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With bunches of bananas in hand, we walked slowly up the hill through the trees and into a clearing. It was there I encountered my first elephant, up close and personal. There were three of them actually, happily chomping away at the sugar cane that littered the ground around them. The group we came with jumped in without hesitation joining in with the mahouts to feed the three large creatures now turning their attention to the bananas offered. I stopped at the edge of the clearing and watched for a moment. I wanted to take it all in, this incredibly odd and surreal experience. It was somehow nothing like I’d expected and at the same time, more. Perhaps I expected a larger than life, life-altering experience when what I actually got was a calm and peaceful sense of being, in that moment, complete. I had finally found my elephants.

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

We spent the night before our trip to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary at Baan Kuhn hostel, also run by Mamma Noi and where we had to go to purchase tickets to the sanctuary. As we had mentioned in our last post on The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, it was through the efforts of Mamma Noi and the Karen Hill Tribe, with whom she is working, that the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was established and we thought it fitting that we stay, at least the one night, at the hostel.

The group of us heading to the elephant sanctuary were all guests of the hostel which meant we left straight from the accommodation with no detours to pick anyone up. With a final goodbye, and a bottle of water for each of us from Mama Noi, we set off in the “minibus”. If you’ve ever ridden in a minibus in Thailand you’ll know that it is really more of a pickup with a few seats in the cab and a covered trailer lined with rows of benches on either side. It can make for a bumpy ride if you are going over unpaved roads…and we were definitely were! Fortunately for us, we somehow got put into the cab and had a little less of a rocky ride – less being the operative word.

The ride was not bad until we hit the mountains. It was here that the road turned to a narrow, rut-covered, dirt road – it would be futile to pave the road, our driver told us, as the monsoon season brings large rains that flood and cause landslides that wash out the roads each year. Lucky for us, the road was dry and our driver was experienced. We made our way to the hill tribe village and were greeted by several people, including Robert, one of the instrumental people in organizing and creating this sanctuary.



Hopping out of the truck, we all grabbed our backpacks as the bunches of bananas and cases of water were distributed among us to carry. The excitement was building. We could feel it vibrating, see it clearly on each others’ faces as we started out, on foot, through the rice fields and forest.

Meeting With Elephants of Thailand

visiting the elephant jungle sanctuary

We chose The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary because we had wanted to visit elephants in a more natural setting, knowing they were not being abused, forced to take riders, chained, or mistreated. We wanted to see the elephants roaming free. And roaming free these elephants certainly were!

After a hike through rice paddy fields and some hilly paths, we found our way to a clearing where we were able to put down our bags and take a moment to don the traditionally mahout garb before heading to find the elephants. That was the beauty of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The elephants weren’t just brought to you… you had to go find them, in the forest, where they roamed with the mahouts (their keepers) in as natural a setting as was manageable.

We took the bunches of bananas and were led up a hill to a forested area where we were told we would most likely find the elephants. After a short climb up a gentle hill, the trees gave way to a small clearing. It was here that we had our first glimpse of them. Three elephants stood chewing happily on sugarcane under the shade of the tall trees. A bursting energy seemed to erupt from the entire group – a silent excitement that bubbled up in uncontrollable smiles and quickened steps. THIS was why we wanted to visit Thailand. This experience of coming face to face with a creature so magnificent and incredible, of looking into its intelligent eyes with depths we’ll never fully understand, and for one moment sharing a connection.

visiting elephants at the elephant jungle sanctuary

Taking turns, we handed bananas over to the two adult females and one baby elephant, taking time to stroke their trunks and sides. The baby was incredibly playful. Head butting the mahouts and some of the group, reaching its trunk around bodies and attempting to sneak in some extra bananas. He was cheeky and he was happy. Having been born and raised in a sanctuary, he was unaware of any other way of life. Unfortunately, for the two older females, life had been harder for them until they were taken in by the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

mahout at elephant jungle sanctuary

One of the men of the village explained to us the circumstances in which the older two were found. He went through the techniques used to break them, to train them and to keep them in line. It was devastating but also heartwarming to know that they would no longer be subjected to this treatment again, especially as the younger of the two females was pregnant.

It didn’t take long for the elephants to demolish the banana offering we brought and decide that it was time to leave. Since this was about them, no effort was made to stop them. Instead, they were followed by the mahouts and we made our way back down to where we had left our bags to enjoy some lunch.

lunch at the elephant jungle sanctuary

Food in Thailand is amazing and is one of our favourite cuisines. The food that they cooked and served for lunch could compete for one of the best meals we’ve had while in Thailand, and even abroad. Freshly prepared chicken, veggies and noodle dishes, rice and fresh fruits were laid out for the entire group to enjoy. It was a wonderful time to reflect on our first meeting with the elephants as well and to get to know the rest of the group.

After lunch we were told we could change into clothes we didn’t mind getting dirty or wet. For the majority of us, that meant bathing suits. This time, the elephants were led to us for what appeared to be one of their favourite activities of the day – a mud bath.

With everyone joining in, we helped the elephants play in the mud. And when we say play, we mean play. They rolled around, they threw it on their backs, they threw it at each other… and they threw it at us! If it wasn’t enjoyment, we don’t know what it was!

elephant mud bath at elephant jungle sanctuary

Following the incredibly fun (and messy) mud spa, we headed to the nearby stream to meet back up with the elephants and help them bathe. This was another incredible up-close experience. Standing close to them and cleaning off the mud, we had yet another chance to really appreciate these animals. Large and powerful, yet gentle and timid. We knew a lot of their calm had to do with their upbringing and treatment, but seeing the playfulness of the baby and looking into all their eyes again, we could tell it’s also a part of their basic nature.

After the elephants were finished bathing and we’d all had a swim of our own in the stream, we headed back to dry off. The rest of the group would be returning to the hostel, while we had booked an overnight stay with the hill tribe. Knowing we’d be seeing the elephants again, we happily went on our way to learn more about the people who opened their lands to us and the elephants.

A Night With The Karen Hill Tribe

As we had mentioned in our last post, it is through the help and efforts of the Karen Hill Tribe Village and Mamma Noi that the sanctuary was created. Bringing in tourists to visit the elephants for the day became only one part of the experience. Staying within the village for a night, or two, was another part and we decided to stay a night to better understand the program and the people of the village.

staying at the elephant jungle sanctuary with the karen hill tribe

After the rest of the group left, we were brought back to the main part of the village by Robert who, as mentioned, was one of the integral members of the sanctuary’s creation and a cornerstone of the program itself. We sat for a while, chatting with him about the village and its history, the sanctuary and its origins and the hopes his people have for the future.

We learned of the struggles to keep the land. The struggles to acclimate to a changing cultural landscape where development and advancement occurs around them and without them. The government, he said, provided them with a handful of solar power panels… years ago. Most of them are now no longer working so they are stuck with even more limited power options and little by way of means to improve their way of life.

