We have yet to find any buffet restaurant in the US that tops Shady Maple Smorgasbord. I don't think that anyone can find another buffet that does when it comes to quality of food, quantity of offerings, value, consistency, size of the restaurant, and price. It is just that good and try as we can to find another buffet that even comes close, year after year, we always come back to Shady Maple as

Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2014

Updated 2016 - see the new Phuket Top 10 Hotels 2016.

This is the Top 10 / Best Phuket Hotels list which I have again based on TripAdvisor rankings as they were in March 2014. For each hotel there are links for checking online rates and availability - I suggest using if you want to book a hotel in Phuket. There are also review links - also mostly from Agoda where possible - only people who have booked the hotels through Agoda can make a review (I've left some reviews myself), and if you check the reviews, they tend to be very honest reviews, with plus points and minus points and you can be pretty sure they were left by actual guests. Hotels get average scores out of 10 on Agoda so you can easily compare, but Agoda does not have any ranking lists, so for better or worse the top 10 here has to be based on TripAdvisor.

Here's the 2014 version of the Top 10 Phuket hotels

1. Trisara Resort Villas


Trisara was 4th last year, and I'd say .. If I have the money it would be my choice. Trisara offers private pool villas on a private beach just north of Bang Tao beach in the north of Phuket. Trisara is a "secluded, luxury, amazing views, forget-your-worries" style hotels. Only 39 villas, lots of space, no crowds. Villas from 2 - 6 bedrooms, so can be ideal for families or big groups, or weddings. Or just for a relaxing trip for a couple. And yes, it's miles from any busy areas, so don't complain that you have to get taxis everywhere :)

Trisara - Online Booking
Trisara Reviews

2. BYD Lofts (Patong Beach)

BYD Lofts

Up from 3rd place last year, BYD Lofts is not really a hotel, as it offers serviced apartments, with a "view over beautiful Patong" rooftop pool, near the center of Patong Beach. There are 1 / 2 bedroom apartments of various sizes. A good place to stay if you like to be near the center of all the action (that's Patong) but need a quietish place to retire to. I tend to avoid Patong, but for sure it's convenient as a visitor to have a lot of restaurants, shops and tour counters near you. And bars and nightlife.

BYD Lofts - Online Booking
BYD Lofts Reviews

3. Rising Sun Residence (Chalong)

Rising Sun Residence

Not a beach hotel, Rising Sun Residence has 12 villas in the hills in the Chalong area near Chalong Temple. There are seven three-bedroom villas, four of these have a private pool and jacuzzi, kitchen and large living room. The five one-bedroom villas are built around a large pool with sun deck and jacuzzi. Long way from the beach, so would suit people who want to explore Phuket (it would be a very good idea to have your own transport if you stay here) and "come home" in the evening. Jamie's Phuket kind of people!

Rising Sun Residence - Online Booking
Rising Sun Residence Reviews

4. The Baray Villa by Sawasdee Village (Kata Beach)

The Baray Villa

The Baray Villa has just 14 luxury villas, which are run by the Sawasdee Village Resort, and yet separate from the resort. Villas are 2 floor with huge rooms, jacuzzi, direct pool access, set in tropical gardens, with a spa available. Reviews make the villas sound fantastic! It was number 1 in 2012. Yes, please!

The Baray Villa - Online Booking
Baray Villa Reviews

5. The Shore at Katathani (Kata Noi Beach)

The Shore at Katathani

Katathani has been around for many years on Kata Noi beach. The Shore is their newer luxury "pool villa" development, opened in 2010. And it sure looks good! Pool villas, some with seaview (note: the view does vary from villa to villa), all with private pools. As I said, this "private villa" thing seems to be the trend in the last few years. A great hotel for couples. I see lots of honeymoon reviews.

The Shore at Katathani - Online Booking
The Shore Reviews

6. Andara Resort and Villas (Kamala Beach)


A 5 star resort, on the hillside near Kamala Beach with luxury villas. It was rated number 1 on the top 10 family hotel list, providing relaxation in comfort for the whole family, and since it's individual villas with private pools, will suit families as well as couples. I'd happily stay here, thanks! Andara resort is not right on the beach - it's on the hillside. Many of the villas have great sea views. See there really is a trend of non-beachfront luxury these days ...

