Travel Tuesday with Taylor to Chiang Mai, Thailand
by Taylor Deer
The Most Memorable Time in Thailand
I hope you all enjoyed reading about my unique experience road tripping to Chiang Mai. When we finally reached the mountainous city, it was mid-afternoon and we couldn’t wait to relax. After checking into our majestic and traditional, Asian-inspired hotel, we got settled in and headed up to the rooftop pool where we enjoyed a great Thai happy hour and panoramic views of the city and jungle-like mountains.
After enjoying a refreshing piña colada at the pool, we enjoyed dinner at our hotel before taking our first tuk-tuk downtown to explore Chiang Mai’s famous night market. In Thailand, the easiest way to get around is through a tuk-tuk or taxi. A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled motor taxi that can seat anywhere from two to eight people. Traveling via a tuk-tuk is a traditional way of getting around the cities of Thailand, so I definitely recommend taking advantage of it during your time there.
There are a few things you should keep in mind when you haul a tuk-tuk in Thailand. It is important to make sure you are always traveling with someone. Unlike a taxi or Uber in the United States, a tuk-tuk doesn’t always go straight to your location. The driver can make a few pit stops along the way if he or she wants to stop at the store or pick up more people, so always travel with one or more individuals and try to never let strangers know where you are staying. Fare negotiating and haggling is important when you take a tuk-tuk because the price offered by the driver is always an inflated rate, especially if they know you are a tourist. Overall, tuk-tuks are very cheap, but keep in mind you can be sitting in one for a long time if you are traveling during Thailand’s rush hour.
When we finally reached the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, we were amazed and excited by the endless amount of street vendors and attractions. At Chiang Mai’s night market, you can shop through a variety of elephant pants and jewelry as well as getting the popular “foodie” items that you see on Insider Food’s social media pages.
As we started to meander around the night market, I knew this was the place to get all of my family’s souvenirs. The variety of elephant pants being sold was endless. I bought a few more pairs for myself (guilty), my mom, best friend Julie and brother’s girlfriend Maria. I also bought an adorable elephant bracelet, tank top for when I go to yoga class and a few other items for my other family members.
After our shopping spree, we wanted to enjoy a cool treat. We walked around and spotted a Thai rolled ice cream stand, something I have been searching for since my plane landed in Bangkok. Thai rolled ice cream is just what it sounds like: little rolls of ice cream mixed with other fruits, candies, etc. that are packed into a cup and then topped with extra goodies. I got green tea ice cream with brownies, Oreos and whip cream on top. It was delicious!
Another popular Thai tradition is getting a fish pedicure. There was a fish pedicure spa within the night market, so my friends paid to do it. A fish pedicure consists of garra rufa fish (also known as doctor fish) nibbling away at the dead skin and calluses from the bottom of your feet. I was a little weirded out by the idea so I sat out on this one, but it was hilarious watching my friends participate in it. The pedicure was 15 minutes long, but my friends lasted at least five. They didn’t like the feeling of the fish eating at their feet.
Around the night market are various live-music and karaoke bars, so when the market closes at midnight, you can still have fun in Chiang Mai.
Ran-Tong Elephant Save & Rescue Center
Our second day in Chiang Mai was the best day during my time in Thailand! After enjoying a Thai breakfast at our hotel, we headed straight to Ran-Tong Elephant Save & Rescue Center that is located an hour into the jungles and mountains of Chiang Mai.
For many years, it has been a dream of mine to either go to Southeast Asia or Africa to feed and play with elephants. Ran-Tong’s elephant sanctuary is dedicated to the protection and conservation of elephants from Thailand and surrounding Asian countries. They are devoted to rescuing abused elephants, bringing them to the sanctuary in Chiang Mai and caring for them with great passion, love and enthusiasm.
