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Delightful Thailand – Some Going Out There (2/2)



Delightful Chiang Mai – Some Going Out There (2/2)

If you're not shopping or temple hopping, where to spend a lazy afternoon in Chiang Mai town? You could do far worse than sipping good teas and coffees in one of Chiang Mai's atmospheric tea and coffee houses.

Sweet Sip

Easy to find is the Siam Celadon teahouse on busy Tha Phae Road between Nawarat Bridge and old town. Or maybe not so easy to find: When I first pass Siam Celadon on motosai, the window looks like yet another Chiang Mai boutique for deco and gift items – especially for that celadon ceramic with its glassy, broken look.

Actually, inside you find a breezy, almost colonial wooden teahouse interior with covered and courtyard seating. The building is more interesting than most other places I've visited in Chiang Mai, except for the expensive Lanna style houses and the fanciful all-new Dalaaba restaurant. The clientele ranges from esoteric grey-haired yoga ladies to noisy Korean tour groups. Climb up to the first floor of Siam Celadon – the art exhibition there isn't worth your sweat, but the building is. It's one of those many places in Northern Thailand where service completely ignores me; after some effectless looky-looking and gesturing from my table, I walk to the front desk – and am still being ignored.

Siam Celadon also makes for a nice base camp if you want to explore nearby Chinatown. Whereas the Fern Forest Café is planted into a quiet residential lane on the northern edge of the old town. You sit elegantly, stylishly here – mostly outdoors, and at certain times the white umbrellas will not protect from all the sun. I enjoy the leafy garden and exquisite "Fern" cutlery. In this solemn place I never see many customers. A walk around the quiet street reveals several very delightful private Thai homes.


I've been bicycling for some morning hours around the maze of almost ancient sois around Wualai Road with interesting old workshops and peaceful Thai street life. That's south of the old town. Then I steer bicycle back across the moat; I need a good sip – and a retreat from the heat, no, from Asia in general. I'd love to hang out in a relaxed neighborhood coffee shop. Not one of those snobby attitude-charged places like Siam Celadon or Fern Forest, just a relaxed small coffee shop.

I manage to kick my rental bicycle wreck around another corner and see a red sign "Jai Baan". It leads into a smallish, but interesting wooden building. The open ground floor hosts: a relaxed small neighborhood coffee shop.

You sit on comfy dark leather chairs with dark low tables and an immaculate dark wood floor. They pipe Chamras Saewataporn's generic "Green Music" again. A fat Thai lady in harem pants serves exquisite coffees with a benevolent motherly smile. We had had a profound discussion about how I need my caffeine dosage, and she prepares everything exactly to my liking. Now that is something. They also serve *exceptional* homemade ice-cream, and all that in very delightful tableware.

And you know what: Iced water here is refilled ad infinitum, every ten minutes with another benevolent motherly smile. That ancient Thai tradition, completely forgotten in tourist venues, is just a matter of course at Jai Baan. You can quench your thirst as well as shower off palate after ice-cream or cappuccino without having to order anything. Another ancient Thai tradition is observed too: upon entering Jai Baan, you take off your shoes. The spotless swinging parquet is a delight for walking barefoot.

A great, almost academic selection of books about Northern Thailand and beyond can be bought at Jai Baan. There must be a school there, because every time I stop by, they host a group of Farang teachers discussing school affairs in English with various accents. What would "Jai Baan" be in English?

In turbulent tiring Thailand, in an exotic challenging world, the weary traveling man needs a familiar place to turn to for a rest in the late morning or early afternoon: to faces he knows and to people who know how to fix is favorite blend of coffee without any repeated instruction. For me in Chiang Mai, this place is cosy Jai Baan on Ratchamankha Road.

