For now, I would like to share about my time spent in Chiang Rai & Chiang Mai (major cities located in the north of Thailand).
To give you a brief overview, below is a translation of words commonly used in Thailand. If you know these, it makes navigating and knowing where you are going, so much easier!
- Temple - Wat
- Mountain - Doi
- City - Chiang
I am extremely blessed that within a month of booking my trip, my family bought tickets to come and visit me. My brother, Tommy, was my first visitor, and I knew that he would like to see something more rural and less touristy. So, we met in Bangkok, and the next morning, we were on a flight to Chiang Rai (about two hours away and a $32.00 plane ticket), which is the northernmost city of Thailand.
I had not been to Chiang Rai before, but had heard, that it was a slower paced version of Chiang Mai (which I’d visited this past summer).
Upon arrival, our taxi dropped us off at the wrong place (believe it or not, there are about five hostels named Chiang Rai Hostel). So, Tommy and I walked with our backpacks until we found this clock-tower which was right beside our correct hostel. By the end of this detour, we knew the center points of the city fairly well, and used this as our navigation point. In a way, getting lost is the best way to get to know a place!
On our next day in Chiang Rai, we headed to Wat Rong Khun (known to tourists as the ‘White Temple’). This is the most intricate temple I have ever seen. It is hard to see in pictures, but there are small silver spots all over the building that make it glisten under the sun. Most temples that I have seen are very full of color, but this was white and pure.
I really liked the symbolism found at the temple. For example, on entering, you have to walk over a bridge that represents the “Bridge to Heaven.”
Picture of me at the White Temple.
Later that afternoon, we visited Singha Park (pictured below). This is a more rural area of Chiang Rai that allows visitors to experience its natural beauty. Tommy and I took a tour that brought us to local tea plantations and had the opportunity to try three different types of Oolong Tea. While I am usually a coffee girl, this tea was incredible, and may actually turn me into a avid tea drinker!
Our time in Chiang Rai was short, but I am glad we got to experience it. It is quiet, and probably best seen by motor bike. However, it is extremely friendly. In fact, after visiting Singha Park, Tommy and I tried to call for a taxi, but were told none would be available for at least another hour. As luck would have it, three American girls who overheard our conversation, called us over. They said they had been staying in Chiang Rai for the last three months, and had a driver coming to pick them up shortly, who could take us back as well.
About five minutes later, a truck rolled up, the driver grunted, and we all got in the back. We talked with them for the 30 minute drive back, and learned that they had been working on a farm. This was their second time in Thailand and at the end of the month they would be headed back to the United States. In this conversation, they stated how Thailand seemed to have a way of making people want to come back. I couldn’t of agreed more with them!
That Thursday morning, Tommy and I took a three hour bus ride to Chiang Mai. We had bought tickets for VIP Seats, which included air-conditioning, water and food. Each ticket cost 258 baht (roughly $8.00 per person).
I have to say, this was the most luxurious bus I have ever been on. The seats almost fully reclined, and before long, every person near me was fast asleep. If you are in Thailand, I highly recommend using the GreenBus, but book in advance, as they can sell-out on popular routes.
The roads from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai are very twisty and have been known to make travelers ill. When I went to a local shop by the bus station, I noticed the vendor had hundreds of pills on the counter. She made a motion to show me what they were for (it wasn’t pleasant), but I understood enough and I immediatly grabbed a few and off we went. While I will never know if they helped, no one on our bus was ill, so I believe it may have.
Upon arrival into Chiang Mai, we headed straight to our hotel where we would be meeting our dad, who had just flown in from Tampa. It was Thanksgiving Day (in the United States) and so I I was thankful to have my family here at this time!
By pure coincidence, and without knowing it (whoops), we had planned this trip during one of the biggest festivals in Thailand. Every year, during the full moon in Chiang Mai, there is the Loy Krathong Festival and Yee Peng Lantern Festival.
