Northern Thailand is awesome. And Chiang Mai, despite being the most popular / tourist-ready place in the North, still retains its charm as an ancient gated city replete with temples, markets and tons to offer.
In our 4 days there, we continued our gastronomic journey ( – read, gluttony) through Thai foods, even trying our hand at a cooking class; we had amazing Thai massages; visited an elephant sanctuary, and saw the best temple we’ve seen so far.
On our first day whilst dining on delicious Northern speciality Kao Soy (red chicken curry with fried noodles – see Food Blog!) we met a cool Canadian ex-pat lady who tipped us off about the best markets to visit, so we spent our first day (and the rest!) browsing huge local markets selling everything from clothes to food to sunglasses, trying delicious sweet treats and cheap eats like mango sticky rice and blue sticky rice with egg custard. GAH.
We then treated ourselves to a Thai massage in the afternoon which was ace! Lots of elbows being pressed into muscles and bending to relieve tension. They cracked some bones too, which Sam is a MASSIVE fan of.
Day 2 we meandered around markets some more, then in the evening we took a cookery class with Baan Thai Cookery School, and it was awesome! We were with a really fun group of people and a fab instructor, and the courses all turned out great!
Highlights were making Pad Thai, our own curry pastes (green and red), spring rolls from scratch (SO GOOD when hot out the frying pan!), various curries and even milking our own coconut milk out of fresh coconut in a muslin cloth.
We made 10 dishes between Sam and I, and were surprised at how simple they were, with the same base of ingredients (oyster, fish sauce, chili paste and sugar!) and we vowed to make a big batch of pastes when we get home.
Day 3 was maybe our favourite – the day we visited Happy Home Elephant Sanctuary out of town, and got the chance to hang out with the big trunky guys for a day. We had a fantastic ladyboy ‘mahout’ (elephant carer) called Omo to show us the ropes, and her infectious enthusiasm and connection with the elephants made the day super special.
First, she told us about where the elephants are rescued from (often from elephant trekking companies or circuses where they can be blinded by camera flashbulbs – heartbreaking stuff) then we all took turns chopping up sugar cane and headed out for a walk with with the elephants to a nearby river.
There were a mix of elephants, from two older ladies, a mum and an adorable mischievous 7 month old called Mimi.
As we walked amongst them to the river, we stopped to feed them bananas (peeled for Mimi) and sugar cane, and I steadily grew in confidence about touching them (at first I was terrified by their size!) and found them to be super docile and incredibly majestic. Next, we bathed with them in the river which was SO much fun. Seeing them roll around under the water and playfully spray the water around as we splashed them, was pretty unforgettable.
We ended the day with a meal with Omo and she told us some heartbreaking stories about life as a Thai ladyboy, including not being able to graduate uni as her lady self because the Thai royal family wouldn’t allow it (the prince was in attendance), so she had to cut all her hard-grown hair off. An eye-opening conversation!
The last day we visited Doi Suthep temple which was truly stunning (my favourite temple still, 2.5 months in!) – high in the misty hills, full of golden buddhas, a central stupa, and many beautiful jade buddhas. The mist and the altitude added an ethereal quality, but the temple itself was more glorious and colourful than any we’d seen.
Our last night was great fun, hanging out on the weekend Walking Street market, where we saw kids singing karaoke, live music from blind guys, and a market chockfull with cheap beautiful souvenirs. I bought a gold scarf, a pretty red sarong and an embroidered purse – my first non-functional personal purchases in 9 months! Felt gooood.
Next, onwards and upwards even further North, to tea-growing mountain town Mae Salong!