Andara Resort & Villas - Online Booking
Andara Resort & Villas at
Andara Resort Reviews

7. Mom Tri's Villa Royale (Kata Noi Beach)

Mom Tri's Villa Royale

Up from 10 to 7 this year ... The Villa Royale was built by the same original owner of the Boathouse on Kata beach (Mom Tri) on land which used to be the location of his home, on the headland overlooking Kata Noi beach (just south of Kata beach). Steps from the hotel takes you down to the beach. Great views from the rooms and from the restaurant too. It's got a touch of class and olde Thai style, and is often fully booked even in low season!

Villa Royale - Online Booking
Villa Royale Reviews

8. Renaissance Resort and Spa (Mai Khao Beach)

Renaissance Phuket Resort and Spa

7th last year, 8th this year. Mai Khao Beach is still one of Phuket's quiet places. It's about 10km long with maybe 10 plus a couple of small bungalow operations. Renaissance is one of the best in the area (as evidenced by it's high ratings), close to the airport (don't worry, there's no noise) and right on Mai Khao beach which is never, ever crowded. There's a variety of rooms - simple "deluxe" rooms up to pool villas with seaview. Mai Khao Beach is way up in the north of Phuket, it's over 40km from here to Patong, Karon and Kata. If you want solitude, it's ideal and why would you visit the busier beaches anyway?

Renaissance Resort - Online Booking
Renaissance Resort Reviews

9. Pen Villa (Surin Beach)

Pen Villa

6th last year and still in the top 10 ... Pen Villa. It's a newer, smaller hotel at Surin beach, and I'd really not heard of it before writing the 2013 Top 10. Only opened a couple of years ago, and looks like the kind of personal place which requests guests that they make reviews on TripAdvisor. Every year there are a couple of places that make me say "Where?". Power of the internet. I'm sure it is very nice though!

Pen Villa - Online Booking
Pen Villa Reviews

10. Twin Palms (Surin Beach)

Twin Palms

Surin Beach, despite rampant hillside development manages to retain a laid back feel on the beachfront with small restaurants and bars although they tend to be a little expensive, and yet Surin is so so different to the big beaches it's nice to come here for a meal and drink sometimes. Twin Palms is not huge, under 100 rooms - the more luxury rooms are huge duplexes and penthouse suites. Twin Palms also has its own semi-private beach club (Catch Beach Club) right by the sea. Yeh, Surin is "beach club" country.

Twin Palms Booking - Online Booking
Twin Palms Reviews

That's the Top 10 best hotels in Phuket as of March 2014. Maybe you have booked a hotel that's not listed, but you think it should be? Phuket has a very confusing mix of old and new resorts, big hotels and small guesthouses, villas for rent, hillside, beachfront, busy areas, quiet areas... There's something here for everyone, but some research does pay off especially with regards to location. There is a trend in recent years for new luxury resorts in more remote areas and for sea view hillside (not on the beach) villas. Land prices and rent are very high these days in Phuket, so it's hard to think about opening a small hotel or guesthouse. I'd say Phuket is slowly heading upmarket. Older tourist areas like Soi Bangla in Patong are being redeveloped. Out with the bars, in with aircon shopping centers and new resorts. And dotted around the coast, many new 5 star resorts have opened in the last 10 years.

Here's a few more Best / Top 10 hotel lists for families, luxury and romantic places to stay...

Best Phuket Family Hotels
Best Phuket Luxury Hotels
Best Phuket Couples Hotels

I recommend you check for booking - it's what I use myself for holidays. On the subject of reviews, by all means read them, but do think also about actual hotel features - location, size, room type, price(!), suitability for kids etc.. one person's heaven may be another person's holiday nightmare! Some like it quiet and secluded, others want action. Some want great views from a hillside, some want beachfront.... Any questions about hotels, please do leave a comment on the Jamie's Phuket Facebook Page.


