Anushka's Travellin' Road

The places we see, the people we meet, and the journey we experience on our travels.

Category: Thailand

Chiang Mai – The Walled City

The walled city of Chiang Mai is a subtle balance of quiet tree-lined streets dotted with temples and tiny shops selling hot meals and massages, and the hustle and bustle of night markets almost every evening of the week and the flower sellers at Warowat Market.

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The city walls of Chiang Mai

Night Markets

 

While Chiang Rai attracts many tourists who want to see the Golden Triangle and learn of the opium trade in the area, Chiang Mai is a lovely quieter alternative with its charming ‘Gates’ leading in and out of the walled city centre. I stayed just outside the Chiang Mai gate and spent my first night in Chiang Mai at the Chiang Mai Gate night market where street vendors sell colourful woven bags and clothes, trinkets like bracelets and dream catchers, and hot food and fruit shakes. The market extends all the way down the street and it’s impossible to see the end of it which can be overwhelming at first.

 

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Eating a giant waterbug dscf3300

 

Feeling adventurous I decided to try some fried insects which were 10 baht for a bag of each type. Not really inclined to eat an entire bag of fried waterbugs or bamboo worms, I asked if I could get a selection of each one for 10 baht and tried a waterbug, couple of bamboo worms, and a couple of other insects. I asked a Spanish couple nearby to take a photo of me eating them and the girl asked if she could try one since she’d watched me stomach them without batting an eyelid. She promptly gagged and ran into a nearby alleyway to throw up and I felt terrible but ran into them at another market the next day and we became fast friends.

 

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I bought a pair of these shorts for 100 Baht which was roughly $8 AUD at the time

 

Lady Boy shows

 

I later met up with the group I was travelling with on a G Adventures Tour and we went to dinner at another market where there was a mix of relaxed bars and restaurants and stalls selling food. I had a delicious laksa and then explored the market where locals were selling beautiful hand-crafted wooden toys and homeware. Beware that if you show interest in an item and pick it up, persistent stall owners will keep trying to haggle with you and reach a price that will convince you to buy it even if you say you’re not interested. I had a few yelling after me even after I walked 20 metres away and tried to lose myself in a crowd. The night markets are also a good chance to sit in a Fish Spa but be warned its extremely ticklish. I have seen grown men laughing uncontrollably with tears in their eyes which was pretty entertaining.

 




Afterwards we went to a Lady Boy show that was very reasonably priced with the ticket including a free drink. It wasn’t as explicit as I imagined it would be but the performers were all beautifully done up with jewelled sequins, tassels and winged with bright lurid green feather wings like in Carnival or the Mardi Gras. Favourite performances of the night were probably One Man. One Woman, Lady Marmalade and Don’t cry for me Argentina.

 

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Temples

 

There is a lot to do in Chiang Mai and many temples are within walkable distance. You can easily spend a day taking in the culture and history from the three museums in close vicinity of each other and temples that are so common on the streets of Chiang Mai they soon fail to stir that first sense of wonder at the architecture and beauty of their design. In fact, you will soon get ‘templed out’. To avoid this I would suggest exploring the Northern and Eastern gates which offer a different flavour of the city. It’s almost like leaving the walled city of Minas Tirith and finding that the rest of Middle Earth looks similar, but still different.

 

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Culture and Massages

 

Another popular way to experience local culture is attending the Kantoke dance performance with traditional northern Thailand food. The performances are varied and sometimes interactive…don’t be surprised if the dancers grab members of the audience and encourage them to dance with them on stage!

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Kantoke Dancers

For those of you wishing to explore other areas of the city, you can walk through Thai Pae gate down the main road just in front of it to Warowat market where there is a huge indoor market with clothes, shoes, and other artifacts and outdoor market with flowers and food by the river. You can also get very reasonably priced foot massages, thai full body massages and oil massages which was interesting. The price of massages is a lot cheaper in Chiang Mai than it is in Bangkok so this is a good chance to get one. I got a Thai massage the first time and I have never been in so much pain. It amazes me that such a tiny woman could bend me backwards over her and crack my back, putting all her weight on the exact part of my hip that would make me cry…yet somehow it’s kinda good. Extremely masochistic form of relaxing the body if you ask me. The oil massages are much more enjoyable but be prepared to get fully naked.

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Flowers at Warowat market

 

Other nearby sites

 

There are many interesting places close to Chiang Mai such as the Doi Suthep Temple which is called Wat Phra That. Its one of Thailand’s most sacred cities and overlooks the city from a great height. One of the interesting things you can do there is shake a box that has numbered sticks in it. The first stick to fall out dictates your future based on the number on the stick according to Buddhist belief. Each number has a prescribed future that relates to it. It is said that a white elephant bearing the bones/ relic of Buddha climbed to the top of Doi Suthep and then dropped dead, resulting in the site being declared holy and the temple was built. While at Doi Suthep, watch out for the adorable little Thai girls in traditional costumes eager to take photos with you. The adults watching they will charge you for the photos and the girls have recently been suspected to be young pick pockets.

