Thailand: Chiang Mai Adventure is a guest post by my cousin, Ron Clinkenbeard, who is based in Seattle, WA. Like most of us, he fits in his travel adventures around a full schedule of work, volunteer service, and family responsibilities. When I heard about his Thailand trip, I just knew you’d want to hear about it too!
When my cousin Tami asked me to consider writing about a trip I took to Thailand as a contribution to her blog, my first thought was “Really?”
I‘m the person who approaches friends with the inquiry “Would you like to hear about my trip (and view my 500 photos)”, then receive back responses along the lines of their needing to wash the roof and shine their hiking boots. So, in response to her sincere inquiry… I’ll offer a somewhat abridged version.
I traveled with my sister Linda and her husband Jim on a hopscotch 18-day tour in November-December of 2015. They planned this travel in order to reconnect with a Thai exchange student, ‘First’, whom they had hosted four years earlier as a junior in high school. I tagged along when they were too slow to say no to my gentle inquiry “Can I come, too?”
I think that any travel is accompanied by certain expectations, and in regard to Thailand my expectations were: exotic, tropical, quaint, peaceful, friendly and delicious. These were probably formed in my youthful reading of National Geographic and my frequent indulgence in our local Thai eating establishments. My most important discovery on this trip was that travel can serve to disrupt our expectations, both positively and negatively, and this is an important reason that we go. Otherwise, the slideshows and videos are adequate… and usually cheaper. My travels to Thailand included stays in Chiang Mai in the north, Phuket in the south and Bangkok in the center.
Chiang Mai is an old walled city in the core, with new construction in many places and the elements of urban sprawl ever present. We spent equal time inside and outside the city, with a pair of excursions outside the city arranged through commercial tour operators and another using their connections to hire a driver for a self-directed adventure.
Elephant Nature Park
Our first venture afforded travel in an air-conditioned 12-passenger van to Elephant Nature Park, an hour drive from the central city through a mix of agricultural areas and jungle covered foothills. The mission of this organization is to rescue and rehabilitate abused or injured elephants and to educate visitors on the beauty and character of these unique animals. While learning about the elephants and their individual histories you are able to feed them, walk with them, stroke their ears and stroke their velvety hides. The 6-hour excursion included a buffet lunch of typical and delicious Thai cuisine.
(Click on any photo to enlarge and hover over picture for caption)
Doi Inthanon National Park
We followed that up with a day trip to Doi Inthanon National Park, holding within its confines the highest point in Thailand. At almost 8,000 feet elevation it was a pleasant respite from the usual 85 to 95-degree temperatures and high humidity in every other Thai location that we visited. The excursion routed past beautiful rice fields, and allotted stops at several particular points of interest.
A visit to a Karen hill tribe village revealed traditional crafts, living arrangements, and farming methods that corroborate those National Geographic articles and pictures I mentioned.
Another stop occurred at the Twin Chedis, beautiful Buddhist monuments constructed in a spectacular location that honor the King Bhumibol (who recently died) and Queen Sirikit. Other stops allowed for exploring at two waterfalls and another for browsing and shopping at an open-air fruit and vegetable market.
Our third countryside trek and self-directed road tour allowed us to see several less-touristed areas. The landscapes were luscious farmlands, orchards, rice paddies and jungles and the small towns that we visited hosted markets requiring negotiations in sign language, as little English is spoken. With our driver also having a limited English vocabulary, I learned the Thai words for “stop”, “go”, “left”, “right” and “photo” and made use of that same sign language and Google Maps to advise on directions for our circle tour.
Nearby and within the city, our sightseeing included two Buddhist temples; Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Doi Suthep.
Chedi Luong has a history and buildings dating back 600 years, while Doi Suthep is a mountainside enclave reached by scaling 300 steps or riding a funicular from the base. It offered a beautiful vista of the plain that situates Chiang Mai near the foothills and mountains that define Northern Thailand’s geography. Perched within the temple compounds, I was impressed by the interweave of Thai culture and Buddhism. Many included a central hall with statues of Buddha to inspire meditation and reverence and collection platforms or slotted safes in which to make offerings of food for the monks or money to support the upkeep of the temple. All guests entering this hall must remove their shoes as a sign of respect and women must dress modestly having a covering for their shoulders.
Often there were visitors or adherents milling around examining the interior décor and multiple activities occurring within the hall; monks eating a daily meal, temple workers setting up for a formal gathering, a staffed information station.
The larger temple compounds included cloistered areas for training the young monks. Covered porticos decorated with stories illustrated various teachings of Buddha or Thai cultural history. Gold-leaf or painted stupas and other buildings and gardens fostered spiritual practices and focus.
Chiang Mai Markets
Within the city our exploration consisted of rambling through ubiquitous markets and walking city streets. Every evening at 6:00, Ratchadamnoen Street, a main arterial into the old town is closed to traffic for its 3 kilometer length and it becomes a night market, filled with small booths displaying every conceivable thing. Clothing, housewares, handcrafts, and street food are in abundance. Musicians and performers ply their craft. Young people socialize and liven up the atmosphere… and this recurs every evening! I sampled and enjoyed grilled squid, chicken sausage and fried bananas as distinctively delicious Thai street food.
Chiang Mai Cooking School
Speaking of food, we attended Cooking@Home Chiang Mai, a hands-on demonstration and instructional seminar in Thai cooking. The hosts picked up the class attendees at our various hotels, then took us to a local food market to obtain our fresh ingredients and finally to their home. It was equipped with multiple cook stations and an instructional area just like the ones at many county fairs – with the overhead mirror allowing the students to observe the teacher’s cooking techniques. Together we each were shown how and then prepared and ate our own five courses; pumpkin egg custard, green papaya salad, pad thai, curried chicken and crispy basil pork. It was great fun – and tasty, too!
Loi Krathong Festival
The timing of our travel was purposely arranged to coincide with the Thai festival of Loi Krathong, celebrated at its best in Chiang Mai. Occuring at the last full moon of the Thai lunar year, the festival which is both Buddhist and cultural, offers a symbolic means to be rid of the ‘bad’ things that impacted one’s life in that year. Krathongs are small boats or floating objects that contain a lighted candle and other elements. They are then launched into the river accompanied by thoughts and prayers of ‘release’.
Another component of the festivities is the lighting and launching of paper lanterns at night. The local authorities urge that these not be sent aloft until after 7:00 PM because the thousands of soaring lanterns can interfere with air traffic! Our hotel proprietor surprised us with our own lanterns and enough instruction on launching them to allow us to join in on the celebration. It was a magical experience to sense the wonder of each lantern being sent aloft, to enjoy the laughter and excitement and fireworks and music and the energy of the crowds in their revelry.
Ron’s Thailand adventure continues as he heads to Phuket next. If you’re interested in duplicating any of his itinerary, I’ve included links for more information below:
- Elephant Nature Park, single day visit from 2500 THB ($70)
- Doi Inthanon National Park, or “Roof of Thailand” park admission is 300 THB ($8.50)
- Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (also known as Doi Suthep)
- Cooking@Home – Chang Mai cooking school, 1400 THB ($40) for a one-day course
To see Ron’s adventures in Phuket, go to Thailand: Discovering Phuket