The Rose of the North
13.02.2012 - 14.02.2012 38 °C
The second largest city in Thailand (Bangkok is #1), it immediately feels more relaxed and less smog-filled than its bigger sister. It's up in the hills of northern Thailand, but from the city itself it feels as if it's in a valley. Since it's the dry season, the vegetation does look dry and gives the city more of a "fall" look than the lush green tropical pictures in the travel guides.
We took an overnight train to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. Sounds harmless, but no one expected it to be a 15 hr ride; we arrived 3hrs late! How does that happen when there's one track to follow? We stopped in almost every train station! The sleeper cabins (2nd class for us) were interesting . It's set up to sleep two people in bunk beds. During the day you sit facing each other, and at night the attendants (doing all the work for you) pull down the top bunk and push together the benches facing each other on the bottom to make the beds. Unfortunately they leave the lights on all night. Also, if you're sleeping on top, you feel every bump and sway of the train so much more; a sleeping pill is highly recommended! Also, there's a small grocery store in the train station in Bangkok where you can load up on drinks (beer!) and snacks. They serve meals on the train, but it's mediocre food at best!
Highlights in Chiang Mai
There are several elephant conservation parks in northern Thailand, we went to the one in Lampang. It was awesome to see this incredible large animals, out in their natural habitat. We even got to ride them through the lakes and hills of the conservation. Elephants are still poached, mostly by the Chinese, for every part of their bodies, but especially the tusks. The thai consider the elephants a holy animal and the conservation uses all proceeds from visitors to rehabilitate them and care for them. Each elephant forms a bond with their trainer, able to recognize their voices and follow commands to start/stop, kneel and lay down. (they can pretty much perform tricks like a dog!) they can even learn how to paint! With repetition they can be taught to do incredible things. It was great to see so many healthy elephants in their natural habitat!
Khan toke Dinner & Show
- you arrive for dinner at 7. It's a beautifully decorated outdoor eating area; all seating on the floor (cushions provided)
- it's a set menu and the servers efficiently bring out a tray of food before you can get yourself comfortably seated on the cushions.
- the meal is a taste of traditional northern Thai cuisine, consisting of 6-8 dishes.
- right about the time you're finishing your dessert, the show starts at 8pm
- It's a series of 10 thai folk dances performed by young men and women in traditional dress.
We stayed at the Chiang Mai Plaza Hotel, which was perfectly situated walking distance to the famous night market. It's a lot like the weekend market in Bangkok, but it's completely outdoors and lit up with lights and lanterns hanging above the streets. Much of the same trinkets and clothing are available here as any other market in Thailand, so if you had doubts about buying that fake Chanel in Bangkok, you get another chance to make a decision here.
Thai Cooking class
What a treat!! Seriously one of my favorite parts of the trip. In half a day you learn to cook 4 traditional Thai dishes. Who knew one of the best meals this trip would be made by me! After scarfing down our meals we headed to the local market where we could buy all the Thai spices and ingredients to bring back home. I can't wait to cook these dishes for my roomies
Doi Suthep Temple
Situated in the hills overlooking Chiang Mai, the temple's golden rooftop shines like a beacon over the city at sunset. It's a steep 12.5 km climb via car, then brave another 309 steps to the top of the temple. There's also an escalator-like system that will pull you up those stairs if need be. The temples are beautiful, especially at sunset. You also get the best panoramic view of the entire city.