 

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Little girls taking photos with tourists at the base of Wat Phra That

 

On the way to Doi Suthep you can stop at a café and rest stop called Cabbages and Condoms which sells junk food, water, necessities and condoms. The restaurant has beautiful gardens and the entire place is condom themed. It was started to encourage people to talk about sex, contraception and other issues that are taboo in Asian culture like STIs. The idea is that condoms should be as readily available as vegetables like cabbages and there should be no stigma attached. It’s a great concept and the restaurant itself is a must see with lampshades, lights, wedding dresses and costumes, all made out of condoms. Once you notice them you will see them everywhere!

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And if you’re travelling back to Bangkok you can get the overnight train from Chiang Mai and experience regional travel like a local! You will arrive at Hua Lampong in the early morning and save the daytime for more sightseeing. If you’re looking for things to do in Bangkok check out my post on One day in Bangkok.

 

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On the night train to Bangkok

One Day in Bangkok. Warning: For fast-paced travellers only!

Early morning in the backstreets of Bangkok

 

Pak Khlong Talad, a huge flower market in the middle of Bangkok, is filled with the smell of exotic flowers. Buckets of bright roses are crammed onto the tables and succulents, cacti and orchids line the footpaths where tiny Thai women with furrowed brows and toothless smiles nod their heads as they string garlands of marigold and jasmine. Unlike in India there are also covered areas inside where the flowers fade into food and fresh fish is sold from baskets and steel vessels. Women leave their stalls halfway through their early morning shift and gather together for a Zumba class to what I can only imagine is Thai pop music.

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One of the many stalls selling bags of freshly cut fruit such as Mango and Dragon Fruit

Walking along the flower market, you can make your way slowly to Sanam Luang, a large oval ground close to the Grand Palace. Along the way you can buy snacks or drinks from any of the shops and stalls starting to open early selling chicken kebabs and cocktail sausages on skewers. Whilst locals from smaller cities are happy to help, my experience at least was that locals in Bangkok were not as welcoming and did not have the time to help me with directions.

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Local people setting up their stalls in the early morning at the markets

I suppose that is true of all busy cities though. By and large, older men were much more willing to pore over my well-marked tourist map and point me in the right direction than young Thai people who seemed insulted that I knew absolutely no Thai. In hindsight, having a few words and phrases in the national language handy goes a long way in encouraging someone to help you. Once you get closer to Sanam Luang you’ll find that there are many signposts for tourist attractions in English, with tourist maps showing all the nearby attractions and walking times. I managed to find my way around Bangkok with a tourist map and street signs, without phone data. Walking is truly the best way to get to know the city.

 

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Backstreets of Bangkok

Sanam Luang and surrounding Temples

Following Sanam Chai road, you’ll soon find yourself at Wat Mahathat. Built in the 1700s, the Wat’s wihan and bot were both rebuilt between 1844 and 1851. A distinctive feature is the mondop that has a cruciform roof, which is rarely found in Bangkok. Close by is the National Museum and Buddhaisawan Chapel where you can see the 15th Century Phra Buddha Sihing, one of the most venerated Buddha images in Thailand after the Emerald Buddha. The chapel is famous for its paintings depicting the life of Buddha which are the oldest murals in Bangkok. The National Museum has some amazing royal funeral chariots and gilded teak chariots. Some of which are at the Royal Barge Museum near Wat Arun if you want to see more when on the other side of the Chao Phraya River. Continuing along Sanam Luang, is the National Gallery on Chao Fa Road which was established in 1977. It contains modern Thai and International art. Although it was featured in many of the tourist guides to Thailand I thought it was passable but if you are interested in modern Thai art its right at the top of Sanam Luang so it’s easy to make a quick stop.

 

From backpacker district to the Golden Mount

Retracing my footsteps at the North end of Sanam Luang, I walked up past Khao San Road, the famous backpacker district where travellers live in budget accommodation with cheap beer and street food making it a lively magnet for young tourists at night, to Wat Bowonniwet on 248 Phra Sumen Road. Hidden in quiet tree filled grounds, this temple is known for its Chinese influence. It’s a little bit hard to find but I think definitely worth it. Back on Maha Chai road, I walked past the Democracy monument designed by Silpa Birasi, an Italian Sculptor and went to Wat Rachanadda, a huge temple that pretty much exhausted me. Its best known for Loha Prasat, a multi-tiered temple with 37 spires symbolising the 37 qualities one must attain before enlightenment.