It’s become a controversial topic. We discussed it and he acknowledged it. Greater society would prefer to keep these more isolated and primitive cultures untouched, “untainted” by the hands of tourism and technology. But Robert told us, that’s not what he and his family want. The people of his village believe they deserve a chance to advance as well. Why shouldn’t they be able to better themselves and their situation, he asked us. We couldn’t argue his point.

With this in mind, and the connection to Mamma Noi with her desire to help elephants, the sanctuary and the stay in his village was born. Hoping to provide more for the village and the elephants of the country, it was established and open up to tourists. Hopefully, we were told, the worries of poor rice harvests and the necessity to partake in backbreaking work simply to produce and collect food, would lessen.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary CHiang Mai Hill Tribe Village

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with Robert and members of his family. We took a tour of the area, helped feed the livestock, prepared a meal on an open fire and made our way to our room in one of Robert’s siblings’ houses who was visiting in-laws in a another village. We spent the day and evening without electricity, cut off from the world and, in the process, deepened our understanding of a culture struggling to retain their identity while at the same time, attempting to advance and integrate with the rest of society.

baby elephant at the elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

The next day brought a new group of visitors to the sanctuary and we were able to participate as we had the day before. We woke up for breakfast with Robert and headed to meet the new arrivals. Walking behind them, we watched their faces as they approached the elephants for the first time and saw the same awe-filled expressions we knew were wore the previous day. To our surprise, the awe of seeing the elephants up close was still as strong for us.

This time though, we got to take in the experience with an eye to all that they were looking to achieve at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and this time, when we looked into the eyes of the elephants, we also saw a glimmer of recognition.

An Unforgettable Experience At The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

If you are looking to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, tickets for 1-, 2- and 3-day visits can be purchased at Baan Kuhn Hostel in Chiang Mai – 119/10 Thapae Rd, Chang Klan, Chiang Mai, 50100 tel: 053-273415. More information for visits or volunteering can be found on their site at www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com.

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elephant jungle sanctuary pin

Everyone can cook amazing food in Northern Thailand, or at least that’s how it seems, meal after meal, enjoying pretty much every dish we order regardless of where we eat in Chiang Mai. Whether it was from a street vendor, a food court, or a nice sit-down restaurant on a busy tourist street we would always be served a meal worth noting, and because of that, trying to find the best places to eat in Chaing Mai is a tough task… so we are going to show you our favorite places to eat in Chiang Mai.

Even the time we rolled up to the seediest looking of street vendors, because we were absolutely starving, and found flying ants (flants) in our soup. We may have stopped eating after we found the 5th flant but it was still pretty darn good soup!

best places to eat in chiang mai

So what does one do, and where does one go ? when the options are absolutely endless and you are presented with a veritable smorgasbord of food choices?

We stayed in Chiang Mai for the better part of a month and while that doesn’t give us nearly enough time to visit even a fraction of the places to eat, we definitely managed to try quite a few. We’ve narrowed down five of our top places to eat in Chiang Mai, each offering a different dining experience or fare.

Places To Eat in Chaing Mai:

Best Thai Restaurant In Chiang Mai – Suwee

suwee restaurant chiang mai, cashew nut chicken, best restaurant in chiang mai

Suwee haunts our dreams. Not that we admit to dreaming about food that often, but when we do, it’s generally this restaurant that takes the stage. Not only is Suwee the best Thai restaurant in Chiang Mai but it’s safe to say it’s our favorite restaurant in the world, no other Thai restaurant can or will compare. South of the main city, located in Hang Dong, Suwee restaurant is a typical plastic chair, plastic table cloth, local restaurant. The food however, is anything but typical. Formerly a chef for a hotel in Chiang Mai, the owner decided to venture out on his own and open up Suwee restaurant with his wife – and boy are we glad he did!

We stayed the majority of the time at an Airbnb guesthouse around the corner from Suwee and as such, were able to frequent the restaurant to our hearts content. We should note that even when we stayed clear on the other side of the city, we still made the long and arduous drive for a meal when we could.

pork chiang mai, food in chiang mai

We ended up trying almost every Thai dish on their menu and were unable to find fault with a single one. Our favourites were the cashew nut chicken and the fried kale and crispy pork (for only about 50-90 baht per dish and each dish is easily shareable between two people!), but virtually any choice will leave you satisfied and thinking about when you’ll next be able to visit. We were hesitant to write about this secret gem as we were concerned about an influx of tourists but really, we can’t keep this one to ourselves – it’s too good not to share! It’s the best food in Chiang Mai!

Suwee Restaurant

As this is a local, plastic chair restaurant, their presence online is pretty much non-existent. Instead of a site, we’ve provided a dropped pin on Google maps, that will allow you to get right to the restaurant!

Best Coffee Shop In Chiang Mai with culinary masterpieces – Namton’s House Bar

Namtons House Bar Coffee

We’ve already written about Namton’s in our post on the top five places to find good coffee in northern Thailand, but it really is such a great place to eat that we couldn’t miss adding it to this list!

While staying at the Swiss Lanna Lodge in Chiang Mai, we found ourselves in another part of town and without any clue where to find the best places to eat in Chiang Mai. One of the staff members at Swiss Lanna recommended Namton’s, down the road and we decided to try it out one night for dinner.

The food was spectacular and the self-taught chef created some culinary masterpieces at incredibly reasonable prices. From their salmon sashimi salad to their roast teriyaki chicken and wedge potatoes, it’s a place you will not only remember, but will be looking to go back again, and to us it has the best coffee in Chiang Mai!

How To Get To Namton’s House Bar: Check out the map on this unofficial Namton’s House Bar Facebook page for location and directions.

 Bar And Food In Chiang Mai Old Town- Tiger Kingdom, In Town

Tiger Kingdom In Town Chiang Mai

When it comes to looking where to eat in Chiang Mai, we generally avoid tourist locations, especially restaurants, unless they come highly recommended. We prefer local atmosphere, food and, let’s be honest, prices and we enjoy immersing ourselves in a culture rather than finding the typical hangouts for foreigners.

We made the exception for Tiger Kingdom In Town. Not to be confused with the actual Tiger Kingdom filled where visitors can pet the large felines, In Town came recommended and we liked it so much we ended up going back for drinks later during our time in Chiang Mai.

thai food chiang mai restaurants tiger kingdom in town

The food is good Thai-style cuisine at relatively inexpensive prices, especially for a tourist locale. There is also a great selection of beer and drinks and with live music and a consistent crowd, it’s a great place to hangout with fellow expats and tourists, and since it’s in such a great location in the middle of Chiang Mai old city, it has some great Chiang Mai night life, with live entertainment almost every night.

