My food-driven exploration has a daily dark period. There are darn few places that open for breakfast before 8:30am, and it’s killing me.
All of that stuff I did to avoid jet lag totally worked, and I’ve had no problem getting to sleep at night, getting 7+ hours (8, last night), and waking up rested. That’s been terrific. I had a secondary goal, once I arrived in Chiang Mai, of shifting my normal morning-person schedule into a more of a late-ish person schedule, and that too has been going well. I’m now going to bed at 10pm (OMG so late) and waking at 5-6, and it’s all good.
But, sadly, not good enough because outside of Starbucks, nothing opens early except 7-11s (more on those later). So I have this 2+ hour period where I’d really like to be eating and there’s no place interesting to go! I have made some inroads there, but I don’t want to get things out of order, so where was I? Oh yes, going to bed on Sunday night, after the Sunday market.
As I write this, it’s Thursday morning (so hungry!). I’d have written this up yesterday, but the internet at this place is terrible. I’ve seen it get as high as 4Mb down, 500Kb up, but it’s usually less than half that and sometimes it just cuts out altogether — which is what happened when I tried to sit down to write this yesterday. When that happens, I can still access basic internet on my phone, thanks to T-Mobile’s international unlimited data (it’s slow, but it works), but generally it means I’m back to reading a book on my iPad, unless I’m ready to head out again. I can’t play ESO — it’s been too slow to do anything but log in and check in-game mail, and even that doesn’t work sometimes. I couldn’t even log in this morning, despite temporarily high throughput numbers, so I don’t know what’s going on there. It’s pretty frustrating. I could probably take the gaming laptop to a WiFi cafe, at least to check mail, but my little daypack won’t hold a full gaming laptop, so that’s a pain. I’m kind of resigning myself to just letting it go until I get a place.
Between this place and my travels the last two months, I’ve resolved not to get a place that has only WiFi internet. I need a wired connection, and then I’ll hook my own Apple Airport Extreme up to it. That eliminates a lot of condos from consideration; the online listings I’ve been looking at, when they mention internet, mention that it’s WiFi. I’ve found one place that that mentions cable LAN, and it’s got everything I could want: view, gym, ample pool, great location. It’s also 2 bedroom and about twice what I was hoping to pay at almost $900/month (26,000 baht). In truth, it’s not too far past what my high end estimate was, and it’s still within my budget, but still. When I could rent a 3 bedroom house (not as conveniently located) for $450, spending $900 on a condo seems hard to justify. And I only need 1 bedroom! Even on the outside chance that a friend decided to visit, that would be, what, 1 week out of 52? I don’t need more than one bedroom.
[Save draft while I go get breakfast. Return to typing in the early afternoon.]
(I did some poking around, and that complex seems to be almost a kind of Chiang Mai Oakwoods, with really nice, fully furnished places available for however long you need them. They have cheaper 1 bedrooms and (much cheaper) studios, although I don’t know what they have free, I may check shortly.)
The other option is a house, and there are plenty of them. They don’t come with views, obviously, but they have yards and I read that I could get a fiber optic line installed for internet, increasing speeds to US levels and reducing downtime. And they’d be half the price. I could even get them in the Old City, if I wanted, although that seems to be harder. Will look further.
Anyway, I started this topic by complaining about my hotel’s internet — and then went on to the home searching that I’ve been using that internet to do. That’s really what’s been consuming a lot of my time this week, between other things, but I feel like I’m being a bit scattered in this post, and I really do want to try to catch up. So, here’s what I’ve been doing since Monday morning.
I woke up plenty early, and went back to Cafes 4 Nomads to find a place for breakfast, settling on The Larder Cafe & Bar which opened at 8:30am. I’d actually passed this on the way to the Focus Gallery on Sunday — it’s near the Cat Cafe — but it hadn’t really registered. They’re a fairly small but popular place, with indoor and outdoor seating, quiet and pleasant and with a great menu. I had a coffee and a ham and egg croissant. Apparently, coffees that aren’t espressos or lattes are called “Americano” around here because almost no one does drip coffee. I don’t know why yet, but I will find out. They had good WiFi, and a funny WiFi password which I won’t reproduce here but is conceptually the same as “paymenow”. I really liked this place, and resolved to return.
I went back to the hotel room, meditated for a bit, and then started researching stuff. There are a lot of buckets of time spent on the net in my hotel room, which wouldn’t really be my goal when touring foreign cities but I’ve got stuff to figure out and this is the best way to do it. (Plus, I can’t wander about in the heat all day long. I’m finding a day with a long walk and a day with only short, local ones is a pretty good division.) So, my web time has been largely divided between:
- Rental research: for apartments or houses, on various websites, trying to get a sense of the costs and what parts of town things are in.
- Food research: I never know where my next meal is coming from.
- Other research: best banks to use, who provides good internet service, etc.
- Reading Twitter: I keep falling behind and giving up, but sometime my brain wants the distraction.
- This blog. I’ve noticed that I write about 1,000 words an hour, and these entries have been averaging about 2,500 words, so it’s time consuming.
