Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Another early wake up to catch our flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai! We hopped in a cab and it took about 40 minutes to get to BKK airport. About 10 minutes before we arrived, we noticed our taxi’s meter was off. The last I saw, it was at 197 BHT for our trip, and by the time we arrived and pointed this out to the driver, he tapped the meter and demanded 400 BTH for the ride. There was no way the fair doubled in the 10 minutes the meter was off, so I told him I would only pay 350. He agreed but then refused to give me change for my 1,000 BHT bills. He started to ignore us and look everywhere but at us and would not talk to us either! I ended up having to go into the airport, to the exchange counter, and get them to give me smaller bills so that we could pay the cabbie. I was so mad and worried we wouldn’t have enough time to catch our flight since we had about an hour before boarding.

Check-in was actually a breeze since Thai Smile airlines had different counters for each flight and there was almost no line in security. Phew! We found our gate and then walked back to the food court area. Ryan got Dunkin’ Donuts, which I initially scoffed at since it’s so American, but he bought a cookie dough doughnut and I couldn’t resist a bite of that heaven! Since I hadn’t had it yet, I got some Pad Thai and mango sticky rice. It was pretty decent but I was still excited to try the local street Pad Thai outside of an airport.

We walked to the gate and it was so quite! Talk about the cleanest and easiest airport experience. Everyone at the gate was very friendly and we boarded with ease. We took off and I got out my laptop to blog. The stewardess brought by water and this delicious curry burrito thing as a snack. I was already sooo full but had to at least taste test….
Curry burrito on Thai Smile Airways

I just started journaling and we started to descend. I think the whole flight lasted an hour. We were quick to the gate and at the hotel within 45 minutes of landing! Our hotel, Rachamankha, was a piece of paradise in the middle of the city. We walked into a quite corridor of white buildings with beautiful gardens – so tranquil!

Our room was not yet ready so we talked to the front office attendant and he suggested some temples to go see while we waited. He also asked us which elephant tour we were planning on doing the next day and flinched a bit when we told him the one we booked, Chang Dao. We asked him why he reacted the way he did and he said something about it being far away, but I was a bit skeptical that that was the real reason.

With our map in hand, we took off walking to discover the temples of Chiang Mai. There were plenty. We came across our first within 5 minutes and realized that there was some type of monk ceremony going on so we decided not to interrupt in the main temple but walk the grounds to the other parts of the temple. The sun was blaring down on us and, despite being 80 degrees, the intense humidity was rough. We walked through some of the other buildings and the addition of my scarf made the heat double. Needless to say, we needed to hydrate.

We walked to another temple and through the buildings there until we couldn’t take the heat anymore. We found an internet café nearby and ordered some Thai tea and water. While there, we used the free Wi-Fi and discovered that, since I booked the Chang Dao elephant excursion, there were many negative reviews about how the elephants were treated and that the center used chairs to ride the elephants which is not good for the elephants. I felt really bad reading all of the reviews and we decided to cancel our tour with that company and find another one that was better to the elephants. The worst thing would be to travel 1.5 hours and watch elephants get mistreated.

We headed back to the hotel so that they could help us switch our tours and stopped at a few other temples along the way.

After wandering, we quickly realized our map was completely useless. While it had all of the landmarks on it, it was missing about 90% of the street names and we got super, duper lost. We walked for about an hour, stopping to have some locals point to our location on the map, most of whom couldn’t figure it out! How do you have a map that the locals can’t even use?! We were getting pretty grumpy in the heat, frustrated with the map, and a swampy kind of sweaty which just made things worse – yuck! We finally stopped at an internet café and Ryan pulled up Google maps which showed us we were about a block from our hotel. The hotel was down a side street which made things tricky but, by 2 PM, we finally made it back! Our room was ready and the receptionist booked us for a tour at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. I was so relieved but the Chang Dao place refused to give us a refund so I need to check with my bank to see if my travel insurance will cover the difference (fingers crossed).

After a much-needed shower and (more) Pad Thai for lunch at the hotel, we decided to find a massage place. The hotel massages were about double what we could find on the street, so we decided on this place called Lilia and screen grabbed the walking directions in Google Maps. It was about a 5-minute walk and there was supposed to be a large sign pointing to the spa when we got there. Instead, there was a dingy looking places called “Lalia” instead of “Lilia” which, I had a hunch, did the type of massage we did not want. Ryan was pretty frustrated with me after getting so lost twice now and now finding a massage place which I refused to enter, so we headed back. Thankfully, we came across a much better looking massage place about a block away that had hour-long massages for 500 BHT per person – about $12. We decided to stop there and left our shoes outside the door with everyone else’s to enter. We were given tea, had our feet cleaned, and then we were lead up 4 flights of stairs by a lady who only had 8 toes. Just like in Bangkok, we were given these really funny, stretchy, throw-away undies to change into and boy did they look strange. For 500 BHT, the place was very clean and the massages were quite nice and much needed.

