| Part 2: Chiang Main + Golden Triangle
10.8: Chiang Mai
Ruen Ariya resort, Mae Rim near Chiang
Mai. Today it becomes apparent that we are pretty much in the middle of
nowhere. There are several other hotels in the area, but we can't for
instance find a restaurant in walking distance of the hotel. Getting to
Chiang Mai costs 500 Baht and getting back to the hotel is complicated,
because it is difficult to get hold of a real taxi in Chiang Mai. The
breakfast is relatively unimpressive.
Weather: overcast the whole day. It
rains for many hours between noon and about 6pm.
Today we visit the Maesa elephant camp, which is located just a few km
from the hotel. We go there with our new friends, the Chinese family
from Lijiang. The hotel transfers us there at no charge. It's very good
to go there with the kids, because there is the elephant ride (800 Baht
for 30 min. for one elephant carrying either two adults or one adult
and two kids, 1200 Baht for one hour).
Then there is the elephant show at 1:30pm, which is very touristy of
course (elephants playing football, making paintings and other
curious/funny things), but still nice to watch and fun. Then you can
walk to the elephant nursery and feed the elephants with bananas and
pieces of sugar cane (portion of sugar cane and bananas for 40 Baht).
The entry costs 200 Baht for an adult and 120 Baht for a bigger kid
(Natasha doesn't pay, Alissia does).
Overall it's the perfect place where to bring the family. Touristy,
unreal like hell, but fun and very entertaining, especially for the
At 2:20pm we are outside of the camp and I would like to call the hotel
to tell them to pick us up. I can't. Initially there is no network.
What kind of useless SIM card did I buy: truemove H SIM card, 3G+,
don't buy it if you can avoid it. What use is a mobile network, be it
3G, 4G whatever, if there is no coverage?? Then finally, a bit closer
to the road there is suddenly some coverage, but when I call the hotel
there is just an automated message in Thai, with no translation into
English. Later I'm told it means "there is no money in your phone, put
some money into it, otherwise you can't make calls".
Great. I bought the SIM card yesterday, paying 99 Baht for it and would
have assumed that there was some limited airtime on it. But no, there
is exactly 0 airtime on it. Very, very unusual.
So I'm there, looking for a public telephone (there is none), wondering
how to bring back the family to the hotel. I look for a taxi and find
none. We are in the middle of the jungle by the way.
Incredible luck, suddenly the hotel minivan shows up and pick us up.
What a service. One, no let's say, ten plus-points for the hotel.
At 3pm we have some lunch in the hotel, then the ladies retire and take
In the evening, a bit after 6pm we drive into Chiang Mai (hotel
minivan, charging us 500 Baht). The trip should have taken half an hour
(15km distance), but for some reason it takes 45 minutes to get into
town, due to the heavy traffic jam.
In the minivan with us is the hotel owner/manager, a pretty and young
Thai lady who always smiles and emanates positive energy. Friendliest
lady on this planet, they should send her to Syria and the war would
We are at the Robinson shopping mall in Chiang Mai, which is quite
close to the airport. From what I hear this the best&flashiest mall
in Chiang Mai. It's nice inside but it's also a bit old. Lots of shops,
everything, a food court on the fourth floor.
In this food court we have a delicious dinner, until about 8pm.
Excellent foodcourt, cheap, cheap dishes, lots of choice. A pity I
can't eat here every day.
Then, after exploring a bit the mall, we take a taxi to the nigtht
bazaar. They charge us 120 baht for 3km, which seems expensive. I
wonder what it would cost to cover this distance by meter.
The night bazaar area is a textbook example of perfect tourist ghetto.
Countless stalls and shops selling tourist junk, souvenirs,
counterfeited goods. Hordes of tourists everywhere, you can barely
walk. Tuk-tuks everywhere. Lots of restaurants, really a lot. And lots
We split here. While the ladies shop around, I enquire about tours to
Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. The cheapest I find charges 700
baht/person (children pay half) + 1000 Baht for the transfer from our
hotel to Chiang Mai and return. Tours leave early (7 - 7:30am).
