Birthday in Chiang Mai

On the third day of our adventure we woke up on the sleeper train, very close to Chiang Mai.  We had been delayed over the night and so still had about an hours journey before we reached the city dubbed the cultural capital of Thailand.  The windows revealed scenes of jungle and rice patties that seemed to be on repetition.  We had the option of some interesting looking breakfast, but I passed and ate some cashew nuts we had bought at 7-11 the day before (as a side note, our guide seems obsessed with 7-11 and seems to think a stop there to stock up on chips and chocolate is all we want for lunch).  Anyway, to more important matters, when we woke up: IT WAS MUM’S BIRTHDAY! How cool to wake up on a sleeper train in Thailand to celebrate your birthday.  Mum snuck into my little curtained room nice and early to share birthday excitement.  I had brought Mum a card and a Pandora charm for her birthday, which she seemed to like.  With all that happening in the morning, it was long until our train pulled in to Chiang Mai station.

Mum getting of the sleeper train

As I mentioned in my last post, the train was really cold and I was dressed in all my warmest clothes.  Chiang Mai was considerably cooler than Bangkok, but my jacket and trackpants were definitely too much.  Luckily our Songthaew was already waiting for us, and our luggage was thrown on top (mine at the apex) with nothing to strap it on.

Awaiting transport to our hotel
Crammed in a Songthaew

After we dropped our bags at a fairly nice hotel, it was time to jump back in that cramped Songthaew and drive a long way up a windy mountain to a temple.  That’s the simple version, the slightly longer version is well summed up by the always hilarious group member Ciarra who said that she thought she finally learned what she would die of: travel sickness.

Many stairs to the Doi Suthep temple complex

The Doi Suthep temple complex was beautiful, and I even managed to enjoy it despite being dizzy and nauseous the whole time.  Doi Suthep is supposed to be the most important temple in Chang Mai, possibly Thailand.  There is a legend around the white elephant that concerns a relic of Buddha’s shoulder-blade.

White elephant

As with all temples we had to cover up, but this temple rented us sarongs for the equivalent of about a dollar.  We walked around, admired the view and beautiful decorations and soaked up the spirituality of the place.

All covered up and listening to Pan Pan
Big bells
View over Chang Mai
All in snazzy sarongs
Detail of wood carving
Lovely temple
Buddha near where we were blessed by a monk

We went into a small room where we were blessed by a monk.  We were encouraged to kneel while a monk splashed water on us, chanted and tied some string around our wrists.  Unfortunately the actual monk didn’t tie the string to my wrist because monks can’t touch women, so his assistant of sorts tended to my blessing.  Regardless of that, it was a memorable experience, and I’m not taking off the string.

Being blessed by a monk
Replica of the emerald buddha
Monks with iPods

After some time at the temple, we got back into that Songthaew and went down the mountain.  We stopped at another 7-11 to get lunch (I was in no condition to eat) and I asked if I could trade with Pan Pan and sit in the front seat.  After that my day got significantly better.  We were headed out to an elephant camp outside of Chiang Mai and for the first time that day I could actually look out and take it the surroundings.  The elephant camp we arrived at was definitely interesting.  As soon as we arrived we had elephants putting hats on our heads and giving us kisses, then their mahouts all took them to the river the have a bath and a splash.

Mum with an elephant hat on her birthday
Elephants bathing
Gorgeous elephant, but pity about the chain
Little elephant

The kisses were wet and had a powerful suction.  I’m surprised I didn’t get an elephant hicky.

Kiss from an elephant
Birthday kiss
Catherine not really enjoying her kiss

We then watched an elephant show.  I was so conflicted by this, as I’m sure many people are, because we were able to see how incredibly intelligent these animals are, but it was questionable how they were trained to perform.  At a basic level, these beautiful animals were performing rather than roaming the jungle and eating bananas.  So as I said, I was conflicted.  The elephants were so intelligent.  They painted beautiful pictures, holding a brush in their trunks with no assistance by humans.  This was a testament to how clever they really must be, many humans can’t learn how to put pretty marks on paper.

Elephant painting
Engaged elephant artist
Artworks by the elephants
Lots of trust in an elephant massage

I mean the elephants didn’t look unhealthy or in pain, but I think that if they had a choice, they would probably not play elephant soccer and make paintings.

After watching the elephants we headed back to the hotel to get ready to go our for dinner and to the famous Chiang Mai night market.  When we were back at the hotel Pan Pan called me over and told he had got a cake for Mum.  I was so happy and a little surprised he had been able to get a cake – I hadn’t seen any bakeries or cake shops in Thailand.  The cake came out with all the group gathered round and Mum was beaming.

Mum’s surprise birthday cake

The cake was really good too.  It was filled with jam and had a cream frosting decorated with beautifully crafted flowers.

Mum’s cake
The birthday party
Birthday dinner

We had a nice dinner all together and I enjoyed my first pina colada of the trip.  The restaurant we went to was right in the night markets, and so an evening of shopping and bartering followed a filling and tipsy-making meal.   I wish I could have bought everything at the night markets, but restrained myself.  These were the best markets I think I have ever seen; filled with everything you could think of.  I managed to walk away with only an elephant chain made of Thai silk, some beautiful white rose lights and snazzy hair-clips, but I wish I’d bought more. As a birthday present to herself Mum bought a black version of her favourite orange Phuket-pants.

Chiang Mai night markets

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