After you’ve become acquainted with Thailand’s culture shock (ladyboys, exploring your buried sexual desires, US priced shopping malls, etc.) your ready to take a breath of fresh air, get a massage (if you haven’t already done so in Bangkok), clear your alcohol ridden system with some vegan, organic Thai food and experience the real Thailand.
Your headed to Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is like a tame Woodstock in the 21st century. I don’t think this is really an accurate analogy, but I like it so it will do. Life is slow in Chiang Mai. It’s filled with artists, ‘healthy eateries’, and forests. While slow, it is noted as being a city full of adventure. There are numerous rappelling-through-the-jungle excursions, white water rafting, ATVs, jungle trekking, and of course, elephants.
“Like oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! I love elephants! I like, must go see the Elephant Sanctuary like, RIGHT NOW!”
The Elephant Sanctuary is elephant mecca – over 100 elephants (at the time of this writing) freely frolicking, running around happy as can be without a care in the world. Sorry to break it to you, but the situation is a little more dire than that. Most of the elephants at sanctuaries surrounding Chiang Mai are supplied by the local villagers. Why? Well because the villagers make more money of course. You see, most tourists aren’t willing to trek through the jungle to stumble upon the local hill tribes just to find an elephant to take selfies with. They would much rather go to a place with 100 elephants! This has caused a huge tourist hub where people will wash, bathe, feed and ride these magnificent beasts.
If you can’t tell from reading some of my previous posts, I enjoy proving my point with unbiased math and facts. Therefore, according to the National Elephant Center, an average elephant eats anywhere between 200 and 600 pounds of food a day. At 100 animals, that is 20,000 to 60,000 pounds or 10 to 30 tons of food daily. That’s 3,650 to 10,950 tons a year. Damn. Do you honestly think the elephants get fed nearly that much? Well you haven’t seen the place or the elephants, so you haven’t a clue. Well, they don’t. If you look at any of the animals in Thailand from the dogs to the elephants you will immediately notice they are skinny as hell because they aren’t fed. Why am I saying all of this? Because, if you are going to go and enjoy the presence of these majestic animals, absolutely do so, just please don’t ride them. And whatever you do, don’t buy ivory or ivory like products. The customs officers will arrest the living shit out of you.
On a more positive note, Chiang Mai is full of ‘healthy eateries’. It’s even better than that! It’s full of food markets and cooking classes that tour you through it all and teach you how to cook the delicious food!
Meet Ram, a farmer who teaches a half day cooking class on his organic farm on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. On an important side note, he claims to have the most beautiful bathroom in Chiang Mai, a claim in which I am inclined to agree.
Ram is hilarious, he speaks great English (huge plus for Thailand tours), and he is very knowledgeable. We toured one of the Chiang Mai markets and he introduced us to the unique ingredients we would be using to cook. He showed us the types of rice that are used in Thailand and how coconut milk is produced.
We gathered our ingredients and spent the remaining part of the morning cooking a full course meal filled with curry, pad thai, spring rolls, and the most important dish of all time: mango sticky rice (if your mouth hasn’t been blessed by its presence, then I implore you to purchase some).
Chiang Mai is very well known for its surrounding jungle, its plethora of outdoor activities, and the indigenous villages. I wanted to see the villages. I played ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ so to speak with the tours I found on Trip Advisor and found the best one by accident: Chiangmai Trekking by Paroon. In three days, this is what we did:
- Swam under a waterfall
- Fed and bathed elephants
- Met local villagers
- Cooked dinner with the local villagers (every meal is vegan friendly)
- Bamboo rafting down a river (our guide fished old school with nets)
- Sang and danced around a bonfire (our guide played guitar)
By the end of the trip, I felt I was immersed into their way of life. My guide, Haroon, grew up in the village and informed us on everything from wildlife in the surrounding area to how they are moving an entire village (rebuilding all of the houses in a different location) because the government is supplying them with electricity.
The Paroon tour is one of the only “real” tours offered. Most of the villages north of Chiang Mai are actually fake villages created by businesses to profit on the increase of tourism. Most tours do not actually take you to the real villages. On the Paroon tour, you actually see the real villages. If you are interested in the packages they offer, check out their website.