In the waiting area of Vientiane Airport, we watched our bags being loaded onto the small Laos Airlines plane. To pass the time I read up in the Vientiane Times about a pretty local girl in traditional costume who won the Miss Laos competition the previous day. Then I looked up and a bunch of dignitaries, a camera crew and a girl in traditional costume carrying a bunch of flowers all excitedly walked across the runway. I think it was the president of Laos who had been attending the competition and his crew judging by his photo in the paper.
On arrival in Chiang Mai we were able to arrange a free pick up to our guesthouse Eagle House 2 . It was a bit of a shock after 2 months in Laos and Cambodia to see such a developed city. ATM’s and 7-11’s on every corner, fancy cars, and huge billboards advertising the latest electronic goods. After settling into our en-suite basic room for 290 Baht we rambled around town. We managed to make the most of the happy hour in ‘Kafe’ a cosy pub near Tha Pae gate area. Then back to the guesthouse for some food. However, reception informed us with no apology that the kitchen was closed even though it was supposed to be open for another hour or so. Disappointed we ventured around the corner to Mr. Burger for a great big yummy cheeseburger and proper chips.
The next day we stopped by a wonderful gallery on the far side of the river called La Luna www.lalunagallery.com. There is a wonderful collection of paintings, photography, sculpture, furniture and jewellery from artists based in South East Asia. With our fill of culture and markets, we decided it was time for more beer. So in the rooftop bar across from Tha Pae Gate, we enjoyed a few beverages. This funky bar is covered in dayglo paint and crusties, which add to the alternative atmosphere. We knocked back a few vodkas while listening to reggae tunes and soaking up the view of the city. We chatted to an array of characters including the American DJ who was unofficially married to his girlfriend but still “digged” the Thai girl Peem from the Chiang Mai Cookery School. Then set off to a rather dull drum and bass night in the Top North Hotel.
It was Queens Day and it was our mission to celebrate. We started the evening by playing pool in the “Amsterdam Bar” in the night market area. After several drinks, we got lost and stumbled upon another establishment called “The Underground Bar”. This is where it all went downhill. We were invited in by the resident alcoholics. Then after several more “Singha’s” served by the charismatic Nina we ended up playing darts with some random Canadian backpackers. The darts and beers were flying and suddenly we realised as the shutters went up and the sun beamed through it was definitely time to go. So we got lost yet again and finally stumbled into bed mid-morning!
After a day of recovery with a near death-like hangover we decided to go up the mountains nearby to have dinner. The restaurant was overlooking both a waterfall and the city at sunset. As the sun went down the lights lit up the horizon and illuminated the falls. Then out of nowhere a Thai country and western band started to perform at our table complete with cowboy hats and boots. Now if that wasn’t surreal enough a clown emerged beside me offering a balloon sculpted into a poodle. I really thought I was hallucinating and perhaps they had added something to my drink, but no it was real.
After a few days of bad service and being refused dinner at the guesthouse several times we decided to move to our new abode. That evening we walked over to The Garden Chiang Mai. A smiling lady greeted us and showed us to the rooms. Impressed with the cosy atmosphere we decided to stay for dinner. Tim the owner sat down with us for a chat at one of the tables in the garden. Immediately we felt at home. There is a wonderful collection of characters that frequent the guesthouse adding to the vibe of the place. In one evening while listening to one of the bands that play here you may come across; washed-up hippies, gamblers, hypnotists, photographers, web designer’s, masseurs, a ladyboy and whose ever else maybe hanging around.
We decided before leaving that we would venture back to the Underground one last time. The problem was though that we had no idea where the hell the place was. So we retraced our steps wandering up and down laneways that looked somewhat familiar. After a couple of hours, I realised that in my drunken logic I had written down exactly where the location of the bar was ‘across from the Mae Ping hotel’. On arrival, we received a warm welcome from Nina and met the new owners of the bar a lovely Thai girl and an English dude. We had our final game of darts in the bar before heading back to the guesthouse.
Every Sunday evening in Chiang Mai there is a Market which takes over the city. It also happens to pass by the Garden Guesthouse which was handy for us. There is a gentle, almost magical atmosphere; no one is in a hurry. Locals and tourists ambling along from stall to stall. Traditional music and food smell waft through the streets. At one stall we bumped into the Canadian dart playing dread heads again complete with a large Singha beer in each hand. So we said our goodbye’s both to the Canadians and to Chiang Mai.
OUR FAVOURITE PLACES FROM THE TRIP
- PAKSE HOTEL – Pakse, Laos
Boutique hotel with luxury en-suite rooms at a good price
- MASH MELTING POT – Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Great value $4 rooms, laid back atmosphere created by the staff and outdoor seating area
- JASMIN INDIAN RESTAURANT – Pakse, Laos
Excellent service and food (ask for the mint sauce)
- ZIVA’S – Ko Chang, Thailand
Authentic tasty Italian, speciality desert is chocolate biscuit salami
- HIPPO CAFE – Ko Chang, Thailand
For the mouthwatering falafel and BBQ meats
- VENEZIA – White Sands, Ko Chang, Thailand
Best Italian coffee and ice cream, lovely Italian owner
- NATURE ROCKS – Lonely Beach, Ko Chang, Thailand
Feels like you’ve been a regular for years, local expat crowd, fireshows for tourists
- REGGAE BAR – Don Det, Laos
Great setting on Mekong, best hangover breakfast incl. 5mg valium, 500mg Paracetemol and a shot of laolao
Chiang Mai – 27 Apr ’07