As explained in my previous travel post, we visited Pai first before getting that bus ride back to Chiang Mai. Getting a taxi in the city is at first a little confusing. Open-back trucks drive around beeping at whoever they think looks in need of a lift. The driver will stop to pick up as many groups of people as possible, heading in the same direction, as they charge per person. Once we had worked this out we were taken to our hostel where we had booked a private room with aircon. It definitely depends on the time of year but if you head out between March and July I would definitely advise getting a room with aircon. With high humidity, 40 degree heat and harsh sun beaming down on you throughout the day, aircon really is a lifesaver. One thing to note about Chiang Mai – more so than anywhere else we visited in Thailand – is that the majority of cafes, restaurants and shops are open onto the street with no air-conditioning at all. So you won’t regret paying a bit extra for that air-conned room.
(Note: If all else fails and you’re getting desperate, Starbucks is heavily airconned!)
After settling in our hostel we made our way to the city centre, which we had found out was only a 10 minute walk. The city itself is full of tourist booking centres where you can go and be shown a vast number of activities and organised trips. We were looking for a hiking trip however with every trip was a stop to an elephant camp where you were to ride an elephant. While we were unaware of the extent of the cruelty in these camps at this point, we knew enough to want to avoid giving our money to companies who supported them. Instead we decided upon a trip where we would be driven up the mountainsides and into the rain-forest before taking zip wires back down over the tree tops. It claimed to have the longest zip wire in Chiang Mai- 900m. We chose to do this as well as a day at the Elephant Nature Park which we had pre-booked online.
In the city centre there are a few rooftop bars and restaurants which are definitely worth checking out (most restaurants in Chiang Mai have similar menus including traditional Thai food and their take on English food). But if you make your way East of the city centre you’ll find more bars, pubs and a variety of restaurants including Mexican, Indian and Irish. In this area is also the famous Night market which takes over a few streets every weekend and is the cheapest place for tourists to shop. We also took a taxi west of the city towards Ping River where we had dinner at a restaurant with live music and cocktails at a hotel rooftop bar called Sala Lanna. Along the riverside here are a number of slightly upper market, more expensive restaurants and bars (compared to usual prices in Thailand- still cheaper than the UK) which make for a nice evening out.
Elephant Nature Park- Care For Elephants
As a tourist with little knowledge on elephants it can be easy to get caught up in the novelty of riding an elephant and forget about the consequences, giving your money to an organisation like this can have. We did a lot of research on the camps before we chose to visit the one we did. We were picked up by a minivan and taken to the camp- a two hour drive away. On the way we were played a video which explained the general background of elephants in Thailand and how the camps train and treat them. Without trying to bore anyone, I’ll explain what we learnt as briefly as possible. A lot of camps capture elephants and ‘break their spirit’ this is a long process involving beating them, tying them up and leaving them with no food or water, all in aid of making them scared of humans. This way they will do as humans say. Some camps still use elephants to perform and train them, using sharp nails or other similar torture devices to get them to do as they want. When tourists ride elephants they will also keep these sharp nails and hide them behind their ears, jabbing at them when they ‘misbehave’.
Elephant Nature Park is one of very few in Thailand whereby they rescue the elephants from these other camps. In order to do this they have to pay large sums of money which is why a day at this camp is a lot more expensive than at many others. However from my own experience it was definitely worth it. At the end of our day with the elephants we were trekking back through the woods and witnessed across the fields, staff from another camp ‘breaking the spirit’ of a baby elephant. A group of men all beating this elephant whose cries could be heard for miles. It was horrible to witness and I’m sure if everyone could see it, these camps would lose a lot of business.
Our day started with a short briefing and everyone was given a bag of elephant food. We met the elephants and fed them before walking them across the fields to the river where we were to bathe them. Walking amongst these ginormous animals was an amazing experience, photos do no justice to the size of them nor does seeing them in a zoo compare to witnessing them up close in a much more natural habitat. We watched them play in the mud while we stopped for a lunch break before bathing them in the river. The day was a surreal, incredible experience; a tick off the bucket list and a definite highlight of the whole trip. I couldn’t recommend it, and the Elephant Nature Park, enough.
Skyline Adventure is the company we did the zipwire experience with. Driving up what felt like almost vertical roads to get to the start of the course was definitely not my favourite part(!) but soaring over tree tops through the jungle made such a fun day. Unfortunately I forgot to charge the go-pro (still annoyed with myself for that one!) so there’s no mid zip-wire pictures, but here’s a hideous post 900m zip-wire snap for good measure.
I really could have gone on and on about Chiang Mai (I know, I already wrote an essay) but there is so much to do and see if you get the chance, it really is worth it!