Chiang Mai: Temples, Thai Massages and Street Markets

I’ve been back from SE Asia for a little over a month now and haven’t been able to write a recap of the trip. About 20 minutes after landing back in San Francisco, my loaner phone (that had all my pictures from the trip since I’m currently without a camera), died. Like, no resurrecting, won’t power on AT ALL, kind of died. I lost all of my photos from the trip. Luckily I had made a Facebook album during my first couple days in Chiang Mai, so I had those, but the rest of my 2.5 weeks I was there, gone.

I went on this trip for work, but wanted to throw in a few vacation days in the beginning, since I had never been to Asia before. I had heard good things about Chiang Mai, Thailand, so I decided to go there for a few days before meeting the group to start work, and get some rest and relaxation in.

I stayed in a little hotel off of one of the main roads, and for as cheap as it was, had everything I needed.  The Nimman Mai? Design Hotel was in a perfect location for restaurants and shopping, and was extremely walkable.  The staff was very nice and helpful, which proved very helpful when I needed to get directions (they wrote it down in Thai for me, to show the Songthaew driver).  It was extremely reasonably priced (like less than a Motel 6 in the US), had a super comfortable bed, free bottled water (important!), cheap laundry services and a great complimentary continental breakfast every morning).

I was able to explore the city, the old city (walled city), go up the mountain to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, and hang out with some elephants.  Here are some of my adventures!

The first full day I took a songthaew up the mountain to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It was amazing. I knew there were temples everywhere in Chiang Mai (and in SE Asia in general), but this one was phenomenal!


Yes, that is a baby tied onto what appears to be a 5 year-olds back… On stairs. I almost had a heart attack.


The many statues on the walk up to the temple. The sheer size of them is enough to render you speechless for a moment.


All gold leaf, nbd.


I may not be Buddhist, but being in Thailand, by myself, on this amazing trip, gave me a lot of reflection time. Every temple I went to, I would sit and give thanks for the experiences that I am lucky enough to be having.

When I was still in the US and planning the trip (aka when I found out I was going about a week before my departure date), I knew I wanted to see elephants. I love elephants. There were many places you could go ride them, but for ethical reasons, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with that.  I was lucky enough to find the Elephant Nature Park and instantly fell in love. It’s an elephant rescue and rehab center just outside of Chiang Mai that is largely run by volunteers (they also have taken in a ton of dogs and cats as well).  It’s basically a sanctuary for these beautiful creatures who have long been forced into labor-intensive work industries where they’re treated like garbage and constantly abused. It was founded in 1996 by the amazing Lek Chailert.

I spent the day with the elephants, got to feed them lunch and snacks, learned about each elephant we encountered, their history and background, got to bathe them and just be bff’s with them, while watching them live and thrive in a community where their well-being is the first priority.


Anytime I see elephants in a line like this, I automatically start singing the Jungle Book march. EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.


Elephant selfie! (elphie?)



I’d like to think this little guy is lol’ing at some hilarious joke that I just said.

Then I got to meet Jokia, an amazing little lady who is blind in both eyes. Her background: after being forced to work in the logging industry during her entire pregnancy, she gave birth while hauling a log up a mountain (no rest for them), and lost her baby While mourning her loss, she lay down on the ground and refused to work. The result? Her “owners’ shot slingshots and arrows at her eyes to force her to work. She now has a buddy (far right, Mae Perm) and they are inseparable. Her adopted mama takes her everywhere and it’s such an amazing thing to witness!:


Then is started to pour. Like heavens opened up and dumped everything on us. It’s the one day I was there that it was storming, and thankfully I had an extra pair of clothes and bathing suit since I had planned on joining them in the river for their bath.1456534_10101327981945577_4617076948031422327_n

While the humans were running for cover, the elephants were all about it! Mainly I think they knew this meant a tremendous mud pit was coming their way.


This little guy was super happy about the rain!

The entire day was such an amazing experience that I don’t think will be topped for a long, long time. If you’re ever in Chiang Mai, please make a reservation to go to the Elephant Nature Park and say hi to Jokia for me!  There are a bunch of random elephant parks and places you can go in the area, but please only go to this one. The other ones still use their elephants for rides or labor, and while it might be “fun” to ride on an elephant, know that while you’re riding, to keep them in line (elephants backs aren’t made for riding), the handler is poking the elephant with a stick. At the end of that stick is most like a nail or other sharp metal object used to poke at the most sensitive part of the elephants body. At the end of the ride, you’ll probably notice that the elephant is bleeding. Just don’t do it.

The next day I set out to do another thing I said I HAD to do in Thailand: get a Thai massage.  There were a lot of cheap places to choose from, but for convenience sake, I chose a place on the same alleyway as my hotel – Chaya Massage and Spa. I had never had a Thai massage before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect (and all giggles aside, but secretly hoping someone would mention a happy ending).  Chaya was clean, the staff was adorable and super friendly, and they took care of me! I went in and was the only person there, so I was able to fully enjoy my pre-massage foot cleaning and rub (heaven) and had the massage room to myself.


After she helped me tie the pants (seriously, could NOT figure it out the first time), I was set for my hour-long massage. It was amazing. Totally different than the massages I’m used to getting here at home for when my IT band or quads are killing me. You’re clothed the whole time and they do stretches and massage and all sorts of magic. I was super bummed when it was over, but when I went back downstairs, they had hot ginger-honey tea waiting for me. Bonus! And to make it even better? The massage, with a very gracious tip, was less than $10.  So I went back the next day… and the next day haha. By day 3, I walked in and she already had the water going for me.

On my last night, I checked out the Sunday walking market, walked through the old city, looked at everything for sale, haggled on EVERYTHING I bought, and was completely overwhelmed (as I am pretty much any time I go shopping). I got a bottle of water, delicious dinner from a vendor, a dessert AND a fresh fruit smooth for under $2. Yes, you read that right. I have no idea why I ever left Chiang Mai.


This amazing fresh mango smooth was only like $.65. 65 CENTS!

I had an absolutely incredible time in Chiang Mai and was really sad to say goodbye, but I was, you know, actually in Asia for work, so I had to pack up and head to Bangkok to meet with the group before flying out to Myanmar to begin work.  The people were the kindest I’ve ever met, the food was absolutely delicious and ridiculously cheap, the temples are beautiful and there is so much history, and YOU CAN GET A MASSAGE OR $5! If that’s not reason enough to go, I don’t know what is!

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