We had a pleasant 12 hour train ride from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai. Early on the ride the country side resembled northern California with its flat valley full of rice fields. Similar to driving up Hwy 99, except for the occasional lavish temple. As we got more north the countryside turned lush and tropical. The train slowed as it encountered steeper hillsides to climb. There were rivers, thick jungle, small villages, and scattered rice fields and gardens grown in small plots along the mountains.
Chiang Mai is a good sized city with its center surrounded by a moat. We had a cute hotel (thanks Don and Marilyn) right in the middle of backpacker land with many bars, restaurants, tourist offices, and guest houses. This was our first time seeing every menu also containing western dishes, but we continued eating the delicious inexpensive Thai food including exotic tropical fruits such as dragon fruit, minced chicken with Thai basil, red curries, and rottees (delicious crispy pancakes filled with bananas and chocolate).
We visited a temple in Chiang Mai that was located out of town on a hill. It offered a beautiful view of the city, and once again majestic and lavish Buddhist images and sculptures. Our second day, however, brought us one of the best days in all our travels yet, elephants. We spent the day at the Baan Chang Elephant Park. This organization cares for 21 elephants from all different backgrounds and of different ages. We fed, interacted, and practiced our riding skills on elephants from the ages of 5 to 37. These animals were amazing! They are so strong, big yet gentle, and smart. It was obvious Baan Chang truly cares for their elephants and does everything they can to ensure they are respected.
The elephant population has decreased drastically in Thailand and they are working to educate people and care for as many as they can. With an animal that eats around 400 pounds of food a day, that can be challenging. We spent our day in a group of 15 people from all over the world. We all fed the 21 elephants bananas and sugar cane, and then learned how to get up and down off their backs. Many places put large baskets on elephants for people to ride, but this damages their spines. We were fortunate to learn to ride bare back. The first time up was a little shaky, but we got the hang of it, and it was totally awesome!!! After doing some practicing we were provided lunch and then headed into the jungle for our elephant ride.
The two of us shared one elephant, his name was Samong. We were told he was a begging elephant, working the streets for food before they rescued and adopted him. It was funny sitting high up on this elephant through the jungle. You push your hands on his head for balance in the front and hold a rope placed around his body for the person in back. The guides told us the elephanats enjoy their jungle walk because they get to eat along the way. Samong proved that and lifted his trunk high up grabbing bamboo whenever he could. After the jungle ride we gave Samong a bath in the pond. The elephants loved playing and being splashed in the water. They seem to even enjoy shooting water out of their trunk at you. It was truly an unforgettable day that we will always cherish.
We then traveled north to a smaller town of Pai. We are staying in a small bamboo bungalow right in the center of town surrounded by green hillsides, and near the river. We visited another temple on the hill, and got great views of the area, but we wanted to see more so we rented a scooter. The last two days have been a blast driving around through the countryside seeing small towns, visiting waterfalls and checking out different viewpoints. It is such a great way to see things, because you can cover a good distance, but can stop whenever you want to take a picture. We couldn’t pass it up especially for only 7 dollars a day!!! We’ve enjoyed more delicious food here including our Thai favorites as well as burgers from the Thai Burger Queen, and delicious pita and hummus from Mama Falafel. To top it off we ended the day with a wonderful massage from one of the many local masseuses. Tomorrow we continue to head north to an even smaller town of Mae Hong Son. There we hope to start doing some hiking and visit more remote villages. So far we are having an amazing Thai experience!
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