Taking the sleeper train to Bangkok and traveling to Siem Reap

Rather than take a plane to Bangkok we decided to try the overnight sleeper train. You can choose to travel in first class, which includes a private berth with air conditioning, or you have the option to go second class with or without air conditioning. Second class is more like a dorm room with an open plan and beds along the walls of the train. You leave in the evening and arrive very early in the morning.

Because first class was sold out we decided to get second class tickets with air conditioning. Second Class was comfortable and it was a fun trip. During the day you sit at a table with two cushioned seats and at night these are converted into two bunk beds that come out of the wall. If you’re interested there are pictures on seat61, a site dedicated to the various forms of rail travel all over the world. We were on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route.

Some of the food left something to be desired but there was plenty of it. It still amazes me how many meals are included when I am using public transportation in Southeast Asia. We didn’t even need to go to the dining car for snacks. Here is a picture of our dinner:

The berths were pretty comfortable and with the curtains drawn fairly private. I’m fairly picky and I even managed to sleep some. I wish that I had gotten a picture of them but I guess I was too sleepy! Here is a picture of us rolling along.

We arrived in Bangkok early in the morning and though not quite refreshed, in good shape.

In Bangkok we stayed at the Good Day hostel for a few days. We rented a private room with access to a communal bathroom. Our room had a bunk which was kind of fun. It reminded me a lot of being a kid. I got the bottom bunk. The rooms are very clean and had outlets accessible everywhere which I thought was great. There was one bathroom for the floor and it was also very clean and nicely decorated. The toilets and showers are in stalls so it’s a little more private than a locker room. All and all I had a good stay here and was very comfortable.

Then we were off to Siem Reap to check out Angkor Wat! The plane ride was uneventful. Siem Reap has a tiny airport and thankfully a very short visa check in process.

You actually use US dollars in Cambodia, which would have been more convenient if I had known about it before, lol. You also want to make sure that all your bills are in decent condition as most places will not accept bills that are overly dirty or in any way ripped.

Here is our plane! We arrived safely and were ready to check into our hotel. Next time I will talk about the city of Siem Reap.

Lunch at Huen Muan Jai

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After a long week and graduating our 15 day Thai class I was just exhausted. All we did on Friday was relax and check out a new northern Thai restaurant called Huen Muan Jai. The restaurant is mostly outdoors on a wooden deck. Mosquito spray is provided for free although I don’t think we needed it. It was lovely to sit out on the shaded deck and to feel the breeze.

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We got all northern dishes, nam prick ong, gueng hang lay, and kao soi. All were pretty good but the Kao soi really stood out. It’s a pretty cheap and delicious lunch, I think that we will definitely have to get it again.

Galae and the Chiang Mai zoo

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On Wednesday we went out to lunch with our Thai class at the beautiful Galae restaurant. The location is right by the river amongst a lovely garden. After a delightful lunch filled with a variety of Northern favorites including Nam Prik Ong, Gueng Hang lay, and deep fried seabass with crispy galangal we went for a short walk along the grounds.

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While driving the scooters around we noticed that we were quite near the Chiang Mai zoo. The entrance was very odd, it almost looked like a private compound and there were no buses or other people besides the two in a small kiosk. We were able to buy tickets there and started walking towards the closest attraction. As it turned out we actually had entered at a small side entrance! We spent ages walking the steep road towards the actual zoo and past some very unusual signs, for example one read “Hormone extraction office” or something along those lines. I wonder if that is a mistranslation or they really extract hormones there?

Next time I would definitely take the time to find the real entrance. We had to walk over a very steep road for a long time and we then had to walk even further to find a place that sold tickets for the bus. In fact we almost had to buy two tickets for the bus around the park because they end at the entrance. Very annoying! I wish those guards had advised us to drive to the actual entrance.

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Once we got over our disappointment with the entrance situation we had a lot of fun. A highlight for me was seeing the pandas! There are only two but as they only cost 100 baht extra for the ticket we thought it was worth it. We got lucky in that the zoo keepers had put out some fresh bamboo just before we got there and one of the pandas we just hanging out eating bamboo really close to the edge of the enclosure. We were maybe 6-8 feet away here. Crazy!

Another cool thing that I almost forgot to mention is that you can feed nearly any animal at the zoo. That’s right, even the carnivores! My SO was brave and decided to feed one of the jaguars. So weird! We also feed a giraffe, an elephant, and some deer.

We did skip the super expensive aquarium but I think with the pandas and various opportunities to feed the animals the zoo is so much fun. I couldn’t recommend it enough. Definitely a different experience than going back home. Just make sure that you go in the main entrance, it will save you a lot of hassle.

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

IMG_0722On Tuesday after Thai class we all went to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, a Hmong mountain town with a waterfall garden, then took a quick jaunt through the Bpuping Palace grounds. It was a busy day!

Beautiful view of Chiang Mai!
Beautiful view of Chiang Mai!

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is interesting in that unlike a lot of the other Wats it is actually far up in the mountains. Tourists have a choice of either paying 50 baht a piece and taking the tram or walking all 306 steps to get to the top. We decided to take the tram. It’s short and there is not much of a view, so actually I might consider walking up next time.

