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Asia » Thailand » North-West Thailand » Chiang Mai
February 28th 2016
Published: March 11th 2016
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Tina Writes

The bus to Sukothai was just a bus. Nothing VIP about it but it was perfectly comfortable apart from some Kevin Costner movie dubbed in Thai playing out loud. Not such a problem for us though as we just watched Breaking Bad together making the journey feel much shorter.

We were dropped off at the bus station and hopped on a songthaew (pick-up truck with makeshift benches on the back) for £1 each. As we left with a French couple, we quickly pulled over and Rob and I were transferred to a Tuk Tuk as the French couple were going in different direction. We arrived at the hotel a few minutes later and they asked us to find our name on the list of expected guests. We were not on it. I pulled out my phone and handed it to the guy showing him the booking reference and he quickly spotted it was booked for the middle of March. I had been looking at locations for further into the trip and forgotten to change the dates when I booked this place. DUH! It was ok though as they had rooms and I could cancel my booking. After settling in we started to head into the town when I noticed the hotel hired out mopeds for a couple of pounds for a few hours. This was the first place we had been where we felt the roads were quiet enough to try it out and not get killed. So off we went (Rob driving obviously). I felt perfectly safe and Rob drove perfectly well. We drove to a night market down the road and had a gander. Rob bought a t-shirt but there was little else there of interest. I felt we should take advantage of the bike and go for a jaunt but fairly quickly we wanted to eat and although Rob was driving well, he didn’t feel safe, especially with me on the back so we went back to the hotel and called it a night.

We had come here for two reasons, the historical park in the old town and as a stop gap on the way to Chiang Mai. In the morning we hopped on the bus for the old town and hired bicycles to go round the park. This place was chock-a-block with ruins of temples. We were a little dismayed to learn you have to pay for entry to each area and cannot buy an all-in-one ticket. I think it was about £2 each, each time. I got ‘templed-out’ pretty quickly and shouted at Rob for making me ride a bicycle in this heat for most of the time. The temples were quite good though but there were a whole bunch at the top of hills that I refused to climb. Rob went up to one while I sat at the bottom waiting. He said it was the most amazing temple he had ever seen....aye right.

We got the bus back and after a late lunch we refreshed in the hotel and then went for a walk to check out the food stalls. This place was much more of the ‘real’ Thailand, so the stalls were for the locals. We had no idea what was available to eat and the idea of sitting eating in the heat was not appealing so we headed back to an air conditioned place. On the way, we passed a food stall that was selling freshly fried insects. All sorts. Crickets, worms and very very bad things that I have a particular phobia of, so much so I can’t even type their name. These were not for show! The place we chose to eat was full of backpackers and playing Agadoo on the sound system. They also had a sign up stating if you stole anything they would charge you 10 times the price of the item. Very welcoming.

Sukothai was kinda boring and as a stop off, we were quickly on the road again to Chiang Mai. A 6 hour journey costing about £5 each. This bus was less ’VIP’ and we shared it with lots of guys in army uniforms.

We had a booked quite a nice place in Chiang Mai and were staying 4 nights. I have been looking forward to coming here for ages. It was a nice town, full of Wat’s and Monks but also very touristy and busy. There were few high rises, so it didn’t fell like a city. I noticed fairly quickly that a lot of the tourists were hippies. This place is renowned for that kinda thing. We had a look around and as the sunset we headed to the Night Bazar. A huge outdoor market, lining street after street. Many t-shirts, fake North Face backpacks, jewellery, lanterns, sunglasses and handicraft. We were mostly interested in the food markets though. We arrived a bit early. The sun was just going down and they were just setting up. We got some shrimp Pad Thai and a grilled squid for around £2, yummy! Then we had Nutella, peanut butter and banana Roti for £1 . The Roti here is different to the Roti in Malaysia were it is more a savoury dish and tastes more like nan bread. Whereas here it was pancake/waffle like. We headed back out the stalls for a look at their wares. I quickly noticed each stall had a light and at each light there was at least 20 giant mothy things. Alarm bells started ringing. As we walked through the main market, I looked up saw millions of them flying around. It was like a plague. They started to hit us as we walked and I started to panic. I exclaimed I had to get the hell outta there and we were quickly back at our hotel. SHIT! If this is the way it is, I can’t go out at night. I was really worried we would need to just move on as the night bazaar was the big thing here.

