Chiang Mai Day One

The flight from Singapore to Chiang Mai on Tigerair (S$89 incl taxes and AXS payment fees) was smooth and on schedule. Immigration clearance didn’t take too long, and with no checked-in luggage to collect, I was in the arrival hall within 20 min of leaving the plane.

There were no touts at the airport, but the tourist information counters didn’t seem very helpful either. Nobody seemed to know of the recent public transport system supposedly implemented – which I had read in a news article online – and could only tell me to “take taxi” if I wanted to get to the city. I was to observe later that this public transport system, with 12 routes and 15-20 baht fares per person, truly didn’t exist. Or at least I could find no trace of it.

I had originally wanted to ask for information about night buses to Sukhothai, but realised I wasn’t going to get anything really useful from the counter, so I went off to make my first purchase to break my 1000 baht note. Between Burger King, McDonald’s and Dairy Queen at the airport, I settled for a Chicken Ham Pie at McDonald’s (33 baht). It is like the usual McDonald’s Apple Pie but with a savoury filling instead. No regrets there.

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I managed to haggle a ride out to the city on the ubiquitous red song taew for 50 baht (the first one that stopped for me asked for 80 baht and there were others already onboard). Turned out I was the only passenger on the trip, so it was kind of like taking a taxi. I dropped off at the Chang Pheuak Gate, which was just 3 min walk away from Buaraya Hotel, which I had pre-booked and pre-purchased using 7500 miles (I had Lufthansa miles expiring year-end which I could not use for anything else of value anyway). Supposedly priced at 20 euros a night for a twin room, it had air-con, free wifi and private bathroom with hot water. Typical business hotel. I was worried the guy who carried my <5kg bag and showed me to the room would demand a tip, but he left without indication he was expecting any once I said I was happy with the room. So off I went to do my sightseeing. I have no intention of detailing the sights and attractions unless they are particularly noteworthy. My focus is on the logistics of travelling alone, on a "budget", which isn't so much about the absolute money, but more "paying for only what you need" and "not feeling ripped off". Of course, my basic needs are pretty low. I can generally walk a lot, don't need air-con to sleep, and only require fan, free usable wifi and hot showers. Private room and bathroom are bonuses worth considering when the price is right. The size of Chiang Mai's old city should not be taken lightly, especially with the intense heat of the day (despite approaching winter) which can make walking uncomfortable. But with virtually no cheap public transport system, walking is the best way to get around, and I rewarded myself with a half-hour foot massage at the Sunday Walking Street for 70 baht. Done along the street, passers-by watch you get your feet manipulated as you in turn watch the world go by. For 60 baht more you can add on 30 min which also includes some back and shoulder massage. Oh the Sunday Walking Street is quite impressive for a street market. There was a mass and mess of people. The streets were filled with locals manning the stalls and foreigners (both tourists and long-stay) browsing the wares. All kinds of souvenirs (both decorative and usable) you could possibly imagine, and then some more. I saw so many people drinking icy fruit shakes that I ended up getting not one, but two by the end of the night. A smaller avocado and passion fruit shake for 15 baht, and a larger dragon fruit shake for 30 baht. I also ate 10 baht pad thai (small portion), 20 baht tiny partridge eggs (six), and 30 baht chicken khao soi (Chiang Mai's specialty). And at some time (I think it was 6pm), there was an announcement made across the streets to welcome everyone to the street market, and everyone was told to rise for the national anthem. The hustle and bustle of activity came to an abrupt halt while the anthem was played, only to resume in full force when the anthem was over. I guess one could say that the Sunday Walking Street is a national event, given the amount of tourist dollar being spent there week after week.

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