Day 5 Anantara Golden Triangle
Today we had an 11:40am flight to Chiang Rai. We were flying Air Asia, a low cost airline. We had never flown a low cost airline here or in Europe so were not exactly sure what to expect. We splurged (just a few extra dollars) for the Xpress boarding. Since there is no reserved seating, Xpress boarding allows you to board first and they save you seats in the first 3 rows. We found it nice, but not really necessary, unless you are trying to make a tight connection on the way back and then you could be the first one off the plane. We thought the plane was fine and the service was great. No complaints.
We arrived at Chiang Rai airport about 1pm and our driver and guest services representative from the Anantara were waiting for us. We got into our air-conditioned van with cool towels and water; however we noticed right away that while it was still hot, it was not quite as bad as Bangkok.
It took about an hour to drive to the Anantara (read my review here). We checked into our suite, quickly changed into swimsuits and got a quick (but good) lunch at the pool bar and then relaxed by the pool. It was a beautiful big pool with nice padded chairs and views of Laos and Burma. When we first got there, it was practically empty, but as the afternoon wore on the chairs did fill up a bit. By the way, cannot believe no one on ever mentioned the gargantuan red tile roofed casino in Burma that stares at you from the Anantara. Seemed a bit strange, but then we live in Oregon where the tribes have casinos popping up all over the state, so I can appreciate the economic advantage. However, it just seemed strange to have that as my view of Burma!!
For dinner we ate at the Italian restaurant in the hotel. Despite what others have said we thought the food at all the Anantara restaurants was quite good. I have to admit, I could not eat Thai and Khmer food every day for two weeks so we were very pleased to have some alternatives throughout the trip. For those who are unaware, the Anantara is a bit secluded so unless you have a car it is a somewhat difficult to go off the grounds for dinner without paying for a car and driver. There was a free shuttle into Chiang Saen and Golden Triangle during the day, but not in the evening. There are two restaurants at the resort, Italian and Thai, as well as the pool/bar area that essentially takes parts of both menus. We were there for four nights and did not mind at all staying on the premises. Perhaps if we had more time a dinner offsite would have been nice.
Day 6 – Mahouts and massages
Today we were up early to start our mahout training at 7am. There were three other people doing it with us. First, we walked out to where the elephants had spent the night. The mahouts rode them into the river and gave them a bath. One note before I go on, despite what I read on Fodor’s, they do provide mahout pants for you to wear. We all brought sweats to wear, but that turned out to be unnecessary.
After their bath we had our first lesson on how to get onto an elephant. It was not easy, although later on we learned multiple ways to get on or off an elephant and some are a lot easier than others!!
We rode them over to the elephant camp. Once there, we fed them a ton of bananas which the kids really enjoyed. You can come down and feed them bananas anytime they are there without doing the mahout training.
The elephant camp appeared to be a little village where the mahouts and their families lived. They have a little shop where they sell items and they were weaving while we were there. We had not brought any money there which I regret because the wood carved elephants they had at their little shop were the nicest ones I had seen, and I just never got back down there.
We were taught several mahout commands and got back on the elephants and took them through a little obstacle course. Then we got on and off the elephants learning all the different ways to get on or off. As I mentioned, some are a lot easier than others.
From here we rode the elephants back to the front of the hotel, where we got off and had breakfast. It was about 9am. We had only signed up for the half-day, which was perfect for us as we were looking forward to some relaxation and exploration. If you sign up for the full day you would go back out with the elephants from 1-3:30pm and I believe get a chance to bathe them in the river.
We had made spa appointments for early afternoon. Stephen and I had 1.5 hr. thai massages and Michael had a 1 hr. foot massage. He convinced us that all great soccer players get their feet massaged (and it seems to have worked for him – he scored a goal in his first game back from vacation). Lauren preferred to soak up the sun by the pool.
The spa was beautiful and we had wonderful massages. It was truly amazing how those petite women can exert such pressure on you. They provide loose cotton pajamas to change into, delicious ginger tea and a foot rub/wash before they start.
After the massages we all enjoyed a nice lunch by the pool. Lauren and I decided to go to the small town of Sop Ruak about one km away. The guys wanted to stay at the Anantara and rest. There was a shuttle bus but the times did not really correspond with when we wanted to go. I reconfirmed with the concierge that it was just one km away and we decided to walk. As we walked along we started wondering why we decided to do this. There is, of course, no sidewalk, and once you are past another small resort on the other side of the road there really is nothing until you start to reach the town, plus it was quite hot. Then we came upon a group of men working on an electrical pole (with the wire hanging down) that was a bit disconcerting. When we first arrived in the town we hit “restaurant row”, a line of open-air thatched roof eateries. We noticed that many of the shops on the other side of the street were closed. Lauren said “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” Well, I said, let’s just keep going. This tiny little town has a GIANT, and I mean GIANT golden Buddha in the main square and I said let’s just wait until we get to the golden Buddha.
As we got closer to the golden Buddha more stores were open. We stopped and bought ice cream cones and then worked our way through the open shops. We bought tons of stuff (bag, skirts, tops, embroidered mahout pants). We ended up having a nice time, and needless to say the walk back seemed a lot shorter than on the way there. The hardest part was walking back up the Anantara’s long steep driveway.
We had dinner that night in their Thai restaurant. Everything was excellent-we shared coconut soup, duck curry, beef with oyster sauce and a snowbass.
