Let us say right up front, we love Chiang Mai, the people are so friendly and helpful, the food is wonderful and the cost of living is crazy low. But there is also another side to most of this town, it needs work. The sidewalks are cracked, most of the buildings are crying out for a paint job and the electrical and telecommunications above ground cabling is enough to send an old phone company guy like George into hiding.
In the midst of all this deferred maintenance there is an oasis called the Wualai Sabaidee Boutique Hotel which is located very close to the Saturday walking street. At just 1,200 BHT per night (about USD $38) we were treated like family and shown to a large beautiful room that would have made any luxury chain in America proud.
The check list of things we loved about this hotel included:
• Fast, Free WiFi
• Plenty of hot water and excellent pressure in a large tiled shower
• Safe, refrigerator and cable TV in room
• Bottled water at no charge
• High thread count luxury sheets on excellent bedding with comfy pillows
• Well kept gardens with plenty of shady seating areas
• A laundry service right across the street – 1 weeks worth of laundry washed, dried and folded for BHT 75 (about USD $2.40)
The hotel is managed by two delightful gentlemen one named Thep and the other his cousin Poo (along with a myriad of other cousins). Together they great guest, help with baggage and keep the hotel polished and shining. We were really surprised to hear that the place has been open for 5 years, because everyting looks so brand new.
“Where will you go today?” cousin Poo asked us each day of our one week stay, and each day Poo or Thep would suggest a festival a market or some other interesting activity. We followed their advice and had a wonderful time.
We never got a chance to take the bicycles offered to use at no charge out, but every morning we enjoyed the fresh juice, fresh ground coffee fruit and toast offered just off the lobby while worked away chronicling our adventures for the travel blog.
We are starting to get the hang of this half day tour thing. Yesterday we headed out for Thai cooking classes. Again there were a LOT of options, so after some web research we chose The Best Thai Cooking School. The price was well worth the 850 BHT (about USD $30) we paid.
As with the elephants, we were picked up at our hotel (this time about 7:30am). After a few stops for more students, we arrived at an open air market for a very informative talk on fresh ingredients. After the talk, we were given 15 minutes to wander around the markets and then it was back into the van for ride to the farm and school.
Our first stop at the farm was to a rice paddy and large set of gardens. Who knew there was so much to learn about rice? Suffice to to say if we ever get stuck in the wild we can now harvest, separate and cook our own. We also know how to identify several different types and which rice of best for dinner versus dessert.
After a tour of the garden we were led into the main school where we were each assigned our own cooking station compete with utensils, a burner, chopping block and several different types of pans and woks.
The first demonstration was on making curry paste, pounding a variety of chilis, spices and seeds into the consistency of ice cream. Throughout the class the instructors (both men) kept up an informative and surprisingly funny banter. We were advised that we would get cookbooks with the ingredients and instructions spelled out “if” we passed the class. On several occasions the instructors would see us doing something incorrectly and joking yell out “you fail, come back tomorrow”. The Gordon Ramsey of Chiang Mai.
We were invited to select from several dishes to make up each course of five course meal:
• Soup – George made coconut milk soup; Bonnie made rice soup
• Salad – made with green unripened mangos
• Curry – George made red and Bonnie made green
• Stir Fry – George made Chicken and Cashew Nuts; Bonnie made holy basil with pork
• Pad Thai – made in a work, and cleverly served in a thin omelette
• Mango Sticky Rice – unlike the salad the dessert is made with yellow ripened fruit.
With our courses selected and technique demonstrations complete we set to work preparing our dishes. Everyone chopped, fried and stirred happily away, with only the occasional shout of “You fail, come back tomorrow!”. Both of the chefs and their support team were extremely friendly and genuinely seemed to enjoy what they do.
As each dish was completed it went under our bench while we worked on the next. During our first snack break we got to enjoy our soup. At one point in the prep, we were shown how to inject a bit of flair with a flaming presentation of the stir fry.
After the cooking was done we took our finished dishes out to the dining area and enjoyed them with ice cold beer and some great conversation. So good, so fresh and so much food.
I am sure that it will not surprise anyone who knows us to hear that that ride back to your hotel was followed by a nice long nap…
Any itinerary in Chiang Mai must include a visit to one of the many elephant sanctuaries on the outskirts of the city.
Nothing can prepare you for the experience of spending time with these gentle giants, but we will endeavor to provide some detail about the experience. As a tourist you must be aware that there are two types of elephant experiences available, one involves riding the elephants on a jungle trek of sorts and the other is visiting a sanctuary to interact with them in a more caring way. We will not lecture on either path, but suffice it to say we chose to visit a sanctuary.
