An overnight train from Bangkok took me comfortably to northern Thailand. Cheaper, cooler and with a stronger undercurrent of culture amongst the touristy sights, here the beautiful beaches and sleazy strips are replaced by dense forests over beautiful mountains. My time was split between Pai and Chiang Mai.
Pai is a small hippy town reached by a 3 hour bus from Chiang Mai, north west Thailand. Slightly off the main route, it is the backpackers (rather than those on shorter holidays) who migrate here for the chilled life; live reggae in psychedelic bars, lush green farmland surrounded by beautiful mountains, all perfect for exploring by scooter. It’s one of those places where travelers plan to drop by for a few days, and end up staying for a few weeks.
I stayed at Spicy Pai, a bamboo hostel in the middle of a rice paddy. Every night I’d drop off to the chorus of frogs and crickets, relishing that it was cool enough to sleep without air con. It’s the little things…
We spent the days on our scooters exploring the canyon, waterfalls and windy scenic mountain roads (luckily my biking skills had improved since Koh Samui) . With a good crowd this life can be intoxicating, and it was difficult to drag myself away to Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is a city known for temples and the activities it offers. On my first evening, feeling pretty miserable about losing another phone, I went for a chilled drink at a reggae bar (where else would you go for a chilled drink?!). I ended up befriending a group of Thais, and got a free tour guide for the next day. Misery gone.
Lesson #9: Elephants are badass.
The highlight for me was my afternoon at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Elephant trekking and training camps are still popular in Thailand, even as awareness is raised of the damage this does to the elephants and how they’re sometimes drugged with speed (similar to the drugging of tigers and leopards for tourist pictures, still widespread). In Chiang Mai, there are a number of sanctuaries which are like retirement homes for elephants, taking them out of working for humans and instead getting the humans to work for them! We started by feeding the elephants bananas and sugarcane, then gave them (and ourselves) a mudbath, followed by a swim in the river, where they playfully splashed around. It was an incredible experience, watching these huge, beautiful creatures frolick with us and each other.
Chiang Mai also had the best street food scene I’d experienced so far, with an array of cheap and tasty choices in food markets dotted the city.
Upon leaving Chiang Mai I’d already spent 6 weeks in Thailand on this trip, and I was happy and excited to moving onto Myanmar. My Thai-lights have been the food, especially in Chiang Mai, getting up close with Thailand’s wild side in Khao Yai national park and with the elephants, and biking around Pai – there’s something magical about that place.