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BBQ Village: BBQ Village: Ban Chan Buffet Is a Meal in Itself

BBQ Village: BBQ Village: Ban Chan Buffet Is a Meal in Itself


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BBQ Village, in Flushing, Queens, touts its all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue with marinated meats cooked table-side. But its extensive Banchan buffet, which features more than 60 hot and cold side dishes — from house-made kimchis to traditional soups, is also worth a visit.

In Korean homes and restaurants, Banchan are the salty, tangy or spicy side dishes served alongside a main meal to add an extra flavor kick. Hee Eun Kim, BBQ Village’s owner, staffs her kitchen with 10 cooks — among them, a ban chan specialist, a kimchi specialist and a meat specialist — to keep the buffet stocked with authentic, fresh dishes.

The kalbi soup (short ribs slowly simmered with Korean radish, onion, bean sprouts and scallions) was one of the standouts of the buffet. The flavor was distinctly savory, mild and soothing.

The buffet’s other soup, gook soo (soy sauce simmered with sesame oil, dried anchovies, onion, radish and tashima — a thick sea vegetable — and eaten with thin rice noodles), was a blend of salty, nutty and ocean flavors, with sweet undertones. It perfectly complemented the buffet’s spicier dishes.

Among the half dozen house-made kimchis (seasoned and fermented vegetables), we enjoyed the surprisingly sweet kimchi salad (cabbage seasoned with the usual kimchi spices but not fermented) and the crunchy, cubedmoo kimchi (radish), which was very tangy but only mildly spicy, despite its deep red color.

The spicy mool kimchi, bite-size pieces of American cabbage and scallions floating in red chili-tinged water, was salty and refreshing — fermented to the point of fizziness — but only mildly spicy.

Our hands-down favorite was the bak kimchi, “white” cabbage kimchi that omits the red chili paste that usually gives kimchi its spicy kick. It was intensely gingery and tangy without being too sour.

In contrast to the spicy, tangy kimchis, the julienned scallion salad was fresh and crunchy with a subtly sweet flavor. The kongnamul (soybean sprouts tossed with chopped scallions) was also mild — flavored only with sweet, nutty sesame oil. The jjang ahi (marinated radish and Korean green peppers) nicely balanced the salty, sweet and tangy flavors of its soy sauce, vinegar and sugar marinade.

Unfortunately, the vegetarian kimbap (Korean sushi rolls) was nothing special — on par with the offerings in any Korean deli. The pa jun (panfried rice-flour pancakes studded with green peppers and scallions) and jap chae (thin, clear potato noodles and vegetables stir-fried in sesame oil) were also disappointing — bland and excessively oily.

The rolls of Korean cabbage were skillfully steamed and still crunchy but almost flavorless. To be fair, though, they usually are not eaten alone but rather are paired with marinated and barbecued meats.

Those who are lucky enough to have access to good, homemade ban chan may scoff at the notion of a meal composed entirely of such side dishes. But for the rest of us, an all-you-can-eat buffet devoted to these inventive small plates is worth a visit — if only to explore a wider variety of ban chan than the predictable standards typically served in New York’s Korean restaurants.

— Anne Noyes Saini, City Spoonful


The Ponderous Pilgrim

Reports of their death were greatly exaggerated. Windowsill Pies (facebook) will be moving out from their current premises at Pandan Valley Condominium, but will still take orders sans bricks-and-mortar. That it wasn’t the last hoorah from the boys made the tasting platter slightly more enjoyable.

Most people liked the milk chocolate pudding and sticky dark chocolate layer of the S’mores pie – didn’t get to taste the homemade graham cracker but the toasted marshmellows actually seemed like they had been on BBQ grill after the meats (yes, they were probably just fired by a hand-held blowtorch, but a roast-meat flavour had crept in somehow). The strawberry lemon pie came a popular second, though i would have preferred less emulsifiers in the strawberry bit. My favourite was the banana cognac almond brittle pie – the cognac mascarpone really complemented the banana mousse and the salty-sweet crunch of almond brittle (think almond roca) prevented it all from getting too jerlat.

The morello cherry pie and apple pie were properly done and a hit with the older folk. The young ones, of course, liked sugared shortcrust lattice top of the cherry pie. Pumpkin pie with bourbon whip was alright but it was up against stiff competition and the judges were all nursing sweet teeth.


The Gwee brothers, Sean and Jonathan, have proved their ability to make good-tasting food with Bramble, so it was no surprise that the sandwiches Grilled Cheese Diner at Friday night’s Market of Artists and Designers (MAAD) were delicious. Cheese Sandwich: I liked that they brushed the bread slices with melted butter first before smearing on the French mustard and then topping with shredded cheddar that would melt into yummy gooey-ness on the hotplate. Classic pairing with tomato soup. The addition of meat, in the Pot Roast Sandwich, just made everything so much better.

Tom’s Palette set up an any size – any price ice-cream box just next to them. Couldn’t quite taste the strawberry cheesecake flavour after the sandwiches but the chocolate was thick and dark and good. There was also a cake pop counter by Moofy Pops but didn’t have time to wait for the cooing crowds to clear to check it out.






Wandered around the MAAD (facebook) market venue at the Red Dot Design Museum some, had a few chats, got quotes for some akan datang projects, stopped by City Nomads‘ photobooth, then needed to leg-it to raid an iStore before closing time.

Working through Derek Tidball’s Preacher, keep yourselves from idols. Very instructive even for non-preachers.

John Calvin insisted that “the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge (factory) of idols”. While believers have dethroned idols and have bowed in service to the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9), lifeless idols (paradoxically) continue to snap at their heels.

The preacher is not immune. While no evangelical preachers will bow to a literal image, he is more particularly a vulnerable to the kind of idolatry that us a distortion of what is good. Tidball organises the “factory of idols” into four categories: idols associated with the self, the age, the task, and the ministry.

The Idol Of Self
Because we acknowledge the importance of God’s word in Christian growth, evangelicals put much importance in the preaching of God’s word from the pulpit. But, says Tidball, there is no biblical mandate to say that the most important preaching of God’s word should be from the pulpit.

The idol of the pulpit
Inflated ideas of pulpit preaching can lead preachers to inflated ideas of themselves. But preachers are merely members using the particular gifts God has given them among the many others to whom God has given different gifts. A right estimate of preaching would lead preachers to personal humility, to the deposing of pride, and the exalting of grace. The preacher must ask himself if he wants to be remembered as a great preacher, or if he is content, as he should be, to be a mere messenger for a great God.

A correct evaluation of preaching magnifies the sovereignty of God. It is not the preacher’s words that enters people’s lives and transforms them. The same sermon preached by the same person may have different effects on different occasions. It is not the “preaching” as such which is the secret, but the sovereignty free Spirit who chooses in occasion to use preachers.

The idol of authority
The idol of authority is three-fold:

  • the preacher’s authority lies in the sermon being a declarations of the word of God to humans, therefore God’s authority is inherent within it
  • the Spirit works in and through the words of the preacher and in the ears of the listeners to accomplish God’s purposes
  • the preacher’s authority lies in him being a faithful messenger of God’s word in Scripture.

But the authority of God’s word can too easily become the authority of the preacher’s word, eg. when the preacher uses the pulpit:

  • to preach at people who disagree with him (doctrinally or personally),
  • to drive his church to adopt his particular vision and plans for growth and development,
  • to beat up his congregation because he feels they are not supportive of church activities or not doing enough attending, giving, praying, witnessing etc,
  • to pronounce on detailed political, social, or economic policy,
  • to voice his personal prejudice on everything.

The world is characterised by a lust for power. The preacher is not immune and in fact, since preachers speak an authoritative message on behalf of a powerful God, and play a significant role in the leadership of God’s people, they are particularly vulnerable to its temptations and can easily be seduced. Step-by-step, the authoritative message becomes the authoritative messenger, becomes the autocratic leader whose word on any issue must be obeyed. The preacher soon becomes addicted to the recognition, even adulation, and begins to enjoy the trappings of power.

The idol of popularity
This one is fairly self-explanatory. Preaching must be for people’s improvement not entertainment. Preachers must never be fooled by popularity and think that the praise they receive for preaching is a true measure of its worth or effectiveness. They should realise that the basis on which people praise them is often faulty – more on par with how people would rate a reality television show or a concert rather than the instruction of God being given. As the current state of social media demonstrates, crowds are fickle. The preacher must remain independent of the opinion of the crowd and strive to preach God’s word faithfully.

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Yet Con Restaurant on Purvis Street, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, and Living God’s Way



It seems to me that hardly anything about Yet Con (“since 1940”. 25 Purvis Street) has changed over the decades. The signboard, the wording on the flanking pillars and that particular font on the aluminium-framed glass doors, the position of the man chopping succulent chickens on an old wooden block, to your left as you enter,

then the white-haired man who oversees the whole operation of the restaurant with an eagle-eye from behind his cashiers’ desk (complete with retro orange pay phone, ancient safe, and abacus at the ready), shouting instructions in Hainanese, and as new orders are made, writing hieroglyphics on pieces of paper neatly lined up and held in placed with binder clips. He does not seem to have aged a day since the 1980s, in his immaculately-pressed white short-sleeved shirts.

Adding to the atmosphere of nostalgia, discarded eggs shells on the linoleum floor, and the garlicky kick of the chilli sauce, and the depth of flavour of the soup that isn’t just all about the Aijinomoto.

The main draw for me – the pork chop: deep-fried then drenched in tomato-based sauce (possibly with the addition of some Lea & Perrins?). Best eaten with chicken rice.


Woah, this is the first time I’ve seen a menu.

The next day, Jiro Dreams of Sushi opened in Singapore. 83 minutes of the whole cinema collectively sucking in their breath (and drool) as sushi after sushi was precisely made and placed on a black enamel platter, the fish coming to rest on top of the rice with brushed sauce dripping from it in slow motion.

Jiro Ono, the subject of David Gelb’s film, started Sukiyabashi Jiro – a ten-seater, sushi-only (as in, “no appetisers sushi only”) restaurant in the Ginza shopping district of Tokyo. It has been awarded three Michelin stars several times over. The secret of Jiro’s success was that there were no secrets. Sure, the seaweed had to be toasted over charcoal, and the rice was special and had to be subject to a certain amount of pressure and kept at a certain temperature, and the fish was obtained from the best dealers at Tsukiji market (the tuna for example was obtained from a tuna merchant who only sold tuna and was an expert in the fish), and the octopus was massaged for 40-50 minutes (up from 30 minutes) to make it soft, and the fish had to be aged and then sliced in a certain manner at a certain thickness etc.

It was merely repeating the same tasks over and over again every day (with breaks on national holidays) and trying to make sushi more delicious the next day that enabled him to reach such a high standard. The raving Japanese food critic featured in the movie said that he had never had a bad experience with Jiro. He could go expecting that every time, it would be consistently perfect.

Would Jiro’s two sons live up to his high standards? The director cunningly attempts to create this tension/suspense by interviewing various parties, who shake their heads gently or try to be politely optimistic. Then there was a little surprise at the end concerning the authorship of the sushi placed before the Michelin inspectors…


As Christians, our passion and obsession is pleasing God, and God’s standards are higher than that of any Michelin inspector or self-driven perfectionist. If we had no hope of changing from our old anti-God ways, then our lives would be pointless tragedies. Thankfully, this is not the case.

We were working on Chapter 3 of Matthias Media‘s Back To Basics in preparation for someone’s baptism.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2)

The same grace of God that brought us salvation also trains us to live God’s way, because this was the purpose of Jesus’ death in our place. Therefore we are not left bereft and without divine help. Yet, this does not mean we sit around and not do anything – because if we are really passionate about pleasing Him, then we would be even more obsessed about godliness than Jiro is about sushi.

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Laos and Thailand

The Lady Elizabeth and the Lady Margaret inspecting the Wat Longkhun Temple on the opposite bank of the Mekong from Luang Prabang, Laos. "When the coronation of a King in Luang Prabang was pending, it was customary for him to spend three days in retreat at the temple." Margaret in the jungle of Laos, above the waterfall below The waterfalls at Tat Kuang Si some 10 kms from Luang Prabang, note the "limpid opal-blue pools". Great for swimming in. Margaret, Elizabeth and Christian, having just taken the ferry across the Mekong from Luang Prabang The Mekong River through the palm trees at Luang Prabang. Painting of giant fish attacking shipwrecked sailors in the Wat Langkhun Temple This is proper travel, walking across the tarmac, no fallopian tube into the terminal The Wat Pho, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok, Thailand Dusk over Wat Pho, home of the Reclining Buddha, Bangkok The cliche, with guide book to remember where we were The reclining Buddha at War Pho, Bangkok, Thailand Detail from Wat Phra Kaew, not the couple top left. Mangrove shrubs on Railay Beach, Hal Railay, near Krabi, Thailand Hat Tham Phra Nang Beach, Railay, at Dawn. We arrived last night by local speed boat, there was no road access. We only discovered this when we arrived at night. and had to take a spray soaked local open speed boat across a pitch dark sea clutching our luggage before struggling up a sandy beach. Box art two icons of shell fragments honouring the "genus locus" of the place One of the few decent portrait photographs I have taken, lady selling food on one of the canals or Klongs in Bangkok Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Ley, on our first visit 2009. The site of the Famous film "The Beach" starring Leonardo di Caprio. the same bay 8 years later, destroyed by tourism. The bay has since been closed to all tourism. Please see end of post for more photos of Phi Phi and Hat Maya beach. Simon & Margaret on Maya Beach An idyllic unspoilt beach, 30 minutes walk from where we were dropped off by boat from Krabi. Another classic cliche beach, great beach-combing. Most of the boats were owned by the local "Sea Gypsies" Breakfast on Hal Railay beach, near Krabi but inaccessible by vehicles Beach-combing, sea shells meet glue gun A carnet de Voyage, collage of ephemera, tickets and bills etc. another carnet de voyage The upgraded boarding pass! The brochure and map of "The Beach" And the Bond film "Man with a Golden Gun" The advertising power of an international film The Royal Palace in Bangkok, note the lovely contrast of architectural style wester facade and oriental roof Palace today Stupas in Bangkok Collage of Maya beach, the advertising cliche and the daily reality The first carnet de voyage enlarged

Travels in South East Asia 2015

In seat 13G on flight no. BA 9 to Bangkok on 27 January. Siting in world traveller plus, those extra 6 inches are vital on a 12 hour flight.

It is 10 minutes to take-off, that magic moment of escape, the manic move is over and renovations in the very capable hands of Heba, and not forgetting Alex coping with the broadband.

Check in, security and passport control quick and efficient. Survived the ritualistic gauntlet of shops in the terminal, duty free whiskey and sprays of perfume, “Ponging up” ,New Scientist and Grazia, a treat of smoked salmon and wine at terminal 5 Seafood Bar operated by Caviar House & Prunier

We take off, sucked up like a spoon under a flowing tap. Awaiting the first drink reading the rather old fashioned In Flight comic. Interesting quote about wandering a city finding “the untidy fragments of older worlds”. Straight back to wandering Alexandria at night, all those years ago.

A pair of bloody marys’ , a Duck meal, and 9 hours 56 minutes to go. The slightly tatty 20 year old BA Boeing 777 elicited “ we are all old birds”, from the air crew. Rather sums up the old country, embarrassing when compared to Air Asia or Emirates Air. But it is direct!

See all or part of six films Most Wanted Man, Dawn of Planets of the Apes, Jersey Boys, The Rewrite, The Expendables, and finally Monument Men, landed just before the end, so will never know! but missed a nights sleep.

Through immigration with no queue but then the agony of the Carousel, is our luggage coming, is our holiday ruined, should have packed a change of clothes in the wheelie. But finally the ribbon bedecked suitcase and the purple one appear. A fixed price taxi to the Four Seasons, we deserve it. Shellshocked but arrived to a bit of air-conditioned orchid splattered international hotel.

Swim under palms but overshadowed by new multi storey blocks of flats. Elizabeth and Christian arrive and we taxi to the famous Seafood Market and Restaurant, ‘If it swims we have it”. More Butlin’s than ethnic, we choose our fresh vegetables and live fish which are taken to the front kitchen for stir frying and grilling. Surprisingly good and only £20 per head including beer.

A taxi to the dreaded Patpong Street, for handbags and humping, the latter a fantasy in the minds of sad middle aged men watching young dancing girls gyrating around polls. An extraordinary contrast family stalls and voyeurs. But the sex trade is nothing like it was 35 years ago, the Thais are making a serious effort to play down this reputation.

Next morning we are late, facing a rather irate Elizabeth we leave for the magnificent temple complex of What Pho, featuring the famous giant reclining Buddha, and the colonnades with 394 Buddha images. Lovely detail includes a number of mini mountain landscapes called Khao Mor, rock gardens with native plants, Buddhas, and lingums. Do micro mountain with dried plants and a buddha in a box, dedicated to Wat Pho.

Interesting article in the Bangkok Post [January 29, 2015] regarding an American envoys comments denouncing the introduction of martial law by the National Council for Peace and Order following the May 22 military coup. The deputy Foreign Minister said the criticism “ left a wound in Thais’ hearts”. He went on to say that “Democracy is about more than elections. Several elements , like rule of law, are required to drive the country forward” and that a recent government critic and former foreign minister was invited for a “attitude adjustment”, great stuff. The Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha is very similar to General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, the growing pains of democracy, as we in the west seem to be passing through it. A classic quote by general Prayut “ If democracy had gone well, the problem would no longer exist, and I would not have stepped in”, the problem appears to be irreconcilable conflict between the political parties.

I remember Herman Kahn’s book referring to the circular nature of democracy. He was a futurist and founder of the Hudson Institute.

A street lunch by the Tha Tien river boat station on the Chao Phraya River. The boutique hotel run by Mr. Wrigley called Sala Ratana Kosin, it is nearby in one of the few traditional riverside settlements left. Then a Klong cruise in a long boat, along a canal past unkept back gardens of fading villas, clumps of…..palm and frighteningly large monitor lizards sunning themselves. Back into the Chao Phraya we land at the Oriental Hotel , back in time, for tea. See “Then and Now” treatment of old paintings and the hotel today.

Drinks at the extra-ordinary Sky Bar, 64 floors up [245 metres] an open bar perched on the the Lubia Hotel Tower. Health & Safety would tear their hair out if they visited, but great views of a city anywhere. Four cocktails for 2,848 Bhts. A pleasant enough meal at Ban Chiang restaurant. On the way back a 10 pm we passes a crowded open air temple

where .predominately young people presented gifts of wreaths of golden yellow marigolds, bunches of lotus flowers and fruit, and wood elephants, to a golden four faced Buddha figure, accompanied by female dancers in traditional attire. Imagine a incensed mass around a suffering Christ in Piccadilly Circus.

Next a travelling day, camera bags from the new CentreWorld mall, more bags! Downtown Bangkok reminds me of Blade Runner or a cartoon modern city, multi level flyovers, Skytrain mass transit and pedestrian walkways. Ruined the city but cheaper than tubes and subways.

Passed coldly modern bar called “Whisgars” with it’s byline “Hello, Let’s get to know each other a little better”

Homage to the giant Naga in the long tubular terminal we fly over other people’s lives to gentle Laos and even gentler Luang Prabang, the ancient Royal capital.

Every time I fly the image of a painting by Jonathan Wateridge ‘ Forest Pool with Wreckage” comes to mind, a crashed airliner in a jungle. See my collage.

We are met by Ivan at the old colonial style Apsara Hotel, who sadly is leaving next day. I am limited to my fried rice , and to bed.

The History of Laos is one of a buffer state between powerful neighbours, Thailand to the east and Viet Nam to the west, however the Royal House managed just to maintain some form of independence. The French arrived in mid 19 h century but did not fully colonise Laos until 1897, remaining until 1953. Luang Prebang was regarded by the French expats as “the pearl in the earthly paradise”. Confusion arose, encouraged by the American war in Vietnam The notorious Secret War, 1964 -1975 was run y the CIA to attempt to prevent supplies reaching South Vietnam. The USA supported the King and attacked the communist Pathet Lao dropping 2.2 million tons of explosive on eastern Laos and thePlain of Jars. More than they dropped on North Vietnam and only slightly less than was dropped on Europe in WW2. Finally in 1975 the Americans pulled out, the communist Pathet Lao took over , ejected the King and declared the Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos. The King and Royal Family, after 650 years of rule, were put under house arrest, later they were sent away for “re-education” and died, Echoes of the Russian revolution. Laos began to emerge from its communist isolation in 1994-97.

