So, it has been announced. Chiang Mai opens to fully vaccinated foreign travellers. But not every district and under some conditions. At least we are on the right path. Chiang Mai and its citizens are so dependent on tourism so it need to get in the game as soon as it is possible.
Four districts will open. Mueang Chiang Mai is the downtown /central district. Furthermore, Mae Rim, Mae Taeng and Doi Tao.
When Chiang Mai opens, its old town has so much to offer. The historic heritage and the temples. Food and weekend markets. Now we will have to see what happens to the old night market at Chang Klan road. There has been talking of an upgrade of the old market. In Muang Chiang Mai you also find the sprawling and sparkling trendy Nimmanhemin area with its coffee shops, bars and restaurants.
The Mae Sa Valley and the playground of Chiang Mai. Mae Sa waterfall, Queen Sirikit Botanical garden, Insect museums. Home to elephant camps and sanctuaries and of course Elephant poop making.
Also a scenic and beautiful area by the river Taeng. Mae Taeng has the impressive pan Buddhistic temple Wat Ban Den, the inviting and interesting Bua Tong sticky waterfall and nice camping sites. It is bordering the scenic and exciting district of Chiang Dao.
The southern district on the road to Hot is famous for local farm life and Doi Tao lake.
For more details and the conditions for travelling in Chiang Mai, stay updated with the TAT website. As it stands it seems that travellers will not be able to freely roam the Chiang Mai districts but need to join certain tour programs.
I have very little information regarding the rules and conditions now but the hopes are that people after staying in Phuket for a week might want to go up north to be cultural for a week.
So as earlier mentioned, follow the Tourism Authority of Thailand for updates regarding the opening of other destinations outside Phuket. Hopefully, the whole of the country will be open by January 15th 2022 as earlier announced.
Pha Thaem National Park is overlooking the Mekong. The national park is 90 kilometres from Ubon Ratchathani and it is best to make a stop at 7/11 on the way out from Ubon Thani for the purchase of drinks and visit toilets. It takes 1.30 minutes to 2 hours to drive from Ubon. You need your vehicle to get here or book a tour of the town. There is also the option to go from Kong Chiam and rent a motorbike there.
On the way to the national park there is a checkpoint where you pay for entrance, last time I was there it was a 400 baht charge for foreigners. After the checkpoint you will drive pass the mushroom-like pillars named Sao Chaliang. The monolithic stone pillars consist of two different types of sandstone. The standing pillar is from the Jurassic period 180 million years ago and the mushroom roof on it is younger, from 130 million years ago.
The pillars have been worn down by rivers and wind over the years.
Drive on and you will get to the “Visitors centre” with toilets and where you can read some background information about the prehistoric paintings. You can also enjoy a lovely view of the Mekong with 160 meters down to the river. (But note, there is no railing/fence! So do not go too close.)
From the visitors centre, it is about 1 kilometre to walk to the peak, the no. 2 of the rock paintings. (There are 4 but then you have to walk 4 kilometres) It’s a rocky staircase down and a bit uneven, but then follows a flat nice path to walk on with a view of nature and the Mekong. The mountains belong to the Dangrek(carrying pole mountain) range.
First, you get to the paintings at Information sign number 1. This rock painting is a bit difficult to distinguish. Then you move on to peak no. 2 about 300 meters later. This amazing ancient painting is 180 meters long and shows various aqua animals, turtles, giant Mekong catfish and even pigs. There are maybe as many as 300 motifs.
There are around 200 sights with ancient rock paintings scattered all over Thailand, mostly in the north and northeast.
If you look at the total all over Southeast Asia there is around 1000. Very little research has been devoted to this “rock art”. Humans kind of looks like aliens, or creatures with vases on their heads. Also, someone has interpreted rice fields. The rice fields are the wavy patterned motifs over the creature’s heads.
An interesting fact, in the past red colour was often used in burial ceremonies. Interestingly enough in these sandstone mountains, there are also quartz and iron.
Possibly the hand palm has been used in the creation of the murals. The artists could have dipped their hands in paint and then painted on the bedrock. It is supported by the impression of palms on the walls. Animal blood was used for dyeing. However, it is not known exactly how old the paintings are. But it is estimated that they are older than 3000 years.
