Chiang Mai is located in the northern part of Thailand. The word Chiang Mai means new city. This is also the home to the hill tribes. Even though Chiang Mai is north, the weather is still very hot with humidity. Enough humidity to make you sweat and become very agitated when your hungry. From Bangkok it’s a 1 1/2 hour flight.
Visiting the Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center, I learned that Chiang Mai was once filled with teak wood trees, clear streams, vast farms and indigenous people. Elephants were used for logging during those times. In present times, the people of Chiang Mai are on their smart phones and interconnected to the world.
This is the home to many elephant conservatories and sanctuaries. I was here 10 years ago and went to Elephant Nature Park. We took a 3 hour bus ride into the jungle to spend the day with the elephants. Most of them are saved by abusive owners or people who could no longer take care of them. All of the stories were sad. Some were blinded by being poked in the eyes to get them to keep working after they stopped to rest. The Elephant Nature Park is a safe haven for them to live out their lives. We were told over and over to never ride an elephant or support any place that allows riding them, seeing elephants create artwork or perform tricks. These elephants have been abused into submission and that is the only way to get them to do these unnatural things for entertainment. They showed us a video on how the submission process is done. It was horrifying.
The prices to visit these sanctuaries are high ($50.00 USD) and the only time spent with the elephants out of the 5 hour visit is about 1 hour. The pamphlets show more interaction than what is true. There is a feeding time where you are given bananas to feed them through a fence. The other interaction is bathing time (watching from afar). The elephants are bathed by the workers in a nearby river. Most of the time spent there is listening to the workers talk about the conservation of the elephants, the owner’s story and watching videos about both. Today Elephant Nature Park is one of the few that is a true safe haven.
Sadly, many elephant conservatories are now using the elephants to make money under the pretense of being a safe haven. There are brochures showing people riding elephants through the sanctuary. I’ve read other blogs where workers are still using metal rods with hooks to control the elephants. As an animal lover this really disturbed me just thinking about it.
Chiang Mai has a moat that is shaped like a square within the city. It was built to protect the city under the constant threat of the Burmese long ago. Within the moat is known as the old city. This is where our hotel was. Inside the moat is peaceful and easier to walk around and explore without the hassles of heavy traffic.
Outside of the moat is heavier traffic, more outdoor markets, restaurants, massage places and stores. Guess what else is outside of the moat? Starbucks! I passed on Starbucks in Chiang Mai because the native coffee was strong enough. Chiang Mai is also known for their coffee. One day I drank two iced native coffees. Within 2 hours I had a bad case of the shakes and turned into a raging bitch. The only cure was eating food. It was intense. Needless to say I ate food with coffee after that incident.
Night Markets popped up around town every night. The markets are all the same. Everyone sells the same things. Some of the same people were selling the same things just relocating to the different locations. It’s really hard to find anything of quality sold except silver. There were some really cool artist selling their art though. They were making art while selling it. As much as I wanted to support their art, I couldn’t fit any of it in my ONE backpack.
Some of the things looked great in big numbers but I knew buying one and sending it to my parents or friends wouldn’t have the same pizazz as seeing it at the night market.
There were so many food vendors. Again, my stomach buckled and I couldn’t eat any of it. I just can’t get past the food sitting out with no refrigeration or covering. I’m sure it’s fine, but I physically can’t do it.
Just when I was sick of going to markets we came the famous Sunday Night Market. The food here was significantly better. We arrived early. I tried the fried pork chops. I saw the pork come out the fryer and on the plate. I loved it. It tasted like she used shake n’ bake! So now I can say I tried it. I fed the fatty parts to a toothless half blind dog hanging around the trash can. He got more food than any human beggar I’ve seen in Thailand. Everyone was feeding him.
Massage places are everywhere. The prices range from $5-$9/hr. Some of the places are crappy and some are great. You get what you pay for. I splurged and spent $26 for a Tok Sen massage at an upscale spa (Fah Lanna Spa). This massage is native to Chiang Mai. The therapist used a wooden hammer and stake. They literally hammer into your muscles. It’s loud and it felt great. The next day I felt like someone hammered into my shoulders. Totally my fault though, I said I wanted “strong pressure”. The next massage place I went to was rated high on Trip Advisor (Green Bamboo Massage). The price was $7/hr. It was a 30 minute neck, shoulder and back massage paired with an additional 30 minute head massage. My therapist was older so I asked her for “strong pressure” thinking she was weak. There were times during the massage I felt like she was wrestling me. She climbed on my back legs used her elbows in my shoulders. She also took my arms and pulled me back into a cobra position while I was laying on my stomach. That little lady was strong. Be careful what you ask for. Thankfully the head massage was relaxing.
There was an area we visited outside the moat. It was a street lined with bars and foot massages on each side. Most of the bars have pretentious names on them. At first I thought it was funny but as I looked deeper, I noticed there were girls hanging outside touting men to come in and have a drink.
The girls here weren’t like the “long time/short time” girls I had seen in Bangkok. These were hostesses. They invite people (preferably men) to come in and have a drink. While the guy is drinking they are just hanging out with him being “nice” , listening and sometimes playing board games. The men I saw in the bars were older. From what I saw, these men would have no chance of a girl that age being nice to them or listening if they were in their home town. A lot of the bars were empty except for the girls talking to each other. The hotel we stayed at had rooms facing each other. The guest across from us was a European man with his lady man escort. That was fun to spy on for the 3 days he stayed there. Just mentioning that since I was on the subject.
I’m not the biggest fan of Thai food but I did like the native dish of northern Thailand. It’s called Khao Soi (pronounced cow-soy). Its a soup with spicy coconut curry broth, fried noodles, thin noodles, shallots, garlic and chicken.
Everyone says their restaurant has the best. Again, I was choosy where I ordered this dish. Some of the best known Khao Soi was at places that didn’t look to sanitary. Once I notice that, my stomach buckles and I’m all of the sudden not hungry for anything.
Overall, Chiang Mai was a nice place to relax and unwind. I liked the vibe and the people. I loved the international food offered a various restaurants. Northern Thailand seemed to have more natural culture than Bangkok.