After an eye-wateringly early start (we wanted Julia to get the most out of her 10 days in Thailand), we arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand's second city and a region famous for its mountains, temples and wildlife.
We arrived at our hotel and dropped off our bags, then headed out for some bagels and coffee to kill a bit of time until our rooms were ready for us to check in. For some unknown reason we thought it would be reasonable to take toasted cream cheese bagels into the Thai midday heat as we sat in the famous Nong Buak Hard park... surprisingly, they were ok!
The park was not crowded and we were able to rent bamboo mats and relax under the shade of trees; Julia managed to spot an interesting blue lizard, and of course I scrambled for my camera!
We returned back to the hotel, unpacked and headed for the pool- being low season, we had it almost exclusively to ourselves! Whilst it is considered 'monsoon' season at the moment in Thailand, we were lucky that we didn't have any days ruined or plans cancelled as a result of the weather.
Once again using TripAdvisor to select a place for dinner, we chose The Cat House, a cozy little restaurant where we enjoyed some not-so-local burritos. We've said it before and we'll say it again, you don't eat the same cuisine for every meal at home- so why do you have to do it abroad?
The following day was full of temples for Lorna and Julia and photo editing for myself. I felt that I had reached saturation point for temples and decided to sit those ones out. We utilised the pool again, practising some of the breathing techniques that we learned in our free diving course and rewarded ourselves with a few drinks after.
We found a lovely restaurant called Canteen for dinner, and enjoyed some tapas, which was both beautifully presented and expertly cooked!
I chose to spend the next day in a similar fashion to the previous and edited some video footage; you will be surprised how many gigabytes of footage you amass with a GoPro. Luckily, we have 1 terabyte of cloud storage at our disposal (thanks Dad!). Lorna and Julia enjoyed some yoga; somewhat more wholesome than being glued to a laptop...
Finally, the day came for us to visit the Elephant Nature Park! We researched extensively the best elephant sanctuary to visit from Chiang Mai in terms of elephant welfare, and you can learn a lot from TripAdvisor: we found one 'sanctuary' which looked great, but visitors saw that the mahouts were using small hooks to control the elephants which they palmed to hide from the tourists. Using hooks, riding elephants and elephant 'shows' or paintings where elephants perform unnatural activities for human amusement are now considered by most to be cruel due to the harsh and violent treatment these sensitive creatures are subjected to in order to make them do what the trainer wants, even if it is against their nature.
The Elephant Nature Park did not allow riding of these beautiful creatures- which can permanently damage their shoulders and backs- unlike some of the other places in the vicinity, which do still offer elephant riding as a tourist attraction. It was interesting to listen to our guide talk about the other nearby places; she was extremely diplomatic about the practice and said that tourists from certain parts of Asia would pay heftily for a short ride, which provides greatly needed income to support the elephant programmes.
In an ideal world, there wouldn't be the need for these types of elephant parks as there wouldn't be any cruelty towards them or loss of habitat. We'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not to visit one; we decided to visit because it gave much needed money to the elephant park. One thing we can all agree on is that if nobody supports the street begging with baby elephants then it will help to break the viscous cycle of forced breeding and elephant cruelty.
After having regained a thirst for culture I joined Lorna and Julia for a day at the museums of Chiang Mai. One thing to note here...they are very very small and one of them was closed apart from a small tapestry exhibition. We found ourselves back at the hotel much earlier than expected and waited for our friend Don to meet us again!
We met him in China, met up in Cambodia and once again in Thailand. To paraphrase Don: "every time I'm with you two I get horrifically drunk"... luckily this time we were somewhat restrained at lunch and Don managed to catch his train! We can't be held responsible for what happens at the UK reunion where we hope to see many of the people we met in China!
We had two days remaining in Chiang Mai and spent them busily! One day we visited the Dragon Flight outdoor activity centre, where we spent the day zip lining through the tree canopy. One of the other guests deserves a mention as she managed to keep a pair of brand new white trainers clean throughout the muddy and uneven terrain of the biplane course by using a family pack of tissues after each zip line to clean them. Mind you, even she appeared sensible and practically-minded next to her friend, who opted to come zip lining in a maxi skirt and flip-flops...
On the final day we attended a cooking class, something that Lorna and myself were not too bothered about previously but were so glad in the end that Julia wanted to go. I enjoyed it more than the elephants and zip lining put together! This course definitely satisfied my need to cook!
We learnt to make Thai curry pastes of various types, spring rolls, pad Thai, tom yum soup, stir-friend cashew nut tofu and spicy Thai basil tofu.