If you're looking to immerse yourself in Thai culture, Chiang Mai is a great place to start. As Thailand's second-largest city, it's a hot tourist destination, but this means getting around is very easy as locals cater to many English speakers.
Sunday Walking Market
On our first day, we were treated to an amazing handmade market that sprawled across the old city. Little did we know that these would feature the best souvenirs that we never bought. So other than picking up some colourful postcards, I'm still kicking myself for not searching harder for some unique items.
While we were warned about not eating street food, we couldn't pass up on $1 pad thais. It was plenty cooked, so no worries there!
A city of temples
There's no shortage of temples in ChiangMai. You can easily find one on every corner, in any residential area or obscure alleyway. Each unique in it's features, we came to question some details of the decorations...
Elephant Nature Park
We headed to Thailand with the intention of seeing elephants and tigers (more on that later). There's an absurd amount of "do's" and "don'ts" when choosing an animal adventure, and I'm so glad we picked our excursion with Elephant Nature Park. All of the elephants are rescued and are free to roam in a massive jungle parkland. Some of their stories are heartbreaking, which is all the more reason to avoid the "elephant ride" excursions.
With several packages to choose from - I wish we planned early enough to do the overnight one! - we opted for the "Sunshine with Elephants". We were introduced to a small herd, and learned how to interact and feed them. Disclaimer: The novelty of the day never wore off, and we were just as giddy at the end of the day.
We trekked through the jungle with our new friends (read: slowly walked and lured them with food while stopping for as many selfies… *ahem* "elphies"… as possible). Lunch awaited in the valley, and after we filled up, we fed the leftovers to a curious gal who wandered over to the table.
We made our way back to home base and splashed around in the river while attempting to bathe the elephants.
I don't want to indulge on the experience. While certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it was especially disappointing after spending a beautiful day in the vastness of the jungle with elephants. The sad reality is that Tiger Kingdom exists purely for tourists to get "that photo."
What you should know:
What you should bring: Money! Your dollar goes a long way in Thailand, so splurge!
Where you should stay: In the "old city". Walking around is easy and you'll quickly learn to navigate between the alleyways. Either way, a tuktuk is always available.
Who you should contact:
Elephant Nature Park - http://www.elephantnaturepark.org
Flight of the Gibbon - https://www.treetopasia.com/thailand-holiday/chiang-mai
Bamboo Bee Vegetarian Restaurant - http://www.bamboobeecm.com