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Escaping Songkran

Life in Chiang Mai

Escaping Songkran

Where to avoid water splashing, traffic jams and crashing motorcycles

David Hardcastle

Until now, we Songkran spoilsports have had to stock up on food and drink, choose some decent TV, lock the doors and hunker down. But 4 very different resorts to the north and east of the city have realized that I am not the only Chiang Mai resident who shrinks - or shouts - when splashed.

A 50 km ride places you into the unique Mushroom Resort.

First in alphabetical order, and closest to the city, is the newly launched Baan Toob just off the outer ring road near the Sansai junction in Tambon Sansailuang. Here, owner Khun Rung has combined her love of all Lanna traditions with modern conveniences to produce 5 styles of really rustic residences. (A ‘toob’ is a hut!).

‘Old’ timber homes have been newly built on the site which borders lush rice paddies, mainly using timber, but also modern materials and clay. All are within easy walking distance of Rung’s restaurant that is always open for delicious Thai food and a variety of drinks, while on-going activities include weaving, traditional massage and Thai language classes.

Spend the day exploring the surroundings at Malee’s Nature Bungalows

Each ‘toob’ has areas open to the breezes, which means that there is no air-con but a plentiful supply of mosquito netting to cover the modern, comfortable beds. Rung’s cleverest innovation in my view is the way she has combined modern, western style, bathrooms with old wooden fittings. Everywhere you look there are carefully crafted details in wood or ceramic tiles, even a couple of smart pre-war Fiats parked around, a hint that Rung speaks Italian as well as English!

Songkran Special: 600b per person per night (discounted from the usual 3,000b). Tel: 053 396949, 084 175 9733, e-mail: [email protected] Also see: www.bantoob.com

David’s Kitchen at Tharnthong Lodges, a beautiful escape into nature with excellent food.

This month’s ‘western gourmet’ escape is without doubt David’s Kitchen at Tharnthong Lodges, straight up the Sankampaeng new road, over 2 sets of rolling hills and into Ban Tharnthong.

This hitherto little-known resort sits on 15 rai of lovely, forested valley with cool fountains fed by underground pressure. No hot water – no odd aromas!

The 4 twin storey lodges and 2 suites are spacious, sophisticated and family sized. Enjoy the little indoor gardens and modern yet ‘natural’ bathrooms, 2 per lodge!

But if you have escaped here, you have really come for the top class, sophisticated Italian cuisine! Chef/patron David Gordon spent several years in Florence and offers delectable choices, very generous quantities and quite outstanding value for money.

The Lanna Style chalets at Baan Toob

Prior to lunch or dinner, various complements will appear on your table. Cucumber Florentine, Italian beans with tomato and spices, black olives with anchovy, all with fresh, crusty Italian bread. It’s best to pace yourself as you study the clear, uncluttered menu, offering such delights as proscuitto with melon at 299b and chicken wings stuffed with glass noodles, potato, carrots and mushroom at 99b.

David is proud that he uses the same suppliers as 2 of Chiang Mai’s 5 star hotels, yet no dish here is priced at over 500b. My personal favorites are the salad with thin flakes of Parmesan Reggiano, Italian bacon, chicken, fresh vegetables and a very mild anchovy sauce; spaghetti with titillating morsels of real rump steak and scaloppini marsala – tender chicken breasts in a mushroom cream sauce with mozzarella.

My Thai companion gave “11 out of 10” for the Thai dishes prepared by gourmet trained chef Khun Prom and the house Merlot at 99b per glass was more than ample liquid luxury for us both. David, Prom and their lovely young ladies take a real pride in all this. Deservedly so!

Songkran Special: Lodge rental rates from 1,200 to 4,000b per night, depending on size and availability. Tel: 053 939472, 084 177 6229, e-mail: [email protected] Also see: www.tharnthonglodges.com

Mountain views do something for my soul, and the delicious Thai cuisine of Khun Malee has been doing something wonderful for my hunger for some years now at Malee’s Nature Bungalows.

This varied, compact, compound of single and twin storey chalets, some fan cooled, some air-conned, nestle in the shadow of lofty Doi Chiang Dao, just a kilometer or two up the narrow road from the famous cave complex.

The ever-cheerful Malee has been spoiling guests with her tingling platefuls for 12 years now, and her new roof terrace restaurant allows you to soak up the positive vibes off the forested mountain along with the pat grapow guy and tom yam kung!

This is something of an activity centre as well as a change-and-a-rest. Trekking (all the way to the mountain top if you are fit), bird watching, caving and visits to nearby hill-tribe villages are all on offer.

Some years ago a team of semi-professional Japanese rock climbers arrived to go up the mountain by the ‘direct’ route. They pronounced it a short climb but technically interesting and quite difficult. Accompanied by a guide (mandatory for safety) you can do the ‘athletic walk’ to the top, starting out at dawn and sleeping under canvas two-thirds of the way up to avoid pitfalls in the dark. Having ‘conquered’ Thailand’s 4th highest peak, you then walk down relatively quickly in well under a day.

Conservationists were delighted to hear last year that a plan to erect a cable car railway to the peak had been well and truly shot down by the locals, including Malee. But there are other threats to this currently unspoiled area and you’d do well to spend time after dinner (platefuls of all-you-can-eat at 120b!) listening to Malee’s concerns over the neighboring national park. Budding cooks of Thai cuisine not only learn from Malee in the kitchen, but accompany her to the market and find how to buy the best ingredients.