We have announced a Top Buffet and a Best Buffet for 2013 and we will start here telling you about the Top Buffet. A top buffet is a buffet that is on list of must go to when traveling through where the buffet is. This is a buffet that we think frequently about returning to. It is a buffet that when we are not traveling in the area, we miss going to.

The TOP BUFFET for 2013 is Dutch-Way Family

Zanzibar. Days 3 and 4

Day 3.

It rained a lot so we played several games of scrabble, thankfully I won one because when Emily repeatedly beats me at games I am an embarrassingly loathable character. I’m a terrible loser. Our play was interrupted at one point by a cockroach who made me shudder and make a funny ‘uhuhuuh’  noise as he clung to my flip flop. This was little compared to Emily’s scream a minute later when she found herself face to face with him sitting on her shoulder. I did the brave boyfriend thing and pissed myself laughing as she brushed herself down for the following half an hour.

Day 4.

Having sort of wasted a day we made sure we were up early to meet up with Captain Fruit who was taking us out on a snorkelling trip. As we walked through the shallows our captain said ‘pole pole… snake’. Pole pole means slowly slowly and snake is an English word I wasn't delighted to hear as we waded through the seaweed. I asked what he meant and I think the gist of it was that we should walk slowly like a snake and not because of a snake. Apparently Emily missed this part of the conversation and so spent the wade out to the boat petrified that the weeds were crawling with sea snakes.

The dhow boat trip was wonderful, cruising along with the sun shining followed by a swim around a coral reef is a chuffing splendid way to spend a couple of hours. We headed back for fruit with Captain Fruit then bought a shell like one we’d seen whilst snorkelling from Captain Bush Doctor (everyone in Jambiani is Captain something or other).

We wanted to make the most of our last evening on the coast so went back to what was now our favourite restaurant where we accidentally consumed a lot of cheap, tasty wine. The wine took us on to the bar of an Italian restaurant that was just closing and we kept it open, joined by a guitar player and a man with a djembe drum. Emily sang along and I was tiddly enough to think I could play the harmonica.

We had to stay in the bar longer than we were welcome because a cyclone over Madagascar had blown its back end our way. By the time we were leaving at 3am we got our first sight of the beach at high tide, or rather, there was no beach at high tide. We got a fair way back towards our villa climbing over the fences of various hotels then Emily decided she’d try to outrun a wave. She did manage to outrun the wave, getting to safe ground about a second before the wave crashed into the concrete embankment. I waited for the next gap and ran after her calling her a bloody idiot. She seemed oblivious to the danger of the situation until I turned her around to watch the next wave smash into the concrete easily powerful enough to send a human head into the wall.

Against Emily’s protests I took the decision that we would stay where we were until the tide dropped. Our location was someone’s rather beautiful house. With it still raining heavily we took shelter under their porch and set our alarm for two hours later (I know, some of you are thinking you’ve heard a story like this before*). It was uncomfortable so Emily didn’t sleep and was not impressed when we moved on and discovered that we were only 50 metres from our bed. She said ‘we could easily have made it’, I replied ‘Yes, we could and probably would have made it but we could also have drowned or had our heads split open on a rock’. I was being overly dramatic and Emily was being overly ignorant of the dangers of the sea.

For the rest of the next day I built up the size of the waves in my recounting of the night, so much so that Emily got fed up and said ‘you were probably right’ just so that I stopped going on.

*See Back to Wanaka and a bit of a naughty story. If you think I should have learnt my lesson from then you’re a wally because the lesson was: Sleep where you want humans are lovely.

Zanbizarre. It wasn't that bizarre but that's a good play on words.

Day 2.

The planning for the day had to include a trip to a shop because Emily had unexpectedly gone all… y’know… female and… I think it’s something to do with the moon… I’m being a  mumbling buffoon, I’ll cut myself short. We needed to get some tampons.