After your walk, you return to the same visitor centre. There is a lovely café at the visitors centre. Actually a good place to wait if someone in your company can not do the walk for some reason.
Also, If you get here during the dry period, of the year, wildflowers bloom on Thailand’s largest meadow by a waterfall. The locals calls it Heaven’s necklace, Soi Sawan.
From Pha Thaem to Kong Chiam, where it is convenient and nice to overnight, it is about a 30 minutes drive. Also, an interesting option is to take a boat trip along the river. Kong Chiam is a nice place to chill for some days, after all, it is by the mighty Mekong. But it is also a popular spot to stop by before you continue into Laos and Pakse via the overland border.
For our tour programs Kong Chiam was a kind of starting point for exploring Southern Laos and the 4000 islands and Vat Pho in Champasak, and then proceeding overland via the Khone falls to Siam Reap in Cambodia.
The drive from the Laos border to Siam Reap can be done within one day nowadaws. Furthermore, on the way you pass some of the lesser-explored temple ruins in Cambodia such as the recent Unesco World Heritage Koh Ker, for instance.
Pha Thaem National Park is one of my favourite national parks in Thailand. I hope I can return there soon. The rock paintings fascinate me and I never get tired of the Mekong river views.
Most people visit Southern Thailand for the beaches. But what about the cities? Which are the best cities in Southern Thailand. I thought about this topic for a while and came up with the following list. It is pretty much based on the idea of food, friendliness and heritage that creates and atmosphere for exploring and walking. Simply nice towns and cities.
Songkhla is often called the pearl or the jewel of the South. As a tourist destination it is already popular with Singaporeans and Malaysians that fly in to Had Yai and transfer to Thailands own Lion City. The town in the deep south is off the beaten route for most western visitors yet because many western countries still have a travel advisory not to go there.
Songkhla has its own Heritage foundation that has restored the Sino-Portugise houses in downtown. It is so lovely to stroll around these buildings and the street art that comes with the area in the early morning. It is packed with restaurants, cafes and galleries.
Some of the eateries are even facing the Songkhla lake. Outside the old town you can access great view points, you can visit small temples and local markets with very inexpensive local food, and then there is the sea. Moreover, there is a beautiful national museum and ruins of old fortresses in the mountains from the days when this city was on the trade route for Indians/Europeans and Chinese.
Here you have a town that is reminiscent of Georgetown and a bit of Hoi An. However, of course most of all Songkhla has its own identity. A tourist attraction in Thailand waiting to happen. A tale between two seas packed with outstanding food and historical heritage. Read more here.
Phuket City is often referred to as Phuket Town. The administration has come a long way here to restore and upgrade the old Sino – Portugise shophouses and the old proud bank buildings. Phuket old town is very walkable and every night the buildings are illuminated. There are old Chinese shrines hiding in the alleys, amulet markets and top class diners both local and international. Remember that Phuket City caters not only to tourist but also to the people that built their riches from tin and tourism. So some of the best restaurants are not located in the actual heritage area.
Phuket town also has this street art route that you can follow. From Phuket town you are just a stone throw away from some of the worlds best beaches but while you are in Phuket town they feel like they are quite far away. Read about a walk in Phuket town here, and about the food scene here.
Not to forget, the oldest resort town in Thailand. A jet set holiday area since the early 1920s. Hua Hin grew from a fishing village to wide stretched city following Petchkaserm road Southwards. Popular among Scandinavians and Bangkokians there is no lack of world class resorts, food and golf. Walking the beach is a pleasant experience. There are also historical sightseeing spots like the old train station with the Royal Pavilion and a visit to the former Railway hotel, nowadays Centara, for a high afternoon tea and memorable moment in the garden is a must. From Hua Hin it is easy to access some wonderful national parks like Sam Rai Yod or Kaeng Krachan.Read more about Hua Hin here.
“Another” from mining to rubber success town. As of the tourist part, not so much yet. You will have to settle for smaller hotels and hostels or some gigantic two to three star city hotel complexes. Trang is Songkhla and Phuket town light when it comes to Sino-Portugise architecture. And definitely more quiet. But it is a shining star when it comes to local food. Nightmarkets for sure. However, try waking up early and join in for roasted pork, dim sums and patong go dough sticks. Read more about Trang here.
