Diary of a Thai football season

2023/24 Chiang Mai United v Samut Prakan

Another trip to Thailand's Rose of the North


(The last time the two clubs met at the 700th Anniversary Stadium was in February 2023 and Samut Prakan ran out 2-1 winners after one of their best performances of the season. I'll take a repeat of that all day long!)

How are Chiang Mai United doing this season?

They are in 11th place, just a point behind Samut Prakan in 8th, and part of that congested T2 mid-table. The White Elephants have hit some decent form since they were thrashed 4-0 in the Lanna derby at Chiang Mai FC, and are currently unbeated in their last five games. Their home record is distinctly patchy though and they've won only four out of nine at the 700th Anniversary Stadium.

This is a contest between two teams who are both in dire need of a good win streak if they're to have any hopes of making the play offs. Draws just aren't good enough at this stage.  

Chiang Mai United's top scorer is Brazilian striker Thiago Rodrigues Da Silva, who wears the endearing shirt name of 'Mosquito'. The 28-year-old from Rio De Janeiro had a fairly ordinary season at Lampang before moving further north to join Chiang Mai.   

What's the travel plan?

Tun and I have wanted to do the overnight sleeper train to and from Chiang Mai for quite some time, so this felt like the perfect opportunity. We catch the 10.30 train From Bangkok Central Station on Thursday night, which arrives in Chiang Mai about midday on the Friday. The match is on Saturday evening and then unfortunately, we will be twiddling our thumbs and without a car (by choice) until the train back on Tuesday night. It's a longer trip than we wanted and we had intended to return to Bangkok sooner, but the trains were fully booked. 

Neither of us are big fans of Chiang Mai city itself and we can't be bothered to hire a car and do any exploring, certainly not this time around. I suppose this trip is all about experiencing those two long train journeys...and the football match of course. 

Bangkok to Chiang Mai

The spiffy modern Bang Sue Grand train station might not have the heart and soul of the old Hualampong station but my word, it's spotlessly clean, easy to navigate and super-efficient. It was the first time I'd caught a long distance train from there and I was so impressed, especially now there are plenty of food options as well.

(The express number 51 service to Chiang Mai left bang on the dot at 10.30)

Although our overnight beds had already been made up when we boarded the train, we were eager to grab a drink in the buffet car, feel the breeze through the open windows, and sample the fayre on one of the older Thai trains. 

(Alcohol is no longer sold on Thai trains, in fact hasn't been for a good number of years. But this zero percent stuff wasn't bad)

(A friend had urged us not to miss the incredible scenery once you got north of Den Chai in Phra Province, and at seven in the morning, with plenty of mist around, it was truly breathtaking. And of course, this is scenery you only really get to see from a train window) 

We pulled into Chiang Mai Station about 10 minutes behind schedule just after midday. Overall, it had been an enjoyable experience. We didn't manage an awful lot of sleep on the train though and after deciding on an afternoon nap at the hotel, we felt too groggy to go out and so kissed goodbye to Friday night. The head was willing; the body wasn't.

Digs

We had zero interest in staying in the touristy centre of town so opted for the At The Train Hotel, just a couple of minutes walk from the railway station. It was basic and a bit soulless, the swimming pool was freezing cold and there was no kettle and only four coat hangers, but OK value at 850 baht a night. It was actually nice to stroll around a Chiang Mai neighborhood with a distinctly local feel and not a bloody weed shop in sight!  

It's match day Saturday

After swerving the hotel's ghastly breakfast and dining elsewhere, we spent the Saturday morning poking around the Lanna Traditional House Museum. With the temperature in the mid-20s, strolling around the wooden houses and gardens passed a very pleasant couple of hours. Admission was 100 baht for Thais while I told the ticket guy that I was 60 and got in for free. Take that double pricing! It's not often foreigners come out on top in these situations so I was rather pleased.

To the match itself

The official attendance for Chiang Mai United v Samut Prakan was announced as just under 600. I haven't a clue which thin air they pluck these figures from but there looked like barely half that number there. A visit to at a virtually empty 700th Birthday Stadium has probably become my most despised away trip. It's a completely joyless experience with zero atmosphere and zero interaction with opposing fans. When the match action itself does little to raise the spirits, you're in real trouble, and unfortunately that's where the evening went.

