Heading North

After  6 days experiencing the hectic city of Bangkok, it was time to head north. First up, 4 days in Chiang Mai, followed by 5 in Chiang Rai.

After leaving buying overnight train tickets until the week before my intended trip to Chiang Mai, it would turn out that all trains were full. So I paid for a plane ticket, and after a 1 hour taxi ride,  1 hour flight delay, and a 1 hour flight, I had arrived.

I used Chiang Mai to recover from all the running around in Bangkok. I could walk to the main city sites from my hostel, and spent my first day simply exploring within the old city walls.

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Some gorgeous stairs in Wat Chedi Luang

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This stupa dates back to 1441

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Street art in Chiang Mai

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My second day was a half day tour of an elephant sanctuary, Elephant Dream Valley (see previous post for further details), followed by strolling the Saturday walking street

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Walking street style

I unfortuantely didn’t feel too hot (well…I did feel hot because humidity…ha) and made it a bit worse by walking 2+ hours in the sun to see the final two temples I was curious about. The silver temple of Wat Sri Suphan was by far the highlight of my time in Chiang Mai.

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Wat Suan Dok

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On my last full day, I wanted to get up to Wat Doi Suthep. After taking two songtheaws up a winding mountain road, I needed a few minutes for my body to settle. I was admittedly a little dissapointed with Doi Suthep. I wasn’t blown away, and even now I feel Wat Sri Suphan is a more unique temple. I spent about half an hour walking the temple grounds, if only to make the journey up the mountain worth it.

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The grounds of Wat Doi Suthep are decorated, but fake flowers seemed to take away charm rather than add to it

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Trash filled with old prayers

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I was told by a friend that Chiang Mai had become very commercialized. I completely see this. As wonderful as some of the temples in the old city were, the streets are lined with hostels, western-style cafes, and tour agencies.

Chiang Rai, though…I wish I had longer here. I had planned for a relaxing first day, but ended up getting convinced to join a full day tour that included the Blue Temple, a waterfall, the White Temple, and a tea plantation. I am so glad I joined as seeing these sites outside of the city with a local guide was phenomenal.

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Biking the tea plantations of Singha Park

After using my second day to relax and meeting a new friend in the hostel, we scootered out to the Black Museum the following day and explored a local rice field and café. I got a bit more burnt than I care to admit…

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The following day we both signed up for a Thai cooking class, and I actually was so full I felt sick. At the market, as we picked our ingredients, we sampled local tea, Thai donuts, longan, durian, and deep fried sweet potato and banana. When the time came to cook we prepared green papaya salad, hot and sour soup with prawns, and red curry with chicken. So, so good but so, so filling…

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Buddha statue behind the market

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Ingredients all ready to go

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If you find yourself tiring of Bangkok, I highly recommend heading north; and if I had to choose, Chiang Rai over Chiang Mai (also in Chiang Rai stay at “Sook Cafe and Hostel” it is the perfect location, has amazing staff, and I cannot recommend it enough).

I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have travelled to Thailand. It was never a country that had been super high on my “to-do” list, but these last three weeks have been filled with the most amazing sites (and foods).

Tomorrow I make the long journey back to Bangkok (first with a 3 hour bus to Chiang Mai, then a 5 hour wait, then the overnight train to Bangkok). I get 2 days rest, and then I’m on my way to Indonesia!

Until next time!

Next up, Bali!

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Elephant Dream Valley

To be completely honest, I wasn’t originally going to visit an elephant sanctuary when in Thailand.

I’m not sure what changed, and when, but I do know that about 2 weeks before flying into Bangkok I found myself researching elephant sanctuaries that you could do a tour of from Chiang Mai.

I spent hours on this. Why? Because I knew that I wanted to visit a smaller place. Elephant Nature Park, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, and Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary are all very popular (in Boon Lott’s case, fully booked until next summer!). I fully support the work that these places perform. I knew, however, that I wanted something…more intimate, for lack of a better term.

Cue the dissapointment.

Because it would seem that I would stumble upon the website of a supposedly “ethical” place, only to dig deep into the tripadvisor or facebook reviews, or even find a personal blog recollection, and find warnings that these places DID now offer rides, use hooks or chains, and other unethical actions.

My requirements were simple
-NO riding. Not even bareback. An elephant is seen as strong, but it’s backbone is NOT structured such that human bodies should be placed on top. That, and the terrible treatment the elephants undergo to become “submissive” to riders.
-NO hooks and NO chains

I was getting very disheartened as my research seemed to come up nill.

Until…

I don’t even remember how it happened. I think i had googled “ethical elephant sanctuary in chiang mai” or something similar. A few results down (it may have even been the next page) a link matching exactly with “ethical elephant sanctuary” appeared. I clicked. I read. I went to their facebook and tripadvisor site.

Ethical Elephant Sanctuary (more commonly known as Elephant Dream Valley) is run by a local Karen Hill Tribe and sees small groups of around 12 people on half day and full day tours. I signed up immediately. I knew that this was what I had been looking for. And so it was.

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Deep in the Chiang Mai mountains, we met their 5 elephants. Two families; one consisting of a Granma, mom, and baby, and another family of two with one mom-to-be. We got an introduction on how to behave while feeding, where to stand, how to stay safe, and some background information on the elephents. As soon as we began feeding the sugar cane I couldn’t believe I had almost passed on this whole experience.

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The half day passed way too fast. I wouldn’t hesitate to come here again, and cannot recommend Elephant Dream Valley enough to anyone reading this who is interested in visiting a sanctuary. One thing that impressed me was that the tribe members actually had elephants from the same family. While reading about how some elephants are captured for riding camps, it pained me that these creatures who live in family units spend the rest of their lives alone. I was so incredible happy to know that the elephants were literally family at Elephant Dream Valley.

Another thing that impressed me were the mahouts. They were incredibly kind by offering to take pictures and answer questions, and during the mud bath they were having so much fun! This did not feel like something that was done solely for money or profit. As a non-profit all the money goes back to buy food for the elephants. And by running small group sizes, everything about my time there felt very personal and…intimate!

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http://www.elephantdreamvalley.com/weben/
https://www.facebook.com/ElephantDreamValley-1199804953378938/

Best,
N