After dropping off our oh-so-heavy backpacks with our couch surfing host, we started our tour of the city with the Sunday Walking Market, which I highly recommend. A great place for souvenirs and inexpensive food, the walking market boasts a wide array of clothing, jewelry, tapestries, mango wood table ware, etc. We grabbed a fruit shake and enjoyed our evening stroll through it.
The weekend market and the Chiang Mai night bazaar have the most inexpensive goodies, and the most shop owners willing to negotiate prices. If you see something you like, bargain it down and buy it! Likely you won’t see it for cheaper anywhere else.
The next day we headed for Chiang Mai’s elephant conservation center. There are several to choose from, and all are a bit of a ways outside the city. Our couch surf hosts also own a tour company, and they offered to take us over there for the price of gas. This was a wonderful offer that we felt we could not refuse on the basis of hospitality, but it ended up costing us more than it otherwise would have because we were only 2 people. When you take a songthaew, you’re splitting the cost of gas with several people, so it’s most often fairly cheap. Getting our own private transportation cost us each 400 baht in gas, the equivalent of about $13. That said, much of the sight-seeing in Chiang Mai is outside the city, and unless you make an effort to attach yourself to a large group, it will be in the $10 price range.
The elephant conservation center featured a show for 120 baht where elephants perform many stunts, like throwing darts at balloons, building a fence, and painting. This was fantastic! I would highly recommend a visit to the center. It was well worth the money paid to see these majestic lumbering creatures make a log fence and navigate through an obstacle course. At the end, there are many opportunities to feed the elephants and get photos with their trunks wrapped around you. Totally wonderful!
From there, we drove to the Monkey Center, which is kind of like a gibbon zoo. The gibbons perform many tricks, including basketball, bike riding, diving for change, number games and somersaults. This was not as good a deal as the elephants. The show lasted a half hour and cost 200 baht. All the monkeys are on chains, and it just has more of an unhappy, caged animal feel about it. Monkeys are so incredibly smart & expressive; it’s clear that they have no desire to perform.
On the way down the mountain we stopped at another facility that was like a tiger petting zoo, and ate lunch there. Lunch was horribly over priced in this touristy joint: 70 baht for Thai noodle soup that normally costs 25 or 30. The soup itself also was nowhere near as delicious as street food, but we could see tigers lounging around as we ate. This touristy joint might be worth a stop, but we didn’t venture in to take photos with the baby tigers because our budget simply wouldn’t allow it.
After lunch we headed over to Doi Suthep, a temple located outside the city at the top of a mountain. We climbed up slowly, passing many motorbikes and a couple crazy road bikers. Once we reached the top, Dang parked and his friend Nikki led us up. There was a long staircase up the mountain, and we all arrived panting at the top. To get into the temple it’s 30 baht, and women must wear long skirts or pants (knees covered) and shoulders covered as well. Nikki showed us around this golden place, which felt like a palace. We got blessed by monks, given good luck bracelets and had our fortunes told. We took pictures of the valley below and rang the bells. There were golden statues of the monks who built the staircase and inside a huge golden tomb for a past king.
After this we stopped by a small waterfall on the way down the mountain, part of the national park. Locals had climbed up to a little pool and were splashing around in their clothes, cries of delight filling the little waterfall park. We finished the day with some big bottles of Chang and a good grill out session. Nothing like beer (in a glass with ice, like the Thai do) and meat in Thailand to remind you of home…