Adventures in Chiangmai
The Perfect Trek in Chiangmai
The thought to visit Thailand was a sudden spark that crystallized surprisingly quickly. When you feel the call, you feel it! My partner Paul and I chose the deep forest of Northern Thailand vs. the bustling city of Bangkok (although we had one night there) and the southern beaches since the time of year wasn’t ideal for that. Plus, the peaceful allure and slower pace of Chiangmai seemed like an awesome vacation and great next stop after traveling through the Philippines. At the end of it all, I must say, that Thailand is one of my favorite places on earth, and that I have a deep resonance with South East Asia.
Where We Stayed
Our Airbnb was so quaint and sublime! It was great to have a home base that was near landmarks such as Pae Gate and the Night Bazaar. We were tucked in between restaurants, bars, massage spas, temples, and beautiful artifact stores filled with spiritually charged items - everything within convenient walking distance. What more could we ask for, and at around $20 a night?! The owners were sweet and attentive and did everything to ensure our comfort. The rooms didn’t have a fridge or TV, but honestly they were not missed. The only downside was the construction happening next door that was very loud, but it only happened during the day, so it wasn’t the hugest bother. The community courtyard was so calming and inviting and it was certainly a blessing to have this space for the heavy bursts of rain that would hit through out the day and night. I highly recommend Emm and Emm’s accommodation!
Food in Thailand
What can I say about the food in Thailand? It’s freaking amazing. Now, I’m probably biased because Thai cuisine is my favorite in general, but aside from that, the freshness and the flavors of this food while in its native home was notable and delectable. There are also so many people creating businesses in Chiangmai, there is no shortage of cuisines and fusions from all over the world. On the first morning there, circa 6am, post flight and waiting for our Airbnb to open, we walked a vast majority of the Old City and grabbed breakfast at the Cat Cafe. Not just a cute name, they actually have kittens, and it’s amazing. Later on in the day, we found DaDa’s cafe which became our absolute favorite. We tried to commit to eating at a new place every meal, but damnit we are creatures of habit, and when something works, work it! DaDa’s cafe has everything from cold pressed juices, to hot tonics, to amazing Thai Food and even some supplements that we picked up. Paul and I are also self-appointed connoisseurs of spring rolls and take it upon ourselves to sample them through out the world. The House by Ginger (pictured above) stole the show with juicy mango filled rolls and crunchy peanut sauce. The charcuterie board didn’t hurt either. For the most part, I feel like you really can’t go wrong when choosing a restaurant in Thailand. Even the street food is highly revered (just make sure to take those probiotics and digestive enzymes with you)! You can also sign up for cooking classes where you walk through a market, pick out fresh, local and organic ingredients and learn the intricacies of traditional Thai food prep.
What other reason do you need to visit Thailand other than the beautiful temples and kind hearted people? This was my first time visiting a predominantly Buddhist nation, and the spirit of Thailand really shines. Even with the blossoming of modern culture and business, you’ll find barefoot monks and golden temples peppered just about everywhere, and smiles and eye contact are commonplace. You would certainly need far more time than we had to visit all of the temples of Chiangmai, but we managed a few landmarks and enjoyed trekking through the city via walking and the tuk-tuk (think motorcycle carriage). My personal favorite was probably Wat Umong. The lush forest, tavern like temple, and intensely beautiful structures served as a backdrop to some deep conversations and moments of prayer. I even got to practice one of my favorite internal arts forms, Buddha Fist, while summoning rainbows and Qi. We also visited the famous Doi Suthep and its epic dragon staircase, the Naga temple which praises the sacred serpent, and Wat Phan Tong where we sat with chanting monks and friendly stray dogs. Temple hopping is a must in Thailand and you’re sure to feel the peace of the land and people.
Elephant Nature Park
The absolute highlight of the trip and one of the best days of my life was spent roaming the hills with rescued elephants at an Elephant Nature Park project. Prior to this trip, I did some research to find organizations that were committed to the ethical treatment of elephants and care for the land. Elephants are a sacred totem of Thailand, but unfortunately there is an exorbitant amount of exploitation and abuse. From logging to riding to street performing and begging… these gentle giants have had a hard time. Add in the devastation of deforestation and you have a sad situation for the Asian elephant. There are also plenty of sham artists using the umbrella term of sanctuary who are really just perpetuating the exploitation - so watch out for this and do your homework if you’re planning to visit! Luckily there are many who care for and even rescue elephants from horrific conditions and bring them to the true sanctuary that is Elephant Nature Park. Deep gratitude to the founder Lek Chailert for her huge heart and vision! You can read more about her and her work here.
