The final stop our Thailand adventure was the northern city of Chiang Mai. To get there from Sukhothai, we took the first long-distance bus ride of our trip. The bus was quite comfortable and we enjoyed seeing the countryside roll by.
Arriving in the bus terminal in Chiang Mai, we transferred to a “songthaew” to travel to our hotel a few miles away. These red trucks are the most popular form of transportation in the city. 30 Thai Baht ($1) per person is the going rate for trips in town. The driver does not always take the most direct route because passengers are picked up and dropped off along the way.
Chiang Mai became the capital of the Lanna Kingdom in 1296. Residents built a moat and defensive walls around the city to guard against neighboring enemies and Mongols.
Not surprisingly, Chiang Mai has numerous temples that can be visited. After Bangkok and Sukhothai we were starting to suffer temple fatigue so we didn’t make an effort to see them all. We did visit Wat Chadi Luang, though. This 14th-century temple was damaged by an earthquake in 1545 and was never completely repaired.
Elephant Nature Park
One the main draws for visitors to Chiang Mai is the opportunity to see and interact with elephants. These animals were commonly used (and often abused) as beasts of burden in the forestry industry; now they are employed in the tourist trade.
Numerous operators offer elephant tours but unfortunately not all of them treat the animals well. After a bit of research, we decided to visit the Elephant Nature Park because the organization treats their animals ethically and works to rehabilitate elephants with various physical and mental injuries.
Our trip started with a short lecture about the organization and the resident elephants. Next we got to assist with the feeding, handing chunks of watermelon to an appreciative elephant.
Later we walked around the grounds and got to meet some of the other residents.
Some of the elephants were recovering from broken bones; one lost most of a foot after stepping on a land mine.
Some of the elephants were down in the river taking a bath. It was fun to see these animals playing and interacting with each other.
Sammy’s Organic Thai Cooking School
The next day, we made an outing to Sammy’s Organic Cooking School to take in a lesson in Thai cooking. The classroom is at Sammy’s home, which also has a large garden where many of the ingredients are grown.
The kids were eager to help peel and chop the vegetables and herbs.
We made curry paste by grinding up peppers, galangal, ginger, and a mix of spices.
We cooked a four-course meal that included coconut chicken soup, pad thai and green curry.
And of course, dessert! We all love mango sticky rice! We find the kids are always more open to trying new foods if they cook it themselves, so this was a great activity.
Making Paper from Poo
All of the elephants around Chiang Mai provide plenty of raw materials for sustainable paper manufacturing; we made a visit to the Elephant Poo Paper Park to learn all about it.
Our tour took us through all of the steps of paper manufacturing. The first step was to cook the balls of poo to break down the fibers. Surprisingly the boiling pot of poo water didn’t smell really bad.
The fibers are then dyed. We spread out different colors of fiber balls over screens, which were then set out to dry.
Later we picked some crafts to create with the finished paper.
Everyone decorated a journal. This will be a fun memento to show friends and family. 🙂
Wat Doi Suthep and the Monk’s Trail
Atop a hill near Chiang Mai sits the most spectacular temple in the area, Wat Phra Tat Doi Suthep. This temple can be reached by hiking the “Monks Trail” from Chiang Mai.
We considered making the strenuous hike up from town, but since it was quite hot that day we decided catch a ride to the top and hike back down. The taxi did not take us all the way to the top, though; we still had to climb this steep staircase bordered by colorful nagas.
Reaching the top, we had to remove our shoes before going into the central part of the temple. Inside we found a large gold stupa, gold statues, and shrines.
A lookout provided us with a spectacular view of Chiang Mai down below.
We explored the temple for a while then took the Monk’s Trail downhill back into Chiang Mai. As sweaty hikers huffed and puffed their way towards the top we were happy with our decision to go the opposite direction. 🙂
With no shortage of things to do and see, Chiang Mai was a great stop to conclude our time in Thailand. Next up, Laos!