About a week before we were set to leave for Thailand, King Bhumibol passed away. As the longest reigning monarch, we knew this would greatly affect the country, though we were unsure exactly how. A period of mourning was declared and there was talk of his passing sparking more instances of political unrest throughout the country. It was certainly an interesting time to visit Thailand.
We began our trip in Chiang Mai. There are markets on Saturdays and Sundays, so we spent our first day wandering around the streets of Chiang Mai, weaving through the huge crowds of people and snacking on a ton of Thai street food. Even on our first day, we were blown away by how friendly and hospitable everyone was.
Wanting to respect the Thai people and their period of mourning for their ruler, we wore black, white, or somber colored clothing throughout the entirety of our trip. We were happy to see that most of the other tourists were respecting this as well.
On our second day, we traveled to Ban Mae Kampong, a village known for its coffee and tea plantation, as well as the Mae Kampong waterfall. We did an easy hike through the plantation and up to the waterfall, though we could only get about halfway up because the top was closed due to landslides. After the trek, we reluctantly got a Thai massage (we were a bit scarred after our experience in Bali…) and were treated to lunch. We wandered around the village a bit more and then enjoyed some Thai iced coffee and spectacular views before returning to our hotel.
That evening, we had dinner at The Service 1921, a building that used to serve as the British Consulate of Chiang Mai. They play off of that theme, complete with uniforms, ‘TOP SECRET’ envelopes containing menus delivered to our table, and secret rooms. It sounds gimmicky, and I suppose it was, but we had a fabulous dinner.
On our third day, we woke up early and drove to the bottom of the Doi Suthep Mountain, where we watched the Buddhist procession. Locals come in the morning to buy offerings to give to the monks, who say a blessing and collect the offerings. It is believed that these offerings—made up of food, drinks, and other everyday items—are then passed on to loved-ones in the afterlife.
Then, we spent the day visiting different Buddhist temples. We started out at Wat Palad, a temple tucked away in the jungle. It’s quite understated and doesn’t seem especially popular with tourists (in fact, we only saw two other people there), but that’s what makes it so special. People come to enjoy the seclusion and meditate near the waterfall overlooking Chiang Mai.
We changed gears and went to Wat Doi Suthep—probably one of the best-known temples in Chiang Mai. We climbed the 309 steps of the spectacular staircase, enjoyed the views overlooking the city, and marveled at the golden pagodas.
Next, we went to Wat Umong, a forested temple built in the 14th century. It was quite secluded, though much more populated than Wat Palad. We wandered through the ancient tunnels that led us to the Viharn.
After a bowl of Khao Soy, a traditional Northern Thai dish, we took a mule-drawn tuk tuk around the ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam. The city was almost completely wiped out after a massive flood, so we spent some time wandering through some temple ruins.
That evening, our local tour guide walked us through a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai. We were meant to see the monks perform a chanting ceremony, but that was canceled due to the King’s passing. Instead, he walked us around the temple, which was set up for a mourning service later than evening. It was a truly sobering moment, as he walked us around to several poster-sized photographs of the King throughout his life, shedding tears as he explained the significance of each photo he paused in front of.
Our last day in Chiang Mai was, hands down, the highlight of our trip. ELEPHANTS. Knowing that elephants are frequently mistreated and often used for labor, we were wary about the type of establishment we were going to. We ended up at Baan Chang Elephant Park, a sanctuary that rescues domestic elephants from Thai families that can no longer properly care for them. We felt comfortable knowing that the elephants are treated well and the money we spent would be going to expanding the sanctuary and rescuing more elephants. They are huge but so smart and so sweet (aside from the sassy smooches we both received). We fed them a ton of bananas and sugar cane; it was incredible how gently they grabbed it from you, while still trying to beat their neighbors to get to it first. We learned that each elephant is matched with a Mahout, who spends all day, seven days a week caring for his elephant. After feeding them, we took them around the park and then led them to the water where we bathed (and snuggled) them. What an unforgettable experience.
In the evening, we took a Thai cooking class at Basil Cookery. First, we went to the market, where we were introduced to all of the different ingredients we would be working with, and were offered suggestions if those foods weren’t available in our markets at home. We were split into groups of six and were each given the opportunity to choose between three different choices for the six items we would be cooking. We each made our own choice of an appetizer, a soup, a curry, a stir-fry, a noodle dish, and a dessert, plus our own curry paste. Spoiler alert: it was a TON of food. Our instructor, Pim, was full of energy as she directed us each in making our individual dishes. They even gave us a recipe book filled with all the dishes offered (including the ones we didn’t choose to make) and substitution ideas in case any of the ingredients aren’t available. If you’re ever in Chiang Mai, we highly recommend this class. Just don’t eat anything beforehand and prepare to roll yourself home afterwards.
We entered into a severe food coma following our course and then made our way to Phuket in the morning.