Touristing in Provincial Northern Thailand 2022/23 – Not Bicycle-Related [20 pics, Report in English]


Hey, we have the same age!

My landlady in this three room B&B takes a picture of my passport, as usual in Thailand. She notes my damaged travel bag and helps me find a repair service. Then she disappears for days. I’m alone with the housemaid. When the landlady re-appears, she says

Hey, we have the same age! I saw it on your passport picture. But don’t worry, you are still 3 months older than me.

Then she asks

But what about your health? The housemaid told me you have a lot of medicine in your room.

I explain that the medicine was bought prescription-free and cheaply in Bangkok for me and by request for all family back home, just stuff against headache and general antibiotics. And the medicine was lying around openly, because my travel bag was just in a repair shop, as she knew very well. I say to the landlady:

You yourself kindly helped me to find a repair shop for my travel bag. But they needed some days. And besides, I hadn’t expected the housemaid to come cleaning at that point in time, or I would have emptied the room for her.

The landlady smiles. She looks like she had hoped for answers like that.

The Covid Threat

Thai motorcyclists are very health conscious. They always wear a face mask. Only the most reckless drivers board their motorcycle without a face mask.

Noone wears a helmet.

Waiters and receptionists almost always wear masks. I follow the habit. Sometimes for a week I see the same people only in mask and don’t know how they really look. That feeling reminds me of something…: in Iran I saw ladies in hijab for days on end and also didn’t know how they really look.

In the Non-Coffee-Shop

I enter a slightly unusual coffee shop and notice it is not even a coffee shop, it’s a roaster. They give me coffee anyway, and a nice seat on the team’s communal bench out front, plus electricity for my laptop.

Several times in village noodle shops and coffee shops and even in urban massage shops, the owners need a selfie with me.

Farang Farang Farang

This word keeps ringing in my ears even long after I left Thailand. Wherever I turn up in provincial provincial North Thailand, people start talking about the farang (meaning “white foreigner”; I firmly do believe after discussions with conservative, old-fashioned Thai people that the word can have a pejorative tinge, even if others disagree).

On the market, in the restaurant, or sitting in a park, I would hear the “farang” discussed. Some occasions are especially funny:

My resort receptionist in New Sukothai knows well that I speak some Thai. Still she tells some customers in my presence in Thai:

Sorry you cannot have bungalow B2, because the farang over there has it.

Farang is the scapegoat.

A traditional Thai massage therapist receives calls from customers while massaging me. I hear her say in Thai:

Sorry you can’t get a massage at 4:30 p.m. because I am still treating a farang.

Farang is the scapegoat.

A Thai waitress asks a colleague behind my back in Thai:

Did the farang come alone?

Somehow I believe I had been spoken to directly. I turn around and say in Thai:

Yes, I came alone.

They are shocked that I understood their words and excuse themselves for talking about me.

My Personal New Sukothai

Fong Bear: this cosy, breezy corner bar transits fluently between pavement and inside. It is chock-full with young people. It reminds me  of corner bars in Spain and Cuba, and I am almost surprised it isn’t called Rincón something. They serve 200 dishes of Thai food from a nearby restaurant also, and the stalls out front serve grilled “drinking food”. If you like a youthful “bar beer” sans girlies, this is it.

Chopper Bar: I arrive after closing time at 10.15 pm, and I’m the only guest. But it’s no problem to get a cocktail from the friendly if slightly tired looking waitress. I ask her if there is Carabao style live music in town. She declines, then she comes back and suggests to put on a Carabao DVD in the bar.

Bicycle route between old Sukothai and New Sukothai: see other North Thailand article.

New Sukothai has several establishments that look very western, but are mostly used by Thais: Fong Bear, Chopper Bar, 64000 Bar, and the pizza garden on the river. But funny enough, neither Chopper Bar nor the pizza garden serve cappuccino, which is so popular in any other village across Northern Thailand. The pizza garden might be one of very few woodfire pizza restaurants worldwide that serves neither any coffee at all nor wine.

