The next stop on our Thai journey took us to the north of the country, Chiang Mai. We had both been really looking forward to our time in the city as we had heard amazing things from other travellers that we had met along the way.
We found that there is SO MUCH to do in Chiang Mai, we were running around non-stop the entire time we were there trying to fit everything in!
Much like the rest of Thailand, Night markets are plentiful in Chiang Mai, Shaun and I went to the popular Saturday night walking market on Wulai road. We actually stumbled across the market by coincidence as it was on the same road as our hostel! We couldn’t find our hostel for ages due to the hoards of people and stalls lining the street, blocking all the buildings and entrances. Of all the places we visited in Thailand, Chiang Mai had the largest amount of markets to choose from.
Chiang Mai feels like it has almost as many temples as it does 7/11 stores which is a feat in itself. But, it also arguably has some of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. Shaun and I made it a priority to go and visit some of these during our time in Chiang Mai and whilst we didn’t have enough time to visit them all, we managed to squeeze in a few:
Wat Sri Suphan (Silver Temple) The temple is a real sight to behold, with every panel on the building covered in silver, it is unlike many of the other temples we saw around Thailand.
Wat Phra Singh These temple grounds are VAST and house several ancient temples including a library, ordination hall and prayer hall.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep This was my favourite temple to visit. One of the most sacred temples in northern Thailand and nestled in the mountains it provides beautiful views over Chiang Mai as well as spectacular temples. It’s even worth the 300 steps to gain access to the temples, I mean, the saying is nothing worth having comes easy right? The lovely lady who owned the hostel we were staying at recommended we visit here really early in the morning to avoid the crowds, we followed her advice and it was so worth it! We pretty much had the grounds to our self for 30 minutes before anyone else arrived.
Our time visiting the temples was however tainted with disappointment, of the three temples we visited in Chiang Mai, I was not allowed to enter particular buildings in two of the three. There are huge red signs clearly signalling that women are not to enter these sacred buildings, and to be totally honest all I could think was ‘what a load of patriarchal bull$!%*’ . Nevertheless, I obeyed the rules (begrudgingly) and waited outside while Shaun explored the interiors of the temples. The fact that I wasn’t allowed into some of the temples was made worse by the fact that they only tell you this AFTER you pay to enter the temple grounds. It was after this Shaun and I decided that we were done visiting temples in Thailand, we hadn’t really learned much about the religion or the culture from visiting them and I had paid a small fortune for the privilege. Whilst I wouldn’t discourage anyone to visit temples whilst in Thailand, I would recommend just visiting a select few and save your time and money for other activities. My personal recommendations would be: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Chiang Mai) and Wat Pho (Bangkok).
Thai Cooking Class
Taking a Thai cooking class was a huge bucket list item for Shaun and I during our time in Thailand, plus Shaun fancies himself as a bit of a dab hand in the kitchen and jumps at any chance to finesse his cooking skills.
The cooking class started with a trip around a local Thai market where we were shown all of the ingredients we would be using in our dishes. Fun fact: Thai eggplants look just like green grapes!
We then arrived at our guides home where we were treated to some tea before being taken to our prep stations to begin cooking our dishes, we all cooked four dishes each. I cooked chicken with holy basil, hot and spicy prawn soup, Thai red curry and bananas in coconut milk, not to toot my own horn but they all tasted amazing! We were even given cooking books to take away so we could recreate the dishes at home. Shaun and I are yet to attempt to recreate any of the dishes, maybe we’ll have some guests soon who are brave enough to taste test our Thai cooking?
Whenever we had discussed our trip to Thailand with family and friends, the one thing everyone asked us was ‘Are you going to see the elephants?’ I think elephant tours have become synonymous with Thailand now.
For Shaun and I the chance to get up close to these beautiful animals was an opportunity we just couldn’t pass up. We did however want to make sure that wherever we visited was ethical and that we knew the animals were being treated in a humane way. This was actually way more difficult than it seems, because many places call themselves ‘Elephant Sanctuary’s ’ but still promote elephant riding for tourism and keep the elephants chained up for long hours each day.
Shaun and I did a lot of research and found an elephant sanctuary that rescued elephants from riding camps and were well integrated into the hill tribes community, the group of people who look after the elephants. There were no signs of chains or anything untoward and the keepers did not use physicality to get the elephants to follow their commands at any time.
During the tour we had the opportunity to feed the elephants, take a mud bath and a swim with them and generally just be in their company, this experience was truly amazing! We even had a little 6 month old baby who was extremely playful and tried to sit on everyone like a lap dog.
I did however have a pang of guilt every now and again, whilst everything looked genuine on the surface, I do not know anywhere near enough about elephant tourism to have probed this any further. Whilst the elephants were roaming free, there was still a detailed schedule that they had to follow each day which meant they were trafficked from one area to another. Whilst the keepers only used verbal prompts to command the elephants, I couldn’t help thinking what sort of training (or worse) does an animal have to go through to obey like that? Questions like this ran through my mind the entire trip.
Whilst spending time with the elephants truly was one of the highlights of my trip, it did leave me with an awful lot of guilt, and I still haven’t managed to come to a conclusion on whether I’m in favour of elephants sanctuaries or not. Sure, they’re a whole lot better than riding camps, but are they as ethical as we are led to believe? I’m curious if anyone else has ever been and felt conflicted in a similar way?
Muay Thai Boxing
Often referred to as the national sport of Thailand, going to watch a Muay Thai fight was something that we had been really interested in doing during our trip in Thailand. But, everywhere else we had been, the ticket prices seemed too expensive for us to justify on our budget, especially given the long list of things we wanted to do above going to see boxing. We found the tickets in Chaing Mai were much cheaper than anywhere else we had been in Thailand and since our time in Thailand was nearing an end we thought, why not!
The arena itself was pretty small, a temporary fixture that was obviously pitched specifically for these fights and then taken down afterward. Shaun and I went with two friends we met at our hostel Esmee and Rahul and actually ended up spending about a week with them in Chiang Mai and pai (Hi guys if you’re reading this). The arena was situated in between of a number of different bars, this did make for a really fun atmosphere and a good place to get drinks if you’re in a group of people.
So, to the fighting itself… it’s so obvious to see that these people train extremely hard and are really skilled at what they do, it’s fascinating to watch. But, it is combat sport and my god is it bloody brutal! Considering I’m someone who can’t even watch the fake fight scenes in a film, I don’t know why I thought I could sit front row at a Muay Thai fight. Nevertheless, I watched the majority of it (through my fingers) and on the edge of my seat, but I think it all adds to the entertainment of it!
So, as you can probably tell by the length of this post, our time in Chiang Mai was really busy, we were literally non-stop and still felt like we hadn’t even really scratched the surface on the things to do there. Despite all the rushing around and lack of sleep Chiang Mai was some of the most fun-filled days we had in all of Thailand and whenever we met anybody else on our travels who asked us where to go in Thailand, Chiang Mai would be the first place we both recommended!