Magical Chiang Mai

Trip Start Nov 17, 2012
Trip End May 25, 2013

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

So, here we were on another train ready for another overnight sleeper service, this time a 14 hour journey from Bangkok up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, where we'd be staying from 22 to 26 March.  If it was possible, I was even more excited for this journey as the train was MUCH nicer.  This time it had an aisle down one side with compartments off to the other side.  Each compartment had seats and bunks for four people.  At least it meant we wouldn't have randoms walking down the corridor between the bunks like the other train had!  It was much more private.
We were joined in our compartment by a lovely Thai family a couple of stops down the line.  They spoke really good English and had the cutest daughter who must've been about 7.  We got on with them so well that within 15 minutes or so we were teaching them Cockney rhyming slang but "Dog and Bone" with a thick Thai accent just doesn't quite have the same ring to it!!!
We both managed to get quite a good sleep this time too with James squashed into his bunk but with enough room to move which was a bonus.  The whole journey was a much nicer experience.  In the morning we were, unbelievably, still on time to make it to Chiang Mai by 10 which pleased us immensely.  So with the sweet Thai family still walking round muttering "Dog Bone" "Dog Bone" to anyone that would listen, we said our farewells at Chiang Mai station as they jumped off the train before us, and then we slowly ambled towards the exit.  It wasn't long however before we saw them again as they'd grabbed a Songthaew to share with us in the station car park and insisted on paying to get us to our hotel so we weren't ripped off by the locals.  How sweet!!!!!
Our hotel was in a really good location near to Thapae Gate, one of the 5 old gates which allows people in and out of old city Chiang Mai.  First impressions of our hotel were good-it had a small swimming pool, was in reasonably good shape and cheap at only 12 a night!  Feeling slightly jaded from the journey, we spent the first afternoon strolling into the old city for lunch before finding the nearest bar and chilling out over a couple of Chang beers.  We had a couple of trips planned for the next two days so there was no need for anything outrageous.
The next day was the first of our two trips.  We'd booked a private tour to take us round the outskirts of Chiang Mai which we'd heard were great.  We had our own driver for the day called Mr "M" (very cool with his shades on but a bit nerdy looking when shadeless......) and our own private tour guide called Patti who was very sweet and spoke very good English.  We felt like royalty being chauffeured around for the day!  We started off with a drive to Doi Inthanon National Park which is famous for having the highest point in Thailand which is incredibly part of the Himalayas apparently (no I haven't been taking Geography lessons from "scam man" in Bangkok, it really is part of the Himalayas!!).  It was about 2 hours south of Chiang Mai but it was really nice and we stopped to see all sorts there including a couple of beautiful waterfalls, 2 gorgeous pagodas (one for the Thai King and one for the Thai Queen), and of course the highest point in Thailand, 2,565 metres above sea level.
We ended the day at a beautiful Buddhist temple on a hill called Doi Suthep which overlooks Chiang Mai from the north.  Unfortunately the view wasn't great as Chiang Mai has a haze over it almost constantly, caused by the farmers burning stuff on their farms which surround the city which is a real shame.  The temple was interesting though as we caught the monks in action chanting their evening prayer.  This was the first time we'd seen them do anything other than walk round in silence, with bald heads and wearing orange robes (or in the case of Bangkok's main train station, sit down in their designated seats in silence, with bald heads and wearing orange robes (oh yes, if you're a monk, you get a designated seating area!)).
We'd had a really good day though and learnt more about the Thai people and Buddhism in one day from Patti than we'd learnt from our previous three weeks in Thailand put together!  It was really interesting!
Our second full day was the one I'd been looking forward to for sooooo long.  For one of my birthday presents (James won't tell me what the other ones are yet of course, but he's up to something!!!), James and I had booked on to an elephant trekking day!
I was so excited and for the first time this trip, jumped up out of bed straight away!  We were picked up at just after 8am and had an hours journey to the elephant sanctuary, stopping enroute to buy a LOT of bananas!  Once we were there we had a brief introduction, got changed into a sexy top and trousers and were all given a side bag to put our valuables in.  We were then taught some very important words on how to control our elephant; bye = go, how = stop, mahow = lay down and bend = turn.  Words we did not want to forget!
We then all had to pray to their elephant God that we would have a safe trek and not fall off (I got very distracted when I spotted the elephants just below us and didn't pray properly!) before being handed two big bunches of bananas each and going down to meet the elephants!  Even this was amazing; whenever I have fed an elephant before, you have the safety of a barrier, zoo keepers and just 1 trunk in front of you.  Here we had huge elephants all around us, trunks coming from all angles and no barriers!  We quickly realised just how big these animals were and the bananas didn't last long!
We were really lucky as there could have been up to 15 people booked on today's trek but there were only 5 of us in total.  We each had to have a practice on an elephant, firstly getting it to lay down, then climbing on its leg whilst holding its ear and then hoisting yourself onto its neck.....  as simple as that!!  As we were riding them bare backed we didn't have anything to hold on to apart from a rope which went behind its front legs and was only to be used when going downhill, and the elephants ears!!  We had to balance our hands on just it's head!  It was so uncomfortable and quite scary being up that high, wobbling about, I was a bit concerned I was going to regret this, but there wasn't any time to worry as after the practice we were all given our elephant for the day.   James and I were given the biggest elephants, they were enormous and when we were up on them we were at least 8ft in the air, that was a long way to fall!  I introduced myself to my elephant called Ruby, climbed on to her neck, tickled her ears, asked her to behave and not charge off at any point during the trek...fingers crossed!  James' elephant just groaned at the size of him......
