Exploring Chiang Mai

146 miles (by road) south of Chiang Rai is Chiang Mai (which literally means ‘new city’). We travelled there by bus, which was quite spacious and had an attendant just like on an aeroplane although she only served a bottle of water and a pineapple biscuit. I didn’t dare use the loo though!!!

Chiang Mai is quite renowned for its night markets so it presented a unique shopping experience which needless to say, we took full advantage of…

Sights here include the Hmong tribal village in the mountains. These people are descended from southern Chinese tribes as the borders between the two countries were fairly amorphous at one point. In times past these people supported themselves by growing poppies for the opium trade but nowadays they have preserved their cultural heritage through tourism.

Their traditional dress was brightly patterned and they wore it with pride

Even the little boys

I was delighted when I found some cross stitch explaining the various tribes (I am always delighted to find cross stitch!)

For any entomologists among you here is a gorgeous little caterpillar which looks just like blossom. There are lots of them clustered on this leaf and one is hatching. If anyone knows their actual name do let me know.

In other natural news the countryside was surprisingly lush and verdant and the flowers up in the mountains were stunning. Trumpet flowers

… but I don’t know what these are (apols)

Another day, another temple. This one is called Doi Suthep and is the highest temple in Thailand. Legend has it that the then king put a relic of the Buddha (piece of shoulder bone allegedly ) in a little stupa on top of a white elephant which then walked up the mountain, circled 3 times and sat down so that was the spot where the temple was built.

This monk (below) is famous for being able to meditate under the ocean (!) and people who revere him will apparently become prosperous.

It made a nice change to see a non- Buddha statue. Behind you can see devotees circling the stupa carrying lotus blossoms and chanting special prayers in order to make merit.

But the highlight of the whole trip has to be the Kanta elephant sanctuary 50 mins north of Chiang Mai. On arrival we were asked to change into the ‘uniform’, this was not only to protect our own clothes but I suspect that with their poor eyesight the elephants are able to see who is a visitor with food!

You can see our cloth bags which we had filled with bananas and sugar cane. All carefully measured out so that the elephants have the right amounts of the right kind of food.

The elephants here had been rescued from logging enterprises and the entertainment trade. Some places treat the elephants very badly with hooks and chains. Elephant rides may look fun but to train them the mahouts are often cruel behind the scenes.

These elephants ranged in age with the oldest being 56 and one of the younger ones was pregnant. They are allowed to roam freely and they love being fed their snacks

They liked it if you patted them so long as you avoided their eyes. Each elephant has its own caretaker so although it was slightly scary when these huge beasts lumbered purposely towards you we were all quite safe. These men are paid approx £340 per month to do this job.

Some of them were quite cheeky and knew that there were more snacks in our bags!!!

Then it was playtime. Elephants don’t have pores in their skin so they cool down either by covering themselves in dirt or by going in the water. This was our cue to help splash and scrub.

They loved it (& the elephants had a great time too)

It was good to be supporting community initiatives and helping to keep the elephants safe and happy.

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