Chiang Mai was my favorite! I loved the culture, the food, the wildlife. Of course, it helped that two of our top adventures happened in Chiang Mai 🙂
The trip north was off to a great start when Bangkok Airways offered a “Jain” (vegan) in-flight meal. They had a huge list of options for a number of dietary restrictions! In fact, Thailand in general is very vegetarian/vegan friendly, no doubt due to the prominence of their monks and religious leaders. Every menu had a vegetarian page, and any time I asked for a meat dish to substitute tofu, it was easy-peasy. I definitely didn’t miss out on any flavors or unique Thai dishes because of it!
Chiang Mai Day 1: Doi Suthep and Baan Thai Cookery School
On our first full day in Chiang Mai, we hired a songthaew (taxi) to climb the Doi Suthep mountain, site of the majestic Wat Phra That. Legend has it that after a treasured relic (Buddha’s alleged shoulder bone) broke in two while carried up the mountain by the rare white elephant (followed by the sudden and unexplained death of said elephant) the king ordered the construction of this temple in the 14th century. …Something like that. What I wanna know is: why does the animal always have to die?
Anyways! The temple and its grounds were lovely, and Chuck and I took some time to wander both the Wat Phra That and surrounding markets. You may note that despite the excessive heat, I am covered with a shawl. Female modesty is strictly enforced in Thailand’s wats, so I kept my skirts long and a large scarf in my bag at all times. We also had to remove our shoes at every entry point. **Click photos to enlarge**
After returning to our adorable Namton Boutique Hotel to freshen up, we awaited pick-up for our next activity: a cooking class at Baan Thai Cookery School! Baan Thai was recommended by two of my well-traveled friends, so I was excited for a lesson or two in creating my favorite Asian cuisine.
It was no surprise that Chuck was a natural. One of the other students, who has been a top chef for restaurants around the world for decades, complimented his finesse. I did okay for myself too, and was happy to discover a few reasons why the Thai food I cook at home is sub-par. I need to stock up on oyster sauce, and I need a wok (not to mention a few key ingredients that may or may not be difficult to find if you don’t live near a Thai market…)
Somehow, we still had energy after the class, so we ventured over to the lively Saturday night market for some more local goodies. I loved the festive, bazaar-like atmosphere of the market!! I spent “a lot” of money here…
Chiang Mai Day 2: The Zoomer-X and Mon Tha Than Waterfall
After all the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and Chiang Mai’s Old City, I was eager for a serene escape, ideally in natural surroundings. I particularly wanted to see Doi Inthanon, a gorgeous mountain top with temples, gardens, hikes, and waterfalls. We learned that it was over 2 hours away, and our hotel staff was unable to find us a good deal on a driver (though it must be said that they didn’t try very hard.)
Across the street from the hotel, an adorable couple had a cluster of mopeds for rent. I told Chuck I would be up for it, if he felt comfortable driving it with me in the back. For 200 baht (approximately $6), we were assigned the hot pink Zoomer-X for the day! After a few mildly terrifying practice runs down some quieter side streets, we scooted out of town, sped along the highway (again, mildly terrifying), and were soon on our way up the Doi Suthep mountain in search of waterfalls…
With only one spill along the way (our knees are still recovering), we made it to Mon Tha Than Waterfall. It was just what I was looking for! Cool, refreshing, tranquil, with lovely lavender colored butterflies fluttering about. I took off my shoes, soaked my feet in mountain fresh water, then sat on a dry rock and just took it all in. The air was so fresh compared to the hot and heavy atmosphere back in the city.
At one point, Chuck was working his way from one rock to another when he slipped and splashed into one of the mini-pools, flailing as he went down. I could NOT stop laughing!! (He was perfectly okay!) The comic relief added to the therapeutic nature of the excursion, and enhanced the experience with a fun memory 🙂
That evening, we had a reservation at DK David’s Kitchen at 909, the #1 restaurant in Chiang Mai (according to TripAdvisor.) I thought it would be more upscale Thai food, but it was actually more French with some Thai influences (not that I’m complaining!) The food was delicious, and David himself was an adorable Englishman who, along with his Thai wife and little girl, visited each table for quaint introductions. We left very satisfied!
Chiang Mai Day 3: Ran-tong Save & Rescue Elephant Centre
Our 3rd day in Chiang Mai featured the highly anticipated “day with the elephants.” I am a huge elephant lover and the experience overall was magical, though I have a lot to say about it that I will discuss in a separate blog post. I simply have mixed feelings about aspects of the excursion, and feel the need to write about it. I also have a TON of photos, so with the exception of the few posted below, I will save those for their own post, as well 🙂
After our time at the elephant sanctuary, we strolled Old City, found a great hole-in-the-wall spot for dinner, then visited the romantically lit Wat Chedi Luang, which resembles Roman ruins more than a Buddhist wat!
If there’s any place I would recommend in Thailand, it’s Chiang Mai. You get the best of everything there (except maybe the beach.) Which brings me to Part III of our Thai Holiday…