The Journey to the Hill Tribe
Paul and I originally planned on the package that would allow us to stay on the reserve itself for two days and one night while volunteering. Upon further speculation and honest feed back from the helper at their main office in Chiangmai, we chose a different experience. We wanted slightly more interaction with the amazing beings (still no riding!) and chose the package called the Karen experience. The Karen are a Northern Hill Tribe who work with ENP and utilize eco-tourism in a way that benefits the community and is benign for the elephants. This package was a shorter day-long trip and less expensive. This curated experience included pick up from our Airbnb, a steep van ride to the hill tribe, lunch, traditional clothing to wear, a light hike with the elephants, tons of hand feeding, a freaking epic mud bath and another walk and wash down in a nearby river (around $80 per person). In several of my videos from this point in the trip, you can catch me with my gigantic smile shouting “This is the best day ever.” And it was! We learned so much about the plight of the Asian elephant, the communities that are empowered to help, the personalities and traits of the charismatic creatures, and how to really be present with such peaceful power. This experience was immensely memorable and magical. You can read more about Elephant Nature Park and stay up to date on rescues and their forest restoration projects.
Muay Thai fight night
We really couldn’t visit Thailand without getting some of their national martial art in. On the first night there, we came across a flyer that showcased a match happening that very night. We bought tickets and after a day of noodles and Thai massage, returned to the stadium and intensifying night life. In proper fighting match style, we walked through tiny alley ways full of colorful bars, shouting people, and street food vendors. We purchased seats that were closer to the ring without being in sweat, blood, or spit distance. Muay Thai is an amazing and brutal martial art that I have much respect for! We ordered a round of Thai beer and kicked our feet up for an awesome match of three separate fights. The thing that stood out to me the most during these fights, was the sense of respect and humility among the fighters. There was a moment where one man was knocked down/out and the deliverer of said blow got on the floor and bowed down towards him until he regained consciousness. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like that in UFC - just saying. After the fight, we found yet another flyer that was the next clue to our expanding adventure - personally training in a Muay Thai Gym.
We arrived at the Chiangmai Muay Thai Gym on a rainy afternoon and signed up for a two and half hour class. Considering it was my first time training since being on vacation (aside from walking and hiking), this class was cardio intensive and non-stop! Other than having to adjust my stances from years of muscle memory from other styles of martial arts, I kept up well! I find that it’s a good practice to stay open and malleable to different styles, forms, and teachers, hopefully creating an adaptable and fluid martial artist. We went over all the basic stances, punches, kicks, elbows and almost immediately were in the ring drilling them all with a personal teacher. I had a lot of fun training and was so sore the next day, it hurt to laugh. Good times!
chiangmai cultural center Khantoke dinner and dance
Another absolute high-light from the trip was a traditional dinner and performance at the Chiangmai Cultural Center. It was a truly majestic exhibition of Thai culture, dance, indigenous art, and food. We sat atop meditation pillows on the floor where a flow of flavorful meals and drinks were brought to our small circular table. This is known as a Khantoke dinner by the Lanna Hill Tribe. Acoustic instruments were gently played on stage before the show started and a magical and ancient feeling swirled through the air. The performance itself featured gorgeous Thai and sword dancing, folk attire, and powerful songs from mountain tribe elders. We even got to hop on the stage at the end and learn some moves! It was a beautiful sampling of such a vast and vibrant history and a wonderful way to cap our trip.
As aforementioned, Thailand is one of my favorite places and there is just so much one could do to have fulfilling experiences! From the world famous Sunday night market, immensely relaxing and professional Thai massages that are almost too affordable (I think I had 10!), incredible night life and awesome Reggae scene (our check came out to 420 Baht), and the general sense of community and spirituality…. I hope this gave you a taste of the grand beauty that I witnessed in Thailand. Even with the thunderstorms and slightly higher temperatures, the experience was completely unmarred. I do believe I will go back one day, but we shall see what the next adventure beholds!