These are my mostly-unedited thoughts from my adventures in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This is a LOT of writing. So this isn’t really for you, unless you want to know about various fun things to do in Chiang Mai. This is so that, when I finish this crazy program, I can print out this blog and make it into a memoir of my experiences here. Still, I will throw in some pictures so it is slightly more enjoyable for you, if you can make it through.
I left for Thailand the 29th of January at 11 PM.
I got onto my first air Asia flight and they were playing 90’s music which was lovely. Who doesn’t love JLo? Slightly less exciting was that they they kept the lights on the entire flight, even though it was a red-eye. So frustrating. Thank God for eye patches. I will say that this is the first flight I have ever been on that when they were giving the safety instructions, every SINGLE person was paying attention. Did I mention I was flying AirAsia?
I landed in Kuala Lampur at 3 AM and had 3 hours to kill. I couldn’t really sleep, so I read instead. To kill time (and because my body was in shock) I had a delicious banana muffin and some stupid expensive water.
My flight to Chiang Mai I finally passed out and slept pretty hard.
I woke up and went through customs pretty easily. I was able to get a lady from the info desk to tell the taxi clerk woman to call the point person from Abba house, my first destination. The taxi clerk took down the info and I hopped into a cab 10 minutes later.
Chiang mai didn’t leave me immediately amazed. Mountains were far off in the distance. It was really smoggy. The taxi cab driver told me it was the second largest city in the country and explained touristy spots in broken English.
We got to the area where I would be staying and it took a few loops around the neighborhood to find the actually house. I got out, paid the taxi man $400 baht and met “Tony” who was the one who directed the cab to the house. He explained that Joyce (the woman I knew who ran the ministry) was away and that I could make myself comfortable in the girls dorm.
A group of girls from YWAM welcomed me into their roomy abode filled with bunk beds and showed me my spot.
We small chatted and I texted my parents. I walked around to take pictures of the grounds.
I took a small nap and then had lunch. Then I napped again.
Later I went to a Bible Study that one of the YWAM girls led for the boys at the Abba House. Tony translated while they read the Bible then talked about it. It was funny to try and understand the boys expressions and what they were saying because they were speaking explicitly in Thai. It was interesting to essentially just observing this small group.
Joyce, the woman I had made contact with originally, poked her head into the Bible study towards the end and told me to come find her once it finished.
I had a chance to discuss with her the nature of her work. We talked about our mutual connection, why I was in Taiwan and I asked her a whole bunch of questions about her ministry. The ministry exists to support boys who have been in the sex trade and girls who are vulnerable to it. Funding for this organization is an interesting challenge because people (churches) in the States do not line up to write checks for boys who have gotten out of the sex trade, they line up for girls who have gotten out of the sex trade.
I asked if they have problems with pimps, or family members who want the girls back- they do. At one point Joyce said she had to fend off a violent family member who barged onto their grounds.
Also, apparently the girls sometimes run away back to their pimps. Conversely, boys don’t do that, and are easier to rehabilitate.
The Abba House is in the midst of a lot of construction. They are finishing up a huge sanctuary on the grounds and are hoping to rent it out in the future for graduations and the like, in an effort to make it more sustainable.
The boys are in school and taught wood carving and how to make bracelets, etc.
The girls go to school and learn English.
Joyce walked me around the neighborhood and through a tiny night market, just open on Fridays.
Then I joined the YWAM folks and went to a large night market (later found out it’s the second largest in Asia) in the city.
There were a million things I would want to buy and I did not bring nearly enough $$. I spent most of my time with a spunky girl named Hannah. She’s 19 and was a pastor’s kid in Thailand growing up.
I tried to start learning some key Thai phrases and thus far I learned hi, thank you, not spicy and how much. So much progress:)
The one thing that I found resounding at the Abba house was the sense of peace that radiated from everywhere. I could feel it in my core. It felt very “right” to be there.
Afterwards I promptly returned to Abba house and went to sleep.
I woke up without an alarm to roosters crowing and sun streaming in the window.
I threw myself together and went to grab breakfast with the YWAM teams. Toast and peanut butter and toast and jam. Then some cereal. Yum.
We then prepped to go to a home for crippled and mentally disabled children in Chiang Mai. It was a huge place and there appeared to be 50-75 children. The YWAM groups sang and gave their testimonies and the girls and boys from Abba House sang and did a skit.
The boys from the home sat behind me and during the performance one of them kept poking me…which was funny for the first 7 times.