At 10pm we try to get back to the hotel. No taxi available, only
tuk-tuks and kind of converted red pickup trucks with benches in the
boots area. Lots of searching, finally we find a taxi which for 600
Baht brings us back to the hotel. We are there at 11pm.
11.8: Chiang Mai
Ruen Ariya resort, Mae Rim near Chiang
Weather: today is the best weather
since we arrived to Chiang Mai. Still overcast with some rain, but in
the early afternoon the sky partly opens up and for some time the sun
shines through. Then it rains again.
We have breakfast between 9 and 10am, then at 10:40am the hotel car
brings us to the orchid farm (entry: 20 Baht). Interesting place where
orchids are grown. Many different colours, beautiful orchids. I just
wonder what they do with the orchidsm since they do not seem to be
selling them, at least not to the tourists.
At 11:40am we drive to the monkey place (entry ticket: 200 Baht). This
is sort of a monkey zoo/circus, where monkeys are kept and shows are
being run uninterruptedly, one after the other.
Basically it's one monkey with a metal chain secured to the neck, doing
different exercises. By the way, this monkey can jump really high,
quite impressive. It's just that, well, the place is artificial and
touristy like hell and it must not be fun for the monkeys to always
have a metal ring around the neck. I don't think it's good for the
Also, there is sort of an enclosure where many monkeys are kept and
each monkey is fixed with a neck metal and a 1m long chain to a pole,
limiting its movement space to a 1m circle around this pole. I do hope
they place these monkeys in a larger cage where they can move freely
when the centre closes to tourists.
After the monkey place it's 12:30pm and we drive to the Tiger Kingdom.
This is sort of a zoo for tigers, where you can approach tigers, touch
them, pat them on the back and take pictures with them. According to
the brochure these tigers have been accustomed since birth to live with
humans and have been taught that scratching and biting is bad and not
allowed. Supposedly they are completely harmless and safe.
I know nothing about tigers, but personally I have some doubts that
these tigers are really as tame as pussycats and in any case I wouldn't
dare to let my kids get close to these beasts. After all tigers are
powerful wild animals and there has been a recent case in south Africa
in which a woman was attacked and almost killed by supposedly tame
cheetah, while she was playing with the animal and posing with it. To
me this Tiger Kingdom is a ticking time bomb - it's just a matter of
time until something happens.
In any case, it costs between 500 and 1500+ Baht to play with these
tigers, depending on how many tigers you want to play with. So this fun
is not cheap either. But hey, if you feel the need to touch a tiger at
least once in your life, this place is an option.
We have lunch at the Tiger Kingdom restaurant, having a look at various
people playing with tigers. After lunch we return to the hotel and
spend the rest of the day there relaxing. I give a call to the Chiang
Mai Nice Smile travel agency (one of those with whom I spoke yesterday)
and confirm that tomorrow we take the tour to Chiang Rai and the Golden
Triangle. They will pick us up tomorrow between 7am and 7:30am.
In the late afternoon we walk to the 7/11 store and buy some food for
tomorrow, because tomorrow there won't be time for breakfast. In the
evening I finalise my trip until August 17th, booking all flights and
hotels until then. Will probably be in Jakarta until August 18th, and
after that I have to see what to do and where to go. Probably I'll
spend a few days on beautiful islands off the coast of Borneo.
12.8: Chiang Mai -> Chiang Rai
-> Golden Triangle -> Chiang Mai
Ruen Ariya resort, Mae Rim near Chiang
Weather: sunny, mostly blue sky with
some variable cloud cover. Best weather so far since we arrived to
Chiang Mai. Heavy rain in the evening when we return to Chiang Mai.
Quite hot during the day when the sun is shining.
Long day today. I have set the alarm clock to 6am in order to be ready
at 7am for the trip to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. In practice
I wake up at 5:20am and can't sleep anymore, so at 6am I and the rest
of the family officially get up.
At 6:45am the minivan is already here, 15 minutes ahead of time.
