11 Aug

Monday Moment: Thai Chilies

Thai Chilis

How hot can you take it?

Markets and food stalls abound with hot red and green chilies. They are used in everything from salads to stir fries to curries. Most often the cook would ‘westernize’ the recipe for us and, where they might usually throw a handful (seriously!) in, they would only pick one or two.

Believe me, that was enough! The Thais definitely like it hot though and wouldn’t even break a sweat eating such spicy food.

13 May

Monday Moment: Novice Monk Procession, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand Monks

Waking to the sound of Thai blaring from the mammoth speakers in the back of the truck we stumbled out to the patio to see what all the hub-bub was about. The truck passed slowly shouting indecipherable commands to the empty early morning street. In its wake residents soon emerged setting up small tables with juice and food packets obviously waiting for something to happen.

We watched from on-high, as we often do, searching for clues to help us understand what is happening around us. In a country such as this, whose culture and traditions are so far removed from our own, we often don’t do well at the guessing game but we are happy to wait it out.

A minute later, in complete contrast to the noisy introduction, a procession of novice monks rounded the corner onto our street. Silently, in bare feet and vermillion robes, they padded along the street stopping only to receive merit offerings from the waiting residents.

In a moment they were gone, leaving only the incantations of the more senior monks giving blessings to those waiting.

09 May

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Where I’m from street food conjures up images of late night street corners, drunken frat boys, and hot dogs that have taken one turn too many on the merry-grill-round.

Here in Thailand street food is the epitome of everything we’re looking for; fresh, whole food, individually prepared, and some of the tastiest, cheapest noshing available.

Set up in what are parking lots during the day, night markets transform the landscape at dusk. Stalls emerge, tables are set up and full on food courts are born. I love the efficiency.

We visit these markets nightly but tend to stick to what we know. Familiar vendors who create the usual suspects; paad thai, khao soi, pork and rice. We’re intrigued by other dishes we see but lack the language to, #1 know what anything is on the written menus (that often don’t even exist) and, #2 ask.

We’ve evolved a little though. We sometimes point at other patrons and just have what they’re having without ever knowing what it is which, of course, means we can never have it again…because we don’t know how to ask.

And so, after three months of being here, we decided to try a street food tour. A guided walk through the markets and stalls that are familiar to us and yet still so unreachable.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours got its start just this year. As a former hill trekking guide, Chai saw the need when clients would ask him about all his favourite places to eat after trekking. Realizing that street food seems daunting and inaccessible to visitors he got started showing them around.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

We started at the Chiang Puakor North, gate where the stalls are all lined up on the side of the road, for ease of drive by take-away, and tables are strewn across the former parking lots.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Vendors spend their days prepping and preparing for the busy evening rush. Bowls of mild chilis, roasted pork, onions, garlic and greens await use in various dishes.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Besides learning what each stand offers we are schooled in how to order.

“Ao khao ka moo” stutters Jason. The girl listens ever so patiently and then looks to Chai for confirmation of the order. Pointing and ordering is so much easier!!

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Pork, simmered in cinnamon, soy sauce, sugar, and five spice for hours, arrives at our table. We add the gingered, spicy, sauce ourselves. Not all Thai food is hot and often it’s possible to control the spicy-ness ourselves.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Pork sausage strings are served with cabbage, chilis, and vinegar sauce. The sweetness of the pork complemented by the crunchy heat. We hadn’t tried these before but we’ll be having them again!

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Pork buns. At least once a week we drive by the North Gate Market and pick these up for a light dinner. I think I’m addicted.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

It is the efficiency of these stalls that amazes me. With very little space and often only one burner they churn out some of the best food in the world. How do they stand over those woks for hours on end? To protect themselves from the chili vapor some wear face masks too. Stifling!

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

At the Chiang Mai gate we found seats away from the crowd while trying Chinese curry noodles. By this time I was so full I could only manage one, tasty, mouthful!

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

The tour was excellent. We tried many dishes both savoury and sweet; many we hadn’t tried before. Now we can add a few more places into our regular dinner rotation.

If you go I suggest you bring a sense of adventure, and skip lunch.


