Chiang Mai

6 Nov

The bus to Chiang Mai was fairly painless and dropped us off at the bus station, where we had to take a cab to the hostel, Spicythai. I really hadn’t done any research at all on Chiang Mai and had no idea what to expect. From my initial sightings in the cab it seemed perfect. A small feel city with little coffee shops and store fronts everywhere. Further, the old city is surrounded by a half-intact wall and a moat, giving it a historical feel amongst the new.

Our hostel was located just on the outskirts of the old center, down a little street with a 7-11 and all other essentials, and just a few minutes walk from a fairly Westernized mall. We were greeted by a Canadian working the front desk, filled with terrible jokes and decent advice on things we could do in Chiang Mai. We sat at the big communal table, had a nice cold beer and got to searching spas in the area where we could get a pedicure, which we had been putting off for weeks at this point. There was a place across from the hostel, but it was closed at the time, and at all times you’d want to get a pedicure seemingly, so we went to a spot about a mile walk away. Chiang Mai is a very walkable city, with motorbike and car drivers who seem to care for pedestrians trying to cross the street. We made it to the salon, Chic Nails, very easily and had an amazing, long pedicure that cost us under ten dollars each. Afterwards, we slowly made our way back and had some spicy khao soi on the street that cost us under one dollar each, before heading back to the hostel. It was clearly a quiet night in the hostel, with a small sleepy crowd, so we headed to bed with Netflix and I finally crushed season one of The Good Wife.

We spent the following day in an attempt to get our lives together by going to the Thai immigration office and extending our visas for thirty more days. While we don’t know how long we’re going to spend in Thailand, we certainly don’t want to be rushed or limited to the initial thirty days they grant you and figured that it would be quieter to extend in Chiang Mai, which has a separate office dedicated to visas, than in Bangkok. The office is located in a mall somewhat outside of the city, so we knew we would have to cab there. The woman working the desk at the hostel told us she would call a tuk tuk for us, but the guy wanted 500 baht round trip, which is an absurdly high amount. I remembered opening Uber the day before by chance and seeing cars around so I decided to fare estimate to the mall. It would only be around 60-80 baht, so we figured lets go for it. I waited in the wifi zone watching the app to see our driver approach while Ang waited out front to try and flag him down. After some trial and tribulation we finally got him and headed to the mall. I asked him how long Uber had been in Chiang Mai and he informed us for a mere 3 days. Lucky us!

We got to the immigration office and made the necessary copies of the departure card and visa stamp at the copy office strategically placed next door. We went to the lady collecting applications outdoors who made sure we had everything, took our papers, passports and money and told us to go wait to be called. We figured we were in for the long run in terms of waiting time, so we headed to the bathroom, grabbed a coffee and got the WiFi code. However, to our surprise, we were called within half an hour to take our picture and collect our passports from some really friendly immigration workers. Truly a painless experience. Afterwards, we walked around the mall, stopped for a quick bite to eat, and then found some WiFi to summon another uber driver to take us back to the hostel.

The night before I had googled gyms in the area, because I’ve been feeling like jelly, and convinced Angela to join me at a gym in a nearby shopping mall, that allowed visitors in for 70 baht a day. So once we returned to the hostel, we charged up our phones for a bit and headed back out to the gym. The gym itself was nothing to write home about, a couple of dilapidated cardio machines, weight machines and plenty of free weights. After a quick cardio warm up I had Angela and myself doing weighted leg sets followed by some lifting and ab sets. Given that I haven’t lifted a weight in over two months now, it was pretty f-ing tough. We both were dying after legs, but pushed through to arms. After about an hour and a half I finally declared we could leave and we both hobbled out of the gym. I am still sore from that workout and barely could move during the following two days after, but it was good for the soul.