Luang Prebang avoided the devastation of American bombing, thus maintaining its old traditional and colonial structures and, due to its isolation under the communists, enabled the town to be spared aggressive modernisation, one of the few Asian urban centres to do so. And so far being well protected by its UNESCO listing.

Christian hits the ground running next morning, announcing an explore of the temples on the other bank of the Mekong., having already been out and changed money.

We cross in a long thin traditional boat and climb up the steep river bank to a enchanting little jewel of a temple complex, Wat Longkhun, “set amid bougainvillea and star burst

Palmyra palms”. The piece de resistance are the beautiful murals in the central “sim”. They feature Buddhist myths, families of elephants, prancing rabbits and a scene depicting a giant fish attacking shipwrecked sailors.See photos. The entrance is guarded by two fierce Chinese Guardians. Find a book on Buddhist myths and cosmology. Photograph of the two Lady’s with their sun umbrellas with the statue of Nang Tholani, again shaded. She is a Buddhist Earth Goddess who, to save Buddha, wrung out her hair to wash away his enemies.

The recommended Tham Sakkalin caves can be missed. The guide points out where looted and damaged Buddhas once where, an inducement of the antiquities trade. The base with a lower arm is all that is left, where is the rest, in some museum store in France!. As the Lonely Planet guide book states “the only remarkable feature here is the inexplicable heat that the cave seems to produce”.

We popped into the unexciting Wat Chomphet and Wat Xieng Maen however the village is charming, the children practice “hallo” but don’t pester, the grownups smile from their shop stalls but don’t “sell”. Tourism has yet to commercialise them, or they are proud and confident enough not to exploit these ‘golden hordes’. lets see how they cope with the impending tidal wave of Chinese tourists. There are already many more than two years ago.

Then Christian insists we visit the Pottery Village, 2.5 kms and an hours walk along an empty dirt road through the dry jungle. We find one pottery making very ordinary large pots. Margaret’s Brother in Law, to whom Christian has been demoted to, is saved by the arrival of an Italian couple in a Tuk-tuk.

An intersting meal at the Tamnak Lao. I had Khua Maak Kheua Moo, fried egg plant with minced pork, with Khao Phat, the ubiquitous fried rice. Margaret had Tom Chaeow Pa, Luang Prabang spicy fish casserole with eggplants, spring onions, coriander and a small amount of chilli “an unusual and very Lao mix of flavours and ingredients” and Khua Me Lao, stir fried lao noodles with pork, chilli, lime and peanuts, Margaret was the outright winner!

Sunday morning dawned with serious admin, which flight to which hotel where and when ? ”but I want” . All driven with four computers very slow slow wifi. With great tact and patience from all arrangements were completed. Lunch at Salt ’n’ Pepper, Christian had Tom Yam Soup with lemon grass, chilli, chicken and onion, Margaret and Elizabeth had Luang Prabang Khaosoi soup, and I had Stir fried glass noodles with bamboo shots ‘sic’ egg and onion, al at 20,000 kips each, £2! All well pleased

They go off for a massage and I change money and wander to the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, and take cliche photos, what no people, boring.

Final admin with travellers tails from two charming American women and off to the Night Market, two long rows of individual stall floor strewn cloths and things, hell on the knees and back, all this bending down. Elizabeth bought one pair of loose cotton trousers, Margaret bought two, I bought three little brass Buddhas for a collage and poor Christian could not find anything to buy.

Christian is fascinated by the street food market, many photos of smiling Lao girls furiously stir frying for young European “back packers”, and occasional older “trolleys” like us. Margaret buys the famous Kai Phen, Mekong Water Weed and I buy a small plastic bottle of Rice Wine for 50 pence equivalent. Cheaper than water!

A meal at the Coconut restaurant, see enclosed bill, the highlight was the discovery of Lao Whiskey, called Lao Lao. smelt of whisky but tasted more like grappa, but a very good digestive. Alex phoned in much better mood, TV fixed, will soon get internet, translation for …progressing, hole in Park walk ceiling being fixed, can stay longer with Camilla, we relax, she is cool and chilled. Heba is texting progress and calamities, i.e. foot through ceiling, but Heba beautifully in charge and in control.

It is now Monday morning, 11.07 am, they are all at the Tamarind cookery school, I am typing this under coconut palms on the terrace of the Apsara overlooking the Nam Khan River with the sound of cocks crowing on the other bank and the occasional passing Tut-tut. Very few cars and no flies, warm as a summers day with hazy sun and gentle breeze.

Large butterflies flutter through the tamarind trees and around the banana leaves. behind me the exotic…. flash red and beyond the startling red ginger flower of the…….

Men working on the terraced vegetable patches on the river bank opposite, beans and exotic vegetables. In the wet season the river rises so high as too wash them, and the temporary bamboo bridges, away. See Then & Now treatment.

Finally starting to relax after coping with “The Move”. Confronting 30 plus years of accumulation of Things and their associated memories, “Not Required on Journey”. A yellow ant wandered across the keyboard and two pairs of full figured coloured trousers wandered past, as did a pair of young saffron monks, its a wandering sort of place.

Luang Prebang was declared a World heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995, which hopefully has prevented the town going the same way as Chang Mai, which resembled Luang Prebang fifty years ago. The great question is Luang Prebang protected or aspicated, heritisation hampering progress, a living museum for the tourist seeking a break from their own progress.

The French man Henri Mouhot, the rediscovere of Angkor Wat, called Luang Prabang “a delightful little town”. Sadly he caught a fever here and died in 1861, and is buried here.

Back to possessions Points

We are possessed by possessions, they posses us, though we think we possess them. Who belongs to whom. Maybe we are afraid of belongings, they might

Lofts, and storage, are a rod for one’s back. nature abhors a vacuum as does storage space. We express our identity through these stored objects, lacking

an inner confidence. Do Buddhists collect stuff.

We must throw away, contribute to landfill and recycling charities and oxfam, so we can support the economy and employment and the third world

and those less able than us by buying more things. Oh dear, Vance Pakard’s “Conspicous Consumption” has come to haunt me.

Its the collecting, not the collection, that is important. Note my returning of most of my clay pipe collection to the Thames strand. But my stamps, coins, book matches, rock specimens [ note the word specimen, not just any old rock or memory

vehicles], old postcards, and so on.

It is a matter of controlled decluttering, externally and internally. a minimalist approach. Just scan the rest up to the cloud or onto a memory stick,

tomorrows grave good. See Marie Kondo’s book “ The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying A Simple, effective way to banish Clutter Forever” published by Vermillion at £7.99.

In Theravada Buddhism there are three aspects

Dukka
Anicca
Anatta
No experience lasts, no object lasts, trying to hod on to an

suffering, unsatisfactoriness the transience of things non essentiality of reality

object, resisting Anicca leads to Dukkha.

It is now midday, two hours of solid typing I have downloaded a bit, like a good shit perhaps. Middle aged couple just sat down for lunch on next table, she in sensible blouse, he with panama hat and sensible shirt, Les Anglais. Package of tourists flood into the Tamarind restaurant next door. Battery running low so will close down for the moment and do a wander.

Back from pleasant simple lunch at Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene of Khao Phad, fried rice with chicken and spring onions with a side of fresh chilli sauce, apply to taste, and skinned tomatoes. That and a coke cost $5.82. We should not really gloat over the low prices. The cafe has an supply of books on Luang Prabang including “An Architectural Journey”

Margaret, Elizabeth and Christian return excited from their cookery class at the Tamarind, plus spices, red rice and knives. I take Christian to look at the Thats in the Wats, stupas in the temples. Vat Xieng Thong, 1560, is the premier Wat, with its Golden Buddha, 1965, and rare reclining Buddha, 1569. The vihan or sim with its splendid tiered roof and guardian nagas houses the much worshipped golden Buddha surrounded by attendants, and all light up and decorated with plastic flowers. The oldest Wat, Vat Sapsickharam dates from 1481 but most, including the sumptuous golden Vat Sensoukharam date from 1750’s.

We ate at Salt ’n’ Pepper where I had stir fried ginger and chicken with steamed rice. Christian had green curry and the girls Khaosoi.

To the simply glorious Kwang Sii waterfalls, even the greatest landscape gardener could not have created this idyllic mix of aquamarine water and jungle green trees. The river rushes over the lip of the jungle clad mountain, down into a series of pools stepping down the hill. Swimming pools of cool water under the canopy of mature liana entangled trees, red blossoms of the Coral Tree float passed, and then falling over the next lip, to the next reed encircled pool.

We clambered up steep path through thick jungle to the top of the falls, Margaret concerned How can we get down, no problem a second easier route. A truly magical sacred place.

Lunch of freshly grilled fish and coconut milk and Tut Tut back the 25 kms , via rice paddies and teak forests.

Whilst they had another massage I changed money and snaped sunset over the Mekong, with 20 others. Thought, I just love a good log, in praise of trees.

Now rushing off for supper at the Tangor, a fusion restaurant run by a French man. We had excellent Civiche, must try with raw mackerel.

A glorious mosey up the Mekon in a small long boat, just the four of us, two hours up stream past jungled lined banks, occasional huts hiding behind the lush bamboo, through muddy brown swirling river and humped hills furry with trees. Maybe hiding the mythical Naga, a protective dragon fish popular in Laos.

A “hold the moment”, so unspoilt, no roads or concrete houses in sight unchanging from when the French first came up here in 1865. Eleven years before Major General George Custer and his two brothers, Boston and Thomas, were killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The question unspoilt or primitive. As they improve their infrastructure dual carriageway roads will follow the river and ruin our “one day” view. Suddenly around the bend a longboat park of groups visiting the Cave of Thousand Buddhas in the Pak Ou caves. A brief detour up the Nam Ou, forests coming down on each bank, explorers!. Back for lunch on a moored

boat by small “unspoilt” village of Ban Pak Ou. I had Laap Pa, raw Mekong fish fillet pounded with grilled eggplant and flavoured with mints and scallions. The others had Fish Tomyam, mekong fish soup flavoured with spice lemon grass, onions, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms, ginger. Back on board to the whisky village, Ban Xang Hay, one incredibly primitive distillery , see photos, and street lined with weavers making beautiful scarves for $1 to $3, charming smiling women, and a very colourful Wat

Now aperitif at the Apsara, a large Beerlao for Christian and me, cocktails for the girls. Christian is doing his daily muttering to his computer checking his investments. The girls are on their iPhones, “whatsapping” furiously with Margaret trying to re-organise her birthday party as camilla wants to change the dates. Now off to the night market for the girls to buy trousers before supper at the tamarind which was overrated and a bit pretentious

Next day cookery school where we stirred fried furiously, and tasted to outcome. My stomach then gave up and for the next two days all I saw was the room’s ceiling with its ageing fan and slightly textured off white tiles on the loo floor. Delhi Belly, Ramses Revenge, now Lao Tummy the joys of travel! We fly out tomorrow. The girls are having a Korean style Lao barbecue over the road. Each table has a metal lined clay pot set into the table, and filled with hot charcoal. A tin rimmed “hat” is placed onto the pot, into the rim is poured a bouillon into which vegetables and noodles are cooked whilst on the inverted bowl of the hat slivers of chicken is cooked on pork fat. Christian and I have retired hurt.

Immodium discussions over breakfast, recovering. Got up early on a misty morning to see the ritual giving of Alms to the saffron robed Monks, now a serious much photographed tourist event.

Early Morning points to ponder
Child like pleasure gained from shopping, “I shop therefore I am”

Refusal to take responsibility for actions, delegating to an all pervasive god and a strong leader.

Role of the camera, and more recently i-phone, in modern tourism

Souvenirs, from Oxfam destined to utility

Can I learn to relax and chill on holiday, its not all a learning experience to be photographed, photos edited and commented upon thus. Not helped by all

pervasive aspect of wi-fi driven internet, no escape.

The laid back gentle Laotian, how and why. Cheerful with low western style expectations, influence of Buddhism perhaps. In Luang Prabang no

omnipresent police, no car horns, no rowdiness or rudeness, no flies or mosquitos, no barking dogs, no begging children, a gentle smiling hallo.

“The Vietnames plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow, and the Laotians listen to it grow” French colonial saying.

Bicycle to Wat……full of ageing peaceful Buddhas then to hotel for a rest before flight to Bangkok. Arrive at Camilla’s chicly elegant Sukhothai Hotel, “ I do like a bit of five star” . The party is impressed. The room has a mirrored bathroom, echoes of Versaille, and magic loo that washes front and rear and then dries!. Mood lighting with dimmers everywhere, vast double bed and all the associated accoutrements or collectibles. Off immediately to the Namsaah Bottling Trust restaurant where Camilla had booked us a table. An old colonial house elegantly if darkly restored up a narrow side street, which we found with difficulty, it defeated one poor taxi driver. Food was stylish, Margaret had salmon tatar in mini tacos with chilli mayonnaise, salmon-tartar wonton tacos followed by beautifully presented tune stakes on coconut sauce and baby Chinese cabbage, Bok Choy, as if growing out of the white sauce. Christian had rock lobster, most impressed, praise indeed. Elizabeth had beef red curry and I had pop corn prawns, interestingly sweet and sour but heavy followed by pork belly, interesting but a step to far for a sensitive stomach. A digestive whisky in the water bar and off to the many views of a pale slightly overweight european male,oh dear!

Next evening and we are coming in to Krabi.

To one of the best hotel breakfasts ever, everything for every nationality. An extra kilo, why worry. Off to the psychedelic multi coloured decorative extravaganza that is Wat Phra Kaew. Every Wat, Stupa, hall is covered from head to foot with small coloured tiles, subtle greens blues and greys, vibrant reds and gold. We pay homage to the famous Emerald Buddha, surprising small this 13 th. C statue is perched high up on golden tiers and surrounded by golden buddhas. It does have a certain magnetism, aided by the fact that photography is forbidden. You have to look at it, you can’t “take it away” in your camera. Christian complained about the smell of feet, we discussed different smell sensitivities.

Lunch and a quick bag at Silom Market then to the airport for the late flight to Krabi.

Panic, Elizabeth discovers that we have to take a boat to the hotel at Railay and is told it is too late, being 10 pm. It is on a peninsular with no road access. Taxi driver says it is ok, so off to Ao Nang. We stop at a pitch black beach, a long tail boat driver agrees to take us, we wade out to his boat carrying our luggage and sped out into the black sea, in a state of slight hysterics. Fifteen minutes later and spray soaked we see the light of the hotel nestling at the foot of steep cliffs. Carry our luggage onto the beach , the boat leaves, 8 pieces of very urban suitcases sitting for lonely on a dark sandy beach. We check-in, find the “lost” whisky in my cabin baggage.

It is like Christmas morning. One has arrived at night and it is now getting light, I am lying in bed with the beach as my stocking, I sneak out of bed and go down to the empty beach, warmly lit by the dawning sun. Never loose ones’ childlike enthusiasms.

Incredible scenery, high grey limestone cliffs, streaked red, sore up from the vegetation fringed beach. Big leaved Indian almond trees lean over the newly racked sand. The cliffs remind me so much of the classic Chinese paintings of trees clinging to near vertical rocks. But there again it is the same karstic geology as at the famous Guilin in China, recently visited by Christian and Elizabeth. There they call them “sugarloaf” shaped , here they are called “Dragons teeth” Here that are evergreens and palms clinging to the steep sides rather than pines..

We meet for an adequate buffet breakfast with the rest of the world, young Swedish families, middle aged French couples, large Russians and diminutive Chinese. Off to explore Railey Beach east and west, there are upwards of twelve small cabana style and low rise 4 star hotels squashed together on a broad sand spit between two towering cliffs, and one five star high security ghetto. the Rayavadee Resort. We are on the sandy sun setting west beach, the funky cafes are on the muddy mangrove spotted west beach.

I am attempting to control my beach combing urge to pick up and collect bits, just cowrie shell fragments for Margaret’s tassels and a few choice pieces of tropical driftwood, found a lovely small well worn teak plank which would make a lovely chopping board, utility is the new thing, the justification. No more tropical seedpods, coral fragments, grotesque pebbles

A simple lunch then I explore Phra Nang beach with its caves, spirit houses, full of totemic penises.

Much hilarity as couples photograph each other in front on them, one is four foot high. After much discussion we settle on a fish meal.

Off on a day trip to the Five Islands just off the coast inc Poda Island, Tup Island, Si Island, Taming Island. Thirty five tourists packed like immigrants into a noisy long tail boat, we visit beautiful if very crowded island beaches, then some good snorkelling. The coral is surviving, lots of fragments of dead stag horn coral but plenty of lumpen brain corals, blue coral, and plate like mushroom coral. Plenty of fish, including long nosed square damsel fish, some with brown and silver a stripes, others speckled with black faces and brown tails, and butterfly fish with black and yellow vertical strips and flowing dorsal fin.

Swim on Poda Island in the clearest of aquamarine water looking out to the teeth like mountains of Railley and little islands in between, a “hold the moment” in the butterfly net of memory. So un buddhist.

Maybe we should have hired our own boat to avoid the crowds as Christian suggested. Always difficult when two or more are gathered together to make decisions .

But the islands are beautiful, covered in lush green trees and tall palms, they sprout up out of the blue sea, some just pillars of rock with green hair. Others with surrounding white sandy beaches, a true holiday brochure cliche. Some of the cliffs are littered with long stalactites

Sitting on our balcony with the six o’clock beer, Margaret is having white wine. It overlooks the pool with the sea in the distance. I really must start my “hotel room with a view” series of watercolours. I am falling into the trap of “less of more” rather than “more of less” and photographing rather than looking. Must redo that collage of camera lenses replacing faces .

Spectacle monkeys in the trees, macaque monkeys round the corner. Off for fish bbq at the beach side restaurant, we have to buy wine and beer at a local shop, the hotel does not serve alcohol. getting closer to Muslim part of Thailand with its secessionist tendencies. The Australian woman in L-P said that the Malayasians were massing troops on the border and immediately the Thai King dies and Thailand sinks into civil war between the urban reds and the royalist yellows they will invade. Their view is that the two southern islamic provinces were originally part of the Malay states and the English gave them to Thailand.

A final beer sitting on mats on the lamp lit beach watching the stars. Thursday

Early morning walk to Phranang Beach, walking into a living cliche of a holiday experience, a totally empty soft white sandy beach, [no litter or seaweed] fringed by vivid green mangrove trees overhanging the sand. Clear calm blue sea stretching away to the thumbs of rock jutting out of the sea.

Off on another trip, this time by speed boat to the two islands of Kho Phi Phi via Yung and Bamboo Islands. Elizabeth and Christian could not face another day on a crowded boat to crowded beaches. I had lovely snorkels in the warm womb like sea, alone with Multicoloured Parrot Fish, pinks, yellow greens and pale blue, Irridescent greeny blue wrasse with their yellow cycle tails, half and half fish, front light rear dark, thin fish light underneath and dark on top with 3 pairs of 2 white spots, like a domino. And always accompanied by shoals of inquisitive Sergeant Major fish, alternate yellow silver and black vertical stripes..

Pleasant lunch in a large industrial size cafeteria in the back streets of Phi Phi town. Now horribly spoilt with large boat loads of visitors being disgorged into tatty cafe and tourist tat shops of “local “ crafts. It has been “Benidormed”, a result of poor and corrupt planning following its virtual destruction by the Tsunami in 2004.

The iconic Maya Bay of DiCaprio fame was drowning under tourist speed boats, the beach looked like a refugee centre with scores of people waiting to escape the island. Perhaps in the face of islamic puritans moving up from the south. Swam to a charming little bay to the right of the main bay where people had made piles of rocks into cones, like primitive Buddhas, to please the spirits of this beautiful bay. Extra ordinary the power of a film to “justify’ a place

Back in 45 minutes, 40 kms!

Now sitting watching the sun set over the Andaman Sea, bikinis and bums, Swedish and Italian.

Next time I go on a sea side holiday I must get an Admiralty chart , the local tourist maps are quite appalling, and a map on an iPhone is not really the real thing.

Came across an article by Kurt Andersen in the New York Washington Post on the 1990’s the best decade ever when we had cell phones but not smart phones “we were not over connected or tyrannised by our devices. Social media had not yet made social life both manically non stop and attenuated”. Tell that to the female members of the family, Facebooking and

Back to my favourite beach Phranang, after watching the sun rises Nut like from the sea. Only time one is aware of the earth whirling through space. This time I have my camera, the beach is empty as the rising sun hits the sides of the sheer cliffs. I swim across to one of the sugar loaves, to find another cave of piled stones. A magic place up there with the empty Penang beach.

