Thailand, Chiang Mai

October means time for another road trip, and the tribe wanted some chilly weather so we decided to head northern Thailand and Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai for a couple of weeks. We booked on Air Asia from Don Muang as Kan Air from Hua Hin was over double the price, and with four of us it adds up. In hindsight driving ourselves would have been the most practical and economical way so we’ll do that next time.

The temperature difference on exiting the airport was instantly noticeable, at least ten degrees cooler than the balmy climes of the south. Our hotel was a little way out of the city but we’d be hiring bikes so it didnt really matter, the first day was spent wandering around and getting our bearings.

Next morning we hired a couple of Honda Waves and headed up Doi Suthep. As expected this place was very touristy, 80% of them Chinese. At the top of the stairs was a Thai fellow in civilian clothes busily running around after the white people to make sure they bought an entrance ticket – he didn’t bother with any of the Asian looking folk.

Great views from the top but not much else here, it was time to move on and get away from the crowds. Further up the same road from Doi Suthep is the Royal gardens of Phuping Palace which we had a pleasant stroll around. Many plants and flowers from colder climes are exhibited here in these pristinely kept grounds. A small entrance fee to get in and no dual pricing here, this spot in my opinion was nicer than the temple at Doi Suthep. We headed over to a local restaurant after for some Khao Soi.

After lunch we continued up a precariously twisting single lane track clinging to the side of the mountain to the Doi Pui view point – no Chinese tour buses up here – the reason for this was evident later. We set off for what we thought would be a short hike to the top … 3 kilometers later we made it to the summit, kids were utterly disappointed to be greeted with a solitary sign instead of a McDonalds for all of their hard work. The viewpoint was another 300 meters along what I could only describe as a ‘sky path’, a narrowing spit of land in the clouds – there were some pretty special views at the end of it. There were no other tourists so the tranquility of the surroundings were appreciated even more. Asians rarely walk anywhere so we had the place to ourselves!

I dont usually patronise places that practice such epically disproportionate dual pricing (400 baht for farangs to get in, 100 for Thais), but the better half really wanted to go so that evening we headed into town to the Art In Paradise 3D and illusion art gallery. I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to fight dual pricing just leaves a sour taste in the mouth and lowers the enjoyment of what you’re there to see – after nearly two decades living in Thailand I’ve come to accept the inevitable ‘white man tax’ as there is nothing I can do about it. On the up side we had the place to ourselves, the kids had a ball, and I got some really unique shots.

It was time to explore a bit of the area and do some touristy stuff. The umbrella factory 20km east of the city was one of those tour bus stop places but the skill on display here by local artists was impressive.

Zoos are not my thing but when travelling with kids you dont have much choice in the matter. This was one of the few places that didn’t hit me with the white man tax, they had a lot of animals here but the main attraction of course was the sleeping panda (which you had to pay extra to see). What was utterly astounding about this place is that they let cars in so it was a bit of a fiasco with Thais triple parking right next to the animal compounds because they didnt want to walk an extra 7 meters!

I had high hopes for Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand, but unfortunately they were not fulfilled. We decided to hire a car for this trip since the weather was unpredictable and it was over 100km from Chiang Mai – a new Honda City arrived in the morning and off we set. The National Park is to the south west of the city, mostly highway then some really nice roads (that would have been better on two wheels).

At the gate I got hit for the white man tax again (I know we could have gone the long way round). Once nearing the peak the temperature noticeably dropped, it was time to dig out the beanie. A flower garden with two chedis was the first stop, and of course we had to pay again to get in. Pleasant surroundings but I wanted to get to the top. The summit of Doi Inthanon is probably the biggest anti-climax in the area, zero visibility due to the clouds and fog and a token sign telling you that you were at the highest point at 2,565 meters above sea level. The best bit was the little local restaurant there for a steaming bowl of Khao Soi.

We decided to take the long way back which took us on some stunning roads with even more stunning vistas about an hour south to the not-so-stunning Thepphanom hot springs which appeared to be totally deserted.

For our final night before moving on we stopped off at a fantastic restaurant on the Ping River that evening called the Antique House and dined on a boat! It was time to move on.