Chiang Mai was added to our list of places to visit when we found out about Yi Peng festival. The lantern festival. Since watching the beautiful scene from tangled (you all know the one I’m talking about) it’s been a fantasy of sorts, to see so many lanterns in the sky. We arrived the day before the lantern festival began and we were eager to check in somewhere close to the Ping River so that we would have a spectacular view and be close enough to join in with the party.
After being dropped off by our coach miles out of town at 6am in the morning, feeling disorientated we jumped in a taxi with a group of others and headed for the centre of Chiang Mai. So be warned, when you’re bus says Bangkok to Chiang Mai, what it actually means is so far outside of Chiang Mai that taxi is your only option. As soon as we reached the centre and could see lines of water, fountains and cute cafes shielded by Chiang Mai’s mountainous surroundings, we knew that we would be much happier here than Bangkok. Chiang Mai has much more character, culture and camera inspiring views which are all the things that we felt Bangkok lacked.
We did some amazing things and found some lovely places in Chiang Mai that will stay with us forever. Although we’re only two weeks into our trip in Southeast Asia I already know that Chiang Mai will hold a place in our hearts for a long long time.
Our first hotel had the best view of the river and its surrounding areas and each evening when we arrived back at the hotel I caught sight of the Mae Ping river cruise. It looked very relaxing and I was intrigued to know more. We headed down to find the river cruise and it just so happened that one was departing in the next 10 minutes so we decided to go for it. We took a lovely leisurely pace down the river with our guide who filled us in on all the places we were passing – such as the princesses holiday home, American embassy, some private mansion homes and much more. After about 50 minutes of leisurely floating we arrived at Baan Chao Na Farmer House (which we later discovered was the set for Rambo four) and it was a really cool restaurant and garden full of home grown vegetables, herbs, spices and much more.
It was great to have a wander around and take in all the scents that surrounded us. To top it all off, we took a seat in the bar area and were greeted with enormous portions of fruit and herbal drinks all included in the river cruise. I think it was the yummiest pineapple I’ve ever tasted. We took a little tour around the restaurant which was furnished with some amazing upcycled items such as boats, windows, doors and animal skeletons. There was a lot to take in and we were very impressed with the unique feel of this place. After making our way back through the beautiful home grown goodies, we got back onto the boat and headed back to the pier where we began our journey. The river cruise was a great opportunity to see more of Chiang Mai from the river and to sit back and relax for a while.
Before we even arrived in Chiang Mai I knew that I would be participating in an elephant volunteer package because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. We did our research to find a sanctuary that was ethical towards the elephants, kept them in a natural environment and didn’t feature any riding or ‘circus tricks’. We came across hug elephant which was recommended by a local tour company in Chiang Mai. We paid approximately 1,500THB per person which is around £35 each for a full day with the elephants including transport and lunch. £35 to spend a day with elephants in their natural environment, who wouldn’t want that?
Upon arrival we each received a bag full of tasty sugar cane treats for the elephants and began the short trek uphill into the jungle to find the small group of elephants. From that point we were able to feed them, stroke them, take photographs and just enjoy their company for a while. Afterwards we headed down to the river pool, with the elephants leading the way (they knew what was coming). I was so eager to strip down to my bikini and begin slopping around in the mud and smothering the elephants in it. They absolutely loved it and so did I. They were so excitable, rolling around and flicking mud until everyone was covered and ready for a bath. We headed into the water and scrubbed the elephants clean which got them even more excited. They kindly squirted water everywhere, making sure that no one stayed dry and they endlessly rolled around and lolled into the water, causing a near tidal wave. Afterwards we said goodbye to the elephants and trekked down to a waterfall where we could have a swim, get washed and chill out for a while. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time, I got some amazing photos and videos and I will absolutely 100% never forget that day for as long as I live.
If you are heading to Chiang Mai then I thoroughly recommend you partake in an elephant volunteer program. You won’t regret it. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that shouldn’t be missed! But please take care of the elephants. They are beautiful creatures that should be loved and cared for in a natural way and not used for entertainment or transport purposes. Give your money to the companies that care for them as they should be.
Yi Peng & Loi Krathong
Onto the main event of Chiang Mai. The Yi Peng and Loi Krathong festival.
The Yi Peng and Loi Krathong festival ran over three days and consisted of homemade Krathong floats being sent down the river and lanterns being released into the night sky. This is an absolutely beautiful festival and the Thai people obviously feel very passionate about it therefore we wanted to fully understand the purpose of it before participating. We spoke with a number of locals beforehand so we could get a good understanding. The floats were sent down the river to give thanks to their water source and to cleanse it. Couples in love would send a float together containing a strand of hair and nail from each person to encourage health and happiness for the future. It was fascinating to see so many Thai people heading down to the rivers banks to release their chosen float and give thanks and appreciation to the river for all that it gave to them. The lanterns and floats are both released in celebration of the 12th month in the Thai Lunar Calender.
We stayed in Chiang Mai for a total of five nights and could have easily stayed longer. The locals were so friendly, helpful and accommodating at every opportunity and this made our stay in Chiang Mai all the more pleasant. Although I have only mentioned three of the main events of our time here there were plenty more highlights to Chiang Mai including some of the places we stayed and ate during our visit. I will mention them below;
Siriya House – The cutest Moroccan style guest house close to the river bank, with the loveliest host you could imagine. Plus, free bananas and drinks. What more can you ask for…… A cute dog? She has one of those too.
Coffee Bug – The best breakfast we’ve had so far and with the kindest staff to serve it. We spent many mornings fueling ourselves for the day here.
Le Spice – I love Indian food! Enough said. This place had the best samosas and pakoras ever! I also recommend the Iced Moroccan Mint drink. Wow.
Night Bazaar food court – this place has such a relaxed and friendly vibe. It’s basically a square, lined with multi cultural food stalls, bars and live music. Grab some munch and take a pew on one of the many hay bails, oil barrels or wooden pallets on offer.
For anyone who is visiting Chiang Mai I would strongly recommend any of these places. It is also crucial that you man up and get a moped so that you can see Chiang Mai to the fullest. There are plenty of waterfalls, temples and beautiful view points that are only accessible via transport and mopeds truly are the cheapest option at approximately 200THB (£4.50) per day.
I hope this post has been useful. I would love to hear if you visit any of these places or if you can recommend others that you fell in love with on a visit to Chiang Mai.