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The temple itself is beautiful and while somewhat crowded with other tourists from Thailand it felt like it belonged on top of the mountain.

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This fruit was actually what started my exotic fruit kick. It is called a physalis and is related to the tomato. While the winter season isn’t the best time to find ripe fruit we have managed to try a rose apple, jack fruit, some weird almost rum tasting fruit that I forget the name of, and my favorite so far dragon fruit. I’m really curious about this fruit called the sugar apple. I hope that we can have a taste of it before leaving Chiang Mai.

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After the temple we drove around for a while looking for the Bhuping Palace and found this Hmong village. There was a long winding road filled with market stalls to the top of a hill where we found this beautiful terraced garden and waterfall.

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No idea what this does.

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After backtracking we realized that we had driven past the entrance to the Bhuping Palace without even noticing! Luckily we got there 30 minutes before closing and were able to see the grounds. Very beautiful gardens although you are not allowed in any of the buildings.

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The Night Market, the view from Doi Suthep and Wat Suan Dok

Last night we finally got a chance to check out the famous Chiang Mai Night Market! We parked near Anusarn and walked along the strip for a while, trying to bargain and checking out the different shops. They actually seemed pretty pricey compared to some of the other places that we’ve shopped in Thailand, but it seems like the shop attendants are ready and willing to bargain.

Eventually we found an open air food court with live music. It was a nice break after the wall to wall shops. We spent an hour getting food and enjoying a guitar and violin duet.

This morning I went to my Thai class as usual. Class is really getting hard! We cover so much and we’ve learned enough now to start getting things confused. Today I struggled to understand what everyone was saying. A total contrast from yesterday which went well. I did study more on Tuesday than the other night, but I also think that it’s fatigue building up from the whole week.

On the other hand I’ve been thinking in Thai more and more. I’m also starting to get kind of creative. For example while I don’t have much of a vocabulary I was thinking about different ways that I could explain myself in various scenarios. Like I don’t know the word for gas, but I bet it’s either just gas or if that’s not it I could probably make myself understood by saying something like motorcycle water, which while it probably isn’t correct might get the point across.

After class we got some lunch at a western style bistro called Rustic & Blue. I got the Brekkie Stack, a short stack of french toast with bacon and a fried egg, all drizzled with maple syrup. That was really tasty, plus the bacon was cooked nice and crispy which is difficult to find in Thailand. To drink I had a yerba mate tea. Also very nice.

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Originally we planned to drive our scooters up Doi Suthep again, however about 20 minutes into the ride right when we stopped to admire a good view of the city it started to drizzle. I did get a nice photo of Chiang Mai.

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Instead we decided to check out Wat Suan Dok, a nearby temple that hosts a monk chat. A monk chat is basically a session you can schedule with some of the younger monks to talk and ask any questions. You can have a simple chat or dive into advanced theology at your preference. We decided to save that for a different time and just admired the grounds.

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Afterward we went to Wat Umong, another temple in the Chiang Mai area that has the distinction of having a series of underground tunnels. My boyfriend actually looked up the history on it after we got home and learned that at one point the underground tunnels were painted like the jungle. Allegedly there was a famous but now senile monk that would wander off into the bush and these tunnels we a way to keep him at the monastery.

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While I’m not sure if that story is true, Wat Umong was different than all of the other temples that I have seen in Thailand and definitely one of the coolest. It is still occupied by monks but it has an older faded quality that I love. The bricks are slippery with old moss and it’s almost as if it is slowly being taken back by nature. While the walls inside the tunnels are now bare plaster and brick work, the walls are stained with incense and you can hear chanting off in the distance.

Finding a wifi extender in Thailand

Every time that I’ve needed something in Thailand it seems like my internet searches always lead me to the same place, a forum called ThaiVisa.com. Monday was no exception. When our internet signal still had problems after talking to the management we decided to get a wifi extender. This meant that we needed to find an electronics store in Chiang Mai. I read this thread and while it wasn’t exactly a wifi extender that they were talking about I thought that it was similar enough that I would be able to find what I was looking for.

Funny story, whenever I find something on ThaiVisa.com it’s usually a post that’s 2-3 years old. While I’m an optimist my boyfriend isn’t really. When we were looking for razor blades I spent the whole drive hoping that he wouldn’t ask me how old the post was, because I knew that he wouldn’t want to bother if he found out it was from 2013. After we found the razorblades I admitted this to him. He told me that he was wondering how old the post was but forgot to ask! Good thing I got lucky and the shop was still around!

Entrance to Icon. Not me in the photo!
Entrance to Icon. Not me in the photo!

Finding Icon was a little tricky, it’s moved to a building next door to it’s location on google maps. Either that or because of the streets you have to follow a circuitous route to get to the entrance. Luckily there were some signs posted on the nearby buildings and we were able to find it. There is even some scooter parking right outside the entrance, a definite plus.

Pretty dark in here but I tried to take a photo for you anyway!
Pretty dark in here but I tried to take a photo for you anyway!

