We spent almost a week in Chiang Mai. The old city is in a square in the center- surrounded by a crumbling ancient brick wall. In some places this means a real wall, in others it means what looks like a pile of bricks. We were able to eat at some super yummy places, both inside and outside the city walls. Our first hostel was a short walk away from the Chiang Mai night market, so we often found ourselves there. The market was bustling with vendors and shoppers, and the food section was full of options for a delicious Thai dinner. Our favorite was the Massaman curry.
and headed out. The temples are elaborate and impressive. We saw a number of different styles and types. At one we showed up just in time for “Monk Chat”. A program designed to help monks practice English and educate visitors on Buddhist practice. We learned a lot from our half hour chatting and we’re so glad we were there at the right time!
It was definitely one of the coolest things we’ve done. We drove an hour and a half into the National Forest where most of the elephants live. There are many different animals parks, sanctuaries, and just tours that allow you to see elephants. The one we chose is supposed to be one of the most ethical. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is run by Karen Thai people, as a rescue for elephants who were previously used for labor or riding tours. The sanctuary pays the owners, so that they allow the elephants to live on the land without having to work or be ridden. They do tours of the sanctuary to bring in an income to take care of the elephants, as well as bringing awareness to the elephants lives and condition. We got to feed them, hug them, watch them interact with each other, and even take a mud bath with them. It was the largest animal either of us had ever been so up close and personal with. It was unreal.
*Important note: Elephants bodies are not designed the same way horses are- their skeletons and spines aren’t capable of handling the weight of being ridden on the back. It hurts them. In order for an elephant to allow a human to ride them, they must be “broken” in by their captors from a young age. It’s an ugly and inhumane process. Remember to be an ethical tourist. If you’re ever able to see an elephant up close- do your research ahead of time and go for it!
Just don’t ride them.
We made some awesome friends on our tour and ended up spending the evening together out on the town!
We were also able to meet up with one of my old coworkers from Coffee Studio! Kristin just happened to be arriving in Chiang Mai for an English teaching internship while we were there, so crazy! We met up on evening and we’re able to share with her the wonderful gift that is a 7-eleven toasty (essentially fast food grilled cheese and it’s actually tasty). That was pretty cool.
Our day journey to Chiang Rai was with one goal in mind: to see the White Temple. It was a 3 hour bus ride each way, which meant that we spent a lot of that day on the bus. But the White Temple was crazy cool, and one of a kind.
While waiting in line for our return bus ticket we started talking to a group of 3 guys who had some film equipment. Turns out they were filming a documentary for a non-profit a few hours away from Chiang Rai. They had a few days off so they were coming into Chiang Mai to see the city!
We found out once we got to the front of the line that we had to wait to take the last bus of the day back to Chiang Mai. So we had some time to kill. We found a cute little cafe and tried Vietnamese Coffee there. Then we wandered around a bit, found some super cool bracelets from a street vendor, and visited another cat cafe (yay!).
We went up to Pai with one of our dorm room mates. The drive is a windy 3 hours and we felt it. When we arrived we walked to our hostel and gratefully dumped our backpacks into the only air conditioned room they offered (the next night we moved to the private huts, but that first day we were too hot not to have AC). Pai is well known and talked about but we rarely got the specifics on why people loved it so much. When we got there we saw the true character of the town and understood a bit better. The whole place is a walkable size, and we walked it a few times over our 4 days there. There is a hippie, relaxed vibe to the area- it’s easy to see why travelers are drawn to it.
We spent the Fourth of July with our friend from Chiang Mai (hi Aris!) and some other friends he had met up with. It was our first time away from home for the holiday and we were a bit surprised to see how much people in Thailand acknowledged it.
The main streets in town turned into a night market every evening. We loved the street food, so we were there every night.
We also rented a motorbike and went on a few expeditions. One to a waterfall which was a tropical jungle paradise, and also to the Pai Canyan lookout which provided vast and stunning views.
We met some incredible people in these towns who made our time there even more memorable. Hopefully it’s not the last time our paths cross. The North was the perfect pace for us and we couldn’t help but love it.