Yesterday morning we traded skyscrapers for mountains.by flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. The vibe here it totally different. There is less congestion and tourism so you can get a deeper sense of everyday Thai life. We instantly appreciated the fresher air and chirping birds.
After landing, we headed straight for a traditional Thai spa for four and a half hours of treatments. We started with delicious bael fruit tea and a foot soak, followed by a coconut and coffee body scrub, 2 hour massage, facial and coconut milk/flower/lime bath in our own private cottage together. It was awesome after walking around Bangkok and flying almost 20 hours.
After the spa we walked one minute from our hotel to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar - a huge market with street food, food stalls, clothing and souvenir vendors, dance performances, lady boys dressed as pageant queens and more. We stood out from the mostly Thai crowd people but we could also spot some visitors here for the New Year celebration. As we perused the merchandise, one of the store proprietors stopped Davey and asked for a picture because she loved his shirt and wanted to make it for her shop. We ordered indian food, spicy pork noodle soup with egg and for dessert roti, a delicious Muslim pan fried bread. You can choose to add honey, nutella, chocolate, jam, etc. but we just went with straight sliced banana and it was delicious.
Today was epic. We woke up early and did some rooftop yoga with the sun rising over the mountains. Then walked to a local laundry behind our hotel and the owner handed Erin her baby while she weighed our clothes bag (total price for all laundering and folding and pressing $3). All businesses here seem to be owned by families and the kids are always involved or hanging around (just like DB lol). We then walked down to the main promenade where street food vendors with carts set up tables and plastic chairs to serve the locals breakfast. We shared a table with an older Thai man and shared travel stories over thai milk tea, congee, spicy noodles, grilled toast and egg dumplings.
At 10am our personal guide Kamsean picked us up and we drove about an hour out of town to a locals only market where he picked up bananas for our elephants and lunch for us - a bunch of local foods we would never have otherwise tried. Our guide was super excited we liked spicy because he said many Americans only like bland food so he cannot be creative in terms of what he selects at the market. We had a complete feast-- fresh coconuts to drink, khao soi (local spicy coconut milk soup), green papaya salad with peanuts, green beans, chiles, cilantro, lime juice and tomatoes, sticky rice with spicy cilantro sauce and a ton of fruit (mango, pineapple, dragon fruit). After the market we drove another hour on windy mountain passes into the jungle to the elephant preserve.
When we arrived, we switched into our denim mahout elephant training uniforms and practiced basic commands in Thai (left, right, back, go, stop, good boy). We ate lunch and then met our elephants for the first time. Dave's was named Dee-Dee which means "very good" and Erin's was named "Po-Dee" which means "just all right." Although we've been looking forward to the experience for months, we were both shocked by the sheer size of the great beasts up close. We slowly developed a rapport by feeding them banana and pumpkin. They tried to grab all the snacks with their trunks but we learned to place the food right in their mouths. Hearing their powerful jaws crush pumpkins gives you an instant guttural reaction and respect. Their skin is covered in bristled, firm comb hairs and you can hear their trunk suctioning. We got a crash course in mounting the elephant. Erin chose to mount from the side by stepping on its leg while grabbing its ear. Dave stepped right on the trunk and climbed over its forehead.
We rode 2 hours through the jungle with no harness or seat. They stopped frequently to eat. They eat 10% of their body weight each day and only sleep four hours a day to have more time to eat. We went up and down hills and across water. You don't really sit on them like riding a horse, but rather, you sit in a squat right at the base of their heads. Erin carried leaves to feed hers along the ride. She would shout out "bon bon" and her elephant lifted up its trunk to accept the leaf. After we got used to riding, we could ride with no hands and even sprawl out over its head. The trainers said we were naturals and we both loved it.
After the jungle ride, we entered a 3 foot watering hole that to bathe the elephants. We scrubbed and splashed the elephants while sitting on them. They were really playful, spraying us with their trunks and rolling over in the water. We rode them out of the water and then fed them some more. We were tickled to experience such huge animals that could crush us perform delicate maneuvers, even kissing us with their trunks!
After that we had a snack and then our guide drove us back to Chiang Mai as the sun went down over the fields and mountains. The whole experience took from 10-7. One of our favorite parts was cuddling with the baby elephant. It exuded youthful exuberance, curiosity and playfulness...and constant hunger.
The elephant experience with Blue Elephant Sanctuary was one of our favorite days ever. It was so cool to each have our own all day. We can't wait to go back and see if they remember us!