Since 2009, the sanctuary has supported elephants and they do not use heavy chains, abuse them for tricks, separate the babies from their mothers or allow anyone to ride these loving creatures. When we arrived at the sanctuary, the owners and managers greeted us. After explaining their safety rules and regulations in regards to both volunteers and the elephants, they took us to the main house where we were given a Thai uniform to wear in respect to the elephants. Since I knew we were going to get dirty at the elephant sanctuary, I purchased a cheap pair of water shoes from Modell’s that I could easily chuck after walking through the swamps and mud. I definitely recommend doing that before your trip to the elephant sanctuary!
After we got ready, we headed out to the elephant area where we first prepared and cut sugar cane to feed them with as a snack. When we got our sugar cane and cutting knives, we put the knife in the middle of the cane so that we could cut it in half and then chop them up to smaller pieces so that the elephants can easily chew them. When we were ready, we walked out to the grass where we were greeted by the friendly and happy elephants.
When I first approached the elephants, it had to have been the most magical moment of my life. I was so used to seeing elephants on TV and online, that it was surreal that these beautiful creatures were finally in front of me! They were so excited to see us, just as much as we were happy to see them. We were able to get a few kisses from the male and female elephants and one of them even greeted me with a bouquet of freshly picked flowers followed by a warm smooch on the cheek. It was so sweet!
The baby elephants were adorable as well and it was amazing seeing them follow alongside their mothers.
After we fed the elephants their sugar cane, we walked them over to a small pond where we gave them a bath and massaged them with the mud. Elephants LOVE mud, so they were in their glory and we shared smiles and laughs as they sprayed us with their trunks. Even though I am usually not one to roll around in mud, I had so much fun with the elephants and seeing how happy they were made me just as cheery.
When we finished giving the elephants a mud bath, we walked them back over to a stream where we rinsed them off. One elephant made his or her way back over to roll around in a massive mud pile. Even though we had rinsed the elephant off, it was so cute watching them roll around in the mud again. He or she knew to go back to the stream and rinse itself off.
Before we ended our morning with the elephants, we made their lunch. Their meal consisted of rice, meat and locally grown plants. You can tell they were hungry after we had played with them because they ate all of the food we made. Afterwards, the elephants were content, so they walked back to the grass as we made our way back up to the main house to shower off and enjoy delicious coconut rice and pineapple juice as a snack.
After our fulfilling morning at Ran-Tong Save & Rescue Center, we made our way to Bai Orchid and Butterfly Farm where we enjoyed a delicious Thai lunch with waterfalls and bamboo trees surrounding us. Orchids are a popular plant grown in Asia, so it was awesome wandering around and looking at the colorful flowers. Across from the orchid green house, was the butterfly sanctuary where we got to see so many beautiful butterflies. I feel like I barely ever see butterflies anymore, so it was nice getting to view their gorgeous wings up close.
Akha and Kayan Hill Tribe villages of Palong and Lahu
Our next amazing adventure in Chiang Mai was to visit the Akha and Kayan Hill Tribe villages of Palong and Lahu. When we arrived at the villages, everything felt surreal. The nature, peace, warm and welcoming faces, traditional Thai houses and culture that filled the air made me forget about everything and stay present in that moment. I loved how the tribal villages kept their rich traditions and simplistic life.
While I was walking through the villages, I admired the beautiful mountains covered by the fog, rice paddy fields, lakes and ponds with lily pads and I went on a mini shopping spree by purchasing household souvenirs that was homemade right in front of me. I purchased an elephant table runner for my shore house, coffee mug and a bracelet for a friend.
As we made our way deeper into the village, we came across the Kayan tribe. The women in this tribe are known to have brass coils around their necks. I remember learning about the Kayan tribe when I was in grade school through National Geographic, so it was amazing to be able to meet them in real life!