When we were driving into Chiang Mai on the first day, I noticed a Mexican Restaurant and instantly the craving set in. After some further research, we located one closer to our hostel that we were told serves up excellent Mexican food and MARGS. After our workout, we figured we earned a big splurge meal and, after a crucial shower, headed out to treat ourselves that evening. We ordered a pitcher of margaritas, which were actually pretty decent, guac and chips to start and I had steak fajitas while Angela ordered a smothered burrito. The Mexican was actually authentic and so delicious that we were tempted to return the following night. After our feed we went back to the hostel and played some drinking games before going to the cabaret that evening. The cabaret is Chiang Mai’s famous lady boy show, performed by transgenders and transvestites. The ladies were so fun and performed so well, including a special Rihanna performance by an individual who actually looked like Rihanna. They brought up men from the audience who dressed up back stage and came out dancing with the ladies, stating their alter-ego lady names. It was such a genuinely good time and really inspiring to see people respecting others’ lifestyles and feeling comfortable enough with themselves to partake and just have fun with it. After the show we went back to the hostel and played some more drinking games and eventually crawled into bed.

The following day was one of those perfect waste-of-a-day days. We slept in until 1:00 PM before heading to a sandwich shop for some American style roast chicken and pesto sandwiches a mile outside of the old city. We continued to walk around afterwards, but I started to feel pretty sick and light-headed, which I attributed to dehydration. We quickly made our way back to the hostel where I passed out for about twenty minutes before dragging myself out of bed to go to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Rajvoravihara (phew) temple up at the highest peak in the city to watch the monks chant at sunset. A bunch of us took a tuk tuk for the 45 minute drive from the hostel and took a quick walk around the temple before sitting down to listen to the monks. The chanting was a little less inspirational than I had expected, but the view at the lookout point from the temple was well worth it. You could see all the lights of the city at dark below. After we returned, Angela and I went to the indoor market where we got delicious beef noodle soup. I was still feeling pretty terrible so I crawled right into bed when we returned. I was awoken during the night by my stomach a few times as the soup or whatever happened to me that day came back to haunt me. I slept for about 10 hours but still felt pretty terrible and uneasy when we awoke. However, we were going to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary that day, luckily for the afternoon session, so after popping a few immodium tablets, I got my shit together (pun intended) and prepared for the afternoon.

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, located about an hour and a half outside of the city, rescues elephants that were previously overworked and abused in riding camps or in the circus. It comes as no surprise that elephants are not supposed to have big seats strapped to their backs to tote people around for hours. Sadly, this is a huge part of Thai tourism, and places such as the sanctuary and others throughout the country aim at helping these elephants and spreading the word about no riding through ethical tourist visits. After a quick lesson about elephants and the sanctuary, we got right to feeding the elephants wth bananas and sugar cane. The elephants certainly know the drill and come right up to you looking for their food, which can be a little scary at first. But I quickly got used to their trunks sniffing around me for food and handing them the bananas and sugar cane, and even placing the bananas straight into their mouths. When you do the latter your hand actually goes into the elephant’s mounts, but their teeth are so far back that it causes no harm, just a lot of saliva.

After feeding, we, alongside the elephants, were led to a mud bath, which is apparently the elephants favorite activity. When the elephants enter the mud bath they lay down almost immediately, waiting to be doused in mud. You can actually sense the happiness from them, especially the 22 day old baby elephant who flopped around in the mud like a giggly child. In this moment, rubbing mud on these elephants and watching their satisfaction, you truly realize what gentle beasts they are. After the mud bath, we led them to the river where we washed them off and where they sprayed us with water from their trunks. Once the elephants and ourselves were clean, we had some lunch before saying goodbye. It was such a phenomenal day and a unique experience, I cannot sing praises to it enough. The trainers have so much passion for the animals and the cause is so important. It was a day I will never forget.

When we returned from the elephant sanctuary and the high of the day wore off I stared to feel pretty crappy again and crawled straight into bed while the others got to drinking and going out for the night. I could barely make it through a Netflix episode before falling asleep. I awoke the next morning after about another 11 hours of sleep feeling much better and went for a walk around the city, grabbing an iced coffee and a cold pressed juice before heading back and getting ready for the bus to Pai, our next and last stop in Northern Thailand.


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