The nearest shop was up the coast in Paje so we set off north along the beach planning to reach the shops in an hour or so. At lunch time, half way in our minds, we stopped for a beer and found that in actual fact we were still about an hour and a half from Paje and should probably get a taxi. It was a good job we did because there was nothing left in the two shops in town. This left us having to explain our mission to the taxi driver which is an awkward enough conversation with a fluent English speaker. The conclusion was that our only real hope was to drive back across the island to the capital.

On the way I spotted one likely looking chemisty type place on the side of the road so jumped out to ask if they could help. I thought it would be quicker and safer if I went alone and so approached the lady at the counter armed with limited Swahili. We all know the international sign language for ‘can I have the bill please’ and ‘do you have a phone’ but picture if you will this idiot, blushing, stuttering and attempting the sign language for ‘do you have any feminine hygiene products’.

I repeated the Swahili for ‘month’ and ‘woman’ whilst pointing at what I wanted to convey as my lady parts. As I did so it occurred to me that in the climate of a devoutly religious place with a recent history of throwing acid in the faces of the disrespectful this might be poor form. I was pretty sure she had sort of understood what I’d asked for and didn't have any, so on we pressed before finding a shop that led to Emily squealing with joy and clutching a packet of tampons to her breast.

To celebrate the relief we took our taxi man for a couple of beers then returned to the East coast for a bloody pleasant dinner and a litre of wine.

N.B. Emily has read and approved (sort of) the publication of this post.


I've said it before and I'll say it again , "my favorite day of the week in the LOS is market day". there are soooo many reasons why I like market days soo much , I like getting to see everyone , the whole village and surrounding area comes out to buy their weeks supplies of fresh fruit and veggies and anything else you can think of that you might need to keep body and soul together and then some.I like for the folks to see the farang and see that he's still here after 10 years and not just a visitor. Right beside the market is a car wash and I can get the truck cleaned and detailed for 100 baht , and there is a great coffee shop there too and the lady always puts a scoop of chocolate ice cream in mine , yum yum . give it a try . The real reason I love the market is that everything is sooo fresh and I can pick what and how much I want with out it being wrapped in plastic saran wrap and stored in a cooler for several days and then put out as fresh , I can pick it up, and squeeze it , smell it, hand it to Ciejay for a look see and her professional, (ha ha ) approval or disapproval ,and even ask for a sample taste if I'm not to sure , and the person does it with a smile and not like I'm bothering her or him, like I have experienced in the store front markets .What a difference it makes when you are spending your money and the folks really appreciate you buying from their tent or little table , and you know you're not only getting fresh fruit and veggies , but you are helping this family , by buying the fruit of their labor .

But today was a special mission, we had company coming for dinner and I wanted to have a fish fry , soooo I was on the hunt for the freshest fish I could find, well I soon found out that there were sooo many different kind , and sizes, That I had to go back home and get Ciejay to come help me( that was a first as I always think of myself as the shopper King ), I never knew there was so many varieties of fish swimming up and down the River Kwai, and raised in all the little ponds in back of my neighbors houses.Well I picked a big Catfish to grill and Ciejay picked a Mud fish , to make Tum Yum Pla , we had a couple of Thai's coming too and she said they would like the Tum Yum , Sooo I said ok . Everyone had a great time , the Cat fish fry turned out great , I served it with grilled hot veggies and served on a chilled bed of lettuce , red and green, topped ,with my home made Italian dressing , baked potatoes with butter ,chives and sour cream and bacon bits and my very own corn hush puppies ( deep fried cornbread rolled into balls ) and served with home made cole slaw (South Carolina style ). The Thai guest jump right in and had heaping bowls of Tum Yum and a side dish of the famous Jasmine Rice (Thai guest are soo easy to cook for ).
Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves , and everyone keep say the were full , and Em sooo I guess it was a success.
I am always sooo glad for the fresh things we can get at our market that make it sooo much fun to cook and it (I hope) always taste soo good and fresh , especially the fresh fish , just caught this morning.
I'm posting a few pictures of all the fresh fish I had to chose from. I hope you have a fresh market near you and if possible , buy as much there as you can, the family farmers will love you for it, and you will be eating a lot fresher and healthier.
I'm glad I'm here in the LOS and that I have a wonderful person like Ciejay to share it with, I guess you could say I'm here, I'm happy,I'm blessed, and to top it all off I'm Retired in Thailand and Loving It .



