Whenever I think of escaping from the concrete jungle, my mind always pictures the blue seas or the mountains. For this labour day weekend, we managed a short trip to the mountainous city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. While there is lots to see there, our plan was also to relax, unwind and recharge our ourselves. This itinerary is therefore a mix of sightseeing and enjoying the abundant nature in this beautiful Thai city!
How to reach there: We flew into Chiang Mai International Airport from Singapore via Scoot. Flying time is 3 hours but since Singapore is one hour ahead, you get to save an hour! Our hosts from the villa arranged airport transfers for us.
Where to stay: We stayed at this uber gorgeous villa surrounded by hills and fields (read my full review here) called Three Kings Luxury Private Villa reserved through booking.com. It was perfect for a group of 13 i.e. 5 couples and 3 kids! We paid around 370 SGD for a 3 night stay (including breakfast) per couple which was pretty affordable.
What to do: My first impression was how green is the place and how clean the air feels especially in the country side. According to me the best thing to do here is to relish the beauty of the hills and the forests. The fact that our villa was off the main grid and conveniently located a bit away from the city made this easier for us.
On our first day, by the time we reached the villa it was already 4:00 pm so we just relaxed, and settled down while few of us got Thai massage done (arranged by our gracious hosts!).
The next morning, after a a fabulous breakfast, I went for a swim in the pool. Then I got an oil massage done in my room (loved the services delivered to our doorstep!) and got ready for a visit to an elephant sanctuary.
The Thais love their elephants; its the national animal and a big part of their culture and identity. Unfortunately, it is also an endangered species being poached for ivory, tourism and labour in the past. We were pretty sure we didn’t want to visit a sanctuary that supports riding or other unethical tourist activities. We, therefore, chose Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, which rescues elephants previously working in the tourism and logging industry and provides a natural and safe habitat for them. They have 15 elephants in total with most of them being females. We saw about 6-7 of them during our visit including a cute, little 5 year old baby elephant. The oldest one was 65 years old (they can live upto 80). We had reserved a half-day afternoon visit and were picked up by the sanctuary from our villa at 1:30 pm. It took us about 30 mins to reach there and upon reaching we were provided with lockers to keep our stuff. We were then given clothes to wear (elephant print of course!) as our itinerary involved bathing these cuties! Our instructor, Tom, gave us a lot of information on the elephants rescued by the sanctuary, their lifespan and how elephants are born to eat. Before this, I didn’t know only male Asian elephants have tusks. We gathered sugarcane in our bags to feed the elephants.
Feeding was super nice– it was my first experience of getting up and close with the elephants. I was a bit intimidated at first (due to their sheer size!) but warmed up to them pretty soon. After feeding, we took the elephants for scrubbing and bathing in the muddy pool. We were all dirty and took a shower– the sanctuary provides towels, soap etc. and bathrooms are basic but pretty clean.
It had started raining by this time and we sat there for sometime enjoying the cool weather and the tea, coffee, biscuits and pineapple (yum!) provided by the sanctuary. we were done by around 5:00 pm.
From the sanctuary, we went to the Weekend night market. It had stopped raining by the time we reached. The night market is pretty big and there was a lot of interesting stuff– bags, clothes, essential oils, street food, trinkets etc. I bought some stuff I liked, though I am sure I overpaid as I suck at bargaining. We had some pad thai, papaya salad with crab, orange juice and coconut water. We also tried the sticky/steamed rice rolled with bananas which were delicious and cheap.
The next morning, few of us went to visit long-neck tribes at a nearby village. The women of then tribe, who are Burmese refugees, wear rings around their neck since childhood to ‘create’ long necks. There are different stories around why they do so– one being protection from tigers and other being to conform to a certain definition of ‘beautiful’. Anyways, I wasn’t too keen on this because it was sounding like a human zoo to me. We all met for lunch at a beautiful restaurant called Cafe de Oasis which was on the way to Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most revered temple and mountain peak. The food was delicious and we loved the iced coffee.
Chiang Mai is a mountainous city and Doi Suthep and Doi Inathon are amongst the highest peaks with the latter being the highest point in Thailand. The mountains are also part of national parks that stretch over a vast area encompassing the forests of Chiang Mai. Both are on opposite sides and each trip will take about 1-1.5 hours depending on where you are staying. It took us about 1.5 hours to reach Doi Suthep. We didn’t have time for Doi Inathon this time but that will be my first stop on the next trip to Chiang Mai!
Doi Suthep is known for the 14th Century temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a revered temple for Buddhists. It is also popular for a bird’s eye view of Chiang Mai and I personally loved watching planes take off and land on the runway! There are waterfalls and a palace as well in the national part though we didn’t have time for that.
The temple can be reached by climbing 309 steps or through a cable car (50 THB per person). Within the temple grounds, you are expected to be appropriately dressed so no shorts and noodle straps. The most striking feature of the temple is the enormous gold-plated Chedi gleaming in the afternoon sun. There are a lot of Buddha images around the Chedi in different poses and materials.
After coming back from the temple, I went for swim to cool down, had dinner and retired to bed after playing charades with the gang.
The next morning, three of us– me, one of my friends and her 1.5 year old toddler went for trek to the nearby national park with our host Roger. We parked near the statue of the reclined Buddha and hiked uphill to a temple made of glass pieces. It was interesting to see elements of Hinduism at this Buddhist temple with images of Ganesha and Shiva at the entrance.
After our downhill journey, we stopped at the reservoir for some pictures.
Roger also showed us the area near the villa belonging to an agricultural university. It was beautiful– landscaped mango and litchi farms, flowers and hills in the background.
We went for a swim (my favourite part of the day!) after reaching back and got ready for our flight back to Singapore.
Where to eat: We had all our meals at the villa except one dinner at the night market, a lunch at Cafe De Oasis and lunch at the airport. The chefs at the villa were really good and I enjoyed the breakfast as well as the traditional Thai fare there. Loved the Mango with sticky rice!
It was a short getaway and all of us felt we could have stayed longer. I absolutely loved Chiang Mai. Its my kind of place– hills, green fields, delicious Thai food, relaxing massages, clean air and sweet mangoes! I will surely come back to explore more and maybe settle down here one day!!