Wednesday, 22 September 2010

chiang mai -- Getting the Most Bang for your Buck.

My neighbour in Chiang Mai had some Australian visitors over last night for a BBQ, and invited me along. A brilliant evening unfolded. I really should be still in bed sleeping it off, but no, dear readers, I'm up early to tell you this cautionary tale ...

These two travelling couples in their late 50s/ early 60s have just spent a week or so in Tuscany. They started the evening off name-dropping Tuscany as often as possible and saying how f-ab-u-l-o-u-s everything was, darling.

And so it should have been. They paid AUD$10,000 to stay in a villa for the week. Ten thousand dollars, jing jing! 'Even then it wasn't that flash, it needed a coat of paint,' said Husband # 1, as he nursed a Singha beer, watching the light fade over Doi Suthep. 'And the bloody bread was nowhere near fresh,' grumbled Husband # 2 in retrospect, as we stood under the huge mango tree finishing off the BBQ cooking of huge pork steaks, beef sausages and chicken fillets fresh from Northern Farm store nearby.

By contrast, they are staying at the Rachamankha Hotel in old town Chiang Mai, a Relais & Chateux 5-star boutique property. It is costing them just around AUD$140 per night, breakfast included.

It is a magical property, evocatively decked out (click their website above for proof), with hot and cold running staff padding about to satisfy your whims.

Soon the stories started of what they'd been up to in just the day and a half since they'd arrived from Europe and lobbed into Chiang Mai. A visit to the Mae Taeng Elephant Park enjoying elephants in their natural mountain habitat. Dinner at Huen Phen for 6 people (including 8 bottles of beer) which had cost them about 800 baht (not even $30 all up, total for all 6). Then they'd spent the morning at the Hill Tribe Museum just outside town, before taking a table at the nearby lake where bamboo raft-house style restaurants serve the largest and yummiest prawns and river fish (my favourite is served with lemon and chilli). Oh, and Husband # 2 had 'fallen in love' with the waitress who turned out to be a katoey, much to his wife's amusement!

 Then here they were, enjoying a barbecue under a spectacular full moon. Our neighbour rigged up some khum loy lanterns for them to release, replete with strings of fireworks attached. So as these paper lanterns were filled and drifted off serenely into the Chiang Mai sky, they'd leave a shower of colourful sparks in their wake, like a meteor. It was truly magical ...

The slogan Amazing Thailand Always Amazes You came to life right there.

 By the end of the evening, all their time in Tuscany was long forgotten. All those dollars spent on renting that villa irretrievably blown. Never mind the value they were enjoying in Thailand, the sheer fun they were having here, eclipsed their European trip many times over.

When their taxi driver Mr Por arrived to pick them up, he joined us for a beer while waiting. And then off they went merrily into the night, not looking forward to having to leave Thailand today.

Oh, they'd used Mr Por all day (and it was now midnight) to drive them to all of these places. And that cost them only 1000 baht between the four of them. Surely nowhere, nowhere, can compete with Thailand for value.

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