After Bangkok it was time to head to Chiang Mai by overnight train. So far, everywhere in Asia has been reached by plane, minivan, boat or coach so when I saw the overnight train was an option (although slightly more expensive than the coach averaging around 750 baht each) I couldn’t say no. We left Bangkok just after 6pm, arriving in Chiang Mai for 7am. To say I was impressed with the train would be an understatement, I was thrilled and over the moon with it. The seats transform into actual beds, one on the bottom and one on the top (essentially like a bunk bed) with four beds for each little ‘cabin’. There are then bathrooms at each end of the carriages, just like the ones on an airplane. It honestly felt like I was in first class! Anyway, obsession over with the night train and onto our adventures in Chiang Mai!
As soon as we left the station, we jumped on a tuk tuk for 30baht each and headed to The Royal Guesthouse, Chiang Mai. We booked three nights at the guesthouse in a double room, which was basic but fine. There was a pool out front which was fine for a dip and although it was advertised as a party hostel (which is what we were expecting) it was really rather quiet. Everything at the guesthouse was fine, except for the staff but I’ll get onto that later! As we arrived early morning and couldn’t check in until 9, we headed off to a café in the square for breakfast (and great milkshakes) and planned our day ahead of us. Once checked in we decided to do our own tour of the town itself. There is a manmade river that runs around the town, creating the main square, within that there are then many temples which are worth visiting. There are easily at least 10 temples to see as tourists, if not more, so try to plan it out in the best route because it gets seriously hot in the heat with long pants on! Our plans was to head to Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Lok Molee and Wat Chiang Man but ended up visiting many more along the way. My favourite was by far Wat Chedi Luang and I really recommend visiting it. Its one of the older temples in Chiang Mai but it’s the ruins that I think look beautiful. We then spent the evening at the Chiang Mai gate night market, which although rather small, did great food for low prices and the crepes were unreal!
The next day was what I had been waiting for though, a day with the elephants! After a lot of online searching and reading many leaflets we decided on a half day visit to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary as they had great reviews, looked after the animals well and did not allow riding in any form. It was about a 2-hour drive from the hotel to the camp (camp 6 for us) driving past some beautiful scenery along the way. Once at the camp we were all given traditional Karen clothing before given a talk on the history of the camp and all the elephants there as well as their daily routines. Then the fun began, bananas and sugarcane in hand we were all lead down the hill to feed the elephants and take photos. It was truly incredible. There were eight elephants in total at the camp, one of which was a baby just nine months old and another elephant who was eight months pregnant. All of the elephants seemed really happy, calm and loved the attention, which is exactly what we wanted. After an hour or so feeding the elephants, we were given the chance to give them a mud bath. Once we were all in the mud (well I say mud…) one elephant walked over climbed in, took a shit and left again and well that was the end of the mud bath. Luckily everyone just found it funny and took it lightly that we had essentially just been standing in elephant poo for a good ten minutes, at waist height. What was nice though was that although the mud bath was part of the itinerary, the staff didn’t force the elephants into the mud and when the elephants in stead headed over to the water, the staff followed suit allowing us all to bathe them instead. This was great fun! Three of the elephants (the biggest three of course) piled into this small little river at the bottom of the hill and lead there while we poured water over them. I’ve honesty never seen an animal so happy! They all seemed to love it, splashing each other and us all back. One of them seemed to get a rather too excited though as he climbed on top of his female friend, and well I don’t need to say much more there… After our time in the water, we were then all given lunch and a souvenir bag each before embarking on our return trip. I honestly cannot recommend the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary enough; all the elephants were well looked after and happy! Our evening was then spent at the Chiang Mai Night bazaar market, although it is mostly all clothing and toys (not many food stalls at all) there was an international food market at the top of the street which had a good range of foods at great prices and worth a visit!
Our final day in Chiang Mai was meant to be a trip to the canyon, waterfalls and Wat Umong (the temple in the hill) but we never made it further than the canyon. The drive on the scooter took around an hour each way and was a really easy route! We tried looking up information about the canyon online before we went, but couldn’t find much so didn’t expect much. All we knew was that the land had been dug out, filled with a lot of water and that you could swim there. But it was a lot more than that! Split into two, the first part of the canyon had a swimming area; kayaks, paddleboards, cliff jumping, diving, rock climbing and they were in the process of building zip lines. It was great fun and only 20 baht each entry! Only one of the cliff jumps were available when we went which was around 12 metres high, and was great fun! The second part of the canyon though was something we never expected to see. Entry was more expensive (300 baht each) but was definitely worth it as it was an inflatable water park! There were slides, jumps, trampolines, giant ducks and polar bears – it was great fun, just like Total Wipeout (if anyone ever watches that show). Although we didn’t end up having time to go to temple or waterfalls, we didn’t mind as the canyon was so much better than we expected. We then spent our final night in Chiang Mai back at the night market eating at a Thai restaurant at the international market.
The only downside to our stay in Chiang Mai was the day we checked out. Whilst waiting for our minivan to arrive to take us to Pai, the staff at the guesthouse were extremely rude on checkout and refused to give us back our key deposit because THEY accidently booked us in the wrong room. After some heated arguing, the receptionist threatening to call the police (I still don’t understand why as I didn’t do anything wrong, merely just stayed in the room they booked me in) and three different stories on where the manager was we left the hotel without our full deposit, annoyed and stressed on route to Pai.