In recent years tourism has progressively transformed Chiang Mai into a backpackers utopia. Artistic vibes accentuate the city and there is an aura of blissful calmness which is impossible not to fall for. In a place as saturated with tourists as Thailand, it’s incredibly difficult to find an authentic experience that hasn’t been blogged about or done before, so just try to enjoy what the city has to offer- and there is so much it has to offer.
Ridiculously only scheduling two days and nights in Chiang Mai, I wanted to squeeze in as much as possible. I’d heard whispers of the delicious food and quirky night markets however the first thing to check off my list was to meet some huge friendly giants…
Playing with the Elephants
Before I begin rambling about how beautiful these creatures were, I cannot stress enough the importance of choosing an ethical elephant experience. I’ve expressed this in detail in another post but please do your research before booking. Any tours that include riding/ trekking instantly raises a red flag.
The Elephant Sanctuary Chiang Mai, is a tiny company caring for three rescued elephants. After being picked up from the hotel, the enthusiastic guide taught us how to say elephant in Thai (chang), about the importance of conservation and explained how her favourite elephant that she cared for was “the sexy lady with the long eyelashes.”
An hours drive past the city limits of Chiang Mai we stopped and were given the extremely fashionable cover-ups you may have noticed in the photographs. Excitement began to build during a brief 10 minute walk, until peeking through the trees, I had my first glimpse of elephants in Thailand.
We were introduced to each elephant before feeding them bananas, playing little games and taking photos with the majestic animals. After all the bananas were eaten we walked down to the river where we bathed, splashed and then covered the elephants in dirt again.
It was a truly amazing experience, where you could sense that the elephants were happy, loved and well cared for. This half-day treat cost only 1500 THB/ £32 and included transport to and from the reserve, time with and food for the elephants plus a massaman curry lunch for the humans.
Overall the activity took around 5 1/2 hours and we arrived back at the hotel around 2.00pm, which left me with 2 hours to change and get to my next activity…
What to bring:
You will get wet, so it is a good idea to bring a towel to dry yourself afterwards. There are toilets where you can change into your swimming suit. Most importantly, don’t forget your camera! A little money, although lunch was included if you wanted a fizzy / hot drink these were extras.
How to book:
As The Elephant Sanctuary Chiang Mai, is a small company it doesn’t really have an online presence. I called the night before and they were happy for me to join a tour the very next day.
Contact Numbers: 053-243742, 081-3875113
Muay Thai Lesson
How could I travel to Thailand without participating in the national sport? As soon as I booked my flight, finding a Thai Boxing class was next on my list. There are gyms all over Thailand, however If you want the less touristy destination to train Muay Thai, Chiang Mai might be the best place for you. I also used the logic that as it was more north, it may be cooler in the evening making the training slightly easier – hahaha it didn’t!
I stumbled across Hong Thong Muay Thai Gym online and sent a quick email, expressing my interest in a drop in session the week prior to flying to Thailand. I received a reply to say I was welcome to join the 4.00pm afternoon session, which would last two hours and cost 300THB/ £6.50.
The Hong Thong Muay Thai Gym was a little out of the way than I expected. Nevertheless after persuading a songthaew to take me I was ready to participate in my first Muay Thai Class.
It’s a good idea to pick up a hotel contact card (they have these at any reception) as they usually have a little map on the back. It will eliminate any confusion between you and the driver of a taxi/ tuk tuk/ songthaew.
It was a little intimidating at first, being the only girl on site, surrounded by guys who had been training on an intensive three month Muay Thai course. I felt maybe I would be a nuisance and interfere with their training, however everybody was so friendly and I fell into the session naturally.
Hong Thong’s motto is “Train hard with us today and fight easy tomorrow” and BOY did they make me train- karma for gorging on all the delicious food! The trainers pushed me to my limit, with conditioning exercises, heavy bag work and focus mitts to create combinations, within 15 minutes I was sweating and had downed almost a litre of water… and I loved every second.
The session style was laissez-faire, most likely for my benefit, with different fighters teaching different aspects of the sport. I had the chance to chat to the others, my eyes widened as they explained that they do these sessions twice a day everyday in preparation for a big fight at the end of the course. TWICE a day?
There was such a relaxed atmosphere in the open gym, still it was impossible not to notice the passion and dedication that each fighter had for the sport.
As the trainers finished up tidying the gym, one of them, Nick, asked how I intended to get back to my hotel. Nonchalantly I replied I was going to find a songthaew to take me back, and proudly displayed my hotel card to show I was prepared.
A doubtful look spread across his face as he nudged the other trainer, KruJoe, and repeated my plan. KruJoe sniggered and told me songthaews didn’t typically drive in this direction, and that it would be a tricky feat to find one.
Before panic could ensue, Nick politely offered to take me back and lead me to his moped. My heart skipped a beat and I nervously backed away, refusing to accept the helmet he was handing me. He laughed at my offer to walk the 20 minute drive back instead and explained “You’re in Thailand! This is what it’s all about; the adventure!” – wise words eh?
After my knuckles had turned white gripping onto the handle at the back, as he weaved haphazardly through the traffic – i’m pretty sure this was on purpose, I was soon returned safe and sound to my hotel with just enough time to get ready for dinner.
My time at the Hong Thong Muay Thai Gym was exhilarating. The people and the gym were amazing. I left with the feeling that I had had a real workout, and also an excuse to eat as much food as humanly possible later. Although it was a little out of the way, it felt authentic and worth the travel, I would highly recommend it.
What to bring:
Water! Bring more water than you could ever anticipate drinking! I brought 2 litres but could have happily drank more. All gloves, wraps and pads are provided for you, just ensure you wear loose free fitting clothing.
How to book:
This would depend on what length of course you wanted to participate in, you can check their website to see what is offered.
If you wanted to do a drop in session like I did, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org and expect a speedy response.