Chiang Mai, Thailand – Jungle Treks, Elephant Camps, and Cooking Classes… Oh My!

After spending a week in Bangkok with my parents, we were all ready to head out for a long weekend in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is known for its great jungle treks, but we didn’t think that Robin and Alan would be up for sleeping in a hut in the jungle with no water or electricity, so instead we planned a fun-filled weekend of other great activities in this city in the North of Thailand.

We had an early-ish flight on Friday morning (Valentine’s Day) from DMK airport in Bangkok and we were touching down in CM before noon. My parents decided to treat us to a weekend of luxury by booking us a room with them at the Sirilanna, a beautiful boutique hotel in the Old City. When we arrived at the airport, they were waiting for us with a sign saying “Parks,” which is always a fun treat. We arrived at the hotel to another surprise – my mom had called to book us the honeymoon suite (complete with towel swans, rose petals, and a huge jacuzzi tub). It was one of the nicest hotel rooms we’ve ever stayed in.

But, in true Stave fashion, we had planned an itinerary to keep us pretty busy from the second we arrived until we’d leave a few days later. After getting settled into our rooms, we headed out to explore the Old City of CM and some of the many wats in the area. They were all very nice, but after spending a day exploring the temples in Bangkok just a few days before, my parents were pretty much wated out. So, we went to check out Chiang Mai University and the surrounding area, and of course, get a snack and an ice coffee shake (our favorite go-to drink).

Later that night after a little relaxing and our first of many times taking advantage of our hot tub, we headed to the famous CM night market. We spent an hour or so shopping around, but none of us really found anything we hadn’t seen before at some of the other markets we’d been to in Bangkok. But, what we did find was an awesome street filled with street food, and we decided on that as our dinner spot. We got everything from noodles to spring rolls to fried chicken to sausage and more and we chowed down at a folding table right on the street. My dad commented that he couldn’t understand how people ever ate in a restaurant in Thailand because all of the street food is so good and so cheap – we couldn’t agree more and decided that the only time we’d spend more than 300 baht (or $10) on a meal in Thailand again was if/when we wanted Western food (eg, burgers, pizza, pasta, Mexican, etc.).

Unfortunately, my allergies had really started to bother me earlier in the evening (CM has a lot more trees and flowers than Bangkok), so I had to call it an early night. But, we were all pretty exhausted from our long and great first day in Chiang Mai, so I think we were all happy to go back to our amazing hotel a bit early.

We woke up early the next morning, met for our hotel’s buffet breakfast, and then found a tuk tuk driver to hire for half a day to take us to Doi Suthep, the Bhubing Palace, and the Doi Pui Village. All three are up a mountain right outside of the city, and it was a beautiful ride filled with great views of the mountains and the city. Our first stop was the wat Doi Suthep. Dave and I were very excited to be able to make use of our “teacher’s discount” and get our 30 baht entree fee for free. There’s always a foreigner price and a Thai price, and as many times as we’ve tried, we’ve only been able to get the local price once or twice despite the fact that we live in Thailand.

The wat was very pretty and nice to visit, but we’ve been to so many temples that I think we’re starting to feel a little jaded. The view is what most people visit Doi Suthep for, but unfortunately it was a little too hazy that day for us to make it out clearly.

Next, we continued on to the Doi Pui village. It’s a very cute little village with tons of tourist shops. They are also known to have good coffee so even though we were still full from our breakfast, we decided we had to give it a try. We went into a very cute coffee shop right at the entrance to the village. We each ordered a coffee (they were all very good) and were admiring how nice the shop was. We especially loved the elephant wind mills hanging in the windows and were wondering the whole time whether or not they were for sale. Finally, we asked the owner and we were shocked when he told us yes, we could take one home for just 100 baht ($3). We expected them to be at least twice that. So, we got our coffee and a great souvenir!

Our last stop of the day was the Bhubing Palace. We expected this to be another set of stairs to climb (similar to Doi Suthep) and then a palace at the top. We were very pleasantly surprised though to find that the palace was built within a huge garden. Actually, describing this place as a huge garden does not do it justice. The palace was built on grounds that are about 2km around and the entire grounds is filled with some of the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen. In fact, it was so nice that we weren’t even that disappointed when we learned that the palace itself was actually closed for construction (though we do think they should have told us this before we bought our tickets). This was my favorite stop of the day.