New Sukothai: Tour des Salons

Search Petch Massage on Google Maps and walk up that road to the north. There will be many more massage shops on the western side. My first massage is good and conscentious, but the aircon is very cold. I mention I’m freezing and the aircon is turned off. But later it’s turned on again, so that I shiver again. The aircon serves not only my cubicle, but a larger area.

In the second shop, the massage lady keeps talking to colleagues outside the cubicle or to her phone. At one point she says to the phone caller, in Thai, “no I can’t massage you at 4.30 p.m., I’m working on a farang”. Two or three times she leaves the cubicle for minutes on ends without saying something. Her right hand scratches me, it must be a ring. I’m really just a sideshow to her.

Only when I’m asked to turn around to lie on my back, I see that I have a new massage lady – they had changed without telling me. Now that 2nd lady constantly wants to talk to me and inquires all my whereabouts while seriously neglecting the business at hand. It’s awkward, but I leave this shop without a tip. Actually I should have interrupted the first massage lady and walked out, but I didn’t dare.

That massage had been timed for the hottest daylight hours, so that after the massage I could go for a rice field bicycle trip in the lovely afternoon and evening light and climate. But stepping out of the massage place, the sky suddenly is gray, so I just go to the shop next door, for a haircut. I show the hairdresser my selfie with the desired hairstyle and she agrees.

While she is at work, a young man walks in, maybe her son or her husband, and drops heavy steel tools and car parts onto the stone floor with an enormous racket. The hairdresser comments on that, and the next set of tools and car parts is set down with ostentatious care.

Sitting in my hairdresser chair, I note that two ladies are watching me from the bench behind. Both see my backside directly and my face in the mirror. One gives me encouraging smiles and when I step out, she has an almost heartbreaking goodbye for me.

And now, at 5:00 p.m., the sun has dropped below the clouds and spreads warm evening light. I quickly re-program the GPS to take me out west to the rice fields. But once again, it directs me to a boarded up road where people have created a quiet environment without through traffic. Before I can find an alternative route for a good view the sun goes down behind the wall.

My Personal Chiang Kham

No hotel on this trip offers more value for money than unassuming sub-economy Phu View Hotel. The 450 Baht room has everything: cross ventilation through intact mosquito screens, a  small balcony for laundry and drying, a water kettle, enough uncomplicated parking, constant WiFi, a very friendly anglophone owner, on-site laundry, not to mention a private bathroom with good hot water and natural aeration – more than you can say about much posher places.

Wooden Wats

Chiang Kham’s Wat Nantaram has the nicest wood construction and wood floor that I see on this trip. A dark, complex, Burmese structure, kept very shiny. The other nice wooden temple I see on this trip is Wat Jom Sawan in Phrae.

Full Blast

How much advertising noise visual and audible can you dump on Thai people?

Loudspeaker cars drive around slowly and announce vegetables or Thai boxing fights via megaphone.

Megaphones on lamp posts spread creaking communal or temple announcements and plingplong music.

Using the Grab taxi app, it interrupts the procedure with advertisements which – it suggests – I should check out while being ferried to my destination. A nuisance.

At the gas station, while filling the car, the attendant sets an advertisement board onto the bonnet that I have to look at. It advertises oil. At another gas station they put a board on my bonnet, right in my view from the driver seat – but it’s empty, message-less.

Even 23 years ago I had been shocked at the video advertisements in the sky train. A Thai friend lives in a very posh Bangkok condo right on the skytrain. Recently the lift in her private condo building (not office building) got video advertisements including sound. In your own home!

My Personal Lampang

The tourist area of Lampang, Thanon Talad Ghao, feels slick and more touristy than anything else on my trip. Restaurateurs and snack sellers approach me with smooth sales pitches that quickly turn me away. It’s a mini Chiang Mai.

Much nicer than the touristy night market on Talad Ghao is the daily morning market Khao Chao. After a nice breakfast there, you could walk to the nearby toy train station and watch the station master ring the bell.