How To Get To Tiger Kingdom In Town: Check out the map on this unofficial Tiger Kingdom In Town Facebook page for location and directions

A great change of pace – SP Chicken

sp chicken chiang mai

While it is tucked away from the main activity in Chiang Mai’s old city, SP chicken is definitely worth a visit. Serving some delicious rotisserie chicken which you can watch being cooked on a spit in the front of the restaurant, this was a welcome change to the typical fare we had been eating.

The meal came almost as soon as we had ordered and the chicken was perfectly cooked and seasoned, with some great Thai dishes for sides.

sp chicken best restaurant chiang mai

The prices are incredibly reasonable and it is a talked-about favourite among locals and tourists. Careful though, there are several different “SP Chickens”, or look-a-likes, and it’s the original you’ll want to try first!

How To Get To SP Chicken: Check out the map on SP Chicken’s TripAdvisor Page for location and directions.

A Thai cultural experience – Street vendors & markets

street food thailand chiang mai

Probably some of the best priced, tastiest food you’ll enjoy in Thailand will be found right on the streets. From meat skewers to soup, bugs to pancakes, you’ll find an assortment of different dishes served along the side of the city’s streets and, especially, at the night markets.

Markets will allow you to try a little bit of ‘this and that’, while vendors serving soups and other sit-down style dishes offer delicious local meals at incredibly low prices.

chiang mai best restaurants night market

You’ll be able to experience an interesting aspect of Thai culture and tourism in Thailand, walking the stalls of merchandise and watching the buskers in the street while eating or sitting down with locals at a street stand and dining on some of the best roadside food you’ll ever have.

Words of caution: look for stalls and vendors that seem busy and, particularly, where locals can be found. If you stick to this, you’ll most likely avoid any ‘flant-in-soup’ issues!

How To Find Street Vendors/Night Markets: Night markets are much everywhere in Chiang Mai!! Some great markets to check out would be the Warorot Market, the Sunday Night Market and, if you are in the area, Hang Dong’s Night Market (held once a week).

 

Have you been to Chiang Mai? Comment below and let us know where your favourite place to eat was!

If not, let us know how you usually find good restaurants to eat at while travelling to new places.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As coffee shops are often our go-to places to get some work done, we’ve spent our fair share of time in cafes, sitting in front of our laptops with a hot (usually iced for Macrae) cup of coffee in our hands. Thailand, like many countries we’ve visited, has a ridiculous number of coffee shops. It often leaves you wondering how they all manage to stay in business.

We’ve come across some interesting cafes throughout the whole of Thailand but none that serve a coffee as delicate and smooth as those of the North. There is something magical about the mountain coffee bean in that region. While touring up there we had the pleasure of visiting some great places that not only serve up a mean cup of coffee but usually ended up surprising us with the quality of their food and baked goods. We found a few cafes in Northern Thailand that we just had to tell everyone about!

Losing Yourself In a Cup of Thai Coffee – Best Cafes in Northern Thailand

There are many cafes that we stumbled upon, and many more to be found, but we’ve listed the top 5 cafes in northern Thailand that stood out for us, starting with number 5 and working our way to, what we think, is the best. All of these can be found in the north of Thailand, be it Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and, let’s not forget, Pai.

#5 Café Amazon

Cafe Amazon Thailand Coffee, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

Amazon Cafe is a great spot to go for a quick morning coffee or a stop during a long scooter ride when nothing else is around. Cafe Amazon has a convenient number of locations across Thailand, usually as standalone shops around gas stations along major roads and highways. Fill up on gas and get your coffee fix at the same time. The coffee is pretty good but we didn’t end up trying any of their attractive looking baked goods.

#4 Pai Siam Bistro, Pai

pai siam bistro thailand, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

It’s as though there is some kind of force from the gods that brings people to visit, and fall in love with, Pai. It may be because it is a quiet town surrounded by mountains and gorgeous rice paddy fields, or that the journey to this place, from Chiang Mai to Pai, is a treacherous drive through the mountains that makes it seem like all other forms of civilization are beyond physical reach.

Pai Siam Cafe Pai Thailand, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

Finding Pai Siam in this sleepy town was a godsend. With its delicious cakes and cookies, it brewed, in our mind, some of the best coffee around. We even found out about the affiliated beautiful boutique hotel, Soi One Bedrooms, while we were there and enjoyed a blissful last night in town. You could truly lose yourself in the peace and serenity of Pai and like many that have traveled here, you may find yourself staying for a very long time.

#332 Coffee Hill, Off Hwy 1095 to Pai

Coffee Hill Rest on drive to Pai, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

During our 762 hair-raising turns through the mountains to Pai we chose to stop at 32 Coffee Hill for a break. This place offers some amazing local coffee, fruit shakes and some truly incredible views of the mountains.

The only way of ensuring a visit to this café is by navigating your own way to Pai – either by renting a car or a motorbike. Keep in mind that f you take a minibus from Chiang Mai to Pai your chances of stopping here are slim-to-none as they stop infrequently. This is a great place to take a break from the drive and grab some coffee, made from those delicious mountain coffee beans, before continuing on your way.

#2 Namton’s House Bar, Chiang Mai

Namtons House Bar Coffee, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

While staying at the chic Swiss Lanna Lodge in Chiang Mai, Namton’s House Bar was recommended as a great place to eat. It was clear upon entering, that Namton’s has mastered the trendy-meets-comfort feel. Patrons are warmly welcomed even if just stopping for a coffee (iced of course) or a drink after a long day behind a computer. We would recommend it for more than just that – the food at Namtons is exquisite.

Teat in Namtons Chiang Mai, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

The chef, “M”, is self-taught, loves his job and has a passion for food that shows through his culinary work. The menu is inspired by Japanese cuisine and each dish is a flavourful, delicious plate of perfection. If you’re looking for great coffee in Chiang Mai, you’ve found the place, but if you venture to order something off the menu, you won’t be staying for just one cup.

#1 Polar Boulangerie and Patisserie, Chiang Rai

Polar Cafe Chiang Rai Thailand, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

After a long day of riding to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai on our trusty steed (150cc SkyDrive Scooter) we opened up the TripAdvisor app (like every other time we didn’t feel like venturing out and finding a place on our own to eat) and right at the top, rated #1 for breakfast restaurants, was Polar Boulangerie and Patisserie, we found it intriguing that a cafe was ranked #1 and we just had to check it out.

Walking in it looked similar to every other cafe we have ever been to: cookies and cake in their baked goods counter display, a chalkboard menu and some smartly placed decor. We ordered some breakfast, tea and iced coffee. The breakfast was great – it was a western style spread – and the tea and coffee was exceptional.

Polar BOulangerie and patisserie Chiang Rai Thailand

What stood out was the coffee, just like everything else here, is reasonably priced and you get more than what you would expect. The iced coffee comes in a mason jar – yes like the one your grandmother used to jar her homemade jam. Now that’s enough coffee to get you through the whole day! There is no fluke that this is #1 on TripAdvisor.

