For the past few days we’ve been situated in Chiang Mai, a slightly more relaxed city in the North of Thailand. To get here, you can take an overnight train ride or do like we did and hop on a 1 hour flight for less than 40 dollars. We got into Chiang Mai fairly late with no definite plans for accommodations. We pulled up our hostel world app upon arrival and decided to try out the first 5 star hostel in Chiang Mai called Brick House Hostel situated just outside of Old Town, Chiang Mai. The hostel was clean, in a good location and provided us with a 4 person dorm with 4 bunk beds for 500 baht each a night (around 15 dollars). The only downside was it tended to be quite noisy at night and made us feel as old as we are when we weren’t able to keep up with the 19 and 20 year olds by partying during all hours of the night. We were so tried from our long days and the insane heat that we were in bed by 11:00 both nights in Chiang Mai.
Our first full day in Chiang Mai involved doing something I had been looking forward to doing for some time now. Visiting the rescued elephants at the Elephant Nature Park. In Thailand, many elephants are taken from different countries and forced into the tourism industry. They will be forced to do anything from begging for money on the street, painting and putting on shows for tourists, to providing rides and jungle treks up in the hills of Thailand. It’s a very sad and very real side of Thailand that many people do not see, or choose to not see because they want to experience riding an elephant. We decided to do things differently.
The elephant nature park was the first of its kind to rescue elephants from different areas of tourism, as well as elephants that had been injured from things like land minds or orphaned at a young age. They bring the elephants to the park, one rescue at a time and rehabilitate them and integrate them in order to have a very real and free life. The elephants recover from injuries, mentally, emotionally and physically and develop new relationships with the other elephants in the park. Currently, there are over 70 elephants at the park, each has one keeper with whom they develop a relationship with over time which is characterized as a “best friend” relationship. I learned so much on this day and have gained a new appreciation for such beautiful creatures.
The day started with a one and a half hour journey where they showed us a video of the dark side of elephant tourism including the process of breaking the elephants which involves taking them away from their families and torturing them so that they become depressed and trainable. They are tied up in a remote area and forced to do obey their trainer. If they do not obey they are tortured until they begin to listen to commands. This process can last a few days and the trainer must stay with them at all times so the elephant does not commit suicide by stepping on its own trunk. This was absolutely heartbreaking and something I feel I needed to see in order to fully understand the extreme pain that these elephants go through.
Once we got to the nature park, the tone of the experience changed from sadness to hope. There was so much love in the elephants and the keepers’ eyes and you could really see how the rehabilitation and freedom had given them a new life. Many of the elephants had scars and wounds from a deep and dark past which were taken care of by volunteers and staff. During our day at the park, we got to walk with the elephants, feed them and bathe them. We even got to see a 2 day old elephant who was smaller then I ever could have imagined an elephant to be. It truly was such a beautiful and eye opening experience, and one that I will treasure forever.
On our second day in Chiang Mai, we went to the Thai Farm Cooking School. If you’re planning on taking a cooking class I highly recommend going through this school. The day was so informative and the guides were so funny and entertaining (We love you Bee!). We stopped at a local market on our way where we were showed how curry paste is made and got to try see some interesting local Thai ingredients that we would be using later on in the day. We were given the opportunity to tour around where I got my first coconut juice fresh from a coconut.
After this we drove to the farm where we got to take a tour of the organic farm where they grow all of their own ingredients. We got to pick and smell fresh kaffir limes, lemongrass, Thai basil, tumeric, and fresh mangoes. We even got awesome rice hats to make the experience that much more authentic, and to protect from the stifling heat.
After we had collected the ingredients, we began to cook. We were given the opportunity to choose 5 dishes from a large selection which included an assortment of curries, stir fries, soups, appetizers and desserts. The dishes I chose to make included, coconut soup with shrimp, red curry, cashew nut stir fry, spring rolls and sticky rice with mango.
Everything was absolutely unreal and so easy to make. Devan and Chantelle made some of the same dishes as I did but instead of red curry they made green and yellow curry, and instead of sticky rice with mangoes they made coconut milk and bananas for dessert. I am so happy that I got to learn the ins and outs of Thai cooking learn a little more about the various ingredients of local Thai cuisine. We will definitely be incorporating these dishes into our weekly recipe routines.
After a few days in beautiful Chiang Mai, we are off to the sleepy little town of Pai even further North. We will be back in Chiang Mai in a few days to see the Sunday night market and explore a little more of the city. As I sit on the mini bus to Pai, I am once again reminded of how truly lucky I am to be living this life. The opportunity to see and experience so many things does not always come easy but it is always worth the ride. I’ll be back in a few days with my recap of Pai!