More than a year ago I started thinking about a big adventurous travel experience to mark a significant birthday and a life transition from walking away from a career as a tenured graphic design professor into entrepreneurship. I have always loved animals and attempted to have an internal chat with the little girl I once was. What did I always want to do? A safari. As someone very conscientious of the precarious state of our planet and the actual existence of animals rapidly declining, I wanted to take a chance on seeing animals before it's too late. I investigated safari opportunities and didn't really see anything that would allow me to maybe meet some new people in the process. And so as the modern lifestyle goes, an advertisement for a tour that included volunteering with Elephants in Thailand passed through my feed. "That's it!" I thought to myself. I researched good time to travel in Thailand and decided that a January trip after departing my career but before I was too busy to escape would be a good choice. I paid my deposit and almost a year later, I'm sitting at the end of the we are bamboo experience reflecting on all that we have done together as a group of 7 women (and one that had a fluke accident on the first day breaking her ankle). Although this trip is two weeks, I am in Thailand for a total of 30 days so I will be posting my before experience in Chiang Mai and my post experience in Bangkok and Pattaya after this blog thread. When planning the logistics of the trip, I knew I was going to pay for my flight with miles, What I discovered in that process was the endurance required for the travel of almost 30 hours. Therefore, I opted to arrive a week early and stay the maximum days allowed without a visa. Our group met in Chiang Mai for the first evening accommodation with formal introductions the following day as we gathered to depart for the Elephant camp. My roommate Emily had met two others upon checking into the hotel. I had been on a bicycle tour a few days prior and discovered the nightly market with food stalls so I had suggested going there for dinner which was a few minutes walk from the hotel and offered a variety of affordable options.
I was so hungry I didn't take pictures of my food. Or maybe I did with my cell phone and need to find them for this post. I had pad thai for 40 baht. I then went for my favorite Mango and sticky rice at a vendor near the Pad Thai stall. This was so scrumptious. I was just digging in and relishing in the fresh fruit melting in my mouth when two girls with really curly hair stopped to ask me how it was. I highly recommended it and then asked them where they were traveling from. They were from Germany. It's so fun to be in a place like this where it's obvious you aren't from there which opens up opportunities to bond with others who aren't from there. I then of course changed the conversation to admire their perfect curls and talked about products to use while traveling as a fellow curly hair girl.
The walk to the night market allowed me to take a few pictures of life at almost dusk.
On my bike tour I learned that there are over 8000 temples in Chiang Mai. They are called WAT _________. Some of the information websites say there are only 200 - 300, but I've found other information that says there are over 40,000 in Thailand. These buddhist temples have a different architectural style than what I've seen in my travels to Japan. Some of the features are similar in that there are guardians at the entrance flanking either side of the doorway and stairs. These scare the bad spirits away. Another architectural element that is indicative of the wat is the sloping roof and the interesting finnial that looks like a dragon tongue or a fire flame called a chofah.
There are also many trees wrapped like Shinto but these have miniature shrines with references of hindu as well.
Lastly, some of the common sights in this area are the red truck taxis and street dogs. I found the taxi a challenge to figure out the system of where to stand in order to flag them down. You have to talk to the driver through the window and tell them were you are going. They'll quote you a rate typically around the standard fare of 30 baht and you share a ride in the back with other travelers. It's very efficient and fun. The air is not congested so the breeze feels comfortable - although I am traveling in January not the height of summer.
The dogs I've encountered seem well fed but the life on the street is tough. As an animal advocate on a trip about conservation of elephants and turtles are the dogs and cats the animals that get neglected in the tourism economy. Later in the trip we did have discussions as a group as to street animals as we are all on the same page and one of the women in the group is a vet tech. It was an early night for us as an 8 am departure for our elephant adventure awaits.