Number 2 – Visit Thailand (Two of Clubs) – Tuesday 24th January
Part 2 – Chiang Mai
So I survived the night bus! It was pretty uncomfortable and bumpy, but I managed to get some sleep, and it was pretty safe to be honest. Bring on Chiang Mai!
We arrived in Chiang Mai at around 8am on Saturday morning and the difference from Bangkok was immediately evident; everything seemed slower and more friendly. We hopped into the back of a Songthaew, which is basically like a Mitsubishi pick up car with a covered back in order to get to the hostel. Don’t worry mum, it’s safe! Bags dropped off I headed for breakfast and had the most amazing Banana pancakes ever. They were fantastic and just what I needed. From there, my friend headed to bed to catch up on sleep; I put my headphones in, Gaslight Anthem on, and headed out to explore the city. I have a great app called Maps.Me, which was recommended by my cousin and her boyfriend; basically you can download maps to use when offline, but because you can still have your GPS active when in flight mode, you can find your way around really easy. So thanks Cat and Olly! Don’t worry though, I didn’t just have my head in my phone the whole time – I’m at my best when I’m just wandering and going where the mood takes me, so I was using the app in order to get a rough route to a place, then putting my phone away and just setting off. It’s a great way of getting lost and actually seeing the city.
Eventually, with mango smoothie in hand, I arrived at yet another temple. This one was right in the centre of the old town, and was really old itself. It was nice to see a different style of temple, and the best part was you could chat to the monks there. I made a beeline for it, but unfortunately they were heading to lunch, so I only got to speak to them for a few moments. Still a lovely experience. The temple is called Wat Chedi Luang and is only around £1 in, so I highly recommend it.
From there I headed south, basically going where the mood took me and letting the city show me where to go. Chiang Mai has a moat around it, so I followed that for a while. I got super-hot though, so I decided to find a café. The café I ended up in was a real find; it’s called Brew Jobs, on the east side of the old town, next to the moat. It had a great vibe to it, great coffee, and great prices: around £1.50 for an iced cappuccino. So I sat there for a while whilst I finished up my previous post and put it online. Again, highly recommended and a little hidden piece of Chiang Mai.
After that I headed back to the hostel for a shower and an hour of relaxing before heading out for food. We ate at a great Burmese restaurant again on the east side of Chiang Mai called The Swan. The Burmese food I had was incredible! Then it was time for my first experience of a night market. If you haven’t already realised, I really like Chiang Mai; it has a brilliant vibe, and is so much cooler than Bangkok. The night market just continued that trend: we entered through a food court where a young local band were playing reggae music and putting everyone in a great mood. The market was at first what I expected – cheap clothing and trinkets, but down one set of stairs and everything changed. We walked into some sort of art gallery; at the front, local men were sat as you would normally expect, pretending to replicate a photo, but further back I found some real talent. There were a few artists hard at work, and the artwork I saw there was just phenomenal; I am coming back here one day just to buy the decorations for my walls! We wandered for a while, made our way back to the food court and carried on listening to the band for a while longer before getting a Tuk tuk back to the hostel. Overall a great day.
This morning started by having to move hostels; we found a cheaper hostel which is actually a lot better. By cheaper I mean £3 per person for a private room…! I wanted to travel to two temples today so I enquired about how much one of the Songthaew’s would cost. I ended up hiring one for the day for a total price of £8! Bearing in mind he probably travelled around 40km today, I would say that’s pretty good value. Anyway, the first stop was Doi Suthep. It is the mountain temple around 15km west of Chiang Mai on top of the mountain. I really wasn’t interested in seeing yet another temple, but the views were simply stunning, and for less than £1, it was well worth it.
As beautiful as the views were, the temple was still littered with tourists, and so I headed back to the Songthaew and headed to my main focus for the day – Wat Umong (the tunnel temple). I had read about this when I searched for ‘Hidden Chiang Mai’. NB. This is something I recommend you all do, it has led me to some great places. Basically, whenever you go somewhere new, or even in your own town or city, just google ‘Hidden + city’ (Hidden London, Hidden Bangkok). I guarantee it will lead you to some weird and wonderful spots and it will get you away from the tourist spots. Anyway, back to Wat Umong!
So I had read about Wat Umong online and it looked amazing. When I arrived, it didn’t disappoint. It was originally known as the forest temple, owing to its surroundings, and refreshingly it was much less touristy. There was a lake with huge fish, and turtles swimming around, the central pagoda, monks working in the gardens, but the most incredible part were the tunnels themselves. The tunnels are built into the side of a small hill, with smaller tunnels branching off, leading to small prayer areas with one Buddha statue and space for one person to kneel. I am not a spiritual person, but for the first time in a long time, I felt something whilst here, it was surreal, but not in a bad way. From there it was back to the hostel, out for a bit of food and then an early night ready for the next day…
This may be the highlight of my entire trip! We had to get up super early to get picked up, and we set off on a 2 hour ride to… the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary! We had read quite a lot about elephant sanctuaries, and although this one was slightly more expensive, we chose it because it was ethical and they actually seem to look after the elephants there. We arrived at around 10am and walked down to the sanctuary. After a short safety briefing, we were introduced to the 7 elephants and invited to feed them and get some photos. It was incredible how tame they all were and how close we were able to get. We spent around 40 minutes just playing with the elephants etc. before trekking with them into the jungle. This was absolutely crazy and a great way to see the elephants in a natural environment. I was overwhelmed by how nimble and agile they are; navigating the way through the trees and up steep inclines with ease. They looked in their element and totally at home. Whilst they were enjoying the jungle, our guide educated us on various aspects of life at the sanctuary, the elephants themselves and other things in and amongst. He was really educational and happy to answer any questions.
After that we returned to the sanctuary for some lunch whilst the elephants ate, again! Then we had the most part of the day – we were invited to give the elephants a mud bath! We waded into the mud pool and before you knew it there was mud flying everywhere; everybody got caked! From there we walked to the river to clean the elephants, which again turned into a full on water fight. Only this time even the elephants got involved, spraying water at everyone whilst they were cleaning them. Seriously, this was so much fun! We got to spend another half an hour with the elephants before returning to our transport, so overall we spent around 5 hours with the elephants. It was an incredible day and one I will never forget. And for the price (2400 THB/ around £55) it was more than worth it.
Another early morning and after checking out we were picked up again by a local lady from Siam Rice Kitchen for a half day of learning to cook Thai style! Our first stop was the market, where our host informed us all about the different ingredients in Thai cooking. She was extremely informative; I never knew there were so many types of basil, or that ginseng is basically a natural Viagra! From here we travelled to her house, where we chose the dishes we were going to cook and then got to work. I chose Chicken coconut soup, Pad Thai, red curry paste and red curry with chicken and eggplants. There was a lot to learn and the our chef was great at not just explaining what to do, but also why we were doing it. Even though I like spice, she was more than happy to explain to me how to make the dishes less spicy, you know, just in case I need to cook for someone who can’t handle the spice… 😉 A great morning and although it was a lot to remember, we received a recipe book, so I can jog my memory. Please get in touch to book a table with me when I get home!
In the afternoon we made our way to the bus station to move onto our next stop – Pai. Chiang Mai has been amazing; there is so much to see, it’s a safe city, and a lot of fun. Considering I wasn’t even meant to be coming here, I’ve had a great time and if you are visiting Thailand, make sure you visit. There are bus, train and air links with Bangkok and elsewhere, and I would thoroughly recommend the activities I have listed above. And also the Thapae Bunk Home was brilliant value.
Bring on Pai
Carpe that Diem