25 Apr

Dis-connecting At Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai

Leaving Chiang Rai would be like a breath of fresh air. Except that there isn’t much fresh air to be had at this time of year.

Farmers are burning their fields and the still air offers no relief from the unrelenting smoke that fills the air. In fact, as we follow the river out of town and climb into the hills it seems to get worse. Soon, not only is the air so thick we can taste it, but huge black ash pieces flutter through it making their way to the ground.

It is, in fact, nothing like the stunning-vista’d getaway I had envisioned and is, instead, every bit a post apocalyptic movie sequence.

Pressing forward up ever steeper hills we realize just how remote our home for the next few days will be. Past the elephant camp and the massive Buddha in the hillside we are able to stay two on the bike until we reach the Lahu tribe village at the bottom of the single-track steepest hill leading to the red earth, pot-holed, ‘road’ to the finish. Here I must jump quickly off the back so that Jason can gun the engine and climb ever-so-slowly to the top.

Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai

We made it.

“Sawasdee-ka”, we call to the seemingly empty clutch of bamboo huts sprinkled on the hillside.

Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai

Noi is surprised to see us. A small, thin, wiry, man, he emerges from one of the buildings and immediately starts muttering as he rushes over to greet us.

“What is the date?” he asks as he searches on the endless keychain for a key that will finally unlock the reception door.

“It is the 22nd”, we say.

“And the day?” he follows up with.


“Ahhhh”, he sighs while slowly nodding his head, “we thought today is the 21st…Thursday…not Friday the 22nd. Your room is not yet ready”.

Not surprisingly, in this somewhat remote setting, he and his wife Nok have forgotten what day it is and weren’t expecting us today but in what would be their tomorrow. No worry, he points us to a sitting platform and gets busy preparing one of the huts for us.


Bamboo Nest lives up to its name. Nestled on a hillside the half dozen or so bamboo huts are tucked around a garden carefully tended by the couple. Here they grow bananas and pineapple, flowers and, not-surprisingly, bamboo.

The huts are rustic but surprisingly comfortable. Built by labourers from the village at the bottom of the hill, they are constructed entirely of bamboo. Floors, walls, roofs, porches and beds; all made from grass!

Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai

Our room is soon ready and we easily settle in to do, well, absolutely nothing for the afternoon. There is no electricity (save for a little solar power), so no lights, no tv, no wifi. This is why we have come; to unplug for a few days, get our noses out of our computers, maybe even read a book!


Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai

Surfing the line between asleep and awake I come to shore to the sound of a truck grunting its way up the track. With a practiced hand Nok guides the 4X4 up the narrow road while new guests hang out the windows wondering how the vehicle is clinging to the roadway.

Yay, more people!

As much as we like our own company, it’s been a while since we’ve shared a conversation with others and we’re looking forward to the interaction.

Making our way through the garden to the common area we meet our new friends for the next few days; two couples from France and a fellow from Denmark. We pass the evening learning about each others homes, travels, and future plans while enjoying a home cooked meal. Later on Noi builds a fire which we all eagerly gather around sharing travel stories and advice until sleep calls.

It is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening. It reminds me of our time at the Cave Lodge, another northern Thailand getaway reminiscent of early travel and adventure.There is definitely something to be said for unplugging from technology and reconnecting to each other.

We fall asleep that night to the sounds of jungle frogs and crickets; the cool mountain air a welcome relief from the heat we’ve been experiencing in Chiang Mai.

Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai

The next day, following some lengthy lounge time on the patio, we manage a hike to the local waterfall. There are plenty of hikes in the area; many possible on your own or Noi can arrange a guide for single or multi day excursions. The hike is easy. Over cultivated hills and down into a valley before rising again along side the waterfall. Just enough activity to say we’ve done something to earn our beer but not entirely taxing.

Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai

Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai

The evening follows the same pattern as the previous. Our group is joined by two young English gap-year chaps; amused by their naivety while at the same time longing for some of it ourselves we again spend the evening chatting and laughing and enjoying each others company. Perfection.

Bidding good-bye early in the morning, we make our way back down the treacherous hill in the cool light. It’s been a tremendous retreat, a great way to reconnect with traveling and travellers, and a welcome respite from technology, but it’s time to head back.