Day 1: We flew from Arusha airport which in itself is an experience. It’s a small airport only allowing light aircraft, although a month earlier that hadn’t stopped a Boeing 767 from landing there, much to the confusion of the air traffic control tower and the 200 passengers who were expecting to get out at Kilimanjaro International Airport some 50km away rather than in a field at the end of the short runway.

We had far better luck, we sat in the departure lounge with a couple of pilots I play cricket with and they found us a man who could walk us past the security queue much to the somewhat understandable annoyance of a German woman who’d been stood in the queue for some time. It was a queue she hadn’t yet been asked to join and it’s pretty obvious the correct behaviour in a small relaxed place is to join in and be relaxed. For us it was a breeze, 10 minutes after going through security our 12 passengers took off and waved goodbye to the German who was still determined to be first in the next queue she’d joined.

Taxi to the East side of the island we were staying in a simple private villa on the beach at Jambiani, with a front garden that opened onto the impossibly turquoise Indian Ocean.

So yeah, pretty sweet deal.

Took an evening stroll along the beach stopping at a most agreeable beach bar where we befriended a pair of puppies and (not on) a girl called Anastasia.
We were pleased when:
1: She turned out to be an interesting Canadian. And 2: She bought a round of shots.
We moved on for dinner and were disappointed when:
1: The food took an age to come out. And 2: We discovered that it hadn’t been that long we were just in a dry restaurant and time drags when you’re stopped from drinking just after getting to a lovely level of  conversational competence.

After the meal we said our good-nights and I mentioned to Emily how it was so strange that Anastasia had gone all quiet during dinner and almost a bit off with us for no reason. Being more perceptive than me Emily noted that it probably wasn't for no reason as her mood shift coincided with me insisting several times that ‘one of the musical instruments painted on the walls looks like a medieval abortion instrument’. On reflection I can see how one might misconstrue my witty repartee to be inappropriate table conversation with a stranger. 

Being left alone was most definitely a good thing because it allowed Emily and I to finish the night off with a romantic nightcap sitting on the sand, listening to the waves and watching the drunkest man in Zanzibar trying to get back to the pile of clothes he’d left on the beach. His legs and head were in strong disagreement about which was the best way to tackle the five yard journey and so he kept us entertained for the duration of a cold Kilimanjaro beer. At the end of day one we had already decided that we liked Zanzibar.

Market Day in Wang Pho

Most of these veggies were growing out behind his house just the day before , he has a huge garden.
I swear this pork is so fresh , I thought I heard a loud squeal

these eggs are so fresh that when they start to run low they run out to the truck where the hens are laying more on demand.

After all the eggs are laid they then are sold here , minus all their feathers of course

Believe it are not , but some of these fish are still flopping around on the table .

It's been a while since I posted anything about one of my favorite things to do here in Wang Pho , doing the weekly shopping at our fresh fruit and veggie market and oh ya I don't want to forget the fresh meat and fish market too
I can't wait for the net to get sooo advanced that we will have scratch and sniff available on all the pictures . The one great thing about the fresh market is all the wonderful smells all mixed together . I would be amiss if I forgot to mention that on market days there is also a lot of already cooked food vendors at the market about 25% of the market is fast (Thai style ) food to take home to eat. Ciejay and me talked about it one day and we both agreed that if we really wanted to we would never have to cook at home ever, and fresh cooked meals are within 5 minutes ride or walk from our home , something to think about as we get older , ha ha ..
Sorry no scratch and sniff , but hope you enjoy the pictures . Malcolm
Do you have a fresh fruit and veggie market near you and do you visit it often ????
We have a huge Tesco Lotus that we could buy our fruit and veggies if we wanted to , but not only are the local markets stuff fresher , it helps our local farmer to sell their stuff and get a little income from all their hard work and it also keeps our little town from being a poor village .

