I just came back from a very memorable trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Last week there was a long holiday due to the Makha Bucha Day which is an important day for Buddhist. It falls on a Sunday so the holiday was extended till Monday. Because of that, I took the opportunity to make quick arrangement for a trip to Chiang Mai. Few days earlier, I was still undecided because of some problems in my Visa which I would know the result Feb 25. I had a strong feeling that it will be fixed so even before Feb 25, I just took the risk and buy the train tickets to Chiang Mai. Anyway, if my Visa problem was not resolved in time and I cannot travel to Chiang Mai, the ticket cost is not that expensive if compared to air tickets so I just crossed my fingers. Fortunately and Thank God, I received a good news last Feb 25 so off I go to Chiang Mai. I quickly booked my hotel and made a tour arrangement.
My train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai leaves about 1800H (Friday) so I had to work the whole day of Friday and clear a lot of jobs in preparation for the trip and I just took early leave 1 Hour so I can be at the train station on time. The Hua Lamphong Train station is actually very convenient cos I just have to take the MRT and the last station is actually the Hua Lamphong station already so from MRT, I just have to walk a few meters to reach the provincial trains.
It was my first long-haul train ride so I was very excited. In my life, I only ride the City trains which is not the train that Harry Potter and Gang usually take going to Hogwarts. So off I go… There were several platforms and my train platform is not too difficult to find. Only thing is that I booked the 2nd Class Air conditioned sleeper train and it is at the farthest end of the train (few coaches away from the driver). Normally, the better train classes are in front (near the driver) so you have to walk a bit farther than the rest. Luckily I only have light luggage so it is not a problem.
The train promptly left the station 1800H. However, along the way sometimes it stops in other train station longer than the supposed time. For the sleeper train you can choose either the upper or the lower deck. The lower deck is a bit more expensive and has wider bed if compared to the upper deck. Moreover, only the lower deck has a window so if you plan to travel by train, you need to purchase tickets in advance so you can select the lower deck. Since my trip was on a long holiday and I booked only few days before the trip, I can only have the upper deck (air con) going to Chiang Mai and upper deck (Fan) going back to Bangkok. The Fan coach is ok since the breeze is cool along the way and since travel is towards night time but when you are about to sleep and the bed were set up with individual curtains, it can get a bit hot especially during the summer nights. In addition, if you are not used to sleeping in a bumpy road, better not take the train as it is bumpier than taking the bus. It is like taking the flight that encounters a turbulence all throughout.
The porter prepares the bed as soon as the sun is out and dinner was consumed (for those who bought dinner in the train). After that, it’s a very long travel so better prepare all the things that would keep you occupied like your iPod or music player, a good book to read or board games.
We arrived in Chiang Mai in the morning. After the breakfast, I headed to my hotel. The hotel I stayed (Imm Hotel Thaphae) has a very good location, just across Thaphae Gate- the centre of the old walled city.
The vicinity of the Thaphae Gate is where most of the major activities like Songkran Festival (Thai New Year), Loy Krathong or other local events are usually held. Every weekend, a part of the area is converted into an instant Weekend Night market wherein they closed approx. 2 km. of road where all the streets are lined with goods, foods and almost all the whatnot you can think about. You will never get tired and hungry as the road is teeming with food stalls and foot massage chairs.
I also went to Doi Suthep, the most popular temple site in Chiang Mai, located 3,500 feet above sea level. There is a viewing deck in the Temple overlooking the city below. Really nice view.
