I like to get out of Bangkok when I can. I find the noise, pollution, traffic and scale of Bangkok a little wearisome. Recently I took a road trip to the Chiang Rai region in the very north of the country. It was was a lot of fun, very relaxing and we collected some great pictures.
[An apology in advance. I originally wrote this for my own blog which has different pixel widths than this site, so some of the text wrapping and some of the full width pics are a bit wonky. I will try to sort this out for the future.]
To see more pictures of the trip, please go to: Road To Chiang Rai
Many people outside Thailand assume that if you have been to Bangkok you have been to Thailand. In fact, Krung Thep (roughly translating to City of Angels), to use it’s Thai name, has been the capital of Thailand, or Siam, only since the very end of the 18th century, succeeding Ayuthaya and Sukothai.
Bangkok (translating as ‘village of wild plums’) was the original site for the capital city and was located west of the Chao Phraya river (in modern day Thonburi).
In 1782, King Rama I decided to move to a more defensible site and moved across the river to found his new capital, Krung Thep. For whatever reason, foreigners have never since caught up with the name change and the old name of Bangkok has stuck. In recent years, Krung Thep/Bangkok has expanded at such a fast rate that it now sprawls over a huge mass of land on both the sides of the Chao Phraya and has engulfed the once independent Thonburi.
Krung Thep is actually an abbreviated version of the ceremonial full name, which is shown below in a romanized form.
Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit
In English this translates, roughly, to: The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.
Perhaps we should stick to Bangkok!
Early August we set off to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. The trip is for business, to attend a gallery opening in Chiang Rai. It’s easier to fly but I drive whenever I can. We decided to drive straight to Chiang Mai, break for the night, then move on to Chiang Rai the next day. It takes about seven hours to get to Chiang Mai, depending on traffic, the lunatic Formula 1 aspirations of your driver, and taking the right roads. Addisorn certainly has Formula 1 aspirations, and the only traffic problem we had was running into a funeral, but he can’t read a map, so we arrived late.
It’s a pleasant though unremarkable route, mostly by expressway. One joy is to see the rice fields. Field upon field stretching endlessly both vertically and horizontally. Rice farmers and their families working the fields. You feel as if you are going back in time to a more peaceful and simple existence, out from the city into the farming heartland of Thailand.
Last year I took the same route with my children but we spent four days getting to Chiang Mai, stopping off at Ayuthaya, Lopburi, Sukothai, Lampang and Phitsanulok to see a variety of sights.
In Europe I would never describe myself as a church freak. I am happy to visit the odd cathedral here and there but that’s about it. In Thailand I definitely fall into the category of temple addict. I love the Buddhist culture and the temples, whether extant or in ruins, induce all sorts of strange emotions in me.
Of all the places we visited Ayuthaya is the best known, being close to Bangkok, but Sukothai was for me the most interesting experience. Finding good hotels proved challenging. We stayed in some fairly weird places but I am now beginning to get to grips with the concept of Thai travel lodges. Luxurious they are not but they are clean, often set in very beautiful countryside and they do more for me than the functionalism of a convention type hotel.
This time we got close to Chiang Mai at around six and stopped off for dinner in a small town, beside the market. The markets are the soul of Thai rural society.You eat there, you shop there and you see Thailand there. Exotic smells, wonderfully fresh food, often grown by small families selling off their surplus.
In the outer edges of the bigger cities there are very few non-Thai and I always find myself being observed by young and old alike, as if I am an alien from another planet. I try to speak Thai to them , asking perhaps for some noodle soup or some geng daeng (red curry) and they respond with vacant stares which demonstrate that knowing Thai vocabulary is not even close to being able to speak the language!
As almost everywhere in Thailand the people are unfailingly polite and charming. Eventually we find food I can eat and then I observe the food sellers watching me to see if I can cope with the spice! There are chuckles of delight as I cough violently on som tam and expressions of satisfaction as I ask for more.
We get into Chiang Mai itself around eight. Part of our mission is to find some high quality boutique hotels to recommend to future clients.
It’s a nice idea in principle but it can be hell finding these places. We are staying at a place called Baan Singh Kham and we are lost. We call the hotel and the manager tells us to hold on and he will come and find us. After a few minutes he arrives and we follow him to the hotel.