We left Bangkok last night around 7:30 PM and I’m surprised we ever left the city outskirts with the snail pace of this train. After a few card games and eating whatever spicy dish was served we call it a night. It almost feels like camping on this train… I’m usually a deep sleeper but perhaps it’s the bed made for a person half my size or a roof 12 inches from my nose or the bright light arm’s length from my top bunk that my sleep is intermittent that night. This is all an afterthought though as I hike down from my bunk in the early morning and sit by the window looking outside. Our cart lady brings me a coffee, I put in my ear buds (I think I put on Chris Stapleton or something country) and then I just admire the landscape. It’s nearly the halfway mark of my little trip and it’s moments like this I sit back and think how awesome this is.
We arrive to Chiang Mai just an hour or so later and head to the hostel. Not a party hostel like Cambodia but this is probably a good thing for our health’s sake. Our time in Chiang Mai is limited so we immediately scan the hostel pamphlets to find how we will spend the day. Luckily, the 12:00 ATV trek is available. We take a somewhat luxurious bus deeper into the mountains and arrive at a nice, little coffee shop. After a quick bite and some caffeine we load onto our ATVs. I’m not sure who told our guys we were advanced level but for whatever reason we find ourselves on a steep, rocky trail. I can see why drinking beforehand is strictly banned. Somehow we all make it to the top and are rewarded with amazing views of North Thailand.
The trek isn’t over as we now hike to a cave… Just 10 minutes into the cave and it’s pitch black with the exception of our dull headlamps. Someone, I forget who, decides to look up and points out the mass quantities of bats on the ceiling. One, in fact, comes flying by us so close I think it was just a few feet from Harriet’s head. No thank you. Not in the mood for rabies. Time to get outta this joint.
After ATV’s we grab a few beers at the hostel then wander across the street to supposedly the best food stand in town. All I’m told is look for the girl in the cowboy hat. Sure enough she stands out in the crowd and is serving some amazing Khao Kahh Moo – stewed pork leg. I’m pretty positive it’s soaked in duck sauce but whatever she’s doing is on point. Anthony Bourdain seems to agree: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IlYjIqpGGQ.
With an early morning tomorrow, we settle for a few more beers at the famous Zoe in Yellow bar downtown. Without a doubt it is the most humid and hot dance floor I’ve ever been a part of. Good luck lasting more than a few songs.
Day 2 is a day we have all been looking forward too. I will try to share this experience without sounding like I’m trying to preach and act mighty… Keep word try.
Anyone who visits Asia will notice signs and offices advertising elephant rides. Or if you’re strolling through the streets of a big city like Bangkok you might see a person with a smaller elephant asking for money. And of course, there are the circuses. Where you can watch an elephant kick a soccer ball or shoot a basketball. Well there’s a backstory to each of those elephants and on our second day in Chiang Mai we went to the Elephant Nature Park Sanctuary to hear about the darker side of those attractions. I posted a picture recently of meeting Noi Nah and her story on Instagram @johnmichaelbuckley. You can read more and see her before and after pictures from being rescued here: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/elephant-herd/noi-nahs-rescue-anniversary/. In short, the sanctuary rescues elephants that have been abused and used for the tourism industry. We spent the day feeding the elephants and walking to different herds to hear about their stories. Some were used for logging (illegal) while others were used for rides (technically legal). Each elephant had a different story and each story was equally disturbing. The worst part of these stories is how they all start. In order for an elephant to kick that soccer ball or sit still as one ton of equipment is mounted to accommodate riders they have to be domesticated. The formal word for the process is Phajaan, which loosely means ‘crushing’ the elephants spirit. Here is a graphic video of it: http://phajaan.webs.com/. Over the course of seven days the elephant is bound, chained and beaten until it no longer has the will to fight and becomes obedient. It’s truly disturbing and I think if anyone watches the video they will look at the elephant attractions a little differently. It’s tough not to get passionate about this. It’s amazing how the government does nothing and the practice continues but then again it’s got to be a revenue generator for the government.. so where’s the incentive to stop it? As long as people continue to pay to ride the elephant and so on I think the problem will continue to grow… Who knows if it will ever be eradicated but I can only hope that someone who reads this will think twice of contributing to the problem. And maybe they can share the story to someone else and so on…
For dinner that night we chose Ginger & Kafe. If you’re looking for a nice meal I highly recommend it. Sticking to true Southeast Asia it’s amazingly cheap. The beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes was a nice change from the traditional Asian cuisine.
Chiang Mai was a one of a kind experience. There are so many other activities we didn’t have time to do so if you’re in Thailand I highly recommend taking a break from the Southern islands and make the trip. Two full days minimum.