Now on the ferry steaming down to Ko Lanta in a rather overcrowded ferry, packed with backpacks and suitcases. We had to carry our cases across the sand into the sea to load them on to long tail boats, then out to the ferry. Luckily crew loaded the cases. Now half way though a two hour trip, poor Margaret is feeling ill, and Elizabeth faintly sea sick, The joys of Travelling.

Survive the scrum as we disembark, Elizabeth finds a taxi and off to Pearl Beach Resort. You win some and you loose some, we seriously lost this one. Small simple cabins, more a caravan site in New Brighton. No swimming pool with a sea a soup of little jelly fish with the occasional pale blue dinner plate. A concrete bathroom with no hot tap to the basin. Just two sockets for the TV and Fridge, so what about our four chargers and M’s hairdryer. Four bare energy saving bulbs in the ceiling. But at least the ac works though it is not that hot.

A short walk through litter to a ramshackle cafe bar. Oh dear, mutual recriminations and the Dewitts incandescent with criticisms. Margaret puts a very positive brave face and I think it is rather fun. But do worry when others are not happy.

Supper on a windy beach and an early night

Valentines Day dawns and I get up at 6.30 for the empty beach and an explore down Long Beach, many cowrie shells so have the idea of a shell heart for M, find a nice bit of drift wood and off we go. Find some flowers and wake M at 8.30, she is feeling better. The word “porcelain” is derived from the old Italian word for cowerie shell ‘porcellana’.

Breakfast fine though the Dewitts find fault with the fruit juice, it is not fresh!

We hire a taxi and set off the explore the Island. An hours long tail boat around the mangrove swamps, all rather Indiana Jones, narrow muddy waterways with thick mangrove roots and trees either side, crabs and mud skipper fish. “Attacked” by monkeys after the food the boatman gives them, they leap into the boat much to the consternation of the girls. Lunch in the rather charming Old Town of Ko Lanta. Margaret shops for bags, presents she assures us. A swim on Kantiang Bay on the south of the island, where we should have gone. Rockier coast with smaller bays and better developments, so much less tatty than the older north where we are. For example “Same Same but Different” beach side restaurant, next to the smart but very pleasant Pimalai Resort and Spa. Very similar to the development pattern of Phuket.

The gardens of the hotel had an excellent example of the Monkey Ladder Vine, Entada phaseoloides, much loved by interior decorators in London. It has the longest bean pod and the large seeds are known as Sea Harts or Snuff Box Sea Bean. I remember finding them while beach combing in Kenya, only just threw them away when moving. Had them in a large glass jar next to one full of shells, and another with fossils, and another with rocks, or rather geological specimens. Must see “World Guide to Tropical Drift Seeds and Fruits” by Charles Gunn and J.V. Dennis, also www.beachbeans.com for drift seed collectors. Oh the joy of Google.

Every evening the mango trees next to our room are invaded by a troop of charming Dusky Langur monkeys with their distinctive white circles around their eyes. They are often called spectacle monkeys

Glue M’s heart and make a Magritte meets Shells collaged face which I give to the bar.

Now tuesday morning sitting under a Tamarisk tree with a cool breeze overlooking the aquamarine Andaman sea, unfortunately with a number of sunbathers in the foreground, all bikinis and Marcel t shirts. The others are having a Thai massage in the adjoining shack. The coast on Long Beach is dominated by these shackeries, bamboo with palm frond bars, massage parlours and mini marts, with small bungalow developments behind, all very funky. Margaret loves it but Elizabeth and Christian are none to sure. A day “at leisure” with a mid afternoon two hour taxi to Krabi Airport, having checked out not easy to do anything except chill. Somehow or other my suitcase just gets heavier, now 20 kilos, and have not bought anything unlike dear Margaret.

Sunday we took a longtail boat snorkling around the Island of Koh Ha all to ourselves. Identified Regal Angelfish, Redtail Butterfly fish, Moon Wrasse, Bicolour Parrot fish, Neon Damsel, Two Spot Snapper, Marbled Sea Cucumber, Blue Sea Star starfish , Crown of Thorn starfish, lobster, softshell crabs and the ubiquitous Sergeant Majorfish. Then two hours

fishing where Christian and I caught one each and the boatman and assistant caught 12. They were much pleased as it was enough to feed two families.

We are very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the hotel restaurant, lightly cooked barracuda and excellent fish and chips Thai style.

Hire a taxi to take us to the National Park at the southern tip of the island of Ko Lanta. A lovely forest walk through the jungle past magnificent tall trees with massive buttressed trunks, prickly rattan palms and big dark sugar palm with their massive fronds. total lack of birds but saw a little flying lizard and a larger monitor lizard. The flying lizard, it actually glides, is a Draco of the genus agamid and is called locally a flying dragon.

The cliche Bamboo beach with its bar and white empty beach is deemed unsuitable because the low tied has exposed dark rocks, the thing the hotel brochures fail to show. Have lunch at the gloriously named “Samesame but Different”, named after a popular Thai expression. To a higher beach bar standard we have rather a lot of beer and I again play safe with fried noodles with shrimps, Pad Thai, makes a change from Kao Pad, fried rice with chicken. Margaret has Tom Yum Nam Sai, chilli paste clear soup with fish, Elizabeth has a very disappointing Tom, Kha Kai, coconut milk soup with chicken and slices of galanga, Christian has a sweet and sour. Top of the range bungalow hotel next door, all very landscaped and spread out under mature tress and coconut palms. Find that crinkly creeper or vine, lengths

of which are so popular in England, placed in a large bowl, it has the most extraordinary seed pod, I find an example. Details later.

Serious cocktails at the bar , served by a sweet Ukranian girl Jana and a slightly mad barman. A loud American girl appears, she teaches English in Shanghai, with two men, one from San Francisco is an amateur DJ, recommends the cover group “Caravan Palace”. He works for the city in the recycling dept. Jana recommends Chicken Penang Curry Pizza.

Tuesday
Regular early morning beachcomber and swim with the joggers and walkers, cool and calm

with the sun rising over the hill behind. Float and try to concentrate on the clouds and sky and sound of the sea lapping against my ears, but mind keeps wandering and wondering, the last swim. The end of one adventure is just the start of the next! A Mynar bird is chirping furiously under my bamboo table as I write this, then a long thin tamarisk leaf falls on the keyboard. Lunch of fish and chips at the hotel before taxi via two ferries to Krabi International Airport, where I am now sitting. On my final paddle and beach comb found some calcareous operculum, trap doors, from turban shells. they small round attractive “shells” with rounded cats eye or eye of shiva on one side and flat golden mean spiral pattern on the other. [Fibonacci spiral]

Said farewell to the warm welcoming sea, the home of Poseidon.

Uneventful flight to Bangkok where we arrive just in time to meet Andre and Jacqueline Diss and their friend Jean Marc in the bar of our lovely Sukhothai hotel where the lovely and beautifully efficient Tippie had upgraded us to a larger room with a balcony.

A day at leisure, or rather retail, first for more bags with Jacqueline at Silom Village then to the massive market shop MBK, hundreds of small stalls selling electronic bits, predominately i-phone covers and connectors and selfie sticks for i-phones, the total rage. A swim in the hotel pool, packing the two new wheelies by Tom Smith M bought, she had actually arranged for an extra bags each on our return flight!

Very good meal at Camilla’s recommended “Never Ending Summer” restaurant, taxi to Sheraton Orhid then charming little ferry across the Chao Paya River to Klongsan Pier then to a converted warehouse with restaurant, architects office trendy cafe book shop and interior decorating shop. It is part of architect Duangrit Bunnag’s Jam Factory development. Quality stuff, simple design, well made with local wood, and slight reference to local style, more global fusion than ethnic revival. Start with cocktails, I have very interesting Bourbon infused in ginger with cinnamon. Then “Titbits wrapped in Betel leaves and Sweet Fish Sauce” , cones of green leaves kept tight with circles of red chilli into which you put onion, garlic, peanuts, chilli, dried shrimps and sauce, followed by Fried Vegetable Spring Rolls, spicy soup with mackerel, whole little fish in a clear soup with lemon grass and ginger, then stored fried glass noodles and mackerel fried rice. With a bottle of Italian red at Bht 1,400 the bill was Bht 3,586. A great meal to leave on.

Quick visit to the night market on Patpong where M found her Chanel i-phone cover for the i-phone 6, very happy indeed.What was once a notorious street full of girly bars and prostitutes, as visited by me nearly 40 years ago, is now a family night market with a few tame pole dancing bars and “smoking pussy” sleaze shows with pimps embarrassing western couples with a typed list of things the girls can do with ping pong balls etc. It even has its own web site www.patponglive.com

Early rise for last “Best Breakfast In Town” before taxi to airport where we are told the flight is overbooked so would we accept £125 each to fly Thai which leaves two hours later, a no brainer. Now just flown over Cox’s Bazaar and Kolkata in Bangladesh after lunch red wine and seat room. So much nicer then dear BA. Time to London 945 hours.

Things to buy!
GoPro camera price Bht 14,000 to 16,555 and 13500 at airport Tisot Altitude watch for Bht 32,000, £720 Kings Road Photofast Flash Drive for $155 on plane

Lifetrons Pro Travel Photo Lense System $85, see also Olloclip 4in1 at £70. Now must spell check the Diary of 7,035 words. Must workout how to insert photos.

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One comment
Free Stuff November 7, 2019 at 10:23 am

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5 comments:

This is great! I will look this up before eating anywhere new to have an idea of what I may encounter. Hey, have you tried Ponderosa?

anonymous: no.. i haven't tried Ponderosa.. what kind of food is it?

Wow, An excellent food site. I will definitely recommend visitors to Taipei to view your site prior to their trips.

wow now thats a lovely hidden gems here ! while asking Mister Google, if he can tell me anything about WESTERN BREAKFAST IN TAIPEI, I was guided to this wonderful website.
with the plethora of information given here, I doubt I will have to buy any other travel guide ^_^

I actually like Asian food a lot (as a European living in Asia, that would be a sad living here otherwise, but even after 4 years I am unable to make any compromises when it comes to a decent MORNING COFFEE (the real thing, not the Nescafe-rubbish).

will have to print out a lot of pages from here me thinks, and who knows, maybe will skip the usual sights in TPE and instead go on a culinary spree (and smash the scale at my home in Bangkok before leaving, so to avoid the truth after returning).

thanks for the great work !

ajeet: thanks so much
wolfinAsia: thanks! one of the most popular western breakfast in taipei is probably the Diner, you should give it a try the next time you visit


A Month in Chiang Rai: What to do? Week One

Things to do in and around Chiang Rai: 30 full days of activities

Many tourists think that they can ‘do’ Chiang Rai in two days. Let me outline some of the wonderful and exciting activities that will keep you entertained for a whole month.

Chiang Rai is cooler, cleaner, quieter, safer and cheaper than Bangkok. It is ideally suited for exploring The Golden Triangle and as a base for forays into Myanmar and Laos. It is 780km (484 miles) NE of Bangkok, 180km (112 miles) NE of Chiang Mai and some 60km south of the border with Myanmar.

Many tours sourced in Chiang Mai and Bangkok actually come to Chiang Rai Province. Why not stay here, instead? In terms of action, we don’t have a great deal of nightlife. We are a quiet and sleepy town. Actually, I am not certain that we are sleepy: I think we are secretive.

Tourists come here to relax, as well as to enjoy art, craft, nature, archaeology, trekking, caving, rafting, X-treme sports and many different traditional hill-tribe cultures.

There are three seasons: the hot season from March to May, the rainy season from May to October and the cool season from November to February. In the cool season, the temperature can drop to 13 C at night.

Several airlines fly into the local airport. If you are coming from overseas, it is possible to transfer in Bangkok for a short direct flight.

There are modern hospitals, including Overbrook and Siriburin. Chiang Rai is a major centre, servicing a population well in excess of 200,000 people. Here you will find traditional markets as well as supermarkets.

Please note that 2012 is the 750th anniversary celebration of the founding of Chiang Rai and will be an excellent time to visit. Activities start on the 26th of January and will continue throughout the year.

Many accommodations in Thailand have a strange speciality called ‘long-stay’. This means that it can cost you less to stay for a whole month than it will cost you to stay for two weeks. Prices and premises vary, of course. Here in Chiang Rai, if you know what you are doing, you can get a ‘long-stay’ deal for about 6,000BHT, which includes electricity, Thai TV, and Thai wireless internet. That’s about $200 a month. So, Chiang Rai is cheaper: it is also quieter, cooler, safer and cleaner than Bangkok.

Here are 30 days of activities. This is an imaginary itinerary for the armchair traveller.

You arrive in Chiang Rai at your accommodation.

First, soak up the ambience.

What to do for the next 30 days?

You most probably don’t speak Thai. This will result in some frustration for you at times, and terrify the Thai you are speaking to, if they do not speak English. This is called Fear of Farang. Keep calm and cool. Speak very slowly. Smile a lot. Be strategic: your host or hostess will no doubt speak very reasonable English and can smooth most of the pitfalls in your path. They can negotiate with people: they can write directions down in Thai for you: they can phone on your behalf.

A very, very useful book to read before you come is Culture Shock: a Guide to Customs and Etiquette: Thailand, by Robert and Nanthapa Cooper. Wai to go.

Get to know the city and get a feel for where you want to go again. Take an overview tour on your first day: either a professional tour or a zip around by tuk-tuk or hire car. Just do a drive-by: you don’t want too much detail at this stage. Initially, you will think Chiang Rai rather lacks ambience. Eventually, you will come to love it. Acquired tastes give the greatest pleasures. We are a city of secret delights.

A drive-by tour of the city centre and its main focal points does not really require a licensed guide. A chauffeur-driven car or a tuk-tuk should really come in under 2,000BHT for a full day, because you are not travelling a great distance out of town and you will be spending some time lunching and shopping. Ultimately, it will depend on your bargaining skills. A car is really preferable to a tuk tuk: otherwise everything wizzes past you backwards and you will be more confused than you were before. Get your itinerary ready: mark the places you want to see on the map, and you’re ready to go. Explain that you want to go slowly and that you want the places you have marked on the map to be pointed out to you. See if you can add a stop @ Doi Khao Kwai (Buffalo Horn Hill), to the west of the old airport, for a panoramic view.

Concentrate on the New Clock Tower and the Old Clock Tower as orientation points. The Kok River runs across the city to the north of the centre. There are three bridges across the river in the CBD: my especial favourite is the New Bridge, with its fantastic golden decorations and baby elephant bastions.

Another orientation point is King Mengrai the Great’s Monument. Backed by three giant golden tungs (vertical Lanna flags), it is situated at the starting point of Highway 110, which leads north to Mae Chan, Chiang Saen and Mae Sai. Stop, make offerings, buy souvenirs, take photographs. Give thanks for your safe arrival.

You might also want to find out where the Post Office is. You will probably want to use their services at some time during your stay. They also provide Poste Restante: always check whether your mail has been filed under your surname or your first name. The building is slightly depressing. Don’t go at lunchtime: you might have to wait 10 minutes. You get a number, etc. They provide one really useful additional service, as do most post offices in Thailand: you can have your parcels wrapped for you downstairs for a small additional cost. Few tourists travel with cardboard, scissors and tape. However, postage is quite expensive and you may have to find an alternative way to send your souvenirs home. The main Post Office is upstairs. Although Thais drive on the left, they like to go up stairs on the right-hand side: arrows mark the way.

Also, it is a good idea to locate the local TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) office, @ 448/16 Singhakhlai Road, 8:30-16:30. Here you can get free brochures, maps and information. Stop here briefly.

All freely available maps of Chiang Rai (CR) are dreadful. I don’t care what anyone says. I am, of course, very happy that other people are happy with the maps: I myself am not happy. Regarding the many maps I have tried to use, I am not happy for the following reasons:

The print is usually too small, even with spectacles. Carrying a large magnifying glass around is simply impractical. Orientation varies: personally, I like north to be north: call me old-fashioned, but there we are. The streets are occasionally not named at all, or only a few of them are, and sometimes they are only named in Thai script.

There is very little on the maps regarding the city north of the river.

I bought 2 commercial maps when I arrived. One was not satisfactory: the better one is a bilingual map of Chiang Rai: go to the front counter @ The Hill Tribe Museum in the heart of the CBD and purchase a copy immediately. It is topographical on one side, with the city on the other, and it is definitely the best map available. You will save yourself much grief and confusion if you do so. Trust me. It is produced by Thai Panit. It’s not perfect, but it’s very much okay. (I think I am losing the use of my mother tongue. This starts to happen after only a few days.)

For touring, you can’t go past the excellent Budget Car Rental maps, which are free to download off the Web in English, French or German: http://www.budget.co.th/travel_worldclass.aspx, although a magnifying glass will help here also.

Working out where you are in Thailand can be confusing. It took me a long time to find out exactly where I lived, and perusing Google Earth did not help. Why is it so hard? One of the reasons is that Thailand has a completely different address system to the west. There’s no consistent town-planning system. You don’t have 15 Smith Street, Smithsville. Oh, no. Oh, goodness me, no. Numbers are allocated, it seems, when the structure is built. So numbers 15 and 512 might be adjacent. So, if you decide you want to go to a particular place, make a note of the phone number as well as the address. Your driver can then have long impassioned discussions with someone on the other end of the line regarding the exact location.

If you arrived by plane rather than bus, find the Old Bus Station: you’ll be taking several trips around the Province from here. I love the decrepit old buses: of course, you can go on the VIP ones, but the vintage monoliths are for me, with their windows tied up with twine. The school bus runs in the afternoon are best.

Have coffee @ Doi Chaang Coffee shop: you’ll return many times for coffee and sweet treats and to read the newspapers. They even sell, as a speciality sideline, civet coffee: Kopi Luak (If you don’t know what that is, don’t ask.) Educate yourself about peaberries, and see if the cafe has some coffee-flower honey for sale. Doi Chang is a success story based on a constructive relationship between entrepreneurs from overseas and local coffee growers: read their inspirational tale at http://www.doichaangcoffee.com. The quality of your cup of coffee can vary at times, but you really come here for the atmosphere, the papers, the food and the facilities. They have a nice garden courtyard and good toilets. These two things are rare in the CBD.

Sort out your mobile phone arrangements. The staff at 7/11 is amazingly helpful. Look confused, hand over the phone with some baht, and see what happens. (300BHT is a good figure to start with.)

Have an extended lunch somewhere wonderful. Things change so rapidly, and people’s preferences are so different, I don’t really want to recommend anything at this stage, but for you, research is part of the pleasure of travelling. Isn’t it? Let your driver go for an hour or 2: you both have mobile phones. Ring him when he is required.

Then, after lunch, get some supplies.

Go to the local markets for a look round. In the future, when you go again on a regular basis, go early, if you can, for the freshest ingredients.

The most useful denominations in the market are coins and 20BHT notes. The vendors use our numeric system and many have calculators: they will flash the price up on the screen for you to see. Sometimes in desperation I just hand over a 50BHT note and see what happens next. I have always been treated with exquisite courtesy and total honesty. My Thai friends will sometimes barter a few satang off the price of a piece of pumpkin, but I prefer not to. Besides, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

This is where you will find Chiang Rai confusing.

The markets are all over the place.

The main Municipal Market in the centre of town is TA-LAT Sod TESBAN.

One of the ways you can gain access to it is off the street running between the 2 clock towers. There are mountains of brassieres, a good variety of cheap shoes (few of which last more than 2 weeks) and some ‘chemist’ shops, with unusual soaps. There are some interesting products: at my advanced age, I no longer need ‘Bust Boom’: it’s happened already and is out of control.

For people who have trouble sleeping, it is very, very difficult to get sleeping tablets in Thailand, other than herbal ones, which have as much effect on me as a butterfly brush. At one of the pharmacies in the market you can purchase over the counter the anti-histamine Chlorpheniramine. (Please note: there’s an excellent new pharmacy which has just opened near the New Clock Tower.)

The municipal market is divided into distinct sections. There’s clothing, shoes, meat, etc. The Muslim stall has the best beef but it is really only good for stewing. This protein area is best viewed in the early morning, or perhaps not at all.