(Chiang Mai FC  fans Rob and Sime once again lent their support to Samut Prakan in the away end. It's always great to see them and catching up was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the evening. Photo credit: Official Samut Prakan Facebook page)

Samut Prakan line up without top scorer Fernando Viana and he would prove to be a huge miss. Surprisingly, Chiang Mai United leave their top marksman Mosquito on the bench. Is that to perhaps even things up? Samut Prakan have the better of the first period but both teams are disappointing in the final third. The home side's best chance comes on 27 minutes but under-23 international Pattara Soimalai pulls his shot wide of the post. Samut Prakan's Arnont Phumsiri won't want to see a replay of his glaring miss just minutes before half-time. With an open goal at his mercy, he somehow contrives to miss the target from point blank range. The young striker looks up to the heavens in disbelief. 

Chiang Mai United are unbeaten in five matches but frankly, they look a distinctly average side. We need three points from this one.

Half-time: Chiang Mai United 0 Samut Prakan 0

(Fans look on anxiously. Photo credit: Official Samut Prakan Facebook page)

There's not an awful lot I can say about the second half.... so I won't.

Final score: Chiang Mai United 0 Samut Prakan 0. 

Watch the match highlights

Overall thoughts?

Sometimes you have to call it out and that really was a forgettable game of football at a forgettable venue. A battling point or two points dropped? Definitely the latter in my book. This was a very beatable Chiang Mai United team. They offered nothing but just seemed to drag us down to their level. If you predicted both teams to finish the season about where they are now (in mid-table) I honestly wouldn't argue a case or bet against it.  

Sunday

Forget the idea of a lazy Sunday. Tun was dragging me around temples before I'd even had breakfast or anywhere near enough coffee inside me - and that's never a good idea. But it turned into an enjoyable day as we sampled more northern Thai food for lunch and strolled around Chiang Mai's inner city moat, which looked glorious with all the flower-boxes in bloom.

In the evening, I left Tun to her own devices and she wandered off to browse around a couple of night markets while I took in another second division game, meeting up once again with Rob and Sime for the top of the table clash between Chiang Mai FC and Nongbua. The home side ended up 1-0 winners and I thoroughly enjoyed the game - great atmosphere, an excellent contest and good company. 

I also got to meet with Chiang Mai's out-of-contract Spanish star David Cuerva. What a lovely guy, and what's more, he knew me from social media! When Rob introduced me, David said "Oh everyone knows about Phil and his Samut Prakan football travels". I got quite a buzz out of that.

Monday

This was our last full day in Chiang Mai before getting the train back to Bangkok on Tuesday evening. Tun had promised me that this would be something of a foodie trip so what better way to start the day than at a much-loved backstreet restaurant whose specialty is animal-shaped patong-ko (Chinese donuts) The hole-in-the-wall joint even has a Michelin star!

From there we walked across the river to Baan Piem Suk, a coffee and bakery shop that claims to have the most delicious coconut cream pie in the world. Like all these eateries that earn some sort of reputation via social media, it was super busy and you felt that lingering and overstaying your welcome wasn't really encouraged. 

To work off the calories, we caught a taxi to the scenic mountainside temple of Wat Pha Lat and its surrounding forest trails. It's difficult to escape the tourist hordes anywhere in Chiang Mai at this time of year and although the temple was a tad congested, you were pretty much alone once you hit the forest. 

The return journey

Our train back to Bangkok departed Chiang Mai at 6.00 pm and arrived at Bangkok's Central Station 13 hours later. We were looking forwartd to this one because it was a chance to try out the sleek number 10 express service that normally gets booked up well in advance.

Even as we walked along the platform at Chiang Mai Station to find our carriage, we get the impression that this would be a massive upgrade on the old school train we came up on, just by the smart uniformed staff guiding you to your seat and offering to help with your luggage. Our nicely upholstered seats didn't disappoint either and the complimentary water was a nice touch. 

We went to have a look at the dining car (and quite splendid it was too!) but sadly, once the train got moving, we didn't spend any time there. Once we had settled in and had an evening meal (brought to our seats) darkness had fallen and there was nothing to see out of the windows. There were also a good number of carriages to navigate between our seats and the dining car and we simply felt too tired to bother. The best option felt like getting the kindly staff to make up our beds and then grab as much sleep as possible before the train hit Bangkok at daybreak.

Frankly speaking, we enjoyed both train journeys - both the older train and the newer one - albeit for different reasons. Both services had their plus and minus points. We loved the dining car and the beautiful northern scenery on the way up, and we appreciated the cleanliness of the carriages and the customer service on the return. 

Hopefully we'll be doing more long-distance train trips to football matches in the future!

Who's up next? 

We are at home to struggling neighbors Customs United on Saturday 27th January, kick off 6.30 pm. 


Samut Prakan fixtures 2023/2024




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