Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction + Chiang Mai

Overview and overall impression
This was a brief 5-days trip to the Chiang Mai area in northern Thailand with the family. I had already visited Chiang Mai twice in 1998 and 2001 and Chiang Mai is a mass tourism destination with a well developed tourism infrastructure, so I wasn't a particularly exciting and adventurous trip.
The trip went better than I expected. We chose a hotel about 15km northwest of Chiang Mai in the mountains, far away from the noise and chaos of Chiang Mai, but very suitable for the small kids due to the multitude of tourist attractions in the area. Had I stayed in Chiang Mai city it would have been shopping every day with the missus and her mother. Like this instead we spent a lot of time in wildlife places, relaxed in the hotel and went shopping to Chiang Mai only a couple of times. The trip to Chiang Rai and the Laos/Myanmar border rounded up our stay in northern Thailand.
Despite not being a beach place, the area offers a lot to families with kids in terms of attractions and things to do.

Costs in Thailand are still moderate and overall trips to the country are very good value. We paid for instance only the equivalent of 30 Euro/night for a room like a palace. What added to the cost were those taxi trips to Chiang Mai and all those attractions in the area.

Thai food is delicious. The food court in the Robinson food court in Chiang Mai is a paradise for food lovers. There is a wide range of dishes and desserts to choose from, offered at unbelievably low prices.

The Ruen Ariya resort is a mid-range with that kind of Thai palace rooms. Beautifully decorated, richly furnished, with excellent amenities and a very moderate price. The hotel also has its own (small) pool. The only thing is that it is located 15km out of Chiang Mai in the mountains, so it's less suitable if you want to visit Chiang Mai.

Money  / Exchange rate (August 2012)
1 Euro = August 2012
1 Euro = 1.23 USD
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. 

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
Surprise, surprise, upon arriving in Chiang Mai we were given SIM cards for free. Quite interesting. We used however truemove H SIM cards, bought in a 7/11 shop. The problem with these SIM cards was that the network was 3G only and the coverage in the mountains was poor. Then there was an issue with the card balance which dropped to zero very quickly. Probably it was due to the Internet access, billed by the KByte. Maybe a flat rate package existed, but the problem was that in the 7/11 shop nobody knew how to set up the SIM card or how to book a data package. In any case I would recommend to avoid this SIM card and buy one in a shop with knowledgeable staff capable of speaking some European language.

Internet access
For Internet access we used mostly the WLAN network of the hotel. I also had mobile 3G access via the smartphone, but didn't use it much due to the issues with the 3G network.

Looks like we visited northern Thailand during or at the beginning of the rainy season. The weather was mixed in the first two days with a number of rain showers, then improved markedly over the last three days.

Health / Vaccinations
The usual set to tropical vaccinations are needed.

VISA / Entry requirements
VISA on arrival for all ASEAN nationals and nationals of many western and developed countries.

Thailand is a very safe place.

Recommended things
  • One of the highlights was the trip to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. The countryside is beautiful.
  • The area in the mountains around Mea Rim is full of places suitable for kids (wildlife, elephant camp orchid farm etc.)

Things to avoid
  • The truemove H SIM card

Getting around
The driver of the Ruen Ariya hotel used to drive us around to the attractions near the hotel. For trips to/from Chiang Mai we used taxis.

9.8: Kuala Lumpur (LCCT terminal) -> Chiang Mai
Ruen Ariya Resort, Chiang Mai. 1175 Thai Baht for the room, booked through asiarooms.com. The Ruen Ariya is a hotel located about 15km north of Chiang Mai in the mountains near the village of Mae Rim. The room the give us is like a palace. Beautifully decorated in Thai style, sort of a mini apartment consisting of a big bedroom, a pre-room and a bathroom with shower. The room has an LCT TV, A/C, fan, phone, free WLAN, a safe, a fridge and beautiful furniture. Nice bed. Great value for the low price we pay. The hotel has a pool. The only drawback is the location far away from Chiang Mai.
Weather: sunny in KL, a bit windy, doesn't feel that hot. Overcast in Chiang Mai and some rain. Probably it's rainy season in the north of Thailand.

