We have finally made it to Chiang Mai! A bit later than planned, but we were there and wanted to make the most of our time. The possibilities in this city can really give you a headache. Everywhere you look you see a tourist agency or trekking center, all offering endless number of trips and activities, making the choice much more complicated. Walking, biking, climbing, elephant rides, rafting, kayaking, dancing, cooking, meditation, yoga... The list seems to have no end. And even of you know exactly what you want to do, there is still a whole bunch of companies to choose from, so that making your mind up may be quite a tricky process. But it's worth it, as many of them will do everything they can to turn your visit in Thailand into an unforgettable experience (one way or another).
We were lucky enough to make a reservation at the Julie Guest House, which is famous not only for its cozy rooms and great atmosphere, but also for the amazing trips they organize for their guests. They took their time to understand what we wanted and I have to say the offers they made us where a perfect match. Before we noticed we had a whole plan worked out and we couldn't wait for it all to start happening.
But it's not only the trips that makes this area worth visiting. The city itself has much to offer too. It is a typical tourist location, with bars and hostels on every corner, but it is also a lovely town, full of nice buildings and wonderful temples. After all the stone ruins we have seen in the last two cities we were up for gold and shiny again and this time we have found it much more impressive than in Bangkok. Although we could not quite understand why anybody would put a Donald Duck in front of one of the most significant old temples in town, but we just guessed they had their reasons. All in all we liked Chiang Mai a lot. I especially fell in love with all the second hand bookstores the city was filled with. They were just the way I liked them most, huge spaces filled up to the ceiling with great books for little money. I don't even want to know how much time I spent running between the shelves and choosing the perfect titles, if it wasn't for the trips we had already booked, I am not sure David would have been able to ever drag me out of them. All I can say is that I could hardly close my backpack afterwards and it was far above the 10 kg weight I used to be so proud of.
The first activity on our list was the cooking class. We are both huge fans of Thai cuisine and wanted to do it for a long time now. The decision was not easy, as the competition in this area is huge, but we finally choose Sammy's Organic Farm and I have to say it was a perfect choice. Although it was not too far from the city it felt like a different world, full of plants, flowers and animals, with a fantastic familiar atmosphere. We felt at home at once. And cooking with Sammy was a real fun. He not only showed us how to prepare the dishes, but also told us a lot about Thai food and culture. And his sense of humor and brilliant stories made it all a highly enjoyable experience. But the real highlight was the food! Each of us could choose 5 different dishes which we were preparing on our own, guided by Sam and his wife. And the results definitely exceeded my expectations. I would have never thought I can cook something as good as that! At the end of the day we were all tired, proud and so full we could hardly move. It was a great day!
We had no time to rest as the next day was already fully planned. We have booked a short trekking trip through the jungle, water rafting and what was most important, an elephant ride. I was so excited I could hardly sleep! It was over an hour drive from the city and we were all squeezed into a truck that was just slightly too small for this amount of people, so that one of us was always hanging a bit outside of it, but we managed to survive the ride without any serious injuries. On the way we stopped at the famous orchid farm, which turned out to be just a bigger garden with more tourist than flowers, so that it was quite hard to take a photo without other people on it. I guess it is simply the first stop for all the trips from Chiang Mai.
It was the second stop we were all waiting for, the elephant camp. We had to wait a bit till it was our turn to ride, which left us some time to feed and have some fun with the elephants standing around. They truly are amazing creatures. I will never be able to understand how something so huge can move so elegantly, without making even the slightest noise. And though they are dying to get the banana or sugar cane out of your hand they are as gentle as you can only imagine. For me it was love from first sight.
As our guide told us we were missing an elephant and would have to create groups of three (meaning two on the little bench and one on the neck) to make it work, I protested without thinking. I could share an elephant with David, but I was not having any other people on it! I was waiting far too long for this trip and there was just no way I was going to make any compromises, even if it left me looking like a spoiled kid. And I guess they took my words seriously, as we got not only an elephant for us two, but also an additional mini version. We were riding through the jungle on a big mama, with the baby running all around us, creating quite an impressive chaos, but making the whole trip even more amazing. We enjoyed every minute of it and when the ride was over, we were both sure, that was not our last meeting with those marvelous animals. We needed more!
However, we have enjoyed the rest or our trip nearly as much as we did the elephants. The jungle turned out to be pretty crowded with tourists, but it didn't change the fact, that the nature in this area was simply beautiful. Although we are traveling in the dry season the north of Thailand seemed to be as green as ever. I really found it hard to imagine, that it can get even greener as soon as the rainy months come. It felt great just to be walking among banana leaves and bamboos trees. I only hope we will be able to repeat it in a less touristic place, even if the trek would be much harder then. We were a bit worried that the white water rafting part would be a bit boring, as the river was at quite at low level at that moment. We regretted not being able to come back later this year when the rain starts. And I guess someone up there heard us complaining, because before we even noticed a storm started coming up. A real nice tropical storm, with drops of cool rain coming down on us, making us wish we had something more to wear than our swimsuits. We were all wet before we even got to our boats and it was a bit freezing too. Well we wanted more water and we got it... It proved to be enough for a short trip. It was not exactly an adrenalin kick, but it was fun anyway and it gave our amazing day a perfect ending. We came back to our hotel dead on our feet and slept better than ever, which was good, as a day after we took a minibus to head to another country on our list. It was time for Laos!