After a quick "bye bye" we were off with me right at the back of the group and James just in front of me.  We each had a Mahout (elephant carer) walking alongside us but the elephants were pretty much free to stop when they wanted, eat when they wanted and of course go to the bathroom when they wanted, which they do a lot!!!  We had just over an hours trek, through the jungle and up and down some very narrow and very steep tracks which was great fun, clinging on for dear life whilst Ruby insisted on climbing up the banks to get the higher trees!
We stopped in the middle of the jungle for a yummy Pad Thai lunch wrapped in banana leaves (I have no idea how the Pad Thais arrived there!).  Lunch was next to a huge muddy puddle as after we'd eaten, it was time for one of the elephants to have a mud bath and I'll give you one guess whose elephant was picked to get covered in came Ruby (maybe I should have paid more attention during elephant prayer time!).  Ruby excitedly laid down in the mud and we all climbed into this thick, cold, mud which was really hard to walk in and almost up to our knees!
After rubbing it all over her, twenty minutes later she was completely covered and we now had to get back on, which everyone else did with much more enthusiasm than me.  I looked at my huge, muddy elephant and thought "just my luck" - she looked very happy though!  On I climbed and my word, if I thought balancing on an elephants neck before was hard, trying to do it when the elephant is now soaking wet and covered in mud introduced a whole new level of balancing!  We trekked for another hour and stopped on the way to buy sugar cane for our elephants (anything to keep them happy!) and that was fun, having a huge trunk come up towards you, sniffing out the sugar cane whilst plodding along.  After a few steep slopes downhill, we led our elephants into a river and got them to mahow (lay down).  It was bath time!  We then played in the river with our elephants, washing them, cuddling them and getting soaking wet!!!  It was amazing and definitely the best part of the day as you could see how much the elephants loved it, playing back with us and thrashing about, squirting water from their trunks!  One elephant even took turns in picking us up with its trunk!
We then climbed back on and had a 30 minute trek back to the camp where we had to say goodbye to our elephants.  For our final elephant treat, we were taken to meet a tiny 8 month old elephant!  She was gorgeous and so small compared to the others, but still the size of a small house!!!!
It was then time to get changed, get our free t-shirt, a dvd with pictures of our day and even a photo of us each in a frame before being taken back to reality.  We both had a fantastic day and it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to date.  It was one of the best things I have ever done and although our thighs hurt so much we hobbled around for the next few days (the best thigh workout girls!) it was definitely worth it!
Back in the reality of our hotel room and nursing sore legs and bums, we had dinner decisions to make.  We hadn't done much in our evenings where we'd had such early starts and full on days so we decided to head to the weekly Sunday market by Thapae Gate to have a wander around.  It was brilliant!  There were loads of stalls selling the usual local stuff and a great fun atmosphere around the place with music and all sorts.  We had a lovely evening strolling around.  Chiang Mai really is a lovely place and a world away from Bangkok.
We spent our third and final full day wandering / hobbling around old Chiang Mai looking at three of its most famous temples.  There are sooooooo many temples in Chiang Mai - they're almost like Starbucks in New York, one on every street corner!  The three we saw were all interesting and came with a variety of different sized Buddhas, stupas, prangs, dragons, gardens, the usual.......  Yes, we are almost getting "templed out" and we've only seen 7!!  And have another 3 countries to go to yet!
We got back to our hotel around 6 where we had our second run in with our delight of a hotel manager after our room hadn't been cleaned since we arrived 3 nights ago (which isn't that pleasant when you aren't allowed to put toilet paper down the loo!).  After laughing in our faces (we still don't understand what we said that was so funny) she still refused to clean it or at least empty the bins!  Great service we thought!!  Our first run in had been a small argument that morning when she'd not opened the breakfast room at 7 as the hotel had advertised meaning we had to rush to find somewhere else before the elephants-we couldn't have gone riding Nelly on an empty stomach!!
That evening we went out for our last meal in Thailand!  James had yet another Thai Green Curry and we also shared a couple of final Chang beers which are lovely!  On our last morning it was time for round 3 with our sour faced ogre of a hotel manager.  On checking out at midday, I was still busy ramming the last couple of bits into my bag when in storms the witch (and when I say stormed I mean smashing the door against the wall.  There was no knocking, nothing!).  Without even a nod of acknowledgement, she thundered across the room, picked up the bedside table, slammed it against the door to wedge it open and stormed out!  We just stood there in disbelief and then burst out laughing at her which probably didn't go down too well!  You meet all sorts in this part of the world!
I really can't believe our Thailand stint is over already!  It feels like only a few days ago we were arriving in Ko Samui but here we are, 27 days later and about to head to Laos, our eighth country of the trip, with only another 2 to go!
Wow, a long blog - apologies for that!
Lots of love,
Amy and James x

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Liv on

This is one of my favourite blogs so far, what a great birthday present (well done James!) I really want to ride an elephant now, it really suits you both, no more commuting by train when you get back ;) lots of love xxxx ps your tan is amazing soon to be birthday girl!!! XxxxxxX

Jo Kelly on

Ahhh the elephants are sooo cute, I did giggle when I read the bit about you having to get back on Ruby when she was muddy, I'm sure you were thrilled! Have a lovely birthday sweetie xxx

Kayleigh on

Elephant trek sounds amazing and like so much fun!! Hope you have had a lovely birthday! Lots of love xxxx

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