Luckily we are almost ready. At 6:50am we start the tour.
We have booked a tour with "Chiang
Mai Nice Smile travel" (but the minivan is of Gem Travel). 700 Baht for
each of the three adults + 2 x 350 Baht for the two kids (kids pay
half). To this add 1000 Baht for the transfer to/from Chiang Mai, for a
total of 3800 Baht. The tour includes Chiang Rai, the Golden Triangle
and a number of other stops and the lunch. Not cheap, but this seems to
be the price.
At 7:30am we are in Chiang Mai where we pick up the other two tour
participants, two young Dutch girls. We also pick up our guide and
start driving towards Chiang Rai.
The first stop is at a hot spring located somewhere in the mountains.
We reach it at 8:30am, i.e. after one hour of driving. This is sort of
a geysir, spitting out hot, sulphureous water, more or less constantly.
There is a little bit of pulsation, but otherwise it is a quite
constant stream. Around this hot spring there are tons of shops
selling tourist stuff (souvenirs, T-shirt and other nonsense).
We are one of the first tour minivans to reach this place. After us the
parking area fills up quickly with minivans of the various tour
operators. It would seem that all Golden Triangle tours originating
from Chiang Mai stop at this place at this time.
After 20 minutes, i.e. at 8:50am we continue driving
towards Chiang Rai, and arrive at 10:10am at the Wat Rong Khun white
temple near Chiang Mai. This is a stunningly beautiful white-and-silver
colour Buddhist temple, built and still being expanded by a Thai
artist. One of the most scenic, if not the most scenic, Thai Buddhist
temples I have ever seen. Absulutely beautiful.
Surrounded by a pond, with white-and-silver sculptures on the grass
around it. One of a topless lady, quite interesting, it seems Thai
people are not embarassed by nudity.
Near the white temple there is another one, this time completely
golden, also this beautiful. And another building is currently being
added. I have to visit this place again in a few years when all
construction is completed.
We spend 40 minutes in this place, then at 10:55am we continue driving.
This time the next stop is a place called Golden Triangle which we
reach at 12:18pm. This is located on the Mekong river, where the
borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet. As the guide explains we
are going to take a boat trip on the Mekong river (300 Baht each,
children pay half) of about one hour, get out in Laos for half an hour
of shopping, then return to the minibus.
The area is quite interesting. On the opposite side of the Mekong (the
Lao one), Chinese investors have leased a patch of land for 99 years
and are developing a casino, an airport which will have direct flights
from Chiang Mai, and hotels as well I would guess. This is going to be
a special economic zone.
At 12:50pm we touch Lao ground without a visa. Supposedly we are on
Donesao island (30 baht/adult fee to get here). Basically it's one big
market selling tourist stuff. Lots of small kids begging for money.
They want your money and make an angry face if you instead give them
some food. Things are supposed to be cheaper here than in Thailand, but
the prices I see are not exactly low. Perhaps you have to negotiate
them down a bit.
It's almost 1:30pm when we cross the Mekong again in the boat. Back in
Thailand we get onto the bus and drive to the restaurant where we are
going to have lunch.
This is a buffet-type restaurant on the Mekong river. Plenty of food,
which is not bad (although I find an ant in my soup). Drinks have to be
paid for separately and are not cheap. This restaurant caters basically
to the tour groups doing the Golden Triangle tours.
By 2:30pm we are back on the minivan, driving to the next place, the
border town of Mae Sai, which we reach after 20 minutes.
Here basically is the border to Myanmar. A visa for Myanmar costs 500
baht according to our guide. I wonder if with this visa you really can
really enter Myanmar and travel to wherever you want in Myanmar or if
you only may stay in the border area as I have read somewhere on the
In any case on the road to the border point there is again a market,
actually a very big one. Also here you can find the usual tourist junk
stuff, although some items may be interesting. I deposit the ladies in
the market and explore a bit the place.