With that decision made, the next big question was which one, there are so many. After quite a bit of web research and review we chose the Kanta Elephant Sanctuary. and we were extremely happy with our choice. There are several full or half day options available – we chose the Kanta tour that cost us 1,500 BHT each (about $48 USD) We both agreed afterwards, we could have paid three times that much and still feel like we got value for our money!
A van picked us up at our hotel around 6:30am (we chose the morning excursion as opposed to the afternoon). The ride to the sanctuary in a newer air conditioned van took about an hour and it was our first chance to experience the mountains outside the walls of the city. We chatted with people on the bus from Brazil, Canada, Russia, China and New Zealand during the ride.
Upon arrival, we were given very colorful clothes to change into and provided lockers to secure our stuff. Once outfitted the group of about 15 of us looked like rodeo clowns ready to hit the circuit. Our guide then spent some time explaining to us that the elephants we were going to be interacting with were domesticated and were used to being around humans. They also advised that they were very curious and nimble with their trunks, so we needed to hang on to our phones lest the elephants grabbed them from us to take a selfie. Other simple rules: don’t run away from the elephants because they may see you running and chase you. Stay out from under their feet, and try and stay in their field of vision so they can be aware of you and where you are.
With that, we were each provided with a sack full of sugar cane sections about a foot long each and we walked down into a large field to meet our new friends. The elephants were very friendly and approached us right away, of course the sugar cane treats helped to cement the bond. Before you know it we were feeding them, rubbing their trunks, faces and baggy cheeks and in general just having fun with these playful and very hungry pachyderms. They ate sugar cane and grass and every thing else we fed them….
After our “getting to know you” period in the fields, we retired to a small pagoda for a lesson on elephant eating habits and differences between wild and domesticated diets. We learned that domesticated elephants do not get the robust diet that wild elephants do and as such require supplements. We then where taught how to create large meatball sized lumps of supplements that included bananas, tamarind, vitamins and more. With our tray full of “meatballs” we headed out again to feed the elephants, but unlike before when they took the snacks from us with their trunk, we placed the vitamin balls directly into their mouths. You have never lived until you have stuck your hand into an elephants mouth and placed a meatball near the back of her tongue. A shout of “Bom-Bom” would cause the elephant to open wide to accept the sticky treats….
With their bellies full it was time for a bath so we all headed down to the lagoon where the elephants plopped down and rolled over and gleefully lounged as we poured buckets full of water over them and scrubbed their hides with soft bristle brushes. Occasionally one of them would trumpet and shoot a spray of water through their trunks giving everyone in the area a nice cool shower.
After about three hours it was time to say goodbye to our new friends and head up to the camp again. There we were provided with showers and a place to change back into our street clothes. After that we had a snack of fresh fruit, coffee and tea and a chance to exchange photos with the people in our group.
We were driven back to the city and dropped off at our hotels with a phone full of photos and memories that will be with us forever…
If you haven’t seen the 1959 black and white classic “Some Like It Hot”, then it you need to check out this clip that takes place aboard the sleeper car of a train. In the film, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon dress as women and hop onboard a train full of girls headed for Florida to escape mafia bad guys. Tony Curtis does his best to pick up Marilyn Monroe, but his plans are foiled when an impromptu cocktail party breaks out in their berth.
Fast forward to the colorized version in 2019, as Bonnie and George make their way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on the famous Number 9 overnight train, 13 hours in total leaving at 6:10 in the evening.
We booked our tickets (USD $41 each) via 12GoAsia and could not have been happier with the service. Fluent in English, they were very helpful, even when we had to change our dates. We picked up our tickets (they ask that you pick them up 1 hour before your train boards), at their offices across the street from Hua Lamphong station. From the station, go down into the subway via exit number 2 and walk back out on the other side of the busy road via exit number 1. Walk straight out of the exit and down two buildings and you will see the clearly marked office.
The waiting area at the train station was huge. People from all over the world were seated, mostly on the clean floor, in groups waiting to board trains. Once your train shows up on the big board, you drag your bags down the platform until you find your car number as indicated on your ticket. From there it is up and into the train to look for your assigned seats. Couples traveling together should try and book upper and lower berths. In our case it was car 5 seats 13 (lower) and 14 (upper). Every berth is equipped with a power outlet to let you charge your phones, tablets etc. The plugs are the same in Thailand as they are in the USA, and also have European slots built in.
