September 4, 2018 – Our last morning in Siem Reap was an early one. We woke up at 6:00 am to finish packing and then went to breakfast at 7:00 am. Our driver would be taking us to the airport at 8:00 am.
Our last breakfast was so good and our entire stay was incredible; I was sad to leave! But I knew we would be heading to another great place and that made me excited. It was bittersweet for sure.
We said our goodbyes to our Cambodian family at the Mulberry Boutique Hotel and then it was off to the airport. It was another raining morning so I was glad we opted for an actual car versus a tuk-tuk for our short journey to the airport.
It only took us about 20 minutes to get from the check-in counter to immigration and then to security. The airport was so small I didn’t even check to see if they had an airport lounge. But as I was waiting for Eric to get through the security check there was a big sign advertising their Priority Pass lounge. Score!
I wasn’t expecting much from this lounge. Maybe just a small room with some coffee and a few snacks. Imagine my shock we when walked into a beautiful, big room with gorgeous decor and tons of windows. Not only did they have pastries, but they also had 3 hot food stations with a chef standing by for custom orders. There was a full bar with a bartender ready to make whatever we wanted including any type of coffee drink our hearts desired. We were also given vouchers for a free 15-minute massage, although we really didn’t have time for it. To top it all off, we were the only ones in there.
So in one of the last places I thought there would be a lounge it ended up being one of the best we’ve ever been too. Go figure.
At 9:15 am we headed to our gate. Once our boarding passes and passports were checked, we were escorted outside where we walked to our plane.
The flight was just the same as the first. About 15 minutes in we were given another “Stromboli” (aka: hot pocket).
We landed in Bangkok a little before 11:00 am. This was one of the flights I was really nervous about because of time. We only had 2 hours until our flight to Chiang Mai. If you remember our first experience with transferring to another flight in Bangkok, it’s involved. We had to get off the plane, go through immigration, pick up our bags from baggage claim, go through customs, run to the 4th floor, check in with Thai Airways, check our bags, go through domestic security, and then find our gate. There was no easy connection like we had in South Korea.
Of course, there were zero gates open for us when we landed. So instead of waiting, we pulled in to a plane “parking spot” far from the main building of the airport and had to take a bus to immigration. This took about 15 minutes.
Once we arrived, Eric and I walk/ran to immigration so we could beat most of the people from our plane. I was bracing for really long lines since it was midday but to our surprise, the lines weren’t bad. There were 4 lines: one for ASEAN countries (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), one for Thai citizens, one for Chinese citizens, and one for everyone else (usually labeled “FOREIGN”). We got through the line within 10 minutes.
Next up was baggage claim. Luckily our bags came through pretty quickly so we only had to wait about 10 minutes.
We didn’t have anything to claim so we walked through customs without being stopped and then it was a mad dash to the 4th floor. Thankfully, since we had already been through this airport once before, we knew exactly where to go. We were up to the Thai Airways desk in less than 10 minutes.
Check-in went smoothly and we already knew all the rules about batteries and electronics so there was no bag shuffling this time. By the way, I did the same thing with all of our Asia flights that I did with our Europe flights last year. I made sure to pay extra for bags at the time of booking so there were no issues when we got to the check-in counter. It did look like we probably could have brought our bags with us on the planes, but from the stories I heard from others, I didn’t want to risk it. We had zero issues with all 10 of our flights.
After check-in, we went through domestic security. Again, this went rather quickly which totally surprised us. Check-in and security took about 15 minutes total.
I checked the time as soon as we got through security: 11:55 am. So from the time we stepped off the plane to the time we got through security, it took almost exactly one hour. However, we got very lucky because every single stop we had to make went so quickly. If immigration, baggage claim, check-in, and domestic security had all been busy we possibly could have missed our flight.
There were no lounges in the domestic terminal, so we just hung out at our gate until it was time to board.
The flight was very quick, less than an hour. We landed in Chiang Mai at 2:00 pm.
Chiang Mai was the only place where I hadn’t prearranged airport pick up. From what we were told, getting a taxi would be fairly easy.
We grabbed our bags from baggage claim and headed outside in the direction of everyone else. This was another very small airport. They only had 2 baggage carousels.
Not even one foot out the door and a lady in a suit walked up to us asking if we needed a taxi. Everything happened really quickly and I saw several other people doing the same thing so I said yes. As soon as I said yes I immediately wondered if I did the right thing. But before I could think too much, a tiny Thai woman was ushering us to her car.
She popped her trunk and we put our bags in. Her car was marked like every other taxi. It was clean, she had a license showing in the front, and her meter was working. I tried to relax.
She was very nice. She talked with us the entire time and even showed us pictures of various things to do around Chiang Mai. I think she must have been a tour guide in addition to a taxi driver.
