We had an amazing first day in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was an easy flight from Phnom Penh. We first landed in Bangkok, picked up our bags, passed through immigration, and then had to circle back to domestic departures to catch our flight to Chiang Mai. It sounds like it was a bit crazy but it was much easier and smooth than I had anticipated.
Once we arrived in Chiang Mai around 10:30pm, our driver was at the airport – sign in hand – to transfer us to our hotel. The Raming Lodge was very nice, comfortable, and had a more reliable internet connection than we found in Cambodia. We were exhausted after a crazy day in Phnom Penh (crammed in a LOT of things before catching our flight) so we were ready to climb into bed. We explored the area around the hotel, picked up a snack, and were in bed by 12:30am.
LET THE ADVENTURE BEGIN – that was our motto starting Monday morning. These are the last two days of this journey before heading back to the States early (very early) Wednesday morning.
I had the chance to Skype with Cindy around 6:30am (Thailand time). This would have been a miserable trip if not for Skype! It would have been difficult being on the other side of the world and not being able to see her face and talk to her everyday.
Promptly at 8am our driver picked us up at the hotel to take us to Chiang Dao. It’s about an hour drive north of Chiang Mai but it was a very comfortable (and air-conditioned) van.
Once we arrived at the camp, it wasn’t long before we were fully engaged with the mahount (trainers) and the elephants. They even did a little “performance” for us.
After the “show,” they took us to a platform. There Mike and I mounted one of the largest and oldest elephant at the camp. He is definitely the leader of the pack with large tusks and really big feet! He was very gentle and we climbed on board.
It took a bit to get used to the rocking motion on his back. I’m not sure I ever got completely used to it but it was a great experience. We made our way through the Thailand rainforest jungle for almost an hour until we arrived at a small native Lisu village. They had handmade items for sale ranging from woven bags and hats to hand-carved wooden things. I had the chance to meet several of the village people – very friendly and excited about us being there. And, yes, I picked up a couple of very cool souvenirs.
We took a different path back to the base camp. The scenery is beautiful. It was so quiet you could here only the sounds of the jungle, including the water that was about to become part of our path!
And it was pretty relaxing the second time around. We were much more comfortable with riding the elephant than before. We did have an unexpected adventure. The seat that we were riding in slipped off the elephant while we were in the middle of the jungle! Our mahout jumped off, climbed up the elephant’s butt, attached it, and we were on our way – relaxing again.
Once we arrived at base camp, some of the workers had prepared lunch for us – authentic Thai food and much more than either Mike and I could eat. Everything from fresh spring rolls, soup, and a couple of spicy dishes.
After a very delicious and quiet lunch by the river, we walked down a path to our awaiting bamboo raft. Yes, we were only beginning the second half of our day. Mike and I walked across several rafts to get to ours, took our seat on the small bench, and started down the river.
Not being one that just likes to sit, I pantomimed to the “driver” to see if he would let me steer for a while. He hesitated at first but then relinquished the pole. For almost an hour, I was the “captain of our ship.” Mike took his turn behind the pole as well but mostly concentrated on making sure we had lots of pictures and video while I steered us down the river.
I’m going to try very hard in the next few days to get these picture organized and uploaded to our Flickr site. I’ve already posted many from Vietnam and Cambodia in a collection called Southeast Asia. I’m sure there will be many more to come!
Once we made it back to the landing, our driver was there to meet us with cold clothes and cold water in hand! It was a very welcome sight as it was extremely hot on the water.
Even thought we’d been going strong since 6:30am, our day still was not over. We talked our driver into stopping at a tiger preserve on the outskirts of Chiang Dao. The tigers here are all Asian Bengals and we had an up-close experience with many of them.
After wrapping up here, we made our way back to the hotel in Chiang Mai. It was HOT and we were hungry. We decided to take a quick swim before hitting the streets to find some food. Half the fun of being in a city like this is exploring the streets and night markets after hours.
Our hotel was located inside the “old city wall” of what was originally Siam. We walked from our hotel (which was an experience all by itself) to the streets outside the ruins of the city wall. We found a great little restaurant where we ate way too much food for 450 BHT or about $12.
After dinner, we had one more “unique” experience for us – DR. FISH. Yup, you drop your feed in a large tank with these little fish and they eat away the deposits and dead skin. The first 60 seconds were almost unbearable – especially for ticklish feet – but then it was kind of nice (but not relaxing).
One more adventure of the evening before heading back to the hotel was a little shopping in the Night Market. This place is HUGE – food, clothes, bags, watches, and lots of fake stuff.