Amazing Thailand - Feels Like Home
We love Chiang Mai! Flying in from Bangkok just felt like coming home. Having spent many weeks here on several occasions in 2019, this city had won a special place in our hearts.
The good people of Chiang Mai are known for their love of celebrations and we arrived just in time for the spring Flower Festival. Parties, dances and contests took place all week, culminating in the magnificent Flower Parade rolling through the streets along the moat, ending at Nong Buak Haad Park where the King & Queen of Flowers would be crowned that evening.
We walked across town and sat at a café close to the start of the parade, enjoying a leisurely breakfast, where soon we heard a marching band as the first participants began approaching from the east. School bands have a special place in our hearts as Susie and I both enjoyed playing (and goofing around!) in high school marching bands.
The acts in the parade ran the gamut from groups of gaily dressed walkers, to rickshaws with one or two riders, to gigantic floats pulled by tractors or trucks. Huge sound systems followed in their own trailer.
Most of these large floats were decked out in elaborate floral themes, some featuring rabbits for the year 2023 and many displaying the Thai Elephant. Beautifully garbed women and men, young and old, waved to the crowds as they passed by. I'll bet they were tired after the 3 hours it took to reach the park.
Large crowds of people lined the streets in every direction and the area around the old gate where the parade route turned south was particularly busy. Beside the shops and cafes, wandering vendors hawked their wares of toys, balloons, snacks, hats and other trinkets. We noticed that a plethora of cannabis shops have opened since last we were here. After the parade had passed, we wandered back inside the walls and stopped in a Mexican café for a snack and happened to taste the most fantastic raisin pudding ever!
That afternoon we did a walking tour of the old city, learning more about the history of the city and visiting some of the most beautiful temples. The tour finished in some of the markets on the east side, where many people come to get their groceries. We walked south to Dukes for some delicious pizza!
Pickleball has come to Chiang Mai! People play every day at an outdoor park on the SW side of the city, so Susie had picked a small hotel nearby for our stay, a few blocks outside the old city walls. It was just a 10-minute walk to the courts, with several small local cafes on the way. And Bird and Mike had their coffee cart set up right next to the courts. How perfect is that?
As always, we met many nice folks on the pball courts and had a good time playing there. The 4 courts are mostly shaded in the mornings, so the heat was bearable. The burning season in north central Thailand was starting, however, and the days were becoming progressively smoky.
"Thia Tom" was one of the best players, and we took lessons from him one afternoon.
Matthew and Roger also became good friends, and Roger and I decided to team up for men's doubles in the tournament in Hua Hin later that month.
Walking another 15 minutes south of the pickleball courts was the huge Airport Mall, a modern five-story complex with a large food court on the ground level and a modern cinema up top. (saw the new Avatar – cool but violent) Susie ordered some nice prescription sunglasses from a large optical store, that gave excellent service. We both picked up battery packs for our phones and ate in the food court several times, where they had everything from a large salad bar, to pad thai and many other local dishes. KFC, McDees & Starbucks too, of course.
I visited my cardiologist when we were in Orlando in December and he wanted me to do more tests that could not be fit in before we left Florida. So I scheduled them at Bangkok Hospital in Chiang Mai – a very modern facility that Susie had visited when we were here in 2019. I had an echocardiogram and a treadmill stress test, and the total was less than $250! (all tests normal!)
My 4-year-old Eagle Creek backpack was starting to show some wear (and some small rips) and we had seen a large sporting goods store near the hospital, called Decathlon. They had a very nice selection of backpacks, along with most types of sporting goods and clothes. I finally chose a Quezal 23L backpack, considerably larger than my 18L Eagle Creek. It seems very durable and has many different zipper pockets and pouches to lose things in!
After a few days Susie started getting a sore throat and feeling poorly and spent several days in bed. Couple of days later she was getting better, and I started sneezing. Ugh. Covid again? Not even getting tested this time. Stay home, get better, then carry on.
On Friday we took an eBike tour of the countryside southwest of Chiang Mai. These bikes were very cool with multiple speeds of assist – from zero on flat land if you wanted to pedal only, so major assist going up steep hills. We saw a large agricultural college with many fields of experimental crops, rural roads and villages and a very old temple with original wooden walls and roof.
