Chiang Mai…cough cough
Following on from last week, this post brings you more of Chiang Mai but takes you further deep into the mountains of Thailand to an epic little town called Pai. But not without some mishaps first!
Sat 16th February 2019
One week in and I really like this city. Although many people, mainly farangs, are complaining about the smog (air pollution), and maybe rightly so. There doesn’t seem to be much of a noticeable effect on me but after one week, who’s to say! Saying that, if you do look into the mountains and along the river at night, you can see the air is quite bad. Hopefully they do something to fix this in the future. Learn more about the Chiang Mai burning season from visitors here.
Down by Punspace in Chiang Mai to the Tiny Corner bar
I took a stroll back into the city near Punspace, the popular co-working space in Chiang Mai. There’s a great motorbike shop there, where I took some photos of cool bikes that I haven’t seen before in Ireland. I wandered around by the river then and stumbled across “The Tiny Corner” bar, the smallest bar in the world, according to the sign out front. :)
Meeting a Real Life Digital Nomad
The time had come to meet a real digital nomad. Upto now, I thought they were all fictitious characters created in Hollywood, who never made the big screen (joke). I ventured back to the Night Bazaar area and met up with fellow Irish person, Emma-Jane, who runs a digital agency specialising in web design and digital marketing. There was a band playing again in the Boy Blues Bar so we went up for a few bottles of Chang, followed by a game of pool.
Hungover in Chiang Mai
I felt really hungover when I woke up and it seemed to last all day, and the next day and the next…So I said I better visit the doctor to make sure I was ok. Afterall, I was in the water with elephants and out in the “jungle” for a bit, so I was paranoid. The only cure for this could be pizza and coffee. I found a pizza joint called Molto Buono not too far from the Pause Hostel. The food is good here, try if you are around Nimman area.
From Chiang Mai To Where?
A week or so in a place is usually enough of a taster before I start getting bored, but where would I go from here?
Pai was an option. The amazing little town high in the mountainous region of northern thailand maybe…You can get a small minibus here, and the journey takes about 4 hours on some of the windiest roads you’ll ever see! If you’re travelling on a budget, the Nimman area can be a little more expensive for food and accommodation, so shop around online and call into the hotels and hostels in person too. Check out sites like trip.com, or the Traveloka app in Thailand.
Saving The Planet One Journey At A Time
I was still feeling hungover/sick from Sunday night and knew it was more than just a hangover as I had been sweating quite a bit during the night, so I took some paracetamol, electrolytes and some penicillin to get me back on track. It seemed to be working. I had seen the Eco bikes and Neuron scooters all over the city over the pas week and I wanted to have a go. You basically download the Neuron app, load your payment method and pick up a scooter when you see it. You then scan the unique QR code on the scooter and start your trip. There are different pricing plans. But the optionI went for was the 1 day pass at 199Bt. This gave unlimited journeys so long as the journey was less than 30 minutes in duration. So I stopped a few times before the 30 minutes were up and then started a new journey. Saying that, it did charge me on two occasions even though I didn’t pass the 30 minutes on the timer! I scooted to Wat Phabong and docked there. I then went by Wat Lathakin Sadue Muang. I scooted off for some food then after Googling “good pizza in Chiang Mai”. Pizza By Hand popped up so off I went. The pizza is cooked in a wood fired oven and it really is delicious. A little on the expensive side relative to a dish in Maya but it’s a big pizza, well made and well cooked (I think maybe 220Bht). Try it out if you’re a pizza fan.
I went over to Central Festival, which is a big shopping mall. The scooters are too slow for fast moving/heavy traffic roads, so crossing junctions can be a little dangerous on then. They’re ok if you just want to leisurely scoot along and stop every few metres but not as a full time transport option in a city, in my opinion. If they make the scooters faster and make the batteries last longer then they are a great idea! (Cue Elon Musk and Giga)
Playing Squash in Chiang Mai
I needed to find somewhere to keep fit. Being a squash player, I Googled where the squash clubs in Chiang Mai are, found one and reached out to the club secretary, Bob Molloy. The club is called Gymkhana Sports Club and has a cricket pitch, tennis courts, a golf driving range along with a host of changing facilities and restaurant. I took a taxi over to it, which is a few miles from the city and met some of the players. I had 2 games and worked up a sweat (Back home we blast heaters to warm up the court but here…!). It was the first bit of real exercise I had done since running on the beach in Pattaya! If I was going to stay in Chiang Mai for a longer period, I would invest in a racket and some squash shoes (Gymkhana Club here).
Back to the future
I left the squash club exhausted, taking a songthaew (red taxi) to the city and then hopped back on another Neutron scooter for a taste of the electronic travel future…needed to make the most of my day pass. I scooted off to the Night Bazaar again. It’s really a hive of activity down there so its cool to have a wander around for an hour or two. I witnessed monks chanting at one of the temples, with some people joining in/following along. This was the first time I saw this and so it met one’s stereotypical expectation of a visit to the East.