After that we went to the university near Abba House. Apparently it has 20,000 students. We ate at their cafeteria. I got a chicken with noodles and soup concoction that was incredibly tasty. Then I got coffee bubble tea. I’ve got to say it was not as good as Taiwan’s bubble tea.
Then we hopped in the van/taxi’s and headed back to the Abba House.
I promptly fell asleep for an hour and then the YWAM team that had greeted me left for some excursions for the day, so I said my goodbyes. It was wonderful to meet such great people if even for just 48 hours.
Then I went back to sleep for 30 minutes. I don’t know if it was the weather (so so much hotter than Taiwan) or if i was still tired from the trip but I felt I could sleep forever.
I woke up in time to help some of the permanent staff do some grounds work.
They weren’t quite ready yet so I played soccer with some of the 11 year old girls. They were so awesome/adorable.
To help with the groundswork I initially just used an tool to break up dirt and help the people who were hauling dirt to the site get it out of their wheel barrows.
While working with them I got to know the permanent staff a bit more. One of the girls was from Grand Rapids, Colorado and an older lady was from South Africa. They both were incredibly cheerful as they moved dirt around and orchestrated the whole thing.
Then one of the other permanent staff, who had been hauling dirt back and forth, essentially communicated that she needed a break. I volunteered to take her spot. So I pushed the empty wheel barrow around the complex to where it would be filled with dirt, but I didn’t get far before two of the younger girls hopped in for the ride. Adorable.
On another trip it was only one of them and she implored me to run. So there I was, wearing my hippy dippy Thai pants and t-shirt I bought for modesty’s sake running around the compound with a little Thai girl commanding me what to do. Hilarious.
After we accomplished what they had planned for the day I said my goodbyes to Joyce and she explained that one of the local workers should be able to take me towards where I would be staying the remainder of my time in chiang Mai.
He was out on an errand, however, so I sat around and read for an hour or so until all of the girls in their program and I loaded into a van and headed towards the city. It was hilarious. There were 24 people in a van made for probably 12. TIA?
Then, after 20 minutes, Tony, the local who was driving pulled over and told me where I would need to go. He explained that I would need to walk and eventually turn right at the “gate.”
So I walked, and I had anticipated it being like 15-20 minutes but I’m nearly positive it was like 45 minutes. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was on track but I stopped a couple who explained in broken English that I was going in the right direction. Turned out they were Chinese so then they gave me much clearer instructions. Here’s to knowing Chinese!
So I finally made it to my hostel and I was amazed at how gorgeous it was. SO clean. Nice staff. Very comfy bed. Excellent location. I locked most of my stuff up and then headed out for dinner. I saw a whole bunch of restaurants on my way to the hostel so I knew I had plenty to pick from. The dilemma? Street food or restaurant. I decided since I had eaten mostly street food since getting here I would treat myself. I also hadn’t had a humongous meal since arriving. So I went to the “3 Little Pigs” restaurant. They had an unbelievable menu but I ultimately decided on Mexican.
I haven’t had that much food in one sitting in I don’t know how long. Then I went and got rotee. This is a phenomenal thai dessert. It’s essentially fried bread with banana, sugar sauce and Nutella. YUM.
Then I went back to my hostel showered, facetimed my parents and started planning the next day. I met my roommates. One guy was Sweden, South Korean, one girl from the States, a Chinese guy and a woman I could not distinguish.
They all seemed nice enough.
Then I went to bed.
Woke up at 7. Wanted to get moving. Tried to creep out of my room without disturbing the others. Grabbed toast and jam with coffee for breakfast, then headed to 7/11 to grab lunch. Afterwards I negotiated with a “taxi” driver to drive me to the tiger kingdom.
I got to Tiger Kingdom 25 minutes before it even opened. I walked around and saw how big the “big” tigers were. After just watching “Life of Pi” I opted to just hang out with the “smallest” tigers. I got to hang out with a few that were just 2-3 months old. They were beautiful, so cute.
I knew going into it that I was facing a moral dilemma. Tigers are beautiful majestic creatures. While I was happy with my moments with these small tigers, the amount of room the tigers had in their cages simply did not seem to be enough. They were all raised in captivity which leads me to a whole host of ethical issues. Should this be a part of their tourism? Should I be going to this? But on the other hand, going and participating in this Tiger Kingdom would not by any means put a stop to its program. As I walked around and looked at the info on each tiger I couldn’t help but feel that I was being fed the wrong information. I thought back to Blackfish and had a nagging feeling that this is a similar situation. Aaaah.
Anyway, I have some beautiful photos with the baby tigers, like unbelievably beautiful. Interesting experience overall. Perhaps I can say I was glad I did it but I would never do it again?