Once you get onto the train and stow your bags, you sit on comfortable facing seats on the lower berth. Almost as soon as you sit down a lady will approach you to try and sell you meals (dinner and breakfast) to be served on the train. The food is good, but relatively expensive. We paid a total of USD $18 for dinner and breakfast. They sell food on commission but are not overly pushy about it. Many people brought their own food. No alcohol is allowed on the train, so unlike the movie, George had to leave his cocktail shaker in his bag.
Dinner is served a half hour into the ride and after about 1 hour a steward comes around to open up the berths and and make up the beds. By 9:30 most everyone is snuggled down with drapes drawn and the train takes on a completely different appearance. Just be warned, for security reasons they never turn the bright lights in the corridors off. If you need dark to sleep, bring along an eye shade.
So many songs, such as “City of New Orleans” and “Wagon Wheel” talk about being rocked to sleep by a train, and that is exactly what happens. Before you know it, they are turning the beds back into seats and bringing around coffee and fresh fruit as you get ready to pull into Chaing Mai promptly at 7:10 am.
Rock me momma like the wind and the rain, rock me like a south bound train, oh momma rock me….
Wow, what a whirlwind the last week has been! We left on a red eye out of Australia Monday evening. After our learning experience on bargain airlines on our Jetstar flight into Oz, we were better prepared for Air Asia. We purchased extra kgs for our luggage, upgraded our seats and decided, since we were planning on sleeping through both flights, to forego ordering any meals in flight. We chose to spend a little extra to upgrade our seats to the “quiet zone” and it was worth EVERY PENNY! Since most people choose either not to spend the money or just don’t realize it’s available, we each ended up with a row of 3 seats to ourselves. After a short layover in Kuala Lumpur we arrived in Bangkok around 8am. As we suspected, our hotel room wasn’t ready so we left our bags at the hotel (The Dream Hotel) and set out for our first foray onto the city.
Luckily, our hotel is in the neighborhood that our friend Tom used to live in and he gave us a list of places to look up. After the flight our first stop was for mani/pedi’s and massages. What a great way to recover from a long flight! Tom’s next recommendation was a little dive of a “restaurant” that serves the best crispy duck. As usual he was spot on – the duck was fabulous! Back at the hotel the room was ready for us and we were ready for a nap.
Around 6pm we hopped on the subway to Bangkok’s famous Chinatown. It was a bustling swirl of color, and smells and crowds. We wandered the streets for about an hour and decided it was finally time to eat… no we did not try the bugs!
Finally, after roaming the streets for a few hours we decided it was time to head back. Since we we more than a little turned around and weren’t sure we could find the subway we hired a tuk-tuk for the ride home.
The next morning we headed out to see the Grand Palace. We hopped onto the Skytrain, connected to the subway and finally boarded a riverboat ferry to the Old City. As we started across the street towards the palace we we stopped by the inevitable tuk tuk driver offering to take us to all the sights and sit and wait while we wandered around and took photos for a mere 500 baht. We decided it seemed worth it, so we climbed in.
First stop was the sitting Buddha followed by the Grand Bhudda followed by a “short stop” at a jeweler in between…it seems that shop owners offer the tuk tuk drivers fuel vouchers to bring potential customers to them. Since we were just touring the city with no real schedule, we decided to go along for the ride. After the Grand Bhudda we stopped at the tailor to have some clothes made – cause that’s what you do in Thailand, right?? All the while James, our driver, sat and waited…
After our busy day, we decided to have a simple dinner. We walked down to the grocery store (again recommended by Tom) along the same route we had taken the following morning, but at night the scene is completely different. After dark, the city street transforms into a night market. Every available wall space is converted into an open air stall selling every tchotchke and food you could ever imagine (and some you never even knew existed). We finally arrived at the store and ate at the “lunch” counter. The food was inexpensive but DELICIOUS!
FYI – Besides the fact that it is a crowed, bustling city,with insane traffic, one of the things I wish I’d been better
prepared for before arriving was the intense amount of smog. It is so bad that a majority of the population wear surgical masks while walking or working outside and the week we were there tay actually closed the schools to keep people off the roads and reduce the amount of smog in the air!
Ever notice how some folks will knock themselves out to get the very best brands of liquor and then mix it with some of the most awful stuff.
In this edition of Drinks with George we explore some key ingredients, and of course, make some excelllent cocktails.
Recipies for cocktails mentioned or made in this video are below:
30 mL (1 oz) full cream milk
30 mL (1 oz) vodka (such as Titos)
30 mL (1 oz) Kahlua
Fill a rocks glass halfway with ice, and add Kahlua and Vodka. Layer cream on top by pouring it slowly over the back of a spoon so that it does not mix with the other two liquors. Add a straw to stir with, but no other garnish.