Day 7 – Anantara cooking class
We started out this morning at 7:30am meeting our chef for our cooking class, Nan, in the lobby. It was just the four of us in the class that day. He took us into Chiang Saen to visit the food market. He said the market actually opens around 1-2am!! He showed us a lot of different items, particularly those we would be using to cook with. We did not actually purchase anything, which was just fine with me as there were so many flies buzzing around the food. Not sure where he did get the food from, but it is better that I do not know. One stall had a twirly-gig contraption that was meant to blow the flies away. We noticed a lot of interesting things for sale such as frogs, eels and turtles.
Stephen asked if there was a good place for coffee so Nan took us to a coffee cart and Stephen and the kids enjoy iced coffees.
Next, we drove to a 750 year old ancient temple with ancient walls around it. The hotel had packed us a simple breakfast of orange juice, croissants, and fruit. This was a relaxing place to take a break. Before leaving, Nan had us give flowers and burn incense and candles at the Buddhist shrine.
We got back to the Anantara a little after 9am, and Nan told us to return at 10am when we would start cooking. The day we arrived here we were asked to choose what we wanted to cook. We were given a list of nine items, three appetizers/soup, three entrees and three desserts. We had never cooked Thai food before so we chose to learn to cook some of our favorites – Tom Yum soup, Phad Thai with prawns and fried banana with coconuts.
They have a beautiful cooking class kitchen, with a big station up front and four smaller stations in the room. In addition to Nan there were two other people there to help us.
First, we sat up at Nan’s station on stools and watched him make the dish as he explained things to us. Then we would all go to our individual stations to make the dish, next, we would all sit at the table to enjoy them. Then go back and watch Nan for the next dish, and so on. Nan was great and extremely helpful when we all had questions. The helpers organized our station with the necessary ingredients, pots, pans, utensils, etc. for each item and took them away to be cleaned when we were done – if only cooking at home was this easy!!
We got to keep our aprons, hats and recipe books, which included many additional recipes. We all thoroughly enjoyed this, and learned a lot. We were done about 1pm – a fabulous way to spend the morning!!
From here we all relaxed by the pool or napped in the room. We had dinner at the Italian restaurant again. Very good meal, although my duck was a bit overcooked.
Day 8 – Doi Tung and Doi Mae Salong
I had contacted Sgt. Kai about guiding in Chiang Rai (http://www.chiangmaitours.com/). He is a highly rated guide based in Chiang Mai, but often takes people to the Golden Triangle and Chiang Rai, so thought I would contact him about a Chiang Rai only trip. He said he could do it, although it might be one of his other guides.
We met our guide, Sutthi, and our driver at 8:30am. Our first stop was at a favorite temple of Sutthis where there were several wild monkeys running around. They appeared much healthier and happier than the monkeys we saw with Tong in the fishing village. It appears that people come regularly to the temple and buy food there to feed the monkeys.
Next we stopped at Doi Tung, the King’s mother’s villa. She spent much of her later years in Switzerland and you can definitely see that influence in her house. Here is the second thing that we never read anywhere. At Doi Tung you need to be dressed with long pants or skirt and short sleeves. They gave Lauren and me mahout tops and pants and the guys mahout pants to wear. You do not need to wear them in the garden just when you walk around the house. The villa is very beautiful, made out of a lot of teak and pine. Her furnishings were actually quite modest and reminded me of my own grandmother’s furniture. We then meandered through the garden which was truly stunning, with flowers from all over the world.
We then drove up to Doi Mae Salong a Chinese village and a tea factory. Unfortunately, the tea factory was not in operation as it was the dry season, so not enough leaves at the moment.
We were able to sit and enjoy tasting some tea, and we purchased tea and honey.
We then drove back down into the Chinese Village where we stopped for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Sutthi ordered for us and we had an excellent meal of soup, pork, chicken with ginger and a mushroom dish. I got a kick out of the sign in front of the restaurant that said “Clean Food, Good Taste.”
We walked down the street and did some shopping in the small market area. Lauren and I bought some jewelry. We really enjoyed this little village.
Next we drove to an Akhbar Village. Luckily it was not too far out of the way because frankly it was not that interesting, Not to be rude, but it was mostly just some people lying around. Sutthi showed us the inside of one house, but that was basically it. In the future, I would just skip a stop like this. I am not sure what I was expecting, but Sgt. Kai had just included the stop in the itinerary.
We really enjoyed our day with Sutthi. He was a very kind man who was always laughing at his own jokes!!! He seemed the most open to talking about Thai politics, etc. which we really enjoyed.
We headed back to the Anantara and got there about 4:30pm. Just relaxed before another nice dinner.
Day 9 – Travel to Siem Reap
Today was another travel day. Our flight out of Chiang Rai did not leave until 1:30pm so we slept in a bit. We had scheduled a hotel van to take us at 11:00am for the one hour drive to the airport. On our way there we drove on a road that had pineapple stand after pineapple stand. Each the same, each with one woman in front selling pineapples. Not sure if they are all from the same plantation or not, but it seems difficult for them to differentiate themselves.
We arrived at the airport and found out our flight was delayed one hour. We would still have two hours at BKK to retrieve luggage and get rechecked in on Bangkok Airways to Siem Reap, so we were hoping that the flight would not be further delayed. By the way, on the way to Chang Rai on Air Asia we were not charged for overweight baggage, but on our way back we were. I know we did purchase some things but not enough for all the bags to go up. I think they were just nice on the flight in. We got treats at the DQ in the airport.
There is an area in the airport set up with comfy Lazy-Boy type recliners with a sign saying “Reserved for monks”. Our flight left just one hour late which gave us the full two hours in BKK to get from one flight to the other. However, we were a bit surprised by the long line in BKK to go through immigration to leave the country. It took us over half an hour.
Click here to read about our time in Siem Reap