LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Chiang Mai! We have two days here and it's quickly becoming obvious that this is nowhere near enough time to visit all the places we want to... but we will give it a try.
The first thing that hits us is that it's way cheaper up here, only 120THB from the airport to our accommodation... and cheaper transport across the board, nice!
We are staying at De Vieng, it's a new hostel in town and nothing short of amazing. Big comfy beds, designer decorations, washer / dryer, well equipped bathrooms, lockers in rooms, breakfast and wifi included, bedside lamps and power points for each bed and a pool... can't say enough about this place.
Chiang Mai is the place to immerse yourself in the real Thailand, away from the beaches and hordes of travellers. It is a 1 hr flight or a 14 hour train ride North of Bangkok and slightly cooler up here. There is so much to do in the area; Thai cooking classes, visiting the night bazaar, yoga retreats, loads of amazing temples, visit the hilltop tribe people, the tiger temple, snake shows, elephant schools, poopoo paper park and zip line trips... you need a week minimum here, two would be good.
If you want to have an elephant experience this is place to do it... for sure. You spend the day with rescued elephants, and you get to adopt one for the day. Part of the experience is to take care of the elephant; feed it, bath it, ride and play with it. The other safaris we have seen you are in a seat with a guide, this one is much more authentic and an overall better experience. For something different you could visit the Elephant school where they do paintings.
Thai cooking classes are very popular, the good ones take you to the market and show you the process from start to finish. So many interesting ingredients and the best part is that you get to eat the food that you cook! They are pretty cheap and they have them during the day and also in the evening.
There are a lot of hill tribes that are worthwhile visiting, the most famous and popular are the Long Necks. While deemed commercial it is a rather complex issue, these people are refugees from Burma, many of them fled to Thailand and by visiting and buying their handicrafts you are supporting a community that has no other way to earn a living. Legend has it that the brass rings around their neck protect the women from tiger bites but actually it determines your tribal identity. Their necks over the years really stretch out... who knew you could do that, as a short chick it gave me some ideas :-)
Speaking of weird and wonderful how about a visit to the Elephant Poopoo paper park. Tell me more you say, well this is an Eco friendly park famous for making paper products from you guessed it... elephant poo! This place is 100 meters from the tiger kingdom, if you have missed out on your tiger experience out of Bangkok (which by the way is the best) or Phuket you still have an opportunity.
The night bazaar is just outside the city walls and is easy to get to. If getting a taxi or tuk tuk they will drop you off outside Subway. We decided to start off with a Thai massage, a girl has got to be ready to shop! There are loads of places and 200THB will get you 1hr of heaven.
The night bazaar was a mix of places to eat, live music, bars and stalls. The products here are different to some we have seen, much more arts and craft orientated. This place is awesome, wish we had more time and more room in our bags! We're already planning on going back again... we spent a few hours and really only covered what seemed to be a small section.
Late night again, just don't want to waste time sleeping!!!
Editors note: If you're heading to Thailand check out the Global Bed Hopper Network for cheap / discounted accommodation deals!