Then I went back to the hostel and took a moment to rearrange my things. Camera, water, snacks, map. Check.
I had some more of the hotels complimentary toast and coffee and headed out to explore the temples within the old city. The old city is much larger than I thought it would be. It is essentially the cultural center of town. It is surrounded by a moat, and pretty much everything in it is within walking distance. There are three major temples spread throughout but really there are temples everywhere. I stopped at one near my hostel on the way to see one of the main temples. I was wondering around and a monk stopped me to talk. He explained he needed a letter written in English for something and asked if I had the time. I said sure. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing but he told me to write a letter “like to my parents” so I blabbered on about various things in my letter all while chatting with this monk.
He is 18 and studying at a local university. He is from Laos and his name is “Yo.” We talked about Taiwan, but he seemed to think I was referencing China. I showed him photos of my family on my camera and he took a few photos, some of me! Before I left I learned how to say “good luck” in Thai and we swapped facebook i.d.’s. He seemed really cool.
I then proceeded to walk quite a ways to get to one of the largest temples in the old city. It was gorgeous and had a string of buildings with fascinating design and decorations.
A group of young Thai people noticed I seemed to be alone and asked if they could interview me. I said, sure! They asked me like 3 questions about the tourist industry here and then I asked them which Thai dishes I must eat. I told them I don’t like spicy food and one of the girls said “YOU MUST TELL THEM NOT SPICY. OTHERWISE YOU WILL GET DIARRHEA.” Ok. Noted.
After that I made for leaving the large temples compound. I noticed an elderly couple siting on some benches and that the woman was laying her head on her husbands lap. She seemed to be ill. It was a very hot part of the day so I went and asked if she wanted some water. I gave her mine and apologized that I had drank from it. In retrospect, I definitely should have done more.
But anyway, then I left the compound. I realized it was nearly 1 and I hadn’t had lunch and decided that was the next priority, because I was starving. I ran into a bustling Thai shop and had some amazing Pad Thai. Then I continued down a street that I hoped would lead me to a massage place that is owned by an ex convict (apparently) who is making a life here. I was thinking I would get a massage but then the idea of a pedicure seemed irresistible. I set the time and paid the deposit ($3 usd) then went for a walk since I had an hour till my appointment.
As I was walking I noticed a large amount of coffee shops and massage parlors. Also a good amount of stalls popping up. It was Sunday and in this area on Sunday there is a HUGE night market.
I stopped In a tailoring store and got the quote for how much it would be to make a tailor made jacket/ suit. Total it would be $160. Something to think on.
Then I meandered back towards the Lila Thai massage house and got my toes painted. #so #spoiled.
I realized halfway through getting my nails painted that I was stupid tired. So I walked back to my hostel to rest a bit and get ready for the “Sunday night market”
This is a huge thing here and it was sort of similar to most night markets I’ve been to but way bigger. I got an unbelievable amount of presents there and walked around, forever. After 2 hours of meandering and finding random tasty snacks I decided it was time to call it a night.
I woke up ungodly early so I went for a run before getting ready for the Thai Farm Cooking School!
I was picked up by a big-cheeked woman named Benny and hopped in the back of a truck with some girls from Taiwan and an international couple.
Later we picked up another couple and a german lady.
Then we went to a market and Benny taught us about Thai cooking basics. Basically that they use 2 kinds of rice and Fish Oil in damn near everything.
Then we made the 30 minute drive out to their farm and had a moment to ourselves to try on their traditional hats and then we got a tour of their farm. We got to try and also eat their basil, cilantro, and something like ginger, but much more spicy.
Afterwards we started cooking! We all had different dishes that we chose and in the end we all tried/made 6 dishes.
Our instructor was excellent, and so funny. She would be instructing us to stir and would be like “move the food, move your BODY!” So cheerful. Also insisted consistently, “we are family!!!!” …Definitely made the experience. Before sending us with our Pad Thai in “Tupperware” to eat later she asked us, “you know what is Thai Tupperware? Plastic bag.”
All throughout the day I took a million photos and learned a lot. Making Thai food is not so hard! I also go to know the other people in my class. The international couple were particularly entertaining.
We all ate our dishes together and people even shared their dishes if no one else made that particular dish.
In the end we all took a group photo and we loaded up the truck and headed back to town.
I was feeling pretty exhausted so I took a moment to catch up with social media (lol) and then decided it was time for my first thai massage. I walked the half mile to Lily’s Thai Massage place and was immediately serviced. Unlike a Swedish massage, the masseuse at times sits on you, jumps on you, and intricately laces their legs and hands with yours to pop your back or stretch.
