Chiang Mai!

For the time being, I am going to skip my Bangkok blog since Walter and I will be going back for a few days here and there.  Bangkok is one of the most affordable airports to fly out of to get to neighboring countries so it will be a hub we use a few times.  From Bangkok, we took an overnight bus to Chiang Mai which is Northwest of Bangkok. We contemplated doing an overnight bus, but it would have been $20 more expensive per person.  The overnight buses are not as comfortable as they were in Vietnam. You just get a partially reclining seat that may or may not have a functioning reclining ability. There is not a guarantee if you will have charging ports on the bus, which is a let down because you will obviously need to look up directions to your stay when you get to town.  We got to Chiang Mai at six in the morning and took a taxi to our hostel. We stayed at 248 Hostel because of its proximity to the city and it had a pool. They don’t allow early check-in, however, they will let you store your luggage in a locked room. Good enough. Chiang Mai is a fairly large place and has an “Old City” and “New City”. I feel like these should describe themselves, but for those of you that struggle; the old city is where you’ll find temples, street foods, and cheaper clothing stalls.  The new city has department stores, malls, more expensive restaurants. Everything is close enough to walk to, but if that isn’t your favorite activity, simply flag down one of the big red taxi trucks and they will cater you around for a few baht. I usually list off the cheap eats places we found for other travelers that may read this, but really this place has no shortage! Every night and especially weekends street food carts are in full swing with eats so cheap you’ll want to buy a few different bowls of numerous foods.  We ate at a Korean food cart where each plate was 30 baht ($1) so naturally, I ordered like five different things. Chiang Mai is known for their Khao Soi (spelled many different ways), and this is a MUST try! If you ever listen to me, do it now. My favorite Khoa Soi place was only open from 10a to 2p, but when I was there the line was 20 minutes long with travelers and locals, which really speaks for itself, and they sold out of everything by 1 pm! I’ll write about this along with the address under my Eatables section. I had Khao Soi at least once a day, sometimes twice.  I would recommend walking around the old city at night. Usually, the temples close at dusk, but in Chiang Mai, they leave a few open after dark and start lighting things up. We came across a somewhat hidden beautiful prayer area that has us mesmerized for a while.

Pictured above: Prayer area in the old city hidden from view of the road

We did a day trip to Chiang Rai that costs 1000 baht ($30).  We had always planned on seeing the White Temple so we decided on this day trip since it had the White Temple, Blue Temple, Black Temple, lunch, and a village called Long Neck Karen.  These temples are modern compared to the usual ancient temples. The White Temple was built in 1997 and has American depictions everywhere. In the main temple on the walls, there are paintings of Spongebob, Scooby doo, and Marvel/DC characters.  Around the gardens, there are sculpted faces similar to these paintings. I was pretty confused on the meaning. In hindsight, I would have just paid for a bus to take us to Chiang Rai and rent a motorbike to see all of these places on our own. The ride was 4 hours each way, which we did not know.  All of the tours going on that day went to each place at the same time, so when we arrived somewhere so did a few hundred other people, but when we drove by the White Temple an hour later it was empty. They provided a lunch buffet which was not that great. We only had about 30 minutes at some of the temples.  We lastly went to Long Neck Karen village. This is a village of a tribe of women that wore gold rings on their neck to stretch it out. Once the neck is stretched out they can not remove the rings due to their weakened neck muscles. Every tour tries to bring you to the village, but after some research on our part, we stayed near the van while everyone else went in.  On top of the tour costing 1000 baht, it was an extra 300 baht to see the women. I don’t like doing these village tours because the guides prod people to take pictures like these women are in a zoo, but really they are in extreme poverty and only surviving on some of the money they get from people visiting these places.

Picture below: White Temple in Chiang Rai

Pictured Below: Blue Temple and Black Temple (also known as Wooden Temple)

One of my “have to do” things while on this trip is going to an Elephant Sanctuary, and after many hours of research done, I decided this might be the best place.  If you go to an Elephant Sanctuary please go to an ethical one! They are at least $10-$15 more than unethical ones, but if you can’t afford to go somewhere they don’t abuse animals, maybe you shouldn’t go at all.  This goes for tiger and big cat sanctuaries. There is mounting evidence showing that these tigers are drugged all day so tourists can get close enough to get a picture, lay on them, or pet them. Don’t encourage this bullshit.  Go pay for a Jungle safari in Cambodia or Laos and see wild tigers. We decided to go to Kanta Elephant Sanctuary. We booked through the hostel and it costs 1200 baht per person ($35). They pick you up from the hostel, provide fruit and snack, provide some free photography, and obviously give you a ride back.  It was one of the best experiences of my life and induced an emotional response that really surprised me. It’s amazing to touch them and hug their snout all while knowing they could kill you pretty easily, but really they are just gentle giants! That is what made it emotional, to witness their caring nature and think of how their whole life they were treated as props and beaten if they didn’t perform.  We were able to feed them sugarcane for about an hour, then made them medicine balls that they take a few times a day, and finally rubbed them down in the river! Everything really exceeded my expectations! On our last day there Walter broke his tooth. We would get to figure out just how good our insurance and the medical care here was. Walter emailed our insurance company (Geo Blue) to figure out what the next steps would be and if he was covered.  It took about four days to receive a response from the insurance, which goes to show even American travel insurance can be shit. We had already waited two days without a response, and I was overreacting thinking he might be at risk from endocarditis ( which is a serious bacteria that affects the lining of your heart from entering in through the gumline) so after we arrived back in Bangkok we decided that no matter the price it wasn’t worth waiting any longer for.  Especially being in a country where the water isn’t clean, or maybe food isn’t properly cooked the risk for something to happen was a bit higher. Without any prior notice, we walked into a hospital, located a periodontist, filled out two short papers and he was in the dental chair within ten minutes. The procedure (exam, Xrays, and new filling) took about 40 minutes, and everything without insurance and out of pocket costs $75! The process in America just to get into the office would have taken days, and the costs of all of this with insurance could have easily cost a few hundred dollars out of pocket!  We were astounded at the quality of the work and price. The insurance eventually got back to Walter (four days after we reached out) and told him to fill out a form to see if they would cover it. He is still waiting to hear back. Next stop, South Thailand!