Besides this market and the border gate there is actually nothing to
see here, so I finish my exploration after about 10 minutes and join
again the ladies. The most interesting thing about Mae Sai is watching
the people and cars/trucks/motorcycles crossing the border.
At 3:30pm we leave Mae Sai and drive to the village of the Akha people.
It takes a bit over half an hour to reach this place. Here are some
authentic looking huts built with natural materials. I wonder if this
is some kind of open air museum or if people here really live in houses
with roofs made of tree branches in the year 2012. Perhaps this village
is made to look cute for the tourists.
Also in the Akha village there are plenty of shops selling tourist
stuff. Women dressed in traditional attire. Long neck Karen live in the
village on the other side of the river, but our guide tells us that to
visit this village you have to pay 300 baht per person. Interesting.
Apparently the long neck people are now more clever at marketing their
long necks and now charge an entrance fee.
At 4:25pm we start driving back to Chiang Mai. After a couple of short
stops along the way we are back in the hotel at 7:45pm. It has been a
long day, but a quite interesting one.
13.8: Chiang Mai
Ruen Ariya resort, Mae Rim near Chiang
Weather: mix of sunny blue sky and
some rainfall. Some light rain around 2pm, heavy downpour at 6pm.
Mostly sunny however and quite hot under the sun
spent relaxing and not doing much, to sort of recharge the batteries
after the long and tiring trip of yesterday. In the morning after
breakfast we hang around in the hotel, then at 11am I swim with the
kids in the pool.
At 1:30pm we drive towards the Tiger Kingdom, not because we want to
play with the tigers, but because we'd like to have lunch in the
restaurant of the Tiger Kingdom which is better than the one of our
After lunch the kids play with the waterballs, large and transparent
spheres of plastic (2m diameter), with which they can walk over the
water. Price is 150 baht for 10 minutes, longer than that makes no
sense, because it gets very hot in the spheres after a while under the
sun. In fact when Alissia gets out of the sphere her hair is wet of
After this we drive to the snake place where we are going to watch a
show (all the time the hotel driver is driving us around for free in
the hotel minivan). The snake place costs 200 baht for an adult and 100
baht for a kid. When we arrive a show is going on, and people are
taking photos with a boa snake on their shoulder. Lots of different
snakes are used for this show. Most are not poisonous, but at one point
they pull out a cobra, play with it for a while, then "milk it" for the
poison by letting it bite a plastic glass and extracting the poison. I
wonder if there are ever accidents...
After the show we walk a bit arounf the snake place. It's sort of a
small zoo, with snakes and other animals (birds, crocodiles,
mongooses). The conditions for the animals are quite poor, because the
cages are small.
Around 4:30pm we drive back to the hotel, stopping at an ATM to
withdraw some cash (large amount possible, I withdraw 17000 baht;
perhaps the limit is even higher) and at the 7/11 for some snacks and
After that we spend the rest of the day in the hotel.
14.8: Chiang Mai -> Kuala Lumpur
Hotel Bary Inn, Nilai (about 15 minutes
by car from the LCCT terminal). 180 RM for a small room with A/C,
table, LCD TV, water boiler + coffee set, telephone, WLAN (free and
fast), attached bathroom with shower (electrical heater system), NO
toilet paper... The room price includes the transfer to/from the
airport (hourly minibus) and the breakfast. Is it better than the Tune
hotel? Yes, but it could be cheaper, at 180 RM is definitely overpriced.
Weather:mostly sunny weather in
Chiang Mai, some clouds.
We check out at 11:15am, then drive to Chiang Mai airport. There we
leave the luggage in lockers (two lockers at 140 Baht/locker). Then we
take a red taxi to the nearby Robinson shopping mall, where we have
lunch at 12:30pm. After drinking a weird starfruit juice (feels acid
and burning in my throat) I feel bad and need a few hours to recover. I
wonder what they put into this starfruit juice.
The flight leaves early at 5pm and arrives in KL early. The plane is
about half full. In KL I catch the 9:30pm shuttle and transfer to the
hotel. Tomorrow I'll fly to Jakarta.