It was heavenly. I felt like a human again! I slowly meandered back to my hostel and asked the staff to heat up my pad Thai leftovers from the cooking class. Still good:)
I hit the hay early in anticipation of my “elephant day.”
Woke up super groggy and went for a run/did abs and grabbed a quick breakfast before I waited for the elephant van to pick me up.
They were supposed to come beteeeen 8:30-9 but they didn’t get to my hostel till after 9 and it had me worried.When they arrive the driver asked for my paperwork; which I didn’t have, so I grabbed my receipt #.That seemed to do the trick so I hopped into a very full van with what looked like a group of Chinese tourists, Europeans and a couple mystery figures.
The ride to the elephant farm was uneventful, but gorgeous. Took a million photos…
After a while I introduced myself to the Chinese couple beside me and had an entire conversation in Chinese. Woohoo!
We rolled into an area that was much more rural and then I saw my first elephanttt!!!!! We drove much further into the “jungle?” on tiny roads in our huge bus before arriving at a sign that said “Home for Happy Elephants.”
We drove in for a bit and as we rolled to a stop some trainers brought two elephants up to greet us. Thinking I was holding food, they sniffed around what I was holding. One even brushed its trunk on my shirt essentially groping me. Hold on there buddy!
Then the trainers had us get out and had me walk the elephant up the hill to where we changed into Thai farming pants and shirts that would be fine to get dirty in. Met some girls: Abbey from England and Kristi from California. We hung out the rest of the day.
Woody, the owner of the camp, talked to us about how he carries things out and his philosophy with the elephants. They taught us Thai words on how to instruct the elephants and gave us all a Thai name.
Then we were taken to feed the elephants so we could get to know them. Bananas for days. The elephants knew what was up and we’re ALL about it. I spent a lot of time with a 3 year old female named Mona Lisa.
Then half of our group left and went to ride the elephants.
The other half of us stayed behind to learn how to get onto the elephants, how to turn left and right.
Then we let the elephants eat some more and just chilled getting to know the staff and talking about the elephants.
Woody, the owner, showed us a video of the birth of a new baby elephant. It was crazy! The elephant just drops out of its mother and then they immediately separate the mom and baby because the mom kicks the baby to get it to stand up. …so the staff gets it to stand up and then gives it back to its mom.
So then we had lunch. Papaya, rice, a tomatoe dish, fried chicken that was DELICIOUS and popcorn. I talked to Kristi and Abby about how the Thai guys leading the camp were flirtatious, and how it was the first time we had really had any interaction with Thai men.
Afterwards it was our turn to ride the elephants! Everyone was being assigned to an elephant and I kind of just stood there like…uhhh what about me? Then I got on an elephant I hadn’t met before with a trainers whose name was Louis. Louis was hilarious and took a million photos for me while I was on the elephant.
We rode for a bit and then stopped in the shade for a spell because another group of elephants was going to the watering hole and if the two groups of elephants were to meet then they would fight. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Then we continued. We went down a huge hill, which was a terrifying experience on an elephant. Don’t roll off. Don’t roll off. Don’t roll off. Then at the bottom of the hill we all got off our elephants. At that point I wanted to switch elephants to ride a larger one. So I switched to a HUGE pregnant elephant with a girl from Argentina named Antonela. We rode for probably 15-20 minutes and then we all got off ..in a river! Then we bathed the elephants. So much fun and splashing. The trainers had the elephants shower us with water from their trunks. Hilarious ( … and a bit disgusting).
Then we got together for a big group photo and walked back up to the road with our elephants. Then we were instructed to get back on the elephants because apparently we were going swimming. Unlike the previous times of riding, the instructors got on the elephants with us. We rode the elephants off of what seemed like a huge concrete slab and fell into the water. Big mama (our elephant) was almost completely submerged. Then the trainer essentially instructed the elephant to lower itself and come back up so we were almost completely under water.
Then we popped off and walked the elephants back to where they were fed.
That was when we said or goodbyes and changed back into our normal clothes and hopped in vans to travel back to our hotels, but not without pleading with the drivers to stop so we could see the baby elephants first.
Then we made the long journey back to our hotels and I made plans to meet up with the girls I had met for drinks later.
I treated myself to a huge salad and mac n cheese and recharged my batteries for a bit and then went to meet the girls AND Jedrek and his friend to go out. We walked around quite a bit and landed at a rooftop bar on top of a mall. There was like 6 bars and live music at each one. It was so nice. Jedrek, Dominic and I ordered a “bucket” of Smirnoff peach something that we shared and enjoyed some Thai music and then some western music.