How can you not like a city whose name translates as “The city of the friendly people”. Surat Thani has a historical heritage dating back to the days of the Srivijaya the trading kingdom of Java and some impressive buddhist monuments. But the obvious highlights are a boat trip along the canal system of the Tapi river and the extraordinary food market every night. So before you head to the islands. You should give Surat Thani a day or two of your time. Read more about Surat Thani here.
Trang has been a constant favourite for me, a love story since the first time I explored the archipelago in 2001. It was the drowsy atmosphere on the islands that was such a stark contrast to Phuket or Ao Nang. At the time we stayed on Koh Ngai during the low season. Having a beer on the balcony overlooking a tree full of for bills feasting on some figs or something. Tropical charm at its best to sit there under jungle wrapped karst peaks and gazing at the inviting indescribable Andaman sea.
Overnight on some island, and enjoy beach restaurants with a table in the sand overlooking the horizon where the sun gradually melts into the ocean. On our last overnight with the family, we chose Koh Muuk for the pretty, family-friendly bay. We had a few days at Charlie Beach Resort Bungalows. The bungalow that we stayed in had beachfront access but was simple. We did choose the aircon option though.
There were kayaks for rent and you could easily go to the Emerald Cave, Tham Morakot. Locally promoted as stalactite cavern with a secret beach where pirates used to hide their treasures. (Honestly, it is so small so they must have dug up each other’s treasures). Still, a great excursion. Go there early, or late afternoon to avoid the crowds. Most sightseeing boats will include it in the itinerary.
The archipelago consists of Koh Ngai, Koh Muk, Koh Kradan, Koh Libong, Koh Lao Liang, Koh Sukon, Koh Phetra, Koh Rok Nai and Koh Rok Nok.
Enjoying a day tour with island jumping is also a good option. You will get to the Emerald Cave early in the morning and the cruise will take you around the archipelago for nice beach stops and snorkelling. Onboard the boat you will indulge in a homemade lunch. This kind of sightseeing enables a lot of nice snapshot opportunities within one day
The town gets it to name from the Malay word Terang, meaning light. Trang got its first Governor in 1811, even though it is mentioned in Thai records for 900 years. The road to fame started with the arrival of James Low in the early 19th century and negotiations for commercial deals related to tin mining. The area surrounding Trang was early to adopt rubber plantations after the first seeds arrived in Thailand in 1901.
Trang town is small, quaint, and tranquil. It has an intriguing blend of Chinese immigrants that came for the mining once in the days, a big Muslim presence and a blend of different faiths. It is easy to do the town by foot and you discover churches, mosques and temples blending in with small parks and simple and frequently a bit shabby Sino-Portuguese shophouses.
Most historical dwellings in Trang can be found between Kantang Rd, Sathanee Rd and Ratchadamnoen Rd. A simple, old-fashioned lifestyle exemplifies this low-profile town.
The town has two night markets. I like the one near the railway station the best(not open every day). Here you find an excellent blend of homemade sushi, kebabs, southern curries and a range of snacks and pastries for the sweet-toothed.
If you prefer a restaurant instead of a street food dinner and you crave an evening with spicy Southern Thai curry try the Khao Gaeng Ban Suan.
However, Trang is first and foremost famous for breakfast. Get up early to find the local atmosphere and eat Dim Sum, dough sticks (Patong go with sweet condensed milk)and a must, the roasted sweet pork restaurants. Check out the frequency of all the Dim Sum eateries in Trang. Ruan Thai Dim Sum is often praised as one of the best. But there are so many choices.
Try the pork! The whole pig is roasted for two hours. But firstly, the pig has been rubbed with a sweet, fragrant five-spice-based marinade for 8 hours. It is mouthwatering and melting in your mouth. The secret is the crispy skin but yet candy-like lean meat. Thais refer to the dish as ” muu yang Trang”. They eat every part of the pig but the most popular is the fatty belly. Whatever your choice is for breakfast, it will come with local tea or the “Cafe Boran” ancient style and strong coffee. Trang Moo Yang is a classic breakfast place for having pork.
This is a typical local Thai-Chinese breakfast.
The day starts exceptionally early for some people because they are going to the rubber plantations to work.
In town, they also bake a delicious sponge cake, convenient enough called a Trang cake. It comes in numerous flavours like vanilla, pandan, orange, coconut or coffee. Try the famous Cake Kook Ming shop to buy yourself some Trang cakes.
