Chiang Mai, especially the old city area where we are staying has a nice relaxed feel about it.  There are only over a million inhabitants, mainly outside of the old city so it is a welcome change after Bangkok.

Our hotel the “Bodhi Serene” is near one corner of the old city of Chiang Mai.  We had to laugh – the girl who showed us to our room got into the bath and opened the shutters into the room and said that we should have a bath as we could look into the garden from there which was a bit of an exaggeration as we could only see the garden from the balcony! 

The old city is in the form of a large square  and pieces of the old wall  remain and a moat separates it from outer Chiang Mai where most inhabitants live.  The old city which you can easily walk around houses most of the temples, guesthouses and small hotels, spas, restaurants and cafes.  The coffee is really good and very cheap as is the food in most of the small cafes roadside stalls and restaurants.  We had a good Pad Thai and Fried chicken a large beer and a fresh fruit juice for $8.

We have really enjoyed our time here in Chiang Mai. The first day we just wandered about the old city looking at all the temples and town in general and went to the night market where we were assailed by hundreds of thousands of flying white ants with large wings which flew around everyone and all around the stalls that were set up. This lasted for about 1/2 hour and then they disappeared as quickly as they came.

We bought a lot of fruit yesterday to take with us on the 2day boat trip to Pak Beng and then on to Luang Prabang. A kilo of Lychees, one kilo of Mangosteen and one kilo of Mangoes which are in season and just delicious cost us about $2 in total. The cost of living here in Chiang Mai is extremely cheap compared to Bangkok which we already found very cheap and comparable to Bali for food prices. They do a lot of fresh juices and all combinations of fruit. They have large take away cups on display with all the different varieties you can have and then they wizz this up with water and ice.

We ate mainly at a simple little cafe down the road run by three Thai guys and the green chicken curry with eggplant, pad Thai and vegetable dishes were delicious. The mosquitoes here are vicious and most places either give you anti mosquito spray or direct a fan on you to keep them away. I spray myself before I go out and take mosquito wipes with me but have still been bitten occassionally. They are industrial in size and bite through light cotton clothing so I’ve taken to wiping the clothing too.

We saw an interesting day excusion for us online and was initially a bit skeptical as it was run by a swedish guy. It turned out to be one of the best things we have done especially as we are both interested in gardens and knowing what plants are what. Erik Danell is a Swedish botanist married to a lovely Thai lady and they have two small children. He has lived about 1/2 hour away from Chiang Mai for the last 6years. He was an associate professore in Upssala in Sweden and found himself only in meetings and wanted to get back to nature. He has set up the most wonderful Thai garden with all sorts of species of trees/fruit trees/shrubs and orchids as well as having a dedicated area for endangered species of mainly orchid species that have been found in the jungle.

A special area which is fenced with bars and a statue of a crouching lion to denote danger in front of the area which houses an assortment of deadly trees. An American volunteer forgetting instructions not to touch this tree took a yellow leaf from the tree and found that his arm was paralysed for several days. Erik also has a strychnine tree. He showed us a cinammon tree and told us how in commercial crops they take the branches and bash the bark to form the cinammon sticks that you buy. He has a lovely golden retriever dog and a pet baby water buffalo who roam the property as well as a host of chickens who have the run of the place. I asked him is snakes were a problem and he said that he only had one cobra in the house and shooed it out with a broom. The area between the trees is well cleared which we were happy about. 

A Buddha’s hand fruit.  It is said that a Chinese scholar kept one in his office and  he would scratch the surface and it gives off a lovely citrus like scent which helped his thought process.

He has volunteer workers from around the world come and help in the garden which is set in about 20acres and also people in north Thailand who explore the forrest and look for undiscovered species of orchids or endangered other plant species. He first picked us up and took us to the local Chiang Mai market where he identified all sorts of fruit and vegetables for us. He said that even after six years he can find things in the market that he hasn’t seen before. He bought a few of the vegetables and fruit that we had never eaten and we had these with a delicious chicken dish at his property for lunch. We also had a most delicous drink they call Rosella which I recognized from Egypt which they call Karkadea . It is made by soaking hibiscus flowers and adding a bit of sugar. So tasty and refreshing with ice or they boil it up for a hot drink.

We then went out to his property and he walked us around telling us what the trees were and let us taste various fruit off the trees and telling us their culinary or medicinal qualities. It was 38degrees and about 90% humidity so after a couple of hours we stopped for lunch and then continued around the rest of the garden. Erik then drove us to Op Khan national park about 1/2 hour away through a beautiful valley where we went to a local village and walked by the stream where he told us what the trees and plants were and showing us very unusual flowers. These flowers which look like rocks appear from the ground first and then the leaves and plant follow. He spotted a large Lychee tree so we walked there and had some of the delicious juicy fruit right from the tree. He also found a large pomelo on the ground which he gave us.