I check out at 11am, then wait for 15 minutes for a shuttle bus to the airport terminal. The hotel staff promised it would arrive in 10 minutes, so after 15 minutes I simply walk to the airport terminal with my luggage. It's still early to meet Shirley and the kids, so the first thing I do is have some breakfast in an Old Town White Coffee restaurant. Then I move to the meeting point near the KFC restaurant and wait there.

Shortly before 1pm I get up. Suddenly the kids run towards me. Apparently they have been here since 12:30pm, but didn't see me. Big family reunion scene.

We have some lunch in this KFC restaurant, then check-in and proceed to the gate. Long queues at the foreigner queues at the passport check, but we proceed directly through the counter for Malaysians which is empty. It's good if two members of the family are Malaysian.

The Airasia flight leaves on time and lands on time in Chiang Mai. Some turbulence in the final phase of the flight before landing.

Baggage retrieval and immigration proceed smoothly.

At the passport check counter and later at the baggage retrieval we are handed free SIM cards. Incredible. I remember 20 years ago these SIM cards cost 30 DM (=15 Euro) to make and now they are giving them away for free. How prices have dropped over time. This free SIM cards however do not seem to offer good terms for what concerns Internet use, so I don't use them.

We catch a taxi for the resort. This will cost us 650 Baht, the distance is 25 km, as I later find out by checking Google Maps. The driver offers to show us around in Chiang Mai for 1500 Baht for one day (eight hours). A day trip to Chiang Rai costs 4500 Baht. A bit pricey in my opinion, but then the car is big.

So we reach this nice resort in the middle of the mountains. Actually these are not mountains (the terrain is quite plain), it's just that it is a rural area. Some comment/complaint from Shirley why I chose the hotel in the mountains, far away from Chiang Mai. Because otherwise you spend too much time shopping, darling. Ha ha ha... Activities possible here are jungle treks, elephant rides, visits to monkey and crocodile places etc. But of course we'll also do some shopping, otherwise the ladies will complain too much.

In the evening we chill out a bit. Swim in the pool, have dinner in the hotel, walk to a nearby 7/11 store for some shopping.

In the hotel we meet a couple of Chinese from Lijiang who came here by car with the kids. 1900km done so far in four days. I'm guessing that perhaps they crossed Myanmar to reach Thailand, or perhaps Laos in case the northern part of Myanmar is off-limits for tourists. Chit-chat in Chinese with the guy, good to practice my Mandarin. Tomorrow they are driving to Bangkok. Will take them 11 hours according to Google Maps (> 700km). And then they want to continue to Malaysia, then all the way back to China. All this in 15 days.

This guy is really tough. Well, I guess also his family is tough (he is travelling with his wife and two daughters, 4 and 12 years old). I'm surprised his ladies are not rebelling because of so much driving. They have a good and big car, sort of a compact minivan, made in China. He paid 130000 Renmimbi 10 years ago for it. He tells me that by now the cost of living in Lijiang is higher than in Thailand, which is interesting. It used to be that China was cheap in the past, but by now it is quite possible that the price level in China has increased above the Thai one.

This Chinese family is surprised when they see my two daughters, who look almost completely European, talking Mandarin to each other. Why do the European girls talk Mandarin to each other? I explain that my wife is Chinese Malaysian. My girls and his girls befriend each other. For me it's an interesting experience, because it's the first time I meet a family of Chinese who are travelling like this.

The guy tells me it's the first time he is travelling abroad (before he did only trips in China). A-ha, salaries/incomes in China have risen so much, that now average or let's say middle class Chinese families take the car and travel abroad. Although I guess that this guy must have been having a decent income for quite some time, if he could afford to shell out 130000 renmimbi for a car 10 years ago. Probably he could not have done that if he were a Foxconn factory worker.

I have to say that I like this guy, his attitude, his interest for new things and desire to explore new places, his positive attitude towards the future. If there are more/many people like him in China, China can only win.

This is something I have noticed about the Chinese in general. They are good at business, work hard and are willing to work hard, learn very fast and once they have learned something they make no more mistakes. This is something I cannot tell of many Europeans who despite learning something (slowly), keep on making the same mistakes, again and again over time.

Copyright 2012 Alfred Molon