If you have the time. This is an interesting easy one hour walk just outside town. It is a well-marked forest walk with the canopy walk as the highlight. You reach it after 15-20 minutes walk. It is not a Botanical garden in its original meaning with various theme areas with flora.
The city is on the railway net. The most convenient way is to go by plane from Bangkok. When we have travelled from Chiang Mai we have used the direct connection with Air Asia to Krabi and then enjoyed a night in Ao Nang before renting a car or taking a minivan to Trang. If you are in no hurry you are close to many highlights in Southern Thailand like the under-visited Phattalung province with the wonderful Tale Noi lake and the jewel of the south Songkhla.
Modern Lamphun is famous for its Industrial Zone, the so-called Northern Region Industrial Estate. Attracting among others some Japanese companies like Hoya Optics. Lamphun has an ancient history to be proud of as well, it was once where the kingdom of Haripunchai was seated under the rule of a Mon Princess by the name of Chamadevi ( (Phra Nang Chammathewi) พระนางจามเทวี)in the mid 8th Century. According to some legends, Lamphun at the time was close to the ruler of Lopburi who sent his daughter here because Haripunchai asked for a ruler for the town.
In the pre-Lanna times of Northern Thailand. Harichunchai was one of many Mon states in the Dveravati kingdom. In the late 13th century, king Meng Rai of Lanna conquered Lamphun and integrated it into the kingdom.
The old road of 106 is lined with tall dipterocarp trees and it goes parallel with the railway to Lamphun for about 25 kilometres. The starting point of the road is at the intersection with 1006 as it crosses the Ping River to become Thapae Road leading to the Old Town. These trees were supposedly planted in 1899 by the governor of Chiang Mai at the time. It is called the Rubber Tree road but the trees that are also bearers of sanctuaries to the locals are Dipterocarps. The most monumental of the trees is 40 metres in height.
Taking the train is also an option and then you can get off in the Khun Tan railway tunnel by the Doi Khun Tan national park which is also a great camping place. The tunnel was built between 1907 and 1918 and is Thailands longest railway tunnel with its 1352 meters.
When you follow the 106 from Chiang Mai it will automatically guide you straight to the main sight of the town, the temple Wat Haripunchai. And just opposite the temple you have a great coffee shop and gallery called the Temple Cafe and there is also a local Hainanese chicken on rice restaurant with some of the best Kao Man Gai in the country.
Wat Haripunchai is indeed one of the grandest temples in Northern Thailand. There are several viharns and chedis within the temple area as well as a museum and a library. The timespan for the structures spans over 1000 years. Officially built in the 12th century, some structures are from the 9th century and others are from the 20th century.
The 46 meter Lanna style Chedi from the 15th century inshrines the relics of the Buddha. On its top, there is a gilded umbrella weighing 6 1/2 kilo. Inside the Chedi, there is an older Mon Stupa. In the four corners, there are gilded umbrellas added in the 19th century.
The temple is open from 6 am to 6 pm except for Mondays and there is nowadays a 50 baht entrance fee for foreigners.
The celebration is a way to perform merit-making for the ethnic Yong minority of Lamphun. Their origins are actually from today Myanmar. Many of them were forced to resettle here by the Lanna king Kawila after war and raids into Shan and Yong territory. The largest inpouring of Yong occurred in 1805 when 10,000 people were sent from Muang Yong to be resettled in northern Thailand.
A Salak Yom is an impressive bamboo pole, often higher than 12 meters ornamented with thousands of brightly coloured, tufted rods.
In the past, the Salak Yom poles were manufactured by families with mature daughters. It is believed that the merit made by putting together these decorative poles equalled that of having a son ordained into monkhood. Also, it was a way to declare for the Yong families that their daughters were masters of various crafts and stood ready for marriage.
Each Salak Yom pole embodies a community, a mutual effort of everybody in the neighbourhood. The poles are also a lot taller, each measuring 12 meters or more, and elaborately decorated to be the most stunning when erected side by side.
Salad Yom is a three day event that takes place in September. The main site for the event is Wat Haripunchai.
Just opposite the entrance, there is a modern, air-conditioned and comfortable coffee shop with excellent coffee and tasty pastry. It also serves as a gallery. A perfect break from the tropical heat. Location here.
