I turned 24 in the 2nd class sleeper car of a train headed from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Just how I drew it up. At first glance, the setup is a little unusual. The seats fold into the lower bed and a top bunk pulls down from above. It was a 13hr ride, most of which was spent asleep in my top cubby. The final 2 hours we watched the northern Thai landscape from open windows while sipping terrible coffee. The train meandered through forest covered mountains and fields until it finally steamed into Chiang Mai station.
We checked into the hostel and still had a full day ahead of us. Chelsea had Doi Inthanon National Park on her list and we figured it was as good a day as any to go. The desk attendant hooked us up with a driver outside who was willing to take us in his Songtaew (basically a red open sided pick-up truck converted to a cab). It was going to be a full day, and our driver Dem was willing to take us 2hours up the mountain, wait for us, and drive us back to the hostel for a modest fare. The ride was a great experience. It was long, steep, and windy through the mountains, but the view at the top was worth it.
At the peak of Doi Inthanon sit two adjacent chedis, Naphaphonphumisiri and Naphamethinidon, meaning ‘being the strength of the air and the grace of the land and ‘by strength of the land and air’ respectfully. The Buddhist chedis were surrounded by beautiful gardens in full bloom. The lack of other tourists made for an exceptionally tranquil 90min stroll atop the mountain.
After the return trip we ate at a local restaurant about 2 min from the hostel. The green curry was exceptional. Then it was off to bed early, because in the morning we had to be out by 7am on our way to the Elephant Nature park.
The time spent with the elephants could have its own post entirely but I’ll keep all of Chaing Mai together since I’ve been slow posting these (been moving around a lot). The Elephant Park was about a 90min drive outside of the city. It sits on acres and acres of land in a river valley surrounded by high forested peaks. And it’s full of rescued elephants. 69 to be exact. We spent the day in a group of 8 tourists with our guide Kay. He knew every elephant by name and knew each of their stories. These elephants had experienced very tramatic lives either in the illegal logging industry or in the servitude of elephant camps, entertaining tourists. We learned that if camps offer elephant rides or shows, it means these camps DO NOT treat the animals well. They have to be ‘broken’ by a mahout (elephant keeper) at a young age and are often controlled with large hooks through their ears. Some of the rescued elephants had gone blind due to poor diets, others had broken backs or broken legs. A few had their lower legs mangled after stepping on landmines on the Thai border with Myanmar. All had been abused and many feared humans. At the nature park they roamed freely, spending their days playing in the river and eating non-stop. The mahouts did not carry hooks and did not control the elephants’ movements. They lived much happier lives at the nature park. We spent the day learning about the elephants and their habitats as well as the threats they faced. We got to feed them and ended the day in the river bathing them before returning back to Chiang Mai. I think it will remain as one of the highlights of the trip!
The final day in Chiang Mai was rainy. We visited the 600yr old Wat Chedi Luang and had a local breakfast before heading to the airport. I’ll be back in Chiang Mai in a few weeks. There’s plenty more to see and explore!
Now we’re on our way to the beaches of south Thailand….