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Location 2: Chiang Mai, Thailand

THAILAND | Tuesday, 5 April 2016 | Views [629]

Chiang Mai, Thailand

We left Bangkok by overnight train to Chiang Mai- a city in the northern part of Thailand, that hosts a far cleaner and tranquil atmosphere.  The train ride was definitely an adventure for various reasons, but I am really glad we decided to go that route.  Although flights are quite inexpensive from BKK to Chiang Mai, they definitely don't offer the same type of experience.  We rode in the 2nd class sleeper cabin, where you are assigned an upper or lower berth.  The train departed Hua Lamphong (Bangkok's railway station) at 6:15pm and we arrived in Chiang Mai at 8:00am.  The ride itself consisted of car attendants hocking items like orange juice and food, talking with other travelers about where they were before or where they are off to next, and general quiet time.  By 8:30pm all of the beds had been made up and it was the passenger's cue to close your curtain and shut up.  The ride itself wasn't terrible, it just took much longer than by car because of frequent stops.  The best part was at sunrise when you look out your window and see the beautiful Thai countryside.  I was taken aback at how green and lush this part of Thailand was.

Once we de-boarded the train, we hopped in one of the many red trucks (Chiang Mai's version of a taxi) and arrived at our hostel.  We dropped off our bags, chatted with a few other backpackers and all rode together to Sri Suphan Temple (wat).  The temple is completely covered in silver and just outside of the temple were some traditional Thai dancers, who were actually giving a live performance.  The temple can only be entered by men and appropriate dress is required. From there we went directly to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (15 kilometers outside Chiang Mai), which is one of the largest temples in Chiang Mai and is quite a hike from where the red truck dropped us off.  Doi Suthrep is the name of the mountain that the temple is built upon and to get to the top you must walk up a monstrous set of stairs.  The walk was well worth it because the views were unbelievable.  It was one of the first moments where I was really grateful I decided to go on this trip because often times I wasn't sure if I made the right choice (I know now- I did!).  The quietness at the top of this temple-looking out was a really wonderful moment.  Since we were running on a poor night's sleep (bumpy train car wasn't conducive to ample sleeping conditions) we headed back to the hostel for some down time.  We collected ourselves and met up with our new friends, then headed to the Ladyboy Cabaret.  The plan was to attend one of these shows in Bangkok, but I am glad we did it here.  The prices in Chiang Mai are much lower and the crowds aren't nearly as big.  The show was a riot and it ended up being a blast (I had lipstick stains on my neck for 2 days). The performers had no shame groping the audience and we were front row, so we had our fair share of attention.  Once the show was over we perused the Night Bazaar for a bit then headed to an area known for its nightlife.  I was beat by 1am, so we decided to call it.  I'm coming from a mindset that a good night's sleep and a productive day is far more gratifying than a late night party.

Day 2 was much more low key and it was a welcomed change.  The three of us (Alexa, Chris and I) walked to Chinatown and did some serious eating.  We tried a bunch of different street foods and then stumbled upon a stand w/ indoor seating that has accolades for the best Pad Thai in Thailand (who really knows??).  The meal was excellent and for 35 baht (1 USD), it was literally right on the money.  In the evening we were picked up by a van and taken to a cooking class.  It was mixed with fellow travelers, so it was a fun social event to boot.  We had the happiest instructor and she really did a great job. The class offered several options and allowed for some menu customization.  I cooked 4 different items: pad see ew, vegetable spring rolls, tom sab soup and a homemade green curry.  The night was going great until the green curry.  If you aren't aware, curry is really a blend of several different spices and chile peppers, with varying levels of heat.  Green curry is extremely spicy and it's because it is made primarily out of green Thai chiles.  If you haven't had one before and you can take the heat, I recommend it.   would advise to keep it in your mouth and not your eye…which was my biggest mistake of the trip thus far (worse than overpaying for a suit).  The process to make curry is to take bunches of chile and pulverize them in a mortar and pestle, until it forms a spreadable paste.  I was nearing the right consistency until 2 seeds shot from mortar directly into my right eye.  Big mistake, HUGE- I couldn't see and the pain was excruciating.  I ripped my contact out, but it didn't help, my eye cried for the next 2 hours.  I tried to salvage my lens, but after 5 rinses it was still no good (another lesson learned).  Despite the physical pain from the chile incident it actually was a really fun event and I learned a lot.  I consider myself pretty proficient in the kitchen, so learning new cooking techniques is always exciting.  On the walk back home I had to stop and do the fish "spa", which is basically a large tank of Garra rufa ("doctor fish") that opens from the top for you to put your feet into.  The fish eat all the dead skin from your toes and feet, the constant nibbling took some serious getting used to.  I am happy to report that the bottoms of my feet are far smoother than before the fish spa.

Our final day in Chiang Mai was a visit to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.  It was approx. 1.5 hrs outside of Chiang Mai in a very remote spot.  The truck that took us there had to navigate up some very long and curvy roads that are embedded into the rolling hills of northern Thailand.  The last 5 minutes of the drive were literally over rough jungle terrain that teeters directly next to a massive drop off (imminent death and dismemberment).  The drive was totally worth it because the time with the elephants was absolutely awesome.  Chaing Mai has many elephant camps and they all fall on a different spectrum of humaneness.  We learned a lot while we were there and the gist of it is that elephants really aren't meant to be ridden.  Although they are strong animals the temperature and hours of walking travelers around can really wear on their overall health.  In Chiang Mai, many of the elephant camps are notoriously known for poor treatment of their elephants.  The instructors use hooks and tools to beat the animals until they succumb to any command, which often times is long difficult walks through rough vegetation (with people on their backs) or leveling land to make clearings for crops.  The Jungle Sanctuary allowed us to interact with the elephants, but in a humane way that keeps the elephants happy and us too!  We fed them bananas and corn stalks, then took them down to the river for them to drink.  Once we did that we were allowed to get into a mud bath with them, which literally entailed getting into a massive mud pit (filled with water) and rubbing mud all over their skin.  The mud helps the elephants stay cool in the blistering heat.  Once we finished with the mud pit we walked them down to this waterfall where we spent about 20 minutes having a water fight with the elephants.  A small side note, watching an elephant relieve his/herself is pure comedy, they get into this hilarious stance and let it rip.  It was a blast and really cool to be hands on with these guys.  The elephants were all rescued from other elephant parks (with the exception of the baby), so they spend their days doing what I just described.  I really do believe they live happy lives here, so I was glad we picked this location.

Tomorrow we are off to Pai, Thailand.


See photos here.

Tags: chiang mai, elephant park, thailand


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