Thursday, May 27, 2010

Our Trip to Chiang Mai & Elephant Rides, Tiger Cuddling, and Muay Thai Boxing!

Okay, I am not going to lie . . . I had a pretty rough start to Wednesday morning. I was definitely feeling the previous night celebrating with the Westmont group as soon as I woke up, but I'd like to think the crappy feeling wasn't just a hangover from the beers I drank at the Peace House. I think it largely had to due to the fact that I had spent the entire day working in the heat because I was also incredibly sore, dehydrated, and sunburnt. (Thank GOODNESS I didn't also have a case of "Thai Lovin!")

Anyway, I was sincerely looking forward to the fact that I was about to spend three hours on a bus to Chiang Mai, but it was a very slow start because I still needed to pack, eat, shower, and of course, I had just slept in until the very last possible minute. Needless to say, I managed to eat and pack... We rushed out of the house to catch our bus and arrived with only a few moments to spare--enough time, however, to make a few snack purchases, so I purchased the essentials that I thought would cure my symptoms. They. Didn't. Help.

As you've previously read, I took the time on the bus ride to update The Dandygram while getting mildly nauseous. I owed it to you and to myself. I have responsibilities (sort of) . . . I mean, of course I have responsibilities, but it is easy to forget them when on vacation and be footloose and carefree (thanks for the reminder, Brady). Once I realized I needed to get some updates posted, I felt guilty, so I made up for it by typing two days worth of posts and nearly puking on my Macbook.

Thanks again for your patience, and allow me just preface this massive two-day post by saying that our adventures in Chiang Mai will definitely blow you away. Even now, I am still elated by what we experienced as I type up this Dandygram!

After the bus ride, jamming out to music, and typing away while trying to hold back my breakfast, we FINALLY arrived in Chiang Mai around 1:30pm--just in time for lunch and for Rachel and Nate to get over to the hospital to visit little Tipsuda. Tipsuda is one of the younger children from the village, and she is a very active student who participates in all of the SOLD activities and programs to her fullest potential. She is an amazingly bright little girl, and The SOLD Project--quite knowledgeable of her potential--has recently offered to pay for corrective surgery in order to repair one of her eyes that has lost most of its vision.

Tipsuda left for Chiang Mai with her mom the day before we did, so when we arrived to Chiang Mai, Rachel was very anxious to see her before surgery the following morning. This was the main reason Rachel and Nate left their home in Chiang Rai, and it completely worked out for Deirdre to join Christa and I who were anxious to be tourists and see another great city in northern Thailand.

Chiang Mai is a much bigger city than Chiang Rai, and Nate even mentioned how being in Chiang Mai makes him feel like he's from a quiet little town (in reference to living in Chiang Rai with Rachie). After being there for a few hours and taxiing our way from the bus stop to our hotel, the Lanna House, the observation was quite accurate.

The city is bustling. The roads are wider and busier; the buildings and downtown area was much more expansive, and the night bazaar was incredible. Our first night in the new location was low key, and after checking into our hotel, Rachel and Nate left to rent a scooter to visit Tipsuda at the hospital.

As complete tourists, the three of us (Deirdre, Christa, and myself) walked to get lunch and then went for an hour foot massage (a-mazing!). We met Nate and Rachel a while later for dinner, and kept the evening pretty low-key because we all had an early morning ahead of us: Rachel and Nate were going to the hospital right away because Tipsuda was undergoing her surgery in the morning. As well, Deirdre, Christa, and I were headed out to the mountain first thing in the morning to ride elephants and cuddle with tigers!

. . .

Fast forwarding through the night at the hotel in Chiang Mai, and we were now up early and on our way to the mountain! Our first stop: Maesa Elephant Camp about 40 minutes outside of Chiang Mai. This place was breathtaking. Well, I say that not in the sense of the scenery as is often commonly associated with that phrase but instead of what we witnessed.

Upon our arrival, we purchased two sets of tickets: first, we booked tickets for the elephant show, and then we booked an hour ride on the elephants around the mountain. The elephant show was like nothing I have ever seen before in all of my days visiting the zoo, Disneyland, or Disneyworld. These elephants performed so many different tricks--from playing soccer, hula hoop, throwing darts, and PAINTING!

