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    Friday, 4 September 2009

    Snakes and Tigers and Elephants in Chiang Mai, Oh My!

    Boots the Chemist [Enlarge & More]
    After nearly two months in Cambodia and Laos, arriving in Chiang Mai was a bit of a shock to the system. Neither Cambodia nor Laos can really boast being hustle and bustle kind of countries, so getting to Chiang Mai was a reminder that busy-ness really does exist!

    Elephant Bum[Enlarge & More]
    We eventually managed to find our way to our guesthouse – Elliebum (as in Elephant’s bum). Brilliant name for a brilliant place – overall, it’s got to be the best place we’ve stayed. There were only two rooms in the place, but it also doubles up as a cafĂ©. The room we had was a really good size, with a seating area, cable TV, DVD player, Wifi internet and the whole place was spotlessly clean – luxury (for us)! The owner, Gade, and her staff, were what made the place what it was. They were so friendly and helpful, and always went the extra mile to make our stay comfortable and informed. To top it all off, the little extra touches were brilliant – I haven’t seen anything quite as classic as Elliebum labelled soap, with an elephant’s bottom wiggling at me while I’m having a shower.

    Doi Suthep [Enlarge & More]
    We both had plans for the week that we were going to be in Chiang Mai for – I was going to do a massage course (more on that later), and Mahmoud was going to enjoy a bit of Mahmoud-time. In the meantime we had a couple of days to spare, and Gade (owner of Elliebum) suggested a few things we could do. We decided to hire a car and driver, something we had not done since India, and tour some of the outer areas of Chiang Mai – sightseeing!

    First off was the hilltop temple of Doi Suthep, somewhere Mahmoud had “definitely, 100% not been”. We drove up and up in our nice and comfy air-con car, our friendly driver chatting away. Upon arriving, we discovered that Mahmoud had, in fact, definitely 100% been before, he just did not remember until arriving. The temple was very interesting – unfortunately it was very cloudy and we could not see the city below, but it was still good to see it.

    Mae Sa Snake Farm [Enlarge & More]
    The next stop was the Maesa Snake Farm. I was slightly pessimistic about what we would actually see here, not being a great snake fan (more disinterest than dislike). When we arrived, the snake keepers were all sort of sitting around, but they jumped up and showed us around. Before I knew it, a snake was draped over my neck and it sort of hung there, before slowly sliding up my torso. It was horrible and cold and wet feeling, and very heavy. If I’d been a bit more prepared I might have handled it better, but I just sort of froze while Mahmoud took my picture. The snake was then promptly transferred to his neck, where it lazily hung for a few seconds, before being moved on. We walked around various cages containing snakes, including cobras, some of which tried to strike at us through the chicken wire! Fortunately I don’t think any of them were spitters, but they did look pretty menacing. Once a few more tourists arrived, the snake show got underway. This mostly involved a man taunting various breeds of snake and making them strike at him, and scaring the crowd with them. He always seemed to identify the people in the crowd most scared of the snakes, and target them with the scare tactics. It was a really good show, and I really enjoyed it.

    Tiger Kingdom[Enlarge & More]
    Next up, we went to the Tiger Kingdom for lunch. At Tiger Kingdom you can enter the enclosures and stroke the tigers, get your pictures with them, etc etc. We opted not to, so we ate lunch and watched other people doing it. It was a little bit sad to see the huge cats in captivity – the keepers were quite actively playing with them, but at the same time they were waking them up to take photos with tourists, and the whole thing felt a little like exploitation. Still, we ate there so I guess we partook in it anyway!

    Mae Sa Elephant Camp [Enlarge & More]
    After this we visited an elephant show. The elephants were really sweet, and we fed them some bananas and bamboo. There was a really cute little elephant, whose keeper gave it a hat to put on my head. The little elephant put it on my head, and then patted the hat with it’s trunk while Mahmoud took a photo. It then did the same to Mahmoud. It was so cute – such an expressive face. It was my first time up close with elephants, and I have to say I thought they were really sweet – full of personality, even if a lot of what they do is learned through training. We watched the show, in which the elephants played football, painted pictures and adopted sweet poses for the crowd.

    Elephant Ride [Enlarge & More]
    Next, we took an hour long ride on one of the elephants – a big 33 year old female. She plodded along, up and down tracks so steep that you never would have thought anything that size should be able to make it, but elephants seem to be really surefooted, testing the way with their trunks as they go. The ride was very comfortable, and a good experience. She posed for the camera when the elephant driver took our photo – so sweet!

    Umbrella Village [Enlarge & More]
    Lastly, we visited the “umbrella village” east of Chiang Mai. This looked suspiciously like an emporium from the outside, however once we went in we found people working away making the paper umbrellas. It was interesting walking along and watching each stage of the process, and Mahmoud got a few photos (the only real reason for going there!).

    Bosang “Umbrella” Village[Enlarge & More]
    The rest of the week was good for the both of us, although we each did separate things owing to my massage course. One thing we did do was visit the Sunday Night Market – an event sponsored by the government to allow people to set up shop along the main street without having to pay rent. The result is cheap goods and a great night out for all involved. We did a bit of shopping and had a good time – had some excellent local food too! Best of all was at 6pm, when the national anthem blasted out through the speakers along the street. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stood to attention while it played. Mahmoud was buying something and the transaction was paused mid-sale. A whining dog was shushed. The whole world stopped for one minute, and once the anthem was over, the street sprang back to life. It was definitely worth seeing!

    The only bad thing about Chiang Mai is that it’s full of dirty old sex tourists (ST’s as we call them). Shame really, as it kind of puts you off your dinner when you see a leachy old man draped over a young Thai girl (or boy). That’s a bit of an unfair generalisation, but a lot of the time it’s just plain exploitation, and I don’t really like to see it happening.

    More on the week to come, but generally we enjoyed Chiang Mai. It was a nice change of pace after Laos, and a great introduction to Thailand. Mahmoud’s lack of memory of his last visit seems to make it like a first-time destination for him as well!


    1. Please tell me that isn't one of your hands up close to the chops of that big cat, taking a photo right in its face!

    2. Never got anywhere near, not for us.

    3. Did you rememeber to take your Boots Clubcard?


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