Monday, 26 January 2009

The Less Travelled Route To Chiangmai

Yes, it was Tiger Airway, TR 108 that I flew in on Saturday, 17 January 2009 at about 6.10pm.

I had originally planned to fly direct to Chiangmai in the northern part of Thailand by Silkair at about S$788 (Hot Deal for two persons on return trips during off-peak period).

I had procrastinated on taking up the offer as the by-elections were in progress then.

When all was calm by Monday, 12 January; there was no more available seats on Silkair for my scheduled trip.

By chance, I logged onto Tiger Airway's website, and found a 50 per cent discount on a trip to Bangkok.

On reflection, it was more in line with my original plan of discovering the way to Chiangmai by land transport through Malaysia. I decided to sign up, and continue the half of the journey by rail or bus/coach.

A Thai national in my row had advised me to opt for the railway as buses were more prompt to accidents.

Acting on the advice of the Tourism Authority staff at the airport, I paid about 350 bahts(meter' reading plus 50 bahts for airport surcharge and 70 bahts for two toll stations on the expressway) for the taxi trip to Huolumpong railway station.

Beware: a similar taxi trip offered within the passengers terminal would have cost me 950 bahts. It is advisable to join the queue for taxis outside the arrival hall.

Do not opt for a taxi plying along the road outside the passengers terminal if you are not familiar with Bangkok.

According to some websites, it is not easy to book a ticket during the weekend. I reached the station at about 8.30pm, and sleeper tickets were still available for the last train leaving at about 10.00pm.

It took about 14 hours to reach Chiangmai. There were about 15 stations along the way. Some of the major stations had foodstalls operating late into the night, but the train would only stop for about 5 minutes at each station.

I felt a deep sense of serenity as I stepped out of the train at Chiangmai.

The platform was clean and brightly-lit. There were several well laid-out kiosks selling cut fruits, confectionery, souvenirs, etc.

The entrance/exit point opened out onto a park-like compound flanked on both sides by rows of shops (two 7-ll outlets), cafes and restaurants.
I was relieved to see a small hotel in the midst of the row of shops, cafes, etc.

It offered affordable rates, but I was looking for a backpacker-style of lodging to keep my expenses low for the whole duration of my stay in Thailand.

The check-in staff was helpful, and offered an alternative room in the rear wing of the hotel complex at about 550 bahts a night.

It was a good offer. Room was spacious, bathroom well-kept and the bed was good. The hotel staff had referred to the rear wing as the condominium probably because some rooms were on long-term rent basis.

I subsequently realised that the hotel had another facility for backpackers across from where I stayed.

But, I was happy to stay put as the other facility was not air-conditioned, and the daytime temperature was getting warmer

The hotel had a cafe/restaurant next to its front wing even though it had a so-called coffee shop within the wing.

The ambiene was good, and so was the food. I had had all my dinners at the beer-garden of sort during my 3-day stay in Chiangmai.

I loved the shabu shabu (steam-boat of sort, but using an earthen pot), green curry, century eggs deep-fried with basil leaves, etc.

Prices were reasonable (ranged from 60 bahts for fried vegetable - 150 bahts for steamed fish).

I had Chang draught beer for every dinner at 29 bahts(S$1.30).

Beware: You might have to remind them to abstain or use sparingly certain herbal/spicy ingredients such as lemongrass, ginger, chilli padi, etc. My throat started to hurt on the third day of my stay.

The Chiangmai city area was within walking distance from the railway station.
I chanced upon a market operating late into the evening on my way to the city.

The cooked food section was especially well-patronized in the evening by office workers packing dinner on their way home.

One of the two catholic churches in Chiangmai. The smaller church had only one mass (and it was in English) on Sunday (near YMCA hostel).

I reached Chiangmai at about 1.00pm, and had only one option - mass in Thai at 5.30pm.

The Sacred Heart Cathedral was surprisingly huge and majestic for a largely Buddhist-dominated country.

The Sunday evening congregation was small (less than 150 persons who were mostly late and took up seats at the rear pews; leaving the front pews largely empty).

Not too sure whether or not there was a choir in attendance. But, a suprano and two or three other men (near the pianist) led the singing beautifully.

The church shared the huge surrounding compound with a mission school which helped to enliven the church atmosphere.

The so-called taxis available in Chiangmai (besides the tuk-tuks) were truck-convert with a low cabin at the rear for passengers going in the same vicinity.

In the background of the photograph was the bus terminal at "Arcade" that I went to enquire about the trip back to Bangkok.

The journey by coach would be shorter by about 2 hours as compared to train's.

About 500 bahts for a so-called VIP coach, and about 290 bahts for a non-VIP option.

The staff could not tell me on the difference in service or comfort.

I would have opted for the bus if not for the toilet facility in one of the non-VIP coach that I managed to peek at (check it for yourself if you have to).

I opted for the train back to Bangkok.

It was Tuesday, 20 January 2009, but all lower sleeping facilities had been booked for Wednesday, Thursday......I did not bother to ask further.

I opted for a day trip by Special Express train. It was a good try.

The train left Chiangmai at about 8.20am, and reached Bangkok at about 9.30pm (as against scheduled time: 8.45pm). Refreshments and lunch were served along the way.

The train on the return journey was better maintained, and there was no foul smells that I had to endure each time some passenger cleared his/her bowels as I had experienced on the train trip to Chiangmai.

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