Our Continuing Quest For Great Coffee

pai siam coffee art

We continue our search for good coffee in every town and city we visit and love when we find a cafe that not only satisfies our craving for a great cup of java but is also a place we feel we need to recommend to others. You can definitely expect to find more suggestions on cafes and who knows, you may even bump into us!

 

You Can Do It Too!

Ours is considered a digital nomad life. We move from place to place bringing our work with us as we go. We generally don’t know what it will be like when we head to a new place and usually rely on coffee shops as good places to do work and connect to WiFi – our mobile offices around the world. Sometimes, when we step inside a coffee shop, set up our computers and take a sip from our mugs we feel like we’ve stepped outside the often crazy world of travel and the unknown and we feel a bit like we are home.

Travelling in northern Thailand and looking for a great cup of coffee? You can find the above mentioned cafes at the following locations:

Amazon Cafe – All over northern Thailand, usually at rest-stops and gas stations

Pai Siam Bistro – located along the Pai Walking Street, you can find this Bistro beside and behind the Pai Siam Shop which sells beautiful handmade lampshades

32 Coffee Hill – You’ll find 32 Coffee Hill on your way to Pai from Chiang Mai along highway 1095.  For GPS coordinates use: 195 Moo 4 T.Papae, Chiang Mai Ban Pa Pae 50150

Namton’s House Bar – this great coffee shop and restaurant can be found at 196/2, Chiangmai-Lumpuhn Road, Muang, Chiang Mai East of the Ping River.

Polar Boulangerie and Patisserie – While in Chiang Rai, you can locate our, and TripAdvisor’s, number 1 place to find coffee at: 366-366/1 Trairath Rd. T. Viang A. Muang Chiangrai, Chiang Rai 

 

Have you found a different cafe in northern Thailand that you think should make a ‘top cafe’ list? Let us know by commenting below!!

 

Disclaimer: We no longer recommend Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and strongly suggest you do research into the reported cruelty against their elephants. You can continue to read for our experience and to see what we looked for when choosing an elephant sanctuary at that time. Remember to do your own research and due diligence in selecting where to go. Please note, while interacting with elephants IS amazing, we realize now that it may also be harder to find places where this is possible AND the elephants are well treated. We highly recommend you include Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary in your research.

We visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in its infancy in 2014. Since then, the sanctuary has undergone an expansion and many changes and we no longer believe they are the sanctuary they once were.

Stroking her trunk and attempting to speak soothing words, I stared at the beautiful creature, mother to the younger of the three elephants who was now playing in the water and rolling around in obvious pleasure. Standing barefoot on the large rock on the edge of the stream, I braced myself, my legs shoulder length apart. My fear of slipping abandoned me quickly as I stood, eye to eye, with this giant, gentle beast. Her head turned slightly and I felt the inquisitive gaze of her one eye roam over me as I continued to speak praises of how beautiful she was, how in awe I was of her. Slowly and with obvious intelligence, she turned her head so the gaze of her other eye now met my own. In that moment when our eyes locked, I felt the connection and a soul deep understanding of just how majestic these creatures are; I knew that this was a moment of significance in my life and one I wouldn’t soon forget.

CHiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary experience

Hunting for The Right Elephant Sanctuary

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai Elephant




Elephants. They were the reason we decided to go to Thailand. Sure, we would have ended up there eventually while travelling Southeast Asia, but as Macrae had been to Thailand two years ago, we had thought we would explore different countries first.

It’s true Thailand is cheaper than many other countries and allowed us a prolonged, 2 month visa but while both of those were contributing factors, the main reason we went was to see elephants. Being the first, and pretty much only item, on Carolann’s “bucket list” so far, we decided to make sure it was crossed off. And so, after our week in Beijing we headed to Northern Thailand. It took us almost a month to find an elephant sanctuary to visit. We were determined to find one that treated the elephants humanely and that we felt comfortable supporting.

Carolann had bookmarked an elephant sanctuary several years ago (she’s been dreaming of interacting with elephants for as long as she can remember) called Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary (BLES). Unfortunately, being a well-known sanctuary for rescued and retired elephants, BLES books up fast and did not have any openings until May 2015. So with that unfortunate turn of events, our hunt began. (note: BLES is now booked up for all of 2015)

We heard of the Elephant Nature Park (ENP). Another fairly well-known sanctuary, well-visited by tourists, Elephant Nature Park also takes in rescued and retired elephants. We heard only positive things about the park but something told us to keep looking. ENP is well advertised and fairly popular and we thought we may be able to spread the support to lesser known sanctuaries, if they existed.  And so, our search continued.

Disclaimer: We have heard conflicting information about this sanctuary in recent months and several comments of cruel acts being witnessed towards the elephants. We no longer recommend The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

We visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in its infancy in 2014. Since then, the sanctuary has undergone an expansion and many changes. Please continue to read for our experience, what we looked for when choosing an elephant sanctuary and be sure to do your own research and due diligence in selecting where to go. Please make sure that this place is still a animal friendly place to visit.

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

Through research and word of mouth we heard of elephant “sanctuaries” and parks but quickly discarded each one as potential places to visit. We either read a review mentioning the poor treatment of the animals or saw that riding the elephants would be part of the program. It wasn’t until the week we had planned to leave for Bangkok that a local known as Uncle in Hang Dong (South of Chiang Mai) handed us some pamphlets that we found what we were looking for.

Dangers of Elephant Riding

Still in its infancy, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary opened in the middle of 2014 and currently has four elephants (although there were only 3 when we visited). Browsing the website and their Facebook page, we read information and reviews and decided we would take a chance as it seemed to fit the requirements we had:

  1. There is no riding of the elephants – despite their large and strong build, elephants do not have the spines to support a rider. Long days of being ridden, either bareback or with a saddle, can cause painful damage to their spines not to mention the additional pain caused by the saddle itself and the wear on their feet from walking all day with improperly supported weight.
  2. Chains, bull hooks and the like are not used to subdue, coerce or manage the elephants – In Thailand, there is a long-standing tradition of training elephants for the tourism industry. The training method, called the Phajaan or crush, is exactly as it’s English translation would suggest – a method to crush the spirit of the animal. Bullhooks and chains are part of this method and are usually continued to be used while tourists are enjoying their ride through the jungle.

We ended up learning that there was so much more to this sanctuary than we originally believed and were so thankful we happened across it.

Mamma Noi: Elephant Rescuer, Hostel Owner and Mother To All

chiang mai elephant jungle sanctuary elephant interaction

Upon researching, we learned that the elephant sanctuary is affiliated with a hostel in the heart of Chiang Mai – Baan Khun Hostel. Owned and operated by a small in stature, but big in heart, woman affectionately called Mamma Noi, this hostel is also fairly new and highly rated. We decided that we would stay the night before we went to see the elephants at Baan Khun Hostel and make it easy to hop on the truck for the ride to the sanctuary the following morning. Baan Khun Hostel Was our first experience with hostels in Thailand and this one seemed to be loved by everyone in residence. Free tea and coffee, cookies and bananas, Mamma Noi made sure everyone was happy and was a warm and friendly host. We sat down with her for a while to ask her questions about the elephant sanctuary and her involvement in it.We discovered that the sanctuary was, in part, borne out of Mamma Noi’s lifelong love of elephants.

