Places to visit – Chiang Mai

In February, we undertook our first ‘proper’ family holiday to Thailand. We spent 4 days in Chiang Mai, a city in the north of Thailand, and 3 days on the beach in Phuket, which is an island in the south. There’s not much for me to say about Phuket, we stayed in a nice apartment and spent the whole time in the pool or by the beach! But I thought I’d tell you about Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is a really nice city to visit. It doesn’t really feel like a city because the areas you are likely to visit or stay in are in general low rise and fairly quiet. The old city centre is enclosed by a square moat and seems to be mostly made up of temples! (I am joking, but there are a seriously large number of temples). We stayed a little way outside the city centre in an area called Nimmanhaemin. We chose to stay here simply because it was cheaper than staying in the city centre but closer to it than some hotels which seemed to be outside of Chiang Mai itself. However, we seriously lucked out! The area is full of restaurants and coffee shops and has a really laid back, trendy feel. It was perfect for us because we never had to venture far to find food (which is a blessing when you have small children). Also, there were loads of red taxis (which looked to me like pick-up trucks with a roof put on the back) so when we did want to visit the city centre we could easily do so and it only took 10-15 minutes.

We stayed at the At Pingnakorn Nimman Hotel which was well reviewed on Tripadvisor. We booked a 2 bedroom suite which suited us perfectly. There was a shower room and a large bathroom, two large double bedrooms and a sitting area with a small couch, dining table and chairs, and a corner kitchen area with a fridge, microwave and sink. The room was beautifully decorated, like the rest of the hotel, in an ornate but light style. I found it quite charming, but it’s not your average hotel decor! (see photos on the website to see what I mean about the hotel decor) But it was very clean and well kept. The rate included a great buffet breakfast with a range of western and Asian food. We also liked the rooftop garden as it gave the twins a little bit of space to run around. The only negative thing I can say about the place is that we had checked beforehand that they had two cots for the twins, and we were reassured that they did, but when we arrived, one was being used by someone else so they only gave us one. In the end, Tom had to put his foot down and strongly pointed out that we had been promised two cots, and a suspiciously new looking cot arrived in our room not long after that!

Oh, I just remembered something else! This whole area of Nimmanhaemin is under the flight path from Chiang Mai airport, so if plane noise is an issue for you, I wouldn’t recommend staying here. We didn’t mind it but it was fairly loud.

So what did we do in Chiang Mai? To be honest, we only really scratched the surface of the place, since we wanted a relaxing holiday rather than dragging the twins here there and everywhere, which would have been not at all relaxing! On our first day we headed into the old city centre and visited some of the temples. We started off with the most prominent temple Wat Phra Singh.

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Unfortunately, the chedi here was covered in scaffolding (which seems to pop up around pretty much every historic monument we visit) but you can just about see it underneath.

wat_pra_singh_chedi

Our next stop was Wat Chedi Luang, a massive ancient chedi which has been partially restored (it’s pretty obvious which bits have been restored). In the picture below, you can just see me and Isobel standing at the foot (Isobel enjoyed playing with the balustrade).

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Jack, on the other hand, was showing no interest in history at all and much preferred playing with his bottle of sunscreen…

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Behind the chedi (to the west) were a few smaller buildings, including this tasteful wooden one which was a monument to a prominent Bhuddist scholar (sorry, I didn’t take a note of the name!).

beautiful_wooden_building_chiang_mai

I also didn’t note the name of this temple, which was next door to Wat Chedi Luang on Th Phra Pokklao. Another pretty wooden building!

wooden_temple_chiang_mai

Behind it was a small but very pretty garden, full of beautiful flowers!

bhuddist_religious_garden_chiang_mai

We also managed to squeeze in an ice cream and some lunch around our temple viewing, and that was our first morning in Chiang Mai. I don’t think we did much else that day!

The next day we decided to head up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which is a temple complex in the hills above Chiang Mai. We got a red taxi both ways, which I’m not sure if I would do again! It’s a very windy road up the mountain and visibility is quite low in the back of the taxis so it was a bit nauseating. One thing I would suggest is that you should pay the taxi to wait and take you back down again. It doesn’t cost much more than getting two separate taxis. We didn’t do that and the only taxis going back down wait until they’re totally full (a bit of a squish) before they go so we were waiting a while before we could go down. It’s also nicer to have more space in the back of your own taxi!

Anyway, we’re not very cultured and the place was pretty busy so we didn’t perhaps get the best experience of the temple. Also, it was quite hazy so we didn’t get any real view of Chiang Mai either. But it is quite pretty, and very gold!

wat_phra_thap_doi_suthep

In the late afternoon we went back into the city centre to see the Sunday walking market. One of the main east-west roads in the centre (Ratchadamnoen Road) is closed on Sunday evenings and becomes a market full of hundreds of stalls selling all sorts of crafts, decor, clothes, food etc. We got there just as it was starting (some stalls were still setting up) and really enjoyed wandering around lots of the stalls and picking up lots of street food to eat along the way. It was a really nice market with lots of unusual and beautiful goods, some of which were obviously massed produced, but some of which were definitely handmade. A great place to pick up souvenirs! (Chiang Mai also has a daily night market but we didn’t visit it – many of the guides say that it is just full of touristy tat, but the Sunday walking market is much better) As I said, we got there pretty early (maybe around 5.30pm) but by 7pm it was pretty busy so we decided to head back home to put the twins to bed.

Those were the main things that we did in Chiang Mai. We also visited the park in the south west corner of the city centre (Buak Hard public park) which was a nice open space for the twins to run around in (although there are lots of ponds for children to fall into if you let them!). We didn’t actually use the playground there as it was pretty busy and had sand underneath, which was a level of messiness we couldn’t be bothered with!

