After travelling for nearly 30 hours by car, bus, plane, train, minibus and ferry, we finally arrived at Maya Hotel on KohLanta (http://www.mayalantaresort.com/). Our hotel was on the beautiful Klong Dao beach, sandy and gently sloping with warm water. Great location and excellent facilities and the sunsets were truly amazing.
Ko Lanta is a large island with 6 km wide and over 30 kms long, 9 beaches lie from north to south along the sunset coast. The island boasts stunning scenery, fantastic white sandy beaches, coastlines dotted with more than 70 small islands and plenty of forest, coral reefs and under water life.
Koh Lanta is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims, and sea gypsies (Chao Ley – people of the sea) . The majority of the population in the rural areas is Muslim. Unlike the UK, Koh Lantadoes not suffer from any religious tension and the folk live in peace and harmony.
Being an island, seafood was plentiful and was on the menu in many restaurants and was relatively cheap compared to Chiang Mai. Getting a decent cup of coffee was nearly impossible, in the week we were there, we only found one decent coffee shop.
Our time on Koh Lanta soon passed and it was time to pack the cases and head north. Our ferry journey to Krabi took 2.5 hours and en-route we passed some beautiful beaches and stunning coastal scenery. Our night in Krabi town was unexciting. It rained and we had Thai food in ‘Grace’s Irish Bar’; not very adventurous but there was aircon and cold beer.
The Muang Mai Market is the main wholesale area for fresh produce in Chiang Mai and for anyone interested in food it’s a great place to visit. The market runs along the west side of the Ping River. It’s a maze of streets and lanes, bustling with pickup trucks, people walking and on scooters.
Muang Mai market is a mix of small stalls, warehouses, permanent shops and pick up trucks. Much of the food has come straight from the farm and in some parts of the market the farmers sell their wares direct from the back of their vehicles. You will be amazed at how much garlic, cabbages or other vegetables can be piled in the back of one of these vehicles. Most of the vendors specialise in one or two items of produce so buying a basket of food will mean working your way around the market. The majority of the market is made up of an enormous range of locally grown fruits and vegetables – one stall will sell watermelons, another pineapple, another lettuce and so on. The variety and freshness is astonishing to those used to buying from a western supermarket.
A section of the market is for fresh meat serving mainly pork and chicken but with some beef. We’re used to buying meat cling wrapped on polystyrene plate, here some of the hygiene standards may not be to western supermarket standards.
In another lane there are stalls selling fresh seafood laid on ice. There are not only fish (live) but a huge variety of shellfish, prawns, squid and crab much of it heading for Chiang Mai’s many restaurants.
Turn a corner and you find stalls that specialise solely in curry pastes.
Compared to our usual market (Somphet) the prices at Muang Mai market are much cheaper. We were absolutely astonished at some of the prices compared with the high prices in UK supermarkets. Although Muang Mai is mainly a wholesale market selling in bulk, all the stalls will sell smaller amounts and shopping for fresh food will save on the weekly budget!
The Flower Festival in Chiang Mai is an annual event. It’s another excuse for closing the roads and setting up stalls and walking streets that sell food and souvenirs. That’s the cynical view!
Plant vendors position their stands on the roadsides around the moat for three days and city’s large east entrance, Tha Pae Gate, is overrun with hundreds of tourists and locals, a large stage, food stalls, flower showcases, beauty pageants and people.
In fact, it’s truly a spectacular three day event, the orchids and other flora displays mixed in with food, drink, clothes craft stalls are colourful and imaginative. At 4:00pm on day two the main road from Narawat Bridge leading to Tha Pae Gate is closed for the extravagantly decorated floral floats, marching bands, drummers, traditional Thai dancing girls and Hill Tribe people in traditional outfits. We watched for a hour or so and took numerous photographs. We then went and had some dinner, two hours later the floats etc were still parading into Tha Pae Gate. Over four and a half hours of floats
Today, being Chinese New Year (Year of the Horse), we walked to China Town (Wararot Market). The roads around Wararot are normally nose to tail with songtaews and tuk tuks but today the roads were closed to traffic and turned into a walking street, full of Thai people who have Chinese origins, dressed in tradition outfits together with the thousands of Chinese tourists who now choose to take their holidays in Chiang Mai due to amongst other things, direct flights. Being a day of celebration is another opportunity to earn some extra money with stalls set up along the road selling all kinds of food and drink. You could buy sausages, fish, quail, chicken, fruit, fried rice, noodles and unrecognisable foodstuffs that aren’t even translated into English! They catered for every taste, a stall selling deep fried bugs: small, medium and gigantic. What a great afternoon in the sunshine. Sorry you can’t be here to share it but here are some of the photographs.
Our visa expires in 7 days which requires a trip to Myanmar border (via Chiang Rai) to renew it, or pay a 500 Baht (£10) per day fine.
Chiang Rai is further north than Chiang Mai and considerably colder (officially it’s winter there). The day time temperature may only reach 22c and the night time could go as low as 14c. So we packed our British summer clothes: socks, long trousers, scarf, gloves and cardigan/hoodie (no room for wellies)!
