Monday, February 13, 2012

Three Days in Chiang Mai

Me riding in the mountains
Our ride the next morning to Chiang Mai was another beaut' over and around mountains, looking down into valleys, through more hairpin turns than I could count. I smiled and smiled, and when we stopped at one point to appreciate the scenic vistas after a particularly fun section of road, I just yelled, “AGAIN!!!!” to Colin. He really does take me to the nicest places. Even after all the really challenging and downright hard days we've had, I cannot imagine anything I would rather be doing, anywhere I'd rather be, or anyone I would rather be with than riding my little blue motorbike, in northwestern Thailand, with Colin. All good things must come to an end, including this wonderful day of riding, and we got to Chiang Mai in the middle of the afternoon. 

After several days of not seeing many other vehicles, it was kind of hard to get back into the swing of dealing with city traffic. We made it into the old city, located our first choice guesthouse, and found it was full. We moved on to our second choice, but same story. And at the third. While Colin waited with the bikes, I checked several other guesthouses in the area and found a suitable place with a very clean, comfortable, very orange room. Since our first three choices were full, I was initially only looking for someplace good enough for one night, figuring we'd search for something better for the next couple of days. But this place, the Tha Pae Gate guesthouse, was really nice, and we ended up staying for three nights. Once we were situated, we went out to find some lunch (McDonald's. Don't judge us. We have been eating local food in the markets for most of our meals. We will be going to Laos and then to Cambodia, where fast food is not an option. We had to get our fix, because as Colin says, “who knows when we'll be in Big Mac country again?”), and then walked around the town to get ourselves reoriented.

Colin, khao soi, the bikes, and his new favorite lady in the background
As I said before, we ended up staying for three nights in Chiang Mai. Since it is one of the larger cities in Thailand, we wanted to take advantage of the availability of stuff and again, went in search of a new camera. We didn't buy one in Bangkok, much to our chagrin (they seemed really pricey compared to home), but I found that there was supposed to be a good electronics store just outside the moat with competitive prices and also a mall nearby with several camera stores. I also found when poking around online the name and location of the purported best khao soi in Chiang Mai, and it was near enough to the electronics store to make a combined lunch and shopping trip. We discovered the wonders of khao soi the last time we were in Chiang Mai. It is a noodle dish, with both soft and very crispy egg noodles in a rich, coconut and soy-based curry, with either chicken, pork, or beef, that is served with a plate of fresh shallots, lime wedges, and pickled mustard greens. It was one of our very favorite meals of our last trip, and when we got back to the States, I found a recipe and started making it at home. Since we haven't had it in many months, and since I really couldn't remember how authentic my version was, we made a beeline for “Grannie's Khao Soi.” We found the place right where it was supposed to be, in between two wats, in a courtyard with no English signage, just an awning with some tables and chairs, and delicious smelling pots of simmering liquid. We hopped off the bikes, walked up to the “kitchen,” ordered two big bowls of chicken khao soi, and sat down to wait as patiently as we could. We weren't feeling very patient, being overcome by anticipation, so it was fortunate that our bowls arrived quickly. And man, oh man, was it ever good. It was so good, we vowed to return again tomorrow.

Crazy bird holy water delivery system
After lunch (no we didn't get a second bowl for dessert) we located the electronics store and found their camera prices to be not so competitive, so we headed for the mall. One entire floor of the mall is all electronics, and they did have many camera stores, but again, the prices were high. Higher than in Bangkok, and much higher than at home. We discussed our options, which were: a) bite the bullet and shell out the money for one of the good cameras we wanted, b) buy a cheap, lower quality camera for now and then replace our good one when we get back to the States, or c) live with the camera we have until we get back to Bangkok in a month. We decided to go with option c) and consoled ourselves with a Blizzard from the DQ. For dinner that night, we went to a restaurant called Aroon Rai, which has been open in the same spot, serving hungry locals and tourists since 1957. We feasted on some delicious northern Thai sausages that tasted of lemongrass, chicken and potato curry, and coconut curry with eggplant and chicken. Mmmm! As if this wasn't enough, we then wandered down to the night market for a fresh fruit shake and picked up our preferred dessert of beer and ice cream. We ate a lot of crap.

The next day, we went out do a bit of a walking tour of the Wats (Buddhist temples)...and the khao soi joint. I can't remember how many temples there are in Chiang Mai, but it's a lot. We strolled through the city, also looking for a bike shop to buy some new sparkplugs and fuel filters, and made our way to “Grannie's” for another bowl of numminess (it was as good as yesterday's bowl). We then stopped at a couple of the Wats and admired the architecture, ornate decoration, and the peaceful, landscaped grounds. Afterward, as we walked back to the guesthouse, we found a bike shop and pulled our used sparkplugs out of my daypack to show what we needed. The nice young man found two replacement ones for us in one of the bins. Before we paid for them, Colin remembered the fuel filters we needed. Since we didn't have a spare one to show, Colin produced my iPod Touch, with its handy translation program, and held it up with the Thai word for fuel filter spelled out on the screen. The guy nodded, rooted in a different bin, and came back with just what we needed. While Colin handled the transaction, I stared at the huge and bizarre fish in their fish tank. There were two, each was approximately eight inches long, and white with a pinkish-red “brain,” crimson red eyes, and red lips. One of the fish kept staring back at me, dragging its gaping lips along the glass...

The day got quite hot, so we continued back to the guesthouse to escape from the heat. When we got back, we found we had received an email from Tom (a fellow ADVRider who lives in Chiang Mai and invited us out for a drink after reading Colin's ride report online) with a place and time to meet. Excellent! We spent the rest of the afternoon researching our upcoming border crossing into Laos on HUBB, GT Rider, and Ride Asia. While I did this, Re worked on some blog posts, and then we headed out for an early dinner at the night market. Around 6:00 pm, we walked up to John's Place, where we met Tom and his friends, Peter and Dave. We spent the next several hours enjoying some good conversation and many Changs. Around 11:00 pm, we staggered home to bed.


  1. I miss your great pictures! I am willing to donate some USD (and I'm sure your other fans will as well) to help get you a new, water and shockproof, camera. Continued best wishes on your amazing jourmey. Frank (new Suzuki Burgman 400 owner).

    1. Hi Frank! Thanks very much for your kind offer! The reason for the lack of photos was just my haste to post all this stuff. Our internet connection was rather slow and I was too impatient to wait for photos to load. We are muddling through with our broken camera and my iPod Touch for now, but thank you again for your good wishes. Glad you're enjoying our trip with us! Re