The massages definitely put us in a better mood. We had some more tea on the way out and headed back to the hotel. We had a quick nap and I put on my extremely comfy and new purple elephant pants to explore the night market. We took a cab for 150 BHT ($5) to the market and were amazed at its size! It went on forever inside this giant pavilion and had everything you could want to buy. We were getting hungry and went to to the food court which was so overwhelming with the amount of vendors and options they had. Ryan got a smoothie and I ended up getting Chicken Tikka Masala which was super oily so I only ate the chicken. A bit disappointing but it was only 100 BTH ($3ish) so oh well.

We continued to walk and bought gifts for family from the different markets. Boy to I like to haggle for a good deal! There was also a cabaret show and the lady boys were performing in the streets which was interesting to see to say the least. We walked for about an hour before we called a tuktuk to head back to the hotel. Our tuktuk driver was a speed demon and our hair was flying everywhere as he zoomed down the back alley ways. Tuktuks are by far my favorite mode of transportation here and we are going to be riding in the almost more throughout the trip!

Bangkok Thailand

Bangkok – Day 1

The view of Bangkok city form the So Sofitel Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand

There was a button next to my side of the bed in the So Sofitel hotel that opened the blinds. I tried to see the view when we arrived at 1 AM, but being so dark, I thought our view nothing special but boy was I wrong! I hit that blind button and unveiled an insanely amazing view of a huge park and amazing Bangkok skyline! We could even see a 5K going on in the park below, as well as people doing Tai Chi! Incredible. Still not yet used to the time change, we got up around 6:30 AM and headed down to the best breakfast buffet I have ever had. Not only was the view the same as our room, the buffet had an amazing assortment of fresh food from pastries of all kinds made daily to Thai soup, dim sum to traditional “American breakfast” foods, and then fruits of all kinds. I went to town on the passion fruit – it is so expensive in Texas so I over indulged. Hey, it is vacation for a reason right?

Breakfast at the So Sofitel Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand

Anyways, after breakfast we went downstairs to meet Kiwi, our guide for the next 1.5 days from Tour with Tong. Kiwi was super friendly and had a tuktuk waiting for us to go to the sky train. The public transport in Bangkok is amazingly cheap and easy to use. The sky rail, for example, was under $1 USD each way. Not too shabby! We took the sky rail to the river to hop on a water taxi. The orange water taxi ferried us to the port where one of the flower markets was. There were hundreds of thousands of flowers everywhere and Kiwi showed us which types of flower arrangements were used for different ceremonies like weddings, cremation, and praying to the Buddha. She took us to one stand where a girl was putting flower bracelets together and showed me how to string them. I was definitely not as good as her but I tried – A for effort, right? Anyways, the flowers smelt amazing but apparently, you should only smell the ones  you buy because it is bad luck to smell the flowers that someone else will buy in the future. On the way out of the market, we bought some Lotus flowers to bring to the temple since the Lotus flower is a very important symbol in Buddhism. Kiwi told us that every day of the week has a color and your color is the day of the week you were born – mine just so happens to be pink and Ryan’s blue, so we bought pink Lotus flowers to bring to the temple.

Hopped in another tutu with our flowers and rode to Wat Pho. What a remarkable place! Before we went in too far, Kiwi taught us how to open the petals of the lotus flowers and fold them to be pretty for the Buddha. Vendors sell the flowers opened inside of the temple, but it means more if you do it yourself, it is cheaper, and it is kind of fun. Odd numbers, specifically 1, 3, 5, and 7 are considered lucky in Thailand, so we had 5 lotus flowers each. Once we were finished, we brought them to a prayer area with the status of the different Buddha poses – again, there is one for each day of the week. My day is the reclining Buddha to which the entire temple is devoted! We lit a prayer candle and incense and knelt before the Buddhas and then we took gold leaf flecks and placed them on 3 Buddha of our choosing for luck and good fortune. I chose my Buddha, the lucky Buddha which is most recognizable for his big belly and hearty smile, and then Ryan’s Buddha to place my flecks on. A neat tradition to partake in.

