Continuing my exploration of Southeast Asia last month landed our group in the epicenter of both tourism and culture, Thailand. Chiang Mai was the first on our list and where we spent the most days out of our trip. We stayed in the hip and upbeat Nimaan area, which allowed us to get a little taste of back home after we quite frankly needed a break from Asian noodles and soups. If you’re in Chiang Mai and in need, hit Maya Mall’s gourmet grocery store for some comfort food, but only apply where necessary :P
After a days break, we jumped right back in and let me say Thailand had some of the most amazing food I’ve tasted. As someone who originally stuck with mild Pad Thai back in the states, I found myself adding chili to curries and mixing unlabeled sauces into soups and stews. One of my favorite activities we did (per recommendation by fellow travelers in our taxi) was Sammy’s Organic Cooking Class (sweet Sammy pictured above on the right!). We spent the day learning how to mix fish sauce, coconut milk and various spices to make perfect Thai concoctions both at home and abroad. Our menu consisted of yellow curry, coconut crème soup, pad thai, spring rolls, fried banana, and mango sticky rice for dessert. What a treat! And on top of that, Sammy was one of the sweetest and most genuine Thai people I had met. I never felt more welcomed than I did in his home just outside the city!
Besides my clear obsession for the food, the ELEPHANTS were a whole other story. Thailand is known for its sanctuaries and rescues for elephants that have been abused in circuses or ridden by tourists. It was important that we went to an appropriate and safe facility, and after some research we ended up choosing Bamboo Elephant Family Sanctuary. We hiked to a waterfall as we picked and ate fresh lychee along the way, ate lunch, went white water rafting, and finished by feeding and washing the animals. One of the most awe-inspiring moments was when I first interacted with an elephant. We were finishing up our rafting session as 3 of them were playing in the water. Our guide hushed us as we slowly floated within inches of them, and for a split second I made direct eye contact with one of the beautiful beasts. I lost my breath for a moment and it was actually one of the coolest experiences in my life. Highlyyyy recommended if you make the trip to Thailand!
The following day, we happened to be in town for the Buddha Vesak national holiday. This is a day of prayer and worship to Buddha marking the birth, death and enlightenment, and we were lucky enough to land ourselves amidst it. We headed up to Doi Suthep, the most popular temple in Chiang Mai nestled in the mountains outside the city. We walked around and observed as the Thai made flower arrangements and donations around the temple, making sure we stayed quiet and respectful. Whilst trying not to impose, a monk beckoned us into a temple room and blessed us with his holy water! Later, we hiked the monk trail up to the Wat Pha Lat Temple which is definitely worth checking out if you have time. Be sure to follow the orange monk cloth on the trees or you could land yourself deep in the jungle!
As you can tell, Chiang Mai it is definitely neck-and-neck with Saigon for my favorite city. Other places we checked out in Thailand were the coast of Krabi, the Phi Phi islands, and my personal favorite, Koh Lanta. I would recommend hiring a driver and making Koh Lanta as a day trip, as the island is huge and hard to get around especially during off season! It has some gorgeous beaches, coasts and waterfall hikes - so enjoy!
Read about Saigon and Vietnam here!