Tag Archives: Chiang Mai

Elephants, elephants, and more elephants

Visiting an elephant park has been on my bucket list for the longest time. I did my research on the various different parks located around Chiang Mai, as I was advised that many of the parks were often and unfortunately geared more towards the tourists enjoyment than the safety and wellbeing of the elephants. I knew that many parks trained the elephants with sharp hooked sticks and chains to ‘break them in,’ and wanted to avoid those that openly did. However, I was unaware that riding the elephants was also harmful, as the seats placed on their backs often lead to deformity and an array of other health issues. I was almost convinced out of going altogether as I didn’t feel quite right supporting organizations that pretty much abused the elephants for the sole purpose of tourism. I spoke to the ladies at the hostel for some advice, and they encouraged me to look at an organization called ‘Elephant Nature Park.’

The park, located North of Chiang Mai, is known for its rehabilitation purposes and is home to not only dozens of rescued elephants, but water buffalo, pigs, sheep, dogs, and cats as well. The park dedicates itself to providing a home to previously abused and injured animals, and educating the public about the prevalence of animal abuse in many tourist attractions. Visitors are welcome to stay at the park and volunteer for weeks at a time, but are also given the option of spending the day feeding, bathing, and watching the elephants in their natural habitat.

More info can be found at this link

Now onto the fun stuff! The van from elephant nature Park picked me up from Plearn bright and early. It was about an hour and a half ride to the sanctuary, during which we watched a short documentary on the history behind the park and the situations many of the elephants had been rescued from.

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ELEPHANT! Meet Deepa. Deepa was rescued from an illegal trekking/logging business after her front leg was injured due to over-exertion. You can see that her back is flat with several lumps, an indication that she was forced to carry heavy loads that in turn, altered her natural spine curvature.

We were encouraged to feed the elephants some of their favorite snacks. On the menu: watermelon, rice balls, cucumber, and pumpkin!

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Getting up close and personal with Deepa. I cant explain the kind of awe I felt standing in front of Deepa. I had never in my life been so close to an elephant, and it was simply a magical experience.

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Fanning herself with her ears to keep the mosquitos (or me?!?) away. Deepa’s mahout explained that we could scratch her behind the ears, much like we would a dog or cat. I promise I’m not trying to poke her eye in this picture.

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Deepa liked being pat on the trunk, and would encourage us to do so by grabbing our hands and placing them near her forehead. Let me tell you, having your hands held by an elephant surpasses all romantic interactions. Absolutely unreal.

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Here we see another elephant and her mahout. (Note the rounded spinal curvature, this elephant was not subject to a heavy seat) Each elephant has its own mahout, and each mahout its own elephant to build and cement trusting relationships. We were not allowed to touch this particular elephant as she was still noted as being ‘dramatic.’ Elephants and their personalities…

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..Anotha one! It was really interesting to learn about each individual elephant, where it came from, how old it was, it’s personality etc etc. Din, our guide, also supplemented the tour with fun elephant facts. Did you know that African elephants have five toes on its front feet and four on its back, while an Asian elephant has four toes on its front and three on its back? Now you know! After meeting several more elephants, we stopped for a quick vegan buffet-style lunch.

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What a spread! Soup, fried rice, two types of noodles, curry, stir fry, and my favorite, papaya. YUM

After lunch, we spent some time observing the elephants near the river. We even got to see a baby elephant! However, we were not allowed to get too close to the baby out of respect to the momma elephant.

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Baby! Not so small..

Coming out of the river, these guys were loud!

The elephants use their trunks to gather dirt/grass and then throw the mixture over their backs as a natural bug repellant/sunscreen. Here we see the baby picking up on the skill!

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One of the rescue dogs..one big happy family.

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Hooooome home on the range…

The last segment of the trip was dedicated to bathing an elephant. I don’t have any pictures as I was a little worried about dropping my phone into the river. We got about thigh deep into the muddy murky water and proceeded to throw buckets of water on the elephant happily munching away at a basket full of goodies. After she finished her treats, she slowly wandered away, her interest in standing still next to a bunch of humans cut short.

