A big event on our to-do list before we left NZ was to spend the night on a sleeper train. Of course our boys were once big Thomas the tank engine fans and are still quite interested in choo choos as we call them. Anyone that has ever researched South East Asia will know that the most famous overnight train option is the route between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. With that in mind we decided that Chiang Mai was a definite destination for us.
Arriving in Chiang Mai didn’t really go to plan. Making a spontaneous decision to get on the next bus after bad weather in Laos, put us on an overnight bus trip from Laos’s capital Vientiane, across the border into Thailand, a change of bus in Udon Thani and after nearly 18 hours and 3 minutes sleep we arrived very worse for wear, very early in the morning in Chiang Mai. Having not pre booked any accommodation we grabbed a tuk tuk from the bus station to take us to the only place I knew which was “the gates to the old city”. It was hot, we were tired, we were cranky (some more so than others) so we dumped the packs on the ground, Carl ran off to find us somewhere to stay and I fed the kids a breakfast of potato chips!!!
Having found a great budget guesthouse right outside the old city in the center of the backpacker district it was time to catch up on sleep, research our activities and start exploring. Everyone who has ever been to Chiang Mai told us how much they loved it but I was struggling with this at first. Its just like Bangkok, only less busy was my first impression. Looking back now, I don’t know what I was thinking. Chiang Mai is nothing like the big bad Bangkok!!!
With tourist activities galore on offer we chose a few that we knew would suit our style (and our budget). After a very engaging school topic last year, our 8 year old loves all thing sustainable and environmentally friendly so we are always up for encouraging and supporting this idea. The Elephant Poo Paper Place ticked all the boxes for us and where else in the world would you learn how to make paper out of elephant poo!!! It sounded fun, interesting and a little bit gross…. we were in!!! A totally awesome morning playing with poo and making paper. The kids all got to participate in the process then they all made bookmarks and cards. We had a fab time and as you can imaging, the tuk tuk ride home was full of talk about how we could do this at home using cow poo or even getting our own elephant and letting it live in our backyard so we can use its poo!!! Kids had a ball, Mum and Dad had a ball. Happy Family!!!
Sticking with the Elephant theme, one of the main tourist attractions in Chiang Mai is, of course, elephant trekking. Yes its a topic of huge debate and no we weren’t interested in anything to do with trekking or riding. Having done this years ago in Phuket being a naive tourist, I have since seen the sad side of the elephant tourist trade and deeply regret paying money and encouraging this behavior. We have actively spoken about this with the kids and they are just as opposed to elephant exploitation as we are. Being in Chiang Mai was the perfect opportunity for us to support the elephant rehabilitation programmes in the area. These places rescue elephants from abusive situations where they are forced to work for tourists and live in appalling conditions with cruel trainers. We researched all the different elephant sanctuary’s and chose a tour that we felt comfortable with. Arriving at the farm and seeing the 4 elephants down the hill wandering in the field took our breathes away. As a family we got to spend the morning feeding, bathing, washing and playing with these wonderful creatures. The trainers were calm and friendly and didn’t carry sticks and hooks. They used voice commands with the elephants and small sugar cubes as treats. The elephants weren’t forced to do anything or go anywhere. Being so huge the kids were a little intimidated at first but they soon got comfortable and by the end of the morning they could hardly keep their hands off the elephants. By the afternoon we were ready to cool off so walked to a waterfall in the jungle and then took a bamboo raft down the river. Along the way we were treated to plenty more elephants but unfortunately they all had tourists on their backs so as much as we loved sharing the river with the elephants, we didn’t enjoying seeing them exploited and being forced to work in such conditions.
We did it ethically, we did it sustainability and sharing this day with our children was beyond anything Carl and I could have imagined. The smiles, laughs and utter wonder in our kids eyes was so special and we will hold into this memory for the rest of our lifes.
By now Chiang Mai had well and truly stolen our hearts. We had found an amazing outdoor street food market not far from our guesthouse. We loved walking along the moat on the side of the old city each night to the market. For once the kids were excited about meal times as there was something for everyone. The Pad Thai was often ordered as were the spring rolls, samosas and noodles. But top of the list was the food cart that had KFG printed on the side and of course offered up fried chicken and chips. Not entirely certain what the “G” stood for but the kids still talk about their favorite little KFG in Chiang Mai!!!
The Saturday market, the Sunday market and the Night market were all visited by us. Essentially all the same stuff just getting sold on a different street on a different night. We happily strolled the Saturday Market but having twice the amount of people in the Sunday market was just too much for us. Mr 6 let go of my hand for a second then got swept out of my sight by the throngs of people. I found him 5 seconds later absolutely distraught so gathered everyone up and made a quick retreat out of the market never to return again. Along with the markets, Chiang Mai has a huge amount of temples. We visited a few of the best and really were well impressed. While visiting temples we talked a lot about Buddhism and the monks at the temples were very friendly and always open for a chat. With a temple or 2 on every street it made us wonder how the huge expense and extravagance that goes into these temples works with the ideas and teachings of the Buddha that requires a simple life??? Um that’s religion for you I guess.
A hidden treasure we found in Chiang Mai is a place simply known as the Sticky Waterfalls. Although waterfalls are a common tourist attraction in Thailand, we haven’t seen anything like this before. A mineral deposit from the water provides an incredibly grippy surface for bare hands and feet so its possible to climb up the waterfall. These no algae or slime on the rocks, leaving a perfect surface for us to practice all our spiderman moves and ninja up and down the waterfalls all morning. An awesomly fun day that was off the tourist track and best of all it was free. We took a picnic lunch and just had to pay for our tuk tuk there and back.
Our week in Chiang Mai was coming to an end and we were all excited about our up coming night on the sleeper train back to Bangkok. BUT…. after cycling 2km out to the train station to book our tickets I was told that the next available sleeper train tickets were 5 nights away. OH NO… with plans to catch up with our great friends, Elliot and Catherine, in Bangkok for the weekend, we had to leave the next day. Let me tell you, it was a very long, uncomfortable cycle back to our guesthouse where I knew that I would have to tell the kids that we weren’t going on the sleeper train like I had promised 6 months earlier!!! GRRR. They were less than impressed to say the least but luckily they are very adaptable (and very awesome) they soon came round to the idea of another night bus trip.
The start of our trip to Chiang Mai was unexpected and unplanned and we ended it not entirely how we had hoped either but the whole Chiang Mai bit in the middle was beyond our expectations. If you are going to Chiang Mai then we are now one of those people that will tell you how much we love it. We love the city, the food, the markets and the adventures. We love the people, the wildlife, the old ruins and the temples. We love that we got some really good, affordable dental work. We love the smiles, the laughs, the family time. We love Our Chiang Mai. xxx