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esaj

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Everything posted by esaj

  1. We've had (at least) seven reports of KS18L locking up (and in fact, heating up after locking) while the wheel has been trolleyed around. If this happens to you, as soon as possible, open the wheel and disconnect the batteries to prevent things from overheating. From the reports so far, it seems to be an issue with the new trolley handle lifting detection, but this is not certain. FW 1.07 was supposed to fix the issue, but turned out that it apparently wasn't caused by the LED-issue they fixed? At least 4 of the cases have occurred with FW 1.07. Be careful out there, if you can help it, maybe wait until they've officially called the "all clear" and released new firmware. At least try to avoid trolleying the wheel around and/or disable the motor deactivation when lifting (apparently it can be done from the app). "Luckily" it seems to not be very common, as we're not getting reports all the time. Experience from Russia: The user Asu6nik walked his KS18L by the trolley inside a shopping mall. After some 20 metres, the wheel stopped, locked in one position and resisted turning, it did not respond to button presses. After one hour, he was able to take it apart and disconnect the batteries. By that time, the whole case became very hot, the batteries inside were very hot and were making a quiet hissing sound that could be heard by pressing one's ear against the battery case, the sound resembled a boiling teapot. After letting everything cool off and reconnecting the batteries, Asu6nik had the wheel ridable again. The charge level dropped from 85% to 40% in the process. Notes: -All cases happened while trolleying the wheel, no-one so far has reported issues while riding -May cause battery, mainboard and motor damage, and if battery cells heat up too much, there's a possible danger of fire. If this happens to you, disconnect the battery if you can, if you cannot, move the wheel to somewhere where it's relatively safe for it to (possibly) go up in flames (it might not do much else than drain the battery, but just in case) -1.07 firmware update does not prevent the issue from happening -If it's related to the lifting sensor in the handle, like it seems, turning that off might prevent the issue (but that's just guesswork) At least one report with FW 1.07 + sensor turned off, still causing locking This unboxing procedure for anyone with new 18L was suggested by @nte, I'd guess it at least couldn't hurt: 5 hours ago, nte said: I'm thinking this might become the 18L unboxing procedure for those that don't want to deal with this unexpectedly. According to @Shad0z it could still lock up with the sensor off. 1. Unbox 18L 2. Remove covers 3. Power on 4. Update firmware 5. Calibrate lift sensor 6. Turn off lift sensor 7. Trolley around the house for 30+ minutes Related topics:
  2. esaj

    The D A Y has come !!! E+ arrived ;)

    The mileage readings on the wheels are hardly trustworthy, but off by a factor of 30 sounds implausible My best guess is that it was tested at the factory and/or by the reseller and the mileage wasn't reset.
  3. Hardly my area of expertise, but based on what I (think I) know, likely this will have very little, if any, effect on the lifetime of the electronic components. Consider this: when your mainboard was made, it went through a reflow oven to solder in the surface mount parts. A typical reflow "profile" might look something like this: During the preheat and soaking, the components are exposed to a temperature somewhere between 175 and 200C (roughly between 350 and 400F) to get the flux "activated" for a couple of minutes. Then the temperature is ramped up to around 260C (500F) for a short period to melt the solder and cooled back down. The limits (like 3C per second max) are there to prevent fast surface tension changes and such that could either cause the components to "pop" off the board or break the component packages. The profile above shows the maximum temperature (260C) for 20-40 seconds, in total the temperature might be above 217C (the melting point of "typical" lead-free solder) for 1-2.5 minutes. Of course they aren't powered during the soldering, and the components are brand new at that point. For example, if the "core" of a mosfet hits around 175C while powered, it will self-destruct (possibly spectacularly, ie. blowing through the package leaving a molten hole on the side)... Some devices also go through "aging" or "break-in/burn-in" periods at the factory where they're exposed to more than normal stress to find out faulty pieces early. Through-hole parts maybe soldered in by hand or with wave-soldering, where the board is taken through a "fountain" of molten solder flowing over it. Wires are likely soldered by hand. Even electronic components do wear out over time, and high temperature wears them out faster. However, for most components were talking so long times that it hardly is an issue over the product lifetime. In "normal" wear, usually the first things to give up are electrolytic capacitors (the big "cylinders" in the mainboard), because they contain liquid electrolyte. Over time, the electrolyte can slowly dry out, or the casing breaks and the electrolyte leaks out. We're still talking long time in normal conditions, but again higher temperatures cause this to happen earlier. Good quality caps should still work for decades. Your batteries will degrade far sooner below the point of being actually useful. Due to the nature of the wheels, it's more likely that your wheel gets destroyed in a single, fast incident (high voltage/current spike) rather than by wearing it out. And even more likely that it's going to happen in a crash of some sort, unfortunately In general, I wouldn't be too worried about the temperatures, of course you can destroy your wheel by overheating it, but it's not likely to happen during "normal" riding. Still, if you keep going back and forth like in your test, or climbing long mountain roads, and won't stop (and the firmware doesn't stop you), yes, you can overheat the components and destroy the board. If the temperature went high, but the board survived it, yes, you likely "aged" it faster, but in the big picture, other issues (like a crash destroying the wheel, battery degrade or switching to another model and selling the old wheel) are likely going to be the reason you stop using the wheel, rather than the components breaking through normal use and intermittent heating. In the early days (for me, that's circa 2015-2016, first Solowheels and such came out even years before that), people were blowing up their boards by stressing them a lot (usually climbing), where either the mosfets or sometimes the wiring might melt. Sometimes it was enough to accelerate really rapidly or hop down or up a curb, hitting a pothole etc. Nowadays it seems that what usually destroys the wheel is a crash, as the components used and design have improved (bigger mosfet packages, better cooling, better connectors etc.). My two desktop computers at home are both from somewhere around 2010. Both of them have seen a lot of use, although I "switched" to using the other one maybe 3 years ago. They both run hot (almost a decade old 3.2GHz 8-core Xeons )and the other one once had temperature problems (turned out to be a heatsink clogged with dust, the CPU was running at close to 70C at idle, hitting 100C during loading and went into thermal shutdown), yet they still run fine. Most likely one day the mainboard electrolytics will give in and I have to get a new one...
  4. esaj

    New KingSong 16X Rumours

    I kind of liked the old 18" KS look, although no idea how practical (probably not? ) it was...
  5. My guess would be space issues, board size and how much room is there in the mainboard compartment. The MCM5 board has four 470uF caps in parallel = 1880uF (well, those caps have a tolerance of something like +-20%, but thereabouts ), while the Tesla board has two 1000uF caps = 2000uF. More caps in parallel does drop the ESR (resistance) of the caps , so theoretically more smaller caps in parallel could provide higher amperage, but since no-one's complaining that the wheels don't have enough power, it likely isn't that much of an issue either way AFAIK, the caps are there to provide the high current spikes when the motor coils are being turned on, the momentary (nano/microseconds) amperage can hit very high numbers (100's of A, if not 1000), which couldn't be provided "all the way" from the batteries, because of resistances added by all the wiring and connectors in-between. Also they'll likely take the worst voltage spikes off coming back from the motor(?). Usual symptom of a failed / bad caps in the mainboard is loss of torque (if not outright failure of the board, if they fail in short circuit for example).
  6. esaj

