I’ve been dreaming about and planning our backpacking adventure to South East Asia for over a year now. The build up has been intense filled with planning the itinerary, booking accommodation, researching transport, booking flights, getting visas and all of our equipment. My brother, Nic, and I are journeying through Northern Thailand and Vietnam for a month before my boyfriend, Luke, joins us for two and a half weeks in Cambodia and the Thai islands. By the time the day had arrived for us to catch our plane across the globe my tummy was filled with butterflies of excitement at the prospect of discovering another part of the world, anxiety as to whether everything would work out smoothly and heart ache at the thought of saying goodbye to Luke for a month and my friends and family for six and a half weeks.
We flew to Doha then Bangkok then Chiang Mai. The journey was about 24 hours long with minimal sleep happening on the long flights so we were absolutely exhausted by the time we arrived.
After a restful night’s sleep and a surprisingly smooth transition to the five hours ahead time difference we were ready to explore Chiang Mai. Hidden in the mountainous North of Thailand, Chiang Mai is home to countless Buddhist temples. Each one more dazzling, intricately designed and breath-taking than the one before. We spent the day breathing in the unique smell of Thailand, a mix of street food, slight sewage and tropical humidity; as we wandered through the streets of the Old Quarter.
Our hostel Green Sleep was conveniently located very close to all of the main temples. This place is clean, modern and cutely decorated with plants and wood. The receptionists spoke great english and were super helpful in showing us the best of Chiang Mai, making bookings for activities and helping us work out our complicated transport plans!
The first highlight temple we visited was Wat Phra Singh. I say highlight because although there are the supposed three main temples, the whole city is filled with ornate houses of the Buddhist religion decorated in gold and bright colours. Wat Phra Singh was filled with very young monks helping prepare food while the older monks prayed for families. The structure next to the temple was coated in the most dazzling gold and just exuded glory and brilliance.
Wat Chedi Luang gave off a completely different feel. Here the main structure was a large weathered stony temple which created a scene straight out of an ancient Buddhist monastery.
Inside the temple the ceilings were adorned with thousands of ribbons covered in the animal representations of each year in the Buddhist calendar. I found out that I’m the year of the ox, Nic is the year of the rabbit and Luke is the year of the tiger (he definitely got the coolest one!). It was so colourful and beautiful.
After a full morning of temple exploration we had worked up quite an appetite. Darting through the rain we escaped the downpour, stepping into a family run restaurant. I had read about a traditional Chiang Mai meal called Khao Soi which is egg noodles in a coconut curry broth with chicken, lime, onions and crispy noodles. I ordered that and a mango shake while Nic enjoyed an iced coffee and Pork noodle soup. The english was minimal but the food was INCREDIBLE. Wow!
With regained energy and a reprieve from the rain we were ready to admire the final and most detailed temple: Wat Chiang Man. We seemed to be the only people there and so wandered around the sacred buildings in silence.
We eased our tired muscles with a relaxing and invigorating Thai massage. This ancient form of massage doesn’t use any oils but rather employs passive stretching and a gentle pressure technique where the Thai ladies massage your whole body using their whole body. It’s quite an experience!
We ended off the day with a trip to the night bazaar, an outdoor area filled with stalls selling the most delicious and crazy affordable Thai food. We started off with some pork and chicken kebabs then another Chiang Mai traditional: Khao Kha Moo. This is braised pork leg with rice and a boiled egg.
Nic decided it’d be a grand idea to sample some of the insects on offer. He munched on a few crickets, grasshoppers and silkworms before declaring them as yuck! We washed it down some sweet and delicious coconut ice cream.
Our second day in Chiang Mai was dedicated to experiencing the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. In Thailand there has been a big industry of overworking elephants to carry heavy loads and for tourists to ride them. Elephant spines are however, not designed to carry the weight of a human and so this can be very damaging. This sanctuary is an ethical one that rescues elephants from situations like these and creates a happy, healthy environment where the ellies just eat, sleep, poo repeat.
After a long and slightly treacherous drive we arrived at the sanctuary located in the Thai jungle. We were taught how to feed the elephants correctly and then began interacting with them and feeding them with bananas and pumpkin.
It was such an incredible experience being able to interact with these majestic and beautiful creatures. My favourite was the youngest girl, Yaya, aged five. She was so sweet and gentle.
We were then treated to a delicious traditional Thai buffet and got to meet some really incredible people from all over the world.
The day ended off with a mud bath with the ellies and a swim in the river with them. I can’t fully explain just how awe-some (in the true sense of the word) it was to be able to be so close to these gentle giants. A truly memorable and special experience.
On our final morning in Chiang Mai we made the trip up a very windy and steep road to the temple on the hill: Wat Doi That Suthep. You walk up 306 steps to a truly holy and sacredly stunning temple. GOLD. The whole area is just dripping in gold and colour and majesty. We watched the Buddhists walk around the tower of gold holding their flowers.
Chiang Mai was absolutely amazing and a perfect start to our time in Thailand.
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