We were to have more food with a family in the village but as school was starting the next day he took us to a small stall in the bottom of a large shopping mall which served the best Khao Soi a local Lanna specialty which consists of rice noodles in a delicious broth with vegetables and topped with crispy noodles and to that you add chilli and pickled vegetables. This cost 80cents. He picked us up at 8.30am and dropped us off at 5.30pm and it was a great day. We learnt so much and he gave us a lot of tips about what we can plant when we change the garden into a monsoon one.

A friend had told us about the elephant nature foundation that takes in and buys injured and abused animals and cares for them. We went with about 8 others in a mini van to the property about 65kms to the north of Chiang Mai. It was founded by a Thai woman called Lek in 1995 and survives by visitors who pay for a day or two day trip there who can feed, walk with them and bathe the elephants without them having to do tricks or carting tourists around which is bad for their backs as they are not as strong or large as African elephants. She was also given a donation of millions of dollars by an American which allowed her to buy the property for the elephants.  Some of the stories of the rescued animals are very sad with some being blinded by their owners who prod their eyes to make them do what they want. Two others were from Cambodia and had their legs injured by land mines and another couple had broken ankles and hips from logging injuries and another a broken back. Each elephant has his own Mahoot who looks after it. The elephants eat over 100 kilos of fruit and vegetables every day so they are grateful I think for the visitors who feed them twice in the day with pumpkin, pineapple, cucumbers and bananas which they especially like.

They also have over 200 dogs and 45cats who were rescued after the flooding in Bangkok. Most of these are kept in separate areas but there are about 20 dogs and a few cats that have the run of the place and they also get plenty of love from all the visitors and volunteers and guides.

I  got into the river and helped throw buckets of water over the elephants to wash them off. After that they go and throw dirt over themselves and use the many concrete structures to satisfy any itch. They have 34 elephants and two are babies who still have hair. they range in age from 2years to 80 years. One had died the week before and there was almost a hillock where it was buried. Our guide told us that the elephants that were friendly with her stood over her for a couple of hours. Our friend sponsored an elephant called Lilly who died about a year ago and her elephant friend a young female is still missing her and won’t let another elephant become friendly with her.

We were given specific instructions about where to stand when near them (not behind them) and what to do when the elephants move. I wouldn’t like to be trodden on by one or flicked by a stray trunk. They said that most of the elephants were very gentle but we had to keep our eyes on Boy – a young male who was classed as naughty! If he came our way we had to get out of the way.

Some volunteers stay for extended periods and unload trucks of food and prepare meals etc.We were given a wonderful vegetarian buffet lunch and shown a documentary about how Lek finds and pays for elephants that are used to beg on the streets or abused animals that need rescuing.

We spent a morning walking around town again and found a nice little park near the moat. We met an American Eurasian woman and a little boy when we went to feed the fish in the park. The little boy wanted more food to feed the fish so I gave him mine and we got talking to the lady. She has been visiting Baan Vieng Ping orphanage which is out of town with 200 children for the last 3 years. She has known the little boy since he was left at the orphanage when he was 2months old and she takes him out once a week. The orphanage receives no government funding so we gave her a donation. She told us that a lot of the children are given to the orphanage by families because they can’t afford to feed them but that most of them keep their parental rights hoping to come and get them one day but she said this doesn’t happen very often and prevents the children from being adopted and they spend their life there until they reach a certain age and then the boys move on to a boys home and the girls until they finish school.

There are many hundreds of monks in and around Chiang Mai and they survive by peole giving them donations of food. They are allowed to buy something to drink but not to eat and rely on the local people and donations from visitors for clothing etc.

Three monks come to the hotel where we  stayed  every Wednesday. 

We were invited to take part in the tradiitional ritual of giving them food and them giving us a blessing.

Even though we had seen many temples we decided to take a bemo by ourselves up to the Doi Suthep Wat which is on the highest hill (1000mtrs) and gives a good view all over Chiang Mai.

We climbed the 300 odd steps  to the top and the temple was worth seeing. 

It was just as well as there was so much heat haze that we couldn’t see much of Chiang Mai.

We took a mini bus with 8 others (all young backpackers) to Chiang Khong on the border of Thailand. It is a very winding road trip around the hills driving at break neck speed. I’m glad we don’t suffer from motion sickness! We stopped at the white temple (we were nearly all templed out!) but this one was very different from the previous temples. It was very white and covered with small pieces of mirror.

 We stayed the night at a lovely little bunglaow hotel overlooking Laos before crossing into Laos the next day and then getting on the 2day slow boat trip up to Luang Prabang with an overnight stay in Pak Beng where we have been told that the power goes off at 10pm.

We were amazed that of all the young much younger people on the bus with us only one girl knew where she was going and what she was doing.  The others didn’t know that they couldn’t get a boat up the river until the following day and didn’t know that they had to stay the night in Chiang Khong.  One had just finished University.  The group were so different from the uni students that were with me in Hangzhou and Beijing who knew everything there was to know about the cities and what to do and where to go. 

Some more pictures in and around Chiang Mai

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