In our attempt to avoid paying Visa fees on this trip we have three 30 day trips to Thailand planned. The second of which included spending nearly a month in the Northern part of Thailand. After few days in the South catching up with some friends from which I’m not too sure I’ve actually recovered, we made our way to Chiang Mai the slow way.
By this I mean, mini van from Ko Lanta to Krabi. Overnight bus from Krabi to Bangkok, 17 hours to kill in Bangkok before finally getting a 14 hour overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai. It saved us 2 night accommodation, and was about £20 cheaper than the 2 hour flight would have been. Plus it’s all part of the experience. At least that what I told myself as I rolled around in a top bunk at 4am convinced the train was about to go off the track…..
Chiang Mai itself is our most favourite city so far. Its compact, there is loads to do, and its really cheap. The people are really friendly, and did I mention it’s cheap? There are also about 200 temples in Chiang Mai and for the most part, they don’t charge entrance fees. Though you can give a donation if you wish. Often the donation goes to something specific, like medical care for elderly monks, or to feed the monks in a particular template. We actually only spent one day going round temples because we got a bit way laid by a city wide water fight that went on for 4 days (more of that in a bit). The temples we saw were all different, but all absolutely stunning. You can see a whole load of photos that Steve took on our Facebook page.
We also took the 4 hour van trip (complete with 200 odd hairpin turns) to Pai, a northern town up in the hills. This is a true hippy town, where lots of 18 year old gap year kids flock to drink Mushroom Shakes, and talk like a) they are the first people to do Mushroom shakes and b) they have the first clue about anything – think Ben from the Inbetweeners 2 film and you have a fair idea of the way they are.
But it also has the best burger stall in the whole of Thailand, and thankfully there are enough normals around that we could avoid them for the most part. Pai also have one of the most talented bamboo tattoo artists, who has won awards internationally. Steve got a seriously good tattoo done for a bargain price. The nightlife is Pai is also really good, with some excellent live music.
Anyway, back to this water fight. In a case of sheer serendipity we happened to be in Chiang Mai for Song Kran – Thai New Year. Song Kran is a big deal. Its basically the only time people get off all year in Thailand, so they make the most of it. It’s a time for seeing family, catching up with friends, and having a good time by throwing water around. Chiang Mai is widely regarded as having the BEST water fight. I don’t think we could argue with them on that one.
Originally the festival was a very sedate go and wash the Buddha in the temple and has evolved into a 4 day water where the streets are not a safe place to be if you want to stay dry. We had the best time wandering around with super soakers and standing with the owners and staff of our hotel chucking buckets of ice water at passersby and all moving vehicles.
Its taken so seriously that when Steve saw a prison van go past he thought he probably shouldn’t spray any of the inmates. Until they all pulled out their water guns and started firing at him through the bars. In the evenings, it got totally crazy, with the local bars outing out stages, and the local fire brigade providing a truck with water for them to drench all the partygoers. Chiang Mai is also the place where we heard one of the best reggae bands on our travels
Bucket List Entry Number 2
Having spent a few weeks in water fights and avoiding Gap yearers in Pai it was finally time for Bucket List Entry number 2. Elephant Nature Park or for the rest of this post, ENP. This was such a special part of our trip it probably deserves its own post, but we get charged for each post we put on the site, so for the moment, this is just an extra long one 🙂
ENP is a sanctuary for Elephants who have been abused in the tourist and logging trade. Unfortunately there are far too many of them in need of help. The Park tries to let them live as much as possible in family groups, and without lots of human interaction. There is absolutely no riding of Elephants, and the keepers are not allowed to use violence against the Elephants. This is sadly, a very different state of affairs than almost all other Elephants in captivity in Thailand, where riding Elephants is big business, and they are almost universally badly treated. Just in case it wasn’t clear, please don’t ride elephants. We shared a blog post that was written by one of the ladies in our group on why this practise is so cruel.
During our week at the sanctuary we volunteered to help feed and muck out the Elephants. This involved
- cutting a corn field down for food,
- mucking out every day,
- washing an endless supply of watermelons and pumpkins,
- unloading food trucks as they were delivered.
We also got to be able to see these amazing animals close up as we were often out in the park cleaning up after them. We were also taken round one day to see all the different elephant family groups, including a couple of unintended babies (possibly the cutest thing ever).
People Make Trips
We met some very cool people as well, and we had a great laugh, though we were definitely the naughty kids of the group. As anyone who’s met Steve will know, he’s definitely a bit of rebel, so when I saw that we were not getting ANY meat or dairy for the whole week (and they wanted you quiet by 9pm), I expected that he would want to sneak out, and get meat.
What I didn’t expect was for there to be a group of us. Or that our sedate 4pm visit to the local BBQ place would descend into beer, moonshine, and the weirdest game of Simon says I’ve ever played. My sides hurt for a week afterward from laughing so much, and Steve still has the scar from his epic commando roll/fall off 1 foot high ledge into massive puddle. He wasn’t the only casualty – someone slept in a dog bed.
Steve in Dog Heaven
ENP also runs a dog sanctuary which houses over 500 dogs at present. Sadly Thailand has a real problem with stray dogs, and also puppy farms. The dogs at the Sanctuary are adopted to the US, Canada and Europe, having been fully quarantined, neutered and vaccinated. We were able to spend time socialising and walking the dogs. This was was the highlight of my day, other than the beautiful cat that came to see us every morning for cuddles (they also have a cat sanctuary as well). There were at least 4 dogs that we would have adopted in a shot if we had a place to live. I think Steve would have happily lived there if they’d let him eat meat.
So, Northern Thailand is done for the moment. We’ll be back later on in the year. There are still some temples we haven’t seen, and we’d both like to revisit Pai before we finally leave Thailand. Next stop is the Philippines, which we really haven’t got the first clue what to expect. Should be fun….