My pending departure from Asia has motivated me to try and sum up a bit of my experience in a 'guide-esque' documentation of some of my favorite places, things to do, and foods to eat so that those of you who have the opportunity to visit this incredible region might benefit from my travels here. Plus I have a bit of free time....
Sunday, November 22, 2009
travel advising continues... THAILAND
BANGKOK ('Bangers,' 'KOK')
Loud, modern, huge, overwhelming at first. Most backpackers end up being spit out into the bowels of Khao San and the 24 hour honkey circus which is perpetually in motion. I struggle with Khao San, it has a lot of convenient aspects to it, but it also kinda sucks. Some might say it 'isn't Thailand' which is kind of like saying a tomato isn't a fruit. Regardless you should give the whole thing at least a gander, it is an amazing tribute to all things traveler oriented. The whole swirling chaos exists for a reason and if you can learn to exploit it for what it is good for Khao San can be a kind of fun quirky experience. I higlighted a couple of my favorite spots here in an earlier post.
Of course Bangkok is much much more than Bagalamphu. My favorite thing to do in Bangers is to head to Siam Paragon, which is a big mall. I don't typically find myself wanting to spend a lot of time in malls but this one has a number of things in its favor: 1. air conditioning that allows you to forget about crippling heat and humidity 2. hands down the most amazing supermarket I have ever seen 3. movies (PONYO!!!) and a selection of 3 different types of popcorn. Seriously the supermarket is something else. Find the ladies with the rice crackers with coconut sugar, sesame and pumpkin seeds. They are ridiculously good. Plus the food court goes on for ages, every type of fast food a Midwesterner could want, surprisingly cheap thai food, as well as a plethora of ice cream/gelato/fro-yo places. Siam Paragon is part of a long chain of malls all linked by either the BTS or raised walkways. In fact most of the BTS (KOK's MRT/tube/BART) is lined by huge malls. If you needed to spend a lot of money you could do it quickly in Bangkok.
Other cool things to check out:
Boat rides on the klongs (canals), which is consequently one of the fastest ways to get around in Bangkok.
Wat po, home of the giant and incredibly impressive 40m long reclining buddah (Mandy is a HUGE fan).
Nancy Chandler does an awesome map of Bangkok, I'd suggest picking one up if you are planning on spending much time in the area. I'd say it is a must have if you were living there.
I never feel like I have enough time in Chiang Mai. We always stay at Mandala house for work and it is cool enough that I have spent time there on my time off as well. The price is right, it has a good location, and the staff are super friendly. Chiang Mai is famous for its night markets, which are absurd sprawl of stands selling everything that one might want to cart back home: strings of christmas lights decorated with champa flowers, Karen silver jewelery, lanterns which fold flat, hill tribe tote bags, Thai fisherman pants, knock off Tiffany's, the stalls run as far as your eyes can see, the markets spill into one another forming blocks of frenzied consumerism. To one end of the markets is the Old Chiang Mai Coffee shop, it is a funky little cafe/gallery serving a ridiculous chocolate cookie cream cheese sandwich. Derlish. Que mas? Ahh of course there is ever famous cooking courses in Chiang Mai. I've always taken them at the Chiang Mai Cookery Schol, because Sompon is a BAD ASS. They are super professional and you will be blown away by what you can learn in a day. I think that taking a cooking course also gives one a deeper appreciation for the local cuisine. You will be more able to understand the flavors in the foods and possibly be motivated to try new dishes (rather than spending your whole time eating Phad Thai --- boooooring!). Finally people often come to the North of Thailand to ride an Asian elephant. This can be an amazing experience, especially if you do it at one of the more responsibly run organization. I wrote briefly about this on an earlier post, there are a number of elephant camps around Chiang Mai but two which stand out are: the Elephant Conservation Center and Elephant Nature Park (which also runs a veggie restaurant in Chiang Mai). Both programs take good care of their elephants meaning that you can feel like you and the elephants are both benefiting from your experience.
Finally: Nancy Chandler also made a map of Chiang Mai which is another fun way to discover some hidden gems.
Cutesy to the max, Pai is a fun mellow place to escape the city and see some pretty stunning countryside. In their same same but different way Pai has been totally overrun by cute boutique like shops, it is a bit out of control. But it is a fun place to kick around for one or two nights. The van ride from Chiang Mai is a bit crazy, there are about a million curves but it isn't too bad. Many people use Pai as a base for some more in depth explorations: moto touring, hill tribe trekking, ventures towards Burma. It is a bit overdone tourist-wise but the setting is pretty idyllic. Dini and I stayed riverside in a place called Rim Pai , which was a bit pricey but gorgeous and totally cute. There is quite a bit of good food around Pai, in the late afternoons there is a well organized fresh market with some good street foods, otherwise most of the restaurants whip up the normal delicacies.
UP NEXT: Cambodia