At one point, I think after the first bucket, we talked about how we should get people to dance. So naturally I stood up and started dancing, then we all did. Then we started drawing people in to dance with us. We spun around for a few songs then sat down for a quieter tune.
Around 11:45 we elected to head back.
What a fun day!
Woke up and crawled out of bed to meet Jedrek and Dominic and then we headed to Doi Suthep, the super famous temple at the top of the city.
We arrived and it just really wasn’t clear where we were supposed to go. There looked to be like 3 separate entrances so it took asking some questions to figure it out. I had heard that there was a formidable amount of stairs to get up to the temple, but it was honestly hardly enough to wind me.
At the top was an array of people and a sign that said “foreigners-> this way” …we had to pay $1 to get in. After paying I was instructed to get additional clothing for the temple (I was wearing a tank top and shorts which isn’t appropriate for Thai temples)… And in my new garb I looked gorgeous!😊
Then we went in. Jedrek and I talked about the differences between Taiwanese temples and Thai temples. So interesting! Thai temples have more gold in them. (I think they are prettier)…
We took a bunch of photos and then went to go see the “view” of the city of Chiang Mai….which was smog.
Then we headed off to hike to the waterfalls in the area. There were 2 or 3 in the area…but again no clear instructions on how to get there…
So I asked some locals and they said “go down the road..8km”
Anyway so we started to make our way down the winding roads and eventually came upon a hiker who had emerged from the woods. She told us where to go, but initially we didn’t even see the trail she was talking about, because it was so not marked. For the next couple hours Jedrek, Dominique, and I worked our way down the mountain, stopping at various waterfalls and a few temples on the way.
We ended up at the Chiang Mai zoo and hailed a cab back to the old city. There we had noms at my favorite little restaurant I found on the first day and then split.
I took a dip in the pool, a coma-like nap, and then dragged myself out of bed in time to get a massage before meeting Jedrek and Dom for dinner.
Then we moseyed over to the 2nd largest night market in Asia (where I went the first night).
On the way we passed the sort of “touristy bars” and I’m pretty sure that’s when I saw my first prostitutes (most likely enslaved). So unbelievably disturbing. 😡
But we kept walking, and shopped for a bit. I got an awesome smoothie (again) and Nutella banana rotee (again) and chatted with Jedrek for a bit before he and Dom needed to go, then we parted ways.
Then I walked 45 minutes to get home. (In total I walked over 5 hours this day).
My legs were shot.
Last day in Chiang Mai!
I was pretty exhausted from the first 5 days of my journey, so I figured this would be a pamper-and-relax kind of day. I got up and went for a “long” run around the old city, stopping for the occasional photo of the old city walls.
After returning I did some abs and immediately opted for breakfast.
I had an awk moment when I accidentally took someone else’s toast out of the toaster oven and she damn near bit my head off, which was actually incredibly awkward. I obviously apologized profusely but she seemed pretty nonplussed. #k #bye
So I decided I needed some caffeine. I ate my toast and caught up with social media and ended up face timing my dad, mom and Jenna. This was good.
Then I showered, packed up everything and checked out before heading out for the day. I wanted to check out the east side of the gate and old city and ended up eating, grabbing a starbucks, reading, grabbing froyo, getting a manicure, and then getting rotee on the way to the area for the outdoor thai massage.
This massage is considerably cheaper and it seemed like worth trying. And I was exhausted. So I basically got there and immediately got to start the massage👍. My masseuse must have been very pretty in her youth and had incredibly powerful fingers. Upon touching my shins she exclaimed, “you …walk a lot?!!!”
Boy had I.
Afterwards I went back to my hotel to grab my stuff and head to the airport. Phuket bound! It was only about 6 pm, and my flight was at 9:45, but I for sure didn’t want to risk missing my flight and had no idea how long it would take to get to the airport, etc.
Well, it took 15 minutes to get to the airport. And then the only food options were MCD’s and Burger King. #lifechoices
I was pretty sure the food most likely to give me food poisoning from everything I had eaten up to that point is the MCD’s I had that night. #whoops
I boarded the overcrowded flight, flew for 2 hours and landed in Phuket. I was exhausted and I realized immediately that Phuket would be a difference experience from Chiang Mai because A) it was stifling hot and it was midnight B) my cab to my hotel was astronomical.
I finally got to my hotel and I was SO grateful for an unbelievably clean room and gorgeous reception area.
To be continued…