Chiang Mai – tigers, elephants and a monster hangover

Ok, it’s been a month. Enough tanning, beach bars and moonlit walks, it’s time we started to actually do something. We leave Koh Phangan a few days after the New Year’s carnage, booking the last few seats on overnight trains to Bangkok and onward to Chiang Mai. Although we kept saying we must book the trains in advance, well, we didn’t and are lucky to get seats.  

I love the overnight trains in Thailand. It’s about twice as expensive as the buses but I think it’s worth it. Usually sleeping is not a problem unless there are some Farange (tourists) insisting on having a party. First class gets you your own little cabin.  

Getting into Bangkok at 6am, we check into a cheap hostel right off platform 3, and dump our stuff. We opted to get another overnight train to Chiang Mai, saving us two days accommodation but leaving us with 12 hours to kill in Bangkok. We decide to be productive and head to MBK, a huge shopping centre with an entire floor devoted to technology, awesome. To fund our next few days activities I manage to sell our old iPhones at the market for a whopping 19,000 baht.  

Chiang Mai – Day 1  

Motorbike hired, we take the anti-clockwise ring road two (1096) around the town. It’s about 150km and takes around four hours but we make a full day of it and stop off at various attractions along the route.   

Lake on Route 1096

First stop is a large lake just off a side road, which is completely deserted. It looks like a local Thai holiday destination, with many shack-style restaurants lining the water. We follow the shore, stop for a few pictures then are on our way again. 

Next stop is Tiger Kingdom, which initially left me feeling a bit uneasy. A chance to get hands on with a bunch of tigers in a reputable breeding program.  

Big Tiger

 But we did our research, the cats are not drugged and are well looked after, although purists would argue these magnificent animals should not be raised by hand. So, motorbike and morals parked at the side of the road and a sizable ‘donation’ to the program later we spend an incredible few hours playing with the cuddly fellas. Check out the Thailand  gallery for more photos.  

 
Route 1096

The rest of the day was spent winding our way up into the mountains overlooking Chiang Mai, ears popping and stomachs churning through incredibly steep roads and continuous hairpin bends. Even on our little 125 the ride was loads of fun and the scenery just incredible. 

Chiang Mai – Day 2  

After some more research we find a local elephant sanctuary which takes in elephants that have been mistreated, abused for tourist shows or are simply no longer wanted by their owners. They offer the chance to spend a day with the elephants, feeding and washing them and learning to ride them. Leah liked the idea of this….quite a lot…so despite the steep price tag we decided to give it a go.  

Elephant Driving

We learn quite quickly from the mahoots ( personal elephant keepers) that most of the elephants we have seen in Thailand are not well treated, They should not carry tourists in huge cushion seats atop their backs, and they should not be taught to play football or paint pictures whilst smoking cigars etc.

We listen attentively and nod and murmur in agreement as we patiently await the chance to get up close to our adopted Asian elephant called ‘KumJan’.  By the end of the day we have sore bums, sore legs and are soaking wet from standing in a river full of elephant poo but a great day has been had by all and I would thoroughly recommend it, although it’s not really in your average backpackers’ budget. 

We finish the day with a few drinks and a bucket in the roof top bar overlooking the old town gates. After getting much more drunk than we’d planned, at closing time we head out looking for some clubs. Don’t, whatever you do, think of going to Spicy’s. It’s a hideous dive full of ‘uncle’ types picking up locals and letching on holiday makers. 10 minutes in and we leave, picking up a rancid hot dog on the way home. Still, a fun night. 

Chiang Mai – Day 3 

We decided to go for a half day cookery school rather than a full day, which is lucky because we both have monster hangovers so getting up and cooking at 9am would not have been humanly possible. We learn four dishes each, including Pad Thai, spring rolls, stir fried dishes and curry. During a break I get taken to a local cock fight whilst Leah sleeps off her hangover – definitely not an experience for the faint hearted – and then it’s back to the guesthouse having eaten our own weight in food.  

Cooking didn't go to plan...

After a great meal at Lemon Tree and having to endure a very loud and very boring American at the next table, it was off to bed for an early night.  

So, overall impressions of Chiang Mai? It’s a great little city, lots of fun, a huge tourist destination and there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied (although these cost money), but after four days we were looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet and getting away from loud Americans. Pai is next on the menu, a fun three hours minibus ride up north towards the Burmese border, an old backpacker hippie haven which was discovered by the masses mid 00’s. 762 hairpins bends and sheer drops – Pai here we come. 

Us, Rooftop bar