Welcome back to the land of smiles - it felt like we had never been away :)

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April 8th 2012
Published: September 10th 2012
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Hooray, we were finally back in the land of smiles! After deliberating for a few weeks on where to go on our next two week holiday, we got a great deal on some flights to Bangkok and couldn't wait to get back to Thailand, probably our favourite country, so planned an itinerary that would re-visit some of our favourite places from 2010.

First stop was Chiang Mai (CM) in the North of the country, and after a long but good flight with Thai Airways we collected our bags in Bangkok and checked in for our short Air Asia flight to CM. On our previous visit we were mid way through a 4 month trip so stayed in a budget guesthouse, but as this was a holiday we decided to treat ourselves to a lovely hotel called De Naga, just inside the city walls. The hotel was gorgeous with Thai style decor and a small pool to relax by, just what we needed after travelling for 15 hours! We headed out to re-familiarise ourselves with the area and grabbed some lunch at a nearby family run cafe - it was so good to have Thai food in Thailand again! We then wondered through the quiet streets and booked on a tour for the next way which would take in elephants, a short trek, waterfalls, traditional villages and the countyside. Our South East Asian haggling skills came straight back to us and we got the trip for almost half of what the lady had originally quoted us! We then headed back to the hotel for a rest at the pool, before the clouds rolled in and the heavens opened and we went to our room to get ready for the evening.

We had arrived on a Sunday in CM which is when the Sunday walking market takes place, and even though we had been before, this happened to be in the next street to us so we went to check it out. There are thousands of stalls lining the street for this market, each selling different things, from hand made trinkets and bags, to traditional clothing, to tasty food to paintings. We really enjoyed wondering round and sampling the food on offer, and just as we decided to leave after a couple of hours, the heavens opened again so we ran through the pouring rain to get some shelter at a nearby bar! We found out there that someone in the Royal family had passed away recently, and so there was a ban on alcohol that night in respect of the Royals, but they still served Scott a beer - his first Chang of the trip!

Once the rain stopped we were really tired but hungry, and decided to take a tuk tuk to our favourite restaurant from our last visit in CM, the Riverside. We arrived and due to the alcohol ban the place was very quiet but we enjoyed our first Thai red curry of the trip alongside some yummy noodles, rice and chicken with caashew nuts. We love Thai food and knew that this was just the start of us gorging on this amazingly delicious cuisine this trip! At around 10pm jet lag had set in and we were exhausted so went back to the hotel for bed, looking forward to our trip the next day.

Up early the next day we got ready and headed down to breakfast, which was amazing, just like every other aspect to this boutique hotel. Freshly baked breads acompanied home-made jams and spreads, alongside yoghurt, fruit and cereals, while an egg/omlette station was also available. The choice and quality of the food was so good and set us up nicely for the day ahead. We got picked up in an open sided truck and with about 8 other people set off towards the elephant 'sanctuary'. Now we had never been keen on the idea of elephant rides and can't tolerate animal cruelty so had not been on one before, and on our last trip here had spent an amazing day at a proper ele sanctuary, however the lady who sold us the trip assured us the elephants we would be seeing were part of a sanctuary where they were well looked after, and as it was part of the trip we agreed to do it. Needless to say, that was the first 'Thai lie' of the holiday, as when we arrived at the elephant place we could see straight away that it wasn't how the lady had described - some of the ele's were chained up and swinging their heads/trunks back and forth constantly, which is a sign of distress, plus the mahoots (ele keepers) were all carrying sticks which we knew they would readily use on the lovely ele's. We weren't happy about this but everyone else on the trip was already on their ele's for the ride ahead so we got on ours hoping it wouldn't be too bad. It was a strange experience whcih we didn't really enjoy, and as suspected the mahoots were using the sticks on the ele's when they stopped mid-ride or wouldn't co-operate which we didn't like. The ride didn't last too long though and after an early lunch of rice and hot sauce, it was back in the truck and on to the next stop. We really love these huge creatures and hope to spend more time with them in a more natural environment one day.

