Chiang Mai, a city under curfew
My arrival in Chiang Mai was anything but perfect. Arriving by overnight train from Bangkok, I had to deal with the rudest hostel staff I’ve met so far. Aoi Garden Hostel was a complete disaster. They have a dysfunctional booking service, overheated rooms and a manager with an obvious gambling addiction. The recently installed curfew did not help to brighten my mood. Military checkpoints were installed on every second street corner and soldiers closed down bars and restaurants as early as 11pm. The city was unusually deserted as I was told by several locals. Tourism had dropped significantly and local businesses were struggling. Hence, not a good start…
Fortunately, Chiang Mai has a lot of activities outside of town that made the days fly by.
Spicing it up
On my second day I was able to cross off a major item on my bucket list: take a cooking class. At Orchid Thai Cookery school, A and her husband introduced us to the secrets of Thai cuisine. After a visit to the market, we started off with chicken satay and peanut sauce…one of my favorites! We continued in the classroom with the preparation of spicy (or not so spicy) soups. I then chose Panang curry as well as Pad Thai as main dishes. They were both surprisingly easy to cook once all the ingredients were ready. Although all of us were already quite full at that point, we still managed to create (and eat) a delicious mango sticky rice dessert.
Cuddling with kitties
Getting thrown into a cage with three grown up tigers? Yes, please sign me up! Tiger Kingdom, 20 minutes outside of Chiang Mai, gives you this unique experience. I got the package (1200 Baht) with three types of tigers: SMALLEST (1- 4 months), SMALL (1 – 2 years) and BIGGEST. Although it was only supposed to be 3 x 15min, I spent nearly an hour with all of the animals. While the cubs are very playful, the parents just tend to sleep in the afternoon. Great opportunity to take a quick nap together…you don’t want those huge kitties to be too active anyway!
Some critics argue that the animals are drugged for tourism purposes, Tiger Kingdom, however, guarantees that all animals on display are treated ethically. For me it was definitely money well spent!
A safe home for rescued elephants
There are as many elephant camps around Chiang Mai as there are temples in Thailand. Hence, do your research before every booking. After hearing great feedback about Elephant Nature Park, I booked myself on a 1-day trip. Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for abused and injured elephants. It is located in a beautiful and remote valley, 60km from Chiang Mai. Many of the elephants here are blind or have stepped on landmines, so you are not allowed to ride them.
Nevertheless this turned out to be one of my best experiences in Asia. You get to spent a lot of time with the different elephant families throughout the day, feeding them, or taking a bath in the river. Lek, the founder of the camp, is constantly asked to take in new animals, so their need for funding is quite high. For people that want to help even more, they offer a very interesting 1-week volunteer program for around 300$.