On our way back, we asked our driver to make a quick pit-stop back at Doi Suthep so we could pick up a bite for lunch. Earlier, we had seen both the famous Chiang Mai sausages and strawberries. We had been too full to try either when we were there earlier in the day, but now we were ready for them. Both were great, but the sausage definitely took the cake. It was huge and filled with meat and rice, which gave it a great texture.

We spent a few hours relaxing at our hotel’s pool/in our hot tub, and then it was time to get ready for our second activity of the day – a Thai cooking class. I took a cooking class on a trip I took in Florence and it was such a great and fun experience that I was really looking forward to another one. Plus, I couldn’t wait to learn how to make some of the Thai dishes that we eat all the time (though this class confirmed that while all the dishes are not that difficult to make, when you can get them for so cheap at a restaurant or on the street, it really never pays to make them yourself – maybe once we get back to the States though).

I found the Red Chili Cooking School on TripAdvisor and after reading all the great reviews and chatting several times with the owner, Aon, I decided this was the one. We were picked up from our hotel at 3:30 and taken to a local market where Aon taught us about all the ingredients we’d be using later that night. He bought our food for the class and then we headed to his place to get cooking.

We all loved the set-up he had. The table and cooking stations were all setup outside so we were able to enjoy the great weather. We made 4 different courses and for each course, we were able to choose between two dishes. Of course, Dave and I each made different ones so that we could try everything. We learned how to make tom yung and coconut soup, pad thai, green and red curry, and chicken cashew. Aon was a great chef and teacher and we all had such a fun night cooking to his great music, drinking, and eating. Surprisingly, all of our food came out great – though of course we had to make a competition out of it (Dave and I both won the soup course, my dad won the Pad Thai course, my mom won the curry course, and Dave won the stir fry course – surprise, surprise, we all won something but the Staves won the overall competition:).

The class was supposed to end at 9, but at 10:30 we were just starting to wrap up and at the end of the night, we even got to send a Thai lantern into the sky for good luck. We all had such a great night – in fact, my mom said she couldn’t remember the last time she had so much fun…. well, that is until our activity the following morning.

We were picked up again at 7am for our half-day trip to the Ran-Tong Elephant Training Camp. After an hour tuk tuk ride to the camp, we were greeted by a group of very cute and friendly elephants waiting for their morning snack (bananas and sugar cane). From the second we stepped off our tuk tuk, we were playing with, feeding, riding, bathing, and falling in love with these elephants.

After feeding the elephants their snack, we each picked an elephant to ride and met our Mahouts (elephant trainers slash photographers). Dave and I rode Sylvia, an 18 year old elephant who loved eating bananas and also dirt. My parents picked Ben, who was the oldest of the group (they had that in common) and kind of a slow poke. We rode the elephants for an hour or so, stopping halfway through to give them a bath. These animals were so fun, cute, and good natured. They splashed and played with us while we were trying to bathe them in the water (though Dave couldn’t figure out how Sylvia could get so dirty within seconds of us washing her down). Then, we rode them to our lunch and their second snack of the day (elephants eat about 250 kilos of food a day).

This was another awesome and unforgettable activity with another company that seemed to have thought of everything (they even gave us clothes to change into when we got there so we wouldn’t get ours dirty). After this and the cooking class the night before, my dad said that Chiang Mai was officially his favorite city ever (and for anyone who knows Alan, I’m sure it’s hard to picture him doing either of those activities!).

Since we had such an early morning, we were pretty tired by the time we were dropped back off at our hotel, but Dave and I still decided to go for a quick run around the Old City before our daily relaxing at the pool and hot tubbing in our room. After a bit of R&R, it was time to head out once again, but this time to the Sunday Walking Street. It felt like it should have been called the Sunday Walking Mile or Streets or Area (not just street), that’s how big this market was. And not only was it big, all of the products there were artsy and different from everything that we’re used to seeing at markets around Thailand (there were no Chang or Leo tank tops, no fake watches, etc.).