Visiting a Doctor in Chiang Mai
Wed 20th February 2019
I woke up with a swollen throat and feeling worse than the past few days. Ok. It was time to go to the docs. I looked up online what my options were and tapped the digital nomad scene for some advice. It was a coin toss between RAM Hospital or Srithep. Stirrup is a cheaper hospital but there are apparently less English speaking and you may be waiting a longer time, whereas RAM is a professional, high quality, modern hospital with high levels of English and its run in a very systematic way. I flipped the coin. RAM won.
Afterall, a few days before, I was in the water with elephants and out in the “jungle” for a bit, so I was paranoid. Good news - the hostel randomly bumped me up to a private room free of charge for the next few days, good timing! I went for some Japanese food next door to the Pause Hostel before heading to the hospital. The meal was only ok and seemed way overpriced at 200Bht.
At 3.30pm I entered the RAM Hospital. Upon walking in, I was taken back by how modern, clean and professional looking it looked and felt. It would have put an Irish hospital to shame. I was immediately greeted by the “Reception” nurse and presented my symptoms. I was then whisked off promptly to a screening section where the nurse prepares your case for the doctor. I then waited a while, was taken for a blood test and checkup, waited another while and then was finally seen by the doctor who diagnosed it as nothing more than a viral infection which would take 2-3 days more to be rid of (Happy days! I’m cured). The doc prescribed some basic meds. They have a pharmacy onsite where you can buy them (Very clever system). The whole ordeal took 3-4 hours from admission time to discharge, costing 2,222 Baht. Well impressed (In Ireland this might take 5-6 hours in a hospital. Granted, you would probably just visit your local GP but when in Rome…). Travel insurance would cover this, if it were to cost over the excess amount, which it didn’t for me, so meant I had to foot the bill myself (I thought my medical excess was €50 for some reason…).
TIP: Check your medical expenses excess on your travel insurance policy so you know what you will have to pay in the event of needing to claim.
Seafood and Seaweed is Big Business
As you walk through the streets in Thailand, you’ll always see some kind of seafood, whether it be lobsters, shrimp, oysters, crab, shellfish or something else exotic. Besides seafood, seaweed snacks seem to be very popular here with shops dedicated almost solely to selling packaged seaweed snacks! I bought some to try out. It’s definitely an acquired taste. These ended up taking up a lot of space in my bag so I gave some packs away and would send some back home to the Emerald isle.
VR Meet Hostel, Nimman
Friday 22nd Feb 2019
Having stayed in the Pause Hostel for over one week, it was time for a change of scenery and time to save some money now after my hospital ordeal. I checked out, and walked 200 metres down the road and checked in to the VR Meet Hostel, for nearly half of the cost (180Bht per night). They gave me a top bunk bed in a 10-bed dorm. The hostel is not as new, modern or welcoming as the Pause Hostel and does have quite a strong smell of seafood from the kitchen underneath but it’s fine and when you’re on a budget for a few days, who cares. It was time to head out for some food so off I went to Maya Mall again.
Food 4 Thought
Being Friday, it was time for the digital nomad weekly coffee metope at Food4Thought Café, which is about 10 minutes of a walk from Maya Mall. I walked over and on my way had to stop to take in the sight of painters literally abseiling down a 20 floor building like foot soldiers (Turtles?)!
It looked crazy, as they pushed off the wall with their feet to move down to the next section to paint. Imagine this in the West!
I got to Food4Thought and had a drink as I was a bit early for today’s keynote. The place started to fill up and I got another drink, a locally made Kombucha (What is Kombucha?).
The keynote presentation today was given by Filip from Macedonia, a remote Salesperson living remotely full-time now. It was quite interesting and inspiring to hear his story. The coffee metopes are great ways to meet new people who are travelling and/or trying the digital nomad life. I made some new friends here, Kevin from China/Spain and Ahmed from Jordan as well as a professional online poker player from Australia who hustled us out of the drinks (just kidding).
Sleeping With The Animals
I met some new friends at the VR Meet Hostel, one being Quentin from Belgium, who was also travelling through SE Asia and intended on doing a few days in a monastery in Thailand at some point. Quentin quit his management job in Retail to go travelling.
That night, I was awoken a number of times to what sounded like either a very loud throat/breathing problem or some kind of live animal that was hungry for a midnight snack! I was a little creeped out and looked around the room. Quentin had also awoken, got out of his bottom bunker and looked up at me with a “What the fuck?”. I pointed down to the Asian guy’s bed who was under me to the left. These noises continued throughout the night, along with the girl next to the strange noises banging on the guy’s dividing wall! To this day, we still don’t know what this creature crying in the night was haha. The guy left the next day with a few bags, god only knows what was in them. So weird!
Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai
Sat 23rd Feb 2019
The next morning, I needed to do something. The famous Doi Suthep Temple a few miles uphill from Chiang Mai was on the agenda today. Intrigued, picking up a few dried banana and carrot snacks, I walked over to the university stop to get a songthaew from (They try to wait until there’s 10 people minimum before driving to Doi Suthep). It’s only 40Bht one way and takes maybe 20 minutes.
It’s pretty cool up at Doi Suthep and you can get a good view of the city (amidst the smog). there are loads of souvenir shops and some street food stalls also for the burgeoning tourist. I took a few snaps and found a meditation centre near the main temple. Wandering in, there was complete silence and I lay down for 40 minutes to take a nice breather from the city life.
Refreshed, I waited for another songthaew to head back towards the city, sharing it with a German couple and a girl (I think) from Bangkok onboard.
The Grand Canyon is in Chiang Mai?
Through the digital nomad coffee meet, I heard of a party on at the Grand Canyon, the Magik Boom Party and went over to it to meet Ahmed was had started to party early! The songthaew over extorted six of us at 100Bht each to get there (but it was maybe 25-30 minutes away).
There was an entry fee (can’t remember how much). It’s a pretty cool place, with sand everywhere, snack bar, drinks bar and cool stage set up for DJs and performers. The party started in the afternoon, with maybe 150 people there when I arrived. Good chilled out vibe and a fire poi performer later on in the night which was cool. Met a girl there who oddly had “Daddy” tattooed to her inner lip.
A group of us took a songthaew back to the city at 10/11pm as the party was dying down. I could really notice the smog in the air looking our from the back of the songthaew! Good night. More about Grand Canyon here.
Sun 24th Feb 2019
Up bright n’ early for a 7.30am bus to Pai. No accom booked yet but should be fine looking for somewhere on arrival. The minivan journey takes 3.5 - 4 hours on some ridiculously bendy roads, it would be an ideal route for any driving enthusiasts in a car or on a motorbike (at least a 250cc is probably recommended for the hills and comfort), with some steep inclines to bring you right into the mountains. In fact, the journey is famous for its “762 curves” (Cool timelapse video of scooter journey here). Only three of us were in the minivan plus the driver. One guy, Gregoire from northern France and I got chatting enrolee. He was studying in Japan and taking a 2 week holiday in Thailand. We stopped half way to Pai for some food and a pisstop. We got there about 11.45am and we found a hostel within a few minutes, not too far from the bus stop (200Bht). I was only staying for the night so didn’t really care where once it was cheap and half decent looking. Sorted. Next thing, get a scooter to see the place. Just a minute’s walk away was a scooter rental shop and I got myself a nifty little green Zoomer-x to get me around Pai as quick as possible for the 24hours I was there. Not too expensive to rent, 200Bt (there was a cheaper option for 150 but liked the look of the Zoomer-x). Gregoire got a scooter too and we both ventured off to find one of the Pai waterfalls, Mor Paeng, Wat Phra That Mae Yen (the big white Buddha) on the hill and also the famous Pai Memorial bridge, built to commemorate the Japanese War time (an older bridge was there prior, more about the bridge here). See photos below also!
We made good use of the scooters! I got 80kph from mine along a good straight main road..Zoooom!
Night Time in Pai
Night time in Pai; there are a few options. Around 8pm I met with Quentin from Chiang Mai again and we went to this chilled out Jazz bar where we met two girls from the Netherlands. Really cool music in there and we had a few drinks. There is a nightclub nearby apparently, didn’t bother with it though. A few bars have live music. More nightlife reviews from other visitors to Pai here.
After a long day travelling and driving around, I headed off to bed for 12ish.
Back to Chiang Mai
I got up early, 8.30ish and welcome the luxury of a warm shower! Got some of the complimentary bananas and some coffee to kickstart the day. I wanted to see some more of Pai while I was here so I ventured off on the scooter up smaller roads to get some video footage and new photos. I hit 85kph on it this time (main road though)!
11am came and it was time to check out of the hostel, grab the bag and drop the scooter back.
Just near my hostel is the bamboo bridge everyone talks about (see photo below).
The bus back to Chiang Mai was not until 2pm so I grabbed some food and water. We headed off back to the city, again stopping half way. The bus driver was a bit of a character, drinking some sort of drink from a brown paper bag (not sure if it was alcohol or…), and talking to himself. Not sure if he was drunk, stoned, mad or a combination of all three! Anyway we got back in one piece, arriving at Chiang Mai Arcade Terminal 2 at 5.30pm. I took a Grab taxi back to the hostel (104Bht, rush hour). Went for some food with Kevin from the Digital Nomad meet up, we got some whopper street food burgers and fries, gangsta style near the Warmup Café!
We said our goodbyes and I made my way back for an early night, with early flight the next morning back to Pattaya. My time in Thailand was running out but stay tuned to see what happened next!
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