Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand

February 16, 2011—Our train for Chiang Mai did not leave until 6:10 p.m. so we took our time getting ready in the morning, and around noon we left for the train station. We were able to leave our bags at “Left Luggage” and then walk to China Town. Unfortunately, it was Saturday and the streets were packed. What a surprise!

We walked down the main street and then turned up an alley way that was filled with shops. The path through the shops was so narrow that we walked single file; however, that did not stop motor scooters from using the path as well. At one point, a small truck was trying to drive through as well. We soon made our way out and found an air-conditioned restaurant for lunch.

After lunch we walked back to the train station. We had a few hours to wait, but it was interesting to watch all the people at the station. An hour before our train was to leave, we were able to board and stow our bags. This trip was in a second-class car, which meant that Steve and I each had a wide seat during the day, and then at night our two facing seats made up one bunk with a drop-down bunk above. There were curtains for privacy, and the bunks were quite comfortable plus the car was air-conditioned.

Across the aisle from us were an American and his Pilipino wife who live in the Philippines but travel six months of the year. Larry and Helen sat and talked with us for quite awhile, and we really enjoyed meeting them.

The porter made up our bunks around 9 o’clock, and we called it a night. We did not sleep very well, but we came into Chiang Mai at 7:30 in the morning and were able to check into the Galare Guest House when we arrived. The Galare is a lovely Thai styled facility by the river with a restaurant, and they offer wifi, laundry, and tour services.

We decided that we wanted to take an elephant tour, so they booked us for Monday. As soon as we could, we walked into town to look around. Chiang Mai is a city of around 174,000 people, and it is so much more enjoyable than Bangkok. It is still a tourist city, but it is very clean, the people are friendly, and we didn’t have any trouble with scammers.

We spent the day walking around to see even more Wats. The temples here are not as grand, but they are still beautiful. We enjoyed lunch in town, and we walked through the market that was being set up near the old wall that used to surround the city. Later we walked to the Night Bazaar to look around. The Bazaar is definitely a tourist event, but it was still interesting to look at all the stuff that was for sale. We enjoyed dinner at an Afghani restaurant, and then went to McDonald’s for an ice cream. After that we were pretty tired, so we headed back to our room.

Monday morning we got up early to have breakfast and wait for our driver to pick us up at 8:15. When he arrived, we climbed into the van and took off to pick up two other groups. One of the groups included three young ladies from Uruguay. We ended up getting to know them very well during the day, and we exchanged emails with them to share pictures.

We drove quite awhile before we arrived at in Maetamann and the Thai Elephant Home. Joe, who is one of the owners, introduced himself and then explained how we would spend the day. He gave each of us a top, pants, and a hat that we would wear. He taught us five basic commands for the elephants and also gave us some interesting facts about the Asian elephant and how it compares to the African elephant.

Our next step was to practice getting up on the elephant and giving voice and leg commands. The word “malong” meant lie down, “bai” meant go forward, “what” meant stop, and “bend” meant turn either left or right depending on your leg command. Steve’s elephant was named Boonsee, and the mahout’s name was Wimon. My elephant was named Noi and the mahout was Porn. The mahouts are the trainers, and each has his own elephant. Both elephants were rather large, and mine seemed to be a bit stubborn. Anyway, we all got up on our elephants and headed to the Waan River. We crossed the river and then began a climb up the hillside.
At first I didn’t feel very secure on the elephant, but after awhile, I became more comfortable. The only problem with my elephant was that she kept sneezing so I ended up with snot on my legs, but it wasn’t all that bad.

It was amazing to see these huge animals climbing up a narrow path on a hillside. We reached our lunch spot just about noon and dismounted the elephants. There was a covered shelter with tables and benches where we were given a delicious meal of Thai noodles with chicken and prawns that was wrapped in a banana leaf. We sat and talked with Ximena, Fernanda, and Camen from Uruguay and enjoyed our food. When we were done, the elephants got any left-over food plus the banana leaves. They didn’t really need the food because they had been grazing on the lush grass on the hillside while we were eating.

We rode the elephants up the hill a short distance and then watched as the elephants were allowed to enjoy a luxurious mud bath. It was fun to watch them throwing mud on themselves and scratching their bodies against the side of the hill. When they were done, we headed down the hill to the river for a bath. Steve and I decided to walk for awhile because if you have ever been sore after riding a horse, just imagine riding a very large elephant.

At the river Steve walked across, but I decided to ride Noi across. At the other side the riders all got off, and the elephants were allowed to get into the river and take a bath. Some of the water was deep enough for the elephants go be completely covered with water. We all joined in the river bath and had a great time splashing water on the elephants. In return the elephants would hose us down with water from their trunks, which felt good because it was a hot day so the cold water felt really nice. I got an opportunity to ride in the river on one elephant’s trunk.

Now it was time to return to the facility. We all got back on our elephants and made our way from the river to the facility. When we got back, we got off and thanked our mahouts as they led our elephants to their stalls. Then we changed our clothes and enjoyed some watermelon and cold water. It was a very interesting experience, and we thought that this was a fascinating way to spend Valentine’s Day in Thailand.

We said our goodbyes to Joe and made a donation to the facility. We all slept in the long van ride back to Chiang Mai, and Steve and I returned to the hotel very sore but determined to have a lovely dinner out. We found a place called The Duke’s and enjoyed a wonderful dinner of steak and baby back ribs. A woman came in selling roses, and Steve bought me a lovely red rose for Valentine’s Day.

The morning of February 15 we ate breakfast, and then we packed up our things so that we could check out at 11 o’clock. We took two hours to walk to the post office and then around town for one last round of looking in shops.
We caught a ride to the bus station for our bus to Chiang Rai at 2:45 p.m. We booked the VIP bus because of the larger seats and fewer people, plus the fare for the bus was only 265 baht each or $9. The drive was lovely since we are moving to the northern border of Thailand and the terrain has higher hills. After three hours we arrived in Chiang Rai and found our hotel called The North. It was now dinner time so we went to the Night Bazaar where we bought some pork satay sticks for dinner. Tomorrow we will explore Chiang Rai.

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