LOBSTER At Golden Corral!

I have never seen lobster offered at a chain buffet. Usually only Asian buffets will offer lobster and then at only higher priced buffets. Golden Corral has announced that for a limited time, they will serve lobster. This seems to be a first for a buffet chain!

Now, don't go running to Golden Corral expecting all the lobster that you can eat. They will be serving ONE lobster tail to you at your


This is the latest that we have ever taken to naming the Best Buffet for the year. This year was difficult. I go to a lot of really good buffets. A number of those stand out and just a few are ones that I think often about going to. All of those are not local and when I can get to them they are must go tos - even at the expense of trying something new. I went to a number of buffets in 2013. Some

News To Amuse - Feb 05, 2014

Sachin Tendulkar and C.N.R Rao were conferred with Bharat Ratna in a ceremony yesterday. I think the status of Bharat Ratna is falling over years. Has he ever scored a triple century in tests? Has he ever scored the maximum number of runs in a year?  I mean, who is this C.N.R Rao?

Microsoft has appointed Indian born Satya Nadella as its CEO. Before he had played key role in launching Bing. I am happy to see that Microsoft is moving away from cheap labour and crappy products as a strategy. But there was a small hiccup in the press meet yesterday. When the announcer said that Nadella had worked on Bing, everybody wanted to know what it was. Nadella jumped in and said, "You haven't heard of Bing! It is very famous. Just Google it and you will know."

Abdul Kalam, in a function yesterday, urged the kids to think out of the box. The kids said they are! "Nowadays we are into xbox." They shouted back.

Tiger Woods came to India to play a Golf event. The event was not open to public. Even Media was refused access. Apparently, the event was organized to increase the popularity of Golf in India. The Ambani brothers have said, "No, Thanks."
While he was here, Tiger woods met Sachin Tendulkar and his family. When asked whether you would like to come again to India, he said, "Sure. But next time I want to see Taj Mahal."

Amitabh Bachchan has said he stopped endorsing Pepsi after a girl in Jaipur asked him why he promoted the soft drink that her teacher had branded as 'poison'. Nowadays Amitabh Bachchan endorses Gujarat tourism and was on his way to Godhra to shoot another advertisement when he revealed this.

Ian Thorpe has checked into rehab and getting treatment for depression. In 1998, when Thorpe came to the press meet after he won the first world chamionship, he was wearing a T.Shirt that said - I am more intelligent when I am under water. I thought it was just a joke. Stupid me!