    Open-source EUC motherboard

    Trapezoidal is easy, but my suspicion is that it won't be "accurate" enough (too jerky?) for something like a self-balancing device... but if someone proves me wrong, then why not, at least it's really straightforward to implement. If adjusting the PWM fast enough, it could maybe get "close enough"? Difficult yes, but if the MCU has kick (the Indonesian guy/guys used a Cortex M4, those things have hardware FPU and the M4 I have runs at 180MHz at max clocks), it doesn't really add cost IMHO. ATMega-based Arduino on the other hand probably won't be fast enough for the matrix and vector calculations, even if using fixed point maths (again could be wrong though ) AFAIK, the guy who made VESC gets flown by private jets to help big companies with motor controller design, but then again VESC is open source. Big semiconductor companies offer their own tools, code and development kits for FOC development. @lizardmech built controllers with FOC (as far as I know, btw, are those available somewhere? )... I don't really think that business/financial reasons are a sound justification for not using a more complex control method / not making it open source. The "cost" of workhours put into the project is essentially zero, since open-source software/hardware projects are usually made by volunteers, not paid programmers/hardware designers. Of course there are exceptions and companies that provide software / schematics / PCB designs for free, but sell premade hardware. With good modular design of the firmware and interface to the motor control, the control-module could be replaceable with any type of control, so the method could be changed as needed (ie. balancing algorithm "requests" some certain torque or speed value, and the motor control code acts as a black box, so the actual method is hidden from outside). Of course it will likely need fine-tuning and adjusting between different motors and control methods, but at least leaves open the possibility to "pick and combine" as needed. The big step is making the hardware "cheap enough" (although likely it still won't be cheap, even a smallish 10-14" BLDC/PMSM -motor with shipping and customs from somewhere like Aliexpress is something like ~200€ because of the weight) and easy enough to get/build, plus a solid, well documented and sound software to work with, so that bigger crowd picks up the project.
  7. I'd claim that the package-size / amount of power transistors and size / surface area (/ weight / heat capacity) of the heatsink are more important. Ideally, no fans would be needed at all (and many wheels don't have any), as they add a new failure point (mechanical moving parts) vs. plain passive cooling.
  8. esaj

    New KingSong 16X Rumours

    Problem with this might be if the turn signals activate when you're just making a slight adjustment on your trajectory... also they might be illegal in some countries (at least here, the colors for lights/reflectors pointing at different directions are set in law, never checked what the law says if a bike had turning signals). I'd like this, seeing that for the first time I'll have to carry the damn thing upstairs at work when the riding season starts, and then roll it down the hall for a bit. At my last workplace, I could just trolley it in and out of the elevator Again legal issues: red lights pointing sideways are illegal here, don't know about other countries. Light or reflector pointing backwards MUST be red. Don't know how uptight police is with the rules though, never been stopped (EUCs are legal in Finland, they're classified same as bicycles in traffic laws). Not a bad idea, but I'd never leave my wheel out of sight in public spaces, even if it's locked. Someone's going to go poke around it or maybe damage it, locked or not. I'd personally like this, but for an Average Joe, the voltages are meaningless. Most people don't know anything about batteries, and for them the bars / percentage-display are much better. Maybe both / selectable (7-segments or similar showing percentage 0-100 or voltage, adjustable from app or somewhere) Not going to happen, you can't put that much current through any normal button, it would have to be pretty huge. The contacts on the button would either weld shut or melt... All the KS's already have fuses, AFAIK. Of course they should always be the "last line of defense", and in a perfect world, the electronics would never break down.
  9. esaj

    Open-source EUC motherboard

    On a quick glance, I don't think this is going to be really useful. At least a couple of the files seem to be modified from STMicroelectronics examples, the entire source wasn't there (at least I noticed just 4 files in the instructable). They're apparently using a prebuilt motor controller and a rotary encoder instead of hall-sensors. I couldn't make heads or tails how the motor's actually controlled, thanks to no comments and functions and variable names in (I think) Indonesian, but maybe it's somewhere there... I only glanced it over in like 5-10 minutes, so maybe I missed something. The only (maybe) somewhat useful piece could be the Kalman-filter code. After a second look at the Kalman-code, nope, find a better example or study the mathematics behind it and roll your own... The "hard" parts of the firmware are likely reading the IMU with proper filtering (a process control/automation M.Sc -guy at work mentioned the Kalman-filter on a short discussion about IMUs a while back, since he's the maths guru, I trust that it's pretty important ), FOC for motor control and the PD or PID -loop (not coding wise really, but finding the "correct" constants). Projects like this have the additional problem that getting the hardware isn't exactly cheap (motor + controller + batteries), and making the frame can be problematic. And trying to write the software without the actual hardware is pretty much impossible. I do have a Firewheel motor + shell + some batteries (and finally lab power supplies capable of up to 100V) lying around, but I wouldn't trust my electronics design skills so much that I'd actually try to ride something I made Probably should try to design a simple motor controller at some point just to see if I can get the FOC running properly, now that I've dipped my toe in ARM Cortex M3/M4's and get more "exercise" in C programming ECUs at work nowadays. Then again, not sure how much I want to write embedded code at home when I do it all day at work...
  10. esaj

    New KingSong 16X Rumours

    Considering the issues (possibly) related to the lift-sensor in the earlier models, I'd actually rather like they'd leave it off then Not that I'm even looking into buying a new wheel anytime soon, I blew off way too much money last year, so have to save up, we likely have some renovations coming up within a year or two in the 5-figure range...
  11. esaj

    New KingSong 16X Rumours

    Does this one also have the motor cut-off lift-sensor or just a button under the handle (or no cut-off at all)?
  12. esaj

    Defect info... unfortunately in chinese

    Google Translate on phones can read and translate text from images, but I didn't want to start fooling around with my phone, so I did this instead: https://webapps.stackexchange.com/questions/107953/google-translate-an-image-not-on-your-phone | Telekom.de: 07:05 1 VPN # 100 pressure sensor A: No contact sensor or sensor is damaged, the use of this sensor is closed
  13. Firewheel was surprisingly powerful and fast for its specs (I had the F260 with only 2 battery packs, 264Wh), I used to take mine over 30km/h lots of times (I think my personal "best" was somewhere around 33 and change km/h, measured with bike computer straight from the tire, hobby16 has reached something like 36km/h), not bad for a (supposedly) 550W nominal motor. I've been that told that going above the last warning (around 26-28km/h, the repeating "take care, take care"-message) shouldn't be attempted without shunted packs, otherwise it may shut down, but mine were shunted when I got it, so no idea if it's true. I ride KS16's (B & S) nowadays, S is a good and reliable workhorse (840Wh / 1.2kW nominal motor, 35km/h max tilt-back setting), but if you want more speed, range and/or performance, the newer Gotways and KS's have battery-sizes abobe 1kWh and nominal motor powers between 1 and 2kW. Don't even know what the current max speeds are, at least some Gotways can reportedly go above 50km/h and maybe possibly reach 60km/h or above with a light rider, although I wouldn't want to try where the limit is... Other people in the forums can tell you more first-hand experiences and in general about the newer wheels, I haven't followed up on the progress so closely anymore.
  14. Firewheels use quite unusual battery configuration, all the packs are chained together behind a single BMS (so the "single" packs are something like 4S4P, connected in series), which makes it a pain in the ass to troubleshoot and work with... actually, thanks to the shell design, the entire wheel is a pain in the ass to work with , be careful not to pinch any wires between the shell-halves when closing it. You could and probably should also try replacing the switch first, be warned though, it acts in the "opposite" than you'd probably except, if the switch is "open", the wheel turns on (or should, unless the board or the batteries are faulty). Here's an old picture I took from mine with the connectors marked The wires marked with ? are likely for calibration, and newer batches no longer had the "BMS INPUT". For "testing" the switch, you could simply plug out the connector with red and black wires on the far right of the asterisk (star, *) -marked connectors, 9th & 10th pin, the wheel should then turn on. If not, either the mainboard or the batteries are gone. Firewheel were notorious for more or less randomly self-destroying their boards, so it's a "good" candidate. If you happen to have a power source capable of around 60VDC and current limitation (not much power needed if you disconnect the motor when trying), it'd be easy to test if the board still works. From my poking around the board, my best guess is that the step-down circuitry is the culprit, and it tends to take the MCU (Microcontroller unit, the "brain" of the wheel) with it when it breaks. Other side of the board. There's an old thread in the Firewheel-section about the wiring etc.: Reverse engineered PCB (except probably I never went through all the MCU pins):
  15. esaj

    Power cord for MSX?