We hopped out of the water and watched as hundreds of water buffalo crossed the river, consistently pooping all the way across. So that’s why the water was murky…

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Looking for leftovers

At the end of the tour, I hopped back on the van and was dropped off to my hostel around 6pm. What a day! I decided to treat myself to a massage down the street. The start of yet another Thai-inspired obsession. At 200 baht for a one hour Thai massage, it was easily one of the most rewarding and relaxing six dollars I’ve ever spent.

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My buddy at the massage parlor! The lemongrass tea at the end of the massage was the perfect close to an amazing day.

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Cliff jumping and Yin-Yoga..

I LOVED Chiang Mai. And that is the greatest understatement of the year. Never have I been somewhere that caters so well to every single person, regardless of differing personal tastes. If you want to go hiking, you can go hiking. If you want to go bungee jumping, you can do that. Shopping? Cooking? Relax near the river? Go for it. Chiang Mai truly has it all!

A couple of days in, we decided to go check out the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Chiang Mai. After breakfast, the six of us piled into a red taxi for a 1000 baht round-trip (a fare negotiated by auntie, it would have cost us 2000 baht otherwise.) Reason #6184645 why I love Plearn Hostel. Within twenty five minutes, we arrived at our destination, and boy was it beautiful.

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Ladies and gentlemen, the Grand Canyon!

We thought that it would be crazy crowded, but were pleasantly surprised when we rolled in around 11a to find just a handful of people at the quarry. Shout out to low season! So..we didn’t come to the Grand Canyon to laze around in the water (we did do that too though.) Most tourists head over to jump off the cliffs as seen on the right side of the above picture.

My first time cliff jumping, and it was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Although a 50 foot jump sounds menial, trust me, it doesn’t look so easy once you’re up there with your toes dangling off the edge. The quarry itself was about 100 feet deep, the thought alone was pretty scary. Finally mustered up the courage and..

Bombs away! Awesome. As it was a quarry filled with rainwater, the lack of salinity made swimming a lot harder. You don’t float nearly as easily as you do in the ocean, so it took quite the effort to continuously tread water. Thankfully, there were bamboo rafts strategically laid out to rest our weary limbs. We alternated between jumping, floating around on the rafts, getting sunburnt beyond recognition, climbing back up the cliff, overcoming the fear all over again, and repeating. Such an amazing experience.

We headed back to hostel and I passed our from sheer exhaustion. Woke up later that evening and headed out for a yoga class that was being offered nearby.

This particular yoga class dubbed ‘Freedom Yoga’ was nothing like I’ve ever experienced. The instructor informed us that we’d be trying a different style than the vinyasa yoga what most of us were used to. While vinyasa is more active and fast paced, ‘yin-style yoga’ is slower, and more meditative. It sounds like it would be easier, but the particular style focused more on keeping our minds in meditative positions as opposed to physical positions.

The poses were each held for five minutes, during which the instructor talked about different Buddhist teachings, finding peace within our bodies, and attaining mental stillness. Every now and then, he would ask us to ‘release our tongues from the roofs of our mouths,’ something that all of us found ourselves accidentally doing while trying to concentrate. At the end of the ninety minute session, I was amazed at how difficult yin-yoga was, how light and relaxed I felt, and how ready to pass out I was. Definitely have to explore more yoga in the future.

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Green curry fried rice for dinner. Cannot get enough of Thai food. The adrenaline rush from the morning, paired with the soothing yoga and full belly, made for quite the deep sleep..I knocked out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

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Sawasdee Chiang Mai

Trying to familiarize myself with a few common terms in each country I visit..Sawasdee means hello!

My first day in Chiang Mai was pretty crazy. I hopped off the night train – which by the way was a very comfortable, and not to mention, cost-efficient mode of transportation-and headed towards my hostel. Got there just in time before the breakfast service closed down and grabbed myself some scrambled eggs to order.

If you are ever decide to backpack through Chiang Mai, definitely definitely stay at Plearn Hostel on Soi 1. I cannot possibly praise this hostel enough; it has hands down been the best hostel I’ve stayed at to date. The women running the hostel were the absolute sweetest, (more on that later) and they had the greatest breakfast spread ever. You can get up in the morning, make your way downstairs, tell ‘auntie’ whether you’d like your eggs scrambled or fried, and then treat yourself to coffee, toast, croissants, and a wide array of fruit (including, but not limited to, mangos, rambutans, bananas, oranges, and apple). All for FREE! On a backpackers budget here peoples, the word ‘free’ has been making my heart sing lately.