The next stop was a stop in the jungle where we were told we would take a light walk to a waterfall. When asked if flip flops would be ok to wear, we were told 'yes yes'. Next Thai lie! The 'light walk' was a difficult trek through muddy and tough terrain, over big branches and across rivers for over an hour in 35 degrees! But it was great and we enjoyed it alot, even though we didn't have the best footwear for it! We finally reached a pretty waterfall where of course Scott easted no time before jumping in to the water to cool down - Vic dipped her toe in but it felt too cold for her to get in. After abour 45 mins here we had to make our way back through the jungle to the truck where we would be taken to the river for some rafting. As it is dry season the river was quite low so it wasn't going to be white water rafting as promised, but we still got in the inflatable rafts and tackled some of the rapids which was fun, before finishing at a calmer bit of the river and transferring to some bamboo rafts. These must have been made by kids as they were falling apart and sinking the minute you got on them! But we somehow made it across the river, where we dried off and headed on to our final stop - a 'traditional' village.

Now this village was about as traditional as Christmas day in the sun to us, and was clearly there especially for tourists on a day trip like we were on, even though the people clearly lived there, and you could see inside their small shacks, it was obvious that they made a good living (by Thai village standards) through the tours that frequent this village every day, so whilst pretty man made, we guess it's good for the locals. We had a quick wonder around, Vic managed to buy 3 bracelets from 3 different old toothless ladies, but as there were about 15 stalls all selling the same thing, Scott had to stop her before she bought something from every one of them! We then got back in the van for our journey back to Chiang Mai which would take about an hour. On the way back to the city, we spied children with buckets full of water lying in wait for us on the sides of the road. Of course it was the start of the Thai New Year, Songkran, which is celebrated over a few days and basically a huge water fight! Naturally the children decided to start early and before we could duck we were all covered with water! This carried on for a few miles and by the time we got back to CM we were soaked and looking forward to a hot shower and a bite to eat. We enjoyed the day trip a lot (except the elephants) and it was well organised and gave us a good chance to experience the things we did on a short timescale, although we wouldn't nessecarily do the same one again.

That evening we decided to head back to the Riverside and as the ban on alcohol had ended the place was packed and a Thai band were playing, so we enjoyed some more good food there and discovered an amazing Thai dessert of sticky coconut rice with mango, before spenidng the evening having drinks, chatting to locals, and listening to the band play some great (and not so great!) songs. We met one young-ish Thai guy called Tommy (obviously not his real name!) who was working in the local University and he took a shine to us and insisted we share his Thai whiskey with him and his friends - we couldn't refuse! But after an hour it was time to make our excuses and leave, as we knew we had a busy day on our final day in CM planned - it was time to play with the big cats at Tiger Kingdom!

The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast again at the hotel and went to find a tuk tuk to take us to Tiger Kingdom (TK) where you can hold and play with a variety of different sized tigers. Scott haggled hard and got us a ride there and back for less than £4.50 which is a good deal as its about 40 mins away and the driver also waits for you. We were really excited to be going back to TK as when we had been before some cubs were just a few weeks old and we got to play with them so we hoped there were going to be some more this time.

We got there and both decided to just go in with the small cubs (Scott had previously been in with the large tiger's and whilst they were beautiful, it was a bit scary and not as fun as going in with the smaller ones) so went to the enclosure and waited our turn. This place is amazing - the tigers are used to human contact as they have grown up in this place, and as they get fed regularly their natual hunting skills are not needed, so although they seem relaxed and chilled, they were definately not drugged as some people had claimed, and could easily pounce and kill whenever they wanted to! We went in with some small cubs who were 3-6 months old and about the size of dogs. They were so cute! Some were sleeping but others were playing with eachother and growling softly which was so amazing to see, we just watched them for ages and took some great photo's while wishing we would take one home with us! We didn't want to leave and were so jealous of the keepers who get to do this every day - what a great job! We eventually left and walked around watching the other tigers play and sleep, before getting our tuk tuk back to the hotel, where we had some lunch outside (yummy spicy noodles and fresh fruit shakes) and got ready to go to the airport to get our flight down to Bangkok.

We absolutely loved our time in Chiang Mai, a city that has such a good, chilled out vibe. We enjoyed it as much the second time as the first time, and really hope to visit again in the future...

Additional photos below
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11th September 2012

Mangoes and Sticky Rice...
my favorite dessert in the whole world! We lived in Chiang Mai for 18 months and loved every minute. Thanks for the memories.
12th September 2012
Photo 17

we were in chiang mai for mango season in 2011 - love this dessert! and we went to riverside too :)

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