There are a tremendous number of luxury resorts in Thailand but, if you want to get off the beaten track and really get away from it all then somewhere like the Bamboo Nest is perfect. If you’re in the area I recommend you stop by and spend a day or two reconnecting.


11 Apr

The White Temple And Black House Of Chiang Rai, Thailand

Coming from a western world there is plenty of strange and unusual to be found here in Thailand without having to look too hard. There isn’t a day goes by without my head being turned by something or other. I try to learn, though, and can usually figure out some reasoning behind what it is I’m seeing.

Both the White Temple and the Black House in Chiang Rai defied all reasoning.

White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

The gleaming white exterior of the White Temple

Black House, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Gloomy exterior of the Black House

Although seemingly polar opposites of each other (even being located at opposite ends of the town!) they actually are quite similar.

The White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Hell’s Gate walkway to the White Temple.

Black House, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Surprisingly white out buildings at the Black House.

Black House, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Altar (?) within the white domes at the Black House.

White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Close up of Hell’s Gate at the White Temple

Mostly it’s a weirdness that just defies description. A seemingly macabre bent that sits strangely in these places billed as temples.

White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Standing guard at the White Temple

Black House, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Skulls, drums, and skins ‘decorate’ this building at the Black House.

White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

‘Welcome’ to the White Temple

Black House, Chiang Rai, Thailand

In the main hall of the Black House. Adorned with horns from I don’t know what, long stretches of snake skin, and creepy statues.

But also, a certain beauty.

White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Peaceful Buddha image at the White Temple.

Black House, Chiang Rai, Thailand

The sun pokes through a smoky haze at the Black House.




08 Apr

Monday Moment: Chumphon, Thailand

Chumphon, Thailand

To say we visited Chumphon would be an overstatement. We stopped in for one night in order to catch a ferry to Koh Phangnan the next day.

Just off the main strip of the town is a small river; a quiet getaway from the traffic in town. I spotted this small fishing boat as we crossed a bridge on our walk.

28 Mar

Thai Visa Renewal Time

Hard to believe but we’ve already been here in Thailand for 60 days! Time really does fly; it doesn’t matter what you’re doing so you better be making the most of it.

Our 120-day-double-entry visa is actually two 60 day visas. This means it’s time for us to do a Thai visa renewal involving exiting and re-entering Thailand in order to activate our second 60 day visa. There are a few ways to do this; different exit/entry points, going by bus or train, or employing a service to take you. We thought it would be fun to do it ourselves and so planned a 5 day moto-scooter trip that would take us not only to the border but also on a short tour of Northern Thailand.

As there would be two of us on the scooter we had to pack light. I wore one small backpack and we could fit a couple of things in the basket at the front. To save space I decided not to bring my ‘big’ camera so I apologize for the picture quality – I won’t be making that mistake again!!

Thai Visa Renewal

On the bike, ready to go.

With 243 KM from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai our first day proves to be the hardest. Having spent time in northern Thailand before we were expecting winding roads, sweeping mountain vistas, and fresh clear air. Turns out that the highway is nothing but a soul-less strip of tarmac stretching from one city to the next.

Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, Thailand

Soul-less highway.

To make things worse it is the hot, dry season here and a combination of forest fires and farmers burning their fields has resulted in a hazy, smoky atmosphere making visibility limited and making those fabulous mountain vistas just out of reach.

Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, Thailand

Can you imagine how stunning it would be without the smoky haze?

The ride passes easily enough though as we pass through nameless towns and larger centers intent on reaching Chiang Rai by cocktail hour. At an average speed of about 50km/hr it’s going to take a while.

Stopping For Gas, Thailand

Stopping for gas along the way.

Stopping to rest my burning ass! I can go about 2 hours on the outset and then must stop about every one and a half hours.

After 5 ass-burning hours on the bike we make it to Chiang Rai. We’re hot, sticky, and tired so quickly find our guesthouse and relax in the garden with a beer.

Baan Bua Guesthouse, Chiang Rai.

The smoky haze makes for pretty sunsets though.

The next day we set out for the border. Being only 60 KM away it only took a little more than an hour. Thankfully this resulted in minimal ass burning.