Ideally, I’d do most of my walking around in the mid-to-late morning, before it gets warm, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. And in truth, it’s not that hot. Here was the forecast, snapshotted from Monday morning:
There’s often a decent breeze, which softens the heat. Here’s the annual wind pattern in Chiang Mai, which is going to prove Relevant:
Spoilers: The wind direction is relevant because it’s so consistently from the southwest that I may be able to avoid a lot of traffic fumes where I live by not picking a place NE of major intersections and super busy streets. This is Desirable.
We’re going into the dryer, hotter season in Chiang Mai, which peaks in April I think, and this week has been entirely rainless. I’d call it my weather karma in action, denying me rain once again, but I know it’s seasonal. The mornings, as that temperature readout above suggests, are delightful and cool and perfect. But honestly, even the afternoons are fine. There is often shade as you walk, and while the humidity means I start sweating with almost any prolonged brisk walk, that’s probably good for me. I just need to be sure to keep up my salts and electrolytes.
So. Monday, after all the walking the day before, I was ready to stay in, do research, and eat locally. I walked out looking for lunch at around noon, and found a place called The Salad Concept nearby, which was awesome.
Their menu was chock full of yummy salads and fresh juice drinks and smoothies, including concoctions like “Detox” (seemed a bit beet-centric, but yummy) and “Immune System”. This place would fit right in in Santa Monica, and it would be packed every day. It’s really good.
I walked back to the hotel, did some more research and stuff (don’t pin me down, it was 3 days ago and it’s getting fuzzy), and then, hey, dinner time! I started walking, and down the street was a Japanese place with a decent ramen! I think they had sake too, but I didn’t look too closely just then. Maybe next time, Rob. 🙂
I should mention here that when I go to and from these places, most of them are around that “pan” area from yesterday’s map, bounded by the roads Siri Mangkalajarn in the east, Highway 121 in the west, the University complex in the south, and the road Huaykaew in the north. Nimmanahaeminda Road runs north-south through the center, and is moderately busy, but I’m getting the impression that it defines the area the way certain main drags do in cities. So that you might talk about “Nimmanahaem” as being the area that you live in or want to meet up in, and it might be considered more desirable, especially for expats.
I should also say that I try to take different routes in and around this area as I go to and fro, in the hopes of getting a better sense of the place and of finding interesting things. Things like this:
I passed another of these later in the day, when it was open; it turns out it’s a ladies’ clothing store. I don’t know what the Easter Island tie-in is, and I’m not going to ask.
Nimmanahaeminda is starting to look more likely that it’s the area I’d want to live in, but we’ll see. This is all west of the Old City, and I haven’t been on any other side of it yet.
One thing I’m definitely noticing is that, while there are a fairly decent number of western tourists, there are certainly more Japanese, and a fair number of Chinese and some Koreans. I seem to be the only westerner in my hotel, which is mostly Japanese and some Chinese. And there are a lot of Japanese restaurants around here. So, once I start looking for sake, I’m pretty sure I’ll find it. 🙂
So, after the ramen dinner, I came back to the hotel room and had what is shaping up to be my usual evening: relaxed, reading Twitter or the book I’m working on, and watching Youtube or shows from my TiVo (currently hosted by Mark & Jane). What book, you rather naturally ask? In this case, I’ve gotten back to Tigerman by Nick Harkaway, after putting it down last summer and not quite getting back to it.
Nick Harkaway wrote one of my favorite recent books, The Gone-Away World, which I highly recommend. He’s a wonderfully rich writer, the language he uses is varied and fascinating and filled with interesting turns of phrase and pop culture references and weird science and outright comedy and ninjas, and GAW is a fantastic high concept scifi novel in the very best sense. Tigerman… well, I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know when I’m done.
Tuesday dawned, as it is wont to do. After another decent night’s sleep and another mournful search for how early places might possible be open, I was about to go back the Larder Cafe when I found in their hours that they were closed on Tuesday and Wednesday! “Curses!” I cried, twirling my imaginary moustache. So, instead, I tried out Rustic & Blue, just off Nimmanahaeminda Road a few blocks north of me. They turn out to have a great menu, solid WiFi, and a huge back yard with tables and chairs. I had some kind of omelet, very pleasant, but I made a mistake I won’t make again in asking for cream in my coffee. I had to confirm that I wanted an Americano, and they seemed confused by the cream and kept asking if I wanted the coffee hot (so I guessed they served cold coffee too), but I’d noticed I kept being given coffee black by various places and concluded that I would have to ask for the cream — meaning, of course, half-and-half. When it showed up they’d actually dumped a bunch of actual, thick cream into it as if they were making a coffee float! No wonder they were confused. Note to self: “cream” doesn’t mean “half and half” in Thailand — and probably not in most places. Aside from the confusion, the coffee might have been alright with that cream in it, if it hadn’t been cooled by it to tepidity. (Tepidness? Tepiditude? Whatever.)
