Ever since we moved to Thailand countless people have RAVED about Chiang Mai. They talk about the overall relaxed vibe, the temples, the cooler weather, the coffee, the food, and the culture. We were excited when our midterm break from school arrived and it was time to set out for our first venture to Chiang Mai. On a Tuesday afternoon we hopped on an Air Asia flight from U-Tapao airport in Pattaya and within about an hour we we had arrived at Chiang Mai International Airport. We grabbed a taxi and were at our hotel within 20 minutes.
Our first hotel was the Pha-Thai Guesthouse in Old City Chiangmai (within the walled portion of the city). Because we arrived late and it was dark, we checked in to the hotel and walked down the street for a late snack/dinner. It started raining rather hard so we didn’t go far. Luckily the first place we stopped had one of Chiang Mai’s most popular food dishes, Khao Soi. It’s essentially a curried soup with fried and boiled egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, chili’s, coconut milk, etc. I had mine with chicken. AWESOME.
Afterwards we picked up a couple of Leo beers and headed back to the room for the night. Before going to bed we did manage to schedule an excursion to the Maerim Elephant Sanctuary the next morning, an essential thing to do when visiting Chiang Mai I believe.
At 8:30am Wednesday morning a songthaew driver arrived in the hotel lobby to pick us up for the trip to the elephant sanctuary. After stopping by two other pick-up locations we were in route to the sanctuary. We were accompanied by three other people who turned out very cool to hang with. One girl was from Israel and had just left her boyfriend in Myanmar after a breakup, there was a couple on their honeymoon from Washington State, and there my wife and I and our 2 children. We were an interesting mix of people. After arriving at Maerim we were greeted by some of the tour guides who walked us to the elephants to “say hello”. Afterwards we were presented with traditional denim clothing and changed into them. We filled every pocket of the denim garb with as many bananas as possible and entered the gated area with the elephants.
There were 5 elephants in total, one being a baby. However sweet, hungry elephants surrounding you when you have pockets full of bananas can be intimidating. I felt like I had bait tied to me. It was awesome and humbling to stand with such huge creatures.
We walked with the elephants alongside a stream running through the woods to a mud pool where we were asked to bathe them.
The elephants loved it. We basically paid to give them a spa day. I think they should have paid us.
Afterwards we all headed out and changed back into clean clothes in order to learn how to make a traditional Thai noodle soup for lunch.
By 1:30 we were back on the songthaew and heading back to our hotels. This was an experience I highly recommend as it was like nothing else I’ve ever done.
After returning back to the Old City from seeing the elephants we decided to venture out and see some of the sights within the Old City walls. Pha-Thai guesthouse was conveniently located so we were able to walk a short distance up the street and we found ourselves near Wat Chedi Luang. This temple was supposedly built in 1441 when the area was known as the Lanna Kingdom. I was thoroughly impressed with the striking nature of this structure. It is said that “The Emerald Buddha”, now housed in Bangkok, was held within this building until 1475. There is a Jade replica of the original inside it now.
All around the grounds were other smaller temples and bells. I am to sure of the exact names of all these others we saw. All very impressive.
After all this temple-trekking and the morning we had had, we decided to catch a tuk tuk for a Mexican dinner and then head back to the hotel for the night.
Thursday morning we decided to call a taxi to see Baan Tong Luang, a tribal village nestled within the northern hills of Chiang Mai. This village is made up of 8 different refugee tribes from Myanmar and Laos all living amongst each other in a setting surrounded by bamboo, water buffalo, and rice patties. It was like no other place I have ever been and I had only seen on television.
For about 600 baht (kids were free), we entered the hill tribe compound and walked by each group. Each tribe still seems to retain their tribal identity in clothing, accessories, trade, etc.
The most memorable was the long-necked women of the Karen Tribe. These women often start placing rings around their necks as young as 5 years old.
Every tribe sold a mixture of textiles, handmade musical instruments, jewelry, handmade cigars, dolls, etc. The whole area is definitely geared towards the tourist but is still well worth the visit.