Elephants have a complicated and often contradictory existence in Thailand. On the one hand they are revered, considered holy creatures that have helped build the country and it’s temples. They are also still used for labour – poked, prodded and broken to the will of their owners at a young age – they are used to transport heavy logs with their trunks and chained in order to control them. For many people we spoke to in Thailand it is considered a trade-off: the elephants are fed and are kept secure where they cannot cause harm to villages or cities and in return, they work. Others feel they are capable of finding food on their own and that it is not the fault of the elephants that their habitat was taken over by humans and that they may cause damage should they wander through.

Chiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary review

More recently, the tourist industry has proved to be an additional revenue stream for those who own elephants. Riding an elephant is now “the thing” to do when in Thailand. The excitement and thrill of travelling on such an incredible and large creature seems to mask the obvious signs of maltreatment. It’s much more fun to focus on being atop an elephant, staring at the jungle around you then to take a look at the saddened eyes, the ears full of holes from the spikes of the bullhooks used to break them and later, steer them, or the obvious strain carrying a heavy basket full of people all day causes. It’s also an issue that is only more recently being brought to light and to the attention of travellers.

Through her ownership of the hostel, Mamma Noi heard many horror stories from her guests about the treatment of elephants on various jungle treks and elephant parks around Chiang Mai and she wanted to help create a place where elephants would be treated well and could exist freely, peacefully and happily.

With Help From the Karen Hill Tribe

Karen Hill Tribe Village near Chiang Mai

The sanctuary is located within a Karen Hill Tribe Village north of Chiang Mai. During our visit, we were able to spend a great deal of time with one of the residents of the village, Robert. All smiles and soft-spoken words, Robert is one of the cornerstones of the sanctuary and he, along with his family and the rest of the village, played an essential role in the formation of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Not only was part of the family’s land donated for the elephants to roam, but the people of the village worked together to develop and sustain the sanctuary as it is –   they bring people to the sanctuary, guide them through the day, prepare lunch, make handicrafts to sell and of course care, daily, for the elephants.

Through collaboration between Mamma Noi, Baan Khun Hostel and the hill tribe, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary became a reality and although, at the time, they were only able to afford the three rescued elephants (with one baby on the way), they all told us that they hoped to be able to increase their funds in order to take on more elephants in need.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary CHiang Mai Hill Tribe Village

We also learned that in addition to the one day visit with the elephants, overnight stays in the hill tribe were also available and we decided that it would be important to stay, at least one night, in order to get a full picture of what Mamma Noi, Robert and the people of the hill tribe offered and were trying to accomplish.

You Can Do It Too

Places that will allow you to interact up close and personal with animals offer amazing experiences. It can be difficult sometimes to parse out those that contribute to increasing awareness for animal welfare and responsible tourism, and those that are more concerned with the benefits of the tourism industry. We’d like to think that this post will help tourists make an informed decision about where they choose to visit with elephants and what type of interaction they choose to participate in. 

Do you know of another elephant sanctuary (or other animal sanctuary) not mentioned that treats their animals humanely, either in Thailand or elsewhere? Comment below – we’d love to spread the word!

Making our way from Chiang Mai to Pai on a 125cc scooter was not an easy drive, but it was one of our favourite road trips of all time. You can read about how we conquered all 762 turns up highway 1095 from Chiang Mai to Pai, but if you’re looking to get to Pai yourself, there’s probably a few additional details you’ll need in order to decide on how to best make your way from Chiang Mai to the valley town of Pai.

During our decision process, we did a lot of research on our options and our own drive gave us quite a few insights into the route. The following are some tips for making your way from Chiang Mai to Pai, including the different methods possible and costs associated with each one.

3 Different Ways of Getting From Chaing Mai To Pai

Chiang Mai to Pai On a Bus:

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Minibus: You can take either a minibus or a standard bus to Pai. The minibus will run only about 150-200THB each way and will only take 3+ hours but it’s the one where you’ll probably feel the most motion sickness as they drive fast even on the turns (There’s even a “vomit here” sign on the road to Pai)

Air-conditioned Bus: These buses take a little longer to navigate through the bends but you’ll save a little money compared to the minibus (100-150THB). If you’re prone to motion sickness and not up for making the drive yourself, this is a slightly better option to the minibus.

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While you don’t need to rent a scooter to get around, there are many things to see outside the main area. If you’ve taken a bus into Pai and aren’t going to hire a tour, you’ll probably need to rent a scooter once in Pai. The cheapest scooter we saw in Pai is roughly 100THB per day plus gas and we are pretty certain that is without insurance. The total for a week would be 1200+THB (700 for a 7-day scooter rental, 100+ in gas depending on how much you drive, and 300+ for the transportation to and from Pai)

Chiang Mai to Pai On Your Own:

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Renting a scooter, bike or car offers you the ability to take an amazing drive through the mountains. It was certainly one of our most memorable road trips.

Scooter/bike: A 125cc scooter will cost you minimum 200THB per day and that cost increases as you look at bigger bikes. We recommend Tony’s Big Bikes in Chiang Mai as insurance was included, the entire staff was friendly and helpful and we received great service the entire time we had the bike. A full tank cost around 100-110THB and we spent less than 200THB in gas to get there. If we had stayed a week, we would have paid 1400 in rental fees, and about 500 in gas total.

Disclaimer: Don’t forget to get your international driver’s license before renting a scooter to avoid tickets or fines. We got ours before leaving for Thailand and were stopped several times while riding our scooter throughout Thailand at checkpoints where they asked to see it.

Car: A car rental, from a company such as AVIS Thailand, for one week will cost about 6400THB plus gas. It is also difficult to find parking, especially for cars, in the main strip of the walking street and the immediate surrounding areas. If you choose to rent a car, be sure you have a place that offers parking or have confirmed an area to use.

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If you choose to make your own way to Pai, either by car or scooter, there are a few tips that will help make your journey a little easier. While most of these directly apply to driving a scooter or bike, they are definitely good to keep in mnd if you are planning to rent a car.