Also just opposite the temple, there is a Kao man gai restaurant (ข้าวมันไก่). This is the Thai variation of Hainanese chicken rice, a dish that’s extremely popular throughout Southeast Asia. This restaurant is called Kao Man Gai Thailand/ข้าวมันไก่ไทยแลนด์. They have both the boiled and the deep-fried version, or if you prefer a combination of both. It is very popular but most of the time there are available tables. Tai people write down their order on a piece of paper but you can always point to the pictures on the menu as well. This is a meal that is inexpensive and still a perfect filling lunch.
This temple is also named Wat Ku Kut. It is on the way when you drive to the Terracotta Garden from Wat Haripunchai, on the Chamadevi rd.
The temple was founded in the 12th century in the era of the Kingdom of Hariphunchai. The local tales say that the temple was founded much earlier in the days of Queen Chamadevi around her time of death 731. 98 years old! Legend says that one of her sons, after 7 days of mourning, put her ashes in the stupa.
Today it is considered to have been built by King named Athitayarat as a memorial to his victory over the Khmers. The present appearance was given to the stupa in 1218 when it was rebuilt by King Sapphasit after it was damaged in an earthquake.
The area is very interesting and worth a visit. There are some spectacular wooden structures and a manmade cave replica with statues depicting hermits.
Part restaurant/coffee shop part selfie and Instagram hotspot and also apparently someone is in love with religious Khmer art. There are lintels and art decorations reminiscent of the ones in the pink temple Bantey Srei in Cambodia for instance. A whole stupa has been built on the other side of a wooden bridge. Creating the feeling of the Hindu notion of the whole mountain Meru surrounded by the world oceans. I wasn’t quite sure what to think about it. The restaurant and the garden were nice though. Good coffee and pastry. Very busy on a Sunday. It is the type of place that you probably either love or strongly dislike. But better go there and make up your mind. The effort and I suppose money that is put into it is amazing.
The location of the Terracotta Garden is just by the Ping river.
A somewhat unconventional waterpark that I address in another blog post. Read more about it here.
Lamphun is also famous for Lammyai fruits and a harvest festival is held in July.
Visualize briny waves slowly and gently moving in and soothing the sandbed, coconut palms hanging low out in the sea, direct access to the bluish water for the kids while you are enjoying a cocktail or some delicious food, a mouthwatering pizza from the wood-fired oven or some smoked salmon carpaccio. The Boutique hotel and beach club The Cove on Ao Yon offers just that. The Cove also has sun loungers on their little artificial beach. And like a hotel, they have only three rooms. For the pictures below you have to think of yourself in the same place on a nice sunny high season day.
Ao Yon just beyond Cape Panwa is a picnic spot for locals and has a word to it that it is a bit too good to be true. Well sheltered and shallow. A beach that is definitely within reach but still a well-kept secret. It is between Cape Panwa and Panwa Beach. I had this low season heavy rain there when I was there. But still hung around for some time. Being here was simply very de-stressing. Sitting by a table in the sand looking out at the bay and the sailing boats. The area is popular for sailing. This would be an ideal spot to work for a few hours on the computer and just relax the eyes on the sea on a good day.
As for a day trip with kids, this could also easily be combined with Cape Panwa and the Phuket Aquaria/ Aquarium there. The largest aquarium in Thailand and a good place to go for the whole family and education as well.
Ao Yon is also in close reach to Phuket Town with all its cafes, street art and restaurants. The Cape Panwa section of Phuket has this Singapore light atmosphere. Well managed and organized.
Additional provinces to open for tourism according to TAT. From 1st of October Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Phetchaburi, Bangkok and Prachuap Kiri Khan.
From the end of October, another 21 provinces will open for instance Chiang Rai, Ayutthaya, Songkhla, Lamphun and Mae Hong Son. The plan is that the whole country should be open around January 13th 2022. Exactly under what conditions we will have to wait and see. And follow the updates from TAT. At the moment the idea about sealed travel routes in Chiang Mai is reconsidered for instance.
Nowadays, Chiang Mai is just a two hour direct flight to Phuket or Krabi and you can be on the beach. But it is not entirely true that we don’t have any beaches in Chiang Mai. Since February this year there is a place called Chiang Mai river beach. On Google maps they claim to be a coffee shop but there is more to it.
