So it’s about time I began a regular blog. We are constantly saying to each other “hey, remember that because it would be really good to put in a blog about this place… etc etc”. So I decided to start with a post about Chiang Mai, a place I was excited to go after spending nearly five weeks in Thailand already. When we arrived in Chiang Mai, we hired a scooter and I got to researching the best things to do while we were there. I read a lot of different blogs along the same lines as this one but none of them had the best parts in (in my opinion) so I wanted to compile my own of our favourite things we did! Glen had visited threes times before on previous trips and I could tell he wasn’t that excited. His thoughts were that unless you were going to do an overnight trek or day with the elephants, there isn’t a great lot to do apart from chill in a cool city. But we spoke to as many locals as we could about what they recommend and the trip actually turned out to be his best visit yet and became one of my favourite places in Thailand!
I should note that these aren’t in order of greatness, just an order.
Get stuck into some Khao Soi
This is the staple dish of northern Thailand and you definitely should not leave Chiang Mai without trying it. We were staying in Chiang Mai old city for four days, and having read up on this beforehand my first port of call was to get my hands on this dish. Teamed with a Thai ice tea (my absolute favourite beverage), it soon became one of my favourite Thai meals and we had it four times in different restaurants, each having their own little twist on it which only made it more exciting. It’s a red curry based creamy sauce served with noodles in it, and chicken/tofu etc, whatever your preference. Typically if you see “Khao Soi Khai” on the menu, that means it’s with chicken. It’s then topped with deep fried crispy noodles (to die for) and usually served with coriander sprinkled on top and a small plate of pickled cabbage, raw red onion and lime. Just try it, you’ll thank me!
Become a Thai masterchef
As our lust for Thai food has increased during this trip, so has my desire to be able to whip up some of my favourite dishes at home. Partly so to wow my friends and family with our new culinary delights but also because I can’t bare to think of a world without Thai food. Yes, I love it that much. We used google and blogs to choose a few, called them up literally 8pm the night before we wanted to do the morning class and they all had availability. We went with Asia Scenic Cooking School, I can’t speak for any others but this one had amazing reviews. We did a half day class which started at 9am and finished around 1.30pm. We paid 800 baht each and got to prepare and cook 5 dishes in a group of 8, other schools will have bigger or smaller classes but that’s up to you. The dishes you were able to cook were a choice from a category, one soup, one curry paste, one stir fry, one curry and everyone made a spring roll. We were absolutely stuffed by the time we left, so don’t eat much before going!! Prior to starting the cooking, we went to the market to see all the ingredients we would cook with and had a chance to buy herbs and spices if we wanted to. If you are currently deciding which school to go with, and there are hundreds, just pick Asia Scenic. They have got their teaching down to an art, they don’t hold your hand which was my worry with other classes, and they are hilarious and fun from start to finish (we had Sexy A as a teacher, whose deadpan delivery of smut was hilarious, but of course we can’t speak for the others!)
Get a massage from an ex-prisoner
As a way of integrating women prisoners back into society, a few massage shops have opened with the lure of getting a massage by an ex-inmate. We read about this on another blog and decided to go for it, Glen is forever telling them “keng dai” (strong can) so he was excited at the prospect of their toughness being translated into a massage. Type in “massage by ex-prisoner” on maps.me (another lifesaver for backpackers, offline maps with satnav) to find it and enjoy. The massage costs about the same as most in Chiang Mai, perhaps a little more (200 baht for a Thai massage) but it’s a different, and good, experience… and yes, they are strong!
Spend an afternoon chilling at Huay Tung Lake
I was a little reluctant to share this place on a blog as we were the only westerners when we went but this place is too beautiful not to share. We found out about this through the lady we hired a scooter through, she described it as where all the cool young Thais hang out. We hopped on our scooter one day and road out of the old city, about 20-25 minutes to reach the lake. It’s not a place I’d recommend without a scooter as we didn’t see any taxis around, all the locals were on scooters or in cars. However, I’m sure it is possible by taxi as long as you arrange a pick up else you will be pretty stranded. We drove through torrential rain (typical of Chiang Mai in October) but arrived to beautiful sunshine. The lake is surrounded by small open huts with roofs, enough for up to 8 people to sit around with private lakefronts if you fancy a dip.
We arrived and asked for a couple of big beers which were brought over in a basket with a huge bucket of ice! We also later had some delicious food too, all of which was super reasonable. It’s a great place to chill out and have a sense of what life would be like if you lived there. We loved that we were the only westerners and had a lovely afternoon chilling in the sun and paddling in the lake. You can drive the entire circumference of the lake, so drive around until you find a spot you like. If you’re short on time, this is one of the things I’d recommend over everything else.
