Frankie Goes to Thailand
Chiang Mai Part 2 – Watching the Wildlife
I concluded Chiang Mai – The Power of Love with the sentence “… I simply fell in love with the city.” Partly it was because of the city with nice people, buildings and surroundings. But partly it was also because of the many things I did there.
On our second day in Chiang Mai, I went to an elephant park and this too was an unforgettable experience. The day started with a short introduction on the origins of the camp and the elephants themselves, after which it was time to feed the elephants. It was amazing to see how they would stick sugar canes between their cheek and tusks, so that they could keep their mouth empty in case you had some delicious bananas with you. A quick introduction on how to get on and off the elephant followed. After lunch it was time to take a short ride on the elephant, and it is a majestic feeling. High on top of his back you can feel the force of every step he makes. This is one of those experiences that I cannot describe in words how amazing it is; it is an experience you should go and do yourself! After the trip it was time to bathe (with) the elephants, but watch out for their shit floating in the water, which is as big as proper handballs. At the end of the day I regretted not booking the overnight option, in which you could stay at the elephant camp overnight and have a second day with the elephants.
Although all was amazing, be aware: there are many stories to be found on the internet of elephant camps in Thailand where the elephants are treated poorly, taught tricks, and are beaten. Therefore I made sure beforehand that I picked one that had the animals’ well being as the top priority. The camp I had chosen was a camp that sheltered and took care of elephants that were once in such bad conditions. I was surprised by both the commitment and the honesty of the employees there. Instead of hiding the hooks used to ‘correct’ an elephant, they openly carried them, however they took the time to carefully explain how and why they still used them. More importantly however, I never saw them use it inappropriately. Not even when the elephant riding behind us decided to run off path to some sugar canes – with the tourist still on his back. The caretakers did nothing, and let the elephant do his thing – it was in his character to do this and beating him wouldn’t work, as the elephant would have no idea what he did wrong.
There is a video in which the elephant does a trick with his trunk and your neck. This was actually not a trick and not something that they had taught the elephant – or so they told us. It was just something the elephant liked doing for fun. On the day I was there, I witnessed that the elephant spontaneously started to do it, to scare an unsuspecting tourist.
In this case, I like to believe their version of the story. Not only because I saw the elephant doing this spontaneously, but partly also because the caretaker who explained this was not on good terms with the elephant. As he told us, he and that particular elephant didn’t get along since day one. Why? They just didn’t like each other, he said. The elephant made this very clear later during the day, when for no apparent reason he threw a basket at that caretaker – who at the time was doing something completely unrelated and was standing about 20 meters away with his back towards the elephant talking to some other tourists.
This brings me to one of the thing I remember most of that day: all elephants had distinct personalities, based on which you could easily recognize and differentiate the elephants. Of course I knew that each elephant is unique, but I never imagined that their personalities were this outspoken. It was amazing to witness!
You cannot pretend to love food and cooking, and not do a Thai cooking course at one of the many cooking schools that Chiang Mai is known for. Hence, I went to a cooking school to learn how to cook Thai food. Most of the cooking schools give you the opportunity to either stay in Chiang Mai and spend half a day cooking there, or go to a farm located outside of Chiang Mai for a day of cooking. I opted for the latter option, also because it was only 100 baht (around 23 euros) extra. We started the morning at the market, where Miau – our teacher – taught us about the all Thai and local ingredients. She also clarified a mystery when she explained what exactly is the difference in the production process between coconut milk and coconut cream (spoiler: it’s all about adding water!). After buying all the necessary groceries, we headed for the farm outside of the city. The hour long journey was a real nice tour of both the outskirts of the city and the surrounding countryside, and the latter was especially beautiful.
While I actually expected the farm to be just a house somewhere in the middle of nowhere, it turned out to be on an actual farm. A tour on the farm followed, in which we were told in great detail about the vegetables grown there and how they work their lands. Before we started cooking, we were surprised with a salad made by one of the employees who came from Myanmar. And even though Myanmar was not so far from Chiang Mai, you could immediately taste the subtle differences between the two countries. The rest of the day was spent cooking, relaxing, and some more cooking. It was an amazing experience, and the booklet with recipes that we got in the end has already been used quite often at home! What about the dishes made at the cooking school? Don’t worry, they will be featured in the upcoming article dedicated to Thai food!
In order to get the full Chiang Mai experience, make sure you are there during the weekends! There are two amazing markets then, both very touristic and crowded, but well worth a visit!
Saturday Night Market
The market on Saturday night is largely filled with stalls that sell handcrafted items. Warning: you’ll have a hard time keeping your money in your pocket, as it’s a great place to buy souvenirs. From doormats in the shape of an elephant, to little knitted elephants, to painted fridge magnets with elephants, to stuff without elephants. You can find the market on the Wua Lai, starting near the moat every Saturday evening. Like the Sunday night market, there are artists playing in the middle of the street. Look out for the group(s) of blind artists, as they are really good!
Sunday Night Market
The Sunday night market is huge. It stretches from the east gate – which has its own market that is already pretty large – all the way to the west side of the Rachadamnoen Road, with every side street and square having additional stalls. Needless to say it’s fricking huge. Try to be there as early as possible, because you’ll need the whole evening to see it all, plus it gets very crowded later on during the evening.
This was early on during the evening and the street was not yet so crowded. Btw, you can’t see the end of the market in this picture..
Not in Chiang Mai during the weekend? A shame, but there is an alternative! All week long there are shops in and around the Night Bazaar from around 7 pm. You can find a wide variety of items for sale: from Bolex watches to handcrafted souvenirs. The bazaar is still a nice venue to visit, but it’s just not as special as the other two markets. Besides the market stalls, there is also a food square in which you find some great dishes for just a few bucks (did I already mention that Chiang Mai, and especially its food, was even cheaper than Bangkok?). Unfortunately, their menu is aimed at tourists, and therefore you’ll see Thailand’s most well-known dishes on it. But you can ask for Khao Soi; a local dish. They will first be surprised, but then quickly run out of the square and come back minutes later with the dish, freshly prepared!
Old city round trip
On the last day in Chiang Mai, I visited the ruins of the former Kingdom, located just outside the city center. After a boat trip on the river, a horse and carriage takes you past several ruins. It is a great way to spend an afternoon, but definitely not a must-see.
Chiang Mai was great and I loved every second I was there. But a plane to Phuket was waiting for me, and I boarded it reluctantly.