The road to the border was fairly straight forward but it always helps to stop and be sure.

Traffic got thicker, and more unpredictable, as we neared the border. People getting dropped off and picked up, tuk-tuks over-burdened with product to import/export, and many just like us who were just trying to figure our way through the choked roadway. Like any border town the energy was frenetic with people to-ing and fro-ing every which way. Everyone seems to have a purpose, commerce is everywhere, and we’re always on high alert for any scams that might befall us.

The actual Thailand/Myanmar border.

Importing goods to Myanmar. Could he fit any more on there?

When we first saw the blue archway we thought it was just a checkpoint so we merrily tried to motor through causing a bit of a hubabaloo. Apparently you can’t take your rented scooter into another country. Oh well, we zipped it around, found a parking spot and headed through on foot.

It is, like most border processes, a two step process. First we exit Thailand; a quick process whereby the border officer simply stamps us out. Then we cross what must be a no-mans-land where we’re no longer in Thailand yet not quite in Myanmar. In this case it’s actually a bridge crossing over a river. Once on the other side we entered into a small room where our entry into Myanmar was processed. There is a 500 Baht ($18) fee to enter Myanmar.  As we planned on staying an hour or two they took our passports and issued us temporary visitor permits.

It’s important to note that you cannot actually enter greater Myanmar from this border crossing. You can cross to Tachileik in Myanmar and you can stay up to 14 days but you cannot leave the small province you enter into. Make sure to do additional research if you plan on visiting Myanmar proper.

In the no-mans-land heading into Myanmar.

There are plenty of touts on the Myanmar side offering goods and services, tours and moto rentals; some people don’t like touts but on a short trip like this they can really provide you with what you need without too much trouble. Surprisingly to me they mostly spoke very good English.

We pushed through though, walked through the market a bit, and stopped to have some lunch.

Lunch, and beer, on the Myanmar side.

The way back through to Thailand was just as easy. We stopped on the Myanmar side to return our visitor permit and pick up our stamped passports and then continued on to the Thailand border officer again. When entering Thailand you must fill out an entry and departure card; the entry card is kept by the officer and the departure portion is stapled into your passport to be used on your departure. We filled out the cards, handed our passports over, and were stamped into Thailand once again. IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure that the officer marks the correct date for your departure. Many people come looking for a 15 day extension and we had a 60 day visa. We checked to make sure that our expected departure was marked for 60 days. A mistake not caught here could be very difficult to rectify!

Stamped passport. Does two hours in a country ‘count’ as a country visited?

With the business end of our trip complete we scooted back to Chiang Rai to visit the sites around town. The White Temple is a big draw here with plenty of tourists choking the place while the Black House is a much quieter site to see. I will write more about each of these later, only because they were each so weird.

The White Temple. Glaring? Garish?

The Black House. Beautiful architecture. Just plain weird inside, believe me.

The following day we packed up and headed out into the hills for a technology retreat. We spend inordinate amounts of time on our computers and needed a chance to just relax, hang out, and read. I found the perfect place just 25 KM from Chiang Rai.

Driving out of town streets thick with guesthouses and bars turned into neighbourhoods with schools and corner stores and then melted into a winding road through the steep mountains surrounded by bamboo and palm tree jungle. With time to spare we followed some random signs pointing to a Buddha up one of the hillsides. Pushing the bike as hard as she’d go we climbed the steep roadway up through tiers of hills until reaching the massive statue at the top. South East Asia’s ability to build massive sculptures continues to amaze me; here, in the middle of nowhere, stands a perfect Buddha image accompanied only by a few shacks to house the monks who stand guard.

Massive Buddha on the hillside.

Exploring complete we headed to our home for the next few days. The Bamboo Nest sits atop a hill surrounded only by other hills and Karen tribe villages. No electricity, no tv’s, no wifi, no distractions. Time is spent hanging in the hammock, reading, and chatting with other travelers. Heaven. I will write more about this place in another post but suffice it to say that if you find yourself in this area you should seek it out.

The Bamboo Nest. A perfect clutch of huts on a hillside. You should go.