You need to wander around quite a bit to find the section you want. My basket lady is to the north just off the Song Teo parking bay, which is called Tha Rot Noi (terminus for Song Teo people carriers). She sells exquisite colourful hand-woven baskets made from spliced plastic packing tape which I adore. I also like the spice and seed section. If you intend to visit a hill-tribe, and are not too judgemental, you will find in the spice section small resin blocks about the size of a Mars Bar for sale, red-black in colour, which superficially appear to have been chewed by rats, in that their surfaces are irregular. I suspect these are made of betel-nut resin. Whatever they are, some elderly people in remote areas value them immensely. In the central part of the market there is a special stall where you can purchase fresh coconut cream as it pours out of a small machine.

Having wandered about the market, you will say to yourself, where is the fruit? The vegetables? The flowers?

Okay, exiting the covered market to the north, you will find a succession of vegetable sellers on the pavement along both sides of Uttarakit Street, west of the Old Clock Tower. Here you buy your vegetables. Cabbage, lettuce, garlic, onions, potatoes, ginger, etc.

For fruit and flowers, you need to take a samlor or tuk-tuk to Tha-lat Sirikhon, which is not that far. It is east-south-east of the New Clock Tower. Come home with bags of fresh seasonal fruits in all their glorious profusion and colour. Fill vases with flowers.

If it is durian season, and you have an iPod, you might like to Thai a little experiment. Look up U-Tube for a fascinating video which will show you how to use this fruit to charge your iPod: later you can eat the durian itself. What I want to know is, will the fruit then be lower in calories?

As I am not tech-savy, this is the only way I know how to recommend a video on U-Tube: look up its title: ‘iPod recharged using durian . recommended How to. ’ MOST interesting. Durian, however, is a taste I have not acquired, and the smell is something else again. I bought some in the supermarket the other day for my Thai friends: forgot about it, and kept wondering how I seemed to smell of fresh cow manure. I kept checking my shoes.

Go to the major supermarkets if you need to: Big C and Central Plaza (Tops). Big C has a wide range of goods of all kinds: Tops is more about food. Be careful: Central Plaza (Tops) does not open until 11 on weekdays: (11 – 9 on weekdays, and 10 - 9 on weekends). Tops will also deliver to your door free if you buy above a certain amount and fill out some paperwork. I also recommend The Royal Project Shop at the Plaza, because it is a worthy cause. They have great shampoo (it’s hard to find a good shampoo in Thailand for farang hair): the essential oils are not so good: in fact, they are a complete waste of time. The vegetables are great. They sell huge potatoes but potatoes in Thailand are rather strange. They tend to be soggy. They look wonderful, but they do not deliver. A special treat: the Bubalos Feta, made from the milk of water buffaloes.

There are some other traditional markets, but that is enough for you at the moment.

Wine is a problem. I think grape wine is taxed at a flat rate of 176.5% and an interior tax of 21.2%, with additional import duties on foreign wines: therefore ‘even the cheapest bottle of wine will set you back over 500 baht’. This IS changing, slowly. You will therefore find that wine in the supermarkets is of variable quality and rather expensive. White cask wine does not travel well. There is a drinkable red cask wine @ Tops called Kiss my Kangaroo. Goodness knows who came up with a name like that. Big C has an equally quaffable Peter Vella cask red. You will soon come to like drinking your wine with ice.

The only reasonably priced and drinkable local wine which surfaces @ Big C occasionally is Siam Winery’s Naga range, but it is often unavailable. Alternatively, you could make a trip out to the local Mae Chan Winery, 30 kms north of CR, which specialises in shiraz. Look up their website to see the scale of this sophisticated modern attraction: http://www.maechanwinery.com

I tried a 2009 Sawasdee Shiraz purchased out of town @ Rai Boonrand the other day: 350 BHT, PB Valley, estate bottled by Khao Yai Winery @ Nakhonratchasima. Hey, this is a seriously interesting wine. It can handle ice-blocks and Asian food, the brave little creature. It’s complex and full-bodied: 13.5% alcohol. I really recommend it. The owner, Dr. Piya Bhirombhakdi, was once the President of Singha Beer: he is a visionary and I believe he will go on to do great things with Thai wine in the future.

Personally, I try to avoid some of the longan, lychee, strawberry and mulberry wines produced elsewhere in the mountains. I am sure they are very good for you indeed. I am not quite ready to be good yet.

Chiang Rai Winery’s fruit and herbal wines are a possible exception, but are not for the serious wine-lover. However, you may well enjoy a visit to their premises in Mae Suai, to the south. The place is way off in the midst of paddies and orchards and is quite hard to find. When you finally arrive, you have to walk across a narrow bamboo bridge about 20 metres long which has seen better days, perhaps in medieval times. If you are very heavy unsure on your feet or a Nervous Nellie, this place is not for you.

The distilled Mangosteen Wine is 40% proof: also try Black Ginger/Ginseng wine and an excellent sweet Tokay, made from the herb Elephantopus Scaber Linn: [email protected] The Tokay, goes rather well with Bubalos Buffalo Feta cheese. The red Mangosteen wine is disappointing if you are used to full-bodied reds. Another product of interest is White Kwao Kreu Wine, with natural estrogenic properties helpful to middle-aged females. A case of this is a good idea, but there is no way I can get it across the bridge. I am eagerly awaiting a low calorie version. They also have a medicinal tonic to boost immune systems threatened by HIV and cancer.

The wine shop at Chiang Rai airport is very good: grab some supplies if you are arriving by air. There is a grog shop in Phanolyothin Road, on the right as you walk south from Doi Chaang Coffeeshop and towards Da Vinci’s Restaurant: this shop also sells a range of cigars.

If you are invited to a party by your Thai friends, they seem to like red wine. Indeed, they like it so much, you might need to take more than one bottle. Of course, their very favourite gift is a bottle of expensive whiskey. Regarding duty-free on your arrival, the authorities look on wine and whiskey as being exactly the same, and you are only allowed to bring in one bottle of alcohol.

Your tuk-tuk driver will quite happily stop at a wayside stall on the way home for you to purchase beer and bags of ice. Remember: Thailand has some rather strange laws regarding alcohol. You can only purchase alcohol during certain hours, unless you buy 10 litres, which is considered wholesale, and this amount can be purchased at any time. To add to this fascinating regulatory mix, national bans regarding the sale of alcohol for the next day or two might be introduced overnight without warning, for a variety of reasons. Stock up.

Da Vinci’s Deli: hard to find (it’s at the back of the restaurant of the same name, up a laneway and to the right slightly: 879/13 Phaholyothin Road) is good for special treats, such as roast beef, apple cider, cheese and pork pies. Don’t put the pork pies in a plastic bag at the bottom of your basket, unless you enjoy eating pastry in the form of minute crumbs. This pastry is so delicate that the slightest shock shatters it. It is delicious. Open daily 8 am to 6 pm (except Sunday): www.friendlyfarm.asia

The people behind the two restaurants, Ayes and Da Vinci’s, and The Deli, are Hans and Aye Verschuur and family, who run their farms using permaculture principles: organic, free-range, and aquaculture.

You will find several major Western food franchises here in CR, although the quality varies. After all, why come a thousand miles to eat what you can find in your own town? However, I have mentioned these farang delicacies because Thai cuisine is everywhere: you don’t have to seek it out. Rarely is a Thai more than an arm’s-length away from a source of food.

A quick note on tuk-tuks and the blue people-movers: occasionally in Chiang Rai you will come across a driver who tries to take advantage of you: this can happen anywhere in Thailand. I have only met 1 in 4 months, but, hey, who wants to meet one at all?

I really miss the excellent service provided by Best Tuk Tuk Tours in Chiang Mai: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Best-Tuk-Tuk-Tours/. It is very rare to find a guide in Thailand with two mother tongues, so to speak: English and Thai. So, in Chiang Mai (CM), if you utilise this service, you will be able to have a full-on dialogue about what you are seeing, from a farang point of view. No such creature exists in CR.

The best thing in CR is to find a tuk-tuk driver you like, ask for his business card, and develop a good working relationship. Please be courteous: don’t expect your favoured tuk-tuk driver to be available to drive you at all hours of the day and night and on weekends. They have families, too. Some of the younger ones are studying at night. You will generally find a tuk-tuk near the Edison Department Store, south of the Doi Chaang Coffee Shop east-south-east of the New Clock Tower.

I wonder what the collective noun for a collection of tuk-tuks might be? A trouble of tuk-tuks? A tranche? A tumult? A trundle?

I have recommended some tuk-tuk drivers below. Note that they go in and out of the trade frequently: it is not an easy way to make a living, so the phone numbers won’t last long. They don’t really speak any English, so there is no point whatsoever in ringing them up out of the blue and saying ‘Please collect me @ the following resort at 1 pm and I want to go to the museum.’ This will result in hysterics by both parties. You could, of course, ask a Thai-speaking person to ring on your behalf.

Mr Somnuek (pronounced something like Som-nuk, with the ‘u’ in ‘nuk’ sounding like the English ‘but’. He is very pleasant, reliable and honest. If he quotes you a price, it is the right price. Sometimes, when I give him what I think is the appropriate fare, he insists on giving some of it back. 084-6105273. More than a fair fare.

Manat Kuakool: and he is definitely ‘kool’. Young: an organiser: a bit of an entrepreneur: 085-0290457. Brooklyn Bridge, anyone?

Anuchat Wankaew: 084-1763-886

Once you have developed a good working relationship with the tuk-tuk driver of your choice, you can negotiate an hourly rate. Personally, I am happy to pay 200BHT per hour around town. Be nice to your tuk-tuk driver: they can make your life a whole lot easier.

Or why not have a private half or full-day’s speciality shopping with Mrs Amdaeng in her comfortable airconditioned twin cab with safety belts, and CD? [email protected] You will be chauffeured in style and she will bargain on your behalf. Khun Amdaeng specialises in shopping: she is not a guide, nor does she speak more than a few words of English: her clientele are usually Hi-So (High Society) ladies from Bangkok. It’s nice to have a woman take you around and to bargain for you. I think she has some Rottweiler in her genetic makeup. Just kidding: she’s a delight: if you want to go on a shopping spree, she is the lady for you. I declare an interest: I enjoyed my trip so much I have encouraged her to employ a translator to handle email enquiries from prospective farang clients.

Some of the more entrepreneurial tuk-tuks have contacts regarding chauffer-driven cars for hire. I would not like to drive myself, but you are perhaps more adventurous. Bring your International Drivers License with you and take out a large insurance policy at the same time. Bicycles, mountain bikes, scooters and motorbikes are available. Each to their own.

A note on health: DO be careful and take out insurance. Recently a woman fell down some stairs @ a temple and is in an induced coma in intensive care. She had insurance, but not enough. We always think it won’t happen to us, but sometimes it does.

If I were really flush, I’d hire the helicopter based in Chiang Mai to come and pick me up and take me for a tour over the mountains. Now THAT would be the trip of a lifetime. It’s a six-seater: www.advanceaviation.co.th

While wandering around near the New Clock Tower, buy a beautiful, brightly coloured handmade hammock at the Fair Trade Store on the southern side of the street, east of the Clock Tower (700BHT). It might come in handy. I would also buy a water bottle carrier: you are going to need one.

Go in the evening (after 4 pm) to the area called Kaad Luang, near the Old Clock Tower, for cooked food to take away. Everything comes in plastic bags tied up with rubber bands. It’s a good idea to travel with a small pair of scissors. Thais are adept at removing rubber bands from plastic bags containing hot food, but I think most farangs (foreigners) are not. You will return home with a veritable feast. In season, the large fried red fish coated in salt are excellent. Thais usually share these, but farangs will want one each. This region loves sticky rice: make sure you get some of it, wrapped in banana leaves.

Right, you are now ready. Your mobile phone is organised, you have had a quick overview tour of the city, you have had coffee @ Doi Chaang, you have had lunch at a restaurant of your choice (or street food), you have been shopping and now you have supplies. Sit back, have a cold drink, and read a good book. You have everything to look forward to. You might want to test that hammock.

The following activities are organised in no particular order. You don’t want to overdose on any one particular activity, so each day try to mix a trip to the market with a visit to a temple coffee @ a coffee-shop, a swim at one of the exclusive resorts (user pays) and then an excursion somewhere, followed by dinner.

Wats. The temples are magnificent. Do some research beforehand regarding the individual wats: it will make your visit so much more interesting. Make sure you take off your shoes at the bottom of the stairs that you don’t have an offensive slogan on your T-shirt you are modestly dressed, and you don’t step on the piece of wood across the doorway. If you are a woman, never touch or give anything to a monk directly. It is good manners to put a 20BHT note in the donations box, should you come across one.

Start with Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong.

Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong is on a lone hill (Jom Thong) above the banks of the River Kok, overlooking the town from the north west. It incorporates an ancient pagoda which predates the founding of Chiang Mai. It is also the site for the omphalos (navel) of the City, Sadue Mueang. The main pillar is surrounded by 108 satellite pillars mounted around six-tiered concentric circles that radiate around it, representing the six lower levels of heaven. Those little squares of gold pasted on various pillars are real gold leaf.

The omphalos is right at the very top of the hill. A discerning visitor will immediately sense something strange about the antiquity of this omphalos, and they will be quite right. It was built to commemorate the 725th anniversary of the city and King Bhumibol's 60th birthday, only 25 years ago. Such pillar complexes are designed for monarchs using cosmological calculations based on their specific birthdate, so this pillar is not exactly the same as the one in antiquity.

The best way spiritually to encounter this temple is, of course, to actually climb up the steep staircase from Kaisornrasit Road far below. It is too steep for a samlor to reach the mountain top, although tuk-tuks and taxis can do so.

At the top of the hill there is an excellent view out over the river and the city. Walk down the southern side of the hill and amble south and then east to Thanalai Road. Half-way along on the northern side of Thanalai Road you will find P2’s Restaurant.

Lunch: P2’s restaurant in Thanalai Road has a great salad made with assorted fresh mushrooms and lettuce. They also serve steaks. This is where the international football players who play for Chiang Rai United hang out. They are just the most delightful young men: handsome, polite and charming beyond belief. Few traditional Thais drink wine or beer @ lunchtime: if, as a farang on holiday, you require alcoholic refreshment, you might just have to have a quiet chat with your host, and discuss the situation: is BYO better? Talk to him. He is a most obliging man, although he has great difficulty with English. If you do decide on BYO, remember: you can only buy alcohol between 11 and 2. There is a 7/11 about a block east on the same side of the road. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.

Excursion: why not one of the museums? Perhaps you might like to explore your creativity: there are 2 shops selling art supplies just north of the New Clock Tower. Maybe a movie @ Central Plaza? Why not have a complete makeover? New hair-do ($7AUD), facial, manicure and pedicure? Why not, indeed? Now that’s a pretty good range of choices, but I would recommend museums at this stage.

If you have just had lunch in Thanalai Road, it is easy to walk to the following museum first:

The Chiang Rai Province Cultural Hall Museum, across the road from the TAT building on Singhaklai Road, is located in a large white building that has a huge statue of King Mongkut (Rama IV) at the main entrance. It is only a small museum, featuring prehistoric tools, two medieval cannons, costumes, ancient pottery and examples of ancient Lanna literature in the Dhamma script. It also has videos and models, practices which I abhor, but which are common in Thailand. The entry fee is nominal and hours are irregular. It MIGHT be open every Wednesday - Sunday between 8:30 and 15:30: you never know.

Then take a tuk-tuk to the following museum:

Oub Kham Museum, 81/1 Na Khai Road, Tambon Rob Wiang, one kilometre from the centre of town, in a garden setting: 053-713349/ 08-1992-0342. Open daily from 8 to 6 pm. Admission for adults is 300 Baht and for children 200 Baht. It is the creation of Khun Julasak Suriyachai and is named after the 'Oub Kham', a golden bowl used by royalty.

The museum highlights Lanna culture from the north of Thailand, the northwest of Laos, parts of northeast Burma, parts of southwest China and some areas in Dien Bien Fu in Vietnam. On view are Lanna kings' regalia and royal costumes from the 15th century the golden throne of Chiang Tung ritual and religious objects, pottery, processional chairs, textiles, silverwork, peacock fans, wood and bronze statuary, betel sets and lacquerware.

Location: Na Khai Road, about 3km southwest of city centre

Two museums are probably enough for one day. We’ll save the rest for later. These two will have given you some idea of Lanna art and culture.

You have 2 options here for the evening: go up-market and take a tuk-tuk back to town to the Dusit Island Resort Hotel for drinks on the riverside terrace, or go to Pattaya Noi, an informal cluster of thatched bamboo huts which also overlooks the river. Here you can eat and drink to your heart’s content while sitting on mats in a cool fresh breeze.

Why go to the Dusit Island Resort Hotel? Chiang Rai has many faces. You can enjoy some western ambience at one of the premier resorts while investigating the possibility of user-pay facilities you might be interested in using at a later date: like sauna, Jacuzzi, swimming pool, and flood-lit tennis courts. Access arrangements and costs vary from resort to resort: it’s a good idea to start looking now for what you might want in the future.

Take a samlor (rickshaw) from Dusit’s front gate into town to the New Clock Tower, or walk: it’s really not that far. Remember: the New Clock Tower is at the junction of Phaholyothin, Jet Yod and Banpaprakan Roads. Try to say that in a hurry.

Evening: Watch the New Clock Tower’s amazing transformations (son et lumiere): 3 viewings @ 7, 8 and 9 pm. The Tower was built in 2008 to honour His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, and was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, the artist responsible for the White Temple. Keen photographers will want to be @ street level, but you might also enjoy the view with a cocktail from the second storey of the Kaffee Hub, across the road. A new coffee shop has also opened on the north-eastern corner. Chiang Rai is changing rapidly.

Grab something to eat at one of the traditional Thai restaurants west of the New Clock Tower, on the northern side of the street, just before you reach the big 7/11. And/or wander up and down Jet Yod Road before or after dinner, in order to investigate the restaurants, bars and massage parlours. The Teepee Bar, one block further east along the main road, and then just around the corner on the left, is crazy and charming: classic rock and antiques. Perhaps they go really well together?

How about a boat trip and some elephants?

The ferry pier is on the northern side of the Mae Fah Luang Bridge. It’s pretty organized, and life-jackets are issued. The jackets are a bit tatty, but who cares? Boats can be hired between 6 am and 4 pm: boating at night is too dangerous.

A long-tail boat ride along the Mae Kok River to Ruammit (I hour going upriver) and return will cost 700BHT regardless of the number of people on board. This is great fun and highly recommended. You can hire a boat or there are regular departures.

Ruammit is a ‘short-necked’ Karen village, with Lahu, Lisu and Akha villages nearby. There’s a 100 - 200BHT photo-opportunity with a python @ Ruammit, if your inner-Leda is that way inclined.

Sometimes you can see the elephants being bathed in the river and that is just delightful. I personally found the elephant camp depressing, but I am hypersensitive. It is good fun feeding them bananas and sugarcane (20BHT a bag). You can go elephant riding, if you wish: for 1 or more hours, through rice fields, forests and streams. Excursions can be made, by elephant, or by walking, to the two-tiered waterfall @ Hua Mae Sai and to the hot-springs @ Huai Mak Liam. You can swim at the waterfall or take a dip and a foot bath in the Pha Soet Hot Spa near Huai Mak Liam, across from the elephant camp. Thais love their hot springs and they love boiling little eggs in wicker cages in the hot water.

Elephants in general: try to visit the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa and Elephant Camp while you are here. You can also learn to drive an elephant: there are half-hour lessons available, or a 3 day intensive course. This is a top-notch organization, with prices to boot. However, they have some specials this year: check out http://goldentriangle.anantara.com/special-packages.aspx

Extended excursion: You might like to continue up-river from Ruammit by boat to the small village of Tha Ton, to the north-west, which is actually in Chiang Mai province and quite close to the Myanmar border. To go from CR to Tha Ton by boat takes 5 hours going up-river, and 3 hours downriver (times are approximate). So, if you do choose to make this excursion, you need to leave by 10.30 in the morning. If you are visiting during the cool rainy season, that is the time for bamboo rafting back to CR. The river swells with the rains and the rapids can be exhilarating. If you decide to raft downriver, it takes 3 days and 2 nights: Tha Ton Boat Club 053 459427.

Tha Ton also has a monastery, Wat Tha Ton, where they teach Vipassana meditation in English. Within 20 km of Tha Ton you can visit villages inhabited by Pauang, Black Lahu, Akha and Yunnanes. The Akha hill tribe village Ban Lorcha is highly recommended.