The elephant show.

Elephants painting! This was SO fascinating!!!

A finished piece fresh off the easel.

After the show concluded, we made our way directly to the platform to get into our buckets on top of the elephants. Christa had her own while Deirdre and I shared one, and I swear, we were cursed with the most stubborn elephant who had his own agenda, ate grass and weeds every 5 minutes, and completely took his own paths--making stops at random places near the edge of the trail on the mountain. It definitely did not feel safe at some points, but as we tried to read the terrain while we approached it, Deirdre and I just made the necessary adjustments and held on for dear life. It would have been about a 12 foot drop, as you can see below.

After our fill of elephants and some lunch there in the park, we found our patient taxi driver in our all-day taxi (10 US$) and made our way over to the neighboring Tiger Kingdom!

We initially thought we'd pay to see a large adult tiger and the baby tigers, but with all the trinkets we just purchased (another t-shirt for me), Christa and I opted for just fifteen minutes with one adult tiger while Deirdre enjoyed a coffee and watched. We took numerous pictures, but it was hard because the moments inside the cage and play area were absolutely breath-taking. Being (and LAYING) that close to such an animal, whose temper and agility are completely different from an elephant, was a bit scary and nerve-racking. This was the sign we read just before entering the caged area:

Now, you'd think these kitties would be drugged up to some extent, but what changed that thinking for Christa and I was the fact that after our 5 minutes or so laying with the rather lethargic beast, the trainers then went on to play with him in a pool just feet away using a large bamboo toy similar to the one used with cats at home on a plastic rod with a feather and a bell (or something like that). As you can see in the pictures below, the cat became very active with Christa and I just yards away once the trainer started swinging the toy around. . .

With this part of our day and long time dreams to play with animals in such an intimate setting now complete, we decided to get back into our taxi and to Chiang Mai in order to see the huge night bazaar and possibly catch a match or two of Muay Thai. I needed a siesta at this point because it had been another day in the sun, heat, and quite a bit of adrenaline had just been pumped through my system! Exhaustion usually sets in around 3 or 4pm--the hottest part of everyday.

After grouping back up at the McDonald's with Nate and Rachel who, I might add, brought great news of a successful surgery for Tipsuda, we made our way to a nice little indian restaurant for lamb and curries and naan. It was very filling, and was probably the largest meal I've had (meaning the most food and fullest feeling) since here. It tasted like I was back in Berkeley at one of the many amazing Indian restaurants off Shattuck.

After letting our meal settle for a little bit and recapping on the adventures on the mountain with the animals, we got on foot to experience the night bazaar--a must-see when in Chiang Mai. They have incredible things to buy from tablecloths and bed spreads to puzzle games (my favorite), watches, and of course, t-shirts!

Deirdre and Christa realized they needed much more time than the rest of us, so Nate and I took Rachie back to the hotel. Quite fittingly, we did it "Thai Style" for a bit on the motorbike Nate and Rachel rented to make trips to the hospital. It's commonplace for three Thais to be on a bike, and matter of fact, just yesterday I saw a mom one handing it with a kid in front, one behind her, and then her phone at her hear. Crazy. Along those standards, we played it safe despite me without a helmet. Sorry Mom.

Nate has now been here nearly a year and has always wanted to see Muay Thai. We did, and again, it's another must-see. I have friends who participate in this sport, and a few months back when I was planning this trip, I had a friend from my days on the flight-line at Beale AFB who has been out here every summer to train in south Thailand with Muay Thai studios. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to make it out this year, but Shane, this was SO rad. Proud of you brother.

At the end of night (and after this day), I was nothing but smiles and was glad to share some time with Nate doing something he has longed to watch. We saw a K.O. in the last fight, and had front row seats for a few bucks. What a great way to end the day.

Next up on The Dandygram: Back to Chiang Rai, Scooter Rentals 2.0, and TGIF!


  1. Another great post, son. Next time, wear the helmet!! xox Mom

  2. My kids loved the elephant rides as they swayed and walked. They also enjoyed the food and were excited about their own rooms at one of the Chiang Mai hotels Thailand, sitting up late with no parental authority. Hmmmmm.