We climbed on the bike again the next day for another ass-burning 200KM journey to Chiang Dao. This time, however, is much more fun.

This is what we were hoping for; winding roads, little to no traffic, small villages, farmland and towering mountains. We swooped around corners, climbed hills, and stopped only when the smiles on our faces could no longer soothe the burning in our asses. Too. Much. Fun. The only downside was that this was the smokiest, haziest part of the trip. We passed by fires burning right on the side of the road, the flames licking the pavement as we whizzed by holding our breath. I only hope we can return once the smoke has eased so we can see more of the scenery. It would be worth a return trip.

We didn’t actually enter into Chiang Dao proper. We only stopped here to offer some relief to our butts and avoid a super long day. Super glad we stopped though. Staying at the Chiang Dao Nest 2 guesthouse was a perfect treat.

Perfect bungalow at Chiang Dao Nest 2.

Nestled right at the base of the mountain it is perfectly shaded and away from the hustle and bustle of town. The bamboo cabins are scattered over the grounds so that it seems as though you are in your own, perfect, paradise. There is a cave nearby to explore if you feel the need to walk. We didn’t. We had a drink on the patio, wandered down the road to Nest 1 for another, and then returned for dinner. The restaurant served fabulous, fine, northern Thai food and we enjoyed a great meal set that included all the best that this area has to offer. Well worth the stop.

After coffee the next day we set out for a relatively short ride back home.

Coffee on the patio. The perfect end to a great trip.

It was a great trip and I’m glad we did it on the scooter despite all the ass burning but once was enough. I abhor tourist vans and buses but I think next time we’ll find a local bus to Chiang Rai, rent a scooter there for the run to the border, and then return by local bus. It’ll be a different experience but will involve far less ass burning and that can’t be bad!!


28 Feb

Magha Puja At Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We had a chance this week to peek into the Buddhist life of Thais. Monday was Magha Puja; one of the holiest days in Buddhism and the one day when most Thai Buddhists will visit their local temple to ‘make merit’.

It was a fascinating day that ended well into the evening.

Here’s a peek.

21 Feb

A Day At Huay Tueng Tao Lake, Chiang Mai

Huay Tueng Tao Lake, Chiang MaiSo far Chiang Mai is the perfect place for us to settle into while the rest of our plan ages, ferments, and generally gets its a$$ in gear.

The city is large enough to have all the conveniences of city living (great apartments, a plethora of coffee shops, plenty of restaurants of every possible type, numerous sites to see, and a diversity of people to make for good people watching) but small enough that we can get out pretty quickly to enjoy some peace and quiet.


We discovered Huay Tueng Tao lake in an effort to stay get in shape (well, in a shape other than round anyway). Unless dodging traffic on narrow roads while sucking back exhaust fumes is going to become the next Olympic sport (which it totally could now that they have ousted wrestling) there isn’t much point to trying to run in the city proper.

Located about 10KM outside of the city (on Canal Road, or Hwy 121 for those interested) the lake sits in the shadow of the mountains and is the perfect place for a quick morning run. It’s about 4KM around. It really feels like running at home, as if passing by golden Buddhas, farmer fields, and jungle swamps while jogging is anything like home.  It’s cool,  quiet, and relaxing (in the morning, that is. In the afternoon, and on weekends, it is overrun with city folk kicking back and escaping the city heat).

Huay Tueng Tao Lake, Chiang MaiThere is also a 7KM hike that starts on the back side of the lake. We went on Monday to check it out.

We started right behind the Buddha that looks out from the back side of the lake. We literally just walked into the jungle and followed an irrigation canal until we caught sight of the trail. Probably not the recommended way of starting a hike but then neither is not telling anyone where you are going or not bringing any food. Hindsight, right?

Huay Tueng Tao Lake, Chiang MaiThe trail is pretty easy to follow; even easier if you bring along the map from this Beautiful-ChiangMai.com post that details the hike along with GPS files. It’s a circular hike which I enjoy much more than there-and-back hikes.

What was really interesting about the hike was the foliage change throughout. On the way up (and I do mean up, there were some steep sections!) it was evergreen forest/jungle with ferns, bamboo, and plenty of plants that I can’t identify.

