After I got back from my tour, I rested for a bit as I had hardly slept the night before. But I knew I couldn’t waste time sleeping as I planned to leave Chiang Mai tomorrow evening & still had lots more to see. As I laid in bed, I thought to myself how tiring going by overnight buses would be the next few days. I decided since I had to head to Phuket the next day, then to Krabi and then back to Bangkok — I’d go back to consider flying.
I went out to a net cafe and tried for a ticket at all the budget carriers from Chiang Mai to Phuket and from Phuket/Krabi back to Bangkok. While I got the latter on Nok Air (1950 baht/Rs. 2,725), all the budget carriers were full for the Chiang Mai to Phuket route for the next few days. So I thought I’d stick to taking the overnight bus one last time when heading to Phuket.
I was feeling quite hungry after the mediocre lunch at the Elephant camp. So while walking on Loi Kroh road, I saw some tempting barbeques at the Ramming Lodge restaurant…
… and promptly sat down, ordered the sea food barbeque, fries (which I couldn’t finish) and a Singha. Dinner cost me 320 baht/Rs.447 (including tip).
After that, I walked down Loi Kroh road to head for the Night Market.
I crossed Changklan Road and stopped by a few stalls selling the usual stuff (souvenirs, fake goods, bags, T-shirts etc.) I picked up a funky ‘Chiang Mai’ t-shirt for 180 baht/Rs. 250 (bargained down from 250 baht/Rs. 350). They had quite a few cool designs incorporating the elements Chiang Mai is famous for — including the pandas at Chiang Mai Zoo.
I walked around the area and saw a sign board pointing to the Night Bazaar.
I walked into Anusarn market which is essentially a part of the extended Night Bazaar area. Anusarn is predominantly a food court with options ranging from Indian to (real) Chinese among other cuisines.
I mostly took HD videos of the Night Bazaar so I’ll try and extract the stills and put them up temporarily.
The Night Bazaar is essentially an open flea market selling everything from handicrafts to funky gear, bags, souvenirs, cool T-shirts, 500 baht Rolexs and more.
And as you step out, there are more stalls selling more of the same. I picked some more T-shirts (I believe 3 but none costing more than 150 baht/Rs. 200 each).
Leaving the Night Bazaar, I walked around the area some more, saw where the Japanese and Koreans hung out, checked out some cool bars with live guitar shows and decided I had walked enough and… then walked back to my room.
But as I walked back, I realized how I much I liked Chiang Mai. When I researched on Chiang Mai, most of the websites I visited only showcased the temples and kept talking about it being a historic city and I assumed it was going to be like that. Old and decrepit buildings, undeveloped roads, unorganized traffic, etc. — and man, was I wrong! Chiang Mai has everything you need — but in small doses.
It is a bit laid back. But I guess that’s why I liked it.
After I checked in, I really didn’t have much time to sleep as it was already past 6am and my tour van would pick me up by 8am. So I went downstairs for breakfast with my laptop in tow.
The breakfast isn’t included in the room fare but my pancakes with ant-tipped honey and coffee cost me 100 baht (Rs. 130, including tip). The van picked me up at 8am and went around collecting all the other tourists from nearby hotels.
I’m not usually the ‘package tour’ kinda guy because the ‘sights’ sometimes offered really don’t interest me and they often include places where you are expected to spend money (souvenir shops, handicraft shops, casinos etc.). But whatever, our first stop was the Maesa Elephant Camp, 20kms from Chiang Mai city.
You can read about the place on their website but we were there for a slew of activities, first of which was the elephant show. Basically, the elephants perform a variety show for us. From greeting us, kicking around footballs, lugging around wood, to painting (which you can buy) and other things that are intended to entice a chuckle from the audience. Amusing, if you are a kid — or one whose easily amused.
When I started shooting, the autofocus just froze on the camera (“Oh crap” moment #3). This put me off-mood immediately. Mostly because I had my friend, Jyothy Karat‘s 70-200 f2.8 lens mounted on and I thought it was the lens’ fault. It was upsetting because me and Jyothy’s lenses are like a bad omen. I’ve always had bad luck with them. Anyway, I switched off the camera and after a while, it was fine. I did manage to take a few photos of the show but I accidentally deleted them upon return. The only photo I have is this:
By 11am, it was over and we moved on to our next activity — an ox cart ride! Yup, an Indian flew to a different country to take an ox ride! Needless to say, the back-breaking ride was a complete waste of time for me. Even the woman from Montreal who sat next to me found it terribly annoying.
When we finally got off the ride, it was at some village where stalls were set up with items on sale by the villagers there. I walked with the lady from Montreal, Christine her name was, through the stall as we waited for our next activity.
Which was another ride but fortunately, this was on elephant. Me & Christine got into ours and felt this was way better. Weirdly, as we talked more, me and Christine shared common interests. She, like me, was travelling alone, has her own blog (it’s in French) and is recording a lot of footage from her travels to put up online one day.
The fairly long elephant ride was actually enjoyable. Especially when it went into the river. I’ll post the HD video of it later.
By 12:30pm we were back to where we started the ox ride. I insisted on tipping the mahout since Christine paid for the bamboo shoots the elephant was fed (you’ll see it in the upcoming video).
We then had lunch at the camp restaurant. It was a buffet lunch consisting of food that tasted more like the Indo-Chinese food you get here. Mediocre except for the fried chicken.
After the mediocre lunch, next up on the itinerary was bamboo rafting on the river surrounding the camp.
It started off well… until we got stuck near some shallow rocks.
