A Travellerspoint blog

Chiang Mai - City of Smiles

My first trip to Chiang Mai and experience on overnight train

For this year end, I joined my friends for a short trip to Thailand, covering Chiang Mai and Bangkok including participating in the Chiang Mai Marathon. I guess this will be a short write-up as I am not writing anything on Bangkok.

Impressions of Chiang Mai

At first glance, Chiang Mai is definitely less crowded and traffic much smoother than the notorious Bangkok traffic. However, taxis are infrequent (have to book), tuk tuk rides are expensive and we were not confident of hopping onto the local songthaew due to language barriers. So Uber became our best friend.

The weather was a big plus. It was very cooling. So good in fact that I managed to complete my half marathon without sweating too much, and with no major leg cramps!

Most activities are centred on the city centre of Tha Phae Gate, where a wide selection of food and shops can be found. There are also a few temples within walking distance from the Tha Phae Gate, the most famous of which is Wat Chedi Luang. There are a few modern shopping malls and we went to two of them, Maya Shopping Centre and Central Festival. There are also night markets in Saturday (along Wulal Road) and Sunday (starts at Tha Phae Gate) where a wide selection of food, handicraft items and stuff can be found. However, things can get boring after a day or two so to stretch time spent in Chiang Mai, it is suggested that one makes a trip to the outskirts

Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle

We took a day trip out of town to the neighbouring town of Chiang Rai, a 3 hour’s drive away. There are two famous attractions here, namely the White Temple and the Black House.

For the White Temple, as the name suggests it is magnificent masterpiece in white. A very good place for that beautiful photo. It has however, been invaded by mass tourism and hence very crowded as most times. The authorities keep urging people to move forward and not to linger at the pathway leading right up to the entrance. So one has to act fast to take pictures.

White Temple

White Temple

Black House

The next stop is the Black House. It used to serve as a residential place for a famous Thai artist (understand from our driver that he has since passed away), and has since been converted into a tourist attraction containing art work and well preserved building structure. However, to our disappointment, only a certain section of the ark work is open for public display while most of it is locked away and can only been seen through the window. If you are appreciative of art work you might like this place. However, for the majority of us it is a nice and quiet place to wander around while appreciating the beauty of the mainly wooden building structure.

Black House

Black House

Golden Triangle

The last stop of the day was the Golden Triangle. We were first brought to a scenic elevated stop where photos of the landscape dividing the border between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos can be taken. We were then brought to another spot were boat rides would bring visitors down the Ruak River right into the Laos border. We however decided against taking the boat trip as we understood there is nothing much to see. So we just stayed on the Thai border side, taking pictures of the landscape. It was quite disappointing as I did not get to see the hills and poppy plantations which made this region so notorious.

Elevated viewpoint of Golden Triangle from Thai border

Elevated viewpoint of Golden Triangle from Thai border

Overnight train ride

During my previous trip to Italy, I took a lot of train rides and they were definitely enjoyable rides which allowed us to view a different landscape of our host country. Howvever, I had never been on a overnight train before. This was one experience I really looked forward to. At the cost of about THB 1,400, we snapped up first class coaches for our overnight train journey to Bangkok

First class coach compartment

First class coach compartment

First class coaches consist of two bunker beds that come with a washing basin, mirror and TV (you do need earphones to get the audio though. But most shows are in Thai). For hygiene purpose, the station attendant will lay fresh sheets on the thin mattress and the pillow. Each individual bunk is also equipped with a USB charger. There is also a central divider which can be opened to gain access the opposite compartment – great if you are travelling in a group of 4. First class compartments also allow for personal ordering and delivery of food and drinks so that one need not have to go to the dining carriage to buy food. There is also a shared shower room and 3 toilets; however, there is a strong odour that one has to endure.

We checked out the dining hall. It was packed to the brim and sold only microwave food. So if you do not fancy heated up food, best to buy some food before boarding the train. Along the way, we passed by the second class coaches.

Second Class sleeping quarters

Second Class sleeping quarters

Basically it is an open carriage and each individual is allocated a bunker bed with only a drawn curtain allowing for some privacy. But for hygiene purposes, fresh bed sheets and pillow cases are provided for every journey, just like first class coaches.

Being an overnight train, there was little scenery to admire as night descended. After the initial euphoria the journey can start to get boring. The ride was ok as the trained travelled at speeds of between 50 to 80 km per hour. The WIFI on board was erratic and so watching shows on the internet can at times be frustrating. The compartments were not sound proof so you can basically hear your neighbours if they speak loudly; luckily we had good neighbours who did not get drunk and kick up a fuss. As for the quality of sleep, well, never set high expectations, the bunk was hard and peaceful sleep was often interrupted by the moving and stopping of the train. In the end I ended up with a sore back. But this was certainly an experience worth trying

Conclusion

In conclusion, Chiang Mai is a less congested city than Bangkok and definitely much cooler. But with the lack of transport option and limited places to visit, we have to travel to the outskirts to maximize our travel experience

Posted by acerchuan 19:32 Archived in Thailand

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