Tune In

On a personal note, I am clearly a village and small town person; but over the years I have now sampled what I believe are Thailand's four biggest cities. Let me say that in Hat Yai, I'd run away as fast as possible, at least until Songkhla's Samila beach; to Bangkok, I'd only turn for incredible urban disaster sightseeing and dark male desires; then Chiang Mai might actually be a place for settling down, somewhere in a quiet snoring soi – it is so relatively rational and agreeable up there. Hey, yes, Chiang Mai is ok, and I fully understand that a UN report credited Chiang Mai with a relatively high quality of living; one might even find real conversation partners in Chiang Mai. But at least for me, the passionate Thai hobby tourist, but not resident, Chiang Mai is all too sedate and predictable. So – for Thailand's spiciest live music, for the Kingdom's most relaxing open-air restaurant and the best value-for-money hotels, I will return time and again to that certain Isaan capital… that dull dusty town… which – just by chance, you know – happens to be full of full-blooded good-hearted fun-loving gorgeous adorable real women, just by chance you know, women, not just dull girls, no real 3D women –

Eeehm…., where was I? Chiang Mai music pubs? Oh, ok: Chiang Mai has a whole lot of live music places. On Ping river's eastern shore, there is this string of atmospheric multilevel restaurants like Riverside, La Brasserie, Good View and more (we savoured La Brasserie in part 1). When you walk in from the street, you first see a small bar with a live band. Walk through that one to reach the romantic outdoor seating, sometimes with more live music. The bands mostly play Thai and western rock.

Not far from those restaurants, there is the semi-open air "Cottage" – here it is more like music with food as a sideshow, as opposed to food with music as a side dish. I stop motosai outside "Cottage" and can't believe it: Hey, they play a CD with big band music. Walking in, I see they actually have a live band sporting a three-piece brass section, blowing out funky riffs!

Actually, when I lodge in River View Lodge, I can hear the Cottage's current play list right in my bed (http://www.stickmanbangkok.com/Reader/reader1508.htm). And getting from River View Lodge to the Cottage by motosai is just a three-minute-ride on your motosai across tiny Ping river; bring a helmet, though, as police on Nawarat bridge can be obnoxious (http://www.stickmanbangkok.com/Reader/reader1511.htm).

The house band at the Cottage plays well-arranged Thai and western rock songs, and they sometimes change the whole character of covered top hits – including a semi-reggae version of the Four Non-Blondes' "What's going on". Around 11.30 p.m. a very sexy male singer enters the stage who dances much better than the two lady singers. In Thailand, I only saw one other pub band with a brass section, and that is the second band in Patpong's "Muzzik Café" (except Sundays). But while in Bangkok's "Muzzik Café" they play spicy and dance-inspiring to the max, the arrangements in Chiang Mai's "Cottage" are smoother, soapier, sometimes even Sade-like, and there is almost no dancing.

On the western side of the old town, I hike down Ninmanhemein Road with a whole row of establishments for the students of nearby Chiang Mai University. Fine Thanks looks like a tropical beergarden with swarms of waitresses in platform shoes, the band plays the usual slightly soapy Thai pop. Warm Up is a nicely designed bar-pub-restaurant with several zones. The live band rocks in an air-conditioned shoebox filled with stinking cigarette smog. Trendy Monkey Club shimmers in dark-blue neon light with soft acoustic live music; I am not in enough for that one.

So far I haven't been able to spot any live music that really smacks of Thailand, I mean songs-for-live (pleur chewit), look thung or morlam. So with the map from "Citylife", I walk from "Warm Up" over to "Tawan Daeng". This is a chain of music pubs you can also find in Bangkok, Phitsanulok and Udon Thani (I believe in Korat and Khon Khaen as well). Supposedly, "Tawan Daeng" belongs to the famous "Carabao" band, and their acts mostly play Carabao-style songs for life or spicy look thung country salsa of high quality.

As I hike through empty lots towards Chiang Mai's "Tawan Daeng", I hear an impressive roar in the night; it seems to be their air-condition. The place is huge, maybe even bigger the northern Tawan Daeng in Bangkok. The stage reaches about 1,50 meters above the customers seating, and a fence prevents the musicians from falling down or stage-diving. This layout, and the sheer size contribute to the fact that the place has no atmosphere whatsoever; it is more like a company dinner in a construction hall. The music itself is well done, but again more pop than spicy Thai – a bit slick all in all. Maybe that's Chiang Mai?

Ah, and I have yet to try the music pub that the tourist info girl from the first part of this report recommended. After some searching atop my rental Honda I spot this very small venue on the southern outskirts: About 5 customers, the band plays plain rock, clearly out of tune.

