The continuing Hiatus, Hiatus report from Thailand…
Somehow, someway, it saddens my heart and stomach to realize, we’re halfway through our hiatus upon writing this, from a corner cafe in the small city of Pai, awaiting a bus back to Chiang Mai again. Hopefully, J. Legume and I can figure out how to freeze time a bit. There’s surely a hippie in this beautiful, breezy city that can show us the way.
The first part of this, I can easily explain. J. Legume and I flew AirAsia (book this budget airline in advance and try to catch a promotion if you can!) up to our first destination after arriving in Bangkok: Chiang Rai. Noting that it was quite smaller than Chiang Mai, which I had visited on my last trip, we thought it would be a nice break from the scene of Khao San Road and fairly walkable. A good start to get our travel wanderings on. See a few temples, check out a vegetarian restaurant or two, get lost and found, etc.
Departing Don Muang
Rice at a Chiang Rai Market
Wandering markets on our first morning
Chiang Rai: the largest city in this part of northern Thailand
Naturally, we quickly got lost wandering in what was probably upper 90Fs humidity (guessing by the sweat dripping down our faces and not doing the conversion from Celsius) after having a taxi drop us off at a vegetarian restaurant for an early lunch, and then leaving our bags at guesthouse next door for a few hours. J. Legume thought we would never see our bags again when after some brief communication that we didn’t want a room, the women working told us we could leave our bags on a table in the lobby for a few hours, but what were we going to do, walk around lugging 20kg backpacks? In that weather? I’ll take my chances and think the best.
Oasis Vegetarian: the yellow vegetarian flags are flying
Our lunch was totally fascinating. Oasis, the most-talked about vegetarian spot in the Chiang Mai (according to my internet research, hence our first stop) is basically a large vegetarian buffet that goes alllllll day long. That equates to the earlier, the better.
There were seemingly over 15 curious trays of dishes to choose from, and another row of soups in crock pot-like warmers. I picked three dishes, which were served with a generous portion of super fluffy brown rice, for 30 baht (making it just over $1USD, though I would have been quite fine with two for 20 baht) while J. Legume went surprisingly, for a noodle dish. The owner was adorably proud of their Tripadvisor listing, and the place had a trickle of locals as we filled out stomachs for the day ahead.
Steamed pumpkin & greens, soft tofu, stir-fried vegetables, brown rice and complimentary broth
Noodles from the buffet
The highlight for me was the steamed Thai pumpkin (aka kabocha squash) with greens and simply the friendly atmosphere of the restaurant to two mildly odd-of-sorts and warm tourists. It also had a wall of goods for purchase, both refrigerated and dried, which we came back for later on that day, hours later, after losing our way thanks to a pretty shoddy, hand-drawn map from the guesthouse earlier that no locals could make out, graciously receiving directions from the entire staff of a laundromat who tracked down the one person who could speak a little English (phew), and then finding our way back to Oasis and our bags (which were there, so I tipped), I was able to pick up a pack of just-in-case vegetarian ramen from the restaurant’s store section, which has proven convenient since.
One day when I’m in Chiang Rai again, I’m going for the simmering pots on the right…
Serious shopping for the weekend
Also of note: everything on a stick!
After finding our way to the bar & cafe-studded Jet Yod street, relaxing over coffee & iced green tea, exploring a bit, stopping for a margarita (I’ve since moved on to mojitos) & beer at one of the bar/restaurants open in the early afternoon, and of course, hopping in a tuk tuk and ultimately getting lost in the small town center trying to find out short way back to our backpacks, we scored our first bags of Sweet Basil Lays and sat down at the old bus station. We then met out ride from Bamboo Nest, Bee, and were off.
It was charming bar nook after bar nook on this little street
Iced Green Tea
Chiang Rai Town
Sleepy city, quiet roads
After our amazingly surreal (one of the most used words of the hiatus so far) four-day stay up in the mountains up at Bamboo Nest, which like I said, I can’t describe just yet besides repeating “surreal” over and over again…we spent a few more hours in the fittingly, oft-described ‘sleepy’ city of Chiang Rai, stumbling right out of the old bus station to a cafe with both internet and vegetarian food across the street, Connect Cafe.
The old bus station
One more easy afternoon in Chiang Rai
J. Legume and I simply wanted a place to rest before an uncertain bus trip, and didn’t intend to walk very far with our heavy bags (it still being week one of the hiatus, our muscles were just beginning to strengthen), so spotting ‘vegetarian’and ‘coffee’ at the same spot was a must. Connect Cafe has an entirely separate vegetarian menu, and as I’ve long found myself requesting at Thai restaurants in the US, you simply give a quick “no fish sauce” to break any cultural, culinary misunderstandings (yes, even on vegetarian sections, I’ve learned) and here comes lunch.
We had originally planned to spend a night in the city itself visiting the White and Black Temples (the first of which was a nice surprise as we drove out-of-town in the end), but Bamboo Nest pulled us in for four full days. Perhaps more on that to come. It’s the type of experience you want to keep to yourself, but as I’m sharing often throughout our hiatus to hopefully inspire others, (which I preferred largely keeping to myself on my last visit to SE Asia), I’d like to share some more, and support the small, family-run business.
Our bamboo porch & personal hammock at Bamboo Nest
Fast forward three hours after our drive down the mountain, and we’d spent the afternoon at Connect Cafe catching up on the email game, attempted to share the experience a bit on you know what, dined well on flavorful stir fries, soup and spring rolls, and hopped a bus to Chiang Mai, to go our separate ways for the well-spent week ahead.
As usual, the following selection of photos from our travels is presented without any photo editing or enhancement, because with the welcome, infrequent internet access, we simply haven’t the time.
Renewing the day
Salt & Pepper
Quickly one of my staple meals in Thailand: Stir-fried Thai eggplant with holy basil
Another edition of J. Legume’s soup love: Tom Yam with giant chunks of precious galangal, lemongrass, super soft & lovely cuts of tofu
Vegetarian Gyoza, one of the specials
I picked up new croc-like mary janes from this clothing market
Prasobsuk Road, right across the street from the bus station
Setting up for the day
Awaiting the comfortable Green Bus to Chiang Mai
To be continued…
Do feel free to follow along on Instagram via @jdfunks and @donna__noble for ongoing updates of our so-called ‘hiatus hiatus’ as we reunite, experience the Vegetarian Festival and make our way further north and then down to Cambodia.
And you’d like peruse to the first installments of our travels: