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Na Nirand Romantic Boutique Resort

By Nicole Long

We have a new signature hotel partner in Chiang Mai – the Na Nirand Romantic Boutique Resort.  This resort offers everything our guests are looking for – a charming boutique property near the historic part of Chiang Mai along the Ping River waterfront, with good service, and a traditional aesthetic.

Nestled down a small soi (street) on the Ping Riverside, next to the Chai Mongkon Temple and a 5-10 minute walk from the Night Market, is a charming hideaway – the Na Nirand Romantic Boutique Resort.  This newly opened boutique property (Dec 2016) is half-wood Lanna-Colonial style and reminiscent of the traditional Thai house design from the late 19th century.  Forty-one out of the 45 rooms have a private balcony that overlooks the hotel’s tropical gardens and tranquil swimming pool, which is in view of the 100 year old Rain Tree.   The rooms are beautifully decorated with wood and rattan furniture, with accents of local textiles and handicrafts.  The four colonial suites are located in a heritage style house, with a private infinity pool and overlooking the Ping River.  They are individually themed (British-Indian, Burmese, Chinese and Siamese) and provide a private balcony, separate living space and a giant, luxurious bathroom with dual sinks, a rain shower room and a freestanding claw-foot bathtub.

In addition to the pool, the resort’s facilities include a full service spa, outdoor gym, library, conference rooms and laundry services. The Time Riverfront Restaurant, which includes a 360 degree rooftop bar, offers afternoon high tea and Thai Lanna/International fusion cuisine. The restaurant, located next to the 100 year old Rain Tree and the Ping River, gives guests one of the best views for breakfast.  Make sure to arrive early in the morning to sit at one of the much sought after riverside tables – you won’t regret it. The majority of the staff have worked at 5 star properties in Chiang Mai so you can be assured you will be receiving excellent, personalized service.

The resort is definitely what it claims to be – a romantic boutique hideaway.  Guests are given the opportunity to feel and experience the surrounding nature, traditional Lanna culture, warm Thai hospitality and ultimate relaxation.

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Hotel Review: Marndadee Heritage River Village

By Courtney Ridgel

To begin with, I LOVED the Marndadee Heritage River Village.  Fair enough, this particular property suits my personal tastes, but I feel confident that I will not be alone in appreciating this beautiful hotel.

This property seeks to encompass the feeling of ‘Old Thailand’ so there is a mix of colonial- style buildings and traditional reclaimed wooden houses with tiled roofs.  The property is situated right on the Ping River, so the setting is very peaceful and quiet, and in the spirit of a Thai village, there are small decorative rice paddies on the grounds.  The owners are avid collectors of art, sculptures, and antiques so the property boasts quite a collection displayed throughout the grounds, with unique pieces showcased in each room.  In addition, the original old trees and wells (now filled in and serving as flower pots for ferns) are interspersed between the buildings, as none of them were removed when the hotel was constructed.

In general, this property will be an excellent fit for travelers who are planning to spend more time in the countryside around Chiang Mai, visiting elephants, sightseeing, trekking, etc., and is perfect for those seeking relaxation, a beautiful view and peace and quiet with a romantic nostalgic ‘old-world’ feel.  The Marndadee Heritage River Village can accommodate families, family groups and couples.  The Rice Barn Villas in particular were designed for families, groups of friends or extended families with a three-bedroom option where three separate villas share an outdoor space together in the center, and a private outdoor space to relax beneath each villa.

All that said, this hotel falls in the category of ‘outside of town’.  I’m told that the hotel is normally about a 40 minute drive from the airport but while I was visiting, it took us a bit longer due to Loi Krathong traffic and the bridge along normal route was undergoing repairs which have since been completed.  This property is not particularly well suited for travelers who prefer to be situated at the center of the action in bustling downtown Chiang Mai. Going out to eat frequently may also be problematic, as there isn’t much nearby besides the river, the scenery and the local neighborhoods along the river.  That said, this property does offer a restaurant, spa, pool, fitness room, and free shuttle service to and from downtown Chiang Mai 4 set times a day to keep guests entertained.

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Thailand’s Famous Fresh Markets

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Thai food is famous around the world, and there is no better way to experience the real deal than to head to a local food market.  Here you’ll find just about everything under the sun and you’ll have the chance to dine out the way the locals do and enjoy the people-watching.  Thailand boasts dishes that are unique to each region so it is worth visiting multiple markets with a local guide who can help describe what you are seeing, smelling and sampling, and who can also translate and make suggestions for you (and let you know when to steer clear of things that may be too spicy or not properly cooked).

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

In Chiang Mai, Tien, explained the local specially encompasses a certain egg noodle soup (which was delicious) , but she also had me sample the local coffee, the best fried chicken that I have ever eaten in my life, fried pork rinds, fried water buffalo skin, a variety of fruit, a different noodle soup and as I was feeling bold, blood sausage soup, which I decided was not to my taste.  Pork dishes seem to be a particular favorite to the Thais.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

In Bangkok, Well led me to a local market (hidden down a maze of back alleys between the tall buildings) where fresh vegetables and spices are brought in daily from the countryside.  Here we sampled tamarind, fresh ginger, turmeric, a variety of candies made from sesame seeds, peanuts and honey, and admired the fresh flowers used in decorations, wedding ceremonies and as offerings at temples.  (I confess that I steered clear of the very large fried cockroaches- I’ve tried crickets before and so far that has been the extent of my bravery on eating bugs.)  The space for this market was donated by the Royal Family so there was also a shrine set up in their honor.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

If you find yourself drawn to food, we’d recommend our Bangkok’s Culinary Delights tour to sample more of Bangkok’s legendary street food.  I personally can’t wait to go back and try more of the savory soups and delicious grilled meats and fried fish I spotted.  If you want to learn to prepare these dishes yourself, we recommend taking a cooking class with Pantawan Cooking School in Chiang Mai, and Amita Thai Cooking School in Bangkok.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
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Alms-Giving in Laos & Thailand

The daily procession of monks Collecting Alms in Luang Prabang – Photo credit: Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Many travelers to Laos and Thailand choose to get up early at some point to partake in the daily alms-giving to the monks, otherwise known as ‘Tak Batt’.  ‘Tak’ comes from the act of giving food directly from your plate or bowl to the monk’s “batt” or alms bowl. .  Most of our travelers experience this in either Laos or Thailand or both, so we wanted to give a brief overview of what to expect, how this practice is different between the two countries, and the proper etiquette to use when joining in these experiences.

To begin with, throughout Southeast Asia, monks should be treated with the highest respect and women in particular should never touch monks, their robes or hand anything directly to them.  Many young men will spend a period of time as a monk for a number of reasons.  For poor families, sending their sons to the monkhood allows them to receive an education and skills that will serve them later in life.  Spending time as a monk is also thought to bring ‘merit’ to yourself and your family, and is thought to help round you out spiritually as a person.  One aspect of monkhood, in Laos and Thailand at least, is that you are meant to live piously off of ‘alms’ or donations from the local community.   For the locals, giving alms to the monks brings them ‘merit’.

A young monk in Luang Prabang – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

In Laos, particularly in Luang Prabang, there are large numbers of monks and multiple monasteries, with monks ranging from the very young to the very old.  At the first sight of dawn each morning, the temple bells ring and the monks line up single file, usually with the eldest monk in front, and walk down the streets near their temple.  The local people gather on the edges of the street to give alms – donations of food – to each monk that passes by.  To give alms, the locals will kneel on a mat laid out on the street, with their shoes removed, and a sash wrapped over one shoulder.

Me giving alms in Luang Prabang – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel (and the local lady who sold me the offerings)

As each monk passes, he will lift the lid on his alms bowl (a large metal bowl hung slung over his shoulder with a sash) and the townspeople will drop in a handful of food – usually fruit or rice.  There is no verbal communication between the monks and the townspeople.  Back at the temple the food is collected into a communal pile and evenly distributed.  If you choose to partake in this ritual, be sure to be properly dressed with your shoulders and knees covered and sash in place.

Only the elderly may sit in a chair; otherwise, you should kneel when presenting alms – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

If you choose to simply observe and photograph this spiritual practice, please be respectful.  You may notice other travelers jumping right in front of monks and jamming a camera lens right in their faces, and we respectfully request that you don’t do this.  Giving alms is a sacred practice for the local people, and monks are the most revered members of society.  Additionally, you may notice that people do this in particular to younger (child) monks.  While iconic, please keep in mind that these young monks are still sacred societal figures, and what’s more, they are also still children – please take care to respect and protect their rights.

The daily procession of monks in Luang Prabang – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

In Thailand, smaller groups of monks, usually around 1- 6 at a time, will set forth from their temples in the early morning.  You will spot vendors with small booths offering to sell food or lotus flowers which you may present as an offering.  When the monks come past, you’ll once again kneel at the edge of the road, with your shoes removed, and place the offering (if it is food) into their begging bowls.  In Thailand, the food is usually pre-packed in plastic or Styrofoam containers.  If presenting a lotus flower, you’ll set it on top of the bowl and the monk will then pick it up (don’t hand it directly to the monk.)  Once you present your offering, the monks will pour water on the ground in front of you, and chant a blessing for you, before moving on down the street.

A local vendor selling alms offerings in Chiang Mai – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

You can certainly partake in alms-giving on your own, but we recommend using our Journeys Within guides to improve the experience.  Our guides can help explain the proper technique to each step, help you purchase and prepare your offerings, and explain the significance of each ritual and translate for you as needed.  I’ve experienced it both ways – in Thailand, my guide Tien walked me through the process, explained everything, and made it a wonderful and enriching experience, and took photos for me.

Monks blessing alms-givers in Chiang Mai – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

In Laos, I walked out of my hotel with the intention of simply watching and taking a few photos, and a local woman approached me and offered to sell me a few offerings for a very cheap price. Figuring that I was here and might as well join in the moment, I agreed. She helped me wrap a scarf properly, offered a place for me to kneel and kept bringing me more offerings to hand the monks, and took a rather blurry photo of me giving alms with my cell phone, before proceeding to demand extra money, which fortunately I happened to have in my pocket – all in all quite a skillful hussle, but I chalked it up as being part of the experience, and noted it as something that wouldn’t happen under the watchful eye of a Journeys Within guide.

Me giving alms in Chiang Mai – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel (and my guide Tien)

Other tips about visiting sacred sites in Southeast Asia and partaking in religious ceremonies:

  • Dress properly when visiting active temples. Be sure to remove your hat and shoes before entering a temple.
  • In many Asian cultures the feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body while the head is considered the highest and most sacred part of the body. Do not sit with your feet towards the Buddha or another person– sit with your feet tucked behind you and don’t use your foot to point or motion “kicking”. Try not to cross your legs while sitting, especially in the presence of a monk.  This applies whether you are sitting on the floor or in a chair.  When sitting in a chair, keep your feet on the ground.
  • There are many sacred sites and items in Southeast Asia – please don’t touch sacred items, sites or statues without permission. Don’t sit with your back against a Buddhist image or statue.  If you purchase mementos, don’t keep Buddhist images or sacred objects in inappropriate places.
  • You may notice contribution boxes – although not required, it is appropriate to drop a small contribution into a donation box at a monastery or pagoda, especially if there is no entry fee for visiting the site. These donations help maintain the sites and are considered to help create good karma.
  • Many temples or historical sites will post signs that state that photography is not allowed. Even if there is no sign, please be respectful and consider not using the flash in places of worship.
  • Speak softly when in a temple. Even more so if monks or locals are present worshiping! When handing something to someone, or receiving something, use both hands. When you pay for something, hold the money in both hands when passing it to the receiver.
Morning alms in Luang Prabang – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel
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What you need to know when planning for Loi Krathong, and why you should book it with Journeys Within

Launching my sky lantern

By Courtney Ridgel

Loi Krathong is one of the most well-known Festivals in Southeast Asia and has been documented everywhere from National Geographic to Instagram many times over.   It had long been on my wish-list and last November, I was lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai to see Loi Krathong for myself.

A monk giving this couple a blessing for Loi Krathong

Loi Krathong is beautiful and holds a great historical, religious and cultural significance to the Thai people.  This festival typically falls in November, on the full moon of the 12th lunar month (which is November 4th this year) and Thais celebrate both this festival as both a Buddhist holiday, and as a chance to give thanks to the Ping River and the Water Goddess.  The festival is celebrated by releasing the iconic paper lanterns into the sky, and floating ‘Krathongs’ or small boats with leaves, candles, flowers and incense downriver.  The largest celebrations take place in Chiang Mai and are typically accompanied by a grand parade and street parties.

Krathongs are typically made from banana tree wood, flowers, leaves, incense and candles
Krathongs come in a variety of styles

One thing that became immediately obvious to me was that there are things you notice in person that you can’t necessarily tell from photos posted on the internet.  I was very glad that Journeys Within had made the arrangements for me as there are there are many factors worth considering in planning a Loi Krathong experience:

Lanterns floating high above Chiang Mai and the Ping River
  • Because this festival is beautiful, it has also become very popular among other travelers, particularly in Chiang Mai. This means that Chiang Mai will be very crowded during this time of year.  You can expect to see the streets full of people, and traffic moves very slowly.  Keep this in mind as all travel times will be longer than normal, especially when traveling to and from the airports – plan ahead and leave early.  As I was traveling with Journeys Within, I didn’t have worry about this, and could just relax and enjoy my time in Chiang Mai.
People crowd the river’s edge to launch their Krathongs
  • The same goes for restaurants – most restaurants don’t take reservations over Loi Krathong, and the ones that do will be very busy and full. Many of them hire college students to help out with the rush, so the service and English-speaking skills may not be entirely perfect.  This isn’t really a downside – sitting down for slow dinner at a restaurant on the river can be a wonderful way to pass the evening as you’ll have a great view of both the lanterns and the Krathongs, and often live music to enjoy.  Some restaurants even have stairs down to the water so you can launch your own lanterns and krathongs on the spot after dinner, and Journeys Within can make this happen for you.
The Riverside Bar & Restaurant features live music and a wonderful view of the river
Only a few restaurants will take reservations over Loi Krathong
  • Expect the flights traveling in and out of Chiang Mai to have delays or changes in flight times. Keep an eye on this, as the airlines may not give you much notice, if any and Google doesn’t always keep up.  The reason for this is that there are concerns about the floating lanterns getting caught in the jet engines during certain times of the day, particularly in the evening, so they try to work around the peak balloon-launching hours.  Fortunately, my Journeys Within guide monitored my changing flight schedules closely and made sure that I arrived at the airport at the proper time.
A woman launching her lantern into the sky
  • Hotels will likely fill up and prices will be more expensive over Loi Krathong, so it is best to plan ahead if you can to take advantage of the best deals. Journeys Within has contract rates with many partner hotels, so you’ll likely be able to get a better deal than you would trying to book the same hotels on your own during this period.
Waiting for my turn to float my krathong downstream
  • I insisted on striking out on my own (against the recommendations of my guide), intending to seek the heart of the action, and boy did I! This can be a wonderful adventure if it is what you are looking for, or it could ruin your whole evening.   The streets of Chiang Mai, particularly those close to the river, turn into a street party and it can take hours to wind your way through the foot, motorbike and car traffic.  The whole scene is a bit reminiscent of a super-sized college party with very strange food options and a lot of drunken revelers playing with fire (literally).  If this is your scene – go for it!  For families with younger kids or for older couples, I’d recommend sticking to the riverside restaurant option I mentioned above.   Alternatively, there are also river cruises available, some of them with a dinner option.  Keep in mind that the fireworks are launched over the river, so be prepared for a front-row seat.  Certain hotels in town, such as the Sala Lanna which is right on the river, also have rooftop bars where you can enjoy a cocktail and take in the view without navigating through the crowds in the streets.
The streets of Chiang Mai turn into a giant party
  • The most beautiful Loi Krathong photos with thousands of lanterns being released all at once actually take place in Mae Jo, outside of Chiang Mai, and this event, known as the ‘Mass Sky Lantern Release’ is put on by an independent Buddhist group. There is a free event, intended largely for locals, which encompasses a robes ceremony and money trees.  This event is also extremely crowded and transportation to and from the Mae Jo can be a challenge due to the traffic.  There is also a ticketed lantern release designed for tourists, and transportation is included with the cost of the tickets (which are expensive and need to be purchased in advance as there are a limited number of them).  That said, the ticketed event does not include many of the traditional cultural and religious elements of this holiday, so it loses authenticity, and once again, the travel time can be extensive.  Otherwise, festival-goers in Chiang Mai proper release their own personal lanterns whenever the mood takes them.  This means that the scene is still beautiful and the sky has many lanterns twinkling like fireflies after dark, but the effect is not the same – there is no sudden rush of lanterns being released – just one or two at a time.  Most of the locals feel overwhelmed by the crowds these days so they just head home to be with their families.
Inside the city of Chiang Mai, lanterns are released one or two at a time
  • One very neat aspect of Loi Krathong that is often overlooked is the fact that this is indeed a religious holiday, meaning that the temples around Chiang Mai are particularly active on this day, and you’ll see locals visiting to hear the chanting, bring donations and receive blessings. I was able to observe several hundred schoolchildren rotating through stations to learn from the monks on a field trip, and Tien, my guide, translated for me.  It was a really unique and unusual window into the world of Buddhism in Thailand.
A local schoolgirl looks up from her lesson from the resident monks to make a new friend
Schoolchildren learning from the resident monks on a field trip
  • If Chiang Mai doesn’t fit into your travel plans, you can also celebrate Loi Krathong at one of Thailand’s beautiful beaches. The celebrations are not as extravagant, but you can make a very romantic evening out of releasing lanterns at the beach and floating your Krathong out to sea.  For a different kind of experience, you can also head to Luang Prabang’s Festival  of Lights, which also falls in November.
My krathong floating downstream
My lantern floating away into the night sky

Overall, the best advice I can give about visiting Loi Krathong is that I strongly recommend working with a travel specialist (Journeys Within) over going it alone.  Journeys Within guides make all the difference in navigating this festival and providing an outstanding experience.  I’ve seen firsthand that their extensive local knowledge is invaluable, and they can point in you in the right direction for your personal travel preferences so that you can take everything in and not be overwhelmed by the crowds.  Additionally, Journeys Within guides are a life-saver when it comes to keep track of unexpected flight changes and navigating traffic delays so that you don’t miss any of the highlights. If you are planning a visit to the Loi Krathong festivities, check out our Loi Krathong Tour for Couples & Loi Krathong Tour for Families tours!

Guests watching the lanterns from their table
Lanterns drifting in the sky behind a temple

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