Monday, October 19, 2015

Chiang Mai - day 1

3 Oct 2015 (Saturday)

Everyone in our closest circle of friends - Pizzadude, Maya and her hubby R, Viv and me - loves travelling. It was therefore quite surprising that even after being friends for so long, we had not gone on a holiday together. We had been discussing it on and off, and had even roughly decided on the city of Chiang Mai in the mountains of North Thailand, but it couldn't happen because of one thing or the other, and mostly because timings were not matching. Finally, after much chasing by Pizzadude, we managed to find a window when everyone was available. Also, the haze was driving us crazy, so getting out of here for a bit and breathe some fresh air sounded like heaven. 

Tickets were quickly booked, and we got together one evening to discuss accommodation options. I'd shortlisted some Airbnb places, and we finally narrowed it down to a penthouse located in a central area. I read up on things to do and was particularly keen on going to an elephant sanctuary where you get to closely interact with elephants without riding on them or making them do weird things like paint! To my delight, the rest were just as excited, especially Pizzadude. (Some day, I need to blog about the Phuket trip we did with him and how much more excited than the 2-year-old Xena HE was to see a baby elephant by the resort's pool!)

Since there were 5 adults and 2 kids (Xena and Maya's and R's 1.5-year-old Pickles), we booked a driver and a van to take us around some of the local attractions. To ensure that the kids' naps were not too disrupted, we made only half-day plans for each day. 

We passed the keys of our home to Viv's sister so she could pop by to feed Blueberry, Xena's fish, and set off! 

We had not told Xena about the holiday. She thought we were meeting some friends at the airport for lunch. (Our lovely Changi airport is indeed so awesome that people just go there for a meal.) When Xena saw the suitcases, she got suspicious. "Are we going to India?" She asked. "Do you want to go to India?" I asked. "No", she said, "I don't want the injections." Oh dear lord. I'd told her that we'd be getting vaccines before our India trip and now I think she's getting a phobia about it. Anyway, so we told her we were not going to India, but to another place where she could see elephants! She was super thrilled. "Where are we going?" She asked. "Chiang Mai", I said. "Without injections??" She asked. It was hilarious.

The excited little girl

As we waited for Pizzadude to pick us up in a cab, we took some pictures. 

I'm not sure what this is. Some kind of yawning yoga, I suppose. 

Finally, we reached the airport.

We met the gang at Saravana Bhavan as I was craving bhaturas and knew that there was no way I'd be eating any other cuisine in Chiang Mai other than the local food. Viv and I both love Thai food and the last two trips we made to Thailand were heaven, thanks to the yummy food we got everywhere we went. 

One of the most exciting things for Xena is a trolley ride -- whether it's at the airport or a supermarket!

My little fashionista checking out aukaat-se-oopar-ki cheezein

Viv going to check out the duty-free alcohols. Way to go, Viv. What a highly appropriate place to take your kid! :D

After lunch, we let the kids watch the planes from the viewing gallery for a while. Can you see how bad the haze is?

The little monkey making faces

The flight was about 3 hours and the timing was perfect because both Xena and Pickles fell asleep as soon as the plane took off. Refreshed after her afternoon nap, she read her books, played with her toys and did her colouring, and was no trouble at all whatsoever.  

She went through all the reading material in 5 minutes so I had to bring out her books. 

After a while, she felt very cold in the plane, in spite of her full-sleeved hoodie, and promptly borrowed my jacket and made herself comfortable. 

She also borrowed Pickles' snack, a Parle-G biscuit, which she'd never had before. Viv told her that she needed to eat the borders first and then the part with the letters, and she was very excited about it. 

Xena showing Viv how nicely she'd eaten off the borders

We were almost there! Clear skies... what a sight for sore eyes!

Chiang Mai, here we come!

After we disembarked, we were taken to the airport in a bus. Xena was thrilled to see the plane from such close quarters. 

Our Airbnb host, a very friendly Aussie guy, had come to the airport to pick us up. He was quite a funny guy, but it took us a while to get used to the combination of his accent and his jokes. But he was a real sweet guy who had done a lot of preparations to make our stay comfortable.  

On the way, we saw a hair salon, and I kid you not -- it was called 'Oops Hair Salon'. I'd have taken a picture but the car was going too fast. 

Whenever we do Airbnb, I usually take a small gift or a Singaporean snack for our hosts. I'd taken a packet of pandan snacks for our host after much mulling because whatever snacks Singapore had, Thailand probably had better. Then I figured that a pandan-flavoured snack might work because pandan is not so common in Thai cuisine. At least it would be something different. 

His place was quite big, with a room for each family, and two bathrooms upstairs and one downstairs. There was even a walk-in wardrobe! (Xena and I used to do squats in there!) The kitchen was well-equipped and had a bar section, which we intended to use a lot after the kids were asleep! 

I told Pizzadude that being the only bachelor man in the group, he had first dibs on which room he wanted. He was quite happy to pick his room, but actually all the rooms were nice so it didn't matter. 

The only downside was that the windows were quite low, which freaked Viv out, but we locked everything and were constantly watching the two kids. 

It was already 8 pm by the time we left the place to get dinner. We walked around, trying to find something nearby. The first place we found was very empty, and the wait staff was actually eating dinner at a table. We asked if they were open and they said they were. However, they didn't understand English and their menu didn't have the things we wanted to eat. We were also not sure they would be able to understand and customise food for the two vegetarians in the group. Though they were very sweet and even googled the word 'vegetarian' for us so they could read it in Thai and confirm that's what we wanted, Maya and I both strongly agreed that we should find a better place. We walked and walked and just when it seemed like there was no hope in the world anymore (and both Maya and I were starting to feel guilty about walking off that other place), we found a place!

It was called De Zaab and all I could think of was 'Tezaab', with 'Ek do teen' already playing in my head. 

We were so hungry by then, we'd have eaten anything. I grabbed the menu sheets and gasped. 

The entire menu was in Thai! (Or 'paperclip' as our Airbnb host referred to it!)

To our relief, the wait staff got someone who spoke English and they patiently took down our orders and modifications. The food turned out to be super yum! 

The pad Thai was one of the best I'd ever had. 

Xena's main course -- a slice of lime. I kid you not, she'd have had only that if we didn't feed her!

There was this swing just outside the dining area and Xena chilled there for a bit. 

Next to the restaurant was a massage place that our host had highly recommended. It was 1000 baht for a 2-hour massage and on top of that, they had a 1-for-1 offer. So it was literally $10 per hour! Dirt cheap compared to Singapore. We decided we would come back for the massages on Monday. 

After dinner, we bought breakfast supplies at the nearby 7-11. The kids were supremely sleepy by the time we got back, but we gave Xena a hose-down anyway (airport germs!). She quickly fell asleep, and  so did we. Our driver would be picking us up at 9 am the next morning. 

Next up - Doi Suthep, handicraft village and the amazing Sunday night market!

Read next: Chiang Mai Day 2.



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