Chiang Mai was one of the first places we went to that we had a big itinerary in mind so we did quite a lot.
The best thing we did was choose The Living Place 1 (in between Tha Phae gate and the night bazaar) as our accommodation. The owner, Aree, was friendly, fun, welcoming, and helpful. The downstairs common area was relaxed, chilled, and sociable, so much so that as soon as we arrived we were going out to lunch with fellow backpackers. The icing on the cake? Three tiny cute chihuahuas.
Siam Rice Cookery School
We went with recommendations from our hostel and paid twenty two euro and fifty cent for a day of cooking at Siam Rice. Our group included three Belgians, two Americans, and one South African. They collected us from our hostel and stopped off at a market so we could see where all the goods are bought. We made a few guesses as to what some of the vegetables were. The Thais have such a big variety of fresh produce! Among the broccoli and cucumbers there was also chunks of animal blood and meat drying out on a table in the sun.
The kitchen was an open air room. We made seven dishes each. I made spicy basil soup, spring rolls, stir fried chicken and vegetables with cashew nuts, penang curry paste and penang curry, pad thai, and mango with sticky rice.
We stood around the prep area, each with a tree trunk chopping board and huge knife. We also had our own gas hob. The teacher was great. He has been a chef for many years. He added humour to the day along with adding extra spice and dashes of soya sauce to our meals. My favourite dishes were the penang curry, spring rolls, and pad thai as I had never made them before and can see myself making them in the future. The curry paste took a lot of bashing under the pestel and mortar but was extremely worth it. I was delighted with how my spring rolls looked and even the sticky rice and mango was a nice combination. The sticky rice was prepared the night before as it needs to be soaked in water overnight but the addition of coconut milk and a few other things made it really tasty. I found out that sticky rice is actually made from a different grain than the rice we eat in Ireland. We were sent home happy and full with a doggy bag, certificate, and cook book of what we made. Amazing day.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
We spent two days in the jungle, one and a half hours from Chiang Mai. We did a little bit of research into elephant parks as we didn’t want to ride the elephants. The Elephant Nature Park was booked out so we went with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We also wanted to experience some proper Thai culture but were advised by our amazing hostel owner that the trips to hill tribes were put on for tourists. Our trip included a stay in proper hill tribes with local people so it won us over.
As it turned out, only four of us in total were going to stay the night in the jungle. Myself and Orna, and our pals for the next few days–Kristina and Anna from North Carolina. We actually got extra special treatment. While the twenty odd people went to see two of the elephants together, us four got to go to the other in what felt like a private tour. In total there are three elephants in the very new jungle sanctuary. There’s Mambusi, the fifty four year old pregnant female, and a one year old boy and his fourteen year old mother. They are all allowed to roam free in the jungle with just a bell that tells the elephant workers that they have gone too far. Rather than using whips and riding on the elephants, they use words to get the elephants to do what they want, such as move away from the tourists or go down for a bath.
We fed the elephants bananas. Lots and lots of bananas. Some we handed to their trunks and others we put straight into their mouths. Mambusi exuded calmness. The baby was playful and happy. A elephant trainer pushed and messed with him as another child would. Next year he will have his own friend when the two year pregnancy of Mambusi finishes. The babies’ mother was feistier than Mambusi and happily ate away at tree plants, ignoring the rest of us. After a huge lunch we gave them a mud bath. I was in my element. It was gloriously refreshing rubbing mud on the elephants. I could tell that they loved it. After wards we went down to the river and washed them off. The baby loved it and dunk himself under water. After their bath, we each showered in the waterfall. Throughout the bathing experience a local Thai man had my phone taking pictures. When I got my phone back I saw that he also took a few scenic shots. Obviously he was in his element too.
That afternoon, the four overnighters followed our guide, twenty six year old Tim, to his village. We walked on paths through fields and up and down hills in the wilderness. We took a tour of the village that inhabits forty nine people. We were joined by Tim’s nephews–two ‘boy’ boys who climbed up trees, hit us with berries, ran up hills, hit each other, and took fruit from the trees. We got to blow bubbles through a leaf and stem. No need for plastic containers of bubbles in the jungle, they come naturally.
For dinner we sat cross legged on the floor made out of reeds and chopped vegetables into our hands. We cooked on a fire inside in a pit in the ground. Cooked cucumber mixed with egg, water and flavourings is actually very nice. We were joined by German Ben who lasted one day on the rice fields where the heat is overwhelming while carting rice up slippy ground. We ate, had a few Chang beers, saw millions of stars and slept on thin mattresses on the ground with shoddy blankets and mosquito nets. The wooden houses are on stilts with the underneath being used as a common sitting area. The toilets are separate huts and most of them are flushed by scooping water from a bucket into the bowl.
On the second day we took it easy. A few of us had a go on Tim’s sister’s homemade loom which was attached to a piece of wood on the house. She was making a scarf. I bought a scarf and bag from her. We visited a rice field and hung out with the workers as they took their break in a stilted shack while eating rice from banana leaves and chicken feet. A granny had a good laugh as Kristina was able to reach her water on the roof when she was about to climb up to get it. Eventually we joined the new elephant recruits but skipped the mud bath and showered in the waterfall again.
It was a successful jungle and elephant experience.
Myself, Orna, and our new American friends dedicated a day to visit temples. We were a little hungover so it was a bit hard. We made it to two. At the first we ended up doing ‘monk chat’. We talked to the twenty year old about his life and then he asked us about our studies. It was interesting. We learned about his daily routine. Here are some facts I picked up:
– Monks get fed from donations from the public.
– They also chant in a language that only the monks know
– Each buddist male must become a monk at some point in his life.
– Monks are no longer novices by the time they reach twenty one and so must abide by the much larger set of rules from then on
– Monks cannot drive but can keep up their studies
– Women should not touch or sit beside a monk or in the same carriage
– Monks should not talk to women in private
The second temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, was up on a hill. We made the journey by sawngteaw up the ever winding road and then walked up the three hundred and six steps. There was a grand view of the city from there, with the square wall of the old city visible.
Other activities we did in Chiang Mai:
- Went to the Sunday night market
It is different than any other market we had seen. There were lots of well made handicrafts. It was so big that our feet got tired and we needed to get a foot massage to help us get through it.
- Went to a lady boy cabaret show
We joined a group from our hostel. We sat at the side of the stage and made sure that the birthday boy Andy got up on stage. He got a racy lap dance that we all got a good laugh out of. It was pretty cool. Some of the ladies oozed sex appeal. Being so close to the action, I could see how petite the male back up dancers were and how some of the costumes needed a bit of a repair job done to them. Numerous ladies also had braces on, which is apparently a cool thing in Asia!?!
- Browsed the night bazaar
Bought stuff, ate artisan ice cream, and drank the infamous fruit shakes all the while watching a rat eat the holy offerings from a religious stand beside a restaurant full of fish tanks.
– Had lovely, cheap meals.
– Had a bongo and singsong session with our fellow backpackers before a late night out on the town.
– Met up with a guy from my hometown who has been living in Chiang Mai for five years.
– Bought and posted my Christmas presents which actually arrived much quicker than expected.