Gin and Tonic
30 mL (1 oz) Gin (such as Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray or Hendrick’s)
60 mL (2 oz) Tonic Water (George suggests Fever Tree Mediterranean)
Squeeze of lime juice
Lime for Garnish
Fill rocks glass with ice. Add gin then tonic and a squeeze of lime. Stir gently and garnish with a lime wedge.
60 mL (2 oz) of Vodka (such as Titos)
30 mL (1 oz) fresh lime juice
Dash of simple syrup
90 mL (6 oz) ginger Beer (George prefers Bundaberg)
Lime for garnish
2 Dashes bitters (Angastora Orange)
Fill a copper cup with ice, add all ingredients. Stir gently and garnish with a lime wedge
Jack and Diet
60 mL (2 oz) Black Label Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey
90 mL (3 oz) diet Coca Cola
Fill rock glass with ice, add all ingredient and stir gently.
Important – never, ever garnish a Jack Daniels drink NFL – No Freakin’ Lime!
As our time in Australia draws to a close, we decided to take advantage of one of the many opportunities here in Queensland to do so hiking. We choose a relatively short (about 2 hours) hike that was not too difficult, rated as a Grade 3 (moderate fitness required) in Springbrook National Park.
The park is about an hour south of Brisbane and is listed as a World Heritage site. It was a spectacular hike. We chose the Twin Falls Circuit which is about 4km or 2.5 miles. As the name suggests along the way we passed two waterfalls, walked through the rainforest and got some phenomenal scenic views.
I couldn’t decide which photos to include in this post, so I just uploaded them all…
It’s summer on the Gold Coast and we are finding plenty to do to entertain ourselves.
Since we technically are still tourists, we decided to do one of the ultimate touristy things – we attended a staged production by the Australian Outback Spectacular called Heartland. Maybe staged is not the correct word to use, since the show was presented in a upscale indoor rodeo with arena. A combination of horses, cattle, cars, trucks, 4 wheelers, singing, dancing and amazing choreography (most of it on horseback) was sewn together with very creative use of scenery projected onto the arena via an extremely sophisticated lighting system.
The story was a familiar Australian tale: cattle ranchers in the outback struggled to hang onto their farms through a severe drought. There was a love story, comedy and a villainous banker who tried to foreclose on the ranch. We were amazed how they were able to serve a three course meal to the whole arena while the showers was taking place. And we got hats!
About 40 minutes drive from the house is the Burleigh Heads National Park. There are many walking tracks within the park itself including the Ocean View Walk around the the rocky headland; the Rainforest Circuit which takes you through the park where you can view beautiful plant and bird life. Along the way there are many places that allow access to the beach. We went on a Saturday, so the beaches and trails were busy, but everyone was friendly and we had a great hike of about 3 miles or so. The views were amazing!
On another evening, we caught a ride from friendly Uber driver Dave. We went to wander through the Night Quarter
Rows and rows of storage containers have been converted to create alleys of shops, food vendors, beer stands and live music. This is truly a locals hangout, we were among extremely few tourist at there. The food was excellent, the beer was cold and cheap and the music was energetic. Definitely worth a visit.
George’s birthday dinner was a special evening. We sat at the edge of the lagoon, at the Intercontinenal Hotela table with fine china and while linen table cloths and our bare feet in soft white sand. Dinner was a giant seafood buffet, with oysters, crab, jumbo shrimp (they call them prawns here) and an amazing dessert bar. Our waitress Kelsie made sure that our glasses stayed full of champagne and then red or white wine which flowed freely throughout the night. All in all, a delightful experience at a very reasonable price of for an “all you can eat (and drink)” meal In an ideal setting.
Steve Irwin has been gone since 1996 when he was stung through the heart by the barb of a stingray tail. Ironically he was working on a film called “Ocean’s Deadliest”. But 23 years have done little to fade the memories of his exploits in global television shows such as the crocodile hunter.
In 1970 Steve started working with reptiles at his parents nature preserve in Northern Queensland, at 10 he wrestled his first crocodile while his father looked on. Later Steve married an American from Oregon (Teri) and together tho two launched a film series aimed at raising consciousness about wildlife conservation and raising money to expand the preserve his parents had started.
Today that preserve is the Australia Zoo and has more than 1,000 acres and is owned by Teri Irwin the family. Yesterday we drove two hours north to the Zoo and had an amazing day.