We arrived in Chiang Mai after a 10 hour night bus from Bangkok. We had read some horror stories about this journey but it was completely fine, we managed to sleep ok despite everyone being woken up at midnight for “FOOD” *cue dramatic miming of eating and us returning our eyemasks and ear plugs*. The worst thing was the cold because the air con was on full blast!
Chang Mai is a beautiful small city surrounded by mountains, the central ‘old city’ is 1.5km squared and as you walk down each road going east to west or north to south you can see the mountains not far away. It is the capital of the north but less than 150,000 residents. It felt busy whilst we were there as there was the annual Yi Peng festival, world renowned for its sky lanterns, at the same time as the Loi Krathong festival where people release floating lanterns onto the river (to symbolise letting go of the previous years’ worries and problems).
We kept coming and going from the city using it as our base as we took a scooter up to Chiang Dao, a bus to Pai, a trek out to Pha Deng national park. It worked out that we were in the city for two different Sunday’s so got to go to the Sunday market twice which we loved, full of stalls for trinkets and food.
We spent a day at Elephant Rescue Park, recommended by Ella’s Aunt, Uncle and cousins who visited last summer. It was a truly, once-in-a-life-time, incredible experience.
Top tip: we would urge anyone visiting elephant “sanctuaries” in Thailand to do research on how they are treated, we were shocked at how many camps still offer riding and openly use chains and stick hooks, and even more surprised at the amount of tourists who still endorse this behaviour which we thought was “out of fashion” now… Many elephants are rented by parks in the high season and then returned to their logging, riding or circus jobs once the tourist have left. To our knowledge the Elephant Rescue Park owns all the elephants it cares for and treats them medically for injuries and illnesses they’ve received in their old jobs.
We spent one night in Chiang Dao, 70km north of Chiang-Mai. This tiny town has only a few restaurants and two beautiful temples, one a kilometre deep into the caves where a guide lead Isaac in by oil lamp (Ella opted out!) and the other is a working monastery in the mountain, we climbed up just after sunrise and the monks were eating breakfast, it was amazingly peaceful and the first “silence” we had heard since arriving in Thailand! On the way back on the scooter we took a detour to see the “sticky waterfalls” where, due to the limestone, it’s not slippery and you can grip and climb the face of the Waterfall.
A few days later we took a speedy minibus the “762 turns” up the mountain to Pai, and although we didn’t count the hair pin corners ourselves, once someone had been sick at the back of the bus it felt like double that! We booked into a hostel in Pai which doubled as a skate park, full of the nicest people and plenty of Bristolians and Londoners so it felt like a slice of home. The local kids come by to use the park as well! Pai has been given the unfair comparison to Koh San Road (a road in Bangkok renowned for partying and tourists) and although you can get an avocado on toast on the high street, the town is in a beautiful mountain setting with friendly people and a lot to explored in the surrounding countryside. We only had a few days to stay there but the views are stunning and Sunset at Pai Canyon is a must see.
We then went on a 3 day trek from Chiang Mai and stayed in two different Karen villages, the trek had amazing mountain views and lots of stops to swim in waterfalls. Pau, the trek leader, made us cups and chopsticks from bamboo in the jungle and in the evening we cooked up curries with our hosts and shared games and stories. One night was completely clear and we could see amazing stars, although the temperature felt close to freezing at night as we were quite high up we were wrapped up under mosquito nets in bamboo huts and were grateful to see a western toilet when we returned to Chiang Mai!
After the trek was finished we headed on a bus towards the border with Laos. We made a brief stop in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple and spent our last night in Thailand in a left-a-lot-to-be-desired Guest house in Chiang Kong before crossing Friendship bridge into Laos on 1st December (cutting it fine as our visa exemption ran out that day!)
Love Ella & Isaac