Hello again readers! I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging to fully enjoy the wonders of Thaliand (and Borneo, but that comes in later!), but the time has come to put my head down and catch you all up with where I’m at. First up, Chiang Mai and Pai!
After finally making it into Thailand (see you never, ‘roads’ of Laos!), I arrived in Chiang Mai with two girls I had met while in Vang Vieng. As a side note, be sure to check your departure stamp in your passport when you enter a country- they missed seeing that I had a Thai visa (even though i wrote my visa number on the entry form!) and only game me 15 days instead of the 60 that I should have received. Not too big of an issue, but it was a royal pain to go to the passport office in Bangkok and get it changed. In the future, I will most definitely be handing in my passport opened to the visa page and then double checking it before leaving the border crossing. Oh life experience! Moving on… We stayed at a little place called Jaidee House, which cost us a whopping 350 baht a night (approx. $3.50 each), and settled in with some awesome 40 baht pad thai. It was good to be back in Thailand.
There are four activities that really stick out when I think of my time in Chiang Mai, but they are by no means the only things to do while in the area (that list is almost endless). Leading off we have prison massages, followed by a Thai cooking class, elephant mahout training, and an epic night market. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Here’s a complete rundown of each.
We kicked off our time in northern Thailand, the good ‘ol fashioned way: by heading to the local women’s correctional facility and getting massages. Sounds a little off, I know, but it’s really a win-win for everyone involved. The women at the facility get practical skills and experience that they will be able to turn into a job once they leave and we get hour long massages at half the price! I’ll admit it was a little odd when we arrived there, but the women were very nice and the whole operation was well run. You’re going to get a massage (or 8) while in Thailand, why not do it in an environment that’s helping women turn their lives around? A must do in Chiang Mai!
Thai Cooking Class
This could very well be one of my trip highlights, out of everything. With so many different cooking schools to choose from in Chiang Mai, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find one that you’ll love. Haley and I chose ours based solely on the food options- five dishes in total and everything that I really wanted to learn how to cook. Luckily, Thai Kitchen Cookery Center has great food selection as well as awesome instructors and facilities. Highly, highly recommended! We started off the day by heading to the local market to buy ingredients and learn a bit about them. Our guide Gauw (pronounced Gail), showed us various types of basil, chilies, and even how to make coconut cream and milk. After this educational introduction we headed back to the cooking school to get started with dish number one: what else but pad thai? I had no idea it was so straight forward! It definitely helped they were super organized and everything was pre portioned, but still, totally doable at home. We followed up round one with green curry paste and then the green curry itself, chicken with cashew nuts, vegetable spring rolls, and caramelized bananas with coconut toffee sauce and ice cream for dessert. I can’t even choose a favourite, it was all that good. Plus, I got a recipe book to take home and help recreate it all, all y’all are welcome to come and sample my skills.
Elephant Mahout Training
For those who don’t know (I didn’t prior to this), a mahout is basically an elephant trainer and caregiver. Given this tidbit of information, you can now begin to understand what my second highlight was all about! We chose to go with Chiang Siam Elephant Mahout Training School Chiang Mai, which is a mouthful to say, but delightful in every other way (ha! rhyming). Our guide Noy was absolutely amazing, and it ended up only being the three of us on the tour, which made it all the better. After a quick stop to see a 6 week old baby elephant (beyond adorable), we made it to the center, grabbed a sack of bananas, and headed down to begin our training. Fully garbed in mahout training outfits, we started out by feeding bananas to a younger male elephant and then had a sit down with Noy to discuss all things elephant. From safety to riding commands, as well as their elephants stories and general facts, it was a really informative session. Next up we got to practice what we had just learned and hopped on Do Do’s back for some real hands on experience! Surprisingly, riding elephants is nothing like riding horses. Though I’m pretty at home on the latter, riding these beasts was a whole new ball game. I found that I was always leaning forward in order to balance, placing a lot of my weight onto my hands and wrists, while (trying to) control the direction with various leg positions and voice commands. Same same, but different, one might say. Quite a spread awaited us for lunch, and after we had stuffed ourselves to the brim, it was time to bring out the big guns and head out on our jungle trek. I had the pleasure of riding Boon Me, a 43 year old female who stood about seven feet tall at the shoulder. Jungle trekking was awesome and very surreal- I don’t expect I’ll ever be in that situation again. Once we got back it was time to treat our elephants to copious amounts of bananas and bath time. It was funny how much more comfortable we were with them by that point in the day; where at first we were timid and extra cautious, by bath time we were scrubbing their trunks and standing right next to them without batting an eye. They’re seriously cool animals, ridiculously big and strong, but at the same time utterly graceful. Definitely an experience I will not soon forget.
At this point, anyone who’s been reading about my travels knows how much I appreciate a good market (for those of you who haven’t been following, that’s a lot). I’m sure you can imagine how stoked I was to find a night bazaar in Chiang Mai that ran every single night. This thing was massive, the girls and I went three nights and I still could have gone again! So many vendors, so many items, so much bartering to do! Managed to score a couple tanks, a dress, and a jar of tiger balm (I’m sure I bought more, but it’s not coming to me at the moment). I have yet to find a market I didn’t like, and this one was no exception.
Well there you have it, my four highlights of Chiang Mai. As I said previously, this is by no means all there is to do there, the girls I was with also visited the zoo, and one night we went with Haley while she got a traditional bamboo tattoo (don’t worry Dad, I’m still ink free). There are treks, tiger sanctuaries, zip lines, and bungee jumps, among other things. Boring is one thing Chiang Mai is most definitely not.
After such an activity-filled five days, we then headed three hours north to the town of Pai. It was a glorious three days of almost nothing- eating, reading, card playing, and socializing was the everyday norm. That isn’t to say there isn’t anything to do- there are a couple of great hikes and waterfalls to visit, and as any place in Asia, a lively night scene. However, I decided to conserve energy and money and opted instead for a relaxing and cheap couple of days (which clearly make for riveting blog posts). Even though I don’t have much to say about it, I really liked Pai. It had a very chill vibe and everyone there was so nice. Mix that in with 100 baht bungalows and you have a real sweet spot. Before I knew it my time in Pai (and northern Thailand) had come to an end, it was now time for beaches, sun, and buckets on the islands. Hello hangover!