We decided that our first visit to Thailand would be simply a relaxation holiday, nestled in one location that provided us with culture, atmosphere and good food. We only had seven nights, so we decided to stay in the one spot exploring what it had to offer rather than venture to other regions. And with the ‘culture’ focus on the list, we also didn’t want to hide away in any of the abundant island resorts. So we based ourselves in Chiang Mai in the north at Baan Orapin Bed & Breakfast, just east of the river and the old city in the Wat Ket neighbourhood.
Arriving in Chiang Mai
Upon landing we headed straight to the taxi desk in arrivals and paid the set rate (based on location) of 300 Bhat for a taxi to our accommodation. Simple, fuss-free. Our driver took us clockwise around the walled city, alongside the tree-lined moat that still surrounds the old town.
As it was late morning, our room at Baan Orapin B&B was not yet ready for occupation, but we completed the paperwork of our check in with the smiling Pepsi in reception, who was more than happy to hold our bags until our room was ready while we had our first exploration of the city. We took fresh clothes from our luggage and changed in the bathroom by the pool. We were more than a little overdressed for the climate, having left a coolish Sydney afternoon and arriving in Chiang Mai to 32°C at 10am that was soon to reach 40°C. We headed out in search of some lunch…eating non-stop on a plane and in airport lounges was clearly not enough food! Really we wanted to orient ourselves to the area and headed to the markets just west of the Ping River. [DETAILED ACCOUNT OF OUR BAAN ORAPIN EXPERIENCE].
The markets were as you would expect – gigantic and crammed, packed with people and product, selling everything from the yellowest of yellow gold jewellery to live eels and baby turtles for dinner! It was interesting to see the expats in amongst it all with the locals. You could tell newly arrived expats from the tourists cause they were carrying ‘telling’ items, like straw matting, to decorate their new homes!
We had our first Chiang Mai meal at Ban Thong U in the same street as our B&B, which seemed to be masquerading as Riverside (a highly rated, popular spot with tourists), cause they had a chalk sign indicating that ‘Riverview’ was the name of the restaurant component of the establishment. The Riverside Bar and Restaurant is a Chiang Mai institution, and, we discovered later, bears no resemblance to the cute little antique shop/café that we went to for lunch. But we had refreshing beer and shared a wide rice noodles and vegetables dish, enjoying it for both the flavours and value.
Riverside Bar & Restaurant
After an afternoon of exploring a small pocket of the city, gazing at temples and being smiled at by locals, we showered and headed out to dinner at the REAL Riverside Bar and Restaurant, south of our accommodation. The sun had gone behind a cloud and there were even spots of rain, which was delightful – even the illusion of a drop in temperature seemed to work on cooling our bodies.
We watched the sun set by the river and enjoyed a very nice stir fried morning glory with tiny green Thai chillis that spiced it all up nicely, and a stir fried vegetables, accompanied with a pina colada (weird choice, I know). We hung there for a while, savouring the colours in the sky, and left just before the live music started. Our big day of travel and walking, combined with the heat meant that we were more than a little tired, so we needed an early night.
Our first night’s sleep in Chiang Mai, we slept better than at home – nearly nine hours of uninterrupted slumber! We loved the cooler mornings, and were itching to get out and about to explore. So after a Thai omelette and rice breakfast, we crossed the river in search of a tailor.
John had done some research on tailors before leaving home and had narrowed the short list down to two. According to the internet, they were supposed to open at 8am. Tops. Off we went. Neither were open. The first one (which we didn’t end up going with) had a sign outside that said opening at 9am. They didn’t. I mentioned to John that most shops opened at 10am, so we headed to the other place just after 10am, and while his shutters were up, the door said that he opened at 11am, but he was happy to take us in – bet it made is day, cause John ordered six shirts, and I ordered four tops (one in very fine Chinese silk in red and gold – so Leonine!). We have a new found friend in Raj, business owner and charming human! The quality of the work was excellent, and I can see why past customers continue to order from home. ((SK Tailor)
New Delhi Indian Restaurant
After our fitting at Raj’s shop, we sought out an Indian restaurant, New Delhi Indian, well-reviewed on TripAdvisor. This was one of the best Indian meals we have had EVER (and we have been to India!!). What was so wonderful was that they did not stint on the flavours in their spicy options. This is something that so many fail to do – hot means hot, end of story. But we ordered the vegetable vindaloo and could taste nuances of flavour and spice that we had never experienced in a vindaloo before. And a local Singha beer was the perfect match for the Indian food. While this restaurant was a bit of a distance from our digs, we fully intended to partake again – even if it was home delivery!
After some downtime by the pool, we picked the brains of our friendly concierge, Pepsi, for a good massage place nearby. He suggested a spot about a kilometre away on our street called Getthawha Thai Massage. Glad we asked, because they weaved some magic! As it was our first visit, we both went with an hour foot massage, administered by two giggling women of a certain age who were delightful in their friendliness and firm in their pressure, especially in the calf massage that was thrown in for good measure. With most muscles in my body consisting of rock, this flogging would provide pain the next day, but it was sooooo necessary!
The Good View
Our late afternoon massage was followed by sunset drinks at The Good View, a bar and restaurant by the river and, like our massage place, was on our street! One of the draws of this establishment was that it was long – so there were many good spots by the river with charming views. We ordered a litre of beer and these snacks of ‘salted green beans’, which were nothing at all like we imagined – they were like salted, deep fried risoni! Well-matched saltiness with the beer, though. Our lingering led to more peckishness and so we added a shared green vegetable curry with rice to the mix and savoured our time by the water as the band tuned up and started their first set of the night. There is clearly an understanding of their expat community in Chiang Mai. This establishment, and Riverside from the evening before, are favourites amongst those foreign travellers who have decided to call Chiang Mai home.
Our adventures continue in Chiang Mai…
Read our full Chiang Mai story here:
Part 1 (current): Arrival and Initial Explorations
Part 2: Temples, Walking and Food
Part 3: Cooking School and Elephants