Chiang Mai, Thailand
We were pleasantly surprised by our train, compared to our previous experience of sleeper trains in India it was pure luxury. We had air con as well as an extra mattress and comfy sheets and pillows – almost like a real bed! The train also had a restaurant car and a bar with karaoke, we skipped the karaoke but did order a nice set meal with a couple of Changs – beer on a train- fantastic.
We shared a 4 person berth with a couple of older Russian people who didn’t speak much English and who snored through most of the journey, we can count ourselves lucky we weren’t sitting with the obnoxious cockney geezer who didn’t seem to realise how loud and annoying he was – brits abroad, don’t you just love em?!
We arrived in Chiang Mai around 2 hours late but we made it to our guest house, Sixty House, after check in time so it worked out Ok. Our room is small but clean and has air con and a fan so double coolness.
As we’d done bugger all in Bangkok we decided we’d actually get busy in Chiang Mai so as soon as we were checked in we went to explore the old walled city, promptly got lost but had good fun wandering around and managed to see a few Buddhist temples along the way. We ate the cheapest meal we’ve had so far, 110 baht between us including drinks (around £2.10) at a little roadside restaurant, the menu consisted of only around 8 items and we were drawn in by the roasted duck hanging above the cooking ring. We had crispy pork and roasted duck with rice and a bowl of soup – it was delicious.
Through our guest house we signed up for a busy day the next day so despite the yearning for a lie in we managed to get ourselves out of bed for our 8.30 pick up. First stop was an orchid and butterfly farm, we weren’t too fussed about seeing orchids but though the butterflies would be nice, unfortunately they seemed to have died or something as there was not a single one around – the flowers were nice though!
Next stop was what we thought was going to be an elephant camp but was more of a show. After that we headed to a local tribe village where we got to see various tribes living in a community together, although it was interesting it felt like an excuse for them all to try to sell us the same stuff, opium pipes, scarves and jewellery. What we found just as interesting was our guide, Deng, showing us how the tribes cultivate rice and other crops and herbs, he showed us baby aubergines, mint, coriander, garlic and chillies as well as other herbs growing in and around the villagers’ homes, we got try a little too.
It was then lunch time which was included and consisted of fried rice with a bit of veg and Sharlie’s nemesis, fake meat aka tofu!!! We were served almost a whole pineapple each as desert too. After lunch we were introduced to the elephant who’d be taking us for a little ride, her name was Bon, a lady elephant, she and Sharlie got to be great friends as we’d bought a bunch of bananas to feed her along the way, it was really funny to see her trunk come up sniffing for another snack. Before we set out the elephants were led to the river where they had a nice shower (and a poo) and showered us a little too as they cooled down before taking us for a 30 min walk. We discovered that elephants’ trunks are like hoovers with a wet bit on the end and that you shouldn’t tease them with bananas or you will have elephant bogey on you.
Our whirlwind day then continued with white water rafting! After the briefest of safety talks we hit the water with our captain, we learned several commands, forward, faster, over left, over right and on the job and we almost remembered what they meant! The scarier rapids where nearer the start when we weren’t quite sure what we were doing so we were literally in at the deep end, there were decent gaps between the rapids so we got to see lots of pristine jungle, we also passed the elephants we’d ridden earlier having a bit of R and R, it was nice to know they had plenty of space. We just about survived the faster water although we almost lost Sharlie at one point when we got snagged on a rock!
The last 15 minutes was a bit weird as we transferred over to a bamboo raft which our captain optimistically christened “Titanic”, it had been in the water for a bit so was covered in twigs and other river **** and only half floated but it got us to shore eventually if a little mucky to signal the end of our day. We spent about 7 hours out and about by then and were knackered so after a quick change of clothes we were driven back – it took about an hour to get back to Chiang Mai.
There’s plenty to do in Chiang Mai, apart from the myriad of beautiful wats there are loads of activities available such as segway riding, shooting guns, crocodile farms, cookery schools and of course shopping, there’s a nightly market not far from where we were staying that sold a lot of the stuff we’d already seen in Bangkok, there’s a lot of touristy places to eat too like the Red Lion pub, Euro Diner and Chiang Mai saloon – one of our favourites over 50 different margaritas!- but you can also eat at more authentic places along little side streets for a lot less money.
Next day was Sharlie’s choice of activity and we signed up for half a day at Jungle Flight, a treetop zipline adventure similar to Go Ape at home but higher, longer and cheaper! The site is deep in a National Park and was a beautiful if steep ascent to get to. The main difference between here and Go Ape, which we’d done previously, was that the guides hooked you onto and took you off the zips meaning that the safety brief was again short but considering the heights it was reassuring to have people at each end.
We did a total of 22 ziplines and 3 free fall abseils, 10, 20 and 40 meters long, the last of which being the grand finale at this point Sharlie was looking for another way down! Although it was scary it was really exhilarating and we’d recommend it to anyone, our group consisted of young kids who had to be lifted onto the lines to older people so it is accessible to all. Lunch was included which was a delicious massaman curry with rice and veg and an optional omelette with fruit for dessert, we also received a free souvenir t shirt which was a nice touch although not ideal for us with our limited packing space!
We got back and promptly fell asleep for a couple of hours as the last 2 days activities caught up with us. We awoke thinking beer and food would be lovely as we were leaving early-ish the next day only to discover it was Makha Bucha day, a Buddhist religious holiday where you avoid sinful things including alcohol so if the bars and restaurants weren’t closed they were only serving soft drinks, this was probably a good thing as we’d been hitting the beers and margaritas a little, so after some nice Thai food and cokes we had an early night, next day was bus to Chiang Rai where we look forward to maybe some trekking or at least finding a waterfall or two.