We departed Baan Tong Luang around 1:00pm and headed back to the old city to check into a new hotel, V-Lodge. Most of Chiang Mai was quiet on this day because it was The Royal Cremation Ceremony of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Most of the businesses, including 7-11 and Tesco Lotus, were closing around 3pm to show respect. Our taxi driver, Chom, was very kind and offered to take us around the city the following day which we arranged. He himself was going to a ceremony for The King that evening, which is another reason we wanted to get back to the hotel early so he could make it there in time. We ate lunch at an awesome place called “Cat House” and even purchased more food from them for takeaway so we could eat it later for dinner when everything was closed.
Around 11:00am Friday morning, Chom returned to our hotel to pick us up for a day of temple-hopping. We initially only wanted to go up Doi Suthep mountain but Chom mentioned he would not only take us there but also show us two other temples. We were pleased to see what else he might take us to. We journeyed our way out of the old city and went northwest towards Doi Suthep.
Our first stop was Wat Sakithaka (Pha Lat) while in route to Doi Suthep. This place was very secluded and was positioned deep in a quiet, lush, green forest. When we arrived there were many people presenting the morning alms to the monks. We passed by them and made our way through the grounds. There was a peaceful waterfall and astonishing views of the city below. Many people go to this temple & monastery for a place to meditate. I could see why. It was gorgeous.
After a solid 45 minutes at our first stop, we jumped back in the car to continue our trip up the winding mountain road towards Doi Suthep. Chom stopped at an overlook spot where we were able to see magnificent unobstructed views of the city.
There were vendors selling barbecued meat, coconuts, and fruit. There was also a man sketching photos of whomever wanted to sit in front on him. Our two kids took a seat and he went to sketching them. Within about two minutes he completed their portraits. He did not ask for money but we of course gave him a tip. This was an unexpected treat!
We got back in the car and within 15 minutes we arrived at Doi Suthep.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Chiang Mai. This day in particular was fairly busy. Chom dropped us off at the funicular train lift and would return in an hour. The roadside was covered with vendors selling clothing, strawberries, coffee, bbq meat, and fried insects. We took the train up the mountainside and made our way around Wat Phra That. It was a very impressive golden temple. The sun reflecting off of it made it somewhat difficult to look at. Surrounding the temple grounds at a few other smaller temples, restaurants, and gift shops. Again, the views from the summit of this mountain are amazing.
Our third temple stop with Chom was Wat Umong. It is a 700 year old buddhist temple at the foot of Doi Suthep mountain located very close to Chiang Mai University. The temple itself has a series of connecting tunnels, each leading to areas with various buddha images.
The tunnel walls feature worn paintings of bush scenes.
Resting on top of the network of tunnels is a massive stupa you can reach by walking up a series of steps above the temple.
The grounds that it is located on are filled with trees, fish ponds, ducks, and turtles. Outside the structure is a garden area filled with very old broken buddha statues.
There are signs hanging from the trees on the footpaths that feature proverbs written in thai and english.
The entry to the temple is a slanted wall covered with ivy. I highly recommend visiting this place.
Once we has seen the three stops that our taxi driver/tour guide had planned, we asked him to take drop us off somewhere for lunch. He recommended this place below.
When we got in we sat down, took off our bags (we had all our luggage at this point), I placed the drawing of my children on the table, and we looked over the menu for a late lunch. The food we ordered was delicious, although I ordered “fat noodles” which had a slightly unappealing texture. I tried butterfly pea tea for the first time too. We had no idea where we were actually but planned to catch a Grabtaxi (kind of like Uber) back to the airport as we had a flight departing around 7:30pm. After leaving we instead grabbed a songthaew to Central Mall as we had some time to kill. The entire ride there took almost 45 minutes because of heavy traffic. The moment we get to the mall I realize that I left the sketch of my children at the restaurant. We decided to catch a Grabtaxi back to the restaurant (luckily I noticed the name of a place nearby and traced it’s location) to see if they might still have the drawing or instead threw it in the trash. After arriving in about 30 minutes we tried to gesture to the waitress that we lost the drawing. She did not understand at first until I flashed a photo of it on my phone. She immediately nodded and ran to the back to grab the scrolled drawing. We were ecstatic that we did not lose it! AMAZING! After this we were on the way back to the airport to wait for our flight.
The entire trip was random and diverse, relaxing and stimulating. I know we will be back in Chiang Mai again whilst living here.