Thailand Young Explorer Project: Chiang Mai

A few weeks ago, I went on an exploratory trip to Chiang Mai. It is an assignment given to me by Chan Brothers and Tourism Authority of Thailand, part of the Young Explorer Project!

From the official Thailand Young Explorer website, featuring 5 other bloggers besides myself:

“The ‘Young Explorer Project’ is a joint collaboration by Chan Brothers Travel and the Tourism Authority of Thailand; it’s all about travelling in Thailand from a foreigner’s opinion. This joint project aims to introduce Thailand’s attractions and culture in a fun and engaging way through the eyes of our local bloggers; to introduce free and easy travel in Thailand; to emphasize it isn’t THAT difficult to plan a free and easy trip to Thailand.”

Me, just off the plane and in my hotel room in Chiang Mai!

When I was first informed that I was supposed to go explore Chiang Mai, I have to admit that initially I wasn’t very excited. I’d thought Bangkok or Phuket seemed like more entertaining choices of destination, having been to both of those places before I knew I would enjoy it again. However, a part of me was also longing to find out what Chiang Mai was all about. My first impression upon googling information about the place was that it has a lot of elephants and culture… which sounded boring. But, now that I’m back from my 4 day trip to Chiang Mai I would love to tell you guys all about how it was ANYTHING but boring!!! My partner in crime was Maureen aka MissTamChiak and although we didn’t know each other prior to the trip, we hit it off pretty well and had no problems traveling together. I am actually really thankful to have been sent there on an assignment trip because I probably would not have chosen to explore Chiang Mai on my accord, and would’ve missed out on all the beauty and fun this city had to offer. It is plenty in riches and I’m not talking about things you buy materialistic items with. I’m talking about things money can’t buy. I wish I had more time to indulge in their culture, food and experiences a little bit more, but I think I’ve covered quite a bit of things in the amount of time designated so here we go…

Shiberty’s List of 10 Things To Do In Chiang Mai!!!

1) Embark on a religious adventure by visiting one of Chiang Mai’s many Buddhist temples!


Religion is a big deal in Thailand. In Chiang Mai, Theravada Buddhism is the main religion. The whole city is dotted with beautiful and intricate places of worship with long dated history you can visit to pay your respects to the gods at, or even if you don’t quite believe in a higher being like me, you will still find their strong beliefs utterly fascinating.

Our choice temple to visit is one of Chiang Mai’s most famous, Doi Suthep. Some people say you haven’t been to Chiang Mai if you haven’t been to Doi Suthep. Unfortunately for me, the temple was located at the peak of an alarming amount of stairs…

When I eventually made it up, I was captivated by the intense atmosphere of worship. I can’t bring myself to be a religious person because I need to see things to believe in it. In other words, I don’t quite have the ability to open my heart and believe in blind (or guided? as some may say) faith. It inspires me that these people can.

You just can’t not be wowed by these details!

You’re meant to make a wish, try to lift the elephant up with one finger, then put it down. Make the same wish again, and if you’re still able to lift it up the second time it means your wish will not come true. If you try your darnest but you still somehow seem unable to lift the elephant up when it was easy to do so before, then only will your wish be granted by the gods.

For the record, both times I managed to lift the elephant up…. either I have really big hulk arms (which I do) or the gods hate me. I wished for good health & happiness for myself and the people I love. Ironically, when I stood up after putting down the elephant, I somehow broke my nail on the floorboard and it immediately bled. I don’t know how I broke my nail on a perfectly flat surface and managed to injure myself right there and then…..

According to your different birth dates, you ladle oil onto different parts of this… erm… thingy. I have no word for it. I am bad at describing religious stuff.

Went to get a blessing bracelet from the local monks…

Here’s our Thai / Taiwanese friend, Toto, tying it on for me. I had the bracelet on for a couple of days before untying it and laying it under a tree :)

Toto is sucha sweet guy and I am so happy that we had a local friend who could introduce us to the most authentic places to visit in Chiang Mai! If not for him, my trip definitely would not have been so epic. If you would like Toto and his friends to bring you around amazing places in Chiang Mai too, hit them up here! Or if you’re having trouble contacting him, you can email me and I’ll get you in touch with him. Toto heads a Chiang Mai tourism company but he took us around without charges on a friendly basis, as he’s a friend of a friend’s. But I would highly recommend his services to anyone visiting Thailand soon, he’s the most thoughtful and kindest person you’d meet.

We only had time for one temple because our itinerary was jam packed with other exciting stuff, off to our next destination we go!!!

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2) Eat Khao Soy, a traditional dish originating from Northen Thailand most famous in Chiang Mai!

Our first meal in Chiang Mai was lunch at this eatery called “Just Khao Soy.” We incidentally passed by this shop while we were hungry and roaming around the streets, and found ourselves wandering in.

It had air conditioning…. score!!!!! That’s quite a rarity in Chiang Mai! And much appreciated in the heat.

We were first served Thai appetizers such as sundried beef strips, sausages, spring rolls and crispy fish slices… which were pretty good! It built up my appetite for the main course:

Khao Soy!!!! 

When I first had the soup without adding all the little condiments pictured above, I thought it tasted like our local laksa (coconut curry soup) but a little blander. But as soon as I poured in most of the ingredients I realized it was nothing like laksa and actually very very tasty!!! (and spicy) but I LOVED it. Khao Soy is normally served with beef / chicken / pork pieces and has ingredients such as pickles, sugar (quite a bit of it), lime, shallots, fish sauce…. and more items I couldn’t figure out.

Me with my Khao Soy set! I love trying new food.

 My contact lens tore when I tried to put them on so I had to make do with glasses the first day. I had the appetizer to share with Maureen + my khao soy set + a refreshing lemon drink for less than 10 SGD. Thailand’s food is seriously WAY too good and cheap…. unlike Singapore’s food which sees its quality dipping but prices rising!

We had Khao Soy another time at a hawker centre of sorts and it was less than $2 for a bowl! Tasted different, but