We weren’t hungry when we started our shopping, but when Dave and I saw a tray full of bugs, we decided it was time for us to try a few more. We had eaten a few scorpions on Khaosan Road, but hadn’t ventured further than that. For some reason, the rest of the bugs seemed a bit more scary and intimidating. But, tonight seemed to be our night. We thought we were buying just one each, but ended up with a bag full of grasshoppers, silk worms, and another fried worm (not sure what kind). They were all fried up and served with soy sauce (we asked for extra). After counting to three and a few screams from my mom, we popped each in our mouths. We didn’t love the worms (though we also didn’t hate them) but surprisingly, we thought the grasshoppers were pretty good. That’s three more notches on our bug belts!

We spent a couple more hours walking around and shopping and then sat down at a cute restaurant right off the main street for dinner. We had a great Thai meal and Dave and I tried a new dish that we think is now one of our new favorites. Khao Soi is a peanut curry soup with chicken and noodles and it was amazing. We immediately added it to our list of favorite dishes that Dave carries with him in his wallet. Yum!

On our last morning in Chiang Mai, Dave and I went for another run around the old city (probably our longest run since we left NY – about 5 miles). On our way, we found a very local morning market selling produce, meats, and other foods. Even though we were in a pretty touristy part of town, we were surprised that the market was still filled only with locals – it was pretty cool and we decided we needed to take my parents back.

Unfortunately though, by the time we got back with them a couple hours later, the market was pretty much shut down. But luckily, the two items we had been planning to get were still available. We had never tried mango and sticky rice (a popular Thai dessert) or the famous (and also very smelly – so smelly, in fact, that you’re given a glove to eat it with so that your hands don’t smell) durian fruit, and we decided this was the time to try them both. We picked them both up with my parents and took them with us for our lunch at the airport. The mango and sticky rice was great, though we can’t ever imagine a time we’ll want this for dessert since more often than not our dinners already have some kind of rice dish. But we really liked it and will definitely be eating it again. The durian on the other hand, was probably just a one-time thing for us. Though none of us hated it and none of us were that bothered by the smell, the taste of it was very unexpected and we all agreed not that pleasant. It is a very thick and heavy fruit that tastes almost like you’re eating some kind of cream or custard. Very weird but we’re glad we tried it.

We had an awesome weekend in Chiang Mai with my parents and now we’re glad that we still have another couple of days with them in Bangkok (they’re going to Ayutthaya for a night while Dave and I go back to work). Then, two weeks after that, it’s Spring Break time for the Staves and we’re headed Kho Samui and Koh Tao to get our advanced scuba certifications. Not a bad life we lead here in Thailand!

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10 thoughts on “Chiang Mai, Thailand – Jungle Treks, Elephant Camps, and Cooking Classes… Oh My!

  1. I told you grasshoppers were surprisingly good!! Sounds like a fantastic trip you had with your parents. I LOVE Chiang Mai too, just like your dad.

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    • I still like the scorpions better, but you were right! What other bugs have you tried, I can’t remember. I really loved CM too. It actually reminded us a lot of Siem Reap, so no wonder you love it there!

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  2. So happy you had such a good time with Robin & Alan. The cooking class sounds like so much fun and delicious. And the elephants – what an experience! I love your details of everything. It makes me visualize what you’re doing. Enjoy the rest of your time together.

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  3. You guys continue to impress and amaze me. That picture of all of you on elephants is priceless!!!!! So glad your parents had such a great time.

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  4. Stef,

    Your descriptions are well written, fun to read and very entertaining. The adventures the two of you share are amazing. They are great reading for those who’ve never been and those who have and want to remember.

    Assume you ate bugs for the same reason they climbed Everest. Couldn’t be they tasted good.

    So glad the time with your folks is everything you’d hoped for and then some.
    Keep up the writing. We look forward to your journal and are pretty sure many others do as well. It gives us a special thrill.

    Love to you both.

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  5. Just a Thai passerby.

    Hahaha…It’s OK if you don’t like durian. Some Thai don’t like it too. For example, me. πŸ™‚

    Glad to know that you enjoy your time here. Welcome back and be our guest anytime.

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  6. Pingback: Road Tripping Through Northern Thailand | The Stave Diaries

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