26 December 2002, Chiang Mai
We woke up at 8:00 and set out to find cheaper accommodations. Although the Srisupan Guest House was in an out-of-the-way location, Chiang Mai is so small that it only took us about 15 minutes to walk back to the area we had been in the night before. It was the eastern section of the old city (the original city was a square enclosed by a wall, parts of which survive, and a moat, which still forms a boundary today. The area enclosed by the moat is only about 800 meters square), and we ended up a little south of the Chiang Mai White House. We selected a place called the Somwang Guest House and got a room with a double bed and hot water showers for only 200 baht (AC rooms went for 250 baht, but AC is really superfluous in Chiang Mai in the winter). Incidentally, we found out that not only did they have rooms that day, but they had had rooms the night before as well.
Having solved the accommodation problem much earlier than expected, we decided to have a leisurely breakfast before heading back to pick up our luggage. We went down to Moon Muang Road, the street that runs north-south along the eastern moat, and found a bakery/restaurant called “Nice, Sweet Place.” I ordered an omelet and Hyunjin ordered fried eggs and toast. The food wasn’t bad, and the place seemed to be popular with Thai men in the area—there always appeared to be a group of old men drinking coffee and talking.
We went back to Srisupan and picked up our luggage. We had originally intended to take a sawngthaew back to Somwang, but as we headed out to the main road we realized that it would be no problem just to walk, even with our packs on—after all, we did hike into and back out of the Grand Canyon with much heavier packs. We were back at Somwang in no time at all, and we dropped off our bags and headed back out to Moon Muang Road. There we caught a sawngthaew back to the train station to check on tickets to Ayuthaya.
We had wanted to take a sleeper from Chiang Mai on the 31st and arrive on the 1st, but there were no sleeper cars available on that date (apparently train travel is high on the list of ways to spend New Year’s Eve here in Thailand). In fact, all of the sleepers were booked for the whole week, and the best we could do was second-class seats on the evening of the 30th. We did have the option of third class, but we didn’t want to go through that again if we had the choice.
Having taken care of our accommodations and our train ticket, we were able to breathe a little easier. Although we could have taken a sawngthaew back to the old city, even the train station—probably the furthest point away from the old city most travelers will get—is only about 2.5 kilometers away from Pratu Tha Pae, the east gate. We decided to walk the distance to get a look at Chiang Mai outside the old city.
East of the Mae Nam Ping (River), Tha Pae road is lined with what seems to be an endless succession of auto parts shops. Once across the river, though, things begin to liven up a bit. We saw what looked to be a fairly official tourist information office (the actual TAT office is located just east of the river, and if we had realized at the time how close it was we probably would have just gone there), but they were closed until 13:00 for lunch. We decided to have lunch as well and went around the corner to a streetside noodle shop for some rice noodles (my choice—love them rice noodles) and seafood stir-fry on rice (Hyunjin’s choice—ditto).
The tourist information office ended up being disappointing, with only a limited selection of maps, and the maps they did have weren’t that great—definitely nothing more useful than the maps in LP. We left the office and Hyunjin decided she was in the mood for a cola. There was a sign for a McDonald’s nearby, so we went in search of it and ended up on Chang Khlan Road—the road the Night Bazaar is held on. It is much tamer during the day, but still packed with tourists, not to mention most major fast food chains. McDonald’s ended up being further down than we thought, so we settled for a soft drink in Burger King, which was much closer. The place was full of tourists eating lunch, which got me wondering why anyone would go to Thailand and then eat in Burger King. LP did say there were quite a number of foreigners living in Chiang Mai, though, so it’s possible that some of the people in Burger King were just satisfying a craving for artery-clogging goodness. Even after only a week or so, Hyun and I gave up eating Thai food three times a day.
After finishing our soft drink we went back out and browsed around a few shops in the area and then headed back toward the old city. On our way back to the guesthouse we walked along Moon Muang Road asking about prices for a one-day trek. Every place we asked quoted 800 baht per person for the same course, so we decided to go with the trek advertised at Somwang Guest House for 700 baht. As it turns out, this trek was also arranged through a tour agency, but we were getting a discount through the guesthouse. We also confirmed our reservations for the Sunday class at the Chiang Mai Cooking School (I had made the reservations by e-mail before we left Korea).
Back at the guesthouse, we rested up a bit before heading back out to the Night Bazaar. Our first stop was Haus München at the southern end of the Bazaar, where Hyunjin had the wiener schnitzel and I had the bratwurst. The food was passable, maybe even good, but nothing exceptional. We then strolled up and down the street, stopping to bargain here and there with the vendors. We ended up buying traditional pants (one pair for each of us), some saffron, and a teak wall decoration. We originally planned to just look around, but once we got to bargaining (or, if you prefer, “haggling”) we ended up buying. Nothing terribly expensive, of course, and all pretty good buys. With our loot in hand, we walked back to the guesthouse to get some rest for the next day’s trip.