The second stop on our Thailand trip was Chiang Mai, a province in Northern Thailand surrounded by jungles and rainforests. This is a good area to go to if you enjoy activities like jungle trekking, mountain biking, elephant riding, white water rafting and bamboo rafting, though there are also opportunities to do relaxing activities like river yoga and authentic cooking courses. (I’m sure I read a magazine which said there are luxury relaxation retreats there too)!
We got there via a (very slow) sleeper train from Bangkok which takes 10 hours and has fold down beds which you can sleep on overnight. There are first class and second class options; first class gives you your own private ‘cabin’ with a sink whilst second class puts you on bunkbeds in a long carriage with everyone else, which is much cheaper. We opted for second class and I was really anxious about what it would be like, though I have to say I actually quite enjoyed it! It was a lot cleaner than I expected, sociable and actually quite comfortable. Plus, I peeked at a first class cabin and felt it had a bit of a prison cell vibe about it so I think second class would be absolutely fine for most travellers.
While we were at Chiang Mai we signed up for a two day jungle trek which included bamboo rafting, a trek to a village tribe, an overnight home stay in a jungle village and elephant riding. What they didn’t tell you was that the rainforest trekking is not a softened ‘tourist’ version but totally strenuous and dangerous! We would literally be scaling across rocks and crawling over rickety bridges, sliding down muddy hills and climbing up forests. It took us about 3 hours of really hard graft to reach the village tribe and though the views along the way were incredible, it was hard to enjoy the experience when it was so tough and sweaty. Plus, the home stay was very basic – no electricity, a pipe for a shower, a squat toilet, blankets on a wooden floor to sleep on etc. Our hosts were sweet and hospitable and cooked a really good yellow potato curry for us but I didn’t get a wink of sleep that night as the jungle was super noisy – we heard monkeys, insects, bats, pigs, hogs, chickens and an annoyingly perky rooster. I was quite pleased to leave and head downhill the next day!
There we did bamboo rafting (not really worth it in my opinion as you are heading down a slow dirty river with rocks) and elephant riding. The elephant camp was a lot of fun as you are allowed to wander around them at your will and feed/stroke them. I was happy as it looked as if they were being well looked after with plenty of food and cleanliness, though it was actually a bit scary riding them – it turns out elephants are MASSIVE!
When we headed back into the town we treated ourselves to a nicer hotel called Roseate which was still only £15 each a night but really good service and a lovely big soft bed! TOP TIP: Take hotel/hostel cards when you can, as you can show them to taxi and tuk tuk drivers who may not always know your hotel off the top of their head. We also treated ourselves to some Western (well, Mexican) food at a really cool Canadian bar called Chiang Mai Saloon which I would recommend, especially for their coffee banana cake. Unfortunately, though Chiang Mai is a lovely area, it felt incredibly quiet – most restaurants and bars were empty all day and all night, which was such a shame as there were so many cute looking places. Maybe this was the time of year we went or maybe it was because most travellers are in the jungle but perhaps don’t spend too much time here if you plan to go.