Befriending Elephants and More in Chiang Mai

by Brian Carroll on February 5, 2013

Post image for Befriending Elephants and More in Chiang Mai The hotspots across Thailand are very diverse in what they offer, which makes it a great travel destination. Having explored both the fast-paced city of Bangkok and the beach-bumming culture of the South, I made my way by plane up north, to the more moderate, jungle climate found in Chiang Mai, a city known for it's laid back feel. Chiang Mai was a destination I had heard many good things about - from former coworkers, to my good friend Holly who spent 2+ months living in the area. It seemed like the right change of pace for me following the somewhat tourist overridden beaches of the south. One thing I liked going into Chiang Mai was that in addition to the regular tourist sight-seeing opportunities, the city offered a number of well-regarded chances to invest in individual learning. Here's a brief look at what I did out there:

Pad Thai and Chicken Coconut Soup cooked by yours truly

1.  As I've been traveling this year, I made it a point to set aside some time to think through exactly what I want out of 2013 (related posts to come shortly). One thing on my list is to “be a better cook/cook more.” While traveling in Southeast Asia is not conducive to cooking more (the food out here is cheap & good in restaurants), Chiang Mai is known for it's cooking schools. For the amount of instruction and # of meals made, they can't be beat – all for like $25. I made the choice to do an all-day class (9am -3:30pm) in which you visit a local market, learn all about the ingredients and then go and prepare/cook six different dishes (and eat them) with the 10 or so other people in your group. I learned about ingredients I didn't know existed and ended up making 1)pad thai, 2)chicken coconut soup, 3)chicken w/cashew nut, 4)green mango salad, 5)green curry and 6)sticky rice with mango for dessert. All were excellent (I'm already a great cook) and by the end of the day, every one of us suffered from food comas. I enjoyed the class so much that I booked another one for my last day in Chiang Mai, but unfortunately came down with a fever and had to bail on it at the last minute.

A good mode of transportation back in LA

2.  To date, I've never ridden a horse before. Not sure why that is, as I don't have a fear of them (I don't think) and actually see it as something I want to try. What I can say at this point though is that I have ridden an elephant. Yes, an elephant...be jealous. Basically, the region around Chiang Mai is known for its Asian elephants and opportunities to interact with them. In my opinion, it does take some research to do this excursion right, as there are some operations that force the elephants to do things that are not natural for them (painting, kicking a ball, etc...) and while this may be cool to see, outside of the tourist's eyes, these elephants are “forcefully taught” to do these things for the benefit of the tourist dollars. Not wanting to contribute to the maltreatment of elephants, I made sure to do my visit at a park working with rescued elephants from across the country, knowing my money was going to a worthwhile cause.  Now to get off my pedestal and tell you about the experience.

An excellent kisser 😉

The day started with us changing into the clothing of “mahouts” (trainers). This is important as the elephants have learned to identify their trainers by this clothing. We then spent time feeding the various elephants bananas and sugar cane which was really cool. Among the elephants we were feeding was a baby, that would give you a big, wet, sloppy kiss if requested. Never one to turn down a good kiss, especially from an elephant, I was in – it turned out to be more of a hickey, though without the lingering effects... After the feeding/kissing, we moved on to learning to ride and guide an elephant, including commands to have them turn right/left, stop and essentially lay down so we could get off of them. We then used these commands to ride on the elephants (bareback) up and through the jungle until we reached a lake where we got to give them a bath - though as you may be able to imagine, standing in a lake with elephants is not necessarily the most hygienic of things – but that is something you can't be concerned with in the moment. Here's a quick vid of the walk as I attempted to film without falling off: Overall, it was an amazing experience and something I'd recommend for anyone to do at least once – though expect to be a little sore from sitting on top of them. Despite their intimidating size, the elephants were very gentle, friendly and playful. They are pretty amazing creatures and interacting with them was another good reminder to me of all this world has to offer and be grateful for.

Up in the hills at Doi Suthep

3. Just like other parts of Thailand, Chiang Mai has a number of temples that are worth a visit, even if you are getting to the “temple overload” point. Some sit within the city and others, including the famous Doi Suthep temple sits up in the hills overlooking the city.

"Sleeping" dogs on display at the night market

4. Another great thing about Chiang Mai is the souvenir shopping. Every night they have a large night market, but the event to be at is the Sunday night market, which is the largest and spread across the center of the city for what seemed like miles. In fact, between me and my friend Jeroen who visited the market, we were there for four hours and still did not get through everything. There are lots of handmade gifts, crazy things to eat and it's generally just a good event to check out.  Especially when coming across a group of sleeping dogs like this. 5.  I would've been interested in trying a thai massage class and/or a meditation retreat, but unfortunately I have been dealing with some ongoing back pain which has limited what I can do. This injury also hindered me from visiting another town a few hours away known as Pai, that just about everyone had spoken highly of. The drive to and from would've been tough on me, so I decided to enjoy my time in Chiang Mai and save that spot and these activities for a time in the future. Overall, I enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai and met a good group of people out there that I hung out with for a few days, and may meet up with again in Vietnam. I thought the scenery of the city itself was lacking and it's social nightlife was tempered, but that was more than okay with me for this part of my visit. Next on my trip, Cambodia and the bigger-than-life temples including Angkor Wat.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sanja Sanjich on Facebook February 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm

A M A Z I N G !!! Thanks for sharing!

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