I was worried she wouldn’t be able to find our hotel. It was new and I received an email from one of the managers the day before giving me multiple landmarks to tell taxi drivers just in case. But she didn’t have any issue finding it and we were to our hotel within 10 minutes. The airport was very close by.
The ride cost us 150 baht (about $4.60) which is exactly what we had expected. I was relieved and immediately felt so much better about being in Chiang Mai. It seemed like the people here were already more genuine than any of the Thai people we met at the Bangkok airport.
We walked into BED Chiangmai Gate and were immediately struck by how modern this hotel was. We had just come from the cutest boutique hotel with traditional Cambodian charm throughout. This hotel was beautiful but in a totally different way. It was very open and the lobby was very small. There was a surprisingly big pool in the center of it with plenty of space to relax or work.
Check-in took less than 5 minutes and then we made our way to our room. The room was very basic, but perfect for what we needed. It came with a small fridge stocked with free sodas and waters which was nice. The best part about this hotel was that it came with as much bottled water as we could ever want. There were massive refrigerators in the lobby full of water and we could have as much as we wanted 24/7.
It was around 3:00 pm and as we always do, we wanted to hit the ground running. So we changed into temple-appropriate outfits (shoulders and knees covered), packed a bag, and set out to get familiar with Chiang Mai. Our first stop was the cutest bakery and coffee shop I’ve ever seen called Baan Bakery. It just happened to be right down the street from our hotel.
They were all out of pastries by the time we got there, but that was expected based on the reviews we read on TripAdvisor (they usually were sold out by noon). So I got an iced latte to-go and Eric left emptyhanded.
Here’s an Asia travel tip for you: Never trust the ice unless it has holes. Why? Holes mean the ice was made in a machine with filtered water. If it doesn’t have holes, that usually means it was made from the tap.
After my coffee break, we started exploring down Prapokkaloa Road (the arrow is pointing to it below). There were many beautiful temples (or wats) to see down this road.
We didn’t really know what we were doing when it came to temples. We just decided we would walk and if we passed a cool looking temple we would go in. What we did know was that we needed to be covered from our shoulders to our knees and we had to remove our shoes before entering any temples.
Wat Jedlin was our first stop. It was so beautiful and had so much more to it than just its main temple. We went inside the temple first where we saw a giant beautiful Buddha.
As we were standing there, an American sounding guy approached us. He was Asian but with zero accent. He told us he was from New York visiting Chiang Mai with his wife who was a fashion designer. He asked Eric if he was thinking about getting a suit made in Chiang Mai and if he wasn’t he should seriously think about it. His wife buys all of her materials from Chiang Mai now because the other cities in Asia that she used to buy from were increasing their prices too much. He told us Chiang Mai is one of the best places to get a custom-made suit now because the cost is still low but there are also still trustworthy people here.
He gave us the name of the tailor he uses when he comes to Chiang Mai and told us that while buying a suit in Asia can be inexpensive, we have to watch out for the fakes. He explained that his tailor only used the best materials and didn’t advertise to the masses; he was more of a local best-kept secret. It happened to be almost right across the street so we decided that would be our next stop after Wat Jedlin.
We said thank you to the super nice guy from New York and went to explore the rest of the temple grounds.
Behind the temple was a beautiful pond covered in the biggest lily pads I’ve ever seen in my life. They looked fake!
At first, seeing monks was a little weird. In the US, we see them in movies but rarely do we ever see a monk hanging out in America. In Chiang Mai, we wouldn’t walk more than 10 feet without seeing one. After a few hours, the monks just became a part of the crowd.
After we walked through the beautiful grounds of Wat Jedlin, we walked over to the tailor so Eric could look into getting a custom suit.
We were greeted by a very kind soft-spoken gentleman who was the owner of the shop. We told him we had just met a guy across the street and he referred us to him. He got really excited and started telling us all about the suits they make.
He brought out fabric samples which looked to be almost identical. He told us that one was cheap polyester and the other was the fabric that they used (wool and cashmere). He explained that the fake suits that we would find being sold in the night market would burn quickly and almost melt like plastic when exposed to a flame. The fabric they used would not take to a flame quickly and would be slow to burn. Then he lit a match and demonstrated. Sure enough, the fake fabric started burning quickly and smelled terrible. Their fabric barely scorched.
After the demonstration, he explained the process of getting the suit made, what Eric would be receiving, and the price. For $280 Eric would be getting a custom wool/cashmere 3-piece suit including a jacket with silk lining, shirt, and pants. A custom suit made of these materials in the US would be $600+ so this was an absolute steal!