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We also hit the play area in Maya mall (called Maya Fantasia) one afternoon since it was near where we were staying and the twins needed a run around. It’s a nice new play area and the twins were occupied for the best part of an hour, which is pretty good going!

One final highlight from our time in Chiang Mai was the dinner we had at Mr Chan and Miss Pauline. This Italian/Thai/Swedish restaurant is situated quite far out of town, but we were driven there by a Thai friend. The food is fantastic – I especially loved the fresh Italian bread and the steak calzone we had. It has a lovely outdoor dining area, where we sat, and it had high chairs! (bonus!)

There are lots of things around Chiang Mai which we didn’t do, such as visit the zoo (although I’ve heard mixed reviews), elephant sanctuaries and a tiger sanctuary. But as I said, we just wanted to see a few things and relax away from home! Chiang Mai is lovely and laid back and was a great contrast to Hong Kong’s busy-ness. I’d recommend it for a nice slice of Thai life!

If you want to travel to Chiang Mai with toddlers here are a few things to note:

First of all, Chiang Mai isn’t very stroller friendly! I think it varies, but many of the areas we visited only had intermittent, very narrow pavements. We took the twins round in carriers almost the whole time we were there, the only exception being the Sunday walking market, when you have a nice wide flat road to push a stroller around on!

Also, most restaurants don’t have high chairs. We gave up looking not long after we arrived, and instead found that we could fasten the twins into normal chairs using their carriers!

Finally, both this and this article on Chiang Mai with toddlers were very useful and have lots of other toddler friendly activities.

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

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A weekend in Guangzhou

Tom and I spent the weekend in Guangzhou, China in November 2012. It’s really easy to get to from Hong Kong, although you need a Chinese visa to get into the country!

Guangzhou (pronounced ‘gwang-joe’) is the third largest city in China and sits at the top of the Pearl river delta (Hong Kong is at the bottom of the same delta). It used to be known as Canton. It’s a massive industrial city, although the centre was quite pleasant to visit and we very much enjoyed our weekend there.

To get to Guangzhou from Hong Kong, you can take a train from Hung Hom station. It takes about 2 hours and costs about HK$350 (approx. £29) for a return ticket. We booked ours online in advance.

We stayed in the Jinjiang Inn Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall on Jiefang North Road. It was reasonably priced, clean and fairly modern although the room was pretty small. It was also conveniently located near the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall subway station.

Since it was close by, we visited the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. Sun Yat-sen was the first president of the Republic of China as and such he seems to have many buildings dedicated to him all over China! We didn’t go inside, but this was an interesting building in nice grounds.

Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, Guangzhou

A really nice area to visit in Guangzhou is Shamian Island. This island in the middle of Guangzhou is where the foreign traders lived and traded after the Opium wars, since the Chinese would not allow them to live in the city. As a consequence this tiny island is filled with grand old colonial buildings and seems to be the place to have your pre-wedding photos taken! We saw about 20 sets of brides and grooms there!

Colonial building, Shamian Island

We went for lunch in the Thai Zhen Cow and Bridge, a Thai restaurant on Shamian Island. It came well recommended and the food was pretty good! In the evening we also had a couple of drinks in Lucy’s which is also on the island. Again, I’d recommend it as a nice place for a quiet drink or two.

I enjoyed walking around the area directly south of our hotel. It’s a pretty quiet, traditional area, with low rise buildings and narrow streets and it doesn’t feel like the middle of a big city at all. It reminded us a little of the hutongs in Beijing. Whilst we were there we visited the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees and the Temple of Bright, Filial and Piety, both of which are lovely examples of Bhuddist temples. They each charge a small entry fee so you need to find the ticket office before you go in. The Temple of the Six Banyan Trees has a large pagoda in the middle:

Temple of the Six Banyan Trees pagoda

On our second day, we went for a dim sum brunch in the Panxi restaurant, next to Liwan Park. This restaurant is huge, and has many large halls. We arrived mid-morning and didn’t have to wait very long for a table. There wasn’t much English spoken but luckily they had menus with a small amount of English and some pictures so we were able to order a yummy spread :)

Dim sum at Panxi restaurant, Guangzhou

After we had finished eating, we went for a walk around Liwan Park to walk off some of the food. It would appear that this was the place to go on a Sunday morning. It was full of people, with families walking around and lots of people playing with a type of hacky sack with feathers. We even saw an official hacky sack match, with a court, referee and score board!

Hacky sack match in Liwan Park

Our next stop was the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall. This is a wonderfully ornate building with several courtyards.

Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, Guanzhou

Chen Clan Ancestral Hall gate

Inside one of the rooms was an exhibition of embroideries. These were seriously impressive. They were so intricate, some of them looked like they were photographs until you got really close! The photo doesn’t do it justice at all.

Realistic Chinese embroidery

We finished our time in Guangzhou with a trip to the area around the Canton Tower. This is a 600m tall observation tower situated at the Eastern side of the city centre.

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We didn’t go up because it’s really expensive (about £30!) and the view wouldn’t have been that great because it was pretty hazy. Tom has been before though, and can prove that the view isn’t that great!

View from Canton Tower Guangzhou

For those who like that sort of thing, there is a bubble car ride at the top (i.e. you sit in ‘bubbles’ and go round a track) and one of those fairground rides where they pull you up to the top of the spire and then drop you really fast! Not for me!

Canton Tower bubble car ride

We walked around the area on the other side of the river which was a nice precinct with the ultra-modern Guangzhou Opera House on one side, and some remnants from the Asia Games, which Guangzhou hosted in 2010.

Guangzhou Opera House

These were some of the highlights of Guangzhou. If you’re in the area, I’d recommend a visit. It has a nice contrast of aspects of traditional China and the very modern, and on public transport and in the main areas there is a pretty good level of English.

Thanks for reading!

Rachel