Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand
February 15th 2011

Taking a 13-hour overnight train from Bangkok, I arrived in Chiang Mai around 8:30 am. First order of business was to secure a place to stay, which wasn’t too hard. I pictured Chiang Mai to be a modern village town but it’s a small city with many modern shops. Among these shops were tour companies offering elephant visits, trekking, and “flying gibbon”, where people strap themselves to lines and go “flying” through forests. I had no interest in any of these so that dulled the city a bit because every other shop held nothing interesting. Actually, I was interested in checking out elephants but it was quite pricey and even-though I am missing out on a chance to touch them, I decided that I had seen enough elephants on my safari already. It just wasn’t worth the hefty tour prices. So what else was there for the common traveler uninterested in the above? Lots of temples, that’s about it. And if I went on a temple binge, I know I would burn out really fast. I am saving my energy for Angkor Wat so I picked a few temples to check out and that was it. Yes, Thai architecture is really cool but after a while, they start looking the same. How many temples does a city need anyway? Apparently Chiang Mai has 300!

Some Chiang Mai Pics

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand
February 9th – 13th 2010

The first night I got here, there were several stalls selling fried insects and scorpions to eat. All I did was take a picture, thinking they would be there again the next few nights. I was wrong. I haven’t seen the stalls since.

The next day, I went to visit what the guidebook calls the ‘Vatican City of Thailand’, Ko Ratanakosin. Instead of taking a taxi, I decided to try the local bus instead. The thing with getting on buses is that I never know when to get off. I usually get the conductors or drivers to help me by simply telling them the name of my destination and pointing outside at any random location. They will signal “no” to me and then when we actually get there, they will remember the confused farang and make sure I get off at the right place.

The Grand Palace compound was enormous. The King of Thailand doesn’t live here anymore so it’s now used as a tourist attraction. The temples there were stunning. Leave it to the Thais to have good taste. The nicest Buddhist temples in India were all Thai as well. They make it very lavish and grand, usually gold colored with many glass pieces to reflect light. The temples also have “horned edges” and it’s very distinctly Thai. Wish I could take pictures inside the temples but a lot of times, picture taking was prohibited inside.

(Some temples in the Grand Palace compound.)

(Dipping tulips in ‘holy water’ and touching your head with it.)

(Some Thai architecture. Lavish and beautiful.)

(Contemplating Buddha.)

Wat Pho (I love the name of this temple) had the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand, if not the world. I call this the “Buddha acting sexy” pose (no offense to Buddhists, I really respect the religion). To Thais, the base of one’s feet is considered unclean but the reclining Buddha’s base of his feet was adorned with mother-of-pearl and was beautiful.

(Reclining Buddha.)

(The base of Buddha’s feet, made of mother-of-pearl.)

That evening, I went to the oldest boxing stadium in Bangkok, ‘Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium’ to watch some muay thai boxing. It was quite pricey at $30 for the cheapest seats but it was quite an experience. All the farang decided to get the $60 ring-side seats and I was behind the fences, in the upper decks, watching with all the locals. We watched 10 matches. I don’t understand muay thai but I know when someone’s getting his ass kicked. The fighters were all around 100-120 pounds each only, skinny but lean and athletic. Their pre-match rituals were very cool as they would each circle the ring and “pray” to the four corners, then perform a dancing/warm-up ritual in the center of the ring and at the end, the winners usually bowed down at the feet of the loser before heading over to the loser’s corner to pay their respects to the trainer. Most fights went all the way (5 rounds at 3 minutes per round) so it took about 4 hours total. There were several matches which had K.O.s. The audience was betting a lot in each match. I don’t know how the bookies kept scores but a lot of them raised their fingers to indicate something and bookies would be running around pointing at people and yelling. It was chaotic and a lot of money was changing hands. The last match was a typical boxing match and literally everyone left then. I guess they like muay thai but don’t care for actual boxing.

(Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium. That is the King of Thailand up top, King Bhumipol.)

(Pre-match ritual being performed.)

(The crowd inside. All the men with stacks on paper in their hands are bookies.)

The following day, I decided to take a river taxi down the Chao Phraya River instead. We would stop alternately on each side of the river. My destination was China Town. I don’t know why I decided to visit China Town in Thailand. It’s not like we’re in Iceland or something. But nonetheless, I went and without a map to guide me, I wandered aimlessly, walking through alleyways filled with shops and markets selling anything and everything. Most of the signs were in Thai, not Chinese, except maybe in the jewelry shops. Everyone looked Thai. So what’s so Chinese about China Town? Anyway, after much aimless wandering, I realized I was quite close to Hualamphong Train Station so I decided to book my ticket to Chiang Mai. There were only 3 seats left for the day I wanted so it’s a good thing I got there ahead of time.

(Chao Phraya River.)

(Chinatown traffic. Hot Pink taxis are everywhere.)

(Two monks praying. Notice that one has tattoos on him. In Thailand, tattoos have mystical powers, supposedly.)

After booking my train ticket, I took the adjoining subway to Silom station which was connected to the Skytrain (basically the LRT, if anyone is more familiar with that term). I took the Skytrain to Siam Square, the center of the most luxurious shopping malls in Bangkok. I don’t like shopping but it’s nice to walk around in the A/C and observing the people. As there was a cinema there, I decided to watch a movie called ‘Shaolin’. The unique thing about watching a movie in Thailand is that before the movie, we have to stand up, hands to the side, during the anthem dedicated to the King. It was the same before the muay thai fights. Never disrespect the King in this country, they love him and you will get in lots of trouble for even stepping on money as the king’s image is on every single baht. After the movie, I had some food in the food court. I had to buy a pre-paid card from a booth, go find what I want to eat, have the card swiped, and whatever’s left on it, I could get a refund.

