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April 9, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Sawatdee Khrab from Chiang Mai! This is the third and final installment of my incredible trip to Thailand and of course, I saved the best for last. My buddy Mike Manna and I travel from Bangkok to northern Thailand for some culture and soft adventure. If you’re up for seeing a slew of temples, checking out one of the nicest hotels on earth, taking an elephant back ride and floating through the jungle to meet tribesmen then sit back, turn off your ringer and come with us to Chiang Mai. I promise: you won’t be disappointed (especially after you see the prices of everything!) Up for a different kind of adventure? You’ve got two options. Pick up where we left off last week, with part two of Matt Wilson’s story about his trip to Mammoth Mountain. Or, join Chuck Taylor as he tours us around Vail, Colorado in the summertime.

The quickest way to travel the 468 miles (750 kilometers) from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is by plane. Six domestic and eight international carriers service the Chiang Mai International Airport, which just completed a $63 million expansion. Mike and I flew on one of Thai Airways’ wide-body A300-600 planes. It didn’t feature their usual individual monitors with a slew of entertainment options in the seat backs but it was only a 50-minute flight so no one really seemed to mind. Well, except for the parents with screaming children. I passed the time by chatting with the cool girl from New York City who was sitting next to me. She was traveling around the country for two weeks with a couple of her girlfriends. I always find it interesting to hear how people choose to spend their once a year vacations. Even with the short flight time, the flight attendants still managed to serve all 260 passengers a free meal and come around not once but twice with water, tea and coffee. How do you like that for service? FYI: If you prefer not to fly, you can also travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by car, train or bus but each option will take you a whole day.

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The moment we exited baggage claim, I spotted our guide Chintana Suwawan from Window of Thailand (Tel: 66-53-275815; email: It wasn’t really that tough ... she was holding up a sign with my name on it. Parked curbside was a clean, comfortable van. The driver loaded our bags and we were off. Getting a guide in Chiang Mai is the way to go. The Thai tourist office recommended Chintana to us, as one of their best guides and they were right! She’s outstanding. We had her for three full days and when you add in the cost of airport transfers, our driver and our lunches, it cost a total of $400. Is that crazy or what? We didn’t have to rent a car, pay for gas or deal with directions. We simply told her what we wanted to do and she was always five minutes early, ready to lead the way. If you want to do it on your own here are some recommended tours for Chiang Mai that you can book in advance.

Chiang Mai is located in Thailand's northern region about 140 miles (227 kilometers) from the Myanmar (formerly Burma) border (Here’s a map). In Thai, the name Chiang Mai means “New City” but there’s nothing new about it except for some of the construction. The city was founded in 1296 as the capital of the first independent Thai state, Lanna Thai. Translated, this means “Kingdom of One Million Rice Fields” and on the outskirts of the city, there are plenty of them. Due to Myanmar’s proximity, there’s a heavy Burmese influence on religion, architecture, language and cuisine here. Though I’m sure that being captured by the Burmese in 1556 and being occupied for 219 years until 1775, had a little something to do with it as well.

NOTE: Although the city of Chiang Mai is in the highlands, it’s only 1,027 feet (310 meters) above sea level so it’s not that high. Fortunately, I didn’t have any trouble breathing.

I was taken aback by how built up Chiang Mai (city map) was; it was nothing like what I had imagined. I had envisioned a remote, green, tropical place with a few nice hotels sandwiched between elaborate temples. Nope. Not quite. The place is a booming city with traffic (though not as bad as Bangkok) and a population of over 150,000. The metropolitan area has over 700,000. The city isn’t as nice or as cosmopolitan as Bangkok but it is special in many ways, which is why about three million passengers a year arrive at the airport.

Our hotel was just 10 minutes from the airport in the heart of Chiang Mai. Getting there, we drove by the Old City, which is completely surrounded by a moat with some remains of a massive wall that were originally constructed for defense (they were restored in the 19th century). The main business and shopping area is located between the east side of the Old City and the Ping River and is about two thirds of a mile (one kilometer) long. This stretch is where the hotels, night bazaar, shops and restaurants are all situated.

The Ping River is a major tributary of the Chao Phraya River, which runs through the heart of Bangkok.

When we pulled into the driveway of the brand new Shangri-La Hotel, I thought Chintana had made a mistake. This 281-room high-rise hotel in the center of town could not be the Shangri-La Hotel that I had pictured. Wrong again. But after walking into the lobby, I was okay with it. Immediately, the hotel’s army of colorful, sharply dressed Thai staff greeted us. There weren’t many guests in the hotel so at times, I felt like we were the only ones staying there. Just like all the other Shangri-La hotels, this was a five-star luxury hotel but designed as a “city resort”. The hotel wasn’t fully functional during my stay as they had just had a soft opening in December 2007, and were just finishing up construction.

A beautiful receptionist escorted us to the room, which was large with high ceilings, lots of natural light and a contemporary Northern Thai design. Dominating the center of the room was a swivel TV that could be watched from either the firm but comfortable bed or the living room. The side of the room with the beds featured soft, feminine colors, sleek wood paneling, Asian artwork and a sunny, floral silk bedspread. The living room portion was a bit sparse and uninteresting. The bathroom was nothing extravagant but it was spotless with a separate tub and shower. Other amenities include: a mini bar, laptop safe, fresh fruit and fine mini chocolates. I spent late nights using the working desk with wireless Internet: 214 baht ($6.75USD) for an hour or 642 baht ($20USD) for 24 hours. If you’re a light sleeper, you might want to bring some ear plugs or better yet request a pool/garden view room to avoid hearing street traffic. Speaking of the pool, it’s large with cabanas and nearby are the spa and fitness center all surrounded in a lush garden setting. Rack room rates begin at $270 but can be found cheaper on the Internet. Shangri-La Chiang Mai, 89/8 Chang Klan Road, Muang, Chiang Mai, 50100, Thailand; Tel: (66 53) 253 888.

Breakfast cost 585 baht ($18.50USD) and was outstanding and extensive like all the major luxury chain hotels in Thailand. I can’t list everything they offered but they did have made-to-order eggs/omelets, pancakes, the usual trimmings/toppings and a whole section of Asian options. I munched on a Belgian waffle with Nutella and then sampled four out of the five fruit juices. There were no other guests at breakfast and I mean none. But at dinner, it was like Grand Central Station. The place was completely packed with college kids and I asked what was going on, thinking they were having a special party. Instead, I learned that they were taking advantage of the special price. I guess to drum up some business, they were offering their incredible buffet with a variety of stations for just $10. Why couldn’t breakfast be that cheap?

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Copyright 2008 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Thai Airways


Flight #


Thai FA




Lunch Box


Chiang Mai Airport


Our Guide


How I Pictured It


Some Traffic


Old City


Massive Wall


Shangri-La Hotel


Shangri-La Bellmen




My Room




View From Room




Hotel Dinner


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