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britman Chiang Mai - A travel report by Brit
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Chiang Mai,  Thailand - flag Thailand
13771 readers

britman's travel reports

Thailand Self Drive – Are You Crazy?

  28 votes
Page: 1 2
After witnessing Bangkok’s traffic nightmares…not even in my wildest dreams or maddest moments did I ever contemplate that I would hire a car and drive myself for 3 weeks and 4000km around the countryside of rural Thailand - but I’m so glad that I did.

Trusty companion on the 4000km roundtrip from Koh Samui to Chiang Rai
Trusty companion on the 4000km roundtrip from Koh Samui to Chiang Rai
I have always had the thirst for visiting more of Thailand than its capital, so after making my first trip north to Chiang Mai I liked what I saw. On subsequent trips to Phuket and Koh Samui in the south I found that hiring a vehicle and driving was not that much different than at home in the UK. They drive on the left; the same as at home; there is not as much traffic as in Europe or the United States; driving was more orderly than in India or Indonesia and, most importantly, road signs are in English as well as Thai. The final persuasion was finding that Michelin produce an English language “Green Guide” and a Road Atlas covering the whole country – so what was holding me back? Thailand is approximately the size of France, so it is quite a big country to tour completely in just a few weeks. It does have an extensive system of integrated well numbered roads and a lot of the routes are dual carriageways. Attentive petrol (gas) stations are in abundance and often linked with 711 type grocery operations or local restaurants. Gas is cheap for the Europeans to buy, at around 25% of the European price. These variables began to make driving a pleasure again. Car hire can be expensive but my rate for a brand new Toyota 4 x 4 was about THB1800 per day which is less than one half of it’s UK rate, albeit a discounted rate for one months hire. The Thai mobile phone infrastructure is extensive so even texters will not feel homesick here and Gappies (gap year) students beware - your mother will always be able to reach you! My tip: - buy a Thai sim card – local calls are then so much cheaper. Of course planning and pre-booking where to stay can be fun - but it is much more exciting and adventurous to just take off, and plan as you go! No need to pre-book when you do this - just take pot luck! Travel at your own pace, stay longer, move on quicker…whatever. Money expended on guidebooks before you leave will be returned time and time again during your trip.

Favourite spots:
The meandering Mekong river between Thailand and Laos in the “Golden Triangle”
The meandering Mekong river between Thailand and Laos in the “Golden Triangle”
A few lasting, memorable and recommendable locations:-

1. Prachuap Khirikhan: - A small fishing town that looks like a miniature Rio de Janeiro – without the slums or tourists.
2. Hua Hin: - a most sophisticated Thai resort with western hotels and tourists too.
3. Kanchanaburi – The Bridge over the River Kwai plus War Graves to put a lump in your throat.
4. Driving along the Thai/Burmese border, seeing real rural life and staying in towns with few tourists. Mae Sot, Mai Hong Son and Mai Sariang.
5. Pai: - A small hidden away town loved by backpackers and a student chill out spot.
6. Chiang Mai – So completely different to Bangkok, Thailand’s second city is refreshing, excitingly different.
7. Chiang Rai and north to the Golden Triangle: - where you really are away from it all. The meandering Mekong River is a lasting memory as you glance across from Thailand to Laos.
8. Ayuthaya - Wat Ratchaburana
9. Koh Samui – a dream island.

What's really great:
Paduang "Long Necked" Weaver
The friendliness of the Thai people coupled with our freedom to go where and when we wanted made this trip very special. Similarly, being able to stay or eat wherever and whenever we chose, allowed the ultimate in freedom. Thailand is a relatively safe country to travel in, particularly by car; where you seem to have the whole country to yourself. Escaping fellow travellers is certainly becoming unique and mixing with the locals instead is a genuine travel experience. Travelling north along the Thai Burmese border from Mae Sot to Mae Sariang and Mae Hong Son the scenery becomes almost mystical. There is very little vehicular traffic and you see Thai hill country life as it really is. We saw working elephants, Burmese refugees building their homes with natural materials; every turn in the road brought something new. It was intriguing to find the controversial “long neck” Padaung hill tribe village where the womenfolk wear brass neck rings – which eerily elongates their neck.

Antique Teak home near to Chiang Mai
Antique Teak home near to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand is the 700 year old former capital of the “Lanna Kingdom”. The city and surrounding northern hill areas are characterised by a completely different, but most pleasing architectural and artistic style. Chiang Mai contrasts totally with Bangkok and the southern tourist beach resorts; it is quieter, less frenetic and somehow more cultured.

Many traditional handicrafts are manufactured in and around Chiang Mai, silk, cottons, lacquer ware, celadon pottery and brightly painted umbrellas. If its furniture or antiques that you desire, head for the Hang Dong area where they also sell souvenirs. The night bazaar in Chiang Mai also is a good souvenir shopping place but do remember to barter and certainly pay no more than one half of the first asking price.

Good places to visit around Chiang Mai are Wat Doi Suthep – one of Thailand’s best temples and the unforgettable Mae Sa Elephant Camp ( .

Hill Country Children at Mae Sa
Hill Country Children at Mae Sa
Thailand has a superb choice of hotels of all classes - generally they are at a fraction of prices charged in the west. The more you travel away from tourist populated areas, the cheaper rooms become, here hotels essentially cater for Thai’s; nevertheless hotel rooms costing from just a couple of hundred baht are usually spotlessly clean. Real discounted bargains can be found in some bigger chain hotels particularly off season.
A few recommended hotels
1. Prachuap Khiri Khan – Hadthong Hotel – From 700 double to 1300THB for a suite!
2. Hua Hin: - Sofitel Central & Hilton are both upmarket five star hotels. They are centrally placed to walk to the centre of Hua Hin. (Check their websites for the best deals)
3. Chiang Mai – Sheraton is a short Tuk-Tuk ride from the centre. Incredible value at around THB3500 per night.
4. Chiang Rai The Wiang Inn is centrally placed and handy to stroll around the city.
5. Mae Hong Son – Imperial Tara Hotel – poolside rooms cost a few baht more.

Bringing in the catch at Prachuap Khiri khan
Bringing in the catch at Prachuap Khiri khan
In the hill country and rural areas there are no clubs at all. Traditional life in Thailand is a far cry from sophisticated night life. In Kanchanaburi on the River Kwai huge disco barges ply for private hire - their noise is cataclysmic and their clients invariably Thai. In Hua Hin there is a wide choice of nightlife – check with your hotel where is hot! Frequently, the best nights out are to be found in restaurants, bars or the hotel itself. Chiang Mai has enough nightlife to keep you happy until the early hours – but of course all Thailand’s clubs and bars now close at 1.00am.

Elephants at Mae Sa Camp
Elephants at Mae Sa Camp
Again rural areas and small towns will have few bars. In Thailand “pubs” are mainly bars, restaurants or, both combined. They are always friendly and both male and female farang customers feel equally at home. Everywhere the local tipples of Singha, Chang or Leo, the excellent lager type beers, are sold by the glass or the bottle. Sang-Som Similian is a magnificent export quality rum – delicious mixed with coca-cola. Again, all at a fraction of western prices!

The best two pubs in Chiang Mai are the Red Lion (an English Pub) next door to an atmospheric German Pub, both by the night market opposite to McDonalds (if you must). Both pubs serve excellent western and Thai food and cater for mainly ex-pats and tourists. The Irish Pub is a short Tuk-Tuk ride away in the old city but again - great food, booze and even Guinness on draft.

Wherever you stop in Thailand you are sure to find sustenance. The toast is “chock dee kap” or good luck, so raise your glass and enjoy!

Wat Ratchaburana Ayutthaya
Wat Ratchaburana Ayutthaya
Thai people constantly graze their way throughout the day, eating small amounts often. Consequently food is sold from dawn to dusk. Food is everywhere, stalls at street corners or roadsides, through to swanky hotels and restaurants. Everything food wise is so affordable when you travel around Thailand. The bonus is that in over 30 years of visiting and eating in Thailand I have never once been stricken with tummy troubles.

Plern Smud Restaurant on the Beach Road in Ketchikan Khirikhan; - Absolutely fresh sea food and the most delicious steamed crab with fried rice – all for a few baht.

Whole Earth, 88 Sri Donchai Road is one of Chiang Mai’s best -serves primarily Indian food in an old teak house – very romantic setting

“The Gallery” and “The Good View” both serve first rate Thai food. Situated on the eastern bank of the Ping River almost next door to each other on Charoen Rat Road Chiang Mai.

The German and English pubs on Huay Kaeo Road serve great food.

Other recommendations:
The end to a perfect day watching another spectacular sunset on Koh Samui
The end to a perfect day watching another spectacular sunset on Koh Samui
Tips and information:-

The best time to visit is October to March when the climate is hot and sunny

Currency: - 75 Thai Baht = £1. 40 = US$1. 52 =€1

An International driving licence is required.

Further reading and research:-
Guides by:- Michelin, (+ their great road atlas too)DK Guide, Lonely Planet, National Geographic.
Farang magazine sold in Thailand also gives great pertinent travel info.
3 month visas are granted to most nationalities on entry – check out at

Do try a proper Thai massage – a relaxing treat not to be missed.

Some interesting Thai web sites:

Published on Saturday December 18th, 2004

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Sat, Apr 04 2009 - 04:57 PM rating by maineart

Hi Britman, I googled what my wife and I plan to do this July. "DRIVE THROUGH THAILAND" and your report came up. I didn't need to look any further for more information it was all contained in your report. I would like to contact you for some specifics on vehicle rental names/locations and time and distance between locations and such. We would like to a similar trek.

Thu, Oct 27 2005 - 11:19 AM rating by etelka610

Brit, this report is fantastic! You obviously have a passion for Thailand. It is one of the countries I am keenest to travel to I shall be making the trip within the next 12 months - if all goes to plan... I shall certainly be referring to this for guidance, a great source of information. Thankyou.

Sun, Oct 16 2005 - 05:10 AM rating by joe_schmidt

Sounds like visiting Thailand is a must!


Sun, Apr 10 2005 - 04:03 PM rating by carolr

Hi Brit,
My son has just rewturned and brough me some chiangmai green tea which I have discovered I like, despite the huge ! leaves. Thank you for your wonderful report, it brought Thailand to lfe for me! Really good!

Mon, Jan 10 2005 - 09:35 PM rating by picasso

Wow ,one more Masterpeace ,i can't even find words how to express my filligs,i have been reading it over and over for a coupple of times.

Thank you Brit -*****+


Fri, Dec 31 2004 - 03:10 AM rating by fieryfox

I totally agree that the best way to explore a country is by self-drive! Not totally a crazy idea if you have the time. I particularly enjoy adventures and documentaries about 4x4 journeys into the countryside and this report offered the reader many useful insights before embarking on the journey. Thanks for sharing.

Wed, Dec 22 2004 - 12:52 AM rating by gloriajames

loved your report! keep it coming brit!!

Tue, Dec 21 2004 - 10:03 AM rating by mistybleu

Great report, very informative and with great illustrations.
Rgds Misty

Mon, Dec 20 2004 - 01:07 PM rating by bear495

ANother awesome report, Brit. I am so very thankful that I have your acquaintance. Great work!


Mon, Dec 20 2004 - 07:27 AM rating by esfahani

No comment! - simply good! Thanks, Ralph

Sun, Dec 19 2004 - 06:13 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

hii brit
marvelous report ,great to read ,you have narrated it very nicely..
well i have to learn a lot from you in report writing

Sat, Dec 18 2004 - 09:44 PM rating by magsalex

What a wonderful report. Loved the picture of the Hmong children - i taught , or tried to, in a Hmong school in Ban Khun Wang, north of Chiang Mai. Love this part of Thailand as i spent several months living there. Hoping to return in the not too distant future!

Sat, Dec 18 2004 - 02:33 PM rating by rangutan

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