Huay Tueng Tao Lake, Chiang MaiYes, I already colour corrected the photo. I am that red/pink when I exercise. I get the weirdest looks (and the occasional sniggering at) and have often been asked if I’m okay but it’s perfectly normal for me to turn as red as a beet root at the mere thought of moving. I also sweat. A lot. Yep, it’s a pleasant day in the park working out with me.

Disappointingly there wasn’t much of a view at the top. The summit (well, just below it actually) is marked with a crude helicopter pad that afforded a good place to rest but the hazy day didn’t allow much of a view. Bummer.

The path down was on the other side of the hill and the vegetation there was much different than on the way up. It was much drier, grassier, and only partially shaded by small teak trees whose large leaves were strewn all over the path making the steeper sections of down quite slippery.

Huay Tueng Tao Lake, Chiang MaiThe best part of the hike was at the end. Isn’t that always the case? The lake is rimmed with these cute little floating huts. For 10 baht you can lounge in the cool shade to your hearts content.

Huay Tueng Tao Lake, Chiang MaiIt gets better. Each clutch of hutches is associated with a restaurant of sorts. Someone will bring you food and beer!! Wandering vendors visit periodically with treats like fruit, nuts, and bugs. Yes to the sugared tamarind. No to the packaged spiders.

Huay Tueng Tao Lake, Chiang MaiAnd so we worked off the hike by lounging and lolling, eating and drinking, chatting and laughing. If only all hikes could end this way!

The Global Bookshelf[box border=”full”]Looking to get connected to your trip to Thailand? Here are some great books to try.

The Beach The classic backpacker novel set on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Once you’ve been here you can understand why they wanted to ‘protect’ it.

Phra Farang A look into Thai Buddhism, and becoming a monk, from a Western perspective.

Sightseeing Set in contemporary Thailand, these are generous, radiant tales of family bonds, youthful romance, generational conflicts and cultural shiftings beneath the glossy surface of a warm, Edenic setting.

Find more Thailand books at TheGlobalBookshelf.com


The Global Bookshelf….Connecting Travelers To a World Of Stories[/box]

14 Feb

Bangkok to Chiang Mai Day Train

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainThe train is pretty full as we pull out of the station and I wonder how many of us are here for the long haul. Twelve hours according to the schedule but rumour has it that it will be closer to 14 or 15 when it’s all done. Some, like us, are laden with heavy packs while others gather cloth and plastic bagged belongings close to them. Against our normal routine, we haven’t brought any snacks with us today relying on the hope that vendors will board along the way and ease our boredom and hunger. Twelve hours to go, at best.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainCobbled together shacks line the narrow leeway between the tracks and the highway next door; their corrugated tin roofs providing shade from the sun and a noisy shelter from the rain. It is the same here as anywhere. Dogs laze about, children run around them compelling them to play, steam rises from cooking pots, and laundry hangs to dry. Eleven hours to go.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainAlthough the city looms large and teems with people it is not far outside that buildings tumbling on top of each other gives way to alternating fields and swamps. It’s the dry season now and burning the crop remains helps prepare the soil for the next planting. It is a familiar smell; acrid and sweet at the same time. Ten hours.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainMy vantage point. My view on the world. Watching the kaleidoscope of colours as city turns to suburb turns to fields and back again with varying degrees of intensity. Nine hours left.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainSnack time. Turns out that this train does not stop to let vendors on and off along the route. No grilled chicken leg with sticky rice. No pork sausage with cabbage and chilis. No omelette on rice. No ice cream. No beer. We start rationing the watermelon and pineapple that we only thought to bring along to cut the grease from the snacks we expected to be able to buy. Eight hungry hours to go.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainIt’s nap time; the second of four. The rocking and rolling, squeaking and creaking, lulling me to sleep time and again. I wake only when the weight of my head has sunk my neck to an unbearably uncomfortable position. Seven hours.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainThere it is. I know you wanted to know. Yes, there is a toilet on board and yes I am oh-so-relieved to find it is NOT a squat. It doesn’t so much flush as just empty straight out onto the track. This is it, my one visit to the bathroom during our entire trip. I hate, HATE, using the washroom on moving vehicles be they trains, buses, or planes. I do this thing I call ‘cameling’…I drink almost no liquids leading up to the journey, and only enough during to not get dehydrated thus eliminating the need to, ummm, eliminate. Granted, today’s toilet situation was not too bad at all but I have been conditioned by some pretty awful conditions, believe me. Six more hours.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainLunch!! Who knew? And not bad either. Steamed rice with breaded chicken and vegetable curry. With tingly lips and a full stomach it’s on to nap #3. Five hours left.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainI’m reading *Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (like a lot of other travellers it seems). I like Cheryl because she, like most of us, lacks confidence when comparing herself or her efforts against her peers. Yet, when telling her story about her adventure she realizes just how much she is ‘like a hard-ass, mother f*cking, Amazonian queen”. It’s true, I feel that way too. It’s easy to negate what we each do, what we contribute, what we achieve, what we’re capable of. It comes and goes, ebbs and flows, depending only where I am in my heart because, really, where I am for others doesn’t change. I am the one to change. Anyway, it’s a good book; you should read it. I’ll have it completed in the next four hours.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainAfter eight or so hours a funk starts to enter the car. I’m pretty sure it’s coming from down there. Three hours to go.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainAs the sun disappears below the horizon so too does the option of gazing off out the window. Darkness descends quickly here and soon enough there is nothing to see but the occasional light from distant farm houses. Two dark hours remain.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainA great shuddering, a lot of grinding, and we were stopped.


