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.


 The spire at Doi Suthep


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.


Being Female in a Third World Country

Regardless of the country you call home, have lived in, or have spent time traveling through, chances are there is a list of “needs improvement” in regards to women. It doesn’t matter what state the country is in. The United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world and we have yet to break the glass ceiling in certain categories. While there are some countries that are leaps and bounds in front of the pact for woman empowerment, nothing is perfect. Women are still objected, discriminated against, harassed, and treated as sub par to the male population.

Before you ask, I don’t regard myself as a feminist, but the time I have spent abroad has put everything in a larger light. I am Pro a lot of things: Pro-freedom of speech, Pro-people spending copious amounts on an animal, Pro-gay rights, and Pro-reality tv to name a few. But one of the most important things I stand behind is Pro-WID/GAD (Women in Development/Gender and Development). Not just because I am a woman myself, but because I believe we were created on the basis of equality. That no one was supposed to be superior than the other.

With that being said, living these past two years in Madagascar, a third world country and a country up until one month did not have a recognizable government, has been anything but normal. This is something I have emphasized over and over again in my blogs, and yet I feel like it can never be enough. Think of everything about the States and reverse it…welcome to Madagascar.

This post is by no means meant to scare people, including my loved ones or make anyone worried about overseas travel. I do want this, however, to be an informative post for anyone who happens to stumble onto my blog and is getting ready for a trip into The Third World setting. There are a few things people should know.

Ever country has it’s own form of sexual harassment. It varies due to culture, lifestyle, host country national’s behavior, etc. I regard Madagascar’s as more of a “More Talk Less Action” sort of harassment. There tends to be much more verbal harassment than physical. This can be deceiving as better than other types/combinations, but if I was being completely honest, I don’t think there can be a better form of harassment. They all stink. I wasn’t prepared for it when I first arrived in country and even after 2 years, I am still not prepared for any of it. The infamous and creepy tsks from men. The ever obvious up and down look as they’re whistling at you. The licking of their lips. The first and sometimes only thing out of a male’s mouth being “so, are you married?” The guaranteed wink. The “accidental” slip of the driver’s hand from the gear shift when you are riding shotgun that just so happens to graze your upper thigh.

At Staging, Peace Corps tries to prep their future volunteers on what living in a Third World Country will really be like. I think at that time, most of us were just focusing on the obvious things that would be drastically different than what we were used to. No running water. Electricity if you were lucky. Using latrines for bathrooms. Hand-washing clothes. Etc. We all knew that treatment of foreigners, especially women would be different, but I don’t think any of us thought it would be to the extent that we have experienced thus far.

It’s important to remember, that there truly is no way to prepare for life in another country, let alone if you were just moving states or cities. It varies. But one thing remains the same. When you first arrive to your new home, it is important to take everything in. See how other women are being treated in your town. Chances are that’s how you’ll be treated too. I am treated slightly better than women in my village because I’m an American, and people who were born and raised outside this island are considered lucky. But in terms of harassment, it’s worse for me due to the same circumstances as above. The first few weeks are like a honeymoon period. Everyone’s on their best behavior, but you’re feeling each other out. You want to get to know the HCNs and the HCNs want to get to know you. It’s also in those first few weeks the your “rules” are established. Do you let people into your house? How do your react to the tsks and actions of men in your town? What type of people do you befriend? So before you set off to try and be the most liked person in town, set your boundaries. Regardless of the time spent in the town–one day, one week, one year–their first impressions are key.

Putting this post into a better light, I have also found being female to be a rewarding experience. I have helped women in my village to gain the confidence to stand up to people, including those they are being harassed by. I also have found that being a woman, it has been easier for me to integrate into a group of people, and for local women accept me. Well, as long as they know I’m not after their men. They look up to me as a form of a role model because of the level of education and where I came from. I have been able to break stereotypes and show that life isn’t just about birthing children and cooking for their husbands, but about opportunities. Finally, they look to me for advice or someone to push ideas off of. I have helped two young girls in my village follow their dream to continue their education by supporting them in their endeavors, mentally obviously.

So in conclusion, being a female is that bad I guess. Yes, sarcasm intended. The things I have learned will help me again as I set off on my next travel adventure, Southeast Asia. Oh the excitement! But I’m not invincible even after all that I know. I live by what our Safety and Security Officer says, “Remember to stay vigilant.”