Sawa dee Chiang Mai

The journey north started hesitantly. The sleeper cars on the train were sold out and when they said the seats reclined a little, we had no idea what our 15-hour ride would be like. 

We were pleasantly surprised though with spacious seats, and the afternoon departure meant amazing views of the countryside outside of Bangkok. 

I couldn’t help but grin when the first rice fields came into view. It looked just like Orizari. 🙂

Vendors got on and off at every station, walking the length of the train calling out (or singing out in some cases), what they were selling. This lasted late into the night, so we were quite tired when we pulled into the Chiang Mai station before dawn. 

We shared a red taxi with some other travelers, and thanks to the wonderful host at Chill Bed Hostel, we were ushered in and sent to bed straight away. 

(Red Taxis are pick-up trucks with long benches and a covered roof in the back. They can fit probably a dozen people plus luggage.)

I only had a few hours to bond with my pillow before I was off again to spend a half-day at an elephant sanctuary. 

I had no coffee, but I had plenty of elephant adrenaline. (I mean, guys! I was going to play with them!!)

Our hostel host set it up for me via email before we arrived, which was perfect. My friend Susan, who I’m traveling with, wasn’t interested in the elephants (don’t worry, I’m questioning her sanity too), so she slept in while I fed bananas to my new best friends. We drove more than an hour outside the city, up windy roads and dirt paths into the jungle, and then the magic happened.

This sanctuary had nine elephants, ranging in size, as young as a few months, and as old as 35 years. They were all wandering near the feeding area, waiting impatiently for us to learn the proper technique. (And snap a flurry of photos.)

We fed our friendly hosts bananas and sugar cane, first raising our treats above our heads and saying, bahn. At the key word, the elephants open wide for us to place  a banana or piece of sugar cane in their mouths. 

Then they immediately reach out their trunks to see if we have more. 

It was delightful. Seriously, magical.  I’m grinning just thinking about it.

The elephants were playful and fun, giving out kisses and hugs with their trunks and always stretching out toward whoever had a banana in hand.

I knew the bananas and sugar cane ran out when the elephants started wandering away. (I get it. Food is my top priority too.) 

Then we followed them on a walk through the jungle, where they kept eating, took care of some business (ahem, you know the kind), and then ate some more. 

After they ate again, it was bath time, which turned into spraying all the guests with their trunks and the most adorable moment of my life. 

Guys. Gosh. It was so great. dsc_0272-min

The self-restraint I’m showing by not posting every picture is impressive. 

So that was day one in Chiang Mai, and it was hard to top. I loved their night market (which it turns out almost every town has, but they were my first and favorite). We visited some beautiful temples, including one on a mountain outside of the city. 

The only bummer in Chiang Mai was realizing that the malaria meds Peace Corps gave me were causing problems. I had no appetite, felt like I had a pill stuck in my throat constantly, had terrible indigestion and acid reflux, and had pain whenever I tried to eat. It was also hard to sleep because it was worse while laying down. So, after Google told me this often happens to people who take doxycycline, I decided to just wear more bug spray and hope the side effects went away. 

But despite that though, elephants! 

We had hoped to head east to Chiang Rai and then into Laos, but visas waited in Bangkok. We had sleeper cars for our return train, which was like having my own little hobbit hole. 

So we headed back to Bangkok with no plan beyond picking up our visas for Vietnam, but има време секогаш, така ли? (There is always time, right?)

Pro Tips:

  • elephant sanctuaries are great. Riding elephants is not. Learn more here.
  • Red Taxis are a great way to get around and if you have a tourist destination out of town, a good way to save some money. Two German girls approached us outside one of the temples to ask if we wanted to join them and save a few baht. We ended up as a group of six, and visiting something we probably would have skipped on our own.
  • Uber is a thing, and cheaper than taxis. Or hostel host requested one for us a few times.
  • Seriously, the elephants were so great. 
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