Chiang Mai: come for the gold stupas, stay for the elephant hugging

Monday 7th December – Sunday 13th December

125 miles cycling to and from different places

We had given ourselves a week to explore Chiang Mai. 

We started off by going to a superstore called Macro to buy ourselves food for the week. It was like shopping in the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

  

We cycled up a very steep hill to visit the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden. We had to watch out for elephants along the way.

  

I went a bit camera-crazy once we got there, but have reined it in for the blog… 

   
              

We had fun at Chiang Mai zoo, where for a few baht you could feed the hippos, the giraffes, the elephants and even the panthers! 

    

This zoo is also home to two out of 35 captive pandas in the world. Going in to see the pandas was a very Big Deal. You had to pay extra, leave all food and drink outside and disinfect your hands and your feet. Of course with all this build-up it was going to be a bit of an anti-climax. We went in and saw two sleeping pandas in separate enclosures. 

  

What with knowing that they’re a dying species, the whole thing seemed a bit sad. But maybe this is just because all pandas look like sad clowns. 

Lin Hui is “Panda Personality of the Year 2014”!

 

We sat watching them for a while. Eventually one of the pandas rolled over, shuffled his bum off the edge of his sleeping platform, took a huge dump and then went back to sleep. 

“Lazy bastards,” said Eric (enviously). 

We also went in the bird enclosure. I got pooped on big time. We left. 

We did later on get to see some amazing birds (this time with a cage separating us).

   
 

Finally, we saw a very adorable elephant couple who were clearly in elephant love. They kept holding trunks/holding tails/nuzzling each other. We watched them for a while going “Awwwwww,” and “Do you think they’re going to…?” (they didn’t). 

  

The next day we cycled up a mountain to Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most famous temple. Sorry but a cycling gloat is coming… we rose up to about 1220 metres over 11 kilometres of steady incline (at about 6%, which is quite bearable). It was a good practice for the upcoming mountainous Mae Hong Son Loop, and we were both pleasantly surprised to find that we did it without much problem. It helped that we were minus our usual 22KGs of luggage.

Here’s some pictures of Doi Suthep (I am coming to learn that in Buddhist temples it’s all about the gold stupa).

          

And the views from the top…     

I overheard someone saying that the haziness is due to pollution. 

We also met a French cycle tourist who knew of us as he had met the same Canadian couple we had spoken to just outside of Bangkok. Small world! 

We relaxed in Chiang Mai’s arboretum afterwards, which was like a nice park with big trees that happened to be labelled. 

The Chiang Mai temple tour continued during the week. Here’s our best pictures from Wat Chedi Luang.

    

This ancient Wat also had an adjoining modern Wat. 

   
 
  

This statue represents a monk that was so beautiful that he was constantly mistaken for Buddha, and even caused a man to fall in love with him (shocking!). He nobly decided to make himself “fat and ugly” (the noticeboard’s words, not mine!) so that his good looks would stop causing problems. Take note all you good-looking people, you really are being quite selfish. Please be more ugly, thanks. 

  

For one bit there was no wimmuns allowed.

  

Luckily I had a man on the inside. Ladies, feast your eyes!

    

Then we visited Wat Phra Singh, where we saw lots of little monks having their lunch.

  

    

Finally, we saw the stunning Wat Suan Dok, complete with another super sweet gold stupa.

        

On Friday we joined in with the nationwide cycling event, “Bike for Dad”, a mass bike ride that took place in many locations throughout Thailand. It was in tribute to the extremely popular King of Thailand.

  

You can’t really go on a cycle tour around Thailand and not take part in a free national cycling event, can you? That’s what we thought anyway.

  

Finally, it was time to spend a day at the Happy Elephant Home, where we got kitted out in traditional hill tribe clothes and one banana bag each.

  

Then we spent the day with a nice bunch of people, feeding, washing and hugging elephants. 

      

There was a 9 month old baby called Mina, who was very cute but very naughty. Imagine a 220KG toddler and you get the idea. 

  

Eric shows off some impressive peasant skills, cutting sugar cane for the elephants.

  

Walking down to the river for a bath. 

      

Afterwards the group stopped off at a local rice festival, where I helped by whacking rice off the… rice plant (something like that).

  

Eric saw this “boxing on a pole” challenge and went up against another guy in our group. 

Here, the contenders mount the pole.

  

After one punch each they both fell off, but hung on.

  

It got messy. Faces were punched. The Bulgarian gained the upper hand…

  

And Eric fell of first. Poor Eric. He’s normally so good at punching things. 

That evening P’Aoi and P’Khom came over and cooked a delicious meal of noodles, pork balls and chicken. As usual, the food was amazing, and we were stuffed! Thanks P’Aoi and P’Khom.

  
(Sorry – blurry photo). 

The north of Thailand has been totally great so far, it’s really beautiful, very friendly… and it’s at least 10 degrees cooler. We’re about to go even higher, as tomorrow we head up to start the famous Mae Hong Son loop. Mountains here we come!

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