Our guide also brought us to a small gravel making operation that was closed that day. They started with a pile of small boulders and broke them down by hitting them with a unique type of sledgehammer with long, flexible handles. The smaller rocks were then spread over large fire pits and cooked until they split into tiny pieces, then shoveled into burlap bags when cooled.
OK – the 2023 Thailand Open pickleball tournament is coming up shortly – time to get our butts down to Hua Hin and get set. It was the right time to bid adieu to Chiang Mai as the burning season was starting, covering the area in a smoky haze that aggravated many respiratory systems. Took a Bolt ride-share to the airport, flew to Bangkok, rode a big bus to Hua Hin station, and another Bolt to the hotel. Whew. Zzzz…
Hua Hin is (now) a resort town on western side of the Gulf of Thailand and south of Bangkok, expanding along the beach as the population grows. There are many large resorts and condominium complexes along the main and beachside roads, with commensurate cafes, shops, and restaurants. Two large malls have a wide assortment of typical mall stores, groceries and bakeries as well as Thai food courts.
Susie had booked a nice two-bedroom condo at La Habana through her FB friend Chris. We had to secure it through a wire transfer that was quite nerve-wracking but ended well. Never again. No credit card? No PayPal? No deal. But the complex was very nice with gorgeous landscaping, large pool, workout room, and a very comprehensive vending machine for coffee & smoothies. Excellent iced coffee for 45 baht – about $1.75.
Our second bedroom was secured in hopes that we would have visitors, and we were not disappointed! Our dear friends, Pu and Bo, drove up from their home on Koh Phangang to hang out for a few days. We introduced Bo to pickleball with some basic lessons and enjoyed exploring the town. There were two large night markets very close, with a large assortment of Thai, Korean and western food, as well as live entertainment. The Cicada Market was well named as we could hear the insects buzzing in the trees near the entrance. Susie’s fav was the oyster omelet while I loved the Thai chicken noodle soup and the baked mac’n’cheese!
One morning I realized my zip-off shorts were no longer hanging on the drying rack on our 8th floor balcony, most likely carried away by the strong winds of the last couple days. I walked all around the area and street below, to no avail. None of the stores in Hua Hin carried lightweight pants with zip-off legs, so I discovered that Decathlon, where I had bought my backpack in Chiang Mai (a French version of REI), had many stores in Thailand. I found several models and had them shipped from Bangkok. It took several tries to get the correct size (the charts with sizing for 5 countries were daunting), but their delivery and return service were great. I was impressed.
We came for pickleball and crammed in a lot of play! There were two indoor complexes, one with A/C and one without. The tournament was held at the latter, T Rex, with eight indoor courts used for pball and badminton, an exercise room and small café. With the outside temps reaching 90° F it got pretty hot and sweaty inside!
Roger and I were up on Thursday, the first day, in men’s doubles, 60+ and 3.0 rating – the lowest. We lost every game! First two were close, but the last against two young (61 – haha) guys from Singapore sent us to the dressing room. Ugh. Still fun, but ugh. Susie and I were in the same level for mixed doubles. Won our first game, and lost next two, and…out. Well 1 for 3 – better than last time!
After that we joined True Arena, which was much closer to our condo, and had pickleball every morning from 8 until noon. We met a lot of nice folks from western Europe and Russia and played a variety of games and drills. Sadly, my plantar fasciitis became worse, so I dropped out of most play in later weeks, leaving Susie to carry on.
Songthaews are one of the most popular modes of transport in many Thai towns. They are converted pickup trucks with two bench seats along each side, under a metal cover. Folks hail them down on the road and clamber aboard, until the seats and standing room are full. Bang on the cab to stop and get off and hand the drive 50 baht. Off you go! And they drive on the wrong (left) side in Thailand!
Quite a few of the people in GoWithLess, one of the travel groups we follow were in Hua Hin, so we had a chance to meet up in person for dinner and drinks a couple of times. Interesting and fun to swap lies and stories about traveling around the globe. One meetup was held at Woodstock which featured a good local band and guest players, so Tim (from Chapala, Mx) and I got to jam on some tunes.
Wow – have we been in Thailand two months already? Almost the end of March so the weather in Vietnam should be nice and warm, right? Hmmm…. we’ll see!