Arriving in Chiang Mai took a little longer than it normally would. The train tracks are being repaired for last few hundred kilometers so I had to wake from the sleeper train at 6.30am to then wait around nearly 3 hours for the bus to complete the journey, but this did allow for some impressive early morning views of the northern countryside.
Chiang Mai immediately gave a better feeling then Bangkok – both with the slightly cooler air and also the more relaxed flow of things there in the North. The hostel I stayed in echoed this feeling, with extremely friendly and welcoming owners and a really pleasant atmosphere for my whole stay. It wasn’t the cleanest or most modern hostel I’ve ever stayed in, but because of the wonderful people and attitudes it will probably go down as one of my favorites.
By coincidence, my first evening arriving was also the night where once a week the central streets turn into one huge walking market area, with stalls selling all sorts of crafts, artists and musicians performing, and as always; plenty of good food. I didn’t actually buy anything of course, but it was a good way to get to know the city.
My first proper day was further exploration of the old town and seeing the variety of temples it had to offer. Whilst seeing temples in Thailand can become rather repetitive, it usually pays off to see a selection as often there will be something different and rewarding. In the case of Chiang Mai, this was Wat Sri Suphan – a magnificent temple that goes against the grain of the traditional gold and bright colors, instead being completely covered in silver. The area around it is still alive with the sound of silversmiths repairing or adding to the intricate designs.
The following day was something special, time for my visit to Baan Chang Elephant Park to meet and ride some elephants! I’d researched it a lot before as I really didn’t want to visit somewhere that isn’t caring for these magnificent animals, and I’m glad I did as Baan Chang really did seem genuine and honest about looking after their elephants. They take them out of bad situations and spend time and money giving them a better life here. The morning was spent feeding all the elephants at the park and then learning a few commands to help control them as well as practicing mounting and getting off again. It’s certainly an experience and feels very high up when you first get on. So many photos from all of this but I’ll just use a few here for now, and yes we had to wear the stupid clothes.
After a wonderful Thai lunch it was time for the actual riding. I think they already had in mind which elephant was for each of us, as I ended up with one of the smallest! It was only a short trek though the jungle around the park itself, but it was definitely worth the experience. It was great to see the different characters of all the elephants, with mine being quite young he seemed to want to move faster than everyone else and also veer off course to munch all the trees.
After the riding we took them to the water to bathe them, which was great fun and they seemed to enjoy it just as much, being washed and scrubbed and cooling off. Definitely a day I won’t forget soon and I’d recommend this particular place to anyone as they do also do longer treks too.
The following day was a bit more relaxed with some more exploring of Chiang Mai. I took a trip up the mountain to the temple above the city in Doi Suthep, but unfortunately it was rather misty so the supposed excellent views were completely obscured.
The remainder of my time was spent at the hostel as it was such a wonderful place to be. My day of leaving was unfortunately a little frustrating, but it won’t change how much of a good time I had in Chiang Mai. I’m sure it was by accident, but someone managed to take my shoes… I only noticed on the morning of leaving so didn’t have time to sort it all out and will have to just get a new pair somewhere. That coupled with having to wait longer than expected for my laundry to return and only making it to the airport an hour before my flight led to a reasonably stressful morning, but I made it in time and after the short flight I am now back in the hot humid south and ready to explore some of the islands here.