Tigers, Temples, Jungles, and Elephants
Southeast Asia: all the cool kids are doing it. With so many options, how can one select the most exotic yet tourist friendly adventures? Chiang Mai is one of my favorite cities in the world. You can get Thailand’s beaches elsewhere in the world, and the city of Bangkok is something to run from, but Chiang Mai is unique and unforgettable without being uncomfortable.
FIVE DAYS CHIANG MAI + ONE DAY CHIANG RAI, THAILAND
See the markets and local temples. Get a feel for street food, but don’t buy any souvenirs until you’ve stuck around for a few days and know how much you should actually be paying. There’s a reason it’s called “Thai Price.” You can see all the temples by renting a scooter or paying a cab to take you to all of them. Save Doi Suthep for a half day trip. Ladies, be prepared to cover up for the temples.
A tourist trap worthy of the experience is spending a day in Mae Rim’s animal parks. The Tiger Kingdom is expensive for Thailand, but a steal to Americans. It was an adrenaline rush. I learned from locals that the tigers are reared around people and become accustomed to humans, thus becoming “pet” like. Most of the tigers seemed happy and healthy, although one did seem groggy and was potentially drugged.
The Patara Elephant Farm in Mae Rea is great for a full day of bathing with elephants. My friends did it. However, I only had half a day and opted for the Maesa Elephant Show, which featured elephants like doing tricks like playing with a soccer ball and painting.
In regards to animal rights, I was concerned with my lack of understanding on how the animals used for entertainment were treated. My friend described that elephants are like giant puppies who are trained by masters to do tricks. The elephants looked healthy and happy…playful is the best way to describe them.
The Long-Neck Village in Mae Rim is a human zoo. The question comes down to whether these people are forced into continuing this practice for commercial purposes, or whether their cultural practices are celebrated and rewarded through commercialism. They charge to enter the village, and I purchased something just to provide some income to a kind elderly woman who let me take her photo. I thought the cost was worth the cultural experience. “Entrance” to the village closes at around 6 pm.
I could have used more time at the village to interview people who spoke English to learn more about their lifestyle. As a trip, I’d wake up early on Mae Rim day and skip drinking the night before.
Wat Phra Doi Suthep not only has a grand temple, but also provides a panoramic view of Chiang Mai. We rented a scooter and did the trip ourselves, but many people team up to split a cab or Thai truck.
We were tricked into paying for the lift/ cable car which is a short ride and does not offer a view. You do not have to pay to get into Wat Phra, you can just walk up the stairs.
Flight of the Gibbons – zip lining in the jungle.
A highlight and must-do. It takes an entire day and again seems rather expensive for Thailand. The owner is from New Zealand and the adventure appeal is all there. Our tour guide, although Thai, spoke excellent English and was hilarious. I’ve spoken with our friends who have done Flight of the Gibbons and those who have done the copy cats, and clearly Flight of the Gibbons is the better choice.
You MUST do a day trip to Chiang Rai for the White Temple of Death. We made the mistake of renting a scooter, which led to a 7-hour round trip on a day that surprised us with rain. Ponchos flapping and all, it was absolutely worth it.
We stayed at the Royal Princess Hotel– affordable, great quality, nice pool, although the gym was less impressive. For a “nicer” meal out, check out Dash’s.
For night ife with young backpackers and tourists, check out Zoe in Yellow. I ran into some guys who still went to UCLA as well as some Canadian friends still in grad school. It’s a little fratty, but overall a great time and my favorite for entertainment in Chiang Mai. We also went by the THC Rooftop Bar where you have to take off your shoes. This rasta style pub requires you bring your own toilet paper… and mind you …my friend’s flip flop were stolen. Regardless, it was a nice change of scenery from where you sit criss-cross-apple-sauce around the bar. Hint: don’t wear a skirt.
Overall, I felt very safe in Thailand, and particularly comfortable in the university town of Chaing Mai. Any questions, please comment!