Both a fault and a strength of mine is I am always skeptical and cautious. In the back of my mind while we were sitting there I kept thinking, “what if that guy in the temple worked for this tailor and this is how they tricked tourists into buying suits?” but the guy in the temple was clearly American and I didn’t ever get a weird feeling while we were sitting in the tailor shop. The shop owner was never pushy and didn’t try to get us to buy anything unnecessary. I pride myself in being very in-tune with my instincts. I usually always listen to them because 9 times out of 10 they are right. When I feel like I need to get out, I get out. But I never felt that “flight” feeling in this situation.
The shop owner took Eric to the three-sided mirror to take his measurements. He explained that he would keep Eric’s measurements for 5 years, so if he ever needed another suit made, all he had to do was send an email with his customer number and a suit would be made and shipped to him.
After Eric’s measurements were taken, he got to pick out the suit and shirt colors as well as the silk lining that would be inside the suit. I guess you could call this the “signature” of this tailor. All of his silk linings were brightly colored paisley silk. Eric chose a dark blue suit, white shirt, and blue and red combination for the silk lining.
Once all the measurements were taken and suit selection was complete, we paid for the suit and the owner told us he would deliver it to our hotel the day before we left the city.
Eric was so excited when we left the store. He had mentioned the possibility of getting a custom suit made while we were in Asia, but never talked about it seriously because he didn’t think we would have time. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time to meet that nice guy from New York.
Wat Chang Taem was the next temple we came across. This temple looked smaller and not as grand as some of the others. The main temple looked closed so we could only admire it from the outside. As we were standing in front of the temple deciding where to go next, another man approached us.
He asked us where we were from and how long we had in Chiang Mai. We told him we were only there for 4 days and he told us we definitely needed longer but we could see a lot in those 4 days. He said he was visiting his family from another part of Thailand to watch his nephew in a Buddhist head shaving ceremony.
After he gave us a few of his favorite things to do in Chiang Mai as well as some recommendations for what to eat, he invited us to the ceremony which would be taking place the next evening at 6:00 pm. We felt so honored! He said technically anyone is allowed to watch but most tourists don’t know when these ceremonies happen.
We said goodbye to our new Thai friend (even though we didn’t know his name). I have to admit we were both a little cautious when he approached us. Unfortunately, the world just isn’t that nice anymore. But he really was just being kind to us and it was so refreshing. This was the moment I started to fall in love with Chiang Mai.
After Wat Chang Taem we moved on to Wat Phan Tao. This temple was small but distinctly different than the others we had seen. It was built entirely with teak wood which made it stand out from all the other temples.
Then we moved on to Wat Chedi Luang. This was the grandest temple we had seen so far. There was a modern temple in the front and then remains of an old temple in the back. There were also several small buildings surrounding the area that looked like tiny temples.
We happened to come up to the modern day temple as the monks were gathering for prayers. We stopped in to listen to their chanting. It was beautiful!
After Wat Chedi Luang, we kept walking and came across a very small temple with extraordinary details called Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang. The outside was black with shiny gold details. The inside had a gorgeous Buddha.
Before we moved on, I saw a bright orange cloth laid across a table. There were markers sitting next to it and people had written their names and messages of peace and love all across it. There weren’t any signs indicating what it was, but I wrote our names and where we were from on it anyways.
There was one last temple we planned to check out before dinner called Wat Prah Singh. This temple was probably the most well known of all the temples we saw on this day.
The outside of the temple was surrounded by a big wall with a huge gate in the front. Once we walked through the gate there was a golden statue in the middle of a small roundabout right in front of the temple.
The monks were just finishing up their prayers when we walked up. There was also a little cat who was sleeping right in front of the door. Tons of people were walking past him, but he didn’t move a muscle. I figured he was just in a deep meditative state (Buddhism joke).
After Wat Prah Singh, we were starving. So we walked over to our dinner spot, Cooking Love. Eric found this place and we decided to go based on the reviews. We really wanted some traditional Thai food and this was one of the best places we could find.
Cooking Love looked to be attached to a hotel. It was really pretty on the outside and had sort of a jungle treehouse in the middle of the city feel.
We both ordered pad thai. I got tofu and Eric got chicken. I also got fresh pineapple juice because why not.
Our food was incredible. I can’t believe it took me this long to appreciate Asian food. I never had it growing up (I was a very picky eater, I don’t blame my parents). But now I can really see what all the hype is about.
After dinner, we were so tired. The walk back to our hotel was a little far and the streets weren’t lit very well. I was a little nervous especially when we came upon some really dark alleyways, but we were fine. As soon as I was feeling unsure, a group of tourists would walk past. We never felt unsafe in Chiang Mai after that.
Once we were back at the hotel, we crashed. Our next day would be full of hiking and elephants!
Continue reading the travel diary here: Day 9: Caring for Elephants at Blue Tao Village
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Patara Elephant Farm out of Chiang Mai. A full day of being an elephant ‘owner.’ It was wonderful. Aprio 2018.