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If Bangkok is the mama tiger then Chiang Mai is her gentle cub. This over 700 year old city was built in 1296 to be the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, the kingdom of a million rice fields, of northern Thailand. Eventually in the late 1800’s the Lanna Kingdom became a province of then Siam, now Thailand. As a result the area around Chiang Mai has a unique history, culture and language.
This was the part of Thailand that I was most looking forward to seeing. The pace of life in Chiang Mai is far more relaxed. The air is cleaner (notice I didn’t say ‘clean’ just ‘cleaner’). The vibe more quaint and artsy. I chose to stay at a small hotel inside the Old City based on online reviews and the fact that we could get a room large enough for the three of us. We arrived at the Green Tiger Guest House and immediately felt at home. I also welcomed having a restaurant which would eliminate the need to go too far to eat when we didn’t feel like it.
[The view of the mountains from the 4th floor lounge at Green Tiger Guest House.]
Their reputation had truly preceded them and it was spot on. Everyone on the staff and the owners were totally committed to your stay being a delightful one. If felt like showing up at a friend’s house. I didn’t realize it when I booked it, but they also have two hostel dorm-style rooms, consequently there were guests there in their twenties, some of whom had been traveling for months.
With all these interesting solo travelers around the Green Tiger felt like the hippest place in town. And there I was, middle-aged, with my two kids! I loved watching them, thinking back on all the fond memories I have when I was their age. Not surprisingly, the kids enjoyed them too. It was serendipity that they were meeting people from all over the world, overhearing conversations in different languages and realizing – lots of people travel far from home, even alone, and love it! We had found or people.
I have to say it’s pretty cool telling people you meet that you are traveling around the world and homeschooling. I almost never got a chance to say it because the kids always beat me to it. We were racking up Facebook friends and Instagram followers like nobody’s business. My how the world has changed. I’m grateful I learned to travel BEFORE the Internet. [And that too is a post for another day!]
After we had such luck with the food tour in Bangkok I decided to book one in Chiang Mai on the night we arrived. It was interesting seeing the city at night as we ate our way around town with our guide, Rain. It was just the three of us out on our food adventure in restaurants, night markets, street vendors, ending with a rooftop bar with a view. Completely exhausted we happily returned to the Green Tiger for a much-needed good night’s rest.
Sunday. The day we arrived, I’d already worked out with the help of the hotel staff, that we could attend church services at 4:20pm at Chiang Mai Community Church. That meant we could sleep in, have an amazing breakfast right downstairs and enjoy some down time. The kids, you may have already guessed, wanted to swim. I sat by the pool writing and enjoying the atmosphere.
A late afternoon church service was also perfect timing to enjoy the Sunday Walking Street in Chiang Mai, a must if you are there on Sunday. The street is closed to all but pedestrian traffic and things get started around 6pm. The church wasn’t far from the street, so we just hopped in and out of a tuk tuk to get us where we wanted to be.
We wandered the crowded street eating all our new favorite Thai foods along with way and shopping for gifts for ourselves and for folks back home. It’s true the streets get more crowded toward the 8-9pm hour but by then we were nearly at the end and almost back to the Green Tiger. None of these things are too far from each other in Chiang Mai making it a super easy city to navigate and enjoy. Once you take a look at the map you’ll get a picture in your mind and be able to get most places around town like a pro.
I knew I had to do a cooking class in Thailand and after reading reviews I decided that the Thai Farm Cooking School would perfect for all three of us. My son was old enough to have his own station and my daughter and I were together, since she wasn’t quite old enough to do it on her own. I let her do all the work and it worked out well since there was a huge amount of food!
We stopped at the market on the way to the farm, an organic farm in the countryside that grows a lot of what they use to teach, and spent the day making a five course meal: we chose to make coconut soup, spring rolls, green curry, basil chicken and mango sticky rice. They even send you home with a cookbook so no need to bother to take notes! It was a wonderful day.
Too tuckered out to do much when we returned, it was the usual routine. Swim, snack, relax, sleep.
Tuesday was a “free” day in my itinerary with nothing planned. Most likely we would have toured the city and checked out all the cool temples around down, but we’d done that several times and the kids weren’t really interested. Upon checking in a few days ago I’d met and spoken to the owner of the Green Tiger and asked for his opinion. He suggested I hire the guide that he knew well to take us out into the hills into a village or two and show us something tourists don’t usually see. I happily agreed and another solo female traveler we’d met joined us for the day.
Although the day was different than I’d expected, we did visit some villages in the hills, no touristy Hill Tribes people. Most of the people are farmers and were working in the fields that afternoon. It was valuable for the kids to see how a lot of the world lives, without the creature comforts we take for granted. And we saw some beautiful scenery. Some of the travelers we’d met rented motorbikes, but that wasn’t an option for me by myself with two relatively young kids, so setting out on four wheels in the air conditioning was alright by me!
The much-anticipated day at Patara Elephant Farm was alas upon us! I first learned of Patara’s work several years ago and it had been a dream to be in their “elephant keeper for a day” program, so as soon as I had set dates for our time in Chiang Mai I emailed them to sign us up right away. The program books quickly!
They completely exceeded any expectations I’d had! There are many places in Southeast Asia where you can see animals doing all sorts of things that are not normal for them and are quite harmful to the animals even if they are domesticated. Patara not only rescues elephants from places like the circus and rehabilitates them, but also has the goal of helping them to reproduce and live as they were meant to in their natural jungle-like habitat. There is no other path to eliminate the possibility of extinction.
The entire day was well planned. We arrived and were able to play with two newborn elephants, not even a part of our program! They were adorable and we were actually able to lie down on the ground and wrestle with them! My son, of course, was first in line. I chose to watch and take photos! After a brief introduction by the owner, Patara is a Thai family owned non-profit, we were led in small groups (ours was a group of 5) off to meet our elephants.
It was amazing! We learned so much about how to check to see if they are healthy. We even had to check their dung. Feeding them first was the gateway to these new friendships. They gave us rides through the sometimes scary mountainous terrain, allowed us to brush and bath them and watch them simply amble about while we had a delicious lunch prepared by the local community, as Patara is a truly sustainable and community minded enterprise.
Day six we head to the islands.