslaw and mayo. The roti type wraps were flamed briefly before the meat and other goodies were encased, then handed to us perfectly folded like origami. We ate as we walked, passing rowdy bars with hookers perched on stools or leaning against pool tables, massage parlours, restaurants and bars with customers seated outside in the humid night air, and residential properties – a little thai girl of no more than four or five years of age putting down a bowl of food for her cat in the open garage, batting away flies before she’d let him eat. There were stil thousands of lanterns in the sky, even at this late hour, and the city was bewitching.
RM67 is offline  
Dec 10th, 2016, 04:51 PM
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I know Mr. M. is no stranger to Thailand, but I think given some unplanned events (and a dodgy tummy), you negotiated your way through Bangkok really well. Your photos are really great, too.

Enjoying this trip report.

BC
bookchick is offline  
Dec 11th, 2016, 12:29 PM
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Thank you Toucan2 and BC - one more day of Chiang Mai to come, and then on to Vietnam....
RM67 is offline  
Dec 12th, 2016, 08:00 AM
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Day 6: Chiang Mai

For our last full day in Chiang Mai we started with a trip to Doi Suthep, the mountain that looms over Thailand's second city. To get beyond the city limits we had to hire a songtaew - a converted pick up truck with bench style seating that normally ferries people short distances around town for a few baht. I was a bit apprehensive about this as the sides and the back of the vehicle are partially open, again with no seatbelts to restrain you, but it was actually fine, our driver proceeding at a perfectly reasonable pace, and the bars on the inside of the roof providing something to hang on to if things got a bit hairy.

Our dusty red Isuzu zig-zagged up the mountain confidently, via a seemingly never ending series of hairpin bends, and from time to time we got glimpses of the city spread out below, continually receding as we climbed ever higher. After about half an hour, the songtaew stopped at a makeshift carpark near the top of the mountain and we scrambled out of the vehicle and down a short muddy bank, through some trinket stalls, to an area of steps that lead up to Wat Phra That. Actually, I am underselling it a bit - there are 300 or more steps up to the temple with incredible jade coloured dragons undulating either side of the staircase all the way up (or down, depending on your viewpoint). Being lazy, we opted for the funicular railway to the top instead though.

When you get out of the railway carriage, despite the large numbers of tourists, it is to a wonderfully tranquil scene of multiple terraces, temple buildings with emerald buddahs, temple bells and golden spires, and entrancing views of the mountain falling away below. Cobalt blue skies, and a bizarre mixture of pines and palms complete the picture. We wandered fairly aimlessly just soaking up the atmosphere. An umber-clad monk sitting contemplatively on a terrace with a book stopped reading to answer his smartphone. We bought coconut ice cream (Tommy) and passionfruit sorbet (me) and sat on stools hewn from old tree trunks in a cafe teetering on the edge of the mountain, people watching and admiring the view. Tommy told me that the royal family have a residence slightly higher up the mountain and I can well see why they chose the spot - it's beautiful.

Before long it was time to head back to the songtaew (our driver had been waiting patiently whilst we explored the temple) and make the journey down the mountain returning toward Chiang Mai. We asked to be dropped off on the outskirts of the city rather than in the centre, in a district not far from the university, so we could look for a cafe we'd read about online - 'Catmosphere'. In Catmosphere your coffee and cakes are accompanied by feline companions happy to be petted or sit on your lap while you eat and drink. Unfortunately no amount of searching, even with the assistance of Google maps, could reveal where 'Catmosphere' was located (I think we'd been dropped off a bit too early tbh), so we finally plumped for a complex of cafes and bars which were built over a series of lily ponds, with wooden walkways accessing the various seating areas. Some of the cafes had huge floor cushions, others more traditional seating. Our cafe made excellent iced almond lattes - we had a long wait but they were so worth it.

We than had the task of trying to flag down a songtaew to take us back to the city centre, and this was not as easy as it sounds, since songtaews turned out to be relatively few and far between on the outskirts of the city. We thought we'd suceeded as one finally pulled over, only to see the driver usher all his passengers out as the pickup truck overheated and then refused to restart! Eventually we managed to get one to stop and climbed in to be taken back to the Tapae Gate. I'm trying to remember if we had lunch when we got back to the old town but I honestly can't recall - I think we must have , and probably more drinks, possibly at John's Place again, and then it would have been back to the hotel for some more rest and relaxation before another night out.

That evening there was a second round of Loi Krathong festivities, centering this time on a parade of floats through the streets of the old town. When it was announced shortly before our departure that the king had died, it had looked as though most of the Loi Krathong festivities were going to be cancelled; however the mayor of the district later stated that celebrations could go ahead as long as they were low key. A particular feature of the festival was that lanna and floats were to be decorated in what were deemed appropriate colours - white or black, and I think also navy and red - basically funereal colours in Thailand. As we left the Thannattee, white lanterns were being hung over the door by staff in line with this new policy.

We crossed the busy road, heading for the old quarter, seeing monks lighting candles along walls fronting the street. Then into the city centre proper where all the floats were neatly lined up ready for the off. Almost all were decked out in a simple silvery white colour palette, with occasional accents of pale blue or lilac from the lamps illuminating them. The themes were very varied - a tableau with floaty oriental clouds, elephants, aeroplanes, and even white lotus flowers with young children sitting in them holding parasols. Parade participants sat around the floats checking their phones as they waited to get going, or stood shuffling their feet, keen for the off, holding elaborate banners in thai script.

We nipped around the corner to a bar (sorry didn't manage to get the name) and sat down for beers (Tommy) and 'Kahlua milk' (me) - exactly as it sounds, a shot of coffee liqueur in a glass of iced milk. I managed quite a few kahlua milks as they went down very easily (!), and whilst we were drinking we had the added bonus of seeing the floats go past - the parade had started and had handily turned down the same street as our venue, again making for the river.

Once the last float had gone by we headed for the Anusan night market again, deciding to eat at one of the restaurants in the covered area. Something I noticed here was that many young children accompanied their parents to work - some sleeping under the trestle tables that their family were selling goods from, others playing in the shelter of the market, with balloons or footballs. One group of young children were absolutely fascinated by the fish spa, crouching by the blue tanks watching the fish nibble away at customers feet, transfixed for all the world as though they were watching cartoons on tv.

We ordered a whole duck (complete with innards), rice, morning glory and mushrooms. The duck came on a tin platter, hacked expertly into mangeable pieces, but still largely on the bone. Stuffing our faces, we talked about how much we'd enjoyed Loi Krathong. Lanterns still floated overhead, visible from the moment we left the market, all the way home to our hotel.
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