  1. Gas. Depending on the size of your tank, you may need to fill up more than once. Since there are long stretches of road without any available areas to purchase gas, we suggest you make note of the meter, and start looking when your tank hits the half-way mark. This is especially useful if you are driving a rental as the gauge may not be correct. Roadside gas pumps and even bottles of fuel can be purchased at almost every small village you drive through. If you’ve forgotten to check and are desperately low on gas, don’t hesitate to stop in a local area and ask for fuel/gas/petrol. Chances are they’ll be able to help, even if it’s at a premium price.                                                        Gas on the way to Pai, from Chiang rai to pai, driving to pai, how to get to pai
  2. Vehicle. We drove a 125cc scooter and while we made it to Pai and back without any real problems, there were a few moments we weren’t too sure we had made the right decision. The tank is small, the bike is small, and there’s not much power. If you’re budget can afford it, you may want to consider a larger bike or a car that can handle the inclines and also ease the drive over the potholes.
  3. Potholes. There are many and they are unavoidable. It can be a bit tiresome and straining to be on constant lookout for the obstacles on the road: traffic coming both ways, potholes, sharp curves, steep hills, and sometimes gas slicks from the trucks. Of all of these, potholes are the most frequent and can be pretty dangerous, especially when driving a vehicle with fairly narrow tires.Drive to pai, how to get to pai, from chiang mai to pai, potholes on the road to pai
  4. Hydration. It can get pretty hot driving through the mountains in the middle of the day. Unless you end up leaving early, or it rains, chances are you’re going to get quite a bit of sun and having ample water on hand is important. We have two hydration packs (water bladders) and ended up filling one up as emergency water and bringing two bottles with us in the scooter’s cup holders. Even if you go early, we still suggest having extra water on hand as you never know what the day will bring. We also brought some snacks just to be on the safe side and they ended up being incredibly handy to have, especially when we lengthened our trip by stopping at the geyser.
  5. Take your time. Like we mentioned, we left late, stopped for a total of 3 hours and then again when it rained once we entered Pai and still made it to our accommodations for 7pm. There’s no need to rush the ride. Take it slow, gas up when you can and make sure you’re prepared and make stops when you need. Not only is a smart thing to do with the length of the drive, there are also some pretty great views to take in on the way!                                                                             Drive to pai, view on the road to pai, chiang mai to pai, how to get to pai, tips on getting to pai
  6. Gauge your experience level. Macrae had ridden a scooter before this trip to Thailand and had been driving this particular one for a little while before we headed out to Pai. Make sure you are comfortable, not only with driving a scooter, but with driving in Thailand. It’s a completely different experience and it can take time to get used to.
  7. The route. The route is fairly simple. Once you get to the 1095 there’s really no where to go until you hit Pai. The complicated part is in the road itself. As we discussed, there are tons of potholes, fast drivers, and incredibly winding, narrow roads. Weather conditions are also variable as you are heading up into the mountains and then down into the valley so they can change at any moment. While we didn’t find the route nearly as difficult as we had read, we were also expecting the absolute worst. The route is tricky and has it’s dangers but caution and preparation goes a long way.drive to pai, wildlife pai, how to get to pai, tips on getting to pai, from pai to chiang mai on a scooter

Chiang Mai to Pai On A Plane:

Taking a plane straight to Pai is also an option. The airport is located Northwest of the central part of town and flights can be taken direct from Chiang Mai. The flight is only about a half hour and while prices vary depending on airline and time of year, we found a cheap flight through Kan Airlines for around 1900THB at the start of their high season. Other airlines to look at within Thailand are AirAsia, Thai Smile Airways, Nok Air and Tiger Air.

Comment below and tell us which way you’d choose to travel to Pai!

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Pretty much wherever you go in Thailand, you’re bound to stumble upon a Wat (or temple). It seems as though there’s one everywhere you look. This was no different on our drive from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, Thailand. We had passed several signs for Wats up on hills, or in towns but it was this one that was located right off of Highway 118 that caught our eye and made us stop. Literally several metres off the highway, Wat Pong Nam Ron looks like deserted ruins. Upon closer investigation it seems as though this temple has been, and is undergoing, restoration. We tried hard to find any additional information on this temple but were unable to identify it’s history or significance. What we did discover is that just down the highway lies three natural hot springs which we had somehow missed completely. We did notice what looked, and smelled, to be geysers on the way back but it was nighttime, we were cold and we’d been driving for several hours and just wanted to get back to Chiang Mai and to our accommodations. Driving on our scooter we’ve been able to see so many fascinating things and relish in all the surprises Thailand has to offer.

 

 

Pulling up through the gate to the Swiss-Lanna Lodge in Chiang Mai, we parked our bike and had just started to take off our helmets when we heard, from somewhere through the doorway of the dark wood house, “Sawadee Kah!” (hello in Thai). When we first saw Miss Toto, our host, she smiled and welcomed us warmly. Actually, every time we saw Miss Toto she was smiling and making us feel welcome and invited.

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She quickly ushered us through the doorway where we set down our bags and were seated on their patio outside for some iced Thai tea that had been freshly made and was wonderfully refreshing. It was nice to take a minute and relax, unburdened by the weight of our backpacks. Miss Toto took some time to tell us about their breakfast menu for the following day, and waited until we were done before showing us around the property. We noticed that they made a point of putting a welcome to their guests on the chalkboard by the patio dining area. It made us feel special and it was a nice welcoming touch.

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The Property – Traditional Lanna and Chiang Mai Style

 

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Walking around with Miss Toto we learned that the Swiss-Lanna Lodge, which opened in November 2013, has a total of 7 rooms decorated and furnished with Chiang Mai handcrafts and hand carvings. The house itself is traditional Lanna style and, while over 80 years old, is immaculately clean and organized.

Click here for latest prices and more information.

We were shown the three rooms that were vacant at the time. All three were on the upper level and had a shared toilet and shower. The upstairs also connected at a common area where people were able to sit and socialize if they wanted and the common area opened onto a rooftop patio with lounging mats and a meditation area. Peaceful and serene the dark wood and beautiful decorations made the whole space stylish yet warm and traditional.

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The first two rooms we saw were the Buddha’s room and the Artistic room.  Two of the four standard rooms, both have two single beds and are decorated with the same type of handcrafted and handmade decorations and artwork as the rest of the property. The Buddha room keeps the theme of it’s name and showcases Buddha-image artwork. The third room we were shown was the Elephant room, with one queen-sized bed and, of course, elephant inspired artwork. These three rooms share a toilet and shower down the hallway and are an affordable choice for two travelers or a couple looking for something unique with a rustic, but comfortable, style.

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Buddha Room

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Artistic Room

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Elephant Room

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Elephant Room

The remaining standard room, the Lanna room, has it’s own washroom and air-conditioning unit with a bunk bed and has easy access to the upstairs common room and patio.

We stayed in the Deluxe Pasha room, very much for couples, but the two other deluxe rooms offer options for those who are travelling alone or as a family. The Deluxe Majestic Tree room is more for single travelers with its single bed and the Deluxe Lotus room for families, as it has one king and one single. Both offer a private terrace, washroom and air-conditioning.

We especially liked the fact that there were common areas where guests could mingle or relax if they wanted and the patio by the kitchen was a great place to sit and enjoy a hot or cold beverage while reading or doing work. The front reception is also super helpful if you have any questions about the area or about any tours and will help in arranging them for you.