(Spicy tom yum noodle soup.)

The next day, I decided to head over to Chatuchak Weekend Market. The day before, I had read in the news about a man arrested at Bangkok’s international airport for trying to smuggle a ton of rare species of snakes, frogs, turtles, and scorpions in his suitcase out of the country (what a dumbass!). He apparently got them all from Chatuchak so I definitely had to go seek them out. The place was filled with visitors and stalls, selling everything imaginable. With no map and with endless mazes, I wandered, looking for those exotic animal stalls. I quickly stumbled across shops selling the cutest baby bunnies and puppies I’ve ever seen. And the best thing is that we could pet them as they weren’t in cages. I wandered some more until I eventually found the exotic species. Birds, fish, scorpions, frogs, turtles, little squirrelly things (I have no idea what they are called), squirrels, giant lizards, hamsters, guinea pigs, hedgehogs were among those I remember coming across. I did make several trips back to the puppy section to play with them. Most of them puppies were very well taken care of. I had previously imagined an Asian marketplace like Chatuchak would sell sad-looking dogs kept in cages but not so. Overall, Chatuchak was way cooler than any pet-shop I’ve ever seen in my life.


(Baby bunnies in dresses lol.)

I went wandering deeper into the black hole of Chatuchak. I eventually saw a group of men bunched together, looking at something going on in the middle; a cock fight. I’ve never actually seen one of these. It was interesting and sad at the same time, to see the faces of the cocks all bloodied up and being torn to shreds by each other’s violent pecking. I then wandered around and saw the “cells” which held the fighting cocks. The path led me to another bunch of men, this time hunched over small tanks with fighting fish. Those Thais sure love their fights. If turtles could fight, I’m sure they’d pit them against each other too.

(Cock fight.)

(Fighter cages.)

(Fighting fish…is it really that fascinating?)

After sampling several foods from different stalls, I had to find my way out of the maze, which was a challenge in itself, although I must admit, it was less difficult than trying to get out of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. After being told the wrong way twice, I found a policeman who pointed me to the right direction of the Skytrain station.

(Coconut custard pastries.)

(Street food stand in Chatuchak.)

(Another random street food stand.)

(Pad thai. Is that what it looks like in America?)

The next day, I was off to the floating markets. It was a Sunday and I was worried that they might be closed. I first tried the local Talingchan Floating Market, right here in Bangkok but it was miniscule compared to what I heard was in Damnoen Saduak, a city about 105 km southwest of Bangkok. Disappointed with Talingchan, I left to catch a bus there. The journey took 2 hours and the bus driver took me and some other girls to what I thought was the Floating Market. It was a pier with boats and the people there were selling us boat-rides. I immediately felt suspicious but I figured, might as well take a boat-ride and check out the canals from this point of view. The canals were lined with many homes of those living off the river. I saw a guy washing his clothes in it and thought, this isn’t India but I guess it saves money and it’s a way of life. The actual market itself was much more impressive compared to Talingchan. There were still people selling their fruits and veggies, as well as cooked food and drinks. But I noticed many canal-side stalls selling souvenirs and my boat-driver tried to steer me that way. I immediately tried to get him to take me back to the produce market. I wanted to get off for a quick bite but he didn’t understand me and as I paid for an hour of ride, I decided to wait it out a bit longer before heading back to the pier. Once there, I got directions to the Floating Market where I could walk. Originally, before I bought a boat-ride, they had said there was no way to walk around. I knew the bus driver probably got a cut by bringing all the farang to this pier. I could’ve accused them of lying about things but I’m in Thailand and Thais don’t get mad so I decided not to. I just thanked them and went on my way. It was about a 2 km walk in the hot sun, and when I finally got there, I was relieved to get something to eat (hadn’t eaten all day) and something to drink. The entire area I was at was owned by someone named Madam Paew. Her picture was plastered everywhere. She looked a bit like my late Seremban grandmother. Anyway, I saw her walking around, handling Sunday business like a boss-lady. Oh yeah, sticky rice and mango = Mouth Orgasms.

(Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Traffic jams happen here too.)

(Obligatory produce boat picture.)

(Stall selling souvenis for farang.)

(Sticky rice and mango being prepared.)

I had to walk about 4 km to the bus station. It wasn’t even a station, just where the bus to Bangkok sat and waited for people to get on.

That night, I walked around aimlessly around Banglamphu. I did not have my camera with me when I stumbled upon a Red Shirt rally. For those who don’t know, the Red Shirts are a political group in Thailand. They are in the news from time to time, clashing with the government, sometimes violently. A huge area was closed off and was filled with thousands of people wearing nothing but red. There were many stalls selling red shirts, propaganda, souvenirs, and even special items used to clap. I was mad that I didn’t have my camera on me. I walked all the way back to my guesthouse (quite a distance), got my camera, and walked all the way back. I listened to the passionate speeches given and even if I didn’t understand a single word, I felt the passion from the leaders as well as the crowd. With what’s happened in Egypt, are these Red Shirts rallying for a reason? Anyway, it wasn’t all serious; the crowd had plenty of laughs.

(What does one wear at a Red Shirt rally?)

(No need to actually clap your hands. These things do the clapping for you. You can even clap with your “feet”.)

(Masses of Red Shirts listening to a speech.)

(Common shirt design being worn.)

One last thing. I’ve noticed several things about Bangkok. It’s actually pretty darn clean! Thais like cleaniness. And the tuk-tuks (auto-rickshaws) are the equivalent of MUSCLE CARS. The ones in India would be Toyota Corollas and the ones here are 1969 Dodge Camaros. Deep roaring engines, loud exhausts, fancy designs, big wheels.

More Bangkok Pics