The next day, I went into a Thai Cooking school called Baan Hong Nual. Since I am fascinated with Thai cooking and now that I have my own food blog, I made sure I enroll in a short Thai cooking class during the trip. They pick you up at your hotel, send you to a local market to buy some ingredients and give some introduction to some basic information about Thai cookery then you proceed to the school afterwards. Prior to deciding what to buy, the teacher will give you a selection of recipes you can cook. Once you selected, the ingredients had to be bought. On that day I was the only student (that day being a Sunday and a Buddhist Public Holiday). The previous day my teacher said they have over 20 students in the class so it was actually my advantage since my class is a one-on-one session or like a VIP class (which is definitely more expensive than normal joined class). For my course, I cooked 4 recipes namely: Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong, Thai Green Curry and Som Tam. After cooking, I get to eat what I prepared. Tastes like real Thai cooking..Yumm…(Btw, I will not be posting my cooking in this blog..If you want to see the picture of the foods I prepared, visit: http://kikokitchen.wordpress.com)
After my cooking class, I transferred to another hotel, The Small Chiang Mai., It is a design hotel (Boutique Style) with stylish interiors in the room. The room assigned to me has 2 angels painted on the wall. The location of this hotel is also convenient (less than 10 minutes walk to the Night Bazaar and about 10 minutes walk to Thaphae Gate and Weekend Market). Around dinner time, I had the Traditional Chiang Mai Dinner called Kantoke Dinner. Kantoke Palace is the largest restaurant offering this kind of dinner in Chiang Mai. The restaurant has over 80% foreigners on that night enjoying the food and the cultural dance presentation on stage. At the end of the performance, they invite some guests to join the dancers to perform the traditional dance. I was one of the chosen few…hahaha.
The next morning, I went to the Maesa Elephant Camp. Again, it was a private tour with only me plus the driver and the tour guide so it is a better experience. The tour would let you see Elephant closely during feeding time and shower time. Seeing these big animals taking a bath in the pond is a very cute scene. They seem to enjoy being watched while taking a bath..LOL. After the shower, we were entertained by the Elephant show wherein the elephants parade first followed by various acts like soccer playing, elephants playing the harmonica, hoola elephant, one elephant bursts balloons using darts in competition with someone from the audience, a log show wherein a group of elephants work to stack together heavy logs…I was told that the Elephants in Thailand during the olden days up to now are a big help to the farmers or locals since they help in agriculture and even helping to carry logs from the forest sent downhill. However, the highlight of the show is the Elephant painting. About 5 elephants showcase their art skills by painting using their trunk. One elephant created a colorful abstract design, 2 elephants draw bouquet of flowers, another one draw a landscape of mountains and a forest and the last one draw a portrait of an elephant face. They say the Elephants in Maesa Camp are the most talented in painting. There was even a museum displaying the very large painting made by several elephants and said to be the most expensive painting created by Elephants that was sold in public as awarded by the Guiness Book of Records. Not sure though how much it cost since it was not indicated in the museum. Moreover, no cameras were allowed inside the museum so I am unable to share to you the masterpieces. After that,we went to the nursery to see the youngest elephant in the camp (only 26 days old but weighs over 100 kg). You cannot go close to the Baby elephant because the protective mom can get wild. I then took a picture with a cute but very large adult elephant who gamely posed cross legged while I sit on it’s legs then the trunk was wrapped around my body.
A short drive from the Elephant camp would take you to the Hill Tribe Village. The highlight of this tour is the visit to the Long necked women of the Padong tribe. This is very popular and I only get to see in National Geographic Channel before and now am able to see in flesh with close up picture even..such a great experience. Wearing brass ring around the neck are their long tradition and considered beautification process for the women. My guide said a set of brass ring can be as heavy as 5 kilo. I even see little girls wearing the ring around their necks.The village is actually home to other tribes like Karen, Lahu, Hmong, etc. Their livelihood is mostly weaving or agriculture. In the village you can find a Catholic Church. I was surprised that the Long Neck tribe are Catholic and can speak Thai (they are not native Thais but are minority group from Myanmar).
After the Hill tribe visit, we went to an Orchid Farm where varieties of Thai Orchids can be found. These exotic flowers are such good tropical ornaments to one’s garden and the flowers can last longer than other flowers and is not too difficult to maintain. The farm also make gold plated jewelry from Orchid bloom which is something unique. After the Orchid Farm visit, we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of Khao Soi a traditional Chiang Mai noodle with curry. It is very delicious and not spicy at all.
We then went straight to the Train station for my trip back to Bangkok which unfortunately was delayed for 1.5 hours. Anyway, even with the delay and a bit uncomfortable sleep due to the fan-cooled coach, I am grateful cos I arrived in Bangkok safe and sound.
I really enjoy travelling cos it gives me a different perspective of things and I get to experience the culture, tradition and food of that place. Moreover, I believe travelling gives you a different kind of maturity and independence especially if you travel alone or free and easy and not following a very strict itinerary. I am now looking forward to my next travel!