Females in this tribe start to wear rings around their necks as early as 6 months. Over the years, the brass coils are replaced with long ones. The weight of the brass pushes the collarbone down and compresses the rib cage. The neck itself is not lengthened, but the appearance of a stretched neck is created by the deformation of the clavicle. When they are asked, the Kayan women explain that their purpose for wearing the rings is for cultural identity, associated with beauty. The muscles covered by the coil become weakened and when the Kayan women take them off, their necks can collapse after a period of time. In addition to the neck rings, the brass coils are also worn just below the knee. I was grateful to be able to try on a necklace that looked like the brass rings and take a picture with a sweet Kayan woman.
Later in the evening, we attended our first Thai home-hosted dinner hidden in the neighborhoods of Chiang Mai. The owners of the home were excited that we were having dinner at their house and welcomed us by providing a variety of the best Thai food I’ve had during my trip.
When we first arrived at the home, we were asked to take off our shoes as a way to respect the residents and were given a cloth that we wrapped around our waists to be used as a napkin. The home was a traditional Thai house surrounded by bamboo trees and overall peace. When we entered, I was amazed at how big the house was and there were some outdoor rooms that overlooked the jungle. The views were everything I expected Thailand to be prior to traveling there.
After a tour of the house, we sat down in the living room where the owner gave us a leaf and freshly grown herbs to suck on to clear our palette. It was very interesting! We then headed outside to the backyard where there was an area set up for the cooking and eating. I loved how it was authentic and traditional.
Not only did the family cook for us, but they even gave us the opportunity to prepare the food ourselves. The first station was for the pad Thai. I was so excited to learn how to make fresh pad Thai from a local family. Surprisingly it wasn’t that difficult! We then went over to the second station to make chicken curry. (My mother would be proud!)
All of our homemade food tasted delicious! After our tasting, we took a seat to enjoy the rest of the food the host-family prepared for us. In Thailand, most meals are eaten on the floor. The floor that we ate on had a bamboo spread, comfortable pillows to sit on along with plates, forks and knives. Unlike other Asian countries like China and Japan, Thailand does not eat with chopsticks. This surprised me!
The food was absolutely amazing! For dessert, we enjoyed bananas in coconut milk with fresh Thai fruit on the side. I was so grateful to have gotten this experience.
During our last full day in Chiang Mai, we hopped on a tuk-tuk that took us up into the Chiang Mai mountains. On our trip up to the summit, we got amazing jungle views as our tuk-tuk drove along the narrow and twisting roads. At the summit, we approached the Doi Suthep Temple where we trekked up a long flight of stairs to the top. Just like the other beautiful temples we have seen during our trip to Thailand, the Doi Suthep Temple featured intricate gold architecture and gorgeous Buddhas.
On our way down from the temple, we took a tour through a jade factory. Jade is the royal gem of China, Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia. It is the toughest of all precious stones and has played a big role in art and religious life as well. Many believe this beautiful gem holds a link between the physical and spiritual worlds, encompassing the yin and the yang as well as heaven and Earth. At the end of our tour, we went into the shop where we were able to purchase jade jewelry. The jewelry ranged from a couple hundred USD to close to a million USD. I was able to purchase a simple white jade ring that I have been wearing everyday thus far.
We ended our time in Chiang Mai by attending an open forum where we gained Buddhist insight from a friendly monk. We all were so intrigued by what he said and some of us even shed a tear (including myself). It was amazing to hear everything he said as a lot of the information he shared with us is what I learned through my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training last year.
After our precious time with the Buddhist monk, we wandered around beautiful Wat Suan Dok, also known as the flower garden temple. Later that evening, our awesome tour guides got us VIP access to enjoy a Muay Thai fight at Chiang Mai’s Boxing Stadium. I am excited to announce that after a ton of great matches, Thailand won over China! It was a great way to celebrate our time in Chiang Mai.
Next week, get your bathing suit ready because we are heading to the Thai island of Koh Samet, located in the Gulf of Thailand. If you have any questions about my Thailand trip, please email me at Taylor@sitinmyseats.com.
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For more information, please email me at Taylor@sitinmyseats.com.
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