Loy Krathong is a Siamese festival that loosely translates to “flower in a basket”. In the picture below, you can see me lighting my decorated basket, before sending it off in to the canal.
The Lantern Festival took place on both Thursday and Friday night and we were lucky enough to see it on both evenings. My mom arrived that Friday afternoon, which allowed her to witness it as well. I still can’t believe our luck in unintentionally booking our trip during at this time.
After the festival, we were all hungry, and the only place that we could find open was a street vendor that served Congee I had never heard of this food before. It’s made of rice, but it looked like oatmeal or porridge, with fish in it. I decided to give it a chance, and I am so thankful that I did, because it was absolutely amazing!
If you are avoiding gluten or dairy, Congee is a great option. It is also relatively healthy, easy to make, and inexpensive. In the picture below, you can see my meal. My congee with shrimp and a bottle of water cost me $1.05, and it was one of the best meals I have eaten.
What I found regarding food in Thailand, is that in general, there are certain dishes (Pad Thai, Red or Green Curry) which are popular in the United States that are available. However, so many other traditional dishes are just as excellent and you should consider eating a variety of dishes when you come here. I am taking my own advice, and reminding myself to go out of my usual comfort zone while here.
That Saturday, we headed to Doi Inthanon, which is the highest mountain in Thailand.
On the way down the mountain, we stopped at Wachirathan Falls, which is part of the Doi Inthanon park. In the back of the waterfall (not pictured) was a full rainbow. Thailand is full of magical moments like this.
That Sunday, my family and I chose to visit a local Elephant Sanctuary. On my previous visit to Thailand, I had been fortunate to experience this, and knew it was something each of us would enjoy.
I would recommend when choosing where to see elephants, to do your research and pick an organization that treats the elephants ethically (no riding on them, use of prods, etc). After some reviewing, we chose the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. This sanctuary was located an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai. During the time spent there, everyone on the tour (about 25 of us) had the chance to feed, bathe, and interact with these magical creatures for about 4 hours.
During this time, it was clear that the elephants were happy and treated very well. It was also not uncommon to see them teasing and chasing one another around!
Picture of my mom, Margaret, at the Sancutary.
In Thailand, each elephant has a care-taker, known as a Mahout. The Mahout can take on this job when young, and will often spend most of their life with the elephant (this includes staying with them both day and night). If the Mahout is ready to start a family, usually someone from his family will come in and take over for him. An elephant here is never left without a Mahout. This was a fascinating thing to see, and you can tell that the Mahout has a special bond with their elephant.
Picture below shows an elephant at the sanctuary with his Mahout.
That Monday morning, we said goodbye to my brother, Tommy, who was headed back to the United States. I then took my parents for a day-trip to see Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which is another sacred temple located on a mountain near Chiang Mai. I had been there on my previous trip to Thailand, and remembered how much it had impacted me. When you are on the way to see this temple, which is about a 45 minute drive from Chiang Mai, you find that the views of the city are glorious.
What made this temple stand out for me, is that there are monks praying all around, and the energy there is quite refreshing. Also compared to a lot of the other temples, it is great to find a lot of locals, as well as tourists.
When I entered one of the side temples, there was a monk offering a blessing of Sai Sin. Sai Sin is when a monk takes a white string (white is considered for purity), blesses it in holy water, then offers it to you while you pray. The string, for anyone who wears it, is supposed to provide protection. This was a new experience for me and I was very happy to find this monk Sharing this moment with me. During the ceremony, ladies are given the string on the left wrist and men on the right wrist. In Thailand, monks are not supposed to touch women, so I had another woman tie the string on me after the blessing.
Below is a picture of me at the temple, right after receiving my Sai Sin.
The time that I spent in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai was amazing. As this was my second trip to Thailand, I was somewhat curious if I would feel the same connection to this country, as I did on my previous trip. After my experiences during the past few days, I stand reaffirmed that this place is truly special. I was so thankful to be back, and to have had the chance to share my time here with the family. I hope to come back to Chaing Mai very soon!!