Days 194 – 200 – Chiang Mai

Goodbye Vietnam. Hello (again) Thailand. 

We left Hanoi early in the morning to catch a flight to Chiang Mai with well known airline *coughcough* Nok Air. Annalie’s scared of flying at the best of times, let alone on an airplane covered with colourful pacman-esque iconography and an unheard brand name. But, that said, we were surprisingly in luck. The flights were smooth, we got free water and a snack, and we were even welcomed off both flights by Nok Air staff who ushered us through to connecting flights and baggage claim. We have no idea why we were the lucky two but it definitely felt very VIP (or unaccompanied minors depending on how you want to look at it). The additional treat was that we once again had family company! Annalie’s mum, Sian, abandoned cold Berlin to spend a week with us in Northern Thailand. 

Our itinerary is usually made up as we go along but seeing as Sian was with us we tried to pre-plan as much as we could. Our weekly agenda looked something like this:

  • Sunday – arrival. 
  • Monday – temples. 
  • Tuesday – cooking class. 
  • Wednesday – elephants. 
  • Thursday – crafts market. 
  • Friday – river boat ride. 
  • Saturday – departure. 

By the time we arrived the priority on our to-do list was to check out the pools. Sian treated us to a gorgeous hotel with two swimming pools so it was our duty as experienced hotel goers to test them both out. Once settled and ready we hopped to town to explore Chiang Mai’s weekend market. The entire main street that cuts through the center’s walled citadel on Saturdays and Sundays transforms into a buzzing night market. Very much in our element (especially Sian’s) we dedicated our evening to a delightful meal before weaving our way through the stalls. 

500 years ago Chiang Mai was the capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom in Northern Thailand, and this may be one of the reasons why it is covered in temples and holy pagodas. We bravely decided to tackle them head on so spent a few hours darting our way through the vibrant old town with brief stop-off points at each temple. 

As a prize for surviving through 218 pagodas (and even more accompanying photos) we went on the hunt for lunch to try out a local speciality – Khao Soi, a curry soup with egg noodles, slow cooked meat, and deep fried noodles on top. Research took us to a street food vendor who focuses exclusively on Khao Soi. It was so delicious we were tempted to get seconds there and then but decided to not be fatties and instead left our seconds till a couple of days later. We’ve since had Khao Soi a handful of times and this was by far the best – tender beef chunks, a rich and spicy sauce, with handmade noodles almost resembling thick tagliatelle. YUM. 

Our food experience in Chiang Mai proved to be overall excellent, especially thanks to our cooking class with Garnet, our chef / teacher / entertainer for the day. Recommended by Annalie’s sister (thanks Rachel!), we spent a day at the Thai Cooking Farm learning how to cook Thai dishes and eating mountains of food in between. Our hilarious teacher took us to visit a food market before driving us to a farm in the outskirts of the city where our class took place. Her comedy show was coupled with 5 recipes that we each cooked on our personal stove. We made and ate: pad thai, green / red / yellow curry, basil and chicken stir fry, papaya salad, and bananas in coconut milk. 

By the end of the day we could barely move from the car to our room so happily spent the rest of the evening chilling and rubbing our bellies. 

Our third day was probably the most memorable. We spent a day at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, a centre for injured and rescued elephants where the animals are taken care of and rehabilitated after being saved from years of mistreatment and unhealthy touristic activities. We fed our new friends buckets of watermelon and bananas for breakfast (a little one only ate peeled bananas and could actually peel them himself using his trunk) and got to know them a little before our lunch break. It was then bath time, so we all got into a pool of mud to get the elephants covered with mud which helps to cool them down. When we were all nicely soaked and dirty (obviously a mud fight was in order) we strolled down to the lake to get clean and rinse off the mud. Here the elephants really came alive. We soaked them with water, we paddled together, they squirted us, we smiled, we cuddled – it was like a big pool party with newly made friends. 

This beautiful day ended with a swim under a waterfall (only for us humans) and another feeding session with the elephants. We said our farewells, gave our final hugs, and off we went. These big friendly giants turned out to be so loving and so warm it was hard to not fall in love with them. We fell head over heels and already have plans to adopt one in London so you all can enjoy them too 🙂 

On day 4 we explored more of the city with our very own personal driver. There’s a collection of workshops gathered in what is called The Crafts Village and we were interested to see what it was about. We visited a number of workshops and stores –  silk making, leather products, woodcarving, furniture making, umbrella making – giving us insight into the handmade industries which help make up Chiang Mai’s economy. Once our workshop tour was done our driver took us to one of the area’s most sacred tempels, Wat Suthep, which overlooked the entire city and gave us pretty breathtaking views of the town, the surrounding mountains and local river.

And its along that very river where we enjoyed our last afternoon in Chiang Mai, soaking in the sun, visiting a little farm along the way, and drinking lemongrass juice, all topped off by our final meal in a restaurant called River Market, recommended by Rachel and thoroughly enjoyable. Ahh, la dolce vita in Thailand! 

Our week here was spent at a very enjoyable pace, nicely split between culture, adventure and good old relaxation, all nicely laced by a number of delicious dishes. Curries, noodle soups, lovely fresh sea bass and tuna, fried and steamed dumplings and the ultimate Thai delicacy – ice cream rolls! 

Now ready for our next stop just north of Chiang Mai – Pai. 

Ciao for now x

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