It felt so good to be on main land after spending the last month and a half jumping from island to island. Islands are nice and they are beautiful, but eventually you run out of room, and the ocean kind of freaks me out. I'll take a mountain over a beach anytime.
I was super excited to get to Thailand. I mean have you ever heard a bad thing about the place? The food, the mountains, the beaches, the people, the elephants, the temples, the rice paddies, the waterfalls, the cost, THE FOOD. It lived up to all the hype. All of it. The only unfortunate part of my time in Thailand was that I ended up spending more time here than I planned, but I can live with that.
I'm always in search of the most beautiful places on my travels around the globe. Thailand had no shortage of amazing landscapes and beautiful scenes. As with most places around the world though, you have to venture out of the big cities to find these amazing spots. So I landed in Bangkok and planned to head north right away.
But I did spend a day eating my way around the city first. Ratchaprarop, Khao San Road, Chinatown, The Chao Phraya River, Wat Pho, The Grand Palace, nameless markets, other random places I ended up while lost - all places that I wandered around aimlessly eating things. And looking at cool things too sometimes. But eating things was the main attraction. I seriously believe that I have gained weight during my time in Thailand.
After having my fill of pad thai, noodle soups, pork, chicken, rice, and Chang beer (I skipped the crickets, scorpions, and snake heads for now) I made my way to the train station slightly drunk and very full. It was a strategic slightly drunk and very full though because I was on the night train to Chiang Mai. We rolled out of the station at 10:00pm. I fell asleep at 10:01pm. See, strategy.
The train was very comfortable. I laid in my sleeping compartment until about 10:00am, half napping and half watching the Thai landscape roll by. There was plenty of green scenery and a couple awesome tunnels through the mountains. A good train is my third favorite mode of travel just behind your own two feet and a bicycle. But it beats an airplane, a motorcycle, a vehicle, and a boat in that order.
It's rainy season in Thailand and there is nothing confusing about that. It has rained everyday but one that I can recall since arriving here. But it is usually a morning storm and an afternoon storm that last just an hour or so. Only once did it rain all day. Everyone knows it's the rainy season and prepares for it. Ponchos abound. On the plus side, you get better deals on accommodation and activities during this time of the year.
Chiang Mai is a much more laid back city than Bangkok. It's smaller and slower. It is surrounded by mountains, and there are outdoor activities galore. The Old City is in the heart of Chiang Mai. It is a large square area surrounded by a canal and a very old, crumbling wall on all sides. Mostly just the major gates, corners, and the large chunks of the wall are still there. Within the old city you can walk around for an entire day finding amazing restaurants, cool art stores, tons of shops selling all kinds of things, food vendors, book stores, tourist information places, and depending on the night of the week, walking markets. My hostel was just outside the North Gate and I spent most of my time wandering around the alleys of Old City drinking fruit shakes and stopping every few minutes at places that looked interesting. I felt like Forrest Gump at the White House. I must've drank me fifteen fruit shakes.
My first full day in Chiang Mai I had only one priority - elephants. There are several different companies and tours that are available. It's best to try to go with a group that treats the elephants well. Where the elephants roam free and happy and eat all day. Granted it's tough to tell from the brochures which companies are the best, but generally the tours that don't offer riding and don't use chains are well respected. Word of mouth and recommendations from the tour agencies around town are good ways to decide which tour to go on.
It was an amazing experience to get so up close and personal with the elephants. Very personal, I mean we bathed together on the first date! I fed them sugarcane and some other plants they like. We hung out, took selfies, and I even gave one a big kiss. They are hairier than they appear. We made some rice balls filled with turmeric and salt to help them with their digestion. You have to hide the turmeric inside the rice well because if they see or smell it, they will not eat it.
My favorite elephant was the old man of the group. He was 66 years old. If you tried to hold out some sugar for him to grab with his trunk he would just look at you with his elephant "I'm getting to old for this shit" face and wait for you to put it directly in his mouth. Another elephant had a grudge with one of the caretakers there. The caretaker was telling us about how he recently came to work very hungover one morning. This elephant could tell and was not happy about it. Now the elephant would not eat from this guy's hand and sometimes when he passed the elephant would give him a little slap on the leg with his trunk. Elephants are great.
The next day I decided to learn how to fish instead of just eating all the fish or some saying like that. I took a cooking class. The cooking started at about 11am and we finish around 2pm. There were about six courses and I only took a break from cooking or eating to go grab another Chang. I left there so full and with a recipe book to repeat this awesome day back in the states. Just got to find a good Asian market with some good Asian chilis.
The organized tours of elephants and cooking were all well and good but I was ready for a little more adventure. I figured renting a motorbike, buying a map, and driving around northern Thailand in search of waterfalls, mountains, good views, and small towns would do the trick. For the next five days I headed out on the Mae Hong Son Loop and that experience is post worthy itself. So I will leave that for another time.
After I got back from the Mae Hong Son Loop I spent another day in Chiang Mai with no plans other than relax and get ready to head to Laos. Sometimes that is necessary. It's hard for me to spend a whole day without some kind of challenge so sometimes I just make up my own dumb games. I decided to walk around the square of old town. Around the entire north, east, south, and west side. My only goal was to find something different to eat on each side. Sadly I must tell you that I failed. I ate a soup on the south side, a salad on the north side, a crepe on the south side, a fruit smoothie on the north side, and a few beers somewhere inside the square. If I ever make it back to Chiang Mai I will just have to try again.