Tori and I were quickly growing weary of Vietnam. It’s not that it wasn’t that we weren’t having fun, but it wasn’t as jaw-droppingly cool and exciting as Cambodia. The people are pushy, the language is loud, the traffic is chaotic, and the communism is kind of omni-present. No thank you. We went to the airport and boarded our flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand without any regrets (Beside the fact that we didn’t go to Laos. Why didn’t we go to Laos?!?!).
The plane flights were easy and Thailand by far has the least obtrusive customs ever. I swear we just walked through. Literally walked. The security is quick and painless and we had a lovely experience. Thai Airways decorates their planes in a borderline tacky, but ultimately stylish orange, purple, and pink décor. Even on our tiny little hour, hour-and-a-half flights, we got served a beverage, a snack pack of either a muffin, or on the slightly longer one, spicy chicken and a coconut rice cake, AND lemon tea. I’m a big fan of Thai Airways.
When we arrived in Chiang Mai we could sense the difference already. The pace was a little more relaxed, the streets were cleaner, everyone used the polite tense with us (you’ll hear the word “ka” a thousand times – I think it’s a polite suffix) and people were just overwhelmingly friendly. Our first night there, Tori and I walked over to the riverside, had a great dinner, and then ventured to the Chiang Mai night market. Over the course of the trip, we had been to about four or five other night markets, and we can say with complete confidence that Chiang Mai has the best one. The products are high quality, the market isn’t overwhelming, but still expansive, and needless to say, Tori and I bought out the whole market. We had a blast shopping and went to bed exhausted for our next day.
We woke up all too early for our Elephant trek. I’m sorry if I buried the lede, but this is the elephants post. Get ready for some elephant pics. We made our way North to the Chiang Dao Elephant Training Camp and got there just in time to feed a couple of the elephants some bananas and watch the elephants get their baths. The tribesmen of the area have been working with elephants for centuries and are so comfortable climbing around these gargantuan creatures that the relationship between elephant and owner becomes just like that of a dog and master. They really cared for their elephants, even though sometimes it just looks like they were standing on them. During the elephant baths, the mahout (elephant trainer), would get the elephant to lie down in the river and shower themselves with water from their trunks. Then the mahout would scrub away.
We then watched the elephants perform some simple tricks. It started out with some log pushing, and then some log lifting. The elephants would assist the mahout, by giving them back their hats or giving them a leg up to climb on board. Then things got complex. We watched an elephant paint. They actually take the time to teach an elephant to use a paintbrush and the results are astounding, actually better than anything I could paint. Tori and I then climbed on board an elephant for a trek through the jungle. Our elephant Han was a slow stubborn lumbering lady at a sprightly 45 years old. Our mahout was a scrawny man who spoke no English but was great with charades. He enjoyed fake shooting the caterpillars and yelling at the other slower elephants. The elephants were wonderful, gentle giants, but our time with them was sadly over.
We were then whisked down the Ping River on tiny bamboo rafts. Since we came at the very beginning of the rainy season, the river was still pretty shallow and calm. The ride was long and monotonous and Tori and I were kind of sick of talking to each other, so I decided to take over the paddling job. I am considering taking it up as a full-time profession. Since it is still the rainy season, our “captain” started getting nervous, took the oar from me and started paddling like crazy. We then started to hear some splashing, turned around, and saw that the water looked turbulent. It was weird, because we didn’t steer through any turbulent water… Then hit us. We were literally watching the rain storm come toward us. The classic fight of man vs. nature never ends well and we ended up getting rained on for just a little bit. The raft ride afforded more gorgeous scenery through the untouched lush jungle and we left just a little damp – the “captain” handed us ponchos – and without the rainy season, the scenery wouldn’t be as beautiful and green as we have experienced it.
Somehow, elephant riding really knocks the wind out of your sails so we spent the rest of the day napping (I think Tori got a pedicure), eating, and just hanging out. I was going to write about all of Chiang Mai in one post, but there’s still another whole day’s worth of stuff left and all you want are elephant pictures. So here. Have them.
Around the World in Brady Days is brought to you by Thai Airways.