Very nice wooden mansions can be seen on the Northern side of Wang river on a walk through small roads, roughly from Wat Kaew Don Tao Suchadaram to Louis Leonowens House. Some of these wooden homes with generous gardens now have little coffee shops or snack shops. The coffee there is forgettable, but you can sit there and feel like a wooden mansion owner, while talking to very friendly actual owners.

One young lady who stayed in such a wooden home with her parents told me in Thai she’d rather stay in a condo. She said her wooden home got too hot in summer. Her mom smiled politely.

A Nature and Village resort

The restaurant terrace of the De Mala village resort could be lovely. It overlooks rice fields, mountains and the sunset. But the view is partly marred by trees (which may have been there first) and more so by fake windmills, other ugly Disneyland buildings, a fairytale park and silly selfie props like a freestanding bathtub.

And there is the noise. Of course they play music so that you won’t hear the birds, the cicadas or the wind in the trees. Then they sport an artificial waterfall, which is especially noisy as water hits hollow plastic. And they have a toyride for the kids, which produces electronic video game  noises, announcements in American English and squeaky music, so that the kids feel right at home. Plus they keep destitute parrots and other birds in tiny cages, and their desperate cries add to the noise. Then, the visitors’ kids imitate the birds’ cries for mercy.

I might even consider dinner there, even though I know that the cook is a chain smoker in dirty rags. But with all the visual and acoustic nuisance, you have no chance to just let the landscape grow on you. And you can’t step into the peaceful rice fields below easily, because they are heavily fenced off.

My Personal Phrae

The wooden heart of Phrae, the area with most of the temples and wooden mansions, but also many important house cafes and private wooden homes seems to have more character than the other towns I visit. Cafes and restaurants are cozy without aiming at instagraminess.

Two of the most characterful places are the Slope Café with its rough wooden benches in a garden invisible from the street, and the interesting little Thai restaurant ร้านกาดพระนอน (อาหารพื้นเมือง), also decked out in rustic wood, and now with an English photo menu.

Phrae is the only place where I saw printed newspapers for sale and actually being read. It’s also the only place where I saw several Mercedes and BMW cars.

Thai Food

The Gin restaurant in Nan is one of the best places for top-notch, yet affordable Thai food that I come to. You could go there for a month and study Thai food with ever new discoveries. A foreigner enters and orders a hamburger.

I cycle 10 km out of Lampang and at Pierre Pizza, I order a woodfire pizza and yam pla meuk, squid salad, less spicy by request. The Thai owner says I am the first foreigner who ever ordered a Thai “yam” salad at his restaurant.

The other way above average restaurant I run into is Baan Phraya Suren by Madame Musur in Lampang. Both Gin in Nan and Baan Phraya Suren feel too formal for my personal taste.

Calling AIS

I have an AIS tourist SIM card. In an otherwise knowledgeable phone shop they told me wrongly that my tourist SIM cannot get an extended validity when leaving  the country for some months. But they also advised me to call AIS anyway.

I dial the AIS call center at 1175, in the voice menu I find the English language service, and after some more sub menus I quickly have a lady with excellent English on the line. She explains two ways how to extend the validity of my SIM card for up to the maximum of 365 days:

  • One way is buying 20 baht, then 20 Baht again and a last top up of 20 Baht; each time you would get 30 days more, but you have to find a way to actually only get 20 Baht into your phone and not be forced to buy at least 50 baht.
  • The other way seems easier: luckily I have 200 Baht credit in my phone, and she says she can just deduct some Baht, and then the desired extended validity would be there.

She asks me for my first name and after that keeps calling me Khun HansBlog, after confirming that that was okay for me. (I forget to ask for her name.) Also at one point she says,

You are paying for this call, so let me call you back now

That’s a big surprise for me, but of course I agree to end the call, and immediately she calls back. Towards the end of the call she mentions casually that after hanging up I would get a survey asking to rate her service. Hers is a very good experience, and I answer the survey accordingly.

And, oops, I did it: I extended my Thai SIM for a year. Obviously I’d like to come back.

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