Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin.
My last adventure in Thailand took place in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Before I went, all I knew of the city was that it had markets, it had many temples, and it was somewhere I could interact with elephants. Chiang Mai had all those those things and more. I spent a week there by myself and thoroughly enjoyed myself; I could have easily spent much longer in that city. When booking my trip, I’d decided to treat myself and stay in a private room rather than a dorm, since I was going to be there for so long. This was a great decision! I stayed at Diva 2 guesthouse and could not recommend it more!! The rooms were surprisingly large and clean, they had a rooftop area where I could meet other travellers, the staff genuinely went above and beyond to make sure I was having a good time and helped me with any questions I had, even before I arrived.They had a tour desk which I used to arrange my trip to see elephants and any other activities I wanted to do.
Rather than arrange what I did chronologically, since it was 2 and half months ago now, I’m going to do it thematically. So lets start with the temples. Chiang Mai has a ridiculous amount of temples and their around every corner. When I started exploring on my first evening, I stumbled across a temple having some form of evening worship with the doors open. It was a really peaceful time and the intimacy of the enclosed place was simply stunning. Walking around the gardens afterwords I met a couple of girls and we had dinner together, having the traditional Northern dish of Khao Soi (a yellow curry). It was perhaps a little too spicy for me but was absolutely delicious. After saying goodbye to my new friends, I walked in the general direction of the hostel and found a great bookshop and a bar that was working out of a VW type van. Since Chiang Mai is surrounded by walls/one huge road, it’s pretty easy to fine your way around if you’re staying in the city. The basic rule is to not cross the walls/huge road!
I spent at least one day and one afternoon wandering around some of the temples in the city. As cultured as I tried to become, they did eventually end up all kind of looking the same! The bigger ones are really nice to walk around, but some were very touristy which was a shame. When visiting the temples in Thailand you have to make sure you’re dressed respectably. This isn’t that enforced in Chiang Mai, but going into temples in short shorts and crop tops is disrespectful. Another thing is when you’re visiting you have to take your shoes off, so make sure you wear sandals or flip flops not proper shoes! In one of them, a monk was tying string around people’s wrists and spraying them with what I presumed was holy water, so obviously I went up and got mine. I spent about an hour in that temple, just observing the worshippers and enjoying being able to take the time to sit down and be by myself and think. It might sound ridiculous but I really enjoyed it. Another one of the temples, just outside the walls was incredibly old, and contained the ashes of a renowned monk. This was a much quieter temple, so I found a shaded corner and read for a while, just soaking up the atmosphere. On the whole the temples were great places to wander around and think, especially for solo travellers.
Another day I did a day trip to the outskirts of the city and up a mountain to see another temple: Doi Suthep. Getting there was a right faff but once I managed to get there (via a red taxi and then changing to a minibus on the side of the road) it was amazing. The temple itself was similar to the ones in the city, but the amount of gold was incredible and the decorative colours were beautiful. Because it was such a hot day, it was a great place to enjoy an ice cream and the views from the top were incredible! They had information signs telling you about the legend of the white elephant – something which I had read about at all the other temples so it was nice to see the end of the elephants journey. Compared to the temples in the city this one seemed even more touristy which was a disappointment. They had people who were trying to charge to take a photo of you. Luckily by this point in my solo travels I had mastered the art of portrait selfies using a selfie stick, and another girl was travelling alone so we traded photos. At all the temples you could see monks going about their daily business, and at this one I was lucky enough to see the female equivalents.