Chiang Mai Grand Canyon
We found out about this from a girl at our cooking class, and decided to go that very afternoon. I’d initially seen it on another blog but dismissed it as it seemed a little too touristy. However, there are two parts to it. One side is a “total wipeout” like inflatable waterpark and the other side (not visible from the waterpark side) is an awesome old quarry with steep rock sides and platforms to jump from into the deep water. Again, it’s about a 25 minute ride out of town, so we took our scooter but we did see people arriving in minivans or you could get a taxi. It was 100 baht each to get in but worth every penny! We had the best time, climbing the cargo nets and jumping from the highest platforms and cheering everyone else on as they did the same. There are floating bamboo rafts throughout the water and paddle boards and inner tubes (all free) at the far side of the water, which are all great if you, like me, were feeling a little deprived of the ‘beach life’ after spending the previous three weeks on the beach. Yes, I know it sounds like I’ve just contradicted myself as it is more touristy than the usual activities, but it’s good fun and still looks pretty natural. The rocks and paths into the water can be slippy so if you have them, sea shoes would be useful. We didn’t and it was fine, you just have to walk slower or embrace the clay mud between your toes! Everyone’s given a life jacket on entry and the platforms start from 1 metre up to around 11/12 metres high so there’s a jump for everyone, or just go and chill out in the sun, the water is lovely!
Volunteer at the Dog Rescue centre at the Elephant Nature Park (ENP)
If you have the time, dedicate a week (or two) to this program. My friend had spent three weeks at this park, two with the elephants and one with the dogs and she couldn’t recommend the dogs more! So we went for it, we booked online, paid 5,000 baht each for a week which included a private room with ensuite, three AMAZING all-you-can-eat buffet meals a day, drinking water, transport to and from your Chiang Mai hotel, a free t-shirt and water bottle. The experience with the dogs was so rewarding, hard work but you really feel like you are making a difference during your time there. ENP Dogs is home to over 400+ rescued dogs and really needs volunteers. The centre has an onsite clinic where poorly dogs are brought in and treated which is where the short term volunteers are based. The work is physical, it includes walking dogs three times a day, feeding them, bathing them, cleaning their pens twice a day and providing endless cuddles (the best part)!
It’s almost the best of both worlds too if, like me, you fear missing out on the elephants by volunteering with the dogs. On our first day, we were taken around the elephant park to meet all of the elephants, learn their names and their heartbreaking stories. The accommodation also faces right out onto the elephant park so you literally wake up to elephants less than 20 metres from you. Throughout the day you walk the dogs past the elephants roaming and every time you eat at the communal area you look out onto the elephants in the park. Win win!
The only thing you don’t do is feed them like you would do on a day trip, but for me, the experience of waking up to them and seeing them roaming in a natural environment was perfect enough for me! The founder, Lek and her husband, have built the most fantastic home for elephants and dogs with a history of abuse and the work they do is tremendous! Both the dogs and the elephants need your time and help, so if you have the time, spare it. You won’t regret it and you’ll be terribly sad to leave like we were. The link to their volunteering page is here, scroll to the bottom for the dog project!
As you drive around Chiang Mai you’ll see temples everywhere you look, they are not as magnificent as the likes of the Wats in Bangkok but some are incredibly old with a lot of history. We actually only entered one temple, Wat Prat That, on the top of Doi Suthep, the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. About a 30 minute ride out of the city, it’s very simple to reach by scooter like we did or catch a red truck up (the red trucks will take you almost everywhere in the city for 30 baht, a great way to get around if you don’t want to hire a scooter). After climbing the 300+ steps up to the temple and paying 50 baht each to get in, you’ll see the views are incredible from the top of the mountain, which is why a lot of people come up here.
Most of the temples in Chiang Mai also offer ‘Monk Chats’ at certain times of the day, where you have the opportunity to sit with a monk and find out more about their day to day life or faith by asking questions. Something we didn’t get chance to do but would be keen on doing in future! Whenever you visit a temple make sure your knees and shoulders are coverered in loose clothing (most temples won’t accept skinny jeans or leggings anymore) and always carry a sarong or scarf for extra cover-up if you’re not sure.
And finally, one place we really wanted to go but didn’t get chance…
Doi Inthanon National Park
This national park home to Thailand’s tallest mountain, magnificent views, fun treks and temples dedicated to royalty. We were very close to going but rainy season put us off – the thought of driving two hours into freezing weather and torrential rain didn’t appeal. We were pretty sad about this as we heard it was beautiful. Ask the locals and research it before you decide to go. If you do go, stay overnight on top of the mountain and watch the sunrise in the morning – the most beautiful part of Doi Inthanon according to the Thai people.
And finally something I just had to mention…
If you consider yourself a responsible tourist, please don’t do these things…
We try to be very green backpackers so we are totally against this. Elephants do not have the spines to be ridden and most of them are not treated well even if the guides say they are. Quite the opposite in fact; they are taken from their mother at a year old and beaten horrendously and repeatedly until any instinct or mischief is taken from their character, and they can only walk in a circle dozens of times a day with an unfamiliar, and sadly, ignorant person on their back. Please don’t do it, go to a sanctuary or retirement park and observe them, but don’t ride them. In Chiang Mai, there are so many elephant parks so please do extra research into whichever you choose (if it isn’t ENP) to make sure you aren’t choosing one that claims no riding but in fact does offer it.
I don’t have much to say about this apart from simply don’t do it. It is not a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’. By paying to do this, you are soliciting the drugging of wild animals for tourists’ enjoyment. Be responsible, eliminate the demand and therefore eliminate the supply.
Sorry to be solemn at the end but I feel you can’t come to a place like Chiang Mai and witness these things without expressing how you feel about them. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading one of our very first blogs of many more to come, and please give it share if you liked it.
Grace & Glen xoxo