    That's actually so-called Euro-plug (Schuko, Type C or something along those lines?), not Chinese. Not that it makes a difference, if you can't use it anyway
  16. esaj

    Airwheel X3 vs. Kingsong KS14 M

    Airwheel still exists? If even anywhere near the same price, forget about the Airwheel immediately, although you might want to save up and get something with a decent battery (KS14M is 174Wh?).
  17. esaj

    fireproof EUC charging station

    I just have a smoke alarm and never leave batteries charging while I'm away/sleeping. From what I know, water can be used to extinguish the battery fire, but it doesn't work by depriving the fire of oxygen, but by cooling the cells under the critical temperature (something like 125-150 Celsius?) so that the "thermal runaway" -chain reaction stops. So anything like fire blankets or even a fire extinguisher might be useless, as they work by "suffocating" the fire. I guess I'd either dump it somewhere where it can safely burn out (outside, because of the toxic fumes and on a non-flammable surface) if possible, submerge it or just pour water on it until it hopefully stops re-igniting. Of course if it would start to look like the fire can't be controlled, it'd be time to evacuate everyone else and my own ass outside I witnessed the house opposite to ours burn down two years ago, it was about 10 minutes from the first flickers I saw to over 1-meter flames coming out under the roof and windows blowing out. Electrical fire from the mains cabinet.
  18. esaj