On Monday morning we went to Chiang Mai bus station and boarded the 10:30am Green Bus company(VIP seat). The journey was scheduled to take three hours. The bus/coach is a normal sized, yet fitted out with only 24 seats, individual TVs with films and games – a bit like business class of the road. We even had a stewardess/steward, not sure this is the correct term for a lady boy, perhaps stewardesssyboy would be a more appropriate name. We were served with a bottle of water and a cake. The cost of a one way ticket was 288 Baht (£5.76) After a pretty uneventful journey we arrived in Chiang Rai on time and made our way to our hotel.
Tuesday: Early breakfast and make our way back to the bus station. We arrived just in time to catch the 10:00am Chiang Rai – Mae Sai Mini Van. The distance to the Mae Sai is 63 KM and expected arrival time 11:00am, cost per person one way – 45 Baht (90 pence) Not VIP travel but for less than a quid, you can’t complain. It was a bit of a white knuckle ride, the driver was hell bent on getting there in record time, he overtook and undertook everything on the road and arrived nearly ten minutes early.
Mini Van – Chiang Rai bus station
Mae Sai is not a pretty place, the main road up to the border crossing is flanked both sides with street stalls selling trinkets, cheap electronic goods, toys, umbrellas, knives, knuckle dusters and the least thing you would have expected – roasted chestnuts. We made our way to the Myanmar immigration office and presented our passports and the 500 Baht fee (£10). The fee should be $10,(£6.25) The Dollar note must be new and have no blemishes, this is just an excuse for them to demand Thai Baht and pocket the difference. Perhaps this is why Myanmar came 157 out of 177 corrupt countries. I will say; they were friendly, courteous and smiled all the time we were being ripped off. We entered the city of Tachilek Myanmar and were surrounded by locals trying to sell us trips and city tours. We were also offered a 200 pack of ‘Marlboro’ cigarettes for 40 baht (80 pence) and when we declined his very generous offer he then produced some Viagra at the bargain price of 70 Baht. Must be hard times in Myanmar. We did find a duty free shop that was selling branded spirits, a bottle of Smirnoff was a very reasonable 250 Baht (£5). Not tried it yet, hopefully it’s the real deal and not a very expensive toilet cleaner.
Our return journey from Mae Sai to Chiang Rai wasn’t a white knuckle ride, we had a different driver who didn’t have a death wish. This area of Thai/Myanmar is known as the “Golden Triangle” and is notorious for illegal immigrants and smuggling drugs over the border, the current fashionable drug is Yabba and is a form of crystal meth. Weekly there are reports of arrests and confiscation of millions Yabba tablets so it wasn’t a great surprise when the mini van we were travelling in was stopped and searched by the Thai police. Thankfully our 250 Baht of vodka wasn’t confiscated…
Our passport is now stamped and we can officially stay for another 3 months. Unfortunately we will be making the same trip again. Let’s hope the Smirnoff is legit, next time we’ll buy more……
The origin of Loi Krathong involves at least 7 legends. Most of them stem from Buddhism. The most popular ones are to show respect to the footprint of the Lord Buddha on the sandy beach of the Narmaha River in India, as well as to the great Serpent and dwellers of the underwater world, after the Lord Buddha’s visit to their watery realm. Others believe that the floral krathong is offered to the pagoda (Phra Ged Kaew Ju La Mane) containing the Lord Buddha’s topknot, which was cut off at his self-ordination and is now in heaven.
The festival runs over three days: fireworks, processions and thousands and thousands of lanterns. The main area of celebrations in Chiang Mai is around the Mae Ping River, especially the Nawarat and Iron Bridge. There are crowds of Thais, young and old and a great party atmosphere. It’s not a place to be if you don’t like fireworks, they are easily available and are literally exploding all around you.
Sky Lanterns – Khom Loy / Khom Fai
The Khom Loy, also known as Khom Fai, is a cylinder of paper about one meter high, braced with wire or bamboo circles. Suspended from the bottom of the cylinder is a tray containing cotton soaked in kerosene. Fireworks and firecrackers are also often attached to the tray. These catch fire and explode after the balloon is launched. Once the cotton is lit it takes about a minute for the air inside the cylinder to heat up enough to lift the balloon into the air.
It is believed that launching one of these balloons can send a person’s bad luck and misfortune away into the air, especially if it disappears from view before the fire goes out. Often people will say a short prayer before launching the balloon.
On our way to We’s restaurant we stopped of at Saturday market. It opens every Saturday from 4:00pm till midnight. The road is closed to all traffic and extends for over a 1 Km down Wua Lai Road.
The Market really comes alive from dusk when all the vendors turn the lights on their stalls and the street entertainers, and musicians start to perform.
It’s a great evening out and the street food is amazing and great value. We had a great meal at We’s restaurant. Shared a starter, one large Leo beer, one Wodka and tonic (the Thai’s can’t pronounce the letter V) two main courses all for under £8 including tip.
Friday 13th September: we visited our favourite traditional little shopping spot, Somphet market. It’s just off Moonmuang Road, right in the heart of Chiang Mai city. It’s frequented by farangs (foreigners) but mostly local Thais. You can buy most things here: clothes, material, meat, vegetables, hardware. Live fish flap in shallow containers, while next door you can have one cooked over hot coals with a hot chilli dressing.
The exotic cactus-like dragon fruit has a pink exterior yet reveals a white fleshy inside full of little black seeds, looks delicious but has little or no taste. The more adventurous try the durian, which is renown for smelling like s**t but tasting like heaven. Perhaps one day we’ll try it.