There are loads of tours you can book here. Trekking is a biggie but I wasn’t interested in that. The other is Elephant camps. We had seen people riding elephants in Sukhothai. As much as I would love to, I would never ride an elephant. These poor animals are worked to death carrying tourists all day long on their backs. Some are forced to paint pictures. I have seen a video of this and it is amazing what they can do but the process of training them to do it is unbelievably cruel! In Chiang Mai you have a choice, cruel elephant camp or elephant rescue sanctuaries with no riding. We opted for the latter and booked for the next day. Our tour cost £42 each and included lunch. I then headed for a massage and Rob went back to chill at the hotel. I joined him after and we both had a fun in the tiny pool playing ‘get the rubber duck on the float’. We soaked the area and the windows of many of the apartments. The guys staying in these apartments arrived with their ‘girlfriends’ so off we went and got ready to go out.

I had decided to ‘get a grip’ with the moth things and just battle through. So we headed back to the night bazaar as we had seen a sushi type place similar to Yo Sushi the night before. When we got there I quickly noticed the moths were all but gone. The night before, I seen one of the stall owners ‘tutting’ and turning off her light to clear the moths. I thought that was strange, because if this was the norm, what would be the point and surely she was used to it. It seems, and to my relief, it was actually a plague, just that night. Weird. The sushi place turned out to be one of those cook-it-yourself places. All the food on the conveyor belts was raw and you choose what you wanted and added it to the pot of boiling soup broth in front of you. I hated it. On the way back to the hotel we popped into a shop for some snacks and I found a packet of Tim Tams, ya dancer, get the tea on!

Next morning we were picked up in a songthaew, just the two of us, and headed to the camp. After a stop off for the staff to pick up elephant food we arrived after about an hour. As we approached the camp there were elephants everywhere. This is the area all the camps are in, including the cruel ones. A few other songthaews pulled up and there were about 14 of us in total. We all carried the bags of bananas and sugar cane to the camp. We were all given traditional tops and trousers and a hat to wear, I assume to protect our clothes. We all looked pretty stupid. Robs top was particularly small, so he also looked quite gay. One of the guides gave us the low down on the camp. They were a new outfit, only 4 months old. Ran and owned by the Karen people. The 4 elephants were rescued from the near-by camps and all they did all day was eat, sleep and poop. It all sounded good up til now. We walked round to the elephants. Three females, all related. One of them pregnant. There was a huge , tusky male up the hill but he can’t be around tourists cause I think he kills them. It was amazing. These three beautiful animals, right there in front of me. We were encouraged to feed them the dozens of bags of bananas and sugar cane and hug them. They were hungry and could see what everyone was holding. If you had some food in your hands but maybe were waiting for someone to get their photo taken before you fed them, the elephant would just stretch its trunk out and tap you on the shoulder and basically grab the food out your hands. You couldn’t just give it one banana at a time, she could see you had 6 there, so she collected all of them in her trunk and once she had them all, shoved them in her mouth. It was so amazing. After all the food was finished it was time to go for a stroll. We walked through the jungle, part of the elephant march. There was quite a lot of traffic jams as one of the elephants decided to eat the bushes and trees. We were all walking in single file and occasionally someone would shout, ‘watch out’ as one of the elephants caught up to you and overtook. Me vs. elephant = move, quickly!

We stopped for a bit and one of the elephants used a big tree to have right good back scratch. The other two wondered off. Then we started off again and reached a muddy bit. The elephants proceeded to cover themselves in mud by sucking it up their trunks and blowing it on their backs. This is cooling and natural insect repellent. If you happen to be in the way of the mud shower, then tough luck!

