Tuesday, March 26, 2013

MY CHIANG MAI GET-AROUNDS - THAILAND


Red Song Taeows
Getting around Chiang Mai is pretty simple - walk!! That is my preferred transportation as a photographer and as an adventurous person who will not follow any defined route on my tours. 

Having walked many streets of the old city of Chiang Mai I still took public transportation when I got too tired or had to go somewhere quick. In my first 6 visits to the city I always had my own driver, hence I never had to worry about transportation, but rather about parking our vehicle!  On my recent trip I had to get acquainted with the local form of transportation besides walking. 

Tuk Tuk's are flexible
Tuk Tuk's were the first ones I used and quickly learned that they are different from the ones you get in Bangkok. Though there is a fair amount of tourists in Chiang Mai, the obvious rip-off which we are met with in Bangkok does not really exist here yet. Tuk Tuks will just drive you where you want to go and the price is up to your negotiation skills and the time of the day. The later, the more expensive. If you get out of a night club at 2am and there is only one Tuk Tuk, the price is obviously not much negotiable. Compared to Bangkok's taxi meter prices, it is rather expensive though and usually costs about 100 Baht to 150 Baht at night. Daytime prices for me varied between 60 and 80 Baht. It does not matter if you are taking a Tuk Tuk alone or with two friends, it still costs the same. Speaking Thai will help and articulating the location where you want to go will help too. Having a book with a bad map will show that you have no idea where you want to go and naturally raise the price and the risk of getting cheated. One of my friends wanted to visit a nearby Spa and did not know that he could actually walk in just 10 minutes and ended up paying 150 Baht for a sightseeing trip before reaching his destination. 



Friends who live in Chiang Mai then asked me why I did not take the "red ones", the pick-ups with two rows of seats in the back. Locally called "Song Taeow" which means two rows, they will drive you anywhere as long as it is on their route or paid for. So, you can hire them or just go along and finally reach your destination. You might be alone for the entire trip or share your journey with several people who hop on and off. The first few times I asked for the price in advance but since the answer was always 20 Baht with a nod or smile, I ended up not even asking anymore and just paid 20 Baht when I got off. This is for short trips in and around old town. Longer journeys will cost you more and again, they vary by driver and destination. Going from the Central Shopping Center to an outlying forest temple, I was quoted 150 Baht from the first Song Taeow driver and ended up paying 80 Baht for the second one. On the way back from the forest temple I only paid 20 Baht for the same distance but had two more people join me along the trip.  Though on the way back from an outlying desitination you might have to wait for a while before one arrives. If you are out of luck, it has been hired or is full already. I was offered to just stand on the back of the platform and hold on to the rail.

Going up to the mountain temple of Doi Suthep, I was quoted 40 Baht and was surprised that my journey ended after a few minutes on the foot of the mountain where all tourists are assembled and then driven up the mountain in a fully loaded pick up truck, for another 40 Baht. Coming back from the temple they will drive you right to the city or your hotel for 40 Baht, without a stop at the assembly point. 

Red and yellow song taeows
Song Taeow's are the most convenient form of transportation and naturally the cheapest one. There are red and yellow ones and while the red ones will go to most destinations I used including the west side of the old city, the yellow ones will serve mostly the other areas.

Motorcycles can also be rented for transportation, though I never use them. So, I have no experience with their prices at all. They did not seem to wear numbered vests, like in Bangkok, either.

Taxi Meter
There are also a few taxi meter vehicles in Chiang Mai, though they will not use their Meter. Prices are completely up to your negotiation. They will also go longer routes and you have the convenience of an air condition, though sometimes it will feel more like a freezer. Taxi's can be rented for half days, days or even longer periods. Prices are completely up to your negotiation skills. 

The only other transportation I came across in the old city was the tricycle rickshaws, which are really just for tourists. The are better be used only within the old city, where traffic is limited and relatively safe. Outside the city walls rickshaws are too slow to compete with the other traffic and too unpractical. Short trips did cost me only 20-40 Baht while half day trips were about 100 Baht. Those trips are quite entertaining and a relaxing way to see the city. 
Tricyle Rickshaws

All of these vehicle mean that you sit out in the open, without air condition and subject to heat, wind, rain, dust and of course the pollution from cars and trucks. But they are all fun to take.









Tuk Tuk

Saturday, March 9, 2013

MY HEAVENLY SLEEPS - CHIANG MAI THAILAND

This does not happen often to me, but I don't want to leave this place. It is my last day at PJ's Place in Chiang Mai. 

It is so nice here that I wish I could extend, like friends of mine had done when it was time for them to leave. 

PJ's is a small guest house, almost like an English Bed & Breakfast to the Northwest of the old city of Chiang Mai. It is within walking distance to the old city and temples and was a recommendation by a local friend and by a friend from the U.K. So I was sure I would be at the right place. 

PJ's is privately owned by Peter and Jiab and who run the place with the help of their awesome staff of two. It is so far the only Hotel where there is not a single thing I disliked. I loved (and am still loving it) all the little details which went into the design of their place. Unlike in those many designer or boutique hotels I have been to, much thought went into the practicality of your stay. There is ample space for storage of your belongings, both the luggage and the cloths. The rooms (there are 4 smaller units and 2 suites) are very spacious. It is a pleasure to spend time in the room, unlike my Singapore Hotels, where you just want to leave as quickly as you can. 

The staff is keeping the rooms really clean, replenishes the bathroom amenities daily and makes sure you have everything you need to enjoy your stay.

There are plenty of electrical outlets to charge your phones, laptop, camera batteries and you don't have to crawl under your bed or move the TV in order to find another socket. The rooms are well lit and so is the bathroom. I can't remember when I last had a room where I could actually see my contact lenses when they were not in my eyes but in the container. I have said this over and over again, but I really feel that many hotels are designed to death and become unpractical for the average traveller. 

I loved the garden and though there is no pool, it is a pleasure to mingle with the other guests. PJ's only serves breakfast and has otherwise no restaurant or bar, but those are really just around the corner. 

It is also the quietest place I have ever slept in, except for my own home. It is neatly tucked into a dead end soi (small street) with no traffic passing by. You only hear the birds and frogs at night time but no motorcycle which is roaring down the street at 3am. 

Last thing I wanted to mention is the friendly, family-like atmosphere that I was met with. From the free pick up at the airport to the last day one feels as part of a family at PJ's. Definitely a place I want to return to in the near future!