Conductors and engineers appeared and then disappeared again out into the darkness along with any hope that this journey would not stretch out into marathon proportions. Rapid fire Thai punctuated the darkness entering the car as we all held our breath waiting to see how our night would unfold. Nervous smiles on their faces as they reappeared told us all we needed to know; things were not going well.

Word is we hit a cow. I’m not so sure. We’re at the front and, peering out into the inky blackness, I don’t see anyone removing cow parts from the undercarriage. We limp into the next station; the engineers wrenching and hammering at some invisible problem, the rest of us on our iPhones looking for accommodation in whatever god-forsaken town we’re lucky to have landed in. And I mean lucky because we could just as easily be stopped in the middle of nowhere. Unknown hours are left.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainThings are looking up though and 20 minutes later we’re on our way to a rendezvous with a new engine. It won’t fix the now broken air conditioning but it does mean we’ll make it. Two hopeful hours to go.

We pass the time watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory. One more hour?

Bangkok to Chiang Mai TrainBefore we know it we are pulling into Chiang Mai station are are thrust into the mayhem of tuk-tuk and songthaew drivers preying on our late night arrival and vying for inflated rates. But I’m here, and I’m happy.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai Train

Would I do it again? Yes! I think travel is about the travel; the getting from place to place, not just being in a place. Journeys like this teach us to be prepared, to be patient, and to take it as it comes. We saw a lot of the countryside and now we really know how far it is from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Would you choose a train or bus over flying?

*Affiliate Link. You know, in case you want to buy it…I’ll make a couple of cents.



08 Feb

Hua Hin On A Budget

Hua Hin, ThailandHua Hin is heralded as the perfect spot for a quick beach holiday. Only two (or so) hours from Bangkok it certainly is easy to get to but, as a weekend get-a-way spot for wealthy Bangkokians would it fit our teeny-tiny budget?

It’s true, the expensive, brand name, hotels and resorts (think Sofitel, Hilton, Grand Centara) dominate the coast line with their high-rise buildings, swimming pools, beautiful grounds, and world class restaurants but there is more to Hua Hin than that and we were determined to find it.


As we had a week to spend, and a desire to settle in a bit and call somewhere ‘home’, I set to looking for an apartment. It wasn’t difficult. Wimdu has a great selection of units throughout the city at all price points. The booking process was super simple; I just entered in Hua Hin as the destination, selected the dates I needed, and browsed the selection of available apartments. Pictures, detailed descriptions, map locations, and prices were all right there to help me choose. If I had any questions, or wanted to confirm dates, I could simply message the owner directly. With discounts given for weekly, and monthly, rentals it soon becomes clear that slow travel is the more affordable way to go.

