Today we are leaving Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand and unofficial capital of the north. I was admittedly a bit apprehensive about visiting Chiang Mai after the mixed reviews, but I fell completely in love. This is a place I will be definitely have to visit again someday.
If you are considering visiting or looking for new ideas, here are five fun things to check out.
1. Meditation Retreat at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Ryan and I spent four days meditating at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a beautiful temple on the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. One aspect of the retreat was the “noble silence,” meaning we couldn’t talk, read, write, play games, watch tv or movies for the entire time we were on retreat. It was tough, but a great experience. If you are considering such a retreat, I highly recommend looking into this one.
2. Rock Climbing with Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures
If you enjoy rock climbing (or want to take an intro course), check out CMRCA. Crazy Horse Buttress has a great many pitches bolted to international standards. It was my first, serious foray into rock climbing and I had an amazing experience. Great instructor and associate, great climbs and super safe.
3. Cooking Class with Thai Farm Cooking School
I’m not the chef in the family, but I really felt like one during this full-day course. Thai Farm made everything so easy and fun (shout out to Benny who was great!). Now I know that making a red curry paste isn’t impossible or that I can even roll my own spring rolls.
4. Elephant Nature Park
One of the biggest things I wanted to do in Thailand was play with elephants. Originally I thought I’d like to ride one, but after reading about how horrible the domestication process is for the elephants (breaking them), I decided I wasn’t interested and instead would spend the day at the Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation center for the elephants.
The park had all sorts of “damaged” elephants. One had stepped on a land mine, one had a broken hip, several were blind, others had injuries that weren’t healing properly… but all were treated with dignity and respect. Each elephant had their own mahout, or caretaker, not only to provide the care and support the elephants need, but also because other people will actually try and steal the healthier ones to use them for logging or trekking (what many of these elephants were saved from). We even saw a new rescue arriving during our visit, although I don’t yet know her story.
This day was really powerful and although the elephants weren’t “in the wild,” they were definitely free.
5. Sunday Walking Street
The Sunday Walking Street had an almost festival atmosphere as they wandered the streets of the old city. Vendors lined the streets with almost anything you might need… eye masks, jewelry, wooden utensils, purses, clothes, toys, paintings, lanterns, paper goods and so much food.
We almost skipped the Sunday Walking Street altogether until a Thai friend said it was the best of the three big ones. So we went and I am so glad we did!
What are some of your Chiang Mai favorites?
India has been full of surprises. I didn’t really know what to expect, but if I had expectations, India has exceeded them and then some.
At times it seems like pure chaos. I watched men launching themselves onto (and off of) a moving train, tuk tuks squeezing into impossibly tight spaces on the road, and sacred cows and monkey running amok. Motorized vehicles would rather get into an accident than accidentally hit a cow.
Other times, it’s incredibly peaceful. We walked along the ghats of Varanasi in the rain, stopping to quietly contemplate the cremations happening along the bank of the Ganges, listened to Sufis since Qawwali at a dargah, seeing a Muslim and a Sikh laugh toghether, walking along Chowpatty Beach at sunset, and the tranquility of the Taj Mahal lost in the mist.
I’ve been disappointed. By touts and scammers who tell us our train tickets aren’t valid or that we have to go to a “tourist office” to fix it and by knock-off restaurants that mimic a charitable organization.
But I’ve also been pleasantly surprised. Mostly by the kindness of strangers. I can in blinders up and ready to play hardball but, most of the time, it’s been unnecessary. The kindness shown here to two fareng who don’t speak any Hindi has helped humble me and restore my faith in humanity a little.
And so far, I have loved it. It’s been trying at times and desperately in need of some quite time, but it’s been incredible.