Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

CHAING MAI  –  Northern Thailand

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We arrived in Chiang Mai after a short 50 minute air-hop over the mountains from Hanoi.  Nothing up in this part of S.E. Asia seems very far from anywhere else… (by AIR!)

Chiang Mai is a beautiful, planned city founded back in 1285, and currently has about 400,000 inhabitants. The walls of the old town are in evidence at the corners of this well-layed out old metropolis, and the entire moat around these ancient brick walls is a very attractive addition to the city-scape.  It was a delight just walking these streets, visiting museums, exploring the many Buddhist temples, and casually taking in the sights, while eating at a number of excellent northern Thai restaurants.  And you MUST check out the great saturday and sunday markets here, where they close a number of streets to vehicles on these two evenings and and you walk for hours looking at all the goods while smelling the tantalizing foods stalls and listening to performers and street musicians all along  the way. . .

The Sunday Walking Street market was quite festive with thousands of people inching along shoulder to shoulder while looking at all the items for sale. One could easily get lost.  Locals come to shop, socialize, hang out and the crowds swell with Thai and foreign tourists.   It was the most crowded and largest night market we have been to.  There were performances of children singing and Thai dancing.  We didn’t have our camera with us, but they were delightful in their costumes.  The Wats open up their grounds for food vendors — lots of yummy food cooked right there. The whole event was quite something to see, but we were glad to get away from the crowds and have a drink in the restaurant close to our hotel and listen to some very good local live jazz (a surprise to us here in Northern Thailand), but a welcome from all the karaoke we have heard elsewhere.

Chiang Mai really seems quite modern and a definite contrast to the towns we had became acquainted with in neighboring Laos. We quickly noticed we were now back in a part of SE Asia that is doing pretty well economically.

The hotel we stayed in was very pleasant and in a very convenient location for us, just within the walls of the ancient city near the eastern-most gate (the Tha Phae Gate).

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pool

The small pool at the DeNaga Hotel was perfect for us; a relaxing place for a drink before dinner.

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temple

Temple near the Art Museum

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Lovely swing

Lovely swing to rest from walking the streets

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There is much more to explore in Chiang Mae, but we are not here long.  We found a couple of great restaurants and would have loved to try more.   A speciality of Northern Thailand is a dish of yellow noodles with chicken, chili, and crisp noodles on top.  It was so good, but the spiciest dish we have had so far.  Another great place for Thai food was “Mamory Delicious”, were we had a wonderful curry dish.

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Patara Elephant Farm

A highlight of our trip was being an elephant owner for a day at Patara Elephant Farm.   It was an amazing experience from getting to know our elephant, feeding, bathing, checking poop for health, and riding the elephant bareback.  The day is a perfect combination of education, conservation, hands-on experience, and breathtaking scenery.   You can tell by the enthusiasm of the owner and those who care for the elephants that these creatures are truly family.  The program they have for rehabilitation and natural breeding program is so humane.  Each elephant has a trainer that is responsible for the care of that elephant and is consistently tending to its care.  It was such a great day getting to know our individual elephant and learning about the elephants in general, learning the commands to go, stop, open mouth, lie down, get up, raise leg so we could climb up on their neck.  What was truly amazing is that they responded to us, visitors, even with our accents.  Elephants are very gentle and intelligence creatures.

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Mother and baby -- 3 weeks old

Mother and baby — 3 weeks old

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Adorable little girl

Adorable little girl

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The two new baby elephants -- 3 and 4 weeks old

The two new baby elephants — 3 and 4 weeks old

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Great way to start our day with elephants

Great way to start our day with elephants

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She was a leaner -- was about to push me down

Ready to suck on my hand

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Mama was a better option

Mama was a better option

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Walking in the fields to find the other elephants

Walking in the fields to find the other elephants

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Feeding our elephant to establish a bond for the day

Feeding my elephant to establish a bond for the day — bamboo, sugar cane bananas, and grasses

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Gary's is larger and older (38 yrs old)

Gary’s is larger and older (38 yrs old)

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Another one joined us

Wait-a-minute!   How’d I get 2 of ’em?     Another one joined us for the feast

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We had to check their poop -- healthy if it didn't smell.

We had to check their poop — healthy if it didn’t smell.

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Dusting off the dirt

Dusting off all the dirt they had been rolling in.

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Then hosing them down

. . . Then hosing them down

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Time to get up -- lifts his foot as a step stool

OK: time to ride!   She’s easy to get up, right?   —  Just lifts her foot as my step-stool.

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An awkward  mount and I was first one chosen to demonstrate the technique

UGH!  An awkward mount and of course I HAD to be the first one chosen to demonstrate the technique!

Made it!

I DID IT!

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Gary had a higher climb

Gary had a higher climb (and needed a little help)

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Success

Success!

Thankful to be on the elephants

Thankful to be on these magnificent creatures.

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We are ready to go

We’re ready to go

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We then took a couple of hours ride through the forest with our new friends (with many steep ups and downs to the trails, it was uninteresting trek) before coming to a waterfall and large pool, where we bathed and scrubbed our elephants.  The riding was actually quite comfortable up their on their necks with our legs behind their ears.  Bathing and playing in the water with them was great fun, as they seemed to really enjoy it.  But, mostly their trainer kept encouraging  us to “scrub harder”.

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Down the forest path

Down the forest path

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He was a pro

Gary became  a real pro at riding his.

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Time for a scrub in the river

Time for a scrub in the river

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Even had to clean her teeth

Even had to clean underneath her trunk and her teeth!

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Only way to clean the top

Only way to clean the top.    Then she decided to roll over in the water, and I got off quick!

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She seemed to be enjoying the scrub

She seemed to be enjoying the scrub

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Gary joined us and then she got up!

Gary joined us and then she started getting up!

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The elephants lined up to get the last splashes

The elephants lined up so we could give them some last splashes.

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But the elephants gave us the last bath

But the elephants wound up giving us the last bath!

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It was a surprise

Turn-about is fair play, eh?

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We then had a lovely lunch overlooking the water hole, and then took a short ride on our elephants back to where we had to say good-by to our new friend.

It is hard to describe the joy of interacting with these magnificent animals.  Truly, one of the most intelligent creatures we have encountered, and an experience we won’t soon forget.

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time for a great lunch

time for a great lunch  —  love the banana leaf tablecloth

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Watching the next group bath their elephants

Watching the second part of our group bath their elephants

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This little guy loved the water

This little guy just couldn’t get enough of the water

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As we left for our 30 km ride back down the mountain to Chaing Mai, we all had a hard time believing we had just spent a very long and tiring day taking care of these massive animals.  If you get to S.E.Asia we heartily suggest you put such an activity on your trip agenda:  you won’t regret it.   BUT, choose the experience carefully.  Elephant tourism is a big-ticket item over here, and there are a lot of promoters/operators that are in it just to make money, without thoughtful care of the animals as the basis for their operation.  In fact, many of them are mistreating the elephants so tourists can just get close to them. Hence, ‘caveat emptor’ applies: do your research before deciding where to go for such an experience.    This one is the Patara Elephant Farm and they can be found at:                     http://pataraelephantfarm.com

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All-in-all we didn’t plan for enough time in Chiang Mai.  Next time we will spend at least a  week or two here alone.  So much to see and do.

About Smiling Road Warriors!

2 happy retirees, movin' along . . .
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