Why not spend at least 3 days here in Tha Ton, visiting villages, trekking and rafting? Or 7 days meditating?

Wat Thaton International Meditation Centre (Buddhaleelamahasati Dynamic Vipassana Meditation Retreat): No drop-ins, please. Contact them beforehand. They prefer 14 days notice, will accept reservations by email and like you to re-confirm 3 days before. The minimum stay is 7 days and the maximum is 10. The retreats usually take place early in the month. There is also a Drug Rehabilitation facility. Interpreter: Phra Ratha Mahaviriyo (Vayagool). Email: [email protected]

Dream boat excursions: I am fascinated by the rivers in and around Chiang Rai. I’m still in the planning stage. The trip on a slow boat to Luang Prabang was wonderful. I could perhaps travel upriver on the Mae Nam Khong (Mekong) by apple boat from Chiang Saen to Yunnan, China. That sounds interesting. I could jump into the Kok in CR and tube downriver until I can’t go any further, e-coli and rapids permitting. Or, as a short side-trip, go from Chiang Saen to Chiang Khong and find my own way back overland to CR. And after that, another cruise down the Mekong, all the way to Vietnam. With an excursion cruising Tonle Sap in Cambodia? Lots of things to think about. Could take years.

Coffee @ Doi Chaang: relaxed reading of papers: coffee and cakes. Or go to BaaChivitMai Coffee Shop and Bakery near the Old Bus Station: 591 Moo 6 Hua Doi. The latter is run by an independent religious aid organization and raises funds to support orphanages, education, vocational training and people suffering from AIDS: www.baachivitmai.com

Taking a car, or bus (20BHT) from the Old Bus Station, rather than a tuk-tuk, is recommended, in order to visit The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and gallery complex some 20 minutes south of the city. You could spend at least an hour or two here, or more. The artist is Chalermchai Kositpipat. This is a modern temple and a work of art in itself. Even the golden amenities block is amazing. There is a sophisticated and rather slick gift shop: grab some postcards. Don’t forget the artist’s own gallery/museum across the road.

Now, what next? You have to make a decision. You can go to a wonderful waterfall, or you can go back to town. Lunch is due reasonably soon, and food can be found virtually anywhere.

You can choose the waterfall option:

The White Temple is situated at the entrance to Khun Kon Waterfall Forest Park, 12 km away. Khun Korn waterfall @ Mae Korn, about 30 km south of CR, is the highest waterfall in the district, with a 70 metre fall of cool, clear, clean water which runs all year round. You need to be fit: it’s 1,400 metres above the carpark. The hike takes about 45 minutes along a forest-fringed path that cuts through several cascade pools and over bamboo bridges. Swimming is allowed. There is plenty to see and do in the park.

Town option: shopping (textiles, dressmaker) and/or museum.

Shopping: why not buy some hand-woven cotton fabrics and some silk and have these made up at the dressmakers? There are 2 good shops near the New Clock Tower, just to the west of the Tower on the northern side of the street. Ordinary imported textiles can be found to the north-west of the main market, in a special section.

You will get the best results by bringing along a garment you want copied. If you want really nice buttons, it is best to bring your own. If you want metal zips, specify this. You can buy metal zips in the market, but it will take all your ingenuity to find them. Don’t be annoyed by the shop assistants following your every move: just grin and bear it. Service varies tremendously: you might have your own personal shadow, which I find intensely annoying, or be ignored completely, as the assistants eat and watch TV. In actual fact, it is very rare to go into a Thai shop when they are NOT eating.

If you are really keen on having some clothes made, bring patterns and haberdashery from home. And then have the most wonderful time. This is your chance to be a fashion designer. Enjoy it to the full.

Just a note about silk here: they seem to use a virtually invisible iron-on lining when making silk clothes. If you are fussy, ask to see a finished outfit first: you may, or may not, not like this effect.

Oh, and do be careful about which dressmaker you choose. You get what you pay for. I can recommend Khun Nee, who lives in a sprawling low-set house to the right of the La Vie en Rose Hotel. No English is spoken. She is not one of those overnight users of slave labour: your garments will take a few days to make. I have no idea about tailors.

Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park is 5km west of town on Hong Lee Road, @ 313 Moo 7 Baan Pa Ngiew, Tambom Robwiang, Chiang Rai.

053 716 605-7, 053 601 013 Fax. 053 712 429

Tuesday – Sunday, 8:30am – 5:30 (17.30) pm

The region’s largest collection of Lanna folk art and teak artefacts.

‘Originally known as the Rai Mae Fah Luang, the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park was an initiative of the Queen Mother, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (‘Phratep’), and began as the office of the Thai Hill Crafts Foundation. By purchasing and marketing handicrafts, the Foundation helped preserve traditional skills, supported ethnic minorities and played an important role in education and socialisation.

Today, the Cultural Park has the region's largest collection of art items from the Lanna culture or Tai culture (the minorities in northern Thailand, China's southwestern region or Yunnan, eastern Myanmar or the Shan States, northwestern Vietnam and western Lao). It is a cultural centre for Lanna Studies and is dedicated to the conservation and promotion of Lanna heritage.’

There are 5 exhibition areas:

The Botanical Gardens and Nature Park: indigenous and rare plants

The Haw Khumm (Golden Pavilion)

The Haw Khum Noi (Small Golden Pavilion): murals

Sala Kaew - ceremonial space for rituals

Haw Kaew - Gallery of Lanna Cultural Arts

Attractions include lakes a barge Lanna architecture such as the Golden Pavillion with its two Shan halls Lanna candelabra, Buddha images, wooden altars and embroidered cloths for wrapping Buddhist scriptures. The museum’s admission fee and sales at the museum’s crafts shop are used to support the northern hill-tribes and their crafts.

Dinner and entertainment @ The Night Bazaar, which starts at 6 pm. Lots of handicrafts: keep an eye out for the burlwood business-card cases: my favourite. Professional entertainment, which often features transgender performers: large food court. Late to bed.

Personal professional massage at home. I find two hours is good. Schedule a 2 hour massage every week. At the retreat I stay at, it costs 250BHT an hour. This is not one of those soft, sensual, sweet spa massages: it’s a good, hard traditional workout. I have not been able to find a chiropractor here, but I have long believed that it is the muscles, rather than the bones, which are crucial.

After the massage, relax. Eat. Drink. Read. Go fishing: sit under an umbrella and dangle a line in the water. Have a BBQ beside the dam in the evening. Send off some good luck balloons in the moonlight. Sleep well.

If you are really interested in fishing as such, remember that the Mekong has the largest freshwater fish in the world: Pla Buek. These catfish can grow to 2.5 metres and weigh up to 300 kilos. The Chiang Khong Fishery Station, 115 kilometers to the north of CR, inseminates and breeds fingerlings and has released them into several rivers. The Station also sells fingerlings to the owners of commercial fishing dams. This fish cannot breed in dams, and that is why many fishing places allow you to land a catfish, but then you have to put it back in.

The fishing season in the wild is from mid-January to May. During April and May, the catfish make their way upriver to their spawning grounds in the north of Thailand. At Ban Hat Klai, near Chiang Kong, large fish called Payanak, as well as giant catfish, are sometimes caught. You wouldn’t, of course, want to fish for the latter in the wild: it is the most threatened species in the Mekong river. Catch data indicates the population has fallen by 80 percent in the last 14 years.

The catfish like to dine on a weed (filamentous algae) which grows on submerged logs and rocks. It is also a favourite human food, fried with sesame seed. Very high in selenium.

If you are keen to taste freshwater fish straight out of the Mekong, take a day trip to Chiang Khong and try the Nang Nuan restaurant @ on Ban Hat Khrai, which is open pretty much all day and into the night.

Fishing in Thailand often seems to be more social that solitary, and can involve chess, beer, karaoke, food, and a person to bait and hold your rod for you while you wait for a bite. My father would not have approved.

In Chiang Rai you might like to experience fishing Thai-style @ Khieng Doi Fishing Park @ 12 Moo 5 Tambon Ta Sai, 6 km from the CBD. It’s stocked with Pla Sawai (striped catfish), Tilapia, Pla Nuanchan, Giant Catfish and red-bellied Pacu. Having purchased your catch by the kilo, there's a restaurant which will cook your fish. If you really like the place, or succumb to a nap-attack, or meet a fisherperson of a similar ilk and kind, there are some small cottages to rent (350BHT a night). I have to tell you the absolute truth: it’s worth a visit to watch Thais at play, but the food was off the day we went. Nor did I try the caterpillar and chili dip. Stick to beer. There’s a small reservoir with a shady terrace overlooking a shallow shingle where a Tangle of Thais cast lines in close proximity.

There are also several other venues, such as Dao Daeng Fishing Park to the west and Chiang Rai Fishing Park @ 435 Mu 6, Tanon Serm Rat.

For up-market fishing in a calm and scenic atmosphere, you can’t really go past Mae Chan Winery, where it is possible to fish, raft and canoe on the lake. Perhaps its time for a trip combining wine and fishing?

Take a samlor (human-powered rickshaw) and visit 2 or 3 temples in the city.

Do not think that by using a samlor you are doing a bad thing: these people have nothing to sell but their labour. Agree on a price and an itinerary before you start, and tip very generously. The samlors are usually found near Dusit. If you are a couple with some added poundage or extra height, take 2 samlors.

Khun Wim Narenthonsenee is the official patron of the samlor drivers here in CR and is currently preparing 4 suggested optional itineraries on their behalf. These will be written in both English and Thai and you will be able to download them off the web, print them out and point to the one you want. That way you will know where you are going and the driver will know where to take you. Of course, you can make up your own itinerary, and mark it on the map to show the driver.

They already have a Nine Temple Tour around the city: Tour Sam Lo Pho Wat is a half-day tour of nine (a magical number) temples in CR: 120BHT an hour: contact Khun Chalong 08 50310417. I personally feel 9 temples are just too much to take in at one time.

As a compassionate human being, their patron Khun Wim is genuinely committed to helping them. Just a quick note on names: it is good manners to use the honorific Khun for your friends and superiors: Khun applies to both men and women. Thais usually use their first names, which is good, because surnames here are more like tickertape. Thais are also very fond of nicknames: as soon as you have mastered their first name, along comes another one. Conversations can be confusing.

Samlor trip around 3 selected temples:

Wat Phra Kaeo, which is one of my favourites, also has a most interesting two-story museum, and a green jadeite replica of the Emerald Buddha. It’s a very ancient temple and was originally surrounded by groves of golden bamboo.

The original Emerald Buddha is very much revered in Thailand: traditionally its possession has conferred power and prosperity. It’s actually made from jasper or jadeite, not emerald, but as it has never been tested, no-one is absolutely sure. According to some accounts, it is very much travelled. Some histories suggest it originated in Patna in India, went to Sri Lanka, travelled to Angkor Wat, then successively to Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet, Lopburi, Chiang Rai, Lampang, Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Thorniburi and then to Bangkok’s royal Wat Phra Kaeo. There it remains, although at one stage in early 1944 it nearly went to Petchaboon.

It is said that in 1390 AD King Mahabhrom of Chiang Rai hid it here. During its sojourn, it was concealed beneath a layer of stucco, which was then plated with gold leaf, and it was then concealed within the principal golden stupa. It was re-discovered in 1434 when lightning struck the stupa, cracking it and revealing the Buddha inside. The Buddha showed considerable independence at this time: the current Lanna king wanted it for his capital, Chiang Mai, but the elephants carrying it insisted, on three separate occasions, on going instead to Lampang.

The main chapel houses the Buddha image, Phra Jao Lan Thong, which is believed to be at least 700 years old and was relocated from the old town of Chiang Saen. It is one of the largest and most beautiful Buddha images in Thailand.

Some most interesting murals. If you have a bloodthirsty child, they will enjoy the image of a war-elephant tearing off a human’s head. The murals are action-packed but the actual details are quite small. I do not think these images will launch your progeny into a life of mayhem and murder. Besides, if they were so inclined, where to find a suitable elephant? And, if they want to take it home, what would Thai Air think? I suspect there is a potential movie in this scenario: tourist child finds brave, valiant, friendly elephant in Chiang Rai and returns with it to New York to fight crime. Where is TAT when you need them? Hello?

The new Emerald Buddha was carved in 1990 from 1.5 tons of Canadian jadeite, donated by Howard Lowe, a Canadian millionaire of Chinese descent. Its official name is:

Phra Phuttha Rattanakonnawuttiwatsanuson Mongkhon.

Please note that the prayer hall (ubosot) was originally built in 1890 as an assembly hall, in Chiang Saen style, which is delightfully described as ‘incubating hen’.

Wat Phra Kaeo was appointed as the First Royal Temple of Chiang Rai on 31 May 1978 (B.E. 2521).

Location of the temple: Corner of Trairat and Saeng Kaew Roads, four blocks northwest of the Clock Tower

Wat Klang Wiang was founded in 1432 at the centre point of the original city. Once upon a time a large ‘Chan’ tree (Red Sandal Wood) was located here. The complex was damaged by a storm in 1903, when the tree was destroyed, and the complex was extensively re-built.

Location: Corner of Rattanaket and Uttarakit Roads, three blocks northeast of the Clock Tower

Note especially the the viharn’s front door, designed by Ajarn Tawan Duchanee from Baan Dam.

Location: Singha Klai Road, near Overbrook Hospital, four blocks north of the Clock Tower

That’s enough temples in one day for most farangs.

Or, if you are not interested in temples, what about gardens and plants?

If you like gardening, and live in a garden resort, ask your host to give you a guided tour of the garden. There may be fresh fruits in season: sample some. Your host might also be able to show you the leaves used in domestic religious rituals. You will learn interesting things: there is a small green wrinkled fruit like a lemon or a lime, with a fragrant smell. This is called Makreut. Its juice is applied to the fontanelle on newborn babies’ heads. It is also used to condition adult hair. Ask your host to take you to a plant nursery, (called here in Thailand ‘tree-garden’) and revel in all the different kinds of plants. Buy a small plant as a gift.

Learn about the various flowering trees in the city. The official flower of the province is Dok Puang Saed: Orange (or Golden) Trumpet vine, which flowers in and around December to March.

Chiang Rai is very much a seasonal city: fresh products arrive in bulk at certain times of the year and are celebrated with great enthusiasm. Nang Leh is a sweet local pineapple. In March, little crunchy, tart Pu Leh pineapples become available. There are mangoes in April, lychees in May, and in July a sort of oval chesnut-like nut called Kow Laht, which is boiled before eating and is delicious.

You might like to stroll through Somdet Phra Si Nakarin Park, 8 kilometres from town on the road to Mae Chan, behind the Ratchaphat Institute. It is a very large park with botanical gardens and ponds full of lotus flowers. Next to the Park is the School of Traditional and Alternative Medicine of Rajabhat University.

If you are keen on walking every day, choose a nice spot like this. Anyone who wanders along the roads here is looked on with amazement, amusement and concern. I tried it once, and was almost immediately rescued by an amazed young Thai person on a scooter, who didn’t speak a word of English, but offered me a lift. He thought I must have escaped from one of the more expensive resorts, and kept trying to take me back there. We did get to town eventually. No-one walks along city roads in Thailand for the purposes of health and recreation.

Good spots for walking include the verdant gardens around Pattaya Noi.

In the cool of the evenings you can go jogging at the northern end of the old airport runway. Here you can also watch Thais at sport and play. Join in and make some new friends.

As an aside, the nightlife and sporting facilities near Chiang Rai are about to be revolutionised later this year. The 4,000 seat Chiang Rai Hills Stadium opens in October with The Chatipan Cup, when football teams from each hill tribe will compete. Don’t miss this! It will be just amazing. Okay, what’s so special about the new stadium? The Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation has planned the Stadium as an event centre, catering for sports activities, entertainment extravaganzas, shopping, food etc. It has been built in an ecologically friendly way, but also has an 8 by 5 metre LED screen. The complex will provide support, skills, income and ultimately management opportunities for disadvantaged youth in the north of Thailand: www.chiangraihills.com

If you wish, invite a Thai to lunch: ask to try a local speciality.

In Thailand, it is usually the most senior, or most important person, or the person who extends the invitation, who pays. Sharing expenses is out of the question: don’t go there. I myself have had great difficulty in paying for meals, particularly if I am lunching with an alpha Thai male. I realized pretty quickly that it is seen as shameful for me to pay the bill: I am only allowed to pay if I have had a beer, or wine. They see this as a terrible indulgence, outside of the accepted system, and I am allowed to pay in this instance. To save face, don’t pay the bill but give a gift later, instead.

Manners are a strange thing in Thailand and let’s face it, we farang are hopeless blunderers. The very existence of fingers and feet is frowned upon, as is keeping your hands in your pockets. Blowing your nose at table after being overwhelmed by a spicy dish is also infra dig, but young men can quite happily pluck their nose hair in public. It is all a mystery to me.

Anyway, back to you and lunch looming on the horizon.

There is an interesting dish, Kanom Chin Niam Ngeow, made with the red stamens of flowers that grow on tall trees. You will sometimes see people collecting the flowers that fall: they are harvesting these stamens. The dried stamens look like saffron. To tell you the absolute truth, I couldn’t detect a distinctive taste.

A popular restaurant for Kanom Chin Niam Ngeow in CR is a nondescript place opposite one of the entrances to the Reclining Buddha temple: it’s just a glass cabinet @ front, a small buffet with some chairs and tables, and a dusty little courtyard/car park to one side.

So, having come so far in search of this dish made with flower stamens stewed with tomato and pork, you might as well visit yet another temple. It’s just across the road: Wat Phra Non, off Wat Pranom Road.

Few tourists seem to come here. The reclining white Buddha is not one of my favourites, but is much loved by Thais. For the foreigner with a local guide, this is your chance to experience fortune-telling, Thai style. There’s a row of boxes on the left, sort of like vertical roulette wheels. Slip the auguries a 10BHT piece through a slot at the front of one of the boxes, get your number, and it’s self-serve for a little leaflet in a basket on your right. The leaflet is in Thai. I think you need to know what day of the week you were born. My prognosis was not good. I think perhaps I need to drink more herbal wine for health reasons.

This complex is well worth visiting. There’s lovely bas-relief carving, including some glorious doors depicting the life of Buddha. It was raining the day I visited, and we had just purchased a bag of lychees at the market. There’s nothing quite like eating lychees in the rain and watching the temple’s painted façade turn iridescent pink and olive green. There’s got to be a song in there somewhere. There are golden rabbits and elephant-headed reptiles to marvel at.

Another building, made of wood, is three storeys high. The ground floor is an open pavilion, housing bits and pieces of interest, combined with a collection of drums. The bits and pieces include old European clocks, a few traditional toys such as coconut clod-hoppers, the aforesaid drums (as well as a fine drum carriage), some antique bicycles and a few bags of concrete. Upstairs there are banknotes and coins, a few old black and white photographs of CR, and two most interesting decorations, traditionally made with banana leaf. These days they are made with plastic and fabric, but if you are interested in craft, now’s your chance to get up close and personal in order to see how they are made.

If you like architecture and/or wood-working, the stairs going upstairs to the first floor are very interesting, as is the tiny vertical spiral staircase to the very top floor. Note also the sliding wooden screens around the second storey. This temple complex is a must-see for the serious woodworker.

Back to the serious business of lunch.

Northern Thai cuisine is based on sticky rice (Khao niew) which is usually served with curries chilli sauces salads and stir-fried vegetables.

Local specialities you can try while visiting CR are khaeng khanoon (spicy jackfruit curry), khaeng yuak (banana palm leaves), sai oo-a (pork sausages) and Yunnese and Burmese rice noodles. You can also try Nam Poo, Tua Nao, Kab, Namtan Aoi, Nam Prik Larb, Ma Kwaen, Dok Ngiew, Ba Laeb, Cha Go and desserts: Kha Won Nam. Larb is a premier Lanna dish, often made using raw flesh. Look it up. I quite like it, but the uncooked versions doused in fresh bile are not to my taste. No traditional family ceremony takes place without Larb. It’s very spicy.

Okay, in the morning you have had the choice of some interesting temples or gardens and botany. You have lunched on local specialities. Now it might be time for some physical activity.

In the afternoon, go to one of the glamorous resorts and pay to use their swimming pool. Prices and premises vary. Or play golf.

There are two premier golf courses (both par 72) set in beautiful surroundings outside of Chiang Rai: Santiburi (20 minutes) and Waterford Valley (45 minutes). The 18-hole Santiburi course was designed by Robert Trent Jones for Khun Santi Bhirombhakdi, the owner of Singha Beer, while the Waterford Valley course was created by Rather International in 1994. In town there are two 9-hole courses. Tuition can be organized.