Tira Tiraa, Hua Hin, ThailandWe ended up in a lovely studio apartment, away from the beach but near many eateries and the night market. With our own, albeit small and without a stove (can it really be called a kitchen then?), kitchen we can prepare morning coffee and breakfast at our leisure, keep our beer cold, and enjoy afternoon cocktails on the patio. Perfect.

At about $43/night, with the weekly discount, it would be a great deal (although certainly not the cheapest room available in town – you can stay in hostels and boarding house rooms for much cheaper) but Wimdu (and most apartment rental sites) add a service fee to the bill which raised the cost to $50/night. I hate service fees. I guess if our stay was a month, or longer, then the service fee is amortized over a longer period which would lessen the impact but to those of us looking to apartments for shorter term accommodation the service fee just sucks.


Hua Hin is a tourist town so there are plenty of places to grab a bite at all price points. From hotel restaurants to seafood houses on stilts, beach front dining to night market fare, and the ubiquitous mobile stands around town, there is surely something for everyone! We’re on a budget so we kept it pretty low key; breakfast in our apartment (we buy yogurt from 7/11 and fruit from various vendors), noodle soup from the corner for lunch, and most often dinner at the night market.

Here are some of our favorite places:

From carts all over. Noodle soup with pork. 20 baht (about 70 cents). This is a lunch time staple.

Hua Hin, ThailandChomsin Food Stalls; on the corner of Th Chomsin and Th Naebkhardt. BBQ duck and pork over rice and papaya salad + 1 beer. 160 baht ($5.35).

Hua Hin, Thailand

Hua Hin, ThailandNight Market; Th Dechanuchit from 5pm onward. Moo Seafood right in front of the 7/11 was our favorite – the places more ‘in’ the market were more expensive. Stay away from the lobster and large prawns and it’s actually very affordable.  Wild boar curry, snapper with ginger, and steamed rice + 2 beer. 380 baht ($12.70). The best we had here was the prawns with cashews and squid with thai curry – about the same price but unbelievably good (no pictures that day).

Hua Hin, ThailandOnn Onn Corner Restaurant. For more of a ‘sit down’ experience; the food here was excellent and the prices very reasonable.

Hua Hin, Thailand


Is this where I confess how much we actually drink? Well, let’s just say that it’s very affordable to quaff one or two here in Thailand. A large Singha beer from the 7/11 costs 42 baht ($1.40) and when out for lunch or dinner we’re paying somewhere around 80-100 baht ($2.70 – $3.30).

Hua Hin, ThailandWe like to have a cocktail in the evening and have taken quite nicely to the local SangSom and soda concoction. A bottle of SangSom is 250 baht ($8.40), and soda and ice can be had at the 7/11 for pennies.

Hua Hin, Thailand


This is kind of where it all falls down for me. The beach just isn’t that great. North of the pier the beach is hemmed in by the concrete wall demarking the city; the beach looks desolate and uninviting. South of town, skulking in the shadow of the behemoth Hilton Hotel, it is patterned with beach chairs and umbrellas almost as far as you can see. There are a few open spaces to spread out a towel but the sand is coarse and the surroundings not exactly inviting. I usually love the juxtaposition of city and beach but here it seems all too separate; the beach is for the foreigners and the city is for the Thais. It’s a shame.

Hua Hin, Thailand

Getting Around

The city center is small enough to walk around, if you’re staying in the city. If you’re not then I’m guessing you’re at one of the resorts and maybe have no reason to leave?

If you want to go further afield there are plenty of taxis, tuk-tuks, moto-taxis, and Songthaews to get where you need to. We love the freedom of having our own moto-bike. You can rent a scooter for about 200 baht ($6.70) for the day. The roads here are quite busy so it’s not a beginner move but if you’re comfortable riding a moto-bike in Thai traffic it’s a great way to get around.

Hua Hin, Thailand

For me, Hua Hin didn’t deliver what I was looking for. It lacks the charm and laid back attitude that other beach towns possess and, quite frankly, was filled with retirees or those looking for a place to retire (now I know that at 45 I’m no spring chicken but I was positively a baby in this town!). Next time I will take the time to head farther south.