Road to Chiang Mai

It’s dark so it’s difficult to assess the hotel properly but the rooms, while eccentric, are fantastic, and we are paying just 2,000 baht for the night. You can see more information about the hotel at Baan Singh Kham


The site is not great but don’t let that put you off. The hotel is charming, small (I like small), very clean and very beautiful. Take a look at the bathrooms on the site! They are just a lot of fun.

I highly recommend this place. The staff are efficient, polite and they speak good English too. Ok, the place is a little eccentric. The fitness room is a bike on a balcony. New York this ain’t! You know, if I wanted New York I would go to New York. This is Thailand and I am content.

We go into Chiang Mai for dinner and find a pretty good Thai restaurant. We then wander off into the nightlife. It’s not the same as Bangkok. Yes, there are beer bars and gogo bars and a mass of karaoke bars but it is very laid back. In fact it is fair to say that Chiang Mai is generally a laid back city with its own, very unique charm. The three of us play a little pool, drink a little beer and eventually wander by accident into what is termed a gogo.


I am the only farang. No one speaks a word of English and who ever heard of a gogo bar with no poles? Well, there is a pole but it is at the entrance to the bar rather than in the bar itself. We are “entertained” by girls spitting darts to burst balloons, opening bottles of beer and doing various other weird and wonderful things with (how can I put this subtly) various and unlikely body parts.

Next morning I wake early, read in a chair on the balcony and gently watch the world pass me by. We all have breakfast and then set off for Chiang Rai. It’s not far, a little over a 100km but it’s through some very hilly terrain with slow, single lane tracks. Yet this is Thailand maybe at it’s best — green and lush, sun reflecting off the rice fields, the air fresh and clean.

Our destination is uncertain, meaning we have no idea where it is! It’s a new hotel called Doi Hom Fha. All we really know is that it is accessible by track rather than by road and that we have to take a ferry to reach the hotel itself.

Via many conversations on the phone we do eventually find the track, though “track” is a poor description. It’s more a mud trail to nowhere.

Eventually we pass through a small village of open huts and see the horizon of what appears to be a huge lake. We see boys playing in the water, fishing with small sticks. There are men in small, lazy boats fishing in the open water, also amidst the foliage of the shores. The sun lights up a panorama and we are in another world. It’s magnificent, isolated, huge and inspiring.


The hotel itself is hard to describe. It’s better experienced via pictures. The lobby is like a giant cave. I have never seen anything so big in my life. I sense there should be bats lining the walls and ceiling. The manager is hospitality herself except I mean himself as “she” later turned out to be a “he’, wonderfully eccentric, exaggeratedly feminine but fun to know. I could have done without the details of the upcoming “final” operation however.

The rooms are small villas and it’s clear we are occupying the only functional ones, functional being a relative term. The hotel is not properly open for business as yet. The grand opening is in January 2007. This is clearly meant to a 5-star resort and it is, but in a Thai way. So the advertised DVD player is found in one room but not in mine. The aircon works but vaguely so. The tap comes off my shower and the wiring looks more dangerous than an unexploded cluster bomb! And outside showers and baths are a wonderful concept except when it is raining!
Yet it really doesn’t matter. Everyone is friendly and you sense they probably will get everything fixed by January and the place is just so wonderful that I can manage almost any problem. Aso, we are paying 2,500 baht versus a rack rate of 8,000.

The site address is Doi Hom Fha. It is worth taking a look.

We are driven around the resort. It’s owned by a Thai who made his fortune in jewelry. You sense this is his fantasy project. Honestly I don’t see how the economics can work but feel the love that has gone into the project. The basis of everything is wine. The vineyards were laid down about 10 years ago with shiraz grapes. There is an enormous, I would almost say fantastic, winery with great vats full of wine.

Next we move onto the jewelry factory where gemstones are being polished by about thirty workers. Beside is the tea house where we sample about 10 different types of tea. All around is the most wonderful scenery you will ever see. What a place this is. If I was staying in a tent I would be happy here and I never do tents! If you want to escape into a civilized wilderness, far from anyone, privacy guaranteed, set in the most beautiful surrounds, then this is the place for you. All of us fall in love with the place. All of us will return.


Later we go into Chiang Rai itself for the gallery opening. On our return we discover that the ferryman has fallen asleep on the wrong side of the lake! Our driver is getting increasingly frantic trying to raise him on the radio. I am beginning to think about the merits of 4 of us sleeping in one car. He does eventually wake up and we cross in the darkness, the lake holding its secrets from us like an eclipse of the moon.


My previous time in Chiang Rai I had stayed right beside the Mekong River. We took a boat into the Golden Triangle passing huge Buddhas as we criss-crossed Thailand, Laos and Burma. We also visited the Queen Mother’s Summer Palace where there is a feast of flowers that overwhelms the senses.


I also had the misfortune to be conned by my children into an elephant ride across the river. This was not cool. Uncomfortable, often scary, am I the only person who suffers from elephant motion sickness? The Mekong and the areas around the Mekong are the equal of Doi Hom Fha, but much more geared to the tourist. I can only say that I adore the whole of the Chiang Rai region. It’s my favorite part of Thailand. I would happily get lost there for weeks on end.

The next day, Sunday, we drove home to Bangkok. It’s a 10-12 hour drive. Addisorn managed to lose us a few times, to the point that we started to believe we might end up in Hat Yai if we didn’t stay awake to guide him! Oh for the joys of satellite navigation. In Europe I can almost close my eyes on a 500km trip from Geneva to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In Thailand I can get lost going round a corner.


Three days is not nearly enough time to do this trip. We saw almost nothing, yet we also saw everything. I would recommend taking 5-6 days, driving slowly, stopping often, keeping away from the main metropolises, with the exceptions of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. It’s a wonderful experience and a fun and novel way to experience more of what Thailand is about.


Last, some links for you about Chiang Rai:

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