The ride was smooth and quite relaxing…
… but after half-an-hour or so, it got quite boring and with the hot sun, me & Christine were kinda itching for it to get over so we could get back to our air-conditioned van.
(I have HD videos of the rafting and I will put them up later… once I figure out how to edit video properly)
We eventually did get back to our van. Next stop, a village inhabited by the people of the Kayan tribe (Wikipedia link). The ‘long-neck’ tribe gained mainstream attention after National Geographic did a documentary on them (or at least, that’s how I got to know of their existence). Originally from Myanmar, fearing the military conflicts in Burma, a lot of Kayans fled to neighbouring Thailand where many of them sought refuge — as tourist attractions.
Again, just like the Tiger Temple at Kanchanburi, the settlement of the Kayan tribe in North Thailand by the Thai government has also drawn controversy. Accusations have been made against these ‘human zoos’ because the ‘village’ actually looked like a bunch of huts/stalls manned by a young girl selling all sorts of souvenirs. Some items made by them, others surely mass-produced. There was even an entrance fee (which I didn’t have to pay).
Freedom aside, I just hope the income the ‘long-neck’ people earn from tourists really do end up in their pockets and not in the hands of the Thai tourism department.
After I took a few videos (which by now, you know you won’t see for a while) we left the ‘village’. I thought the tour was over as I really wanted to get back to Chiang Mai city — but there was one more stop.
At some orchid farm. Not really interested in knowing much about the place while the talk was being given by our guide, I simple walked around and played with the 50mm lens.
After this, we were finally done. The tour van dropped us back at our respective hotels and Christine and I exchanged business cards so we’d keep in touch with each others escapades.
The bus ride from Kanchanaburi back to Bangkok took much longer because of evening traffic. Also, this bus wasn’t going to the Southern Bus terminal. Instead, it was headed for the Eastern Bus Terminal, also known as Ekamai. Once I got there by around 5pm, I was approached by many bike taxis (mostly mopeds) asking me where I wanted to go. The buses that go to Chiang Mai leave from Mo Chit Bus Terminal, the Northern Bus Terminal. I turned down the bike taxis because the rates they were charging were close to what the taxis were charging. Also, with luggage, it wasn’t the safest option in Bangkok city.
Instead, I took a van taxi. Basically mini-buses that leave once full of passengers. A bit of a time waster if you are among the first ones in but at 35 baht, an economical choice. Once we left, it took an hour to get to Mo Chit. Bangkok traffic is pretty bad — but I’ll write about that in detail later.
Once I got to Mo Chit, I asked around as to where the buses to Chiang Mai were. I was directed to the platform where several private buses were stationed and I got a ticket for a double-decker A/C bus with a toilet. It cost 605 baht (Rs. 846) and the distance to cover was approximately 750kms. The bus was… nice!
Now I’ve travelled by private long-distance buses in (South) India a lot. I often take the bus when going home to Kerala. I don’t know of any bus service that offers this level of service for around Rs. 800, that too for distance of over 700kms. But that was not all.
They have bus attendants too, all dressed up in their uniforms akin to what you see in airliners. Each seat has a pillow and a blanket and when the bus left Mo Chit, the attendant gave the usual talk (using the on-board microphone) about how long the journey would take, about the service one can expect, etc. She spoke only in Thai but I got the gist of it. Either that or she was making fun of the only Indian on board and I didn’t get it. Soon after, she started serving us food.
I wasn’t expecting dinner as part of the ticket fare. She handed us a box consisting of a deep-fried chicken leg, a sausage roll (not sure what meat but who cares, I eat it all) and a cupcake. Plus juice/cola/water. After that, she gave biscuits and other sweets. Since I was famished, I gobbled it all.
Feeling quite full, I thought to myself how good value this seemed compared to what I was used to back in India. In-flight bus entertainment was mostly Thai karaoke music videos followed by a high-octane Thai action movie — with sporadic audio. But who cares, I fell asleep.
I woke up at around 11pm when the bus had stopped… somewhere. We had, apparently stopped for what was actually dinner at some restaurant. The ticket includes a token which you hand over at the counter and it’s essentially a simple buffet of rice gruel, some steamed vegetables and boiled egg. The egg yolk was bright orange in colour and tasted very sour. I didn’t have much of the rice gruel either, I was already full. My only concern was that I had run out of credit on my mobile phone and because of that, I couldn’t inform my father and brothers where I was.
Fortunately, my father called me later and told him I would be able to re-charge only in the morning from Chiang Mai. I tried to sleep but by 5am, we had already arrived at Chiang Mai. (By the way, in the morning they also serve coffee or juice). I collected my luggage and took a Tuk Tuk (cost 100 baht/Rs. 130) to the tourist heavy Loi Kroh road which is where I decided to base myself. Loi Kroh has plenty of hotels and restaurants but I also chose it because it was close to the Night Market and a few temples I planned on seeing.
I first went to a Ramming Lodge which I found to be good on the internet but then the Tuk Tuk driver said it was expensive (it was over a 1000 baht a night, which I knew) and he told me he knew cheaper places. He took me to a hotel called Rux Thai Guesthouse, just a few metres off Loi Kroh road. It was only 490 baht (Rs. 680) per night and I could check out the next morning. Plus there was free WiFi.
I told the receptionist where all I planned to go in Chiang Mai and when I brought up Huay Pu Keng, he told me that to go there would mean an overnight stay. Instead, he offered me a packaged deal for 1300 baht (Rs. 1,800) which would take me around some places and includes a visit to a Kayan village.