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  • Joshua Zaporzan

Chiang Mai: Northern Culture

After the craziness of Bangkok, I headed North to Chiang Mai and was looking forward to a change of scenery, some new adventures and doing a few activities that could only be found in this region of Thailand. I figured that most of my culture shock was out of the way, however I appeared to be wrong after experiencing 4 days in this northern region of Thailand…

The journey to Chiang Mai was a quick one-hour flight from Bangkok. I flew on Air Asia which was a nice, pleasant flight. The arrival into Chiang Mai was quite nice as it gave a picturesque view of the mountains for the first time on this trip. I was excited for the change of scenery and a more 'green' look.

Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand and the main base of activities for most travelers who venture up north. The city is full of culture, friendly locals, incredible food markets, dozens of beautiful temples, a relaxed vibe, and beautiful landscapes.

After checking into my new residence, Marktel & Coffee (which reminded me of the hit TV series FRIENDS – having an awesome café right below where you stay!) I started to wander around the area and make a plan for my next couple days of adventure. Surely as I walked through the streets (with really tiny sidewalks, might I add…) I quickly discovered that this city was similar to Bangkok in ways of traffic and motorcycles rushing around trying to avoid hitting the tourists crossing the streets! That being said, Chiang Mai did have a different, more ‘Northern’ and relaxed feel (especially when out of the main tourist areas) which was quite nice.

After finding the old city center (which has a unique brick wall that surrounds it), I decided to head to the Night Bazarr which is a whole section of streets and an open area of little shops, live music and food. This was one of my favorite places in the city as it had a really cool vibe and mix of locals and tourists. Evidently my hotel was close to this market, so it was a short walk to grab a great dinner and the perfect place to people watch every night!

No trip to Thailand, especially a trip to Chiang Mai, is complete without spending a day with Thailand’s iconic animal, the Elephant! On my 3rd day in Chiang Mai, I booked a day tour to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary which is a retreat North of Chiang Mai that rescues Elephants who have been abused and mistreated in other parts of the country. I had heard from so many people how amazing this experience was, so I was excited to see for my self.

The tour began by being picked up in the back of a truck and driving 1.5 hours North of the city. In the truck were a young couple from Ontario (age 23 & 24), a couple from England (both age 21), three girls from the States who were all celebrating their 30th birthdays, and me. It was a great, fun group to be with which made the day that much better. After traveling through the curvy and bumpy roads in the hills, we finally arrived at the sanctuary. Right as we pulled in, we were warmly welcomed and then debriefed about the day ahead of us from our two tour guides (who were hilarious by the way…) we then dawned some traditional Karen clothing, filled our pockets with sugar cane and headed down to start feeding the elephants. Never did I think it would be that cool to see an elephant come running up to you and grab the sugar can from your hands and try to steal the others in your pocket! Seeing these animals up close in person is mesmerizing; they are such a beautiful, smart and intriguing animal. After feeding them, petting them, taking lots of pictures, and playing with them, we headed back up the hill to have lunch that the locals had prepared for us. Needless to say, any home-cooked local meal in Thailand is delicious! After our lunch, we gathered around and made special ‘medicine balls’ for the elephants which contained rice, ginger and bananas all smashed together and rolled into a ball. After feeding the elephants their medicine, it was off to the mud pit where the elephants would lay down for their 'spa treatment' and wait for us to rub mud all over them. I'm not sure who was having more fun; the elephants of the tour guides and locals who were throwing mud on all of us tourists! After being covered in mud, both the elephants and us, we went to rinse off with the elephants and enjoy swimming in the fresh (albeit cold) waterfall.

Overall, what an amazing experience! Words cannot describe how cool it was to spend a day at the camp helping out and being with the elephants. I am sure this will go down as one of my top, if not the top, experience of my trip.

I ended my 4 days in Chiang Mai by visiting the temples, taking in more of the local culture and also having some time to relax and catch up on some work at a local café. My favorite temple I visited was Wat Chedi Lang, which was a really neat temple that is very different as it is known for it’s ruined walls as well as 2 embalmed monks in glass cases, which was cool (but kind of weird...) to see. After lots of walking and sight seeing, it was then nice to relax with a strawberry smoothie and people watch from the café below my hotel.

Of course a visit to one of the many Thai massage parlors is a must for a traditional Thai massage! I went to Fah Lanna by the night bazarr (which I found through trip advisor as it had the best reviews…) for a 1 hour Thai massage which only cost $8 CDN! It was the perfect way to end a great few days in Chiang Mai.

You can find a lot of delicious Western food, cafes, and bars all around the city but despite that, the old Thai-ness of the city hasn’t gone away and a visit there will leave you enamored. If you go to Chiang Mai, be sure to budget extra time – it’s easy to get stuck there!

I write this blog as I sit on a beautiful white sandy beach on the island of Koh Phi Phi, listening to the waves of the ocean crash onto shore. I am excited to be down south in the islands for the majority of my remaining 4.5 weeks and I am looking forward to a whole new set of adventures, activities and getting lost in a different part of Thailand.

Until next time,

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