January 30-February 7, 2016: Hanging Out in Northern Thailand

As incredible as the islands of the Philippines were and the people we met, we were SO glad to be back in Thailand where, well, things just made sense again. We arrived late at night in Bangkok, intending to take the night train up to Chiang Mai the following night. Spent the day wandering around the train station area, eating delicious street food (FINALLY! Man, how we missed Thai food… and street food… especially Thai street food), buying fruit at markets, and just hanging out. It was a fabulous day.

From there, we took off for the North for a week of ALL kinds of shenanigans – temples, elephants, more eating, flower festivals, cooking class, and more! We were joined at the end by… wait for it… Lauren & Yoav (!!), whom we had met during our Annapurna trek in Nepal, for those who don’t remember. The couple-love affair we had developed did not wane in the slightest after Nepal and we did everything in each of our powers to reunite. We succeeded! They were to meet us for the last night in Chiang Mai and from there the four of us were to head into Laos together for 10ish days (which ended up being 17… oops). Read on to find out more about Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and later on Chiang Khong (an unexpected highlight) and Laos!

Miles walked:                 32
Miles transported:     ~2,030

Night Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

The sleeper trains in Thailand are something special. We’d heard a lot about them, as they are an important part of the “Thai experience”, and were really looking forward to the trip north! Arrived at Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Train Station, refreshed and ready to go:

Night Train, Bangkok-Chiang Mai - 1

Night Train, Bangkok-Chiang Mai - 2

Got on board, had some dinner, relaxed a little, and then this:

Night Train, Bangkok-Chiang Mai - 3

Turned into this:

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We slept fabulously and arrived in Chiang Mai bright and early the next morning, ready to go!

Chiang Mai

Ta-da! Samsonite, you’re in elephant land now.

Chiang Mai - 1

Found a hostel, after quite a little bit of desperate searching. The annual Chiang Mai Flower Festival was taking place that weekend, which we didn’t realize before arriving (obviously) and were struggling to find a cheap and decent guest house to stay in for the week. At last, we came upon Chok Dee Guest House. The place was awesome, the rooms were nice and clean, the staff was great, and they even had a little helper that would hang around and greet guests all day. People, meet Milo, the biggest and bestest Golden Retriever of all time:

Chiang Mai - 2

In our El Nido post, in the Overnight Island Hopping Tour section, I mentioned a group of Chileans that spent the night with us on the deserted beach. Turns out, two of them (Roberta and Cata) were going to be in Chiang Mai while we were, so we met up there and spent a few days and nights together – eating, drinking, but most important – ELEPHANTING! As we, like practically everyone else we’ve ever met, are super against elephant riding, we obviously opted out of that and instead chose to visit an elephant sanctuary. We chose Elephant Jungle Sanctuary as it had great reviews as being very humane and well-run and it was recommended by our friends, Emilia & Felipe (the ALSO Chilean couple that we ALSO met on the Annapurna trek… so many parallels in this post). It was a fantastic choice:

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Started off the day by learning about the sanctuary and their rescued elephants. Then proceeded to make the elephants food and feed them! The group getting ready for some elephant action:

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The baby elephant gave kisses:

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A super convenient way to drink water:

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Like two peas in a pod:

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The elephants headed down for their mud bath:

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And so did we!

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Nothing but pure joy for this little guy:

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I was super excited to get on in there:

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Francy a little less so (he was concerned about the poop factor of the mud):

But he overcame his concerns like a champ:

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And off we went to give the elephants a good scrub post mud-bath:

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I love this photo – the baby elephant just plunged himself into the water and is lying on his side, submerged and splashing around:

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We then made our way over to the waterfall to give OURSELVES a good scrub:

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Goodbye, elephants! Thank you for letting us be your friends!

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Although there is quite a lot more to do in Chiang Mai and the surrounding area than just elephants (trekking, zip-lining, jeep tours, long-neck tribes, etc.), we had already seen/done quite a bit of that stuff during our travels and we were WAY behind on our blog (because Wi-Fi in the Philippines was the worst ever), so we decided to spend the remaining few days before Lauren & Yoav’s arrival just chilling in Chiang Mai’s Old City, blogging, eating, and sorting out our visas for Myanmar. The benefit of all that, aside from the obvious, is getting to help give Milo his bath and then blow dry him afterwards:

Chiang Mai - 30

And then it happened…. Lauren and Yoav arrived!!!!! That called for an immediate group selfie at the ongoing flower festival:

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As Lauren and Yoav like to cook and Francy and I like to eat, we decided to celebrate our union with a cooking class! Met up with Kea, our amazing teacher from Smart Cook Thai Cookery School, and together we all walked to the market to learn about and buy our ingredients:

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They just can’t contain their excitement:

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We then made our way over to the cooking school, all prepped and ready for us:

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Again, the excitement… what am I going to do with these three??

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And so it begins…

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And the confusion sets in:

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But we power through nonetheless:

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Now we’re cookin’! … get it???

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Basking in the fruits (or curries, rather) of our labor:

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Thank you, Kea, for such an incredible time! And people – remember Kea, because she pops up as a CRUCIAL part of our journey with Lauren & Yoav in the next post 😉

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As we were disgustingly full and not yet ready for bed, we opted for a stroll around Chiang Mai, enjoying the flower festival and doing a wee bit of night market shopping along the way. Perfect way to cap off our stay in Chiang Mai!

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Chiang Rai

Said goodbye to Chiang Mai and made our way up to Chiang Khong, a small town on the Thai-Laos border from where we were planning to cross into Laos and take the slow boat down to Luang Prabang. Since we had the entire day to get there, we decided to stop in Chiang Rai to check out the famous Wat Rong Khun, more commonly known as the White Temple. Hopped off the bus in Chiang Rai and crammed into a tuk-tuk, excited to see said famous temple:

Chiang Rai - 1

And wow, it was indeed a thing of beauty. Looks just like Elsa’s castle in Frozen:

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But creepier:

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What temple shouldn’t have creepy, floating heads (is one of them Gollum?!?) hanging from the trees?

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And robots sitting on benches?

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And since I don’t want to end our story from Northern Thailand with creepy floating heads or a Transformer, I’ll leave you with this fabbity fab photo:

Chiang Rai - 13

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