Or go bowling @ Chiang Rai Bowl. If you don’t want to swim or play golf or go bowling, you might go water-skiing on the local lake: www.planetewakeboard.com

Or mountain-climbing (look up Boomerang Adventure Park: www.ThailandRocks.com

What about horse riding? Mae Salong Outdoor stables at Ban Mae Salong Nai, west of Mae Chan (33 kilos north of Chiang Rai and 9 km west of the highway also offers target shooting and camping. There are 60 horses available. Joe's Horse Club, near Mae Suai, offers half and full day riding tours through longan and lychees plantations (350BHT an hour), and riding lessons. Don’t expect dressage mounts in Thailand.

You can also go horse-riding @ the Ostrich Farm (300BHT an hour), or, if you are completely off your rocker, ostrich-riding (100BHT). The Wana Ostrich Farm is some 7 km south of the city. Here you can sing cowboy songs around the campfire: go camping/fishing/ride in a stagecoach, the normal sort of things you would expect to do in Thailand. Their restaurant serves ostrich eggs and steaks, among other things.

Or look up Chiang Rai Bicycle Tours: they organize half-day to 5 day tours around Chiang Rai: www.chiangraibicycletour.com

There are lots of other activities as well, such as mountain biking, trekking, caving and rafting, but they need a whole day to do.

Between us, in confidence, I would like to do a Harley Davidson tour as well while I am here. Look up The Golden Triangle Rider. You can arrange rental or pillion. They are also an excellent source of maps. Buy one before you arrive in order to plan your trip. Salivate over it for a few months before arriving. Pin it up in your hotel room as soon as you unpack. Allocate 2 or 3 days for such a tour. I think I would like to visit the northwest of the Province in this way.

I personally hate zoos, but you might like to visit the small rustic Chiang Rai Zoo, a 25 minute drive on Route 1211, to the west. Basically a breeding sanctuary, it’s open from 9 – 6 every day: creatures include birds, deer, bears, monkeys, leopards, turtles, pythons, gibbons and Siamese crocodiles. You can buy bananas here, but you also might like to bring some other little snacks: certain birds like sunflower seeds, while others prefer fruit. Perhaps feed the children to the crocodiles?

A boutique travel company I have been impressed by is Smiling Albino. If you want to do something special, it’s worthwhile talking to them: http://www.smilingalbino.com/home/

They also do a 4 day dirt-biking trip through The Golden Triangle.

Later, have drinks on the terrace @ home and practice your karaoke.

If you can sing karaoke, you are more than welcome EVERYWHERE in Thailand. If you are musical, you might even buy one of the famous wooden saxophones at the Night Bazaar. Or various local string and wind instruments, including fiddles and panpipes. Me: I rattle the saucepans.

If you want to be more social, go ‘jam with Sam’ @ The Cat Bar in Jet Yod Road, open between 5pm – 1 am: pool table, cold beer, electric guitar collection, live music after 10.30 pm.

For the more sedate, earlier in the evening, the Wiang Inn has a piano bar. Expensive: solitary and sad, but rather nice if you are in or out of love. I was lucky enough to be invited recently to watch a jam session here between the resident piano player and Carabao’s saxophonist, who was in CR for a visit. You never know who you are going to find jamming in CR: Thais in the entertainment industry like to holiday here. Don’t know who Carabao are? Look them up on the web. Wiang Inn also has the Torino Bar & Karaoke. Try not to get too confused between the Wiang Inn and the Wangcome Hotel and the Inn Come Hotel ….

Day 7: let’s pretend this is a Saturday

Organise this some time before you arrive. Be realistic: sometimes the craftsperson may not be available. In Chiang Rai, people do not perform on demand: anything unusual and worth doing is individually arranged. As it should be.

You might want to learn weaving, sar paper making, pineapple paper making, elephant-manure paper making, woodcarving ……. or any one of a myriad local crafts. I personally am quite interested in the punctured sheet-metal foil.

Organise this well in advance, if possible, and be prepared to pay for your tuition and materials.

A new hub for art and culture is Prataap Jai: ‘As an art gallery, tea house, cultural, art and movement educational center, and small store theater, we aim to provide a clear alternative environment to the typical ‘bar scene’ which is often the place where foreigners interact with Thais. The goal of our work is to enable cross-cultural exchange among foreigners and Thais to provide a place where foreigners and locals can meet and learn from one another in positive, productive and creative ways.’ They provide various classes. This is a great place to meet the locals and find out what is happening in the art scene: http://prataapjai.com/. Check their website for opening hours.

Photography: if you are a very keen photographer, you might like to touch base with SG Photos Thailand, who organize tailor-made tours in this region especially for photographers: [email protected]

Video: Now, for something completely different. Some of you may have seen Aria, which is a wonderful film made in 1987. If you haven’t seen it, and you like opera, check it out. I particularly liked the bedroom farce (Verdi: Rigoletto) set in San Luis Obispo's famous (notorious?) Madonna Inn. Now this is your chance to star. Take a tuk-tuk to The Red Rose Hotel, south of the CBD and near the old airport: 60 Moo 14, Prachasanti Road. Have a look at the rooms, (ask for a tour). Your home movies may never be the same again. Alternatively, young kids (and those who are young at heart) might just enjoy a stroll around. Look up Google images: you’ll be so glad you did. Note: children do enjoy the themed rooms but this is essentially an adult hotel. I told you: CR is full of hidden surprises.

Saturday Night Walking Market (Kaat Jiang Hai Ramleuk) along Thanalai Road: starts @ 5 pm. This market is very good for arts and crafts and FOOD. Eat yourself senseless. The main food section is up a side-street: don’t miss it. When passionfruit is in season, try one of the fresh passionfruit drinks. They are delicious. The Thai restaurant just across from Restaurant P sells chicken feet soup.


Introduction to Chiang Rai

So few tourists spend more than two or three days in Chiang Rai that in 2011 I wrote A Month in Chiang Rai: What to do? This article now needs updating. You can find the original by searching for Things to do in and around Chiang Rai: 30 full days of activities.

Many tourists think that they can ‘do’ Chiang Rai in two days. Let me outline some of the wonderful and exciting activities that will keep you entertained for a whole month.

Chiang Rai is cooler, cleaner, quieter, safer and cheaper than Bangkok. It is ideally suited for exploring The Golden Triangle and as a base for forays into northern Myanmar and down the Mekong River to Laos. It is 780km (484 miles) NE of Bangkok, 180km (112 miles) NE of Chiang Mai and some 60km south of the border with Myanmar.

Many tours sourced in Chiang Mai and Bangkok actually come to Chiang Rai Province. Why not stay here, instead? In terms of action, we don’t have a great deal of nightlife. We are a quiet and sleepy town. Actually, I am not certain that we are sleepy: I think we are secretive.

Tourists come here to relax, as well as to enjoy art, craft, nature, archaeology, trekking, caving, rafting, X-treme sports and many different traditional hill-tribe cultures.

There are three seasons: the hot season from March to May, the rainy season from May to October and the cool season from November to February. In the cool season, the temperature can drop to 13 C at night.

Several airlines fly into the local airport. If you are coming from overseas, it is possible to transfer in Bangkok for a short direct flight. Or you can come by bus, car or taxi from Chiang Mai, which takes about three hours.

There are modern hospitals, including Overbrook and Siriburin. Chiang Rai is a major centre, servicing a population well in excess of 200,000 people. Here you will find traditional markets as well as supermarkets.

Many accommodations in Thailand have a strange speciality called ‘long-stay’. This means that it can cost you less to stay for a whole month than it will cost you to stay for two weeks. Prices and premises vary, of course. Here in Chiang Rai, if you know what you are doing, you can get a ‘long-stay’ deal for about 6,000BHT, which includes electricity, Thai TV, and Thai wireless internet. That’s about $200 a month. So, Chiang Rai is cheaper: it is also quieter, cooler, safer and cleaner than Bangkok.

Here are 30 days of activities. This is an imaginary itinerary for the armchair traveller.

You arrive in Chiang Rai at your accommodation.

There is a wide variety to choose from, but because the city centre is an urban planning nightmare, most of them are a little outside of the CBD. I personally like to overnight somewhere convenient before choosing a place to stay long-term. For the adventurous budget flash-packer who doesn’t mind stairs and does not insist on an ensuite, there is a little guesthouse (several individual rooms and a dormitory) within 5 – 10 minutes walking distance of the CBD: Baan Rub Aroon. A charming old house, it has a lovely atmosphere: it is set in a large garden and breakfast is included. It’s very clean and very well run. However, for value and variety, source your tours elsewhere. I have tried the B2, a boutique and budget hotel chain, but I was not happy with it. There are two of these hotels in CR, both reasonably convenient, but not a single word of English is spoken: they do not even understand the word ‘check out’. I have also stayed at a small family-run resort called Janpha Cottage: it’s a little erratic and run-down, but set in a rainforest garden and their traditional hospitality is extraordinary (053737472/ 0818825388): 500 BAHT including breakfast for 2. All of the above places provide free Wi-Fi.

First, soak up the ambience, if you have chosen somewhere nice to stay.

That puts B2 right out of the running.

What to do for the next 30 days?

You most probably don’t speak Thai. This will result in some frustration for you at times, and terrify the Thai you are speaking to, if they do not speak English. This is called Fear of Farang. Keep calm and cool. Speak very slowly. Smile a lot. Be strategic: your host or hostess will no doubt speak very reasonable English and can smooth most of the pitfalls in your path. They can negotiate with people: they can write directions down in Thai for you: they can phone on your behalf.

A very, very useful book to read before you come is Culture Shock: a Guide to Customs and Etiquette: Thailand, by Robert and Nanthapa Cooper. Wai to go.

Always carry your passport with you (or a copy), and never ever lose your temper or shout at people. Additionally, bargaining is meant to be a fun activity.

Get to know the city and get a feel for where you want to go again. Take an overview tour on your first day: either a professional tour or a zip around by tuk-tuk or hire car or metered taxi. Just do a drive-by: you don’t want too much detail at this stage. Initially, you will think Chiang Rai rather lacks ambience. Eventually, you will come to love it. Acquired tastes give the greatest pleasures. We are a city of secret delights.

A drive-by tour of the city centre and its main focal points does not really require a licensed guide. A chauffeur-driven car or a tuk-tuk should really come in under 2,000BHT for a full day, because you are not travelling a great distance out of town and you will be spending some time lunching and shopping. Learn the word for STOP (yot yot yot) before you start.

The new taxi service is excellent: the cars are modern, clean and air-conditioned. The drivers don’t speak English, but you can book over the phone and the owner does: 053 773 477/081 998 8918. They are metered and no bargaining is necessary. This service will take you anywhere you want to go in Thailand and the prices are displayed on a card: the cost is very reasonable.

A car is really preferable to a tuk-tuk or songtaew: otherwise everything wizzes past you backwards and you will be more confused than you were before. Grab a map: get your itinerary organised: mark the places you want to see on the map and you’re ready to go. Explain that you want to go slowly and that you want the places you have marked on the map to be pointed out to you. See if you can add a stop @ Doi Khao Kwai (Buffalo Horn Hill), to the west of the old airport, for a panoramic view.

Concentrate on the New Clock Tower and the Old Clock Tower as orientation points. The Kok River runs across the city to the north of the centre. There are three bridges across the river in the CBD: my especial favourite is the New Bridge, with its fantastic golden decorations and baby elephant bastions.

Another orientation point is King Mengrai the Great’s Monument. Backed by three giant golden tungs (vertical Lanna flags), it is situated at the starting point of Highway 110, which leads north to Mae Chan, Chiang Saen and Mae Sai. Stop, make offerings, buy souvenirs, take photographs. Give thanks for your safe arrival.

There is a complex behind the statue and across the street with some very reasonably priced souvenirs.

You might also want to find out where the Post Office is. You will probably want to use their services at some time during your stay. They also provide Poste Restante: always check whether your mail has been filed under your surname or your first name. The building is slightly depressing. Don’t go at lunchtime: you might have to wait 10 minutes. You get a number, etc. They provide one really useful additional service, as do most post offices in Thailand: you can have your parcels wrapped for you downstairs for a small additional cost. Few tourists travel with cardboard, scissors and tape. The main Post Office is upstairs. Although Thais drive on the left, they like to go upstairs on the right-hand side: arrows mark the way.

All freely available maps of Chiang Rai (CR) are dreadful. I don’t care what anyone says. I am, of course, very happy that other people are happy with the maps: I myself am not happy. Regarding the many maps I have tried to use, I am not happy for the following reasons:

The print is usually too small, even with spectacles. Carrying a large magnifying glass around is simply impractical. Orientation varies: personally, I like north to be north: call me old-fashioned, but there we are. The streets are occasionally not named at all, or only a few of them are, and sometimes they are only named in Thai script.

There is very little on the maps regarding the city north of the river.

I bought 2 commercial maps when I arrived. One was not satisfactory: the better one is a bilingual map of Chiang Rai: go to the front counter @ The Hill Tribe Museum in the heart of the CBD and purchase a copy immediately. It is topographical on one side, with the city on the other, and it is definitely the best map available. You will save yourself much grief and confusion if you do so. Trust me. It is produced by Thai Panit. It’s not perfect, but it’s very much okay. (I think I am losing the use of my mother tongue. This starts to happen after only a few days.) Alternatively, the free Chiang Rai Treasure map brochure is useful.

For touring, you can’t go past the excellent Budget Car Rental maps, which are free to download off the Web in English, French or German: www.budget.co.th/travel_worldclass.aspx, although a magnifying glass will help here also.

Working out where you are in Thailand can be confusing. It took me a long time to find out exactly where I lived, and perusing Google Earth did not help. Why is it so hard? One of the reasons is that Thailand has a completely different address system to the west. There’s no consistent town-planning system. You don’t have 15 Smith Street, Smithsville. Oh, no. Oh, goodness me, no. Numbers are allocated, it seems, when the structure is built. So numbers 15 and 512 might be adjacent. So, if you decide you want to go to a particular place, make a note of the phone number as well as the address. Your driver can then have long impassioned discussions with someone on the other end of the line regarding the exact location. I have just moved to a new house: when I asked my landlady what number it was, she said to just make one up.

If you arrived by plane rather than bus, find the Old Bus Station: you’ll be taking several trips around the Province from here. I love the decrepit old buses: of course, you can go on the VIP ones, but the vintage monoliths are for me, with their windows tied up with twine. The school bus runs in the afternoon are best. As an aside, the New Bus Station, which is some way out of town, seems to have been one of those inspired political decisions which hasn’t actually worked so well. Busses from Chiang Mai do ultimately come to the Old Bus Station, although many tourists jump off @ the new one and pay an unnecessary (and inflated) fee to get into town.

Have coffee @ Doi Chaang Coffee shop: you’ll return many times for coffee and sweet treats and to read the newspapers. They even sell, as a speciality sideline, civet coffee: Kopi Luak (If you don’t know what that is, don’t ask.) Educate yourself about peaberries, and see if the cafe has some coffee-flower honey for sale. Doi Chang is a success story based on a constructive relationship between entrepreneurs from overseas and local coffee growers: read their inspirational tale at http://www.doichaangcoffee.com. The quality of your cup of coffee can vary at times, but you really come here for the atmosphere, the papers, the food and the facilities. They have Wi-Fi, a nice garden courtyard and reasonable toilets.

Sort out your mobile phone arrangements. The staff at 7/11 can be helpful. Look confused, hand over the phone with some baht, and see what happens. (300BHT is a good figure to start with. I prefer to use DTAC: AIS just swallows up your balance at the end of each month.)

Have an extended lunch somewhere wonderful. Things change so rapidly, and people’s preferences are so different, I don’t really want to recommend anything at this stage, but for you, research is part of the pleasure of travelling. Isn’t it?

No, I cannot help myself: for lunch I would either go rustic @ Chiang Rai Beach, overlooking the river or upmarket at the chic, cosmopolitan Chivit Thamma Da, also on the river or international luxury with magnificent views @ Boon Rawd, a little out of town. Boon Rawd (AKA Singha Park, is about 10 kilometres/30 minutes’ drive from downtown Chiang Rai on Den Ha-Dong Mada Road. It's open daily and offers a free farm tour from 10 am to 5pm. Call (085) 058 3649. Let your driver go for an hour or 2: you both have mobile phones. Ring him when he is required.

Then, after lunch, get some supplies. Please note that 7/11s are open 24/7.

Go to the local markets for a look round. In the future, when you go again on a regular basis, go early, if you can, for the freshest ingredients.

The most useful denominations in the market are coins and 20BHT notes. The vendors use our numeric system and many have calculators: they will flash the price up on the screen for you to see. Sometimes in desperation I just hand over a 50BHT note and see what happens next. I have always been treated with exquisite courtesy and total honesty. My Thai friends will sometimes barter a few satang off the price of a piece of pumpkin, but I prefer not to. Besides, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

This is where you will find Chiang Rai confusing.

The markets are all over the place.

The main Municipal Market in the centre of town is TA-LAT Sod TESBAN.

One of the ways you can gain access to it is off the street running between the 2 clock towers. There are mountains of brassieres, a good variety of cheap shoes (few of which last more than 2 weeks) and some ‘chemist’ shops, with unusual soaps. There are some interesting products: at my advanced age, I no longer need ‘Bust Boom’: it’s happened already and is out of control.

The municipal market is divided into distinct sections. There’s clothing, shoes, meat, etc. The Muslim stall has the best beef but it is really only good for stewing. This protein area is best viewed in the early morning, or perhaps not at all.

You need to wander around quite a bit to find the section you want. My basket lady is to the north just off the Song Teo parking bay, which is called Tha Rot Noi (terminus for Song Teo people carriers). She sells colourful hand-woven baskets made from spliced plastic packing tape. I also like the spice and seed section. If you intend to visit a hill-tribe, and are not too judgemental, you will find in the spice section small resin blocks about the size of a Mars Bar for sale, red-black in colour, which superficially appear to have been chewed by rats, in that their surfaces are irregular. I suspect these are made of betel-nut resin. Whatever they are, some elderly people in remote areas value them immensely. In the central part of the market there is a special stall where you can purchase fresh coconut cream as it pours out of a small machine.

Having wandered about the market, you will say to yourself, where is the fruit? The vegetables? The flowers?

Okay, exiting the covered market to the north, you will find a succession of vegetable sellers on the pavement along both sides of Uttarakit Street, west of the Old Clock Tower. Here you buy your vegetables. Cabbage, lettuce, garlic, onions, potatoes, ginger, etc.

For fruit and flowers, you need to take a samlor or tuk-tuk to Tha-lat Sirikhon, which really is not that far to walk, if you are fit and energetic. It is east-south-east of the New Clock Tower. Come home with bags of fresh seasonal fruits in all their glorious profusion and colour and fill vases with flowers.

If it is durian season, and you have an iPod, you might like to Thai a little experiment. Look up U-Tube for a fascinating video which will show you how to use this fruit to charge your iPod: later you can eat the durian itself. What I want to know is, will the fruit then be lower in calories? Durian, however, is a taste I have not acquired, and the smell is something else again. I bought some in the supermarket the other day for my Thai friends: forgot about it, and kept wondering how I seemed to smell of fresh cow manure. I kept checking my shoes.

Go to the major supermarkets if you need to: Big C and Central Plaza (Tops). Big C has a wide range of goods of all kinds: Tops is more about food, and its bakery is much better than Big C’s. Be careful: Central Plaza (Tops) does not open until 11 on weekdays: (11 – 9 on weekdays, and 10 - 9 on weekends). Tops will also deliver to your door free if you buy above a certain amount and fill out some paperwork. I also recommend The Royal Project Shop at the Plaza. They have great shampoo (it’s hard to find a good shampoo in Thailand for Farang hair): the essential oils are not so good: in fact, they are a complete waste of time. The vegetables are great. They sell huge potatoes but potatoes in Thailand are rather strange. They tend to be soggy. They look wonderful, but they do not deliver. A special treat: the Bubalos Feta made from the milk of water buffaloes.

There are some other traditional markets, but that is enough for you at the moment. Ah: I should also mention Thalat Baan Mai. This is the one where the fishermen come: here I have seen fresh snakes, wrapped in a circle, ready for soup.

