It feels like it has been ages since I last posted, when in fact it has only been about 3 days. That’s how relaxing Chiang Mai is.
This city is beautiful. Absolutely stunning. So warm, friendly, and welcoming to newcomers, I fell in love with Chiang Mai the moment we stepped out of the airport. Our cab driver told us stories of his house in the mountains, and invited us to visit to meet his family and see his baby elephants. We were shown a photo album of his home and surrounding areas and tribes, and at first I thought he was just on commission to get us to join tour groups. But he was just genuinely friendly, and keen to show off his home.
We arrived at 4pm Wednesday and met Sam, the owner of our guest house, to check in. Feeling relaxed but energetic, and with the temperature mild and the sky clear, we set off on bikes to do a quick tour of the city, and see if we could find the night markets. On the map, it seemed the Night Bazaar was only 3kms away, so we expected it would be a short ride. However 3 hours and 13kms later, we made it home, without having seen the markets at all. Well, that’s not entirely true – we saw some markets… just not the ones we were looking for! Tired and disoriented (we’d been off by 90 degrees more than once while riding, thinking north was east and south was west. Whoops) we head back to Sawasdee Guest House and crashed for the first of many wonderful nights at the hostel (very highly recommended, by the way, if you’re ever in Chiang Mai. We love it so much, we’ve extended our stay twice already!)
On Thursday we were up early for a cooking class at an organic farm, south of Chiang Mai. We were greeted by a driver at 8am who welcomed us with “Today, you are locals!” We collected the other participants (eight of us in total) and caught a train out towards Lamphun. There, our ‘head chef’ for the day, Oi, took us on a bicycle tour of the farm, showing us the different herbs and vegetables being grown there for the thai markets. More types of basil than I knew existed! After picking a few fresh ingredients, it was back to the outdoor kitchen to start cooking the dishes we’d each selected to cook for the day. Choosing 6 each, Jamie and I split our choices and I am proud to say that between us, we can now cook 12 thai dishes – including pad thai, panaeng and green curries, spring rolls and sticky rice with mango. You’d think 6 meals in a day was too much but no, we were able to eat all of it, and then drink beer all night long with the cooking group at a reggae bar back in Chiang Mai. But the details of that are a little sketchy
Friday and we were up early again, collected by a young thai boy named Mac for a trip to Elephant Nature Park, about an hour outside of the city. There are 35 elephants here – 31 girls and 4 boys. As Mac tells us, the boys like these odds! They’ve split themselves into about 5 packs, but most of the elephants are friendly with each other, with the exception of one boy that has stabbed one of the girl elephants when she refused to have sex with him. True story, and now they have to be kept away from each other. Kind of like an Apprehend Violence Order she has on him now, I think! We walked around and met the gentle giants, fed them buckets of watermelon, pumpkins and cucumbers, and after lunch we took them down to the river and washed them. Some were more willing to be washed than others but all of them got wet somehow, either by buckets or by swimming in the mud pit instead.
In the afternoon we fed them again, after watching a quick documentary about the treatment of elephants in Asia. It was horrifying to see how many of these animals have been treated from such a young age, beaten into submission and forced to work, then abandoned when the work dries up. Thankfully there are organisations like Elephant Nature Park that take these beautiful animals back to the park where they are cared for day in, day out.
That brings us to Saturday, and I can’t believe it has been a week since I left Brisbane. We’ve been ripped off by tuk tuk drivers, eaten dinners and had drinks for under $1.50 each, seen spectacular temples, beautiful elephants and been lost by bike. Today we relaxed with a sleep in, massages, $4 lunch and a quick trip up to Doi Suthep to see the temple overlooking Chiang Mai. Tomorrow we’ll spend some time in the Sunday Markets lining the city streets, Monday we’re going for a jungle trek through to waterfalls and white water rafting, and Tuesday we visit Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand at 2500m. After that, we’ll probably head north/north east and cross into Laos for a few days in the mountains, off the grid.
I’ve had a bit of trouble uploading some of the photos onto the blog. There are a few more photos back on the main page, and I’ll upload the rest to Flickr and Facebook.