 Our Room – A Thai Sanctuary

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For years Carolann has been on the hunt for a hotel swan towel. Every photo you see, resort or hotel, shows a perfectly created swan towel perched on the bed. It seemed as though swan towels were just some piece of fiction only found in promotional photos…until Swiss-Lanna Lodge. Opening up the doors to our room we saw them. Two large white towel swans with a beautiful flower in between. You can see for yourself in the photo, but Carolann was more than ecstatic to have finally found her swan towels. It was one amazing start to one great stay.

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The Deluxe Pasha Room where we stayed was beautifully decorated, clean and fully equipped with everything we could need. A minibar, snack bar, safe, closet, robes, mosquito lamp, air conditioning and satellite flat-screen T.V. Stepping outside to our own terrace and lawn, we could access a private Jacuzzi and washroom “under the stars” which, although it was intimidating at first to do one’s business outside, we got accustomed to it quickly since  the bamboo fence provided more than sufficient privacy. The shower was also outside by the toilet and was hot with amazing pressure.

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The first of our two nights there, we honestly didn’t want to leave the room. It was way too nice and relaxing. We could’ve been anywhere in the world in this sanctuary of ours. We did end up going out the first night, sleeping in the next morning because the bed was so comfortable, and ended up missing our chance to order breakfast as it ends at 11am.

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The Kitchen – Delicious and Homemade

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That first morning, we slept in and stayed in our room enjoying the amenities for so long that we missed breakfast. The kitchen opens from 8-11am to serve a reasonably priced selection of breakfast items, homemade by Madame Lose, one of the ladies who help make the place feel like a home away from home, and Miss Toto. They had freshly made croissants when we got there and although we had just eaten and didn’t end up buying one, they looked and smelled amazing.

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We did end up having some breakfast the second morning and our meals were a great start to the day. We weren’t aware of it during our stay but talking to Miss Toto on our last day we learned that guests will sometimes purchase groceries at the local markets or stores and bring them to the kitchen where Madame Lose and Miss Toto are more than happy to cook with them and show them how to make Thai dishes. If we are ever back in Chiang Mai we will definitely be heading over to the Swiss-Lanna Lodge and taking them up on this great opportunity.

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The Patios – Open and Inviting

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Like we had mentioned the patios and common areas gave the space an open feel and were an especially great idea for those guests wanting to be social as well as those wanting a peaceful place to relax, meditate, read or work. We thought it was great that there were several areas to use for different purposes and it really made use of the entire property.

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Our own private lawn and terrace was wonderful. We sat on the terrace for a bit, drinking our iced coffee and tea we bought from the front and enjoyed the moment away from everything.  The hotel’s tagline is “A quiet and peaceful place of quality” and that is exactly what is achieved throughout all of Swiss-Lanna Lodge, but we especially felt it while sitting on our terrace and again while out on the patio enjoying breakfast.

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The Location – Decent and Accessible

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Swiss-Lanna Lodge is in a fairly decent location. It would be most beneficial to have your own mode of transportation, but they rent out bicycles and motorbikes if you don’t already have one. It is not too far from the Night Bazaar and there are several restaurants and a 7/11 within walking distance. We would recommend making use of a motorbike rental, either from Swiss-Lanna Lodge, or elsewhere in order to really explore the area and have the freedom to come and go as you please. The Lodge itself is tucked away in a quiet and fairly residential area. It was in a different part of town than we had stayed so we loved the fact that we could see a new area and try new restaurants.

The Service – All the Comforts of Home

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In talking to Miss Toto, who owns the Swiss-Lanna Lodge, she said that her and the staff strive to make it feel like a home, like a family, and that they always strive to make their patrons feel welcomed and happy and do better for them.  Swiss & Lanna, she said, are both known for good service and cleanliness, always trying to improve upon what is already there and that is the inspiration for the Swiss-Lanna Lodge. You can tell that they take this to heart. Always smiling and helpful, the staff go out of their way to make you feel at home. It’s obvious that cleanliness is of utmost importance and keeping it that way seems to be a constant endeavor. Not only do they help with tours and finding your way around the city, they also offer bicycle and motorbike rentals as well as laundry service.

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Whether you are eating their homemade breakfast or cooking meals with them, relaxing on their patio or rooftop deck, or renting a bike to tour around the city, the Swiss-Lanna Lodge offers all the comforts of home and the staff goes out of their way to make you feel like that’s exactly where you are.

 

Heading to Chiang Mai? Find your own peaceful oasis in Swiss-Lanna Lodge!

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Swiss-Lanna Lodge

Wat Ket, Mueang Chiang Mai District

Chiang Mai, Thailand

053-246-126

We recently had the amazing opportunity to spend the night in a Karen hill tribe village. We had initially went along for the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary because of their kind treatment to the elephants but decided on an overnight stay in order to understand the people and their experiences.

The life of the Karen hill tribe where we stayed is a dichotomy. On the one end there is the preservation of traditional methods of cooking, living, farming and weaving, but this is almost a necessity as they do not have the ability, financially or otherwise, to advance their state and so, on the other end, you have the seemingly burning desire to make more money in order to afford better things and move themselves into the modern world. It was told to us that sometimes some of the families can’t even afford an extra blanket for the cold winter nights, let alone fund the necessary technology to bring electricity to the small village. There are a few solar panels that were provided by the Thai government almost a decade ago, but some do not work and most are used to simply power a few lights here and there.

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is one way they have been able to make more of a living, selling their services by way of elephant caretaker (mahout), tour guides and hosts and by selling their handmade goods to the tourists that visit. With this, the village is able to increase their wealth, little by little. Many of their handmade goods are made by weaving which is still an important part of their culture and traditions and the traditional method of using a strap loom to weave was shown to us by an elder hill tribe member.

762. That’s the number of turns along highway 1095 to get to Pai from Chiang Mai. There were all kinds of turns from sharp, narrow ones to long, curvy ones; both up hill and down hill; steep and shallow. We drove, choosing to make our own way and take our own time rather than take a bus or mini-bus. We had wanted the freedom to stop when we chose and be able to drive around Pai once we got there.

We had also heard that those riding the buses, or even driving themselves, to Pai often suffer cases of motion sickness and that the bus drivers will rarely, if ever, stop for those vomiting. We can certainly see how one would get motion sickness being on a bus. Not only are the roads winding and full of hairpin turns, the buses we saw drive past did not look like they were taking their time.

After one particularly curvy stretch of road, we noticed the above sign, indicating a vomit stop. We took a break to snap a photo of the sign and happened to have stopped at just the “right” time. We could hear someone suffering from motion sickness, loudly, in the bathroom of the pit-stop nearby.

If you’re looking to visit Pai, we’ve written a lot of information on where to stay, where to eat and what to do and have also compiled our posts and some added information and tips in our Free Ebook: A Guide To Pai.