We walked through the 80 acre grounds to the temple in which the laying Buddha resides. He is 46 meter long and used to be outside, but they build a temple for him to keep him preserved. To be respectful, I had to use my scarf as a cover up for my shoulders. To gain respectful entry into all of the Wats, you must wear longer than knee-length skirts or pants, have your shoulders covered with no cleavage showing, and remove your shoes and hats. I planned for that ahead of time but it was a bit sad to see other girls in short everything tries and sneak past in inappropriate wear into these sacred places. You could tell that the people working there, the guides, and the local Thai people who go to the temples to pray frown upon those breaking the dress code. Anyways, I will get off of my soap-box…

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The temples themselves were breathtaking as the gold and mirrors that lined the walls from edge to edge shimmered in the sun. Inside, the walls of the temples were all hand painted in dark red tones with murals of legends across the lower portions in gold leaf. If you looked close enough at the figures, all of them had long fingers and ears which resemble long life for the character. The middle of the temples housed huge monuments that build up to gold Buddhas at the top. Astonishingly pretty and ornate.

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I grew up watching The King and I, a musical based in Siam (now Thailand), and it was delightful to see the similarities from the images and figures I know so well in that movie and the Thai temples and murals on the walls and in the status in the Grand Place. We took a short bus ride to the Palace and I bought a white shirt to cover up more before we entered the 120 acer grounds. We entered in between two huge statues of the villains in Thai culture – the green demon and white-faced monkey. There were at least 6, 20-foot tall statues of those two symbols as we walked through the grand palace.

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As can be seen when you visit almost anywhere, there are indications in the Grand Place’s architecture of cultures outside of Thai. There are two temples specifically with tops from different counties – one from Cambodia that looks very similar to the ancient wats there, and then a colorfully flowered top that most certainly was influenced by the Chinese. It is amazing to see different cultures come together and form buildings so diversely beautiful. This is going to sound funny, but I couldn’t get over how fantastically sparkly some of the temples were too.

We walked past those ornate buildings to the main one that housed the Emerald Buddha who has an estimated value of over 157 MM BHT, that’s over $5MM USD! He also is quite fashionable and gets three outfit changes by the King each year – one for summer, the rainy season, and winter. That Buddha is really amazing.

After we saw the Emerald Buddha, we were getting pretty hot and tired. Not only was the jet-lag getting to us, but it was insanely humid and the sun is much more potent since we were closer to the equator. We left the palace and went across the street to a vendor wielding a machete! With one stroke, she hacked into a coconut, popped in a straw, and handed me a deliciously refreshing drink that made me feel so much better! Ryan got a mango drink which was also amazing.

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With some hydration under our belt, we then hopped into a tuktuk and headed to a massage house. Kiwi took us to a well-known, non-sketchy, spa right next to the sky train so we could find our way home after, and left us with the massage menu. For just $60 a person, we got 2 hours of Thai, deep tissue, and aroma therapy massage. Despite the fact that Ryan’s masseuse was hitting on him throughout the massage, and that both of our massage ladies were talking about “lady boys” and other things in Thai during those two hours, it was super relaxing!

We then walked across the street for lunch at this cool looking BBQ place. There was a small grill in the center of each table and you ordered an assortment of meats and veggies to grill to your liking. There were tons of super fresh and yummy food and it cost us a total of $16 USD – I love Thailand and I need to bring this concept to the US like ASAP!

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Being extremely relaxed after the massage and now in a slight food coma, we decided to head back to the hotel to rest. Ryan took a nap and I decided to check out the pool and boy was I glad I did! Talk about nirvana! There was an endless pool looking over the park and city with awesome lounge chairs and yummy cocktails! I swam, had a drink, and enjoyed the view until an impending storm looked threatening enough to send me inside.

After some journaling, I woke Ryan up so that we could go check out a night market. We took off in a taxi and, in about ten minutes, were dropped off at the end of the Patpong’s market. It was a long street lined with tents that sold fake bags, clothes, watches, sun glasses, and souvenirs. I bought a few things and tried to haggle my way down to good prices, but ended up paying way too much for a pair of sun glasses. I know I paid too much because the sales girl started celebrating after I gave her the money – oh well! Along either side of the tents were stores and what appeared to be strip clubs so we stayed in the middle lane of the shopping vendors. As we neared closer to the main road where our hotel was, the tents got a bit more rated R with some very graphic t-shirt designs and XXX shops. In retrospect, we should have gone to one of the better night markets. I suggest doing some Googling to double check local advice. After about an hour of markets, we headed back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep.

Bangkok, Thailand