Elephants and temples...and temples...oh and did we mention temples...
Chiang Mai - What a gorgeous little place....however we didn't see much of it outside of the walls of the old city. Is there anything beyond the four walls?? We'll never know.
For those of you who aren't aware there is the [i]old city[i] of Chiang Mai which was built 700 years ago and is surrounded by four walls and a moat. Only parts of these walls remain today; at the four corners and the city gates. The rest of Chiang Mai has built up around the old city and I'm sure it is gorgeous but we didn't see that much of it. And there is no need to when everything you need and more is right within the four walls.
Our overnight bus from Bangkok arrived in Chiang Mai at some ungodly hour on a Sunday morning. We went to our accommodation and surprise surprise our room was not ready. We spent the next 3 hours walking around the city (with nothing open) until our room was ready ( Adam Edit: tis was my favorite time there to be perfectly honest...it was a lovely 22 degrees and for the first few hours we really did have the place to ourselves as we watched the sun rise with no real understanding of where we were.). This is a very easy city to navigate on foot. Nothing is too far away and the streets are mostly in a grid.
On our first night we went to the night market. A huge walking street market with loads of food, souvenirs, clothes and soooooo many people! If you miss the Sunday market do not fret as there seems to be markets all the time.
We spent a lot of our time walking around the city, going between the various monuments and wats. Lucas was keen to walk as it meant more time playing pokemon and hatching more eggs. We saw the 3 kings monument...it was a statue of 3 kings and not much else. I thought they would have been bigger....
Within the walls is also Wat Chedi Luang which is a ruin of a temple in the centre of the city. This wat used to house the emerald Buddha which is now housed in the Grand Palace in Bangkok which, if you're playing along at home, you'll remember we didn't see because we were dressed inappropriately. The surrounding wats housed some incredible wax effigies of the past monks. They look so real its actually creepy. James, Lucas and I also got blessed by a monk and received a string bracelet. The string bracelet comes from a larger piece of string blessed by the monks to bring good luck and protection.
We did venture outside of the city a couple of times. Once was to go to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep This was something Adam really wanted to see. Legend says a white elephant walked up the hill and died in a particular spot which everyone took this a sign that the temple needed to be built there. According to Adam there should have been about 1200 steps to the temple....according to the info given out by the temple it should be about 360 stepts...according to our count its about 190 steps. Either way I'm totally unfit and was knackered by the time I reached the top. Once at the top you get to see a beautiful temple decorated in white and gold. Is this different from any other temple?? No, but they have a statue of a white elephant AND they had a white dog with eyebrows painted on. We couldn't get a photo of that dog but it was hilarious.
The temple only takes about 20 minutes to look around; unless you're with James and then you need to download the app to read the barcode to tell you the story of their religions history and then walk around the temple for the second time scanning the barcodes and listening to the story of the religions history. In saying that it is truly wonderful that he is wanting to learn and taking an interest in other religions and cultures. It think will make for a very rounded view on life.
After the white elephant we went to Chiang Mai zoo which was so disappointing for me. If you care about how animals are treated and how they should be kept in captivity this zoo is not for you. I felt like this zoo was stuck 30 years in the past with lots of concrete and very little enrichment for the animals. I think they are trying to make things better; they were building a new enclosure for the hippos and the gibbons had some beautiful enclosures but the rest was incredibly poor. The elephants (one adult and one baby) were attached to a chain 3 ft long so people could take photos with them. It was terribly awful in some parts. We did see giraffes and were able to feed them, we were also able to feed the hippos and they have one panda who looked quite happy gorging on bamboo. The sun bears also looked like they were having a fantastic time even though they appeared incredibly overweight (compared to the ones we saw in the sanctuary). I'm not convinced I would recommend this place to others visiting the area but you can make up your own mind.
One good thing about Chiang Mai is that we were never stuck for food choices and found some great, inexpensive places to eat. We also found some amazing coffee and vegemite!! I cannot tell you how excited I was to have some vegemite. The vitamin B was so tasty!! We also got to watch the start of the footy season in which Port won and Carlton lost. And we watched the cricket...did you see that shot by Warner?!
But I think our favourite part of Chiang Mai (well at least mine...) was the elephant retirement park. Oh my this was an amazing day. It was home to 7 elephants, 6 of which have been rescued from building sites and the like and one 7 month old who was born at the park. The oldest elephant was 35 and she looked as though she had had a hard life. We got to feed them, made some medicine for them, gave them a mud bath and then played with them in the water. They were all so beautiful and very cheeky! Such a great experience.
And that ends our time in Thailand! With visas expired we now head to Cambodia.