After a week in Wenzhou, it was time to pack our bags and head to our next destination: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Whereas Wenzhou was all about trying new foods, learning new phrases, appreciating nature, and being immersed in a culture so different than my own, Thailand offered this and so much more. Whereas, I often experienced feelings of isolation in Wenzhou due to the language barrier it was in Thailand that I was once again felt whole and connected to those around me. This is not to say that one country is better than the other. But rather, with language no longer being an issue I was once again able to be an active participant and engage with both locals and foreigners alike. Despite the official language of Thailand being Thai, many of the market sellers, hotel staff, and tour guides often spoke a basic level of English which made communication a breeze. You see, Chiang Mai is an incredibly popular hub for “digital nomads” from across the globe and with it comes a need to understand English to communicate with the English speaking foreign born working there. The result of this, is something that extends beyond language. Stepping onto the streets, I immediately fell in love with Chiang Mai for what it had become: a beautiful cultural mosaic of locals and foreigners alike. And so, I set out with great determination to do as much as possible and experience as much as I could in the little time we were there. When it came time to explore the city, I adopted the mantra “Treat Yo Self” (see hyperlink), and oh did we ever! With massages, shopping, sanctuary excursions, zip lining, and so much more, Chiang Mai treated me better than any man ever could.
During our time in Thailand, my friend and I indulged in several Thai massages. In comparison to Canada where a massage can range from 70-200 dollars, Thai massages here range from 200- 600 baht (8-24 dollars). My only advice to you is before checking out massage places, do your research. As prostitution laws are flexible, some massage parlours offer a more “sensual” massage than you were looking for. Despite these drawbacks, that is not to say that all massage parlours are like this. In fact, the city is full of reputable massage parlours and it would be shame to miss out on the experience. As a result, I have provided the two following massage establishments to check out: : Lila Thai Massage and Fah Lanna Spa.
For someone who had never had a Thai massage, Lila Thai Massage was the perfect segway into this world of massage technique. Not only did they start off gentle and slowly increase pressure constantly inquiring whether I was okay, what struck me about this establishment was the professionalism and humility of the masseuses. In addition to their service, what drew me to this establishment was the cause it supported and the history behind it. The establishment was created as an ex-inmate employment center. What this means is that this establishment provides former inmates with the opportunity to receive a massage training course, and are then employed by the establishment. In doing so, the place offers a second chance at life to ex-convicts by providing them with valuable skills and financial means to support themselves. I will be honest in that I felt hesitant. However, after getting over my initial hesitation, I was glad I did. At no time during my visit did I feel unsafe and rather the place was well maintained and the masseuses very cordial. What this experience taught me was to be more open minded. If as a society we deny employment to those who may have once made mistakes in their lives, how do we expect them to choose a different path in life? With the soft hum of music, a foot massage, a warm cup of tea, and my muscles stretched out I came out of there feeling like a million bucks. The experience was not only a great introduction to Thai massage, but knowing we were contributing to a good cause made it all the better (Cost 200 baht).
Next on the recommended massage places is Fah Lanna Spa. This Spa is located in the old town of Chiang Mai and falls on the higher end price range. While Lila was a great introduction to the practice and supported a great cause, Fah Lanna Spa was very tailored to an individual’s need. After being picked up from our hotel, we were dropped off at the door of the spa to begin our descent into total bliss. Upon arrival we were given a form to fill out in which we could specify our needs, circling the parts of our body we wanted special attention on. As a result, our massage was customized to our specific needs and special care was given to sensitive areas of our body. As a result, the massage was phenomenal. From having the kinks in lower back released and my muscles pulled and compressed, to having special attention given to my head as a result of suffering from migraines, I could not ask for a better massage. With the tranquil setting and the sounds of water trickling outside and dim lighting it was an image of serenity. To finish it off, we were escorted to the spa’s cafe where we were given complimentary tea and biscuits to conclude our visit.(Cost 600 baht)
Elephant Pants and Markets
Aside from treating ourselves to massages, shopping at the local markets was a must in the city of Chiang Mai. Starting around the late afternoon, stalls would begin to set up on the streets for the night of shopping ahead. It was here I bought many pairs of the infamous “elephant pants” that you see in all your friends vacation pictures in Thailand. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, Thai people don’t typically wear these and this is more of a tourist attire. That being said, these pants were lifesavers in the brutal Thai heat as they provided coverage from the scorching sun while being both airy and breathable. It was like being able to wear pyjamas in public and I was all for it! Aside from the pants, the markets were where you could find a variety of different knick knacks or souvenirs for your family back home. From hand crafted candles, wooden figurines, souvenir t-shirts, handbags, these markets had it. It was here we learned the art of bargaining and in the process managed to get some great pieces to take back home with us. If you want the full market experience, check out the Sunday night market. A whole section of the city becomes closed off for the market and it is here you can find a few other pieces not typically found during the week. Please note that if you have plans to be anywhere on Sunday, than this market is not for you as the crowds are massive. So clear your schedule, join the swarm, settle in, and experience the slow crawl of walking through the Sunday market. If you are lucky, performances can be seen during this market before it starts.
