Noi: The Thailand-native, now Sydney resident, Noi, is a fascinating woman to say the least. What started as a friendly hello quickly developed into a three-hour conversation poolside over strong Thai coffee. Noi and her partner, Bill, are now both retired and spend their time traveling the world to places like South Africa, Spain, New Zealand, Japan, and Laos. She shared stories as a caretaker for a visiting families in Thailand for months/years at a time — some were kind and some not so much. Noi expressed the importance of not allowing herself to stay focused on those who didn’t support or appreciate her — “it’s not worth it.” Now is her opportunity to show her appreciation for the rest of the world during her travels, meet strangers, exchange stories, pass along wisdom and have new pen pals!
ALL the Wats (Buddhist temple complexes): There are more than 300 Wats in Chiang Mai and the surrounding regions -- each with their own charm, style and purpose.
Highlights: We visited Wat Phra Singh, which dates back to the 14th century when Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. It's golden structures are a striking sight on a sunny day!
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar / Walking Street: Outdoor shopping opportunities for visitors. At the Night Bazaar, you will find more of the generic tourist souvenirs, whereas the Walking Street offers better handicrafts and artsy items from the artists themselves.
Highlights: Off to the side of the main strip is the Ploen Ruedee Night Market. It offers a more relaxed vibe — absent of the berating salespeople at the Night Bazaar. Here you can try international street foods, shop from one-of-a-kind vendors and listen to Thai cover bands while sitting on an upside-down paint bucket.
North Gate Jazz Co-Op: A welcoming yet chill live-music venue/bar appropriately located near the North Gate in the Old City.
Highlights: The whole package! The band was the best we had heard on our travels to-date, cheap beers, great company and plenty communal seating options. If you’re in Chiang Mai, highly recommended!
Elephant Care & Grand Canyon Cliff Jumping: This region is known for providing a number of elephant focused excursions. This particular program included driving fairly deep into the jungle setting to feed, jungle trek with, bathe, and simply play with a group of four elephants. The second part of the day involved cliff jumping at an old quarry turned water park, featuring a 7.5 meter jump off point.
* Being up-close and personal with these massive, beautiful creatures! Each one had quite the personality and shined in their own way — one was an aggressive eater, one loved to dance to her own beat and wander off from the group, one wasn’t a fan of group water playtime and the youngest pretty much mimicked its canine buddy.
* Learning more about the elephant tourism industry and what to look out for when selecting the right program. (More to come under the Look Out For section)
* Facing our fears and going for it off the canyon cliffs!
Thai Massage: Ashlee had her first Thai massage — more than well worth the whopping $6/hour. This is quite a different experience than the typical massage in the States — you’re clothed, no oils/lotions/hot stones, instead of rubbing the body is compressed, pulled, and stretched. You feel a little beat up at the time, but as it sets in your body feels relaxed and stronger.
Cooking Class: Unfortunately, time didn’t permit this to happen but is a must do in Northern Thailand. There are a lot of different options, so just do your research and read reviews!
Songteaws: Experienced our first songteaw on our way to visit the elephants in the countryside. Picture nine people in the bed of a pick-up truck going through the mountains, that was us. These also run as the cheapest mode of public transport in town, but if you are prone to getting car sick, I would advise against.
LOOK OUT FOR :
Elephant excursions: There are dozens of programs available for visiting elephants and we suggest you do your research for picking the right one. Some tours use catch phrases, like “sanctuary,” “conservation focused,” and “ethical,” but be aware, these terms have no certification/accountability to back them up. Elephants and humans have been living together for centuries, and there are practices that may seem inhumane but are important for the safety of the elephants and humans.
One example, “hooks” are used in training of young elephants to help them follow direction. A mahout (elephant trainer) should always have one, even with older elephants, as a source of safety. The mahouts we worked with kept their “hooks” in their bags, and would pick up a stick if the elephant was doing something it shouldn’t and the elephant would listen. Places that promote no hook are either most likely lying and using them once tourists are gone or are not safe. There are places that misuse these tools, so keep an eye out for that as well.
Another thing to look out for is the asking for donations. Most of the elephants you will experience are rented by these “sanctuaries” from elephant owners in the mountains. The fee you pay for the excursion is more than enough for the transportation, elephant food, mahouts and tour guides. Any time you donate, it goes right to the pockets of the company owners, not the benefit of the elephants.
If you’re looking for an elephant excursion, this is the one we visited: https://www.facebook.com/Puang2516/
Chiang Mai was definitely a quieter and more laid back than Bangkok and offers a variety of things to do/see: Wats, jungle treks, elephant excursions, live music, street food and cooking classes. HIghly reccomended!