For the most part, I’ve actually been taking my coffee however it’s given to me. While I do like it a certain way (“cream” to a nice caramel color, and a teaspoon of brown/raw sugar per 4 oz), it’s really not worth the bother of trying to crack the language barrier. And their coffee is richer than we tend to get it here (probably due to the Americano preparation). I used to order that way when I was in Starbucks, to make it taste more like what I was used to. In Thailand, it’s even better, and I’m much more comfortable without either cream or sugar in it (though I still prefer both).
After 90 minutes or so, I headed back to the hotel, meditated, researched, and then at around 2:30pm decided to head to a restaurant on the east side of Old City called the Funky Dog Cafe, that I’d read about on the wikitravel page. (This would serve as a late lunch / early dinner, and I was glad to be skipping a meal, because I’ve been eating pretty well for 2 months now and my waistline was making it clear that it was time to cut back.) It was billed as a 40 minute walk; last time I went to the Old City, I’d gone along Suthep Road to the south, arriving at about the middle of the west side of the city. This time I took Huaykaew Road, which slants diagonally along the top of the Nimmanahaemindra panhandle, from the northwestern tip on down to the northwest corner of the Old City. Along the way, I couldn’t help noticing all of the 7/11s; I’d seen a few in my travels so far, mostly along Nimmanahaemindra and on Siri Mangkalajarn on the east of my panhandle. Since I walked up Siri Mangkalajarn and saw 2 on that brief route, and then saw another along Huaykaew Road, and they were starting to feel like Starbucks only more ubiquitous, I started to count them. Long story short, I passed at least 9 that afternoon (not counting the two I’d seen that morning), and started cheering to myself as each new one appeared.
The walk down HuayKaew was pleasant enough, though filled with traffic noise and some exhaust. When I got to the corner of the Old City, I had to test myself once more against the Loop of Death, but I got across it surprisingly easily this time, and started to think maybe I was figuring this out. Later, I discovered I was wrong, but the illusion buoyed me nicely on my way into the city.
Oh, here’s the corner of the Old City, with a piece of the old wall.
Going south a little along the other side of that road, I took a pano of the wall, the moat, and of the Loop of Death (not shown, the other lane of the Loop, mostly hidden by the wall). Unfortunately, I can’t show you that because the file is too large to upload over this crappy hotel connection. Sigh.
After making it across, I wandered into the city along a side street, passing what was either a school or an insane asylum (judging by the sounds coming from the worn, institutional exterior). I passed a house that I could have rented, if I didn’t mind a super run-down look, and then found myself on a major east-west street heading for the Funky Dog Cafe. I thought it was the Sunday Market street, and was amazed at how different it looked without all the vendors and traffic, until I realized it was a different street entirely. Still, I was glad to have come this way, because of this:
I did turn south to get to the market street, because I remembered where the restrooms were (no sight-seeing notes are as vital to the tourist). This was behind one of the temples that I included a picture of last time, and has the best example of universal symbolic language that I may have ever seen:
Then, almost at the eastern end of the street, I turned north and wandered through an alley of shops, eateries, and guest houses filled with more western travellers than I’d seen during the trip so far. It was a rather delightful area, and I was not far from the putative location of the Funky Dog Cafe when my lunch plans were entirely derailed by this:
The UN Irish Pub is, apparently, a bit of an institution and hosts sports nights for a variety of televised sports, including obscure things like cricket and ice hockey. One fish and chips and Guinness later — my first Guinness of Thailand! — and over 400 baht lighter (maybe $14, yikes!), I continued north until I came to the street Funky Dog was supposed to be on, near the northeasternmost entrance to the Old City where there’s a fairly large produce market and a lot of western tourists. I headed west along that street to where various maps had claimed the place was, out of curiosity, but could not find it. So it was just as well I’d been diverted to the Pub; perhaps the gods were looking after me. I’ll have another go another time.
I walked north again, along Ratchapakhinai Road, in case you’re following along at home, and passed a mobile Western Union stand which offered currency exchange! I was getting low on baht (I’d only changed $100 at the airport, and the Pub wasn’t the only dining establishment to set me back a piece), so I got another $100 changed and hope to last the rest of the week on it. Then I made it to the Loop of Death (northern, inner-lane edition), and wandered westward along it until I got back to the northwest corner again. Crossing the inner lane was fairly easy, after walking along it all that time, but getting across the outer lane at around the 5pm rush hour was another 15-minute nightmare. And by this time I was starting to feel a bit sick from the gas fumes. Nothing makes you appreciate the EPA, and California’s additional emission laws, like spending time on the streets of a 3rd world country. I remembered that from Nepal, but I didn’t spend serious street time in Nepal the way I’ve done here. I’m really going to have to keep up on detox remedies here, or buy a motorcycle helmet with a gas mask attachment. And possibly a motorcycle. I like walking, but I’m pretty fond of breathing too, and they may be mutually exclusive along any of the main roads. (The side roads are fine.)
So, home, shower, quiet evening, sleep, and now we’re up to Wednesday, and I need a break from typing. I’m heading off to a cafe on the east side of the Old City again; I may brave a tuk tuk, and see if that spares me any respiratory problems.
These produce much of the pollution I’m breathing, I might as well get some benefit from them. Wish me luck.