Wine is a problem. I think grape wine is taxed at a flat rate of 176.5% and an interior tax of 21.2%: with additional import duties on foreign wines ‘even the cheapest bottle of imported wine will set you back over 500 baht’. This IS changing, slowly. You will therefore find that wine in the supermarkets is of variable quality and rather expensive. White cask wine does not travel well. There used to be a drinkable cask wine @ Tops called Kiss my Kangaroo. Goodness knows who came up with a name like that. Big C has an equally quaffable Peter Vella cask red. You will soon come to like drinking your wine with ice.

The best reasonably priced and drinkable local wine, which is only found @ Big C, is Siam Winery’s Naga basic red and basic white @ 300 BAHT. Alternatively, you could make a trip out to the local Mae Chan Winery, 30 kms north of CR, which specialises in shiraz. Look up their website to see the scale of this sophisticated modern attraction: http://www.maechanwinery.com. However, they never seem to be open and do not respond to emails.

I tried a 2009 Sawasdee Shiraz purchased out of town @ Boon Rawd the other day: 350 BHT, PB Valley, estate bottled by Khao Yai Winery @ Nakhonratchasima. Hey, this is a seriously interesting wine. It can handle ice-blocks and Asian food, the brave little creature. It’s complex and full-bodied: 13.5% alcohol. I really recommend it. The owner, Dr. Piya Bhirombhakdi, was once the President of Singha Beer: he is a visionary and I believe he will go on to do great things with Thai wine in the future.

Personally, I try to avoid some of the longan, lychee, strawberry and mulberry wines produced elsewhere in the mountains. I am sure they are very good for you indeed. I am not quite ready to be good yet.

Chiang Rai Winery’s fruit and herbal wines are a possible exception, but are not for the serious wine-lover. However, you may well enjoy a visit to their premises in Mae Suai, to the south. The place is way off in the midst of paddies and orchards and is quite hard to find. When you finally arrive, you have to walk across a narrow bamboo bridge about 20 metres long which has seen better days, perhaps in medieval times. If you are very heavy unsure on your feet or a Nervous Nellie, this bridge is not for you.

The distilled Mangosteen Wine is 40% proof: also try Black Ginger/Ginseng wine and an excellent sweet Tokay, made from the herb Elephantopus Scaber Linn: [email protected] The Tokay, goes rather well with Bubalos Buffalo Feta cheese. The red Mangosteen wine is disappointing if you are used to full-bodied reds. Another product of interest is White Kwao Kreu Wine, with natural estrogenic properties helpful to middle-aged females. They also have a medicinal tonic which they claim boosts immune systems threatened by HIV and cancer.

There is a grog shop which also sells a range of cigars in Phanolyothin Road, on the right as you walk south from Doi Chaang Coffeeshop and towards Da Vinci’s Restaurant @ 879/13 Phaholyothin Road. The people behind Ayes and Da Vinci’s are Hans and Aye Verschuur and family, who run their farms using permaculture principles: organic, free-range, and aquaculture. Hidden (and I mean hidden) at the back of Da Vinci’s is the restaurant’s delicatessen, which also has a small selection of wine and some interesting imported beers and cider. They also sell cheese and pates and things: it’s is good for special treats, such as roast beef and pork pies. Don’t put the pork pies in a plastic bag at the bottom of your basket, unless you enjoy eating pastry in the form of minute crumbs. This pastry is so delicate that the slightest shock shatters it. It is delicious. Open daily 8 am to 6 pm (except Sunday): www.friendlyfarm.asia. Hours are subject to change: that applies to any business in Thailand.

If you are invited to a party by your Thai friends, they seem to like red wine. Indeed, they like it so much, you might need to take more than one bottle. Of course, their very favourite gift is a bottle of expensive whiskey. Regarding duty-free on your arrival, the authorities look on wine and whiskey as being exactly the same, and you are only allowed to bring in one bottle of alcohol.

Your driver will quite happily stop at a wayside stall on the way home for you to purchase beer and bags of ice. Remember: Thailand has some rather strange laws regarding alcohol. You can only purchase alcohol during certain hours, unless you buy 10 litres, which is considered wholesale, and this amount can be purchased at any time. To add to this fascinating regulatory mix, national bans regarding the sale of alcohol for the next day or two might be introduced overnight without warning, for a variety of reasons. Stock up.

Although the new taxi service is excellent, the next best thing in CR is to find a tuk-tuk driver you like, ask for his business card and develop a good working relationship. Please be courteous: don’t expect your favoured tuk-tuk driver to be available to drive you at all hours of the day and night and on weekends. They have families, too. Some of the younger ones are studying at night. You will generally find a tuk-tuk near the Edison Department Store, south of the Doi Chaang Coffee Shop east-south-east of the New Clock Tower. I wonder what the collective noun for a collection of tuk-tuks might be? A trouble of tuk-tuks? A tranche? A tumult? A trundle? Once you have developed a good working relationship with the tuk-tuk driver of your choice, you can negotiate an hourly rate. Personally, I am happy to pay 200BHT per hour as a retainer while I am shopping around town, in addition to the basic fee. Be nice to your tuk-tuk driver: they can make your life a whole lot easier.

I would not like to hire a car and drive myself, but you are perhaps more adventurous. Bring your International Driver’s License with you and take out a large insurance policy at the same time. Bicycles, mountain bikes, scooters and motorbikes are available. Each to their own. Just next door to the Doi Chaang Coffee Shop you can hire a bicycle from Ms Chompoo @ Fat Free Bike Shop.

A note on health: DO be careful and take out insurance. Recently a woman fell down some stairs @ a temple and had to be placed in an induced coma in intensive care. She had insurance, but not enough. We always think it won’t happen to us, but sometimes it does.

If I were really flush, I’d hire the helicopter based in Chiang Mai to come and pick me up and take me for a tour over the mountains. Now THAT would be the trip of a lifetime. It’s a six-seater: www.advanceaviation.co.th

Go in the evening (after 4 pm) to the area called Kaad Luang, near the Old Clock Tower, for cooked food to take away. Everything comes in plastic bags tied up with rubber bands. It’s a good idea to travel with a small pair of scissors. Thais are adept at removing rubber bands from plastic bags containing hot food, but I think most farangs (foreigners) are not. You will return home with a veritable feast. In season, the large fried red fish coated in salt are excellent. Thais usually share these, but farangs will want one each. This region loves sticky rice: make sure you get some of it, wrapped in banana leaves.

Right, you are now ready. Your mobile phone is organised, you have had a quick overview tour of the city, you have had coffee @ Doi Chaang, you have had lunch at a restaurant of your choice (or street food), you have been shopping and now you have supplies. Sit back, have a cold drink, and read a good book. You have everything to look forward to. There is a reasonably good multi-lingual second-hand bookshop in CR: Orn’s. It’s in the back streets of what I call the foreign quarter, off Soi 1, near Jet Yod.

The following activities are organised in no particular order. You don’t want to overdose on any one particular activity, so each day try to mix a trip to the market with a visit to a temple coffee @ a coffee-shop, a swim at one of the exclusive resorts (user pays) and then an excursion somewhere, followed by dinner.

Wats: The temples are magnificent. Do some research beforehand regarding the individual wats: it will make your visit so much more interesting. Make sure you take off your shoes at the bottom of the stairs that you don’t have an offensive slogan on your T-shirt you are modestly dressed, and you don’t step on the piece of wood across the doorway. If you are a woman, never touch or give anything to a monk directly. It is good manners to put a 20BHT note in the donations box, should you come across one.

Start with Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong.

Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong is on a lone hill (Jom Thong) above the banks of the River Kok, overlooking the town from the north west. It incorporates an ancient pagoda which predates the founding of Chiang Mai. It is also the site for the omphalos (navel) of the City, Sadue Mueang. The main pillar is surrounded by 108 satellite pillars mounted around six-tiered concentric circles that radiate around it, representing the six lower levels of heaven. Those little squares of gold pasted on various pillars are real gold leaf.

The omphalos is right at the very top of the hill. A discerning visitor will immediately sense something strange about the antiquity of this omphalos, and they will be quite right. It was built to commemorate the 725th anniversary of the city and King Bhumibol's 60th birthday, only 25 years ago. Such pillar complexes are designed for monarchs using cosmological calculations based on their specific birthdate, so this pillar is not exactly the same as the one in antiquity.

The best way spiritually to encounter this temple is, of course, to actually climb up the steep staircase from Kaisornrasit Road far below. It is too steep for a samlor to reach the mountain top, although tuk-tuks and taxis can do so.

At the top of the hill there is an excellent view out over the river and the city. Walk down the southern side of the hill and amble south and then east to Thanalai Road (this is a bit of a hike). Half-way along on the northern side of Thanalai Road you will find P2’s Restaurant.

Lunch: P2’s restaurant in Thanalai Road has a great salad made with assorted mushrooms and lettuce. They also serve steaks. This is where the international football players who play for Chiang Rai United hang out. They are just the most delightful young men: handsome, polite and charming beyond belief. Few traditional Thais drink wine or beer @ lunchtime: if, as a farang on holiday, you require alcoholic refreshment, you might just have to have a quiet chat with your host, and discuss the situation: is BYO better? Talk to him. He is a most obliging man, although he has great difficulty with English. If you do decide on BYO, remember: you can only buy alcohol between 11 and 2. There is a 7/11 about a block east on the same side of the road. The restaurant is closed on Sundays, but its terrace is a great base to place yourself during the Saturday Night Walking Street market.

Excursion: why not one of the museums? Perhaps you might like to explore your creativity: there are 2 shops selling art supplies just north of the New Clock Tower. Maybe a movie @ Central Plaza? Why not have a complete makeover? New hair-do ($7AUD), facial, manicure and pedicure? Why not, indeed? Now that’s a pretty good range of choices, but I would recommend museums at this stage.

If you have just had lunch in Thanalai Road, it is easy to walk to the following museums first:

Go out of the restaurant and turn left. At some stage on your right across the road you will see a long wooden building which is perpendicular to the road. It is located on the site of the old prison. There is a somewhat insipid exhibition of ethnic clothing examples pinned on aged mannequins. Admission is free. Some signage is in English. The building itself is interesting but the displays are very amateurish.

On the northern (left side) of the street is the Hill Tribe Museum, a worthy well-meaning institution which is worth a visit, especially if you plan to trek through the northern hills. A small admission fee applies: the documentary videos are fine: the museum shop is okay: the coffee served in the restaurant below is not so good.

Further along a new municipal museum re the history of CR has recently opened: it is set back off the road and you will recognise it by the fountains out front, as there is no English signage indicating that it is a museum. It’s worth a visit, although the English signage is somewhat convoluted. It replaces the old Chiang Rai Province Cultural Hall Museum on Singhaklai Road.

Then take a tuk-tuk to one or both of the following museums:

The new military museum dedicated to ….. someone or other. This is on the top of the range of hills that lie parallel to Kraisorasit Road. There are great views in every direction, somewhat hampered by trees (and thank goodness for trees). There is a very small coffee shop with lovely views. The museum is in the zen process of ‘being’, which means that there is not much to see. It is basically an upper-class Thai home built in mock-English style possibly in the 1930’s by a general of some sort. I would suggest that this museum at the moment is only interesting for the view, and for a small clutch of truly terrifying traditional pikes upstairs.

Oub Kham Museum is a must-see @ 81/1 Na Khai Road, Tambon Rob Wiang, in a garden setting: 053-713349/ 08-1992-0342. Open daily from 8 to 6 pm. Admission for adults is 300 Baht and for children 200 Baht. It is the creation of Khun Julasak Suriyachai and is named after the 'Oub Kham', a golden bowl used by royalty. Some interesting antique monkey-bone chopsticks, used in the past to detect poisoned food. This museum is convenient if you are en route to CR Beach, so could be conveniently viewed either coming or going.

This museum highlights Lanna culture from the north of Thailand, the northwest of Laos, parts of northeast Burma, parts of southwest China and some areas in Dien Bien Fu in Vietnam. On view are Lanna kings' regalia and royal costumes from the 15th century the golden throne of Chiang Tung ritual and religious objects, pottery, processional chairs, textiles, silverwork, peacock fans, wood and bronze statuary, betel sets and lacquerware.

These museums are probably enough for one day. We’ll save the rest for later.

Why not have drinks on the riverside @ Dusit? Why go to the Dusit Island Resort Hotel at all? Chiang Rai has many faces. You can enjoy some western ambience at one of the premier resorts while investigating the possibility of user-pay facilities you might be interested in using at a later date: like sauna, jacuzzi, swimming pool, and flood-lit tennis courts. Access arrangements and costs vary from resort to resort: it’s a good idea to start looking now for what you might want in the future. If you are staying in a low-cost place, you could augment your stay this way.

Then take a samlor (rickshaw) from Dusit’s front gate into town to the New Clock Tower, or walk: it’s really not that far. Remember: the New Clock Tower is at the junction of Phaholyothin, Jet Yod and Banpaprakan Roads. Try to say that in a hurry.

Evening: Watch the New Clock Tower’s amazing transformations (son et lumiere): 3 viewings @ 7, 8 and 9 pm. The Tower was built in 2008 to honour His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, and was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, the artist responsible for the White Temple. Keen photographers will want to be @ street level, but you might also enjoy the view with a cocktail from the second storey of the Kaffee Hub, across the road.

Grab something to eat at one of the traditional Thai restaurants west of the New Clock Tower, on the northern side of the street, just before you reach the big 7/11. And/or wander up and down Jet Yod Road before or after dinner, in order to investigate the restaurants, bars and massage parlours (I call this the Foreign Quarter).

How about a boat trip and some elephants?

The ferry pier is on the northern side of the Mae Fah Luang Bridge. It’s pretty organized, and life-jackets are issued. The jackets are a bit tatty, but who cares? Boats can be hired between 6 am and 4 pm: boating at night is too dangerous.

A long-tail boat ride along the Mae Kok River to Ruammit (I hour going upriver) and return will cost 700BHT regardless of the number of people on board. This is great fun and highly recommended.

Ruammit is a ‘short-necked’ Karen village, with Lahu, Lisu and Akha villages nearby. There’s a 100 - 200BHT photo-opportunity with a python @ Ruammit, if your inner-Leda is that way inclined.

Sometimes you can see the elephants being bathed in the river and that is just delightful. I personally found the elephant camp depressing, but that is me. It is good fun feeding them bananas and sugarcane (20BHT a bag). You can go elephant riding, if you wish: for 1 or more hours, through rice fields, forests and streams. Excursions can be made, by elephant, or by walking, to the two-tiered waterfall @ Hua Mae Sai and to the hot-springs @ Huai Mak Liam. You can swim at the waterfall or take a dip and a foot bath in the Pha Soet Hot Spa near Huai Mak Liam, across from the elephant camp. Thais love their hot springs and they love boiling little eggs in wicker cages in the hot water.

Elephants in general: try to visit the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa and Elephant Camp while you are here. You can also learn to drive an elephant: there are half-hour lessons available, or a 3 day intensive course. This is a top-notch organization, with prices to boot.

Extended excursion: You might like to continue up-river from Ruammit by boat to the small village of Tha Ton, to the north-west, which is actually in Chiang Mai province and quite close to the Myanmar border. To go from CR to Tha Ton by boat takes 5 hours going up-river, and 3 hours downriver (times are approximate). So, if you do choose to make this excursion, you need to leave by 10.30 in the morning. If you are visiting during the cool rainy season, that is the time for bamboo rafting back to CR. The river swells with the rains and the rapids can be exhilarating. If you decide to raft downriver, it takes 3 days and 2 nights: Tha Ton Boat Club 053 459427.

Tha Ton also has a monastery, Wat Tha Ton, where they teach Vipassana meditation in English. Within 20 km of Tha Ton you can visit villages inhabited by Pauang, Black Lahu, Akha and Yunnanes. The Akha hill tribe village Ban Lorcha is highly recommended.

Why not spend at least 3 days here in Tha Ton, visiting villages, trekking and rafting? Or 7 days meditating?

Wat Thaton International Meditation Centre (Buddhaleelamahasati Dynamic Vipassana Meditation Retreat): No drop-ins, please. Contact them beforehand. They prefer 14 days notice, will accept reservations by email and like you to re-confirm 3 days before. The minimum stay is 7 days and the maximum is 10. The retreats usually take place early in the month. There is also a Drug Rehabilitation facility. Interpreter: Phra Ratha Mahaviriyo (Vayagool). Email: [email protected]

Dream boat excursions: I am fascinated by the rivers in and around Chiang Rai. I’m still in the planning stage. The trip on a slow boat to Luang Prabang was wonderful. I could perhaps travel upriver on the Mae Nam Khong (Mekong) by apple boat from Chiang Saen to Yunnan, China. That sounds interesting, although it is said that pirates abound. I could jump into the Kok in CR and tube downriver (climbing over dam walls) until I can’t go any further, e-coli and rapids permitting. Or, as a short side-trip, go from Chiang Saen to Chiang Khong and find my own way back overland to CR. And after that, another cruise down the Mekong, all the way to Vietnam. With an excursion cruising Tonle Sap in Cambodia? Lots of things to think about. Could take years.

Coffee @ Doi Chaang: relaxed reading of papers: coffee and cakes. Or go to BaaChivitMai Coffee Shop and Bakery near the Old Bus Station: 591 Moo 6 Hua Doi. The latter is run by an independent religious aid organization and raises funds to support orphanages, education, vocational training and people suffering from AIDS: www.baachivitmai.com

Taking a taxi, or bus (20BHT) from the Old Bus Station, rather than a tuk-tuk, is recommended, in order to visit The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and gallery complex some 20 minutes south of the city. You could spend at least an hour or two here, or more. The artist is Chalermchai Kositpipat. This is a modern temple and a work of art in itself. Even the golden amenities block is amazing. There is a sophisticated and rather slick gift shop: grab some postcards. Don’t forget the artist’s own gallery/museum across the road.

Now, what next? You have to make a decision. You can go to a wonderful waterfall, or you can go back to town. Lunch is due reasonably soon, and food can be found virtually anywhere.

You can choose the waterfall option:

The White Temple is situated at the entrance to Khun Kon Waterfall Forest Park, 12 km away. Khun Korn waterfall @ Mae Korn, about 30 km south of CR, is the highest waterfall in the district, with a 70 metre fall of cool, clear, clean water which runs all year round. You need to be fit: it’s 1,400 metres above the carpark. The hike takes about 45 minutes along a forest-fringed path that cuts through several cascade pools and over bamboo bridges. Swimming is allowed. There is plenty to see and do in the park.

Town option: shopping (textiles, dressmaker) and/or museum.

Shopping: why not buy some hand-woven cotton fabrics and some silk and have these made up at the dressmakers? There are 2 good shops near the New Clock Tower, just to the west of the Tower on the northern side of the street. You will need to bargain: I am hopeless at it. Ordinary imported textiles can be found to the north-west of the main market, in a special section.

You will get the best results by bringing along a garment you want copied. If you want really nice buttons, it is best to bring your own. If you want metal zips, specify this. You can buy metal zips in the market, but it will take all your ingenuity to find them. Don’t be annoyed by the shop assistants following your every move: just grin and bear it. Service varies tremendously: you might have your own personal shadow, which I find intensely annoying, or be ignored completely, as the assistants eat and watch TV. In actual fact, it is very rare to go into a Thai shop when they are NOT eating.

If you are really keen on having some clothes made, bring patterns and haberdashery from home. Just a note about silk here: they seem to use a virtually invisible iron-on lining when making silk clothes. If you are fussy, ask to see a finished outfit first: you may, or may not, not like this effect. Oh, and do be careful about which dressmaker you choose. You get what you pay for. I can recommend Khun Nee, who lives in a sprawling low-set house to the right of the La Vie en Rose Hotel. No English is spoken. She is not one of those overnight users of slave labour: your garments will take a few days to make. I have no idea about tailors.

Option 3: A museum and garden which is worth visiting, but admission is expensive. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit here, but it may not be of interest to other people.

Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park is 5km west of town on Hong Lee Road, @ 313 Moo 7 Baan Pa Ngiew, Tambom Robwiang, Chiang Rai. 053 716 605-7, 053 601 013 Fax. 053 712 429: Tuesday – Sunday, 8:30am – 5:30 (17.30) pm. Video and useful map of the northern region: www.maefahluang.org/mfl_art_cultural_park.php.

Billed as ‘the region’s largest collection of Lanna folk art and teak artefacts.’ The problem is that it seems almost deserted and you have to find someone to unlock the various buildings.