Guest Blog--Retire 2 Thailand

This is a post from a fellow blogger --- hope you enjoy Retire 2 Thailand's Blog Thoughts on retiring in Thailand HomeAbout.Chiang Mai – Way Down Upon the Ping River February 1, 2014 Vieng Ping – Original name of Chiang Mai “City on the Ping River” Well, it finally happened. After all the chaos down in the capital Bangkok some people have begun talking about moving the capital of the country to Chiang Mai, or, if things get too crazy down there, maybe even going their own separate ways. From The Nation. I am hoping this is all hyperbole, but historically a separate Chiang Mai it wouldn’t be anything new. It wasn’t that long ago that Lanna Thai (the northern regions of present day Thailand, literally “Land of a million rice fields”) was a separate vassal state of Bangkok, in reality, a Siamese colony. And before that it was its own kingdom. The people of Lanna speak their own dialect of Thai (many dialects in fact), closer to Lao than what is spoken in Central Thailand. When I first arrived here in Chiang Mai, about 4 ½ decades ago, it took me months to find out why I was having so much trouble understanding what the people here were saying. Turns out that I was trying to speak Central Thai when everyone else here was speaking “Kham Muang”, or the Lanna Thai dialect. I was just talking to an elderly Chiang Mai native and he told me that when he was a boy no one here said “Sawadee” when they met, the typical Thai greeting. That is a Central Thai convention, introduced only much later here. Instead they would greet each other with “Sabai dee, ga?”, similar to the Lao greeting being a question about one’s health. Lanna has its own art, music and dance and the people here work hard to preserve their cultural heritage. The traditional dress of the Lanna women has its own distinctive design and the northern Thai farmers wear the traditional blue “seua mo hom” shirt and pants, quite different from what is worn down south. By the way, these are very popular “indigenous” items sold in many of the tourist shops. Because of the distance and the feeling of distinction from what goes on to the south, the bedlam of the current anti-government protests seems to just whiz on over the people’s heads here. If we didn’t turn on the TV news we would have no idea what was going on down there. The “man on the street” here doesn’t seem to care much. And lately the huge influx of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and other tourists here shows that even outsiders know where to go for a peaceful Thai holiday. They also make for long waits at the first tee on my home golf course. Many people thinking of retiring to Thailand are considering Chiang Mai, not only for the above mentioned peacefulness in comparison to Bangkok, but because of the weather, the friendliness of the people, the culture, the large Expat community, and the laid-back atmosphere. I have been writing this blog now for a couple of years and except for a few mentions that I live here in Chiang Mai I seemed to have overlooked writing any specifics about life here in my adopted city. I thought it was time to change that. ********** This is for those who may have Chiang Mai on their short list of retirement destinations. Travel Chiang Mai is still “up-country” Thailand. I can remember when the road from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was still partly unpaved. When I first came the only way to reliably get here was on the overnight train. But things are beginning to change. Until just a few years ago the Canal Road, now a major four-lane thoroughfare, was still a dirt road. And the many new ring-roads and highway underpasses around the city make getting from “a” to “b” quick and easy. Chiang Mai is only an 8 hour bus ride, or a 1 hour 10 minute plane ride to the capital. The train still takes overnight though, that is when it doesn’t get derailed somewhere along the old run-down rail lines. Seems only tourists take the train now. Today Chiang Mai has an international airport with flights to all parts of Thailand, and to other countries including China, Malaysia, Burma, Korea, and Hong Kong, and the number of countries continues to grow. Shopping Chiang Mai has 4 world-class shopping malls. Two just opened in the last year. Some people feel this is a bit overkill, but on those long hot-season afternoons and evenings, these are just the places to be. I once sat cooling off on a bench looking at the people coming into the mall. Except for the fact they were usually smiling, a fairly high percentage of the women walking through those doors could have just as easily been super models gracing the catwalks of the haut couture world. At one time it was believed that Chiang Mai had the most beautiful women in all of Asia. And for those of other persuasions, the guys are pretty good looking too. All the malls have clean and modern food courts and first-run movie houses, spacious, plush, and cool, which make the theaters back home seem tiny and quaint. There are many of the large-chain supermarkets here, Big C. Tesco Lotus, and Macro. And lots and lots of 7-Elevens. There is also a chain of supermarkets here, Rimping, that carry lots of items that are in high demand from the Expat community. My favorite, being a former New Yorker, are bagels, cream cheese, and smoked salmon. But I rather enjoy going to the many traditional outdoor markets, of which Chiang Mai has plenty. If you like crowds then you’d love the Walking Street Markets here. There is a Saturday one but the one on Sundays attracts tens of thousands. Restaurants I don’t go out to eat at the foreign restaurants often but they tell me Chiang Mai has lots of good ones. There are any number of French, Italian, Middle