The land of smiles had given me spills and thrills in my early 20s, luxury and comfort with my loved ones in my 30s and it appears that I have still not exhausted the long list of exciting activities to be discovered in this amazing country. From cultural enclaves and sandy-fringed pearls set in emerald seas in the South to utopian highland escapades in the far North, there is something for everyone – even families with bottles, strollers and kids in tow.
Although Chiang Mai was founded in 1296, this Northern hilltop city remains true to its name, which means “new city”, and is as cosmopolitan, vibrant and trendy as its larger Southerly compatriot. As a region steeped in history, the indiginous culture is an ever-present sight. This is especially so in the near by Himalayan foothills which are home to the Hmong, Akha, Lisu, Mien, Karen and Shan ethnic minorities.
The Doi Inthanon National Park contains the hilly ranges that make up the highest elevations in Thailand. At heights of 800 to 2565 meters aboves sea level, temperatures stay at a comfortable low 20 degrees celcius.
Colloqually known as the Doi Inthanon stupas, Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon and Nophamethanidon the twin monuments stand on opposite peaks, overlooking the verdant countryside. In spring, the vistas are blanketed in colour as the trees bloom in splashes of yellow, white, pink and reds – making this spot a favourite amongst camera totting travellers. The twin religious structures themselves are also a photo favourite with visiting monks climbing the long staircases a common sight.
The slopes of Doi Inthanon also feature several waterfalls. Wachirathan Waterfall, located just 28km away on the main road, is the most spectacular cascade within easy reach. Towering between 60 – 80 meters, the sheer volume and resulting spray as the water crashes onto the granite rocks below is impressive. Come at the right time during the rainy season, and you will be able to catch a rainbow forming as the piercing beams of sunlight are refracted by the water droplets.
Patara Elephant Farm
Turning South from the city and travelling for about an hour, you will reach the Patara Elephant Farm. The farm is a far cry from the usual tourist traps that masqurade as venues for conservation. Patara Elephant Farm focuses on the mental and physical wellbeing of the graceful pachiderms. Intelligent and sensitive, anyone who has any doubt that animals are sentient has only to look into the soulful eyes of these majestic creatures to be convinced. This is exactly what you will be able to do with a full day at Patara. Here, you will be given a crash course in how to be a mahout, or elephant handler. You will bathe, feed, ride, clean and bond with your assigned elephant.
At the introduction, we learnt that Patara Elephant Farm is the only one in the country that has had elephants reproduce on their grounds, which can only occur when the animals are comfortable and healthy. For instance, they must be given ample food, ample variety, space and mental stimulation.
If large lumbering beasts of burden won’t steal your heart, little baby elephant Pai will certainly do so. The adorable little rug rat kept on trying to sit on my lap as I bent down numerous times to take a picture.
Where’s the fun in travelling alone? Take the wife an kids along and make it a party pack. There are activities to keep the kids occupied, places to take loving portraits with the significant other and plenty of entertainment to take part in as a family.
Tube Trek Waterpark is a favourite with kids with its thrilling slides that loom tall over the park and dominate the grounds. The languid waterway can be enjoyed by the more sedate patrons as they drift by in floats across the park grounds.
The Chiang Mai Night Safari is as impressive as it is extensive. Expect to meet the main characters from the African savannah and beyond. There are zebras, pigs, deer and giraffes that will come up along side the tram and eat from your hand. Other animals like lions, bears and crocodiles remain safely behind fences but still close enough to catch a whiff of.
Get your hands dirty at Andaman Indigo! Have a go at creating a tie-dyed T-shirt, cloth bag or scarf. You will be instructed in the entire process, including finer points of design over the half-day program. I never expected manual work to be so fun, just make sure not to wear your most beloved outfits as indigo is an almost indelible pigment, although a non-toxic one.
Art in Paradise is a great place to catch some interesting pictures with your friends and family. The graphics on the walls and floor utilise perspective to put you in interesting scenarios such as at a cliff’s edge or flying on a carpet. The pictures you take here are sure to cause a stir on your Instagram account.
It’s all about the Food
The Thais certainly love their food and that means travellers can be assured that they will be well fed. With an abundance of agricultural land, organic produce is offered at many restaurants. There was no lack of sustenance and we were treated to the best local dishes with the best ingredients from establishments like the Royal Project Restaurant, Khao Mao Khao Fang Restaurant and Meena Riced Based Cuisine.
Markets are a hive of activity, and Warorot Market (Kad Luang) is no exception. The lower floor is where you can find all manner of edible goodies from roasted pork to dried fruit, both ready-to-eat and as gifts to friends back home. The upper floor has a butchery, eating house and indiginous good for sale. If you are looking for quilty textiles from the hill tribes you can find them here.
We’ve all been to Bangkok before but like any city, the changes are afoot 24/7 in the city that never sleeps. The 1 year mourning period for the late king still dominates the facarde of the city and the mood, especially around the palace, is somber.
Eating and Shopping
A new mall is in town with convenient facilities geared towards the international traveller. The lounge area has to be seen to be believed. There are lockers, showers, resting areas and a shuttle for those travelling to and from the airport. While you are here, there are exhillerating performances worth catching while in the area. The Ong Bak Live show is a martial arts spectacular showcasing street fights, comedy and a little romance.
Emquartier and Planet Dinosaur at Sukumvhit are the newest attractions taking up prime space at this renowned entertainment district. Find out more about the flora and fauna more than 65 million years ago in this Siamese Jurassic Park. Afterwards, dine and browse the shops at Emquartier – a luxury shopping destination with shops like Chanel.
Looking for knick knacks, furniture, clothes or pets? Chatuchak Weekend Market has just about everything humanly conceivable.
At Or Tor Kor Market, foodstuff is the main focus.
Bangkok is a long way from the temperate hills of Chiang Mai, and a lot lower in altitude. After all that activity in the sweltering heat, Siam Park City is the perfect respite for the kids. A water theme park in the metropolis that looks somewhat like Disneyland. You won’t find rollercoaster rides here but you will still be able to meet all your favourite princesses.