Songkran Special: Bungalows at 500b to 900b per night. Free breakfast if you book for 2 or 3 nights. Tel. 053 456508, 081 961 8387, e-mail: maleenature @yahoo.com. Also see: www. maleenature.com

A serious, scientific research station shares its lovely valley site with the Mushroom Rainforest Resort, offering educational edification on fungal feasting, as well as the actual dishes themselves, of course.

Take the road towards Chiang Dao, but fork left on the new section signposted to Pai which now by-passes Memalai. Farther into the wooded hills and some 50kms from Chiangmai city, you suddenly see a lovely little lake on your right. On with the brakes and turn through mushroom-decorated gateposts into a hillside compound which must be unique in the world.

One of the very few research facilities in south east Asia looking into types, qualities and diseases of all manner of fungi, the serious section of this hide-away welcomes lecturers and students from all over the world, giving them fascinating material for degree level work and encouraging serious curiosity into a branch of science which has so far been much neglected in this part of the world.

If you, like me, admit to mild interest which possibly strengthens suddenly at seeing cloud mushrooms floating in your tom yam, then fear not. Sitting in on the lectures and joining in walks to collect the fascinating fungi are purely optional!

Sitting in the smart little restaurant, overlooking that lake, safe from the splashing as you get outside a few cold beers and some top class Thai food is much more my style.

The cabins are simple but comfortable, the ‘facilities’ western and the neighboring attractions varied. With a reasonable degree of security from soaking, you can explore the local tea, coffee and whisky producing places, though longer distance visits to hill-tribe villages, elephant camps and the local bungee jump could unwittingly invite watery warfare. But it ALL beats hunkering down at home over a warm TV set!!

Songkran Special: a 3 day/2 night package, April 13th to 15th, at 1,200b per person including breakfast. Standard chalets reduced to 500b per person per night (from 800b), large chalets reduced to 800b from 1,000b. Tel. 087 191 0093, e-mail: mushroomresort @gmail.com Also see: www. mushroomresort.com

Life in Chiang Mai

Mark Whitman

No traveler is immune from uttering silly comments. Faced with the Pyramids, Victoria Falls or a first-ever aerial view of Paris most of us will resort to the obvious. There is however another group (tourists perhaps rather than travelers) from whom Thailand manages to conjure up a special blend of banality and bathos. The following comments are such utterances, heard during the recent high season and no doubt a thousand times before that. I offer them without embellishment except for grouping them under headings and the rider that one of the remarks is a concoction of my own. The recipe may be new but the ingredients were already there.

Some like it hot

1. Is it safe to eat the fish?
2. So I said “soup my pet” very loudly. And they still brought it too hot. They’ll never learn.
3. I’ve tried six places and not one of them serves a decent espresso.
4. My wife said that Chiang Mai was meant to be the best place to learn Thai cookery. I said well go along and learn. Just don’t try it back home.
5. If I see a chili I run for the hills.
6. We went to Airport Plaza and into this amazing food hall. Then I saw a sign saying Fried Crickets. I said get me out of here. So we went up two floors and found a Starbucks.

Brief Encounter(s)
1. It said massage parlor. But I could soon tell it was more than that.
2. I told the tuk-tuk driver to show me around and he kept stopping at temples and ruins and then a flower market. I said; take me to the girlies bars.
3. I could see the way it was going. So I told him I’ve never paid for it in my life and I’m not going to start now that I’m 50. He said something in Thai and all I got were the words pom pui. Then he spoke English and ordered a black coke.

On the Town
1. You’ve seen one Wat, you’ve seen them all.
2. Chiang Mai’s a lovely old city. Such a pity it hasn’t got a beach.

3. The Sunday market was awful, far too many people. Why can’t they hold it on another day of the week when it’s not a holiday?
4. Its called Buddha Day or something and they tell me the bars all close. What the hell are we going to do tonight?
5. The trouble with the flower show was there was too much of it.

Victor, Victoria
1. We went to this place called Simon’s. This really fat girl comes down into the audience and puts her boobs right in my face. Believe me I’ve got the photos. Anyway, I still don’t believe she was once a guy.
2. I can’t believe she was once a boy. If Gerald hadn’t told me I don’t know what would have happened.

Money Makes the World go Round
1. How much is that in American?
2. I asked the tuk-tuk driver how much. He said up to you. So I said no, how much? And he says again, up to yooouuuu.... So I said ok 100 baht to night bazaar. He said 120. So I said ok.
3. There are so many second hand bookshops here. And really cheap I’m told. Of course I wouldn’t buy anything there. You never know who the previous owner might have been.
4. We went to the night bazaar and there was this great tankard with an elephant on it. They asked 800, so I said no way…600. In the end we settled for 700. I think I got a bargain.

The Call of the Wild
1. I’d really like to go to Sukhothai. If I could wake up tomorrow morning and find it right next door to Chiang Mai, I’d be there like a shot.
2. We drove way up to this palace called Doi something and there were just too many steps. I said I’m not waiting in line for any crowded lift. I’ll stay down here and have a hot dog. Anyway, I’ve seen enough views to last me a lifetime.
3. You didn’t tell me Chiang Dao was so far or that the caves would be such hard work. As an excursion I’d rate that 5 out of 10.
4. Actually, we stay a little outside, at the Four Seasons. But we go into Chiang Mai every day.

Let’s see so far we’ve been to The Chedi, Le Crystal, D2, the Sheraton and The Oriental and an Italian place at the Amari. Tomorrow we’re off tot the new Sofitel and then before we leave to an unpronounceable place with a famous lady singer. That’s Thai. But they’ve promised to send along an interpreter.