Jenn Miller is in her fifth year of full-time slow travel with her husband and four kids.They've cycled Europe & N.Africa, road tripped North and Central America, and are currently backpacking in Asia.You can follow their adventures at: http://www.edventureproject.com. ...Find out more!
Chiang Mai is the cultural capital of the magical northern region of Thailand. It draws travelers from far and wide with it’s deep history and cultural diversity. There are a myriad of ways to see the hill tribes region and no shortage of tour companies trying to sell you the experience. Rather than signing on for the package deal why not rent a car and create your own day trips in the region?
Day One: Get up early and drive north to Chiang Rai through the lovely hill country of northern Thailand. Stop at the Wat Rong Khun, the White Wat, and experience modern day Buddhism as reflected through the artistic genius of Chalermchai Kositpipat. It’s a spectacular creation, unlike any wat you’ll ever see anywhere else. Stay the night in Chiang Rai, preferably near the night market. Have dinner in the market, watch the music and dance shows that perform nightly and shop for hill tribes textiles and silver.
Day Two: Visit the Hill Tribes Museum and learn about the many people groups who make up the Thai north. With your admission you get a free cup of tea at the restaurant below the museum, Cabbages and Condoms. Be sure to inform yourself about the public health work they are doing with the proceeds from the restaurant! Drive north to the Golden Triangle and follow the Mekong River as it skirts the borders that Thailand shares with Myanmar and Laos before heading south for the return trip to Chiang Mai.
There are no shortage of elephant camps around Chiang Mai, but finding one that is the “right fit” for your ethical standards and budget can be a challenge. Many of the elephant camps do not treat the animals well and those that do may not allow rides. If your heart is set on riding an elephant in the jungles of Thailand, then may I recommend Thom’s Elephant Camp in Pai?
Thom, the owner, comes from a long line of elephant owners, her grandfather logged with them, her father toured with them, and Thom keeps the family tradition alive by servicing the tour industry. She grew up with these elephants; they are like family to her and they are well cared for, happy creatures. We’ve seen them first hand. Pai is about a four hour drive from Chiang Mai, so plan to stay the night in the charming town of Pai. It is a backpacker haven and a traveler’s delight. I dare you not to fall in love with the laid back vibe of the town.
No time for an overnight away from the city? No problem! Rent a songthew for the day (one of the open backed pickup truck contraptions) and get out into the hills for the day. In the morning, head up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It’s in all of the guidebooks for a reason. Make sure your driver pulls off at the roadside stops so that you can take pictures and look down over the breathtaking valley that cradles the city. Climb the steps, make an offering and spend some time imagining what it must have taken to build that temple at the top of that hill. Amazing.
For the afternoon, head over to Mae Sa waterfall. It’s in a national park and you’ll pay a modest entrance fee. Purchase a picnic from the stalls near the parking and they’ll pack it into a little basket for you and loan you a plastic mat to use as a picnic blanket for the afternoon. Don’t stop at the first little falls and pool, hike up several levels and swim in the cool water. If it rains hard, there are pagodas to eat beneath! You’ll feel a million miles from the city and have an afternoon you won’t soon forget.