Eastern, and Indian restaurants and even a couple of authentic English pubs. But I do like a good Mexican burrito once in a while though. Pizza, probably the most ubiquitous of the foreign restaurants, I usually avoid. We make a great pizza right at home as we have a good friend who always brings us some nice pepperoni when he returns from his travels. Hospitals Chiang Mai has a number of really good hospitals. I have written about health care in Thailand before and my opinion is, even with the Affordable Care Act back home, I still prefer the care I get here in Thailand than anything available back in the States. Golf Chiang Mai, although being a fairly small place, has a couple of dozen nice golf courses, some world class, and some with world class green fees. There is even a course right downtown, just between the old city moat and the airport. I play at the least expensive course around – about $10 a round, including caddies. The winters are a little crowded though, with loads of Asian tourists; and for good reason. Many Japanese and Koreans come here to play because for the cost of a few rounds of golf back home you could fly here, escape the winter weather, have a great vacation, play golf every day, and still have enough money left over to get into lots of trouble in the many karaoke bars. Tourists Areas When one first gets here they probably go do all the touristy stuff, like ride elephants, and fly along jungle zip lines, and river rafting, and the Chiang Mai Zoo, and temple visiting. Now that I’ve lived here for a while the only times I visit these places is when we have house guests from abroad and we want to show them around. But that gives me a chance at least once a year to get the opportunity to visit the elephants whom I really love. ********** But I don’t want this to be one of those “Come retire to Paradise” pieces. It isn’t easy living in a foreign country and on these blog pages I have discussed the many difficulties of living abroad. Chiang Mai has a number of drawbacks that one should consider before thinking of living here. Weather It is probably best to be somewhere else during the hot season. Then there is the smog problem. It seems that every March or April the smog begins to roll in from the west, exacerbated by the burning of the forests (sometimes on purpose) and the ancient tradition of burning the rice fields. I discussed this in my post Smog - Chiang Mai’s Angel of Death. It’s not just Chiang Mai though. Mae Hongson and Chiang Rai can be much worse. One year our family was driven out of Chiang Mai by the smog, bad enough so that visibility was only a few hundred meters and the eyes stung and the throats were sore. We drove to Sukothai, no break in the smog, then on to Pitsanuloke, and over the mountains to Khon Khen. No improvement. It wasn’t until we made it almost to Korat before things cleared up. Some years the smog is really bad and other years it is almost no problem. Last year the smog lasted for about 2 weeks. A few years ago there was no smog as the rains came really early. If the smog comes again this year our plans are to hop on the next direct flight south to Karbi and hang out on the beach until things clear up. I know, what a hardship. But I am sure that we are strong enough to endure it. Traffic and Overcrowding And now there is a traffic problem. I long for the days when Chiang Mai had almost no privately own vehicles and you got around on bicycles and scooters. Those times are gone. Luckily it is nothing as bad as Bangkok, few places are, and it’s only bad for a few hours each day. But there are times to avoid going down to the old city. Chiang Mai, being Thailand’s main tourist destination for Thai people, can have huge influxes or visitors – all with their own cars and an unfamiliarity of Chiang Mai’s 700+ year old twisting streets and alleys. Times to avoid going into town: New Years, about 10 days before and a few days after. This year as I drove down the road on New years Eve to a doctor’s appointment it seemed that every other license plate I read was from Bangkok. A drive that normally takes 15 minutes took almost an hour. University Graduations, especially Chiang Mai University. The celebrations last almost an entire week and traffic near the university and other parts of the city can back you up for hours with vehicles from all over the country packed with the proud families of the graduates. Chinese New Year’s. The traffic isn’t too bad because most of the shops downtown are closed. But I would avoid the shopping malls. Songkran, supposedly 3 days of celebrating the Thai New Year but it seems like people come up here from all parts of Thailand for a drunken, wet, week-long revelry. I stock up on provisions, lock my front gate, and hunker down until everyone has gone home. Loy Kratong, once a beautiful peaceful celebration of lights. I would go down to the Ping River and float a little kratong carrying my sins for the year away. Now it is so crowded that it is almost impossible to get anywhere near the river. I stay at home and float my sins in the little pond behind my house. And last but not least – whenever there is political turmoil down in the capital. People now tend to run away from that craziness and end up here. That may be one reason so many of the new houses and condos in Chiang Mai are being bought up by Bangkokians. ********** So my final take on living here in Chiang Mai: I till love this place. If you live a really good life, do lots of good things, building good karma, you may be lucky enough to be reborn here. In my last life I must have been a really good guy. But be careful. If you live the opposite lifestyle, building lots of bad karma, you just might be reborn in Bangkok.