Virtual meanderings

Coming to Chiang Mai

Moving around Chiang Mai 101

     The bus arrived at Chiang Mai at around 6:00 am. With its couple of hundred thousand inhabitants, Chiang Mai is much smaller than Bangkok, but definitely not small. It was still dark outside, but soon the dawn started to break.

A young Buddhist boy doing his morning food collection walk

Using the daily morning food collection walk of Buddhist apprentices to tell the time

Courtesy: author (shot from the bus window)

       Unlike Bangkok, there are no taxis in Chiang Mai. Brent had advised me to take a tuk-tuk to the hostel, because it was located far from the bus stop. Even at that early time some tuk-tuk vultures were already circling around the arriving sheep. Or, if you want it said unother way – some self-employed members of the town’s service industry had gotten up early in order to provide the travelers with a needy service. At first I was approached by one, and soon by another driver both of whom asked for B150 (about $5) to take me to the hostel. Brent had told me that the ‘normal’ price was at most B100 and that I should not agree to anything higher.

    What Brent had not told me, however (I assume that for some reason he was not aware of it himself) – was that there existed a much cheaper mode of transport around Chiang Mai. Which would have cost me just B20 to the hostel, or to just about any destination within town. This mode of transport is the ubiquitous Chiang Mai “red truck.”

Chiang Mai Red Truck

Chiang Mai Red Truck ( Songthaew)

    Courtesy: wikipedia

    These red trucks move along the streets and pick up people on the way and deliver them all one by one in a self-propelling process. From a practical point of view, you should think of it as a slightly slower taxi. During my time in Chiang Mai I used these red trucks extensively, and I was never refused a ride, regardless of what direction I was going. And it never took long to reach my destination. (On a side note, the majority of Chiang Mai’s attractions and activities are located around its historical center area anyway).

    If one needed to go to a location outside of the central area – say, to the Zoo – the fee would still be a modest B30 to B50. Mind you, these are the actual prices that Thai people pay themselves. The tuk-tuk “alternative” is in fact a big rip-off. I noticed that very often the red truck operation seemed to be a family affair – the husband was doing the driving, while his wife collected the money with a wide smile. Sure enough, when you are a foreigner they happily ask for several time the price. But once you smile back and tell them you know the ‘real’ price, they smile even wider and charge you right.

     Fresh out of the bus, I knew none of that and I followed Brent’s suggestion – got a tuk-tuk ( and it was my only tuk-tuk ride in Chiang Mai). I later calculated that if I had continued using their service I would have paid about $30 more for moving around. Now you have no excuses using a tuk-tuk when in Chiang Mai!

Spicy Thai Backpackers hostel

    Spicy Thai Backpackers was in a small neighborhood with large, American-style wooden houses. It all looked pretty upscale and unusual for Thailand. And it was. At the entrance to the neighborhood there was an unobtrusive booth with a security guard who did not react in any way when foreigners were passing back and forth. As I found out later, the building of the hostel had been a residence for the US Consulate at Chiang Mai. I strongly suspect that us backpackers were invading an area where many of Chiang Mai’s richest people lived.

A random house in the hostel neighborhood

A random house in the hostel neighborhood

Courtesy: author

    The hostel itself was really nice. Relaxed atmosphere, smooth and competent management and – above all – easygoing community spirit dwelled in this place. Its advantages far outweighed the only disadvantage of being relatively far from the historical center. Each new day I spent here would only strengthen this perception. If you want to know what got me hooked on hostels, now you know.
But prior to discovering all of these Spicy qualities, I dropped dead on my newly acquired bed. I had not gotten any sleep all night on the crowded double-decker bus. In fact, if you read my earlier posts you would know that I had not have a single night of going to bed at some reasonable time, and this night in the bus had been no different.
The hostel cost B250 ($8) a night for a shared room with 10 beds. One could find a cheaper place to stay if one so needed. As for me, it was worth every baht. What is more, unlike in my Bangkok hotel, the hostel offered free wi-fi, as well as two computers with Internet connection – also for free. It was hard to not appreciate this – in Bangkok I had spent a small fortune in the internet cafes, paying 20 or 30 baht per hour. I was beginning to discover the important advantages that hostels in Thailand had over hotels  – free wi-fi and Internet was not all of those, there were in fact more.

    When I woke up it was 1 pm.  I dumped my National Geographic guide at the hostel’s “book swap” section (one more thing you would not find in a hotel) “swapping” it for the Lonely Planet’s masterpiece “South East Asia on a Shoestring”, hoping that it will be more useful. (A later note: no, it was not, at least not by a large margin.)
With the new travel guide book in hand, it was time for Elvis to leave the building and explore Chiang Mai together with two new acquaintances – from Slovenie – who had travelled in the same bus, and so Elvis did.


One response to “Coming to Chiang Mai

  1. Pingback: Getting to China | A must-read « mastercopycat

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