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The vast grounds of Wat Rachanadda

If you’re following this plan you’re probably dehydrated by this point so I’d suggest buying some fresh bags of fruit like mango and dragon fruit from the vendors on the street. They’re about 15 – 30 baht and so refreshing. Chicken skewers are about the same price and if you’re feeling adventurous you can try some of the dubious looking shrimp ball skewers and the sausage on a stick. Walking through the Wat Rachanadda along the road, I crossed a tiny river to Wat Saket and the Golden Mount. Built by Rama I in the late 18th Century, it is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok. It was rebuilt to create the mythical Mount Meru seen today. The artificial hill is topped with a golden tower within the grounds. Along the way are manmade waterfalls that look somewhat like a grotto in a church, with statues of Buddha that locals venerate. I couldn’t find the Monks bowl village, I will leave that for another trip but if you have time I could encourage you to go there. If you keep walking along Bamrung Muang road you will find yourself at a busy intersection. Ask the policemen patrolling the area if you need help to cross as it is a junction of five main roads. From there you can continue on to Wat Suthat and the Giang Swing. Banmrung Muang Road was one of Thailand’s first paved roads. Along the road are shops selling religious paraphernalia, monks robes and Buddha images.

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At the top of the Golden Mount

 

The Giant Swing, Museums…and you guessed it even more Temples!

Wat Suthat has the largest wihan in Bangkok. The central Buddha is 26 feet high, one of the largest surviving Sukhothai Bronzes. The teak doors to the wihaan are carved in five delicate layers and stand 18 feet high. The cloister around the outside of the wihaan is lined with 156 golden Buddha images. The square in front of Wat Suthat used to feature the giant swing, that were originally used for a Brahmin ceremony.

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Giant Buddha at Wat Suthat

If you’re not too tired, you can explore Wat Rachabophit on Fuang Nakhon Road. It blends east and west styles of architecture as construction began under King Chulalongkom, the boy prince in the movie The King and I. The whole complex is decorated with porcelain tiles, the focal point is the central Sri Lankan style chedi. It is an unusual layout for a Thai wat. Next I went to Wat Rachapradit on Saran Rom Road and then the Museum of Siam which was a cool relief from the hot humid day. It had great interactive exhibits about Thai history and culture. The building was designed by Milanese Mario Tamagno.

Time for a massage for those aching feet…

This is where I called it a day by 3pm and decided to go Silom Market and get a foot massage and check out MBK Mall but for those of you who want to power through and keep sightseeing there is plenty more to see. You can easily spend the afternoon at the air-conditioned malls in Siam Square or MBK Mall. In the evening you can explore the Patpong markets on Silom Road and checking out the local karaoke, food stalls with an entire rice and curry/stew meals for 20baht.

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Food Stall at the Patpong Night Markets on Silom Road

A nice way to end the day is a visit a fish spa where fish will eat the dead skin off your feet. You could also go for a lady-boy show at the markets which you should experience before you leave Thailand. If you do decide to continue on, check out my post on the other attractions in Bangkok! There is plenty to see in this bustling city.

Bangkok: Same same but different!

 

There is so much to see in Bangkok I wouldn’t know where to begin. If you want to read about my crazy first day in Bangkok check out my post One day in Bangkok: For Fast-paced travellers only!. It was a hard first day and I was exhausted by the end of it as a first time solo-traveller but if you’re used to fast-paced travel, it’s a great way to see as much as possible in one day. I would recommend leaving a whole second day for the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and the Vimanmek Mansion and Museum.

 

The Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Vimanmek Mansion

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Statues at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

There is a free tour of the Grand palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha in English everyday at 10.00am, 10.30am, 1.30pm and 2.00pm. Your ticket for the Grand Palace also gets you free entry into the Royal Coin museum and Vimanmek Mansion. While you are here it is worth visiting Wat Pho next door which is the city’s oldest temple dating back to the 17th century. It is famed for its school of massage. In 1832, Rama III built the chapel of the reclining Buddha. The feet of the Buddha have striking intricate mother of pearl images on the soles of the feet and when you walk along the far wall you can drop coins into the 108 metal pots along the wall symbolising the 108 lives of Buddha before he attained Nirvana. Scenes from the Ramakein are carved into the outer base and inner doors. There are stone statutes around the wat which were used as balancing weights on the ship used to transport it over to Bangkok.

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The feet of the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

There is a free bus from Sanam Luang to the Vimanmek Mansion but you may need to ask a few different people to make sure you’re getting on the right bus as it operates as a normal local bus route. Vimanmek Mansion is a beautiful building with wooden shutters at the windows, very European. At the Vimanek mansion you can see the Support Museum, Textile museum, and the King Rama V statue after visiting the mansion itself but bear in mind that these close around 4pm so you will need to get in early.

