If you could live anywhere in the world, and money was not an issue, which place would you choose?
If I was asked this question 5 years ago, I would’ve have chosen to move back to the Philippines or, perhaps, Australia. Now that I’ve done an itty bit of traveling, I’d choose Chiang Mai. Many places have claimed special spaces in my heart, but Chiang Mai is my plausible place. And perhaps this declaration is too grand. After all, my time in Chiang Mai was brief, and in no way could I have gathered enough experience to support this claim. But just like the first time I said, “I love you” to my first boyfriend in the back seat of his RAV 4, it may have been reckless, but it was real nonetheless.
It started with an overnight 13 hour train ride from Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok. The ride was bumpy, and our assigned section reeked of pee smell. The air conditioning unit was set to full blast, and I was awakened by the cold air. To be fair, I’m quite sensitive to the cold, so my idea of an arctic freeze may be your ideal cardigan weather type of day. Though they provide sheets and a pillow, be sure to pack a beanie and warm clothing if you plan to take this train ride.
We booked our tickets through 12goasia 3 months prior. The Class 1 Sleeper tickets were sold out, so we had to settle for Class 2 Sleepers. It wasn’t the most pleasant, but I’ve experienced worse. Compared to our ship ride from Puerto Princesa to Coron, this was a walk in the park. Despite of all the mishaps, riding a train from Bangkok is the most affordable and efficient way to reach Chiang Mai.
We arrived at approximately 8am, and proceeded to our AirBnb. And that’s where my love story with Chiang Mai began. Our AirBnB was, by far, the best I’ve ever stayed in, and I highly recommend to book your stay here when you visit Chiang Mai. Our host Anurak was very accommodating of our needs and even arranged a pick up service to take us to the airport on our last day. He provided us a variety of thai snacks and various flavors of espresso. The unit itself clean, and the surrounding areas are well maintained.
The condominium is right next to Central Festival, a large shopping mall in Chiang Mai, and only 10 minutes away from the Old Town and 15 minutes away from the airport.
Now this is a Mall Food Court!
We only had 3 full days in Chiang Mai, so as usual, the days were eventful – a signature Laney trip. Our first stop was Tiger Kingdom. There are several claims from previous visitors that the tigers are drugged yet the workers affirm this is certainly not the case. I guess you can argue both sides. How can such a wild beast be so tamed? On the other hand, these animals have never been exposed to wildlife, and at the end of the day, they’re cats. Cat’s are nocturnal creatures which means they sleep most of the day, and are active during the night. Regardless of where you stand, I’m sure we can only hope that these animals are treated well without any cruelty.
It was intimidating and frightening to be in their presence, and it was such a surreal experience. I never thought I’d be face to face with such magnificent creatures.
We had some time to kill before heading to the night market, so we spent the rest of the afternoon at Art in Paradise in Chiang Mai. The walls are filled with 3D art for perfect photo opportunities. I ran out of phone memory due to the plethora of pictures we took. We had such a great time holding ridiculous poses that we stayed till closing time.
These pictures never fail to make me laugh.
We walked to the Night Market, which was only a few blocks away, and blew all of our baht on food and pasalubong items. The food was delicious and absurdly cheap. This is what real thai food tastes like. It’s been 4 months since our trip, and as expected every Thai restaurant in the U.S has failed in comparison.
The next morning, we headed to Baan Chang Elephant Farm, an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai that rescues elephants from unsuitable living conditions such as circuses and illegal logging camps. We did the full day Mahout training, and it was among the best experiences of my life.
They taught us about elephant feeding, body language, and how to communicate with these majestic creatures. They are against training elephants to perform various circus acts. Unlike other elephant farms, they forbid the use of howdah – a trekking chair placed on the elephant’s back. Riding an elephant bare back is quite uncomfortable and uneasy, but a great experience nevertheless.
I can picture myself living in Chiang Mai because it reminded me so much of the Philippines without the chaos and smog. And when you choose a place to live, it really boils down to two things after your long list of pros and cons. It’s either somewhere drastically foreign or a place that’s still reminiscent of home. Chiang Mai is simultaneously provincial and urban. Though I had moments when I was lost in translation, the locals were friendly, so it was easy to get around. In spite of the growing modernity, the culture is very much preserved. And of course, there’s cheap good food and massages on every corner, but those are just cherries on top.
Sometimes, I’m tempted to pack my bags and move abroad…perhaps someday, when the idea is more wise than reckless. Till then, I’ll hold on these memories to remind me of such a wonderful place.