Chiang Mai is the northern city that makes up the mountainous part of what I would call the Big Three regions of
From the moment we arrived, we started to get a good feeling for Chiang Mai. It doesn’t have the colossal population, traffic and pollution of
Chiang Mai is also the jumping off point for the surrounding mountains that offer access to the Thai Hill Country Tribes, rivers, elephant camps and beautiful scenery. After seeing so much of the beach, it was nice to venture up into the mountains recently for a one day trek (US$25 per person). Trekking is big business in Chiang Mai and we were a bit overwhelmed with all the choices. In the end, we choose a day that included a visit to an elephant camp, two hill tribes, a waterfall and a trip on a bamboo raft. We were skeptical and the tour exceeded our expectations. Here are some of the things we saw:
After an hour or so in a minivan with a fun group of Aussies and Austrians, we arrived at an elephant camp. I have a soft spot for elephants and I get a little conflicted when it comes to riding them and seeing them used purely for human amusement. The fact is that most of the elephants in Thailand are working elephants used in the lumber industry, which was banned in 1989. This left a large population of elephants unemployed and many were abandoned by their owners. Tourism offer a sustainable way for the domesticated elephants to remain healthy and live quite well with their life-long companion, the mahout. Here is a mahout with his bathing elephant trying to get completely sumerged:
There are a number of hill tribes in Northern Thailand and most migrated from China and Burma. The Karen tribe is the largest and has a few hundred-thousand members. We learned that they are traditionally animist, meaning that they believe in the spirits of living things. However, about 80% have recently been converted to Christianity. While they see tourists every day, it seems that their village life is still quite traditional and tourists aren't allowed in most areas.
We did visit what was called a "hill tribe" but resembled more of a gift shop with a few huts around it. Not great.
One of the highlights was floating down a river on a bamboo raft. Touristy? Yes. Fun? Very much so. I got to do my best to be the aft guide...
We did some trekking through the woods, where Sachi tried her best to avoid bugs:
We crossed some super-sketchy bamboo bridges...
And had a better time than we expected.
Today we went on a little hike to the ruins of Tsuwano castle. On the way, Lee saw this sign and interpreted as follows:
1. Scrape the bottom of your shoe
2. Place scraped matter in your hand
3. And smoke it?
He only glanced at it, but it really was his first impression.
It's actually about cigarettes.