Thai Rolled Ice Cream ( Found in Chiang Mai Night Bazaar)
Thailand: Unleash your inner foodie
I’m going to keep it real that during my time in Thailand, I did not unleash my inner foodie for the reason being that a lot of Thai food is spicy or utilizes strong curries which I don’t particularly enjoy. That aside if you are someone who loves spicy food and curry, than you will rejoice with joy upon arrival to Thailand. With a large selection of delicious food, you will never grow hungry and with incredibly affordable prices it will feel like an all you can eat all day everyday, as market stalls line the streets to feed you whenever you are feeling hungry. So for all you picky eaters, it is here I give you advice on the best meals to stick to during your visit to Thailand: Massaman Chicken Curry (relatively mild curry with potatoes, coconut milk and chicken), Chicken Pad Thai (stir fried noodles complete with tofu, chicken, and bean sprouts), Chicken Fried Rice and Pork Dumplings. Once you try these, you can begin to venture off into the more adventurous dishes that Thailand has to offer. If none of these call to you, there is quite a large selection of American food for purchase. However I urge you to try the local cuisine, as you will regret not having authentic Pad Thai while you’re here.
Visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
My visit to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was hands down one of my favourite experiences while in Thailand. The Sanctuary lies a little outside of Chiang Mai and was started as a joint initiative between members of the Karen hill tribes and Chiang Mai locals concerned about the welfare of the elephants in Thailand. Unfortunately, in Thailand there is a huge issue with the ill treatment of elephants utilized for purposes such as circus performances as well as being kept in small enclosures and utilized for riding treks by tourists. The sanctuary aims to fix that by rescuing elephants from these conditions and nursing them back to health with the aim to release them into the wild. As a result, this sanctuary does not offer elephant rides but is a place which educates the public on elephants and offers a day of feeding the elephants, learning about conservation efforts, and giving the elephants a mud bath. While we were there, we donned traditional Thai attire. What we learned during the visit was how these elephants came to be here, how the Karen hill tribes helped grow the crops to feed the elephants at the sanctuary, and the differences between the Asian and African elephants. I cannot express my gratitude enough at the staff for being so informative and kind during our visit. They made us laugh and it was clear the people working there were passionate about their mission. Besides being incredibly informative, they also acted as our personal photographers during our time there. They were there to educate the public in a fun and dynamic way and being covered in mud from head to toe was definitely an experience I will not forget. It is one thing to see elephants on television, and an entirely different experience to interact with them in person. We were often brought to fits of laughter as they would badger us to feed them more and use their trunks to sneakily steal food from our pockets. It was a day full of joy and laughter, and it was an honour to be amongst such magnificent creatures and seeing them prosper in their new habitats.
Selfies with the workers at the sanctuary
Feeding the elephants at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Jungle Flight Excursion
Our visit to Chiang Mai would not be complete without getting some serious hiking on and so prior to arriving we booked an excursion with Jungle Flight for some serious hiking and ziplining action. The course was complete with various ziplines of different altitudes and lengths as well as a rollercoaster type zipline to complete the journey. It was full of scenic opportunities and with a highly trained staff there was never a moment where I felt unsafe during our ziplining course. The longest zipline was 1000 meters and was a pure adrenaline rush with a fantastic panoramic view. Want to spend another entire day in nature while also satisfying the daredevil within you? Check out Jungle Flight Chiang Mai. It is a workout and adventure all in one.
Rocking those hairnets
Check out the bars in Chiang Mai
During our visit to Chiang Mai, my friend humoured me in going out to a bar during one of our nights in Chiang Mai. The city has a few rooftop bars that are worth checking out and I recommend that you at least visit one during your stay. Our choice during our trip: THC Rooftop Bar. Now I know what your thinking, the name suggests it is probably some kind of drug den. I assure you that while this is not the case, if you are looking for a swanky rooftop bar this is not the place for you. If you are, however, looking for a chill atmosphere with psychedelic paintings lining the room, you have come to the right place. After taking off your footwear and walking up a dodgy staircase, you reach the rooftop bar at the top. Upstairs, the walls are lined with psychedelic glow art with the whole look being pulled together with low tables and floor seating on cushions.
THC Rooftop Bar- Check out the glow art
Chiang Mai was the experience of a lifetime. With the elephant sanctuary, zip lining excursions, bargaining in markets, getting massages, and checking out psychedelic bars it was everything I could ask for and more. The people were kind and humble, and everything just felt right. Life had slowed down and with the large crowds, all you could do was move at a slow crawl and enjoy everything around you.