After waking up in the morning in Bangkok, we packed our bags and grabbed lunch in Bangkok before we hopped on a plane for an hour and made our way to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is magical and everything I pictured Thailand being before we got there. Going in January, we went during the perfect time of year for weather. It wasn’t hot and the humidity was minimal and it rained only one time the entire time we were there and that’s when we first arrived at the airport in Chiang Mai. It rained for just about 3 hours and then stopped for good. Leaving the airport, we took a tuktuk to our hotel (The Empress*) and dropped off our bags.
At this time, it was about 8pm and we were starving so we made our way down to the lobby and out into the streets. We walked down the main street, which was buzzing with people, and ventured into the Chiang Mai Night Market. I can’t begin to describe how exhilarating it was to walk through the winding alleyways and tented stalls viewing wares ranging from fresh fruit to seafood, wooden carvings to extravagant paintings, and ladyboys a plenty. Stalls went off in every direction as far as I could see with vendors offering their products again and again to potential customers walking by. We drank cold Chang beers, ate amazing food in the market, and drank some more beer before we made our way back to the hotel for the night.
The next morning we were up early for quite possibly the most amazing experience of my entire life; we were going to ride elephants through the jungle. Patara Elephant Farm company comprised of members of a Thai mountain clan, that invites tourists to come and volunteer themselves for the day to help care for a herd of elephants that the clan has been raising for over 500 years. The entire experience costs around 6000 Baht per person, and needs to be booked at least 3 months in advance (if not more). We got picked up from our hotel around 7:30am and proceeded to drive for about an hour deep into the mountains lush with jungle until we stopped outside a small hut and were dropped off to wait. There were 8 people in total in our group, 4 couples, and after about an hour wait we saw the elephants. The baby Ari came running up to us because we had small bananas, which she loves, and the mother Ma Pun Jun was right behind her.
After our initial greeting with the elephants, we were each paired with our own elephants (I got two because of the calf) we learned how to read their body language and temperaments, and check their health based on external signs. Once we knew our elephants were happy and healthy, we grabbed them buy the ears and guided them down to a nearby river where we proceeded to bathe them in the water with coarse bristle brushes. [FUN FACT: You have to rid an elephant of dirt before you can ride it or the dirt irritates it’s skin.] After we bathed our elephants we learned three different methods for getting on the elephant: lay down, lift leg, or climb trunk, and began the ride to the top of the jungle. My elephants, Ma Pun Jun and her baby Ari were leading the pack the entire treck with mom pushing baby up the slippery slopes with her trunk.
Once at the top of the mountain we were served a lunch of Thai specialties and classics, all wrapped in banana leaves and served on a banana leaf table cloth. Everything was delicious and going great until one of the elephants decided to crash the party and steal lunch by ripping our banana leaf table mat out from under all the food, sending it all flying. Thankfully we got enough to eat and managed to get out of the way before getting trampled.
After lunch they let us play with 3 month old baby elephants who were stronger than you can even imagine, and cute enough to make you puke. They sure were ornery though. Any chance they got they would come charge you from out of nowhere sending you straight to the ground. When we were finished playing with the babies, they loaded us back into the trucks and drove us all back to our individual hotels for the evening.
Back at the hotel I took damn near three showers to get the smell of elephants and jungle off me,and washed my clothes in the bathtub. Once we were all freshened up we ventured back into that glorious Chiang Mai Night Market and proceeded to heavily drink Chang Beer and eat delicious Mussamman Curry all night at the food court while listening to live music, which was actually really good, before returning to our hotel to sleep like babies from the exhaustion from the day. All in all, an epic journey.
Chiang Mai will forever have a special place in my heart. That place changed me for the better.
*The Empress Hotel: 199/42 Chang Klan Road, Chiang Mai, 50100, Thailand +66 53 253 199