Chiang Mai – The Home of Elephants and Temple Overload

Surprisingly, with all the chaos around the missing flight of MH370, Kuala Lumpur’s airport was very calm and operating normally. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai, Thailand was a little over three hours, and very comfortable. This may be associated with the fact that the flight attendant asked me to move to another row, one with no passengers in it. Immediately after takeoff, I proceeded to enjoy the space until I heard the “please prepare for landing” speech from the captain and the flight attendants.

It really is hard to say what part of my trip was my favorite, but my time in Chiang Mai was right up there. For being an international destination, Chiang Mai is a very quant town that is bustling with attractions to keep you entertained. Chiang Mai is divided into two parts, the city within the river, what was previously a mote and runs as a square around the central part, and the city outside of it. Inside the river is what I like to call Temple City. It seems like on every corner there is a temple to go into, explore, and be amazed by its beauty. Two things to note about the temples of Chiang Mai: don’t forget to abide by the rules of respect when visiting them. This means no shoulders showing, and no knees showing. Dress moderately. Just wear what you would to a conservative church. The other thing is don’t feel you have to visit every single one. You can very easily be overloaded by temples and not want to visit any more as your backpacking travels continue. My friends and I unfortunately fell victim to that. We were so excited to be in Chiang Mai that we visited too many temples too fast and found ourselves “templed out” by the time we reached Bangkok.

If I had to choose three temples to recommend in Chiang Mai, here’s what I would say. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is a must. It is a half day or day trip outside of Chiang Mai, and make sure you take your motion sickness pills before leaving because that road is rough. I would know. I had to stop the car because I couldn’t handle all of its curves. Just beware. Besides that, this temple is breathtaking, its spire in particular. Completely plated by gold, it can actually make your eyes advert from staring straight at it because it is reflects the sun so much. Wat Chiang Man is the next. This is a less visited temple, but if you happen to stumble upon it, it is worth the visit. It is preserved nicely and doesn’t have the normal glitz and glam of the other temples around the city. That’s what I like the most about this temple. It’s beautiful and small without really trying. My final recommendation is Wat Chedi Luang. Unfortunately, my friends and I never made it to the spire, but the temple and alter within it are both jaw dropping and after seeing pictures of the spire, I know that would have been too. It is on a large property which makes it very popular with tourists, but it doesn’t take away from the experience.

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 The spire at Doi Suthep

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Wat Chiang Man

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Wat Chedi Luang

 

Another reason people come to Chiang Mai is for the elephants. There are so many different options for elephant experiences. It’s hard to make a choice on which one to do. My friends and I tried to sit down and pick a company that did not mistreat their elephants. Baan Chang Elephant Park is what we decided. It cannot be for certain that the elephants are not mistreated, but it was our best option, and while we were there, we did not see anything that was outright hurting to the elephants. They will pick you up at your hotel, hostel, or wherever you are staying and transport you to the park. (on a side note, if you’re looking to splurge and sleep in some of the most comfortable beds ever, Raming Lodge is the one for you while in Chiang Mai.) Jimmie was our ‘handler’ and he was one of the funniest and most enjoyable tour guides we had the entire trip.

For the first hour, we walked around and fed the elephants sugarcane. We were allowed to pet them and interact with them. Jimmie had one of the baby elephants give us kisses which feels like a vacuum getting stuck on your neck. We then spent the next two hours training on commands for when we ride the elephants. The commands escape my mind right now, but they were the traditional commands you would teach your dog—stop, go, left, right, down, up. We practiced getting on and off the training elephant before we ventured onto the trails with our elephants. Amy and I were elephant buddies, each taking turns being the rider and the passenger. Elephants are really not that comfortable. Being such large animals, it becomes uncomfortable to sit on them. Not to mention their hair, while it looks soft and puppylike, is actually very rough and scratchy. But they’re really gentle creatures and riding them was an experience I will always remember. You end the experience by bathing your elephant in the pond, and they are not shy elephants. They have as much fun as their riders.

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Five days in Chiang Mai was enough to really experience this small city and everything it has to offer. It’s spectacular night market, the upscale market of jade, silver, and silk, and the many many massage parlors that offer traditional Thai massages and on the sidewalk fish pedicures.

Our next stop was Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. We took the overnight train down, and woke up to the sound of the train horn as we entered Bangkok. It was my birthday weekend and I had some fun times in store.

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