Astonishing Chiang Rai – exploring the golden triangle in a cheaper and hassle-free way

This is part of my 7 days trip to Thailand last December. Even though Chiang Mai was the main destination back there, Chiang Rai which was the supplemental destination successfully exceeding my expectation. Make sure you do not miss the golden triangle region of northern Thailand. During my trip in both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, I chose motorbike as the main transportation choice. Read through on my post on how you can afford cheaper and less hassle transportation to explore the region.

Accommodation

Pan Kled Eco Hill Villa – 8.4 rated in Booking.com

Plus: Quiet and homey environment, motorcycle parking, including proper breakfast (choice of Thai or Western style), good value for money, very responsive staffs.

Minus: Hot water heater not working (however, they offered a room switch due to the inconvenience), location is far from the city center so a private transportation mode is a must.

Pan Kled Villa Room
First Day

We arrived in Chiang Rai quite late enough on a several hours bus drive from Chiang Mai. From the bus station, we took a grab car service directly to the Pan Kled hostel. Upon arriving, we checked in, had a late supper of Thai fried rice, and get a rest for tomorrow.

Renting a Bike

First thing first on the morning, renting a motorbike for the journey. Near the clock tower, there were lots of choice for Motorcycle rental. Our choice fell to the ST Motorcycle Rental.

ST Motorcycle Rental – near the clock tower – Jetyod Road

The cheapest alternative was the 125cc scooter with a cost of 250 baht per day. The deposit is a must but you can leave your passport as a substitute, which I strongly do not recommend because you need to keep your passport on your side every time wherever you go. The deposit was around 2000-3000 baht.

Fuels – for the second day full trip:
Chiang Rai – Golden Triangle (72 km)

Golden Triangle – Mae Sai (25 km)

Mae Sai – Chiang Rai (62 km)

Chiang Rai – White Temple – Singha Park – BANDAAM – Blue Temple (60 km)

Total journey was around 219 + intra city = 225 km

Bike journey from Mae Sai to Chiang Rai

We refueled 2 times of 91 RON gasoline on a total amount of around 7 litres (170 baht) . An average of 32 km/litre consumption, not bad eh? The total cost of transportation all over Chiang Rai per person:

170 baht + 250 baht = 420 baht / 2 person = 210 baht per person

IT IS FREAKING CHEAP! I strongly recommend you guys to use motorbike, and if you have more budget you can go for a higher cc bike to have faster journey. The maximum speed of the scooter was 80 km/hour, while the limit of the highway was 100 km/hour.

The long 1061 road

My route was Chiang Rai – Golden Triangle – Mae Sai. The other alternative was Chiang Rai  – Mae Sai – Golden Triangle. Just take the long 1061 road from Chiang Rai to reach Golden Triangle, the road was really smooth with only few of cars or local motorbike passing by. Upon reaching the Mae Sai from Golden Triangle, we were stopped by the local police for a passport and licence check. After showing my international driving licence, they let us go.

*There were some articles and blogs that telling the story on Thai police stopping and asking money from some tourists, but I do not think that is really the case. If you are wearing a helmet, having your licence, and behaving courteous then you are good to go.

the Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle was the largest opium producer area in the world alongside the Golden Crescent in Afghanistan.  It is the junction of the Mekong and Ruak river which is also a border of the Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. The things to offer here are the view of the junction, the big sitting Buddha statue, and the House of Opium. There are two places that shows the opium related things: Hall of Opium and House of Opium. I did not go to the former one, since already visited the House of Opium.

Interesting things on the House of Opium: a story on how the drug addiction habit was actually started as a recreational activity on the early years, how they found out the opium turned out to produce the opium from the poppy, and on the end of the museum they show the effect of opium consumption. A recreational activity turned out to be a commodity business that powering the nations’ economy in the world war’s era.

There is a legend of the Mekong giant catfish as well. It is the Pangasianodon gigas which is known as Patin in Indonesia. It is also observed in the Kalimantan river as their habitat and local people consumed it as a source of protein.

Opium Museum
Mae Sai

Mae Sai is a city in the north of Chiang Rai, it is a border city between Burma and Thailand. The city is small but lively. We visited Mae Sai on the way back from the Golden Triangle using the west side road. Must visit places here are:

  1. The border market
  2. Wat Phra That Doi Wao
  3. The Big Buddha statue

All of the three are close nearby, but make sure you ride a motorbike for a convenient commuting. You can basically park your bike and get off for a place, then get in the bike to move to another places.

While exploring the market, I found an interesting traditional cardigan-like clothing. The lady owner was a Thai and the store assistant was a Burmese. You can identify the Burmese with a gold colored paint smear in their face. The clothes was so comfy and had an nice color combination, made me having bought the thing for 600 baht. I know it could be more cheaper but I like the shop owner and the assistant, and more importantly the clothes itself. We left at around 5 PM from Mae Sai, just before the sun set. On the way back, we passed by the famous Tham Luang cave where in 2018 twelve Thai boys trapped in.

Border side to Burma
Border control to Burma
Big Buddha
Scorpion Temple
Mae Fah Luang market

On the way back home to Chiang Rai, we passed by a crowded street near the Mae Fah Luang university area. Some street food vendors selling khai tot, crepes, thai tea, fried food, and waffle ball should not be missed. We took a break as well to stretch and also trying some foods.

Mae Fah Luang Food Market

the Clock Tower at 7 PM

Arriving at Chiang Rai, it was almost 7 and we proceed to the Clock Tower. At 7 PM, it showed a light show with music on the background. It was quite okay, but the traffic and crowd around slightly disturb the ambiance. I decided to come back at midnight to enjoy the clock tower.

Clock Tower at 7 PM

After that, we went to the night market just nearby to have a dinner. I devoured a portion of Pad Thai (which is I like most among all Pad Thai I tried in Thailand, I think it is the most authentic one) in the food bazaar just beside the night market. There was a live music on the food bazaar, local artist singing Thai songs. After eating, we explored a bit on the night market and had a one hour Thai massage. My first time trying the Thai massage and I liked it how they stretch our body after a long riding hours from Mae Sai. For massage, most of the parlor there will offer the same price (200 baht per hour for Thai massage, and around 300 bahts for traditional oil massage).

Jetyod Road

Even though I was exhausted, a Tottenham Premier League game could not be missed! So I searched for a nearby sports bar, and found out that the Jetyod Road where I rented my bike was full of bars at night. After looking around for the most comfy place, I chose the Cat Bar which is actually the most visited bar. After parking my motorbike on the side of the street across the bar, I sat and ordered a Singha beer. That was a good night, Tottenham trashed Everton with a 6-2 win!

Jetyod Road Bar

After the Full time whistle was blown and the bar was about to close, I rode my bike to see the Clock Tower at late night. It was nearly 1 AM so nobody was there, I could enjoyed the enthralling clock tower with no traffic on the street.

Clock Tower at Midnight
Second Day
White Temple

Wat Rong Khun is the most mainstream place in Chiang Rai. It is very crowded even in the morning. To be honest, I found this place as the most overrated. The concept of the hell depicted in the yard is quite interesting but apart from that, it is merely a touristy place. You need to pay an admission fee of 50 baht to enter the area. Moving on from here, we departed to the Singha Park.

Wat Rong Khun
Singha Park

Singha Park has lot to offer for a family. They have a restaurant, outdoor games, a mini farm, and a tea plantation sites. They also offer lots of good spot for photo-taking as well. The only thing is that the price of food is quite pricy, if you decided to go all-in backpacker style then you should bring your own food or skip the food in Singha Park to avoid the pricy restaurant there. I was tempted to try the climbing wall activity that costed me 150 baht (quite expensive right?) and my friend tried the zip line ride that she really enjoyed.

Bandaam Museum

This museum was promoted by the famous Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee. I enjoyed how the artist make a concept of hell into a complex, but somehow some display’s concept was seemed forced. My favorite display was the round mini house where some chairs placed on the circumference border inside the house. In the middle was a skin of a dead crocodile. It is weird, but the lighting and acoustic was good making it enthralling to sit inside. Moreover, this place is okay to visit (very touristy as well just like the Wat Rong Khun) but do not expect much from this.

Bandaam Museum
Blue Temple

This was our last destination in Chiang Rai before catching up the evening flight to Bangkok. This temple was actually better than the white one, in my view. It was still full of tourist but the architectural is better than the white. The afternoon light spraying on the temple building made it even enjoyable.

Blue Temple

Returning the bike and getting our deposit, we then hurried to the airport which is quite far from the city. Our grab driver was pretty skillful as she knew the shortcut to the airport as well so we arrived very early. The flight was also delayed, so we spent several hours waiting inside the airport.

Total Expenditure in Chiang Rai

4,154 baht

Rent a bike 2 days                        500
Gasoline First 91                          90
House of Opium entry                       50
Coconut @golden triangle                   35
Sun hat                                   120
Snacks 7-11                                55
Lunch (sweet sour pork+rice+americano)    230
Traditional clothing Mae Sai              600
Snacks Mae Fah Luang                       30
Dinner Pad Thai                            60
Thai massage + tip                        240
Beer at Cat Bar                            80
Gasoline Second 91                         80
White temple admission                     50
Singha Park lunch                         210
Singha Park climbing                      150
Bandaam admission                          80
Snack at blue temple                       55
Dinner                                     49
Accommodation for 2 nights               1150
Bus ticket to Chiang Rai                  240

Tyanna Coffee, a coffee gem in North Sumatera

Our coffee hunter team

Perks of being a business traveler, we do get a lot of chance to visit an offbeat area. This time I had a chance to visit the southern part of North Sumatera, which is the Padang Sidempuan city. If it is not business trip, this city definitely is not on my destination list. Based on the recommendation from a local,  we managed to visit a coffee plantation site in Desa Sugi (approximately 40 mins from Padang Sidempuan).

Where is it?

The place is managed by Mr Harahap and it is called the Tyanna Coffee. It was quite far from the road, but should be manageable to reach the address since other village people will easily direct you to the infamous coffee plantation. We took a 30 minutes break to taste the coffee while hearing a short course about coffee from Mr. Harahap. They served us two different coffee with paper and french press brewing technique, and I found that the french press one was tastier.

Traditional paper drip
French press

Is coffee bad for your stomach?

Well, based on the lecture from Mr. Harahap that coffee usually perceived as the acidic liquid that damage your stomach meanwhile the perception is not fully right. The acidity level of the coffee varies within the bean type and the species of the coffee. Within one species of a coffee bean, the acidity level also varies on the grade of the bean. Grade A to C explains its “premium”ity of the beans. The grade can be told from the appearance of the bean, the good or the premium one looks perfect round without any defect. Worms inside the bean may also affect the acidity level of the bean. The bean farmer always sort their beans into those grades. On most cases when you buy the coffee powder, the quality of the beans are that of the mixed one (middle quality). If you have a stomach problem and still want to enjoy coffee, look for a premium coffee!

Dried luwak coffee
Medium level coffee bean

 

 

 

 

 

If you happen to travel around this area, make sure to drop a visit to this place! Truly a coffee gem in the hidden area in North Sumatera.

Sunrise Hike in Broga Hill

During my last visit to KL, I planned to do the morning hike on some hills nearby KL. Based on the recommendation of my Malay friends, two places came out with one of them is the Bukit Broga. I quickly browsed through about Broga and decided to pay a short visit. The only problem I found that it is only reachable by personal car and no public transport available toward and inward from the site. That did not stop me and in the last minutes I booked a hotel nearby Kajang, hoping that some Grab drivers are up already in the morning to get me to the Broga Hill.

*Trip was on Saturday 29 September 2018, clear weather, not raining the day before so the trail condition is okay.

Accommodation

I stayed in Uptown Imperial Hotel Kajang, with the consideration of proximity toward Broga Hill. I just went there directly from the KLIA without booking the hotel beforehand. I guess it will be safe to get a room there since no tourist attractive place on that area (Kajang). The place was nice, proper for a good rest place before your hike in the morning. There was a cafe and a spa just beside the hotel (Uptown Cafe and Imperial Spa). Arriving quite late, I decided to have a late supper (Nasi Goreng Kampung and Sate Kajang) and rest for the early hike in the next morning.

Itinerary

05:30 Wake up, look up for a Grab driver. No nearby drivers in the first 10 mins but luckily got one after that. Journey took 15 mins to Broga Hill.

06:00 Arriving at the parking lot of Broga Hill, paying 1 RM for entrance fee. Had a breakfast (sliced watermelon for 1 RM) in a foodstall. They also sell nasi lemak and snacks.

06:11 Reaching the Broga Hill entrance gate. Walking for a while until meeting some guys that asking for 1 RM for hiking fee.

06:25 Reached the 1 st hill. Noticing a lots of people were there already.

06:38 Reached the 2nd hill. Sunrise was not there yet.

07:00 Reached the top after queuing (just know that Broga Hill is a very popular place on the weekends) and did not get the beautiful sunrise. There was a saying that first timer would not get the sunrise, you need to be very lucky to get one on your first hike.

After enjoying the moment at the top and taking pictures, I went down through the other trail than the one I used on the way up. Stop near the bottom for a 5 RM Coconut water and finally reaching the gate at 08:00.

Problem of going back

The problem after the hike is getting a car back to the hotel. I tried to use my phone but the connection was just terrible (XL Axiata Priopass), in the end I did not manage to get a connection to order a Grab. Then I asked for a help from Samly (this guy is the son of the lady that guard the parking entrance) to order a Grab for me. We chatted for a while until the Grab driver arrived. Thank you Samly for the kind help!

So the conclusion I want to say is now it is very easy to go to Broga Hill without using personal car. You can use Grab (lots of Grab drivers in Kajang area woke up earlier on the weekends to carry tourist) to get there and going back from there. The thing I did not explore is the other accommodation which is closer to the Broga Hill. I guess there will be closer alternative than the Kajang area (Broga Hill is in Semenyih, 15 mins from Kajang) because I notice the University of Nottingham is just 5 mins away from Broga Hill. There would be an accommodation option nearby the campus.

My thought

Broga Hill is a nice place to have a morning hike for an exercise, the steep hill is also interesting to climb. The view is okay and would be good for chilling in the morning with your friend or family. However, I found that Broga Hill is too famous that makes it too crowded in the weekends. Suggesting to go in the weekdays so you can explore it to the fullest.

The view from the top

3 Days Belitung Island Trip

I always cherish the Eid Mubarak season every year. This year, I went on a 3 days trip to Belitung during eid mubarak with a very good friend of mine. Credit to her, for most of the pictures here. Our itinerary was like this:

First day (half day): East Belitung (Tarsius, Kwan Im Temple, Ahok Village, Manggar, and Laskar Pelangi village), Tanjung Pandan for sunset

Second day (full day): Hopping island + Bukit Berahu

Third day (half day): Kaolin crater + Laskar Pelangi beach, souvenirs shopping

East Belitung

Tarsius park

Forget about the national park where the Tarsius is, you cannot find the Tarsius there anymore. I strongly suggest skipping this attraction.

Kwan Im Temple

This is a Confucianism temple, worshiping the goddess of universal love. This is located on the far east of Belitung, far from everywhere. If you want to get your luck and life to be read, you can try here. It is using the ciamsi or qian shi method that had been used since the hundred years ago. Basically you will pour some wooden sticks (after praying in the altar toward gods) and count the numbers of wooden sticks. The number you get will be matched with the poetry, mainly talk about wisdom, praise (good), or warning (not good luck). Anyway, fun things to try.

 

 

Manggar

Coffee everywhere! A small villages in the East, with a lovely beach. We just passed by the village and went straight to the beach for lunch. There is nothing worth visit in the village itself, since the attractions in East Belitung are Laskar Pelangi and Ahok villages, and the Kwan-Im temple.

Laskar Pelangi village

There are two main attractions regarding the Laskar Pelangi. The Andrea Hirata museum and the school building that is being used for the shooting. We went to both places but chose to enter the latter only. We were not really interested in the literature things and the admission ticket is pricy. Because I was not into the Laskar Pelangi hype that time, these places were just okay. If you mean to go to East Belitung for another purpose, these places can be your 10 minutes short stop (only for taking pics). But a special visit just for these places are not worth the long distance. Just my two cents.

Ahok village

Just like Laskar Pelangi village, just okay for me. Ahok is the famous politician in Indonesia, who was born in Belitung. Basically in Ahok Village, you can visit Ahok’s childhood home and neighborhood. Not really interesting for me. We just paid a short visit to buy some souvenirs and took some pics.

 

Hopping around the islands

This is a full-day activity. What you do is actually hopping from one island to another islands in the area of north-western beach (Pantai Tanjung Kelayang). The typical islands visited are: Pulau Pasir, Pulau Lengkuas, Pulau Kelayang, Pulau Batu Berlayar, and Pulau Burung Garuda (this is not accessible, only viewing for afar).  You need to book the trip beforehand and you can pay later after the island hopping finished. That time I rent Bang Midun’s boat (081949245345) after seeing other’s blog review about his service. His crew is the best! They were always ready wherever we want to go, no complaint at all when we were slacking in some island to chill and drinking coconut water, simply the best! And anyway, one of the guy took good picture as well! The price is around 500,000 IDR. When you choose to use other’s service, bear in mind that the price of one boat should be around that range.

 

The tips for island hopping:

  1. Bring your own lunch from the main island. There are some food stalls in Kelayang and Lengkuas Island, but would not be enough for a fulfilling lunch. You will need a complete meal because you will do a lot of physical activities!
  2. Apply a really good sunblock, and re-apply. The sun is really strong there!
  3. Wear a comfy outfits and always be ready to get wet.
  4. If you start in the morning, make the Pulau Pasir as your first destination because the later it gets, the less accessible it is. The high tide will make the island disappear.
  5. Bring snacks for your energy booster: chocolate and sweets. Do not forget to bring biscuits to feed the fish.

My favourite island is the Kelayang island. The famous rainbow granites are here. It only took several minutes walk into the mini forest to reach there. There were a lot of big stones but the slope is okay, so everyone will have no difficulty to reach it. I reached it after the noon so the tide was quite high already (waist level). To get a good picture, suggest coming earlier to have lower tide level.

Seafood eating spree

We tried two seafood restaurant on the first and third day there. The first one was on the East Belitung and the last one was on the West.

1. RM Sinar Laut Ayung BB

In East Belitung, there are three big restaurants that tourist usually visit: Fega Restaurant, Sinar Laut Ayung BB, and Rudi Fakistan. Ayung BB and Rudi Fakistan are located side by side on Pantai Nyiur Melambai. Both of them served fresh seafood, cooked in local style. We decided to try the Ayung BB because Rudi Fakistan was closed that time (Ramadhan holiday). The verdict about their foods:

Must try their fish soup (Gangan) that is served in fresh herbs with a sour and sweet taste. The others are just normal menu that you can have in any Indonesian seafood restaurant. But, the seafood there are just so fresh! For Jakartans like me who used to eat the not-so fresh sea creatures, Belitung seafood was just tantalizingly good. If only they do not contain so much bad cholesterol though! Total costs for three people were around 200-300 thousands.

2. RM Amat

Here you can enjoy a good seafood with a sea view, because they have a outdoor seating concept just beside the sea. While waiting for your food, you can play at the beach. There are swings nearby so I guess this restaurant is very suitable for family. The food was okay but again, the freshness was just perfect! Look how nice the squid from nearb sea was served with the Padang sauce on the picture. Hmmm. The total cost was almost the same like the first restaurant.

 

 

Coffee everywhere!

Kong Djie coffee is the most famous chain of coffee shops here. It existed since 1943 and all Belitungnese just loved this brand. I tried only one branch in Tanjung Pandan beach (amongst several branches all over Belitung), while waiting for the sunset in Tanjung Pandan beach.

Verdict about the coffee: okay, nothing special about the flavour though.

 

Second eating spree – Hakka Chinese Food

Atep vs Acin

These are the KFC and McDonalds of the Belitung noodle. We tried Acin’s and we loved it. The noodle was not the typical Chinese noodle which is served dry. This one is served alongside some sweet sauce and some fried fishcakes, eggs, and beansprouts. The taste is more strong on the sweetness but somehow still have the refreshing taste. Must try!

Hakka restaurant

We tried a Hakka restaurant based on the driver’s suggestion. I totally forgot the name of the signature dish. It was a pork based dish, served with pork stomach and intestines. Loved this restaurant as well. Must try the local Hakka dish of the Belitungnese.

 

 

 

 

Closing remarks: Belitung is underrated. I love this destination so much. I am not a big fan of beach but still I had a good time there. The foods are also amazing, even though we did not have time to explore all. The price is cheap as well and the beach is still relatively clean. People are also nice! Come and visit Belitung!

*they are building a good hotel and golf range on the seaside so you can even consider playing golf here after doing some water activities