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Auntie!

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The spread

Watching the Warriors game over breakfast…so far from home yet so close. Go Warriors! Totally the biggest fan..

And here’s where the craziness begins! I’m sitting at the communal breakfast table and making conversation with some of the other backpackers..the same old questions as usual. ‘Where are you from? How long have you been traveling? Where have you been?’ I mention to someone that Im from California when a guy from across the table joins in. I kid you not, this is exactly how the conversation went:

Him: ‘Oh you’re from California? Me too! Where in?’
Me: Northern California, bay area!
Him: ‘Really? Me too, what city?
Me: ‘Oh cool, Fremont! What about you?’
Him: ‘I’m from Fremont too…wait..what high school did you go to..?’

(at this point, everyone at the table is listening to us)

Me: ‘Mission… What about you?’
Him: ‘I went to Mission too.. What year did you graduate?’
Me: ‘2011…you..?’
Him: ‘Same…’

And that’s how I ran into someone from high school at some random hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It truly is a small world. We re-introduced ourselves, and after a bit of mutual Facebook stalking, finally remembered eachother. Turns out we were in completely different social circles, but still.. What are the chances?!

‘Niraj’ was traveling through Thailand on a research grant with some classmates from his med school. I ended up spending the majority of my time in Chiang Mai-and Pai-with his group and a couple of other backpackers. I am so so glad I met them, it really was awesome getting to know everyone-and reminiscing how ridiculous Mission was way back when.- Apparently Mission’s new logo which they have engraved into some kind of memorial/statue is ‘GOOD ENOUGH NEVER IS.’ ha. Good riddance!

Anywho, as with all first days in new places, I took it easy and strolled around the surrounding area once the weather cooled down to a ‘comfortable’ 30°C (86°F).

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Passed by some beautiful wats. Got hungry after wandering for a little while, and by recommendation of many many people from Plearn, redirected my efforts towards a search for ‘Khao Soi.’

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Found ya! This. Was. SO. Delicious. Khao Soi is the regional ‘special’ of Chiang Mai, and influences can be traced back to Chinese Muslim and Burmese cuisine. The dish itself is simple, but as with most Thai dishes, is packed with complex flavor profiles. Comprised of egg noodles and braised chicken leg in a broth similar to yellow curry, the dish is served with pickled mustard greens, chili oil, and raw onions, and is topped with crispy fried noodles. Talk about nailing the textural components! After that first taste of Khao Soi, I understood what everyone had been raving about, and so began my new obsession.

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Walked around for a little longer, slowly falling more and more in love with Chiang Mai. Headed back to the hostel and rested up in the comfort of my air conditioned room.

Later that evening, I met up with a few other backpackers and collectively decided to head to the night market for dinner before checking out the bar scene. One of the guys who had been in Chiang Mai for a couple of weeks-and was actually from San Jose (hi Matt!)-led us to a smaller, more local based market at the edge of town. I think there were about 12 or so of us packed into the back a red-taxi (think pick up truck,) knocking our fare down to 10-ish baht a person. (Roughly 30 cents, heeyo!)

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Heard about the ‘Cowboy lady’ from many different sources, Matt and Lonely Planet included, so decided to check it out.

The ‘Cowboy Lady’ is a woman donning a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, all the while chopping up and serving slow cooked pork over rice for a mere 50 baht. Good eats for a little over a dollar? Count me in! The line for this culinary attraction was lengthy for a reason.

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Before adding condiments..

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Spicy chili oil, pickled greens, and one perfectly soft-boiled egg paired with the juicy and tender pork created quite a perfect bite. (Sorry for the blurry picture, guess I was too excited.)

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Next stop, the reggae bar! Highly recommend. Had an awesome time dancing and listening to the live band play Thai renditions of The Beatles and Bob Marley.

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Good music with great people, couldn’t ask for any better.

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