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ULTIMATE GUIDE TO
CHIANG MAI – THAILAND

Chiang Mai

Thailand’s capital of the north is home to numerous attractions, gorgeous temples and the magnificent elephants. But despite all of this, Chiang Mai was home to one of the most relaxed atmosphere’s that we experienced in our 6 weeks of travels around Thailand and Vietnam.


 

Getting there

We arrived in Chiang Mai from Bangkok via the infamous Sleeper Train. Whilst the photos and reviews do not shout ‘luxury’, the experience was genuinely one of the most memorable of our time travelling.

For ฿800 (£18) per person we booked ourselves into a second class carriage. With this you get yourself a cushioned bed, made and put away for you by a not so cheerful but polite enough Thai lady, and a curtain to give you your own space. Whilst cushioned, it isn’t the most luxurious night’s stay you will ever have, but mainly due to the shakiness and loudness of the train’s breaks.

The highlight by far was waking up at 5:00am and peering out the window to see the sun rising over the Thai jungle. An experience you couldn’t get anywhere else.

Travel: Bangkok – Chiang Mai | Sleeper Train (Second Class)
Cost: ฿800 | £18


 

Accommodation

We stayed at Raming Lodge Hotel & Spa, booked through Booking.com for £120 for 3 nights. One of our most expensive hotels throughout our travels, however it is perfectly situated in the Chaing Mai Old Town. The hotel and room was large and clean, with bars, restaurants and shops right on the doorstep, and only a 5 minute walk from the Night Bazaar.

Hotel: Raming Lodge Hotel & Spa | 3 nights (2 people)
Cost: ฿5,395 | £120

Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary

Whilst there are a host of activities to do in Chiang Mai, from arial assault courses and ziplines, to stunning hill top temples, the attraction that brings most to Chiang Mai are the elephants.

It was vital to ourselves that we chose an ethical sanctuary to visit the elephants, and after much deliberation we landed on Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

For ฿2,400 (£54) each we booked ourselves onto the full day experience, and trust me when I say it was worth every penny and more. Picked up from our hotel at 8:00am we set off, perched in the back of a pickup truck in the pouring rain for 90+ minutes, we arrived above the clouds atop of the Chiang Mai jungle at Camp 3, excited for what the day had in store.

Greeted by our guide ‘Jungle Boy’, we were given a run down of what to expect throughout the day. We were provided special grip walking shoes, however there were not enough to go around everyone. So definitely take something with good grip and that you don’t mind having caked in mud.

After a 30 minute trek deeper into the jungle we arrived at Jungle Boy’s Karen Tribe village. Here we left our bags without a worry in the world, as within minutes these people made you feel a part of their family.

Another short walk even further into the jungle revealed the elephants like the scene from Jurassic Park. Here we spent an hour taking it all in, learning about how the sanctuary care for the elephants, feeding them and taking our photos.

Next, we took another short trek past waterfalls and rivers to discover 2 more of these incredible elephants. Then we were taken back to the village for a gorgeous traditional Thai lunch prepared by and eaten with the Karen Tribe.

Next came the bath and mud spa. I never thought you would be able to see an elephant smile, but amongst the rain soaked mud and getting so much attention from us visitors, all 5 of the elephants were genuinely happy. Kept there only by food and with the free will to leave as they wish, this not only felt incredible to be there but also extremely rewarding.

Finally when all cleaned, packed and ready to go, Jungle Boy took us on one final trek. This time to his home, where he has lived ever since birth. Telling the story of how his village was once attacked by a tiger (who his father killed and ate), introduced us to his chickens and pig, and provided a refreshing passionfruit from his own tree. A phenomenal chance to see how different life can be elsewhere in the world, in a location you would never think of visiting.

A full day at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was the more costly option, but we both agreed that we would happily pay a ridiculous amount more without even questioning it. It’s not just a day with the elephants, it’s a day in the life of the Karen Tribe, a day experiencing exactly what this community go through day in, day out to care for these incredible creatures.

Activity: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (Full Day)
Cost: ฿2,400 | £54


 

Chiang Mai is a wonderful, relaxed location, and I haven’t even touched upon the temples, nightlife or food (search out Dash! for an amazing meal).

If you are debating putting Chiang Mai on your travel list, do it. Experience the sleeper train and head straight for the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (request Camp 3 and Jungle boy if you can).

I can guarantee you won’t regret it at all.

© Ben Grove 2017