The elephants headed down to the river and we went for lunch. We ate as we watched two of them grazing but one of them decided she wanted lunch as well. Up she came to the bamboo structure that was our lunch room. She stood at the entrance staring in. Chancing her luck, she poked her trunk all around, trying to open the cool box that had the drinks in it. Her mahout would come over and shout orders to her and she would back away, for a while. As we all finished lunch the guides picked up the skins from our watermelons and told us to feed it to her. The other two came up as well and stood at the base of the structure, stretching their trunks up to collect food from us. Such an amazing but also bizarre experience to sit, eating lunch with an elephant staring at you from 5 feet away.

After lunch we all changed into swim gear as it was time for the elephant’s mud bath. We all got in the mud pools and the elephants got in and lay down, allowing us to throw mud on them and give them a good scrubbing. The mahouts and guides enjoyed throwing the mud at us though. Most of the elephants had a nice big poop in here too so we soon realised that the pool we were standing in, the mud we were picking up and rubbing into them, the mud the guys were throwing at us mainly consisted of elephant shit! It was a shit pool! We then headed down to the water were they would get rinsed off. Again we all got in and splashed the elephants as they lay in the water. Again the guides would spend the time splashing us and the elephants followed an order to splash us too with the water they sucked up through their trunks. Of course we needed this as we were all covered in shit.

At this point things became a little darker. I noticed one of the elephants trying to get up as photos were being taken. The mahout would not let her up. I didn’t like it. Not one bit. After their bath we all went to the grass and were asked to pose with the elephants. They got them to kiss everybody with their trunks in turn. I didn’t like it. This is not natural! They may have this ability from the past when they were at the cruel camps but I know they didn’t want to stand their doing that. I didn’t like it and neither of us took part. That was the end of the day and as amazing as it had been, I left with doubts about how much this place was actually a rescue sanctuary and had a bad feeling they were cashing in on the ‘sanctuary’ label rather than actually helping these animals from a terrible life.

After a much needed shower, in which I washed my hair 3 times we headed out to the night bazaar again for dinner. This time we found a different food bit where I had chicken coconut soup and Rob had pad thai wrapped in omelette. My soup was amazing and almost too sweet.

Our last day here we decided to take a good look around the old town which is located within the old city walls. We walked all way round. I had read an article someone had shared on Facebook about the food in Chiang Mai and it had mentioned street food stalls at the north gate of the old town. We went back here that night and found the particular stall mentioned ran by a girl in a cowboy hat. She was clearly quite famous as the stall was surrounded by people taking photos of her as she cooked. We sat on one of the tiny plastic chairs and ordered one of the two things on the menu. Pork leg with rice or intestines with rice. I am sure you can guess which one we got. It was very nice and cost around 80p each. Then we got some chicken satay sticks from another stall. I watched as he heated them up and was a little surprised as a rat ran out in front of me. The food was nice but wasn’t quite enough so we hopped on a songthaew and went back to the night bazaar for some pad thai, squid and a Nutella oti washed down with a cocktail and Chang. On the way back we both got a foot massage to which I specifically asked (as usual) ‘soft, not hard’. I had bruises on my legs the next day.



We booked a mini bus the next day to take us to Chiang Rai, a jumping off spot for Laos. We spent two days here doing nothing other than getting massages and eating ice cream in Swensen’s. We stayed in a large hotel which was aging rapidly. Rob killed at least 10 mosquitoes in our room the first night. At breakfast the next day he was in his element at the large breakfast buffet. When I came back from the toilet he said to me ‘we need to leave, right now’. He had found a dead beetle in his fried pork rice which he had eaten three portions of! I let reception know but they didn’t seem to care. It was probably part of the dish to be honest. I was happy to leave Chiang Rai but the journey to Laos was daunting.



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