‘Originally known as the Rai Mae Fah Luang, the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park was an initiative of the Queen Mother, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (‘Phratep’), and began as the office of the Thai Hill Crafts Foundation. By purchasing and marketing handicrafts, the Foundation helped preserve traditional skills, supported ethnic minorities and played an important role in education and socialisation. Today, the Cultural Park has the region's largest collection of art items from the Lanna culture or Tai culture (the minorities in northern Thailand, China's southwestern region or Yunnan, eastern Myanmar or the Shan States, northwestern Vietnam and western Lao). It is a cultural centre for Lanna Studies and is dedicated to the conservation and promotion of Lanna heritage.’ Well, they must be beavering away somewhere out of sight.

There are 5 exhibition areas:

The Botanical Gardens and Nature Park: indigenous and rare plants

The Haw Khumm (Golden Pavilion)

The Haw Khum Noi (Small Golden Pavilion): murals

Sala Kaew - ceremonial space for rituals

Haw Kaew - Gallery of Lanna Cultural Arts

Attractions include lakes a barge Lanna architecture such as the Golden Pavillion with its two Shan halls Lanna candelabra, Buddha images, wooden altars and embroidered cloths for wrapping Buddhist scriptures. The museum’s admission fee and sales at the museum’s crafts shop are used to support the northern hill-tribes and their crafts.

Dinner and entertainment @ The Night Bazaar, which starts at 6 pm. Lots of handicrafts: keep an eye out for the burlwood business-card cases: my favourite. Professional entertainment, which often features transgender performers: large food court. Please, please, please, TA people: it’s bazaar, not bizarre.

Personal professional massage.

After the massage, relax. Eat. Drink. Read. Go fishing: sit under an umbrella and dangle a line in the water. Have a BBQ beside the dam in the evening (Janpha). Send off some good luck balloons in the moonlight. Sleep well.

If you are really interested in fishing as such, remember that the Mekong has the largest freshwater fish in the world: Pla Buek. These catfish can grow to 2.5 metres and weigh up to 300 kilos. The Chiang Khong Fishery Station, 115 kilometers to the north of CR, inseminates and breeds fingerlings and has released them into several rivers. The Station also sells fingerlings to the owners of commercial fishing dams. This fish cannot breed in dams, and that is why many fishing places allow you to land a catfish, but then you have to put it back in.

The fishing season in the wild is from mid-January to May. During April and May, the catfish make their way upriver to their spawning grounds in the north of Thailand. At Ban Hat Klai, near Chiang Kong, large fish called Payanak, as well as giant catfish, are sometimes caught. You wouldn’t, of course, want to fish for the latter in the wild: it is the most threatened species in the Mekong river. Catch data indicates the population has fallen by 80 percent in the last 14 years. Sadly, you will still see the fish on sale in many northern markets.

The catfish like to dine on a weed (filamentous algae) which grows on submerged logs and rocks. It is also a favourite human food, fried with sesame seed. Very high in selenium.

If you are keen to taste freshwater fish straight out of the Mekong, take a day trip to Chiang Khong and try the Nang Nuan restaurant @ on Ban Hat Khrai, which is open pretty much all day and into the night.

Fishing in Thailand often seems to be more social that solitary, and can involve chess, beer, karaoke, food, and a person to bait and hold your rod for you while you wait for a bite. My father would not have approved.

In Chiang Rai you might like to experience fishing Thai-style @ Khieng Doi Fishing Park @ 12 Moo 5 Tambon Ta Sai, 6 km from the CBD. It’s stocked with Pla Sawai (striped catfish), Tilapia, Pla Nuanchan, Giant Catfish and red-bellied Pacu. Having purchased your catch by the kilo, there's a restaurant which will cook your fish. If you really like the place, or succumb to a nap-attack, or meet a fisherperson of a similar ilk and kind, there are some small cottages to rent (350BHT a night). I have to tell you the absolute truth: it’s worth a visit to watch Thais at play, but the food was off the day we went. Nor did I try the caterpillar and chili dip. Stick to beer. There’s a small reservoir with a shady terrace overlooking a shallow shingle where a Tangle of Thais cast lines in close proximity.

There are also several other venues, such as Dao Daeng Fishing Park to the west and Chiang Rai Fishing Park @ 435 Mu 6, Tanon Serm Rat.

For up-market fishing in a calm and scenic atmosphere, you can’t really go past Mae Chan Winery, where it is possible to fish, raft and canoe on the lake. Perhaps its time for a trip combining wine and fishing? But, as I said before, this place never seems to be open, and does not respond to emails. The lake is glorious: I have been there and gazed across it.

Take a samlor (human-powered rickshaw) and visit 2 or 3 temples in the city.

Do not think that by using a samlor you are doing a bad thing: these people have nothing to sell but their labour. Agree on a price and an itinerary before you start, and tip very generously. The samlors are usually found near Dusit Hotel. If you are a couple with some added poundage or extra height, take 2 samlors.

Three years ago plans were afoot for 4 suggested samlor itineraries. These were to be written in both English and Thai and you would have been able to download them off the web, print them out and point to the one you wanted. That way you would have known where you were going and the driver would have known where to take you. (After three years nothing has happened: as we say here, This is Thailand: i.e. TIT, and our modern professional Thais would really prefer the samlors did not exist). Of course, you can make up your own itinerary, and mark it on the map to show the driver.

The samlors already have a Nine Temple Tour around the city: Tour Sam Lo Pho Wat is a half-day tour of nine (a magical number) temples in CR: 120BHT an hour: contact Khun Chalong 08 50310417. I personally feel 9 temples are just too much to take in at one time.

Samlor trip around 3 selected temples:

Wat Phra Kaeo, which is one of my favourites, also has a most interesting two-story museum, and a green jadeite replica of the Emerald Buddha. It’s a very ancient temple and was originally surrounded by groves of golden bamboo.

The original Emerald Buddha is very much revered in Thailand: traditionally its possession has conferred power and prosperity. It’s actually made from jasper or jadeite, not emerald, but as it has never been tested, no-one is absolutely sure. According to some accounts, it is very much travelled. Some histories suggest it originated in Patna in India, went to Sri Lanka, travelled to Angkor Wat, then successively to Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet, Lopburi, Chiang Rai, Lampang, Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Thorniburi and then to Bangkok’s royal Wat Phra Kaeo. There it remains, although at one stage in early 1944 it nearly went to Petchaboon.

It is said that in 1390 AD King Mahabhrom of Chiang Rai hid it here. During its sojourn, it was concealed beneath a layer of stucco, which was then plated with gold leaf, and it was then concealed within the principal golden stupa. It was re-discovered in 1434 when lightning struck the stupa, cracking it and revealing the Buddha inside. The Buddha showed considerable independence at this time: the current Lanna king wanted it for his capital, Chiang Mai, but the elephants carrying it insisted, on three separate occasions, on going instead to Lampang.

The main chapel houses the Buddha image, Phra Jao Lan Thong, which is believed to be at least 700 years old and was relocated from the old town of Chiang Saen. It is one of the largest and most beautiful Buddha images in Thailand.

Some most interesting murals. If you have a bloodthirsty child, they will enjoy the image of a war-elephant tearing off a human’s head. The murals are action-packed but the actual details are quite small. I do not think these images will launch your progeny into a life of mayhem and murder. Besides, if they were so inclined, where to find a suitable elephant? And, if they want to take it home, what would Thai Air think? I suspect there is a potential movie in this scenario: tourist child finds brave, valiant, friendly elephant in Chiang Rai and returns with it to New York to fight crime. Where is TAT when you need them? Hello?

The new Emerald Buddha was carved in 1990 from 1.5 tons of Canadian jadeite, donated by Howard Lowe, a Canadian millionaire of Chinese descent. Its official name is: Phra Phuttha Rattanakonnawuttiwatsanuson Mongkhon.

Please note that the prayer hall (ubosot) was originally built in 1890 as an assembly hall, in Chiang Saen style, which is delightfully described as ‘incubating hen’.

Wat Phra Kaeo was appointed as the First Royal Temple of Chiang Rai on 31 May 1978 (B.E. 2521). Location of the temple: Corner of Trairat and Saeng Kaew Roads, four blocks northwest of the Clock Tower

Wat Klang Wiang was founded in 1432 at the centre point of the original city. Once upon a time a large ‘Chan’ tree (Red Sandal Wood) was located here. The complex was damaged by a storm in 1903, when the tree was destroyed, and the complex was extensively re-built. Location: Corner of Rattanaket and Uttarakit Roads, three blocks northeast of the Clock Tower

Wat Phra Singh: note especially the the viharn’s front door, designed by Ajarn Tawan Duchanee from Baan Dam. Location: Singha Klai Road, near Overbrook Hospital, four blocks north of the Clock Tower

That’s enough temples in one day for most farangs.

Or, if you are not interested in temples, what about gardens and plants?

Learn about the various flowering trees in the city. The official flower of the province is Dok Puang Saed: Orange (or Golden) Trumpet vine, which flowers in and around December to March.

Chiang Rai is very much a seasonal city: fresh products arrive in bulk at certain times of the year and are celebrated with great enthusiasm. Nang Leh is a sweet local pineapple. In March, little crunchy, tart Pu Leh pineapples become available. There are mangoes in April, lychees in May, and in July a sort of oval chesnut-like nut called Kow Laht, which is boiled before eating and is delicious.

You might like to stroll through Somdet Phra Si Nakarin Park, 8 kilometres from town on the road to Mae Chan, behind the Ratchaphat Institute. It is a very large park with botanical gardens and ponds full of lotus flowers. Next to the Park is the School of Traditional and Alternative Medicine of Rajabhat University.

If you are keen on walking every day, choose a nice spot like this. Anyone who wanders along the roads here is looked on with amazement, amusement and concern. I tried it once, and was almost immediately rescued by an amazed young Thai person on a scooter, who didn’t speak a word of English, but offered me a lift. He thought I must have escaped from one of the more expensive resorts, and kept trying to take me back there. We did get to town eventually. No-one walks along city roads in Thailand for the purposes of health and recreation.

Good spots for walking include the verdant gardens around Pattaya Noi.

In the cool of the evenings you can go jogging at the northern end of the old airport runway. Here you can also watch Thais at sport and play. Join in and make some new friends.

If you wish, invite a Thai to lunch: ask to try a local speciality. In Thailand, it is usually the most senior, or most important person, or the person who extends the invitation, who pays. Sharing expenses is out of the question: don’t go there. I myself have had great difficulty in paying for meals, particularly if I am lunching with an alpha Thai male. I realized pretty quickly that it is seen as shameful for me to pay the bill: I am only allowed to pay if I have had a beer, or wine. They see this as a terrible indulgence, outside of the accepted system, and I am allowed to pay in this instance. To save face, don’t pay the bill but give a gift later, instead.

Manners are a strange thing in Thailand and let’s face it, we farang are hopeless blunderers. The very existence of fingers and feet is frowned upon, as is keeping your hands in your pockets. Blowing your nose at table after being overwhelmed by a spicy dish is also infra dig, but young men can quite happily pluck their nose hair in public. It is all a mystery to me.

Anyway, back to you and lunch looming on the horizon.

There is an interesting dish, Kanom Chin Niam Ngeow, made with the red stamens of flowers that grow on tall trees seen everywhere in CR. You will sometimes see people collecting the flowers that fall: they are harvesting these stamens. The dried stamens look like saffron. To tell you the absolute truth, I couldn’t detect a distinctive taste.

A popular restaurant for Kanom Chin Niam Ngeow in CR is a nondescript place opposite one of the entrances to the Reclining Buddha temple (Wat Phra Non): it’s just a glass cabinet @ front, a small buffet with some chairs and tables, and a dusty little courtyard/car park to one side.

So, having come so far in search of this dish made with flower stamens stewed with tomato and pork, you might as well visit yet another temple. It’s just across the road: Wat Phra Non, off Wat Pranom Road.

Few tourists seem to come here. The reclining white Buddha is not one of my favourites, but is much loved by Thais. For the foreigner with a local guide, this is your chance to experience fortune-telling, Thai style. There’s a row of boxes on the left, sort of like vertical roulette wheels. Slip the auguries a 10BHT piece through a slot at the front of one of the boxes, get your number, and it’s self-serve for a little leaflet in a basket on your right. The leaflet is in Thai. I think you need to know what day of the week you were born. My prognosis was not good. I think perhaps I need to drink more herbal wine for health reasons.

This complex is well worth visiting. There’s lovely bas-relief carving, including some glorious doors depicting the life of Buddha. It was raining the day I visited, and we had just purchased a bag of lychees at the market. There’s nothing quite like eating lychees in the rain and watching the temple’s painted façade turn iridescent pink and olive green. There’s got to be a song in there somewhere. There are golden rabbits and elephant-headed reptiles to marvel at.

Another building, made of wood, is three storeys high. The ground floor is an open pavilion, housing bits and pieces of interest, combined with a collection of drums. The bits and pieces include old European clocks, a few traditional toys such as coconut clod-hoppers, the aforesaid drums (as well as a fine drum carriage), some antique bicycles and a few bags of concrete. Upstairs there are banknotes and coins, a few old black and white photographs of CR, and two most interesting decorations, traditionally made with banana leaf. These days they are made with plastic and fabric, but if you are interested in craft, now’s your chance to get up close and personal in order to see how they are made.

If you like architecture and/or wood-working, the stairs going upstairs to the first floor are very interesting, as is the tiny vertical spiral staircase to the very top floor. Note also the sliding wooden screens around the second storey. This temple complex is a must-see for the serious woodworker.

Back to the serious business of lunch.

Northern Thai cuisine is based on sticky rice (Khao niew) which is usually served with curries chilli sauces salads and stir-fried vegetables.

Local specialities you can try while visiting CR are khaeng khanoon (spicy jackfruit curry), khaeng yuak (banana palm leaves), sai oo-a (pork sausages) and Yunnanese and Burmese rice noodles. You can also try Nam Poo, Tua Nao, Kab, Namtan Aoi, Nam Prik Larb, Ma Kwaen, Dok Ngiew, Ba Laeb, Cha Go and desserts: Kha Won Nam. Larb is a premier Lanna dish, often made using raw flesh. Look it up. I quite like it, but the uncooked versions doused in fresh bile are not to my taste. No traditional family ceremony takes place without Larb. It’s very spicy. The uncooked version can also be extremely bad for you, in terms of parasites. I guess it’s a form of Russian Roulette, and very much a macho Thai thing.

Okay, in the morning you have had the choice of some interesting temples or gardens and botany. You have lunched on local specialities. Now it might be time for some physical activity.

In the afternoon, go to one of the glamorous resorts and pay to use their swimming pool. Prices and premises vary. Or play golf.

There are two premier golf courses (both par 72) set in beautiful surroundings outside of Chiang Rai: Santiburi (20 minutes) and Waterford Valley (45 minutes). The 18-hole Santiburi course was designed by Robert Trent Jones for Khun Santi Bhirombhakdi, the owner of Singha Beer, while the Waterford Valley course was created by Rather International in 1994. In town there are two 9-hole courses. Tuition can be organized.

Or go bowling @ Chiang Rai Bowl. If you don’t want to swim or play golf or go bowling, you might go water-skiing on the local lake: www.planetewakeboard.com

What about horse riding? Mae Salong Outdoor stables at Ban Mae Salong Nai, west of Mae Chan (33 kilos north of Chiang Rai and 9 km west of the highway also offers target shooting and camping. There are 60 horses available. Joe's Horse Club, near Mae Suai, offers half and full day riding tours through longan and lychees plantations (350BHT an hour), and riding lessons. Don’t expect dressage mounts in Thailand.

You can also go horse-riding @ the Ostrich Farm (300BHT an hour), or, if you are completely off your rocker, ostrich-riding (100BHT). The Wana Ostrich Farm is some 7 km south of the city. Here you can sing cowboy songs around the campfire: go camping/fishing/ride in a stagecoach, the normal sort of things you would expect to do in Thailand. Their restaurant serves ostrich eggs and steaks, among other things.

Or look up Chiang Rai Bicycle Tours: they organize half-day to 5 day tours around Chiang Rai: www.chiangraibicycletour.com

There are lots of other activities as well, such as mountain biking, trekking, caving and rafting, but they need a whole day to do.

Between us, in confidence, I would like to do a Harley Davidson tour as well while I am here. Look up The Golden Triangle Rider. You can arrange rental or pillion. They are also an excellent source of maps. Buy one before you arrive in order to plan your trip. Salivate over it for a few months before arriving. Pin it up in your hotel room as soon as you unpack. Allocate 2 or 3 days for such a tour. I think I would like to visit the northwest of the Province in this way.

I personally hate zoos, but you might like to visit the small rustic Chiang Rai Zoo, a 25 minute drive on Route 1211, to the west. Basically a breeding sanctuary, it’s open from 9 – 6 every day: creatures include birds, deer, bears, monkeys, leopards, turtles, pythons, gibbons and Siamese crocodiles. You can buy bananas here, but you also might like to bring some other little snacks: certain birds like sunflower seeds, while others prefer fruit. Perhaps feed the children to the crocodiles? I thought the place was extremely depressing.

If you can sing karaoke, you are more than welcome EVERYWHERE in Thailand. If you are musical, you might even buy one of the famous wooden saxophones at the Night Bazaar. Or various local string and wind instruments, including fiddles and panpipes. If you want to be more social, go ‘jam with Sam’ @ The Cat Bar in Jet Yod Road, open between 5pm – 1 am: pool table, cold beer, electric guitar collection, live music after 10.30 pm. For the more sedate, earlier in the evening, the Wiang Inn has a piano bar. Expensive: solitary and sad, but rather nice if you are in or out of love. I was lucky enough to be invited recently to watch a jam session here between the resident piano player and Carabao’s saxophonist, who was in CR for a visit. You never know who you are going to find jamming in CR: Thais in the entertainment industry like to holiday in CR. Don’t know who Carabao are? Look them up on the web. Wiang Inn also has the Torino Bar & Karaoke. Try not to get too confused between the Wiang Inn and the Wangcome Hotel and the Inn Come Hotel ….

Day 7: let’s pretend this is a Saturday

Organise this some time before you arrive. Be realistic: sometimes the craftsperson may not be available. In Chiang Rai, people do not perform on demand: anything unusual and worth doing is individually arranged. As it should be.

You might want to learn weaving, sar paper making, pineapple paper making, elephant-manure paper making, woodcarving ……. or any one of a myriad local crafts. I personally am quite interested in the punctured sheet-metal foil.

Organise this well in advance, if possible, and be prepared to pay for your tuition and materials.

Photography: if you are a very keen photographer, you might like to touch base with SG Photos Thailand, who organize tailor-made tours in this region especially for photographers: [email protected]

Now, for something completely different. Some of you may have seen Aria, which is a wonderful film made in 1987. If you haven’t seen it, and you like opera, check it out. I particularly liked the bedroom farce (Verdi: Rigoletto) set in San Luis Obispo's famous (notorious?) Madonna Inn. Now this is your chance to star. Take a tuk-tuk to The Red Rose Hotel, south of the CBD and near the old airport: 60 Moo 14, Prachasanti Road. Have a look at the rooms, (ask for a tour). Your home movies may never be the same again. Alternatively, young kids (and those who are young at heart) might just enjoy a stroll around. Look up Google images: you’ll be so glad you did. Note: children do enjoy the themed rooms but this is essentially an adult hotel. I told you: CR is full of hidden surprises.

The Night Market: please, please, please: Bazaar, not Bizarre.

Saturday Night Walking Market (Kaat Jiang Hai Ramleuk) along Thanalai Road: starts @ 5 pm. This market is good for arts and crafts and FOOD. Eat yourself senseless. The main food section is up a side-street: don’t miss it. When passionfruit is in season, try one of the fresh passionfruit drinks. They are delicious. The Thai restaurant just across from Restaurant P sells chicken feet soup.


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Baan
Baba Kevin's American BBQ

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GG Korean Restaurant

Oyster Omelette at XinYi Eslite Foodcourt

World Trade Center Club
Wu Pao Chun Bakery - moved

2 comments:

Looking for notable Tang Yuan places in Taipei and the rest of Taiwan! Any suggestions?

Love your blog since a long time ago.
If you are in Tpe, you can check a new restaurant: Borrachos & Wok ( Near Zhonghsiao Dunhua), is small but cozy and menu have updates from time to time.


Watch the video: Barbecue a legna PEGORARO,Wood burning BBQ,Grillholz,bois barbecue,дерево BBQ (December 2022).