Continuing my education I had a day visiting the museums of Chiang Mai. The main 3 were all within a short walk of my hostel, and since you could buy a combined ticket to enter all 3, I set out to learn about the city I was growing to love. By the end of the day I was musuemed out but I had learnt a lot! The museums were all really interesting and offered a look at the history of the old kingdom which used to be separate from Siam until relatively recently. It also helped to put into context the different things I had learnt from the temples, as well as the information from the museum I visited in Bangkok. Happily too, it was next to a cool mango dessert restaurant and within walking distance to an amazing coffee shop which was recommended by Noi and became my regular! All in all it was a good day, and it was nice to spend a bit of time out of the sun. My days in Chiang Mai were actually relatively short. Since I was walking for hours and hours a day, I was sleeping a lot and getting really tired! I think I was up to 4 coffees by the end of my trip. Thankfully the hostel bed was comfortable and the coffee good! I didn’t take any photos in the museum, so enjoy these photos of around Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai is, rightfully so, famous for its many markets. This reputation was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit, and I had tried my best to save money for them so I could fully enjoy them. The night market is outside of the city walls and was about a 25 minute stroll from my hostel. It was an amazing place to explore and I spent literally 4 hours wandering around, eating street food and stocking up on the type of knick-knacks you can only find at markets. I ended up buying a drawstring back bag to replace my broken backpack from Camden, a passport cover and many other small items. While yes, a lot of the stalls do sell the same things, I really love exploring markets to see what’s on offer. I disappeared between 2 buildings and found a large food area with a live band, haystacks to sit on and lots of beer to buy. There was a drag show in another part of the market, but since you had to pay to get in I decided to save my money.I tried all sorts of street food, including quails eggs and I made sure I had the famous Thai dessert of mango and sticky sweet rice with coconut milk. While I’m glad I did it, I don’t think I’d have it again – it was a little sweet for me. After shopping until my feet were about to fall off I splurged on a tuk tuk home and completely crashed. Because I was in Chiang Mai for a week, I could also explore the Sunday market. Since this took place on the main street of town (happily the same street as the previously mentioned coffee shop), I decided to head there early and watch them set up whilst drinking a coffee. Although I don’t have many photos – I’d used all my battery on snapchat and facebook, this market was amazing. I was so glad I got there early though as after maybe 3 hours it got far too crowded. It was a better market than the night one I think though. They had more variety of things to sell and most of it appeared to be handmade. I got a load of pretty earrings for really cheap, and you could usually see people making what they were selling there and then. When it got too crowded for me, I escaped down a street and walked the long way home to avoid the crowds.
Hang in there, you’ve read more than 1500 words but I’m nearly done I promise! There’s only one more experience from Chiang Mai that I’d like to blog about.
On my penultimate day in Chiang Mai, I finally did what I came to Thailand to do…SEE SOME ELEPHANTS! Hopefully noone is surprised that there’s no photo of me riding them – it’s cruel and people shouldn’t do it. I’d booked this tour through my hostel on the first day and was so excited! I was picked up early in the morning in a truck, and headed all around the city picking up more people – the Elephant Crew. After a long and incredibly bumpy ride to the sanctuary, we had a little walk down to the base. We really were in the middle of nowhere and it was amazing. We had to put on these cool patterned shirts so that the elephants would recognise us as friends and not be too scared. A short hike up a hill later and we encountered the first elephants of the day! Actually seeing them up close for the first time without a fence was something I know that I’ll never forget. We fed them and took pictures with them and generally showered them with love. The sanctuary I visited had 6 elephants, included 2 babies! They looked well taken care of and were happy to see us. We saw them all in pairs and the last were a mother and youngster who came bounding over to greet us in the cutest possible way ever! When they made us leave we were so sad but also absolutely starving since we’d spent a good couple of hours being introduced to them.
After refueling it was time to strip off and enjoy a refreshing dip with the elephants and then a mud bath. Being me, I was one of the first in the water and ended up nearly being crushed by the younger elephant when she decided she wanted the lie down – luckily one of the guides pulled me backwards. The river we were in wasn’t exactly clean, and washing the elephants became a mixture of splashing water on them, scrubbing them and dodging their feet when they decided to move! It was hilarious though. Next up was the mud bath which was predictably filthy – especially when the guides decided we were too clean and begun a mud fight! The elephants seemed to really enjoy the mud though, and I spent most of my time covering the trunk of one. After cleaning off as best we could in the river, it was time to head back to the city for a proper shower and a meal with the Elephant Crew.
Seeing the elephants, temples and markets of Chiang Mai was a highlight of Thailand, and I truly never will forget the people I met, elephants I fed and above all the warmth and friendliness of the Thai people.