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Vimanmek Museum

Women have to wear long skirts so I had to buy a sarong for 50 baht which was really annoying since I was already fully covered. I would recommend carrying a cheap sarong that is light rather than buying the thick tablecloth they sold me. The museum was really well done though and there was an audio guide for the whole museum. After that you could either take the bus to Siam Square or walk to the BTS and get a sky train to Siam square. Siam Square has lots of high-end shops and also laneways that have tiny stalls and cheap clothes. Don’t be surprised if shop ladies dress you and do up the buttons right to the top and lift it over your head like you’re a child. They consider it part of their job and especially if you’re a young woman they will insist on dressing you up to push the sale.

 

Wat Benchamabopit and Lumpinee Park

 

Alternatively you can go to Wat Benchamabopit which is a marble temple with a traditional Thai Roof. Not much to see inside the temple but it looks amazing glittering in the sun from outside. If you continue along this road you can walk past Chitralada Palace, the residence of the King and Queen. You can’t see much from the outside though so I would give this a skip and take a bus to the Victory Monument from Ratchawithi Road. On this note, getting a train in Thailand is a lot easier than a bus because there are clearly marked train routes and maps, stations are also clearly marked with signs in English saying which stop it is. The buses are a whole other story. I was lost coming back from Wat Arun and spent about three hours getting the wrong buses all over to the other side of the river. Stick to the train as far as possible. The bus from Ratchawithi Road to the Victory monument is pretty clear as it’s just a straight road. Around the victory monument are several shops and stalls, I bought lunch at one for 35 baht. You can then take a bus back to Silom Station and spend the evening at Lumpinee Park – or if you want to go a bit further out of the city, to Chatuchak Park. If you’re in Thailand during mid-January you might just see the Thai festival at Lumpinee park where there are Thai pop songs, lady-boys, plays and food stalls. Regardless of when you travel to Bangkok, Lumpinee Park is a delight in the mornings, with people jogging through the park, working out on the public exercise machines, women doing Zumba, and group Tai Chi.

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Wat Benchamabopit on a sunny day

 

Wat Arun and the Royal Barge Museum

 

Wat Arun is a bit hard to get to via public Transport. I would say the best way is to take the BTS to Saphon Thanon and then a ferry up the river for about 5 baht and another one across the river to Wat Arun. It was a steep climb to the top of the chedi which is decorated by thousands of porcelain plates. It’s called the Temple of Dawn as you can see the first light of the sun reflected off it across the river and because its namesake, the God Arjuna, is often symbolised by the rising sun. A relatively short walk away is the Royal Barge Museum which is actually within Military grounds. You will see a lot of soldiers on the way there so be careful not to trespass into Military property like I did. I thought it was a bit of a rip off but if you’re interested in the Royal Barges then go ahead and check it out. Also you’re not allowed to take any photos but I took a few sneaky ones.

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The steep climb to the top of Wat Arun

From Chinatown to the Chao Phraya River

 

From Silom Road you can walk or take the sky train to Maha Uma Devi Temple which is a popular Hindu temple in Bangkok known for its brightly coloured carvings. I tried to find the cathedral on Convent Road but I couldn’t see it so continued on to the Temple which is on the corner of Silom and Pan Roads. Tamils founded this colourful hindu temple in the 1860s. The main temple is topped by a gold plated copper dome above a 20 foot high façade depicting various hindu gods. Went to a market across the road where I spent 40 Baht on Jackfruit and Dragonfruit. You can either buy the fruit whole or buy little bags of fruit that have already been cut up for you that you can eat with a toothpick. After leaving the temple you can take the BTS Sky Train from Chonsi Station to Silom Road and take the normal train to Hua Lampong station. I would highly recommend getting a three day train pass it’s well worth it.

 

From Hua Lampong station you can walk to Wat Trimitr the temple of the Golden Buddha which is close by and then walk along Yaowarat Road and Charoen Krung Road in where you can see the General post office, Haroon Mosque, the French Embassy, The China House, Shangrila Hotel, Oriental Hotel on the banks of the Chao Praya River. Haroon Mosque is a little bit hard to find so if you do decide to go there it’s probably better earlier in the day or in the afternoon. I wouldn’t wander down the random lanes after it gets dark. Yaowarat Road has many gold and jewellery shops but I would recommend getting some local insights as to the quality of the jewellery before you buy anything.

 

A Museum that is often overlooked is the Suan Pakkad Palace. I got a BTS to Si Ayutta Road one morning and went to Suan Pakkad palace which is a teak wood museum, saw a lot on Thai history and amazing gardens.

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Suan Pakkad Teakwood Palace

There are still many things I did not see in Bangkok like the famous cat café, Jim Thompson’s historic house, and Muay Thai Boxing which is right next to Lumpinee Park. With such a busy and constantly changing city, I doubt anyone could ever claim to know Bangkok like the back of their hand. Its charm is in the layering of history, the coexisting of old and new buildings side by side, its laneways and local produce, and of course the famous hospitality of its people.

 

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