The Mae Nam Ping(river) is not that inviting to swim in but there are sun chairs and sand and toys for the kids to play in the sand. As usual it is also an Instagram hotspot where you can take a selfie with flowers or chill in a swing shaped like the moon.
There is also a bar with light dishes, coffee, and drinks.
Just recently I was on a somewhat “forced” vacation. I needed to stay 14 nights in Phuket to be able to go home to Chiang Mai. This was instead of a 14 night ASQ(alternative state quarantine) quarantine in Bangkok. So it allowed me to take a closer look at Phuket. My choice of hotel was Andamantra Resort & Villas in Kalim Bay. First and foremost I was looking for a decent resort for a reasonable price. On a hotel booking site, I got a good deal. 11000 baht including breakfast in a Premium room! For two weeks! So how was it?
Andamantra Resort & Villas is on the west coast of Phuket. Just 2 kilometres from Patong and a short drive from Kamala and Surin beaches. Kalim beach or bay is a very nice place to stay since it is a small district with a local community. The majority of the people living here are Muslims. There is a mosque and a school. Kalim beach is very short, mostly you see people fishing and it is popular with surfers. Quite a lot of rocks. Between the hotel and the beach, there is a road. But, this is the case in most places around Phuket. I highly appreciated the food scene. Both the local street food vendors and the international cuisine in the area. Read more about Kalim beach and its fantastic restaurants here.
Laundry service, 7/11 and motorbike rentals just outside the resort.
Many people go for the rooms on the hill with great panoramic views of the ocean. If you do, be ready for a short shuttle car transfer up and down or quite a walk. Some people would drive their rental motorbikes the whole way up. I had a friend that stayed at Andamantra just before I came. He recommended I ask for rooms near the breakfast and the lobby. Therefore I ended up in building 2. In this part of the hotel, you don’t get any smashing views, but the swimming pool and breakfast were close. Someone said that the internet connection worked better here also. Anyway, I rely more on my phone and 4G than hotel wifi.
The room was large with a king-size bed and a big balcony. Be prepared that the rooms are a bit worn, old school. A display by the bed to control the lights and the central air-conditioning, but no power outlet near the bed to charge the phone. There is a slight sweet-toned smell from moisture. This happens in many hotels in the tropics though where there is high humidity, and I can understand the problems it must have been for many of these hotels to keep up maintenance during the pandemic.
Vast washroom and a good shower. The toilet flushed well but slowly. Sometimes need to press the button twice.
You could hear motorbikes driving up and down outside the room and the occasional minaret call to prayer as well as some roaster and hens cluck-cluck, chuck-chuck. It didn’t bother me. But I met a digital nomad that asked for a room change because he was so disturbed by what he said was the noise from the road.
I never turned on the TV so I have no idea if there were any good channels.
I don’t want to be too harsh against the hotel since they tried to provide a buffet. That indicates that there were quite a lot of choices. The hotel provided rice porridge, some salad, warm Thai dishes, fried egg, sausages and fruits such as watermelon and pineapple. In terms of bread, only white toast bread and some banana cakes(delicious). Some day you could get pancakes. For the warm food, the main ingredient was chicken in almost all dishes every day.
Juice and coffee was nothing to write home about. But the 7/11 outside the hotel had great coffee for 25 baht. So every morning I headed straight to 7/11 after breakfast. For the price, I paid I must say that there were enough choices to enable me to leave the breakfast full every morning. It does help if you can eat rice and chicken basil for breakfast though.
If you are dependent on yoghurt, many choices of bread and so on. Then you will not appreciate this breakfast. I did suggest they have some more variation politely. They do have a real coffee machine but for a latte and cappuccino, it is something you need to pay for.
I have only positive things to say. When I asked for the Sha + hotel confirmation to use for my COE, it took less than 15 minutes to receive the document from their reservations. Housekeeping, reception, breakfast staff were all very friendly and efficient.
Andamantra served my purpose perfectly. A decent hotel at a great location near the sea for a very reasonable price. If you are looking for something more modern, with a high-quality breakfast during the early stages of the return of tourism to Thailand you can find some amazing deals for five star and luxury resorts. I heard of people that expected a lot more from Andamantra. That photos and booking sites gave the impression of a resort that was almost 5 stars. Some photos of the resort are indeed amazing. Good value for money I would say but old, and not at all that smashing.