    battery pack rebuilds

    I think that it maybe could work to some extent, but you will certainly get far worse performance with NiMH. First off, because NiMH has much lower nominal voltage (about 1.2-1.4V or thereabouts?) than Li-Ions, you're going to need a lot more of them in series than with Li-Ions. 16S Li-Ion has around 57.6V (16 * 3.6V) to 59.2V (16 * 3.7V) nominal voltage. To get same voltage with NiMHs, you'd need to stack up something like around 45-50 cells in series, even more if you're planning to replace a higher voltage pack, like 20S Li-Ion. This will lead to a very large internal resistance, which might become too high to give enough current for the motor to give enough torque / the pack voltage drops too much under load. The pack would also weigh more and require a lot more space than a Li-Ion pack. Secondly, even if you manage to build such a pack, it won't take you as far as a Li-Ion pack. I haven't checked the numbers, but the energy density of NiMHs is something like less than 1/3rd of Li-Ion, meaning that your battery capacity would be far less than with Li-Ions for the same weight or size. You could try it, but even if it somewhat works, I doubt you'd be happy with the end result.
  19. This topic's locked for now, I will release it once I get around to actually write more here x) Also, if the "sub-titles" (like "Real paradise island, or almost could have been") make it sound like I didn't enjoy the trip (I actually want to go back, like, now), they're just trying to be funny, but without context they most likely sound like complaining
  20. I've told people who asked about our trip that I'd write about it "soonish"... well, it's been a couple of months, and I probably should have started sooner, so things would have been more fresh in my mind, but better late than never, right? I had never really travelled abroad. Sure I've had the usual 24-hour cruises to Swedish waters or a day in Tallinn, Estonia, like most Finns, but I'd only ever traveled farther and longer once, spending about a week and a half, or maybe it was two weeks, in Spain a long time ago (summer of 2005). That pretty much sums up my entire travelling experience before this. I hadn't had a valid passport since 2011, and even that had been last used in 2009 for a 24h cruise with people from my workplace back then, I think. Ever since around that 2005 trip I had done pretty much nothing else but studying or working (or studying and working side-by-side), and nearly burning myself out (more than once). I was laying in the couch, mentally pretty much exhausted, trying to watch the Ken Burns -documentary of Vietnam war, sometime maybe around April last year, that it hit me: I want to go there. Not to a battle or war, but to that country, to really see it. Not just the cities, but the countryside, the hills and jungles, the entire thing. And then, not just Vietnam, but Southeast Asia in general. At first I thought it just as a funny whim, that'll pass, but then over days and weeks I started reading about Southeast Asia here and there, about the countries, the history, the culture. Pretty soon I was very sure that it's exactly where I want to go. What do I have to lose, really? My spouse was into it, although she probably didn't take it very seriously at first, knowing how "interested" in travelling I'd been before. In the last days of July, my 4-week notification period ended and I was out of a job, or, free. About a week from that, I had bought roundtrip tickes with dates 25.9.2018 and 22.12.2018, so a few days short of 3 months, to and from Thailand. We had already done a lot of preparations by then, and still had almost 2 months before leaving, but things still kept popping up. Travel guides, new passports, travel insurance, vaccinations, credit cards (I've never had a credit card before, I still use cash most of the time), getting someone to watch over the house (my cousin ended up living in our place over our entire trip with his dogs, so no trouble there ), someone to take care of our dog (my spouses' parents took her), all the gear, like backpacks, flashlights, waterproof bags, clothes etc., exchanging euros to Thai baht and dollars, reading peoples blogs and forums, watching documentaries and movies about SE Asia, getting to know the basics of the customs and culture, visa rules and laws, how and where to get prepaid SIM-cards on the cheap, prescriptions and import rules on medications, most common scams, basic traffic rules, a rudimentary plan where we're going to be visiting etc. etc. At some point I went into some sort of denial about the entire thing and just hung around doing nothing all day or designed and built a prototype of a power supply for a friends' project for about a week or two, before getting back to the trip planning and preparations Financially, I was in a lucky position that it would be no trouble to stay out of the rat race for a while, which ended up being almost 7 months and on zero income, as I never registered as unemployed... Due to the trip in the middle, I wouldn't have gotten any unemployed benefits anyway, as leaving your job gives you a 3 month waiting period, and there are numerous positions available all the time for software engineers with more experience, so each time I would have turned the offer down, the 3 months period would have begun again, and if I had told them that I'm leaving the country and can't accept a job, they would have just continued resetting the period. So fuck the system. The good thing about doing pretty much nothing but working (and buying a few EUCs, which were the biggest single purchases besides the house for me in the last decade ) is that it tends to fatten up your bank account when you don't actually spend much. Still it did take a big chunk out of my savings, but I think it was worth it. I may not get the opportunity to do this ever again. When the day finally came, my father-in-law (well, a "candidate", since we're not married ) took us to the bus station and we rode to Helsinki-Vantaa international airport. A couple of hours in the airport, and we're sitting in the plane. I remember thinking to myself that "it's really happening now". Flying in from Europe, after a good 10-11 hours on a direct flight, where I actually didn't sleep at all, we land in Thailand, Suvarnabhumi international airport, at 7:15AM local time, 26th of September. We basically just walked into the country, getting our passports stamped (30-day visa exemption), and then strolled through customs. We had all the required paperwork (or at least I think so) and amount of cash (you need at least 10000 bahts as a single person, or was it 20000 or 30000 for family, to even enter the country), in case they'd want to check our bags and stuff, but nobody asked anything. Btw, 10000 bahts is about 280€ or 300USD, so not a huge sum really. As expected, we ran into our very first scam getting a taxi from the airport. Yes, we used the nice and new high-tec line-system, where you get a ticket from the touchscreen with the number etc. Still doesn't change the fact that 9 out of 10 taxi drivers everywhere will try to pull this on you. When the taxi left the airport, the driver didn't turn on the meter. After driving out of the airport, he suggested a fixed fare, 600 bahts. After adamantly telling him to and agreeing that we pay all the road tolls, he finally turned on the meter. In the end, the tolls were around 60 baht, give or take, and the fare was something like 310 baht, but I slapped 400 baht (about 11€ / 12USD) on him and everyone seemed happy. You'll commonly see that the meter is covered with a piece of cloth and the driver will just keep on insisting on a fixed fare. Don't lose your nerve, shouting or getting aggressive will just make things worse, losing face is a big thing in this part of the world and can make things very bad for you. Remember to smile and stay calm. If the driver won't turn the meter on or claims that it isn't working, a trick that works is to take a picture of the cab number (in a metal plate on the doors in the back seat) and the drivers taxi license (on the front in the left side, Thailand has left-sided traffic, so the driver sits on the right) and telling him that you're calling the tourist police (1155). The meter will suddenly work. Tuk-tuks usually don't have meters and you negotiate the price before hand, but beware of drivers giving you "too good" rates (like 30 baht), as they'll usually take you to shops that pay them kick-backs, and things can get very pressuring. Knowing this beforehand, we never took the "cheap" rides. After the drive from the airport (it's about 30km / 20 miles from the central) and getting stuck in the traffic for about an hour and a half, the actual trip finally starts in...
  21. Back in Thailand (10.12.2018-22.12.2018) Koh Chang: Real paradise island, or almost could have been Bangkok: flying home
  22. Cambodia (27.11.2018-10.12.2018) Siem Reap: All the ruins you'll ever want to see... and then some Angkor (& Angkor Wat) Battambang: Raw meat and bats Land crossing to Thailand via Poipet, or hell on earth
  23. Vietnam (5.11.2018-27.11.2018) Hanoi: Hanoi kind of suxx (but they do have cheap fresh beer) Sa Pa: It's cold up in the mountains (plus I can't see shit, captain) Ha Long (City, not Bay, technically): Not for tourists, really Cat Ba island: First taste of paradise island Night train to Ninh Binh / Tam Coc: A horrible way to travel, maybe Hue: Citadel, cheapest real beer ever Motorcycle trip across Central Vietnam (Khe Sanh, Quang Nam, Da Nang, Hoi An), or: EUCs will feel safe after this, also sunshine is nice Hoi An: Not bad, but not all it's cracked up to be Flying to Siem Reap, Cambodia
  24. Laos (22.10.2018-5.11.2018) Huay Xai: Mellowing out in a small town Gibbon Experience: Treehouse of horrors Slow boat to Pak Beng: Amazing views, creepiest town ever Slow boat to Luang Prabang: Even more amazing views, time to chill Vang Vieng: Party central is not bad Vientiane: Dead calm in capital Flying to Hanoi
  25. Thailand (26.9.-22.10.2018) We were travelling during the "off-season" on purpose for most of the time, the actual tourist season in SE Asia picks up around mid-December and lasts until March or April, after which the monsoon starts. I can only imagine how crazy it gets during the actual season. The monsoon starts to end during September/October, although rains may still come at some places even in late November or December. The timing for our trip was picked to coincide between the end of monsoon and beginning of the actual tourist-season, so most places were more quiet. Statistics may be boring, but I think they do give you an outline of what to expect, like culture-wise (if you know at least something about the religions), how crowded it is (population density) and prices (if you look at the nominal and purchase parity power -income). Here's the basics for Thailand (courtesy of Wikipedia): Population • 2016 estimate: 68,863,514 • 2010 census: 64,785,909 • Density: 132.1/km2 (342.1/sq mi) Area • Total :513,120 km2 (198,120 sq mi) • Water (%) :0.4 (2,230 km2) Religion 94.50% Buddhism 4.29% Islam 1.17% Christianity 0.03% Hinduism 0.01% Unaffiliated GDP (PPP) 2018 estimate • Total: $1.323 trillion • Per capita :$19,126 GDP (nominal) 2018 estimate • Total: $490 billion • Per capita: $7,084 Bangkok: Big city nights If you like the great outdoors, nature, and piece and quiet, Bangkok doesn't have much of anything like that apart from a few parks, at least in the central metropolitan area. What it does have is huge shopping malls and markets, shops, bars and restaurants around every corner, lots of skyscrapers (581 over 90 meters in 2016) and high rises and more western feel than most places in our trip. It's also very noisy and crowded, and the traffic can be somewhat chaotic at times (but still nothing compared to Hanoi in Vietnam). Sometimes during the evening, with some rain pouring down from the sky (it was nearing the end of the monsoon season, so it still rained in evening almost every day, but usually not much), heavy traffic, skytrains, neon signs, power cables hanging at the height of your head and some streetlights flickering, for a moment the street looked like a set from a cyberpunk story, like Bladerunner (the old one). Street in Sukhumvit, viewed from an overpass walkway near a Skytrain station The sidewalks can be really narrow in some places, especially on the sidestreets ("Soi") it may not be much more than 50cm (about 2 feet) wide with street light poles in the middle of the sidewalk and power cables hanging at the height of your head running from pole to pole. Another weird thing is that especially in Sukhumvit there are signs about not littering and fines, yet finding a trash can in the street is sometimes near impossible, so we carried our trash in our pockets or on hand until we found either a lone trashcan in the street or a mall or such, which usually have lots of trash cans around and inside. "Typical" power line set up in Chatuchak market, it's like this pretty much in every country we visited. At least here the wires aren't hanging so low that you could hit your face in them We had booked a hotel before leaving in the Sukhumvit-area for the first 4 nights. In Thailand in general, you can get a reasonable double room with AC and private bathroom for something like around 8-15€ per night, sometimes cheaper, sometimes a bit more. Sukhumvit is a more expensive commercial area in Bangkok, the hotel we stayed for the first nights was closer to 30€ per night. Our budget was more or less arbitrarily chosen as 1000€ per person per month, which translates to around 33.33€ per day per person, or 66.66€ in total. We did stay on budget even though we splurged on some more expensive activities (leaving out a couple of the most expensive ones alone, we'd have spent about 1000€ less in total), I'll show the actual numbers for different countries and some notes about them later on. Getting around The hotel was about a kilometer from the Terminal 21-mall along the BTS Skytrain ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BTS_Skytrain ) -line. The Skytrain is handy for moving around certain parts of the city, but there are only two lines. Also subway and trains are available, but we didn't use either of those. If you plan on staying in Bangkok for more than a day or two and using the Skytrain, get a Rabbit-card ( https://rabbit.co.th/en/about-rabbit-cards/ , sold at least in the Skytrain stations and malls), it's a prepaid card that you load cash into, and can use to pay for Skytrain and in the food courts of large malls (and probably elsewhere). It's a lot faster since you don't have to buy separate tickets for the Skytrain, just swipe the card and walk through the gates. The Skytrain is charged from the card at exit, based on how many stations you traveled, or if you somehow manage to spend more than something like 45 minutes within the actual transit system (the gated area), an extra fee is taken. If you're just going from place A to place B, it's unlikely you'd spend that long there, as there's a train coming every few minutes and even going from end of the line to the other, I doubt it's more than 30 minutes, if that. During the day, there wasn't much of a crowd in the trains and stations, but if you hit the rush hours (early morning, probably something like around 7-8AM, and again in the evening, somewhere between 4-6PM), it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Of course if you already live in a big city, you're likely accustomed to that. The first time was weird, because we hit the station just as the rush hour was about to begin, one minute there's not that much people, and then suddenly the crowd surrounds you from all the directions... where the hell did they all come from? Also, a military police searched my backpack once in a station, probably just picked at random. Didn't try tuk-tuks in Bangkok, we usually either walked or took a taxi when we couldn't get to where we were going with the Skytrain. What I said above about the taxis certainly holds here, and if you don't want to threaten about the tourist police or get into an awkward situation, you may need to try a few times before you find someone who either agrees to drive on the meter or doesn't offer an exorbitant fixed rate (haggle!). Since it's a big city, a lot of the drivers won't know exactly where you're going (even if you show them on the map), so keep your eyes open and use Google Maps or similar (see below about getting a prepaid data SIM-card, roaming charges can be insane) to keep track. It also helps if the driver speaks English (not all of them do at all, and many have very thick accent and/or limited vocabulary). SIM-cards There are three large operators in Thailand, AIS, DTac and True Move. We ended up getting 30-day AIS data-only cards (I think mine had 15GB limit and hers 5GB) from a mobile phone shop in Terminal 21. The price at the time was around 15€ / 17USD for the higher data limit, the other card was maybe 12€. There are shorter (like 8 or 15 days) plans if you're on a shorter trip. Bring your passport, otherwise they won't sell it to you. At least back then, AIS had the best coverage over the entire nation, and I had 4G everywhere around the cities, but during travelling between cities on a bus or train, it dropped to 3G. Navigating with Google Maps or similar makes things so much easier that I'd say getting a data card is a must. Most restaurants, malls and hotels have free Wi-fis, but you'll usually have to go around asking for a password (or it might be written on the menu for example), and of course can't use those while on the move, so it's better you get a SIM. Places MBK Center Assuming you want to go shopping for something, MBK has 8 stories with around 2000 shops and restaurants. Like probably in most of the malls, there's a huge food court in the 6th floor, the food is cheap and it's amazing. In most food courts, you either get a card to which you load some cash from a cashier (don't worry, if anything's left unused, you get it back when you return the card) and then visit the different stalls to get what you want and pay with the card. If you have a Rabbit-card, no need to get a separate card from the cashier, just walk right up to the stalls, take a tray and start picking what you want, most of the food is then cooked on the spot for you. There's an endless amount of shops selling clothes, jewelry and accessories, electronics etc. If you're a shopaholic, you can probably spend a week or two just going through the shopping centers. Other than MBK, there's at least Terminal 21, Siam Paragon, Siam Center, Old Siam Shopping Plaza, Siam Discovery and probably others, all of these are multistoried and simply huge, with Terminal 21 probably being the smallest (but it still has 9 stories of actual mall, 42 stories for the hotel). Other than MBK and Terminal 21, we just walked through many of the placed with Siam-names, actually the shortest route we found to get to MBK from the Skytrain went through Siam Center and one of the others (which it exactly was, I don't remember anymore). Chatuchak (or "Jatujak") weekend market If you're in the city over the weekend, and even if you don't want to buy anything, just seeing this place is pretty amazing. It's easy to get to, located near the end of the Skytrain line, a short walk from Mo Chit station. We didn't stay but for a few hours, but with 15000 stalls selling pretty much everything (including, or so I've heard, endangered species and ivory), just wandering around is an experience. Of course there's also lots of food. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chatuchak_Weekend_Market I ended up getting a hat, pair of shorts and a wristwatch. At this point I didn't really know how to haggle yet (and didn't get really good at it at any point really, it just feels weird having accustomed to everything being priced beforehand and prices fixed everywhere at home ), so probably I overpaid, you should start bidding really (like insultingly) low, but in a friendly manner. If you don't come to terms on the price, just decline politely and walk away, no harm, no foul. In many occasions the seller might yell you back and agree to sell on your last offer (unless it was really low). You're still likely paying (much) more than the locals would anyway, but that's the way it goes Thai travel clinic We did get our Hepatitis A+B -shots before leaving, but not for Japanese encephalitis or rabies. JE-vaccination especially is insanely expensive in Finland (we would have needed 2 or 3 shots each, at something like 130€ per piece with the vaccine + appointment fees), but luckily I had found out about this place before leaving. The Thai travel clinic ( https://www.thaitravelclinic.com/ ) is not some backalley operation, but a part of the Mahidol University hospital, faculty of tropical medicine and diseases. We ended up paying around 70€ in total for JE-vaccinations and first rabies-shots (needed second boosters later, we took those in a travel clinic in Chiang Mai), but according to the site the prices have gone up a bit (like doctors fee raised from 100baht to 200baht starting Jan 2019). If you compare that the shots would have cost something like ten times as much back home, it was a steal. You can check the prices and book an appointment through the website (recommended, while they do take walk-ins, the waiting time might be very long). Do take a look at the "Location of our clinic" -part and save the instructions / map (with Thai texts) so you can show it to the taxi driver (you could also take the Skytrain, the hospital's near the Victory Monument station, but we had already moved to near Khao San Road when we had our appointment, and the Skytrain doesn't go really near there). Despite the map and the instructions, our taxi driver needed to call the place for further instructions and then still stop and ask people on the street a couple of blocks away. In the end, he drove us right to the frontdoor (probably meant only for ambulances, but can't complain of the service ). From what I know, the Japanese encephalitis -vaccination used in SE Asia (Imojev) is different from ours (Ixiaro), as it uses an attenuated live virus, and only requires a single shot, which gives protection for several years at least. It might sound scary that it's a live virus, but the vaccination's a part of national vaccination programs around the region and has been in use for a long time, so if there's any risk, it's really small. The disease itself is very rare but dangerous, spread by infected mosquitos, and comes with high mortality ("The case-fatality rate can be as high as 30% among those with disease symptoms") and possible permanent brain damage in the survivors ("Of those who survive, 20%–30% suffer permanent intellectual, behavioural or neurological problems such as paralysis, recurrent seizures or the inability to speak."). No treatment is available after getting infected, so only prevention is possible (vaccination, mosquito repellents etc). If you're just staying in big cities, the likelyhood of getting infected is really small, but goes up in the more rural areas. The Grand Palace We actually didn't stay but maybe 30 minutes in the Grand Palace, even though the entrance was something like 500 (or maybe even 1000?) baht per person. The place was so full of tourists (mainly large Chinese groups, who seem to get very pushy and arrogant everywhere, I know it's a stereotype, but in my experience after the trip, it's also true) that even moving was difficult at times when you get "surrounded" all the time. The place was pretty beautiful other than that, but couldn't really enjoy it, and my SO felt like she's going to have a panic attack, so we left early. If it's like this off-season, I'd hate to be there during the actual tourist peak season. Wat What? "Wat" is a hinduist/buddhist temple and they're everywhere in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia (not so much in Vietnam, because there almost 3/4ths of the population follow folk religions or are irreligious). There are a huge number of Wats in Bangkok alone, over 400, but you might get funny looks (or even denied entry?) if you just try to stroll into some smaller random temple. If and when you visit one, you must wear pants that cover at least your knees and a shirt that covers at least the shoulders, if not elbows, women may not have shirts with open neck or anything revealing. Take your hat off if you go inside the temples, although they are usually allowed in the temple grounds. Shoes must be removed before entering a temple (socks are ok, or at least nobody said that they weren't), and in general you should be in your best behavior, after all, you are entering a sacred place, and many people take their religion seriously. If you're a christian, for example, you probably wouldn't like people strolling into a church talking loudly while wearing speedos and no shirt either If there are monks/novices present, give them space/way and be respectful, actually that goes for everywhere, not just temples. If you kneel/crouch in a temple, always point your feet away from monks and Buddha statues, showing the bottom of your feet to them would be an insult of the worst kind. Women are disallowed from touching a monk, even if they'd need to pass/take something to/from them, the object must first be given to a (non-monk) man who gives it to the monk/woman. Outside the big well known temples, most of them are free to enter (of course you should make sure you have the right attire and that outsiders are allowed in general). There are collection boxes in the temples for donations, and since a lot of the commerce still works around cash (don't worry, you don't need to carry a lot of cash, there are ATMs everywhere), it's also a good way to get "rid" of your small change. Even though it's hot out there, I mostly wore long white pants and a light, long sleeved shirt whenever visiting the temples (although in some occasions, I only had a t-shirt and shorts which were still long enough to cover my knees). We did visit some temples in Bangkok around the Grand Palace, like Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), and a lot more in the other cities and countries, but I won't be going through most of them, except for the more "special" ones. Other stuff Going through all the restaurants, bars and such we hit would be a pretty pointless endeavor, the ones worth mentioning are the Aire bar in the 28th floor of Hyatt Place hotel (hardly the highest, the highest is something like 80th-something floor), which isn't exactly my thing, as I get vertigo and nausea in high places , Jim Thompson House Museum, National museum and The Penalty Spot Sports and Music Pub, which was right next to our hotel in Sukhumvit and had a real good house band. Aire Bar... Yeah, my phone camera's crap, especially in darker conditions One of the royal chariots in the national museum A funny and a bit embarrassing story, on an evening of one the very first days in Bangkok, I ended up getting a few pints in Penalty Spot, listening to the music and talking with people. My GF was tired, so she headed back to the hotel to sleep, but I decided to stay for a while longer. I started talking with a Japanese (I think) businessman, who then started offering me free beers and was adamant that he'll pay for everything. We talked for a while, and then he left my table, but kept ordering me more beer. As I got pretty drunk, I then somehow got very paranoid about the whole ordeal, like he's being overly friendly and suspiciously generous. I got it into my head that the guy was trying to get me really drunk and turn me into a some sort of drug mule or something I remember asking one of the waitresses (who wasn't wearing a matching "uniform" as the rest) at one point if she really works there or works for that man, as she kept carrying more beers to my table as fast as I could drink them... At least I kept my thoughts to myself If the waitress or the man buying me beers somehow ends up reading this, I sincerely apologize for just suddenly vanishing, I had to go back to the hotel room to puke my guts out In general, you do meet pretty interesting people in places like this, like South African mercenaries who have prices on their heads... Oh right, I also got a haircut in Bangkok: We stayed a couple of nights next to Khao San Road (not the actual Khao San Road, but about 100 meters north from there), and visited the road. There's really not that much to see, it may have been the backpacker central in the day (and in a way, it still is, with lots of small bars, hotels, hostels and guesthouses everywhere), but nowadays it seems to be just full of noisy and pushy tourists and street vendors, tailors and massage parlors. Or is that exactly "the thing" about it? It's pretty close to the Grand Palace -area, so we could walk there for visiting the palace and the temples. Khao San Road The tailors have an uncanny way of recognizing where people are from just by taking a glance at them, more than on one occasion they kept shouting after me in Finnish, things like "hello", "shirt and suit", "how are you" etc, although of course with a very heavy accent And I'm sure I wasn't wearing anything which could have given me away, like flag, any Finnish text or such, or spoke any Finnish before it happened. After 6 nights in Bangkok, we took a taxi to the Bangkok Hua Lamphong train station, and bought 3rd class tickets to the next train to Ayutthaia. I first thought I heard the price wrong (30 baht, that's about 80 eurocents / $1, for two people), but it's only something like 80km trip (still takes about an hour and a half or couple of hours). The train was leaving in less than 5 minutes when we bought the tickets, but luckily we managed to find the right platform straight away and got in. 3rd class train cars are very simple, there's hard wooden or plastic seats, lots of people, circling fans in the ceilings to give a bit of cooling and... pretty much nothing else. We thought we lucked out as we managed to find seats straightaway, but then I noticed a monk sitting a few benches away looking at us, saying something in Thai and pointing at the ceiling. The sign in the ceiling said in Thai and in English "Reserved for monks and novices only" or something along those lines. Whooops... After apologizing and getting our stuff, we still managed to find separate seats in another car, which could be considered lucky, as soon there were no seats left and a lot of people were standing. The trip was hardly comfortable, but not bad either, and then we arrived in... Ayutthaia: Everything's in ruins I didn't take that many pictures early on in the trip, and only uploaded some of them to imgur (lots were out of focus or otherwise just bad), later on in the trip I went overboard with the pictures, I think I have several hundred pictures just from the Angkor-area in Cambodia. Bangkok and some pictures from Ayutthaia: https://imgur.com/a/LXtWU07 Once we got out of the small train station, we were immediately surrounded by local tuk-tuk drivers asking where we were going. Our room was booked from Old Palace Resort beforehand. We tried to haggle on the price (I think it was 150 baht per person or so?), but the drivers were quick to point out that they have a fixed pricing that's printed on a big sign next to the train station, so we agreed to pay the asked price, as we were tired and just wanted to get there. Old Palace Resort wasn't an actual "resort" as such, yet it was a really nice place (and quiet, for a change! ). The room was clean and nice, with AC, bathroom and sliding glass doors to a balcony/hallway running in front of it. A litter of kittens was playing in the grass on the front yard. View from the outside of the room to the yard Ayutthaia was the ancient capital of Thailand, before it was ransacked and burnt by Burmese invaders in the 18th century. The city (more like town) nowadays itself is pretty small, and very different in comparison to Bangkok, but in its past glory, it has housed a population of one million and was trading capital of Asia, if not the world. We were only staying for two night (so one full day), but it was enough to see most of it. Apart from the ruins of the Historical Park (there's a lot of those), there's at least a floating market, some museums and old settlements. We rented bicycles from the resort on the same day we arrived, and rode around visiting the ruins for a couple of hours. Ruins of Ayutthaia The next morning, we met a couple of Irish cousins, David and Martin, and the wife of Martin, Nok, while having a breakfast. They were traveling around Thailand for a vacation, although Martin actually has lived there for over a decade (not in Ayutthaia, first in Bangkok and now in some small town, which I've forgotten) and Nok is a native Thai. They invited us to take a tour with them, as they had Nok's adult son driving them around in a minivan. Excellent! We visited more ruins in the Historical Park, the floating market for a while, traditional stilted Thai-house, and then took a boat ride around the canals. Nok took us to a non-tourist temple, where we were blessed by a monk, and she explained the customs and traditions in more detail. We got a big Thai-dinner with them, where you order a lot of different dishes and then you share everything... everyone started snickering a bit when I ordered a red curry ("It's been nice knowing you!" ), but I think Nok told the waiter to not make it really spicy, as it wasn't that hot in the end. Also, having a native Thai with you, prices seem suddenly lower and you don't get harassed by people selling tourist trinkets. Restaurant near the floating market Rest of the Ayutthaia pictures: https://imgur.com/a/vGh0Pgo We ended the day having a couple of beers with David and Martin. The next morning we met them again during breakfast, thanked for everything and said goodbyes, then headed to the bus station (the owner of Old Palace called the tuk-tuk for us, this time it was probably around half the price compared to getting there from the train station, although the bus station was further away ), catching a bus to... Sukhothai: More ruins and not much else This time the trip was a longer one, several hundred kilometers, that took about 4-5 hours, I think. Similar to Ayutthaia, the local "taxi mafia" waiting in the bus station had fixed prices (again 300 baht for both of us, if I remember correctly) for getting to our resort in the "old town about 10km away, and wouldn't haggle on the price. This time we were taken on a "songthaew" ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songthaew ), which is basically a pickup truck with the bed covered and long benches on both sides, they seem to be more common in the north. We had booked a resort in the old town (Scent of Sukhothai) a day ahead this time, since we found a good last minute deal on one (About 19€ per night, normal price was something like 70€ per night), that included buffet breakfast. One of the resort houses in Sukhothai Sukhothai is similar to Ayutthaia in the sense that there's also burnt down ruins of the temples from around the same time as Ayutthaia. There's a natural park or two and another historical park something like 40km away from old town (in different directions, I think), but there's ruins in the old town too, so we just ended up renting bicycles again and toured those on the only full day we had here (again only two nights). Other than that, there's a museum and a larger Wat in the Old town, a small market and a few shops and restaurants, but when we thought of going to the museum, it was just about to close. More ruins Wat Traphang Thong If you really like the ruins, visiting both Ayutthaia and Sukhothai might be a good idea, otherwise I'd say just go to one or the other (if either, personally I'd probably pick Ayutthaia over Sukhothai). The ruins are actually pretty cool, but pale in comparison to Angkor-area in Cambodia, so if you're heading there, you're not really missing out on much if you never visit either. Other than the sights, there's really not that much to do in the old town. A bus drives between the old and new town, in case you want to go see the downtown life. The off-season resort was pretty quiet, we met a French family on vacation with their young daughter on the pool, but not much anyone else. My sunglasses broke when they fell from my shirt collar to the floor in the resort, I then bought a cheap pair with mirror shades from the small old town market for 20 baht (about 55 eurocents), that were dropped a gazillion times throughout the trip, but never broke, only the mirror coating wore off somewhat over time. We bought the bus tickets to Chiang Mai in the old town bus station on our full day for the next morning (210 baht per person = less than 6€), to make sure there are tickets still left. Since Chiang Mai is much larger than Ayutthaia or Sukhothai, so we'd likely be staying there longer and not in a "rush" anywhere, I booked a hotel room for one night right next to Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai, so after sitting 6 hours in the bus, we could just walk straight to the hotel without dealing with the tuk-tuk/taxi driver group surrounding us when we exit. The old town bus station was pretty near the resort, so we just walked in full gear to the station and waited for the bus. Of course we had made the newbie mistake of packing way too much stuff, so we were the stereotypical "turtles" wandering around with big backpacks on our backs and small ones in the front: This picture was actually taken in our Sukhumvit hotel in Bangkok, leaving for the place near Khao San Road You can buy so much of the stuff on location, that you really shouldn't try to bring everything with you, a tip that's given by many, many travel blogs and such. Of course we still had way too much stuff all the way from the start, and I had to dump some clothes, a pair of bad sandals bought from Bangkok and such along the way Even with good gear (Osprey Farpoint 70), moving with a nearly full 55-liter backpack in the back and a 15-liter one in the front in temperatures of 35-degree Celsius isn't fun if you have to do it for a longer while. "Next time" (if such ever comes), I'll be sure to travel much lighter. Sukhothai is already over 400km north of Bangkok, but it's another 300+ to Chiang Mai. Most of the buses in SE Asia don't have a toilet, but they do (usually) make a 15-min stop about every one and a half to two hours or so on some gas station or similar, except in this case the bus was running late and apparently the driver decided to skip the latter stop. I didn't go the bathroom in the first stop, trusting that there's another later... There are stunning views along the way, as the flatter lands of south and central Thailand start to change into the mountainous landscape of the north. Sukhothai pics: https://imgur.com/a/VWQed5P Chiang Mai: Bangkok bangs, Chiang Mai rules We arrived in the Arcade station of Chiang Mai (in the "new town") around 5pm local time. As expected, a bunch of taxi/tuk-tuk/songthaew drivers were hawking around the people exiting from the bus. When asked where we were heading, I just pointed towards our hotel and said "about 200 meters that way" Checking in at the "Y smart hotel", the receptionist couldn't find my reservation. I checked the booking details from my email and... when going through different sites (hotels.com, trivago etc.) I had forgotten to set the dates correct on the site I booked, and as it defaults for the same day you're doing the booking, the room was booked for the previous night Luckily, they weren't full, so we still got a room, but that was 15€ down the drain. Could have been worse. The room was small and the bathroom smelled of mold, but it would do for the night. After a shower, we grabbed a quick lunch on the next door restaurant, took our dirty clothes to a nearby laundry (never go to the places that charge by item, unless you have something that requires dry cleaning, you'll pay something like 10baht per a pair of socks, if you look around a bit, you'll find laundries that cost around 30-40 baht per kg = around 1€ / $1) and walked a few kilometers for the first taste of the Old City. We hit the Chiang Mai Hard Rock Cafe in Old City, a hideously expensive place compared to pretty much any other bar, and caught the last 5 minutes of a live band. On the way back, we stopped by a reggae bar (Rasta Cafe), just as a pair of musicians was starting their set, which included a lot more than just reggae. A guitarist and a female vocalist performing Aerosmith's "Don't wanna miss a thing" Going back to the hotel, I decided to try out Grab, the local version of Uber. After accidentally first ordering a driver to a wrong location (also it didn't help that he didn't really speak any English, there's buttons for some common phrases, but they didn't help and messaging the driver he clearly didn't understand what I was saying). On second try we got a car to the right place and the Cambodian driver (who again didn't really speak but a few words of English) took us back to our hotel for about 70 baht. Chiang Mai is the northern province capital, I'd say it's a big city, of course nowhere near as big as Bangkok, but still big. Within the actual city municipality, there's "only" 131 thousand residents, but in the metropolitan area, there's almost one million (the same numbers for Bangkok are something like 9 and 15 million). Out of all the places we went to in Thailand, Chiang Mai is my personal favorite. It's "big enough" that there's more than enough of places to see and activities to do (like temples, museums, parks and gardens, a zoo, golf courses, cooking classes, elephant parks, zip-lining, 4WD driving, shooting ranges, kick boxing, horse races etc. etc), yet not so huge that getting everywhere would take a long time (well, we stayed on the western side of the Ping River, around the Old city most of the time) and despite high population numbers, it's not really that crowded but still very "lively" (could be different during the tourist season, though). If I ever visit Thailand again, I'll be coming back here. In total, we spent 11 nights here (not in a row though, we visited Pai in between), but I could imagine staying 2 or even 4 weeks here in one go. Royal guesthouse For the following nights, we booked a room from a hotel called Royal guesthouse (despite the name, it's not a guesthouse, but 7-story hotel with a pool ) that's right on the edge of the walled city, which is the center of Old City, just outside the moat surrounding it. We picked a songthaew from around the corner of the hotel, in Chiang Mai, most of them use a fixed price of 30 bahts per person to drive you to and within the Old City. For around 8-9€ per night, we got a 2nd floor room with AC, private bathroom and a small balcony. The hotel's a bit rundown, the 6th & 7th floors were closed while we were there, and some of the rooms were undergoing renovation, but they only worked during the day, so the noise didn't bother us and our room was clean and in good (enough) condition. There's a basic breakfast included in the price (it's just instant coffee or tea and toast, self-service). I'd recommend this to anyone looking for a nice hotel with low price (although it's likely higher during the tourist season) and good location. In the end, we kept extending our stay one or two nights at a time, and in the end stayed for 7 nights in a row. Royal Guesthouse, taken from the parking lot The ground floor has a large open reception area, taking about half of the entire floor, with tables and matresses for laying around and relaxing, a locked safe room for storing your valuables (get the key from the reception) with separate locker cabinets and a pool on the outside. The staff speak good English, and water, beer and softdrinks can be bought from the reception (which is open either 24/7 or at least very, very late and opens very early, probably the former). Many a late evening we spent sitting around in the reception having a few beers and met so many nice people that I've lost count. If I recall correctly, we didn't meet any US travelers, but a lot of Europeans, mostly British, Irish, Dutch, German and French, and some Australians. And boy, can the Irish drink! We actually met some of the people later on in totally random places, like for example over a month later in Vietnam, suddenly a British girl we'd met here greeted us in the street. She'd flown from Chiang Mai to Krabi (far in the south Thailand) in-between, and had then decided to visit Cat Ba in Vietnam. Places worth mentioning Markets, street markets, food courts and more markets There are markets everywhere around the Old City, from small ones to the large street markets near the Ping river, that actually merge into each other, so that there are just stalls, lights and live music shows along the bigger street for many blocks, covered areas and inside buildings. As usual, pretty much anything can be found from here, we ended up buying some clothes and new sandals. There are at least a couple of food courts and street food, which is excellent. One of the food courts near the street markets, there's no card-system outside Bangkok, you pay each booth separately with cash Travel Clinic We visited a travel clinic not that far from the Royal guesthouse to get our boosters for rabies. This time it wasn't a gleaming modern hospital, and there were hardly any English signs, but we still managed to find the right booth to check in. As we were walk-ins, we had to wait for maybe about an hour, but got our vitals checked and boosters, also the staff and the doctor was really nice. Don't remember how much it cost, probably around 20€ for both of us (I do have more detailed notes of our expenditure in my phone, but didn't bother to dig it up right now). Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the mountain temple In the west side of the Old city, up the Doi Suthep-mountain, there's the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep -temple up in the mountains. Take a bus (there are stops along the outside of the walled city wall, I think they go every 30 mins or so) or songthaew to the zoo, and then a separate songthaew that takes you up to the mountain (might have to wait a while, the songthaews leave when there's enough people). If you're in a really good shape, you can also bicycle up there, but it's several kilometers of uphill climb. There's something like a 300-step climb to the actual temple from the road, but it's not that bad. The temple itself is nice, but what was even better was the view overlooking the city. Overlooking Chiang Mai from the mountain temple On top of the "usual" long-sleeved shirt and long pants, I also was wearing jungle combat boots, as we were supposed to take a hiking path to a nearby waterfall. That plan got scrapped, as my GF was feeling ill and out of breath, and it later turned out she had bronchitis. Since the reviews of the path say things like "the hardest 3 kilometers I've ever traveled", we decided it better not to push it. A doctors appointment in a private clinic a block away from our hotel + medicine cost about 15€, which was paid back by our travel insurance. Elephant parks There are multiple different elephant parks operatin around Chiang Mai, but we went with the one that's been operating longest (I think), Elephant Nature Park. Elephant parks are not about riding the elephants, the general idea is that the parks buy and save elephants from cruel conditions, for example most elephant riding operations treat the animals very poorly (like lashing and sometimes blinding one or both eyes), and they're used in (sometimes illegal) logging operations for dragging the tree trunks. Instead of riding, you feed and bathe the elephants. Elephant Nature Park wasn't the cheapest option (2000 baht per person = 4000 in total, about 110€), but it had good reviews. They picked us up from our hotel, drove us to the park outside the city in the mountains (I think maybe an hour one-way) and gave us a nice lunch afterwards, before bringing us back. We didn't realize to take our bathing suits, there was a small waterfall where you could have gone swimming. There's also an eco village in the park, but I don't know how it works. Our group bathing the elephants in a stream, the one submerged in the left is about a year-old "baby" next to its mother Eco village in the elephant park Chiang Mai Cabaret One of the more "exotic" things in Chiang Mai is the cabaret. The lady-boy cabaret, to be exact. We convinced a couple of people we met at the hotel to accompany to us there, and we all agreed that the show was really entertaining and fun afterwards. We actually took seats in the front row (there's a risk you could get to be a part of the show there ), but luckily the performers picked a guy a few seats away from me. It's mostly lip-synced singing and dancing with a couple of other numbers in-between. The picture below gives makes no justice to what the performers look like on stage (except for the guy in the middle, yes, that's a guy, with silicone implants), for most of them, you could swear they are women Hello, ladies! Umm, wait..? The Lost Bookshop Sometimes you just want to chill out in the sun (or shade) and read a good book. There's an excellent 2nd hand book store inside the walled city with lots of English books and not bad prices, called The Lost Bookshop, although there are others. The lost bookshop is located a couple of streets south from the Tha Phae Gate (east side entrance to the walled city), on the same street as the Elephant Nature Park office. Just look it up on Google Maps, it's easy to find. Gekko Books and Shaman Books are also located near the Tha Phae Gate, outside the walled city, at least one of them carries English books too. Other than those, we mostly just walked around the old city, visited restaurants, temples, markets, bars, cafes and ice cream shops, and swam around the pool, either just together or with some bunch of people we'd met in the hotel. Probably the big reasons why I liked Chiang Mai so much (on top of the ones mentioned before) were that we weren't in a rush to anywhere (compared to that day-on/day-off traveling we did from Bangkok to here through Ayutthaia and Sukhothai), I was getting used to the culture, and of course all the lovely people we met and hung out with. I'm terrible with names, but I probably could recognize at least most of them if they walked up on the street, of course since all them were from outside Finland, it's unlikely to happen. After 8 nights, we decided to go see Pai. Many people told us we should definitely go there, so we booked a minivan. I don't know if there are buses going there, maybe, but the road there is about 100km northwest through mountains, near to the Myanmar border. There are shirts for sale that say something like "762 turns to Pai", don't know if that's the exact count, but it's one big serpentine up and down the mountains, kind of like a slow roller coaster. We were stopped at a military check point in the mountains, apparently some people smuggle drugs from Myanmar to Thailand through the mountains. I don't recall them asking us for IDs, they just looked into the van with a flashlight and let us go. I don't remember how long the entire trip took, but they can't go really fast due to all the tight turns. Some random pictures and temples, Doi Suthep, Elephant Park: https://imgur.com/a/PjT426a Chiang Mai Cabaret pictures: https://imgur.com/a/WLYZNHU Pai: Tourist hell Walking Street (Pai Night Market) Wat Phra That Mae Yen (The White Buddha temple) Why we really didn't like Pai Back to Chiang Mai: Flying through the mountains Art in Paradise Dragon Flight: Zip-lining through the mountain jungles The Pentatonic Rock Bar Chiang Rai: Downpour and reggae Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) Wat Rong Seur Ten (Blue Temple) Baan dam museum (Black House) Reggae Home & Bar Crossing to Laos via land
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