Friday, December 18, 2015

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series 2015: Sunrise and Sunset on Doi Patang, Chiang Rai

It's that time of the year again, when I sleep without air-conditioning and wake up feeling totally blessed by the cool dry breeze blowing into my apartment. It's also a reminder that I have to do my customary annual post/s to beef up my Thailand Winter Getaway Series.

The stars have aligned this year to allow me to go to Chiang Rai for a charity trip with the Singapore-Thai Chamber of Commerce. Even though the schedule was pretty tight, as we often had to make distributions at villages in the early mornings before breakfast and even at night after dinner in the pitch-dark under a night sky FULL of stars, I cannot help but admire how beautiful Chiang Rai really is.

The usual captivating view during our drives.
As we drove through the mountains from village to village, the scenery reminded me a lot of South Africa, while to others, Switzerland.

So of course, even though it was a charity trip and a lot of work had to be done, our team took the opportunity to admire the sunrise and sunset when we were staying for a night on Doi Patang. When we arrived, it was already evening, and sunset happened right outside our rooms. We literally watched the sun disappear into the mountains, changing colour from deep yellow, orange then finally red in a space of 15 to 20 minutes.

The beginning of the end
My camera cannot do the view justice, but I hope you understand what I am trying to portray anyway

The following morning, at 5.15am, we began a short ascent up Doi Patang to experience sunrise, and boy was it an experience of a lifetime. We were basically above a sea of clouds awaiting the morning sun to pop out, and the entire atmosphere was just amazing.

My comrades looking like they were sitting on the moon
Above a sea of clouds. Photo credit:onghq

Following this experience, I do have a few things for you to take note of if you are considering a winter getaway in Chiang Rai.

1. Be well-equipped

It will be cold. Especially in December and January. Temperatures can easily drop to around 10degC or even less in the mountains. You will be waking up at 5am in the morning to start your journey up, so not only will it be cold, it will also be windy. It helps to be well-prepared for the cold.

It will be pitch dark during your ascent, so some good hand-held lighting is crucial for a safe climb.

Lastly, you need to be confident of every step you take, whether its during the ascent or descent, and trust me, the way down is a little more exciting than the way up. I was nursing a twisted ankle and wore leather shoes, so I had to be extra careful every step I took. The right footwear is absolutely crucial for such an expedition.

The careful descent. Photo credit: strikingjacqpot

2. Be mentally prepared

Even though the sun rises and sets everyday, it does not necessarily mean you will get to enjoy it. The sea of clouds do not form everyday. Sometimes, it will rain, and the terrains will get too challenging to overcome unless you are really very fit and used to such treks. We were lucky we got to enjoy the best of both worlds, but my advice is to be mentally prepared, especially if things do not work out. There is still a lot to savour in Chiang Rai and you can always go again.

Finally, I want to emphasize the fact that this does NOT have to be a winter getaway. You could do this anytime if you are in Chiang Rai. I just happened to be here during winter, when the chill gives it a whole different feeling compared to other times of the year.

Till next year folks, enjoy winter while it lasts!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Stranger's Bangkok Rediscovery: 3 Tips for visiting ArtBox@The Em District

Update 19 March 2016:

This latest version of Artbox is built on the plot slightly behind the area used in December, which is now Dinoland. It feels a little more enclosed, but still pretty comfortable. However it seems like food has become the majority, taking up possibly a good 60 to 70% of the stalls. I also did not see any booths with artists drawing portraits for visitors. So please visit when you are very hungry, preferably after a visit to the loo!

Look out for this signage for the walkway leading you into ArtBox. If you see Dinoland, it means you are near!


Before the cool winter winds start blowing by the end of this week (my prediction), I have used some of my rare "me" time to bring you my verdict of the much-hyped ArtBox, a mobile pop-up weekend night bazaar that gets its name because of its unique use of containers as their stalls.

Get down Exit 6 at Phrom Phong BTS Station, walk past Benjasiri Park, keep left and you won't miss this.
Everything made from containers, thus Art Box!
And of course, ArtBox is renowned for attracting high quality vendors, many whom are still on their notoriously-long waiting list eager to showcase their products. I was thus really looking forward to a feast for all my senses.

Product-wise, most of the stalls were selling clothes and ladies' accessories. I am a bit old now to be interested in purchasing clothes off the streets especially if I am not given the chance to try them, so in this aspect, most stalls did not attract me at all. Of course there were some stalls that sold interesting items like camera straps, wooden cutlery or home decoration products which were slightly more interesting for this old man, but I would have liked to see more.

Fashionable camera straps and leather camera casings.

Full of street fashion like this one

I would actually recommend you to check out the artists available though. There were numerous stalls with artists offering to draw your portrait, and they all specialise in different techniques, for example they could draw with pencil, markers, water colours etc., and portray you according to their personal artistic styles. It could be amusing to get a portrait drawn, but do be prepared to wait, as they need to spend 30 minutes per portrait on the average, so you might need to wait up to a couple of hours for your final product on a busy day.

One of the many groups of friendly artists on show.

Things got crazier when it came to the food, which took up at least half of the stalls. Aside of container stalls, there were many food trucks parked all over the place as well, so do stroll around if you want to see all available items before starting your meal.

Fried squid much larger than your face.

A lady using a machine to mash up everything inside a single orange and sells it as Juice on the Rock.
One of the funkiest looking grass jelly I have ever seen.
One of the cocktail trucks, with the most attractive female drink-vendor at Art Box.
You could shoot your friend with one of these Bloody drinks.
As ArtBox is partly catered for tourists, you can also find many stalls selling typical traditional Thai dishes like Tom Yum Soup, grilled meat skewers and Pad Thai. In spite of the dazzling array of choices, I couldn't make up my mind, so I decided to go on a mission looking for the most handsome chef at ArtBox to cook me dinner. So here comes my tips while visiting ArtBox @ The Em District:

1. The most handsome chef (according to the Stranger in Bangkok):

Tadaa! Good taste? Flawless hair despite his work!

He's at a yellow food truck named Answer Cheeze, which serves a yummilicious cheese sandwich.
Full review of Answer Cheeze here.

2. Come late, and hungry

As the temperatures have not dropped to Bangkok's usual 'wintry' depths yet, ArtBox is significantly cooler later into the night. I suggest 8.30pm onwards, and hungry, because food might just about be the most interesting thing here.

3. Come after you have used the toilet

The toilets at ArtBox are mobile toilet trucks, those that you have to pay and even guys have to queue for, and are probably not very clean. So as much as possible please use the toilet before entering ArtBox.

There are more than enough seats for you to make yourselves comfortable in the accompaniment of live music.


Considering it's a stone's throw from Phrom Phong BTS Station this month, ArtBox has never been more accessible. I was slightly disappointed myself by the slight lack of size and stalls, but probably that's because it was a bit warm (having just come back from Chiang Rai didn't help) and that I was all alone. So if you are reading this, I feel that this month's ArtBox is definitely worth a visit, especially if the temperature drops by the end of this week.

Note: ArtBox @ The Em District will be open every Friday to Sunday this month from 5pm till late.

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