Elephants and Temples in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a beautiful and relaxed city in Northern Thailand. With a mixture of ancient temples and a lively bar scene, it is not surprising Chiang Mai is the destination for many travellers in South-East Asia. As the largest city in Northern Thailand, there’s so much that can be done here. Not surprisingly the majority of backpackers who begin their journey in Bangkok, as we did, make their way to Chiang Mai from Bangkok.
Bangkok – Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is very well-connected with the Thai capital and it couldn’t be easier to travel between these two cities. Ten trains running daily between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, and that’s exactly how we made our way to there after a few days in the capital. We opted for a/c sleeper at a cost of 750 Baht ($21.35) each. The sleeper train was surprisingly comfy. Having never been on a train in Asia before, it’s fair to say we were expecting the worse, but we were pleasantly surprised.
We made our way to the hectic and polluted Bangkok Hualamphong Station in the evening, ready and eager to board our night train. We were glad to be leaving Bangkok, to be honest, it was an exciting city for our first few days in Asia, however, we were more than ready for a more peaceful and relaxing destination. After boarding our night train in Bangkok and a fairly decent sleep, we found ourselves arriving in Chiang Mai 13 hours later.
Chiang Mai Accommodation
Before making our way to Chiang Mai we decided we were staying at a guesthouse called Finlay’s Cottage. We knew we would be arriving in Chiang Mai after a night train, so we thought it would be the best idea to book our accommodation in advance, just in case we were tired and groggy from the night train.
On arrival in Chiang Mai, we jumped on one of the many Songthaew’s at the train station and made our way to Finlay’s Cottage. The Songthaew journey from the train station to Finlay’s set us back 80 Baht ($2.25).
Finlay’s was brilliant. The accommodation is owned by an English guy, so it was nice to speak to someone from back home again. He was really helpful, everything was new to us as this was our first backpacking trip and we’d only arrived in Asia 4 days ago, so it was nice to speak with a familiar accent who helped us organise a few day trips.
A double room, shared bathroom, air con and breakfast included it cost us 500 Baht ($14.20) per night. The price was great when you take everything into consideration, the room was clean, the owners were welcoming and extremely helpful and the breakfast was a particular highlight (bacon, eggs and homemade bread).
Things to do/see in Chiang Mai
There’s plenty to see and do while you’re in Chiang Mai. As I mentioned earlier, Chiang Mai is definitely not in shortage of temples, two of the main temples which are pretty much a must see while visiting are; Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (often shortened to Doi Suthep) and Wat Chedi Luang.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep is actually the mountain where the temple has been built at the peak. The mountain can be found 15km outside of Chiang Mai. Finlay’s organised a Songthaew to take us to the temple and back, for a cost of 500 Baht ($14.20) between two of us. On the way up to the temple, we stopped off at a lookout point with a perfect view over Chiang Mai.
Following a couple of pictures a few moments to admire the views, we jumped back in the Songthaew and made our way to the foot of the stairs leading to the temple. Be warned, there are – to be exact – 309 steps between the road and temple, which can definitely be exhausting quite a task to climb in 30-degree heat. I enjoyed the challenge of the ascent, however, if you’re not feeling up to the walk, there’s always the option to take a list to the temple. There is an admission fee of 30 Baht ($0.85) for foreigners to enter the temple.
Wat Chedi Luang
You will find this temple within the city walls, so that means that Wat Chedi Luang is easily within walking distance from most guesthouses around the city. Unlike Doi Suthep, you can’t enter Wat Chedi Luang due to safety concerns, but you can wander around the outside of the temple and take pictures to your heart’s content, free of charge.
The construction of the temple started during the 14th century but is said to have not been completed until mid-way through the 15th century. The temple has endured wear and tear over the years, which can be noticed from the outside. It is understandable why entry into the temple is forbidden, just from looking you can clearly see that it would not be safe in the slightest.
Luckily, in the 1990’s Wat Chedi Luang underwent a reconstruction project to try and restore the temple to its former glory. The project was funded by UNESCO and the Japanese government. Hopefully, there will more restoration projects in the near future so that the temple can be accessed and appreciated from the interior and not just the exterior behind a fence
Elephant Nature Park
When most people think of Chiang Mai or see an Instagram picture from one of their friends there, it will more than likely be something that involves Elephants. There are a couple of different experiences you can have with Elephants in Chiang Mai. Sadly you do see a lot of people going on treks through the jungle riding the Elephants. I am 100% against cruelty to animals (hence why there is nothing about visiting Tiger Temple in this post or any post), so we decided to do our research before booking to see Elephants with any tour company.
During our research, we came across Elephant Nature Park. Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for Elephants who have been abused for either the logging or tourism trade in the past. The Elephants aren’t abused or exploited here, so we decided we would definitely book to go here. Booking to go to the sanctuary can be made through their shop in the centre of Chiang Mai and that’s exactly where we booked.
The cost in total was 2500 Baht ($71) each, this included everything from transport, entry to the sanctuary and lunch. The price was a bit more expensive than others on offer, but in my eyes, it’s well worth spending that bit extra knowing that we went to a sanctuary where the elephants are cared for and looked after. Rather than saving a bit of cash to go to a place where animals are abused and exploited for our enjoyment.
Places to drink/eat in Chiang Mai
- John’s Bar – Has a nice roof terrace with views over Chiang Mai. Good for a couple of Changs before heading for something to eat or before heading somewhere else for a night out. One tip I’d give though is to avoid sitting directly under the lights, or you’ll more than likely end up with a few flies in your drink.
- Zoe’s Bar – I’d probably say this is the main bar in Chiang Mai where you’ll find most of the late night action. There’s a beer garden here where you can sit and enjoy some beers and there’s also a club. The drinks can be a little overpriced here though.
- Chiang Mai Night Bazaar & Sunday Night Market – Both of these markets are excellent for some local street food. Comparable to the night markets in Bangkok. Also, tell plenty of souvenirs aimed at tourists as well as street food. In terms of the food available, I’d definitely recommend the giant spring rolls!
- Chiang Mai Saloon – Just in case you fancy a break from Asian food, Chiang Mai Saloon is the perfect restaurants to get your Western food craving fix. They do delicious burgers, which I couldn’t recommend enough.