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Sailing down the Ping River with WagonersAbroad!

We woke up to the sound of our alarm at 9:30am and were about to hit the snooze button, again, for probably the tenth time when we realized what we were doing and set off into a panic. We had made arrangements to meet with a family of travel bloggers, the Wagoners of WagonersAbroad.com, and take the Scorpion-Tailed River Cruise along the Ping River at 11am. We still had to dress, eat breakfast and try and find the place with only a drawn map from the website and a Google map of a nearby landmark, a condominium.

We were excited to meet the Wagoners after following their site for a few months and some recent correspondence. We had only met one blogger (Emily), and we really wanted to connect more with our new community. Plus, this family just seemed pretty awesome in general. So while we were hesitant to shell out the 500baht (18.50 CDN) per person, as that was the majority of our budget for the day and we had read a few TripAdvisor reviews (although there were many good reviews) that had us worried, we knew the ride would be a neat outing and we could potentially make some new friends. Plus, the ride included a complimentary dessert, so how could we resist?

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Surprisingly, we arrived early and bought our tickets and since we had skipped breakfast, we decided to use the fifteen minutes we had to find something to eat.  After grabbing some pastries and coffee from a nearby café, we returned to find the Wagoners there. It’s a strange thing this blogging world. You end up knowing a whole lot about other people you’ve never actually met. So there we were introducing ourselves and shaking hands with people with whom we were already familiar.

We learned quickly that they were not only awesome people on their blog but they were truly great people in real life. Genuine, kind, funny and fun, this family is exactly what they portray themselves to be online.So when the tour was about to start and we saw that it was only our two groups boarding the boat, we were pleasantly surprised.  Our tour guide, complete with a headset microphone and a speaker secured to his waistband, lead us onto the boat with a giant smile and we set off.

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Starting along the river our guide held up cards with photos to show what the different buildings along the route used to look like and explained their significance. He went through some history about the river, bridges that were built over it, buildings of importance and the design and construction of scorpion tailed boats throughout history. Even though we couldn’t always fully understand him with his strong Chiang Mai accent, we got most of what he had said and laughed quite often at the many jokes he told. We particularly liked his one joke, after discussing the importance of elephants in Chiang Mai culture. He said that there is a saying in Chiang Mai, “Never stand below an elephant”, they eat so much food in one day, he said, so if you stand below, you better watch out…poo-poo. A neat aspect of the boat was that it was propelled essentially by a rudder attached to the engine of a Toyota Mercury, with a key ignition starter. it seemed odd when he told us but worked very well.

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In between explanations we got a chance to talk to our new friends about their experiences. They had recently lived in Spain for almost two years before leaving, touring around Europe a little and then heading to Thailand. You could tell they all found great enjoyment in travelling and we enjoyed talking with them all about their life in Spain and their success in relocating and developing their blog. The parents, Heidi and Alan, were kind of like us, but with kids. They seemed to love life and adventure and find enjoyment every chance they could. The kids were bright, engaging, fun to talk to and lucky for being able to learn so much through their travels. Honestly, we were a little in awe of this family and all that they had seen and accomplished. So with a great guide and conversation flowing when possible, we rode the boat at a leisurely pace first one way and then back down the other before stopping for our promised dessert.

Sticky rice and mangoes and a lesson in Chiang Mai gardening

Disembarking, we were lead through a garden of Thai plants, flowers, herbs, and fruit where we were given an explanation about each of the plants growing. We were shown dragon fruit and bananas, given parts of citronella and anice leaves to smell, and shown the different crops of jasmine and sticky rice. The garden was beautiful and interesting and our guide explained each one with great patience for all of our questions. It was an amazing learning experience that we were not expecting. While examining the different bugs we also found throughout the garden, we were shown a hammock made of just one piece of bamboo. Carolann decided to take a quick break before we were given our dessert!

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Guided to our seats for dessert, we were brought out some mango slices with sticky rice and a delicious lychee drink. We had seen a few street vendors in Pai selling mango and sticky rice and were interested in trying it out. The mango was flavourful and the sticky rice had a bit of condensed milk on it adding a sweet taste to match the fruit. While we were eating, our guide showed us snake and eel catching traps and explained how they work. He also showed us some cobra/scorpion whiskey discussing the supposed importance of combining both creatures to balance out the toxins. It was great entertainment while eating and he again told jokes and had us all laughing. After dessert, we headed back on the boat to return to the dock, the entire trip taking just over an hour and a half.

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Scorpion Tail River Cruise – The Best Ping River Boat Ride

The previously mentioned poor reviews that we read discussed the fact that the water was dirty, the guide held up cards to describe different parts of history and that he was hard to understand. What we decided about these reviews was that all of the comments were missing one crucial point, we are in Thailand to experience a culture different than ours and learn more about the places we visit so no, the Ping River during high season when the rains wash soil and sand into the water is not going to be pristine and clear as it is during low season or off the coast of some gorgeous island, the cue cards aid in explaining what we are seeing along the bank and the historical significance, and as far as accented English? We are getting a tour with a Chiang Mai local who is incredibly warm and welcoming and likes to tell jokes and explain his homeland, accent and all.scorpion tail river cruise, chiang mai river cruise, ping river cruise, wagoners abroad, wagonersabroad.com  scorpion tail river cruise, one modern couple, mango and sticky rice, palm hat

 

There were four things we noticed that set this riverboat cruise apart from the others we saw:

1. They don’t take commission. Many of the river boat cruises pay a commission to Tuk Tuk and taxi drivers for dropping tourists off. If you are an unsuspecting tourist looking for the Scorpion Tail River Cruise, even if you point it out on a map, they will take you to one of the others stating it is better and that the other one is no good. They then get paid a commission for doing so. The one we went to had a strict “No Commission” policy which we agree with and would recommend that if you are looking to take this river cruise, be prepared to tell the driver that you do not want to go to any of the others. Apparently the Wagoners experienced this trying to get there that day and told them explicitly where on the map they wanted to go.

2. It is all included. Unlike many of the other boat cruises you take, they don’t push you into buying other products or trick you into paying more for something you didn’t expect. We were told we’d get the dessert for free and we did. We actually received more from the cruise than we expected, like the walk along the gardens and explanations of all the plants. We even found out that where he had taken us for dessert and the garden walk was his own home.

3. They use LPG rather than the diesel fueled engines of the other boats which is better for the river and the environment and something we really appreciate

4. They had a funny and informative guide. We noticed that some of the other rides we passed had a driver but no guide to comment on what they were driving past or seeing. We enjoyed the information we were given, the tour along the garden and the entertainment during dessert. After the river cruise, we got to spend a little more time with the Wagoners, walking along the streets and markets and chatting along the way. We had a great day, both on the cruise learning about the Ping River, Chiang Mai and the local culture as well as meeting some great new friends.

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