Inside Icon is a collection of smaller shops sharing space in a large open floor. We weren’t sure how to navigate the store, but eventually we found some wifi routers. We started talking to the salesperson and tried to explain what we were looking for. As we talked I managed to spot one on a shelf which made things a lot easier! It was twice as expensive as one you can buy on Amazon.com back home, but with shipping it probably would have been the same price. Plus shipping from the US would take up to 30 days and we really needed it as soon as possible!

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For dinner we went to Birds of Paradise again. The fried fish with chili sauce was good, but not as good as the fish with three sauces dish. They also have lots of drinks and Western food that we should try sometime.

After dinner we picked up some beer at the 7-11 across the street and talked about living in Thailand. Overall it’s a lot different than we all thought it would be! Definitely easier than I was expecting. I’m having a lot of fun and I’m glad we decided to take a chance and come to Thailand!

Taking our scooter into the mountains of Chiang Mai

Yesterday we went up to Huai^ dtung tao^ on our scooters. It was a fun ride! We finally escaped the city and got to see some of the more rural villages.

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We stopped at this look out point to take in the epic view. Unfortunately my iPhone just didn’t have the capability to capture the full majesty of it. The mountains off in the distance created these varied blue shadows that looked awesome in person. You will have to use your imagination!

Looks dark but it really wasn't that day, it's just the contrast. I will have to try and fix it in Photoshop/
Looks dark but it really wasn’t that day, it’s just the contrast. I will have to try and fix it in Photoshop/

After riding around for a while we stopped at this Strawberry themed cafe. The hot chocolates and mocha we ordered in the restaurant were good, but I would recommend skipping the strawberry sodas and strawberry wine. The wine tastes a little like rubbing alcohol and the sodas taste exactly like strawberry jam. Below is the view from the outdoor cafe.

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We managed to go around the whole mountain in about three hours, not too bad! I know the guys had a lot of fun taking out their scooters.  We will definitely be back to check out more of the stops along the way next time.

What we did our first week in Chiang Mai

Today is Sunday and it has been exactly one week since we arrived in Chiang Mai. A lot has happened already! Unfortunately our internet has been down for the past few days, but after talking to the apartment manager it seems to be back and much better than before.

On Wednesday night we went to the Chubby Cat Cafe. It’s a business where you pay to meet with other people and play boardgames. Sort of like a social club. It was 30 baht per hour for each person, since we stayed for two hours we ended up paying 120 baht, or about $4 USD. Not too bad! It was a lot of fun and we met quite a few people. There were about half expats and half Thai people playing. The majority of people spoke English most of the time, but we overheard some conversations in Thai. First we played Age of War a couple of times, then we played a game called Shadow Hunters. I didn’t really know the rules so I didn’t play that well but it was still fun.

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On Thursday after Thai class we took our scooters up into the nearby mountains to the Monthathan Falls Nature Trail. It was nice to get out of the city. Plus it was a lot cooler up there! This photo is one of the first waterfalls that we saw. It was right next to the parking lot.

We decided to go on hike to see some of the other waterfalls. I’m not sure of the name of the trail, but there was a warning that only young and healthy people should go on this hike. Far from the leisurely stroll that we were expecting! Half of the trail was steep uneven steps, and quite a few of the boards were coming loose! We managed to get through it but I think it was a little too hard for me. There were some spectacular waterfalls a long the way so if you’re athletic it’s definitely worth checking out.

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On Friday we didn’t do much of anything, we were too exhausted from the rest of the week! I think we spent a lot of time in bed watching shows on my laptop.

Saturday was fun, we went to another boardgame meet up. This one was at the Merkatto Cafe, a meerkat themed coffee shop. Since this was a cafe and not a social club you don’t have to pay anything to play, they just asked that you buy some drinks. We saw a lot of the same people that we met at the Chubby Cat Cafe there. We played Alhambra, then Red Planet. Unfortunately my back hurt a bit so we left kind of early, but I still had a good time!

Today was also an action packed one but I managed to get a little sunburned and I’m not feeling great right now. I will have to update another time.

Loving our long term apartment in Chiang Mai

This morning we took an early flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The trip itself was really easy, especially since we are now somewhat familiar with Suvarnabhumi airport.

We were surprised to find out that they even include a small snack for a measly one hour flight! Very different from back home. I didn’t really like the sandwich though.

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The view from outside our window.
The view from outside our window.

We are staying at the Flora Guesthouse for the next month. We were all surprised and pleased with our new apartment. There weren’t any pictures on the website, which was actually down for a long time when we were considering the place! It all paid off however, and I think that we will be very happy here for the next month.

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For lunch we went to the Passionate cafe. The service was really slow and they forgot one of the dishes that we ordered, but the spring rolls were Singaporean and really interesting.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the campus looking for the location of our class tomorrow. It actually wasn’t the right information but it did help us get our bearings. It was way too much walking though, we need to find a better way to get around.

For dinner we tried out this delivery service called foodpanda.co.th. It was pricey for eating out in Thailand but it was delivered right to our door, very convenient! It was actually an Italian place called Da Stefano. Pretty good for Western food. We will have to save it for an extra tiring day.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow, our first day of Thai class!