In turbulent tiring Thailand, in an exotic challenging world, the weary traveling man needs a familiar place to turn to for great live music and delightful munchies after 10 p.m.; to waitresses he knows and to waitresses who accept that, yes, he needs just one Singha and one fruit plate, but, no, the fruit plate please without that bizarre sweet mayonnaise all Chiang Mai restos tend to apply. For me in Chiang Mai, this food and rhythm refuge is colorful semi-elegant Cottage on Chiang Mai-Lamphoon Road.

Step in

So now where would you go to shake a leg in Chiang Mai? Any great dance venue you could tell me? I haven't found one.

First I try Bubbles, the disco under the Pornping tower. It has an interesting mix of Thai and Farang customers, but mostly dull tekkno music. Obviously, some freelance whores shake a leg there too; if you want to pick up company, the catch here might be more fun than in the rows of bland beer bars around Loi Kroh and Moon Muang Roads; but it remains a very far cry from the sanuk music and girls hunting grounds of Big Mango (http://www.stickmanbangkok.com/Reader/reader1463.htm).

In Bubbles, I finish a Mai Tai when I see a waitress right next too me. Oh no, I think, now she will convince me to drink another one – but not so: even though she sees my empty glass, she does not even offer to bring the second bucket. That's strange behaviour. Maybe she wants me to go.

And so I do; but I stay in the same building, I only switch to the third Pornping business in this report, the Hot Shots Thai music pub on the ground floor. The band plays Thai rock with lots of flesh-flashing singers. In Thai disco style, you sit, stand and dance around bistro tables. For me, the place is too dark even by Thai pub standards; and the Thai-only customers are – as so often in Chiang Mai – too noveau-riche, arrogant and attituded. Any neighborhood pub in Ubon Ratchathani is more fun.

Now for a change. Chiang Mai Land on the southern outskirts is supposed to be a mini RCA entertainment strip. When a grinning tuktuk driver drops me there around 10 p.m., I immediately step into a nest of around 25 lecherous karaoke girls, parked out on the pavement in front of a pink-lit karaoke grotto. Quite a walk that one, a bit like Pattaya's soi 6. When I have fought my way past the girlie macchia, I change street side – and step into the next flesh show.

What I actually wanted to see down here is the Bossy club. They play hot Thai live rock. It sounds to be worth my attention, so I seize a bistro table and a bar stool and manage to order vegetable fried rice. The waiter seems to be around 10 years old and graces his baby face with filthy spikes of blond-dyed hair like an 80ies punk. The fried rice just arrives, when the band decides to stop. Now fancy that: In smelly smoky Bossy disco, out in Chiang Mai Land, there is a single Farang desperately clinging to a shaky bar stool, munching fried rice – while now the PA hammers out tekkno disco music at 250 beats per minute and even more dB(A), with a super-hectic stroboscope lightshow to boot. Dinner in style.

Guess what, I don't spend the rest of the night there. Gesture for spiky baby face, checkbin, and back out into the girlie swarms. They couldn't be less tempting with all their paint&polyester do. I walk back to the main road but still have problems to catch a tuktuk – I've experienced before it isn't easy to cruise Chiang Mai nightlife on public transport, but still I will not do it aboard my rental Honda.

Well, there is one recommended disco spelt "Boom Senxy"; but that's far far out on Irrigation Canal Road, I never make it there in my Chiang Mai stays. When I finally do get a tuktuk, I decide to try X-Zone instead, a huge disco behind Rimping supermarket and not far from TAT and Saphan Lek on the eastern river side.

As with so many Chiang Mai venues, I don't have exact memories of the music; nothing special again. My waitress is sweet, though; her I remember. My problem: with a Mai Tai running for just 100 baht, how do you give a tip? When she comes with the second cocktail, I give her 120 for that one – and get a very very surprised smile. That's all I recall from X-Zone. Disco and live music wise, all in all I had more fun in Nakhon Phanom, even in Bangkok and Pattaya.

In turbulent tiring Thailand, in an exotic challenging world, the weary lonesome traveling man needs a familiar place to turn to for a few dance steps and a bit of groove and sanuk when he feels the need. For me in Chiang Mai, I don't find one such place to return to.

Of course that's no reason to not come back to a delightful city with even more delightful countryside all around. So you reader who followed me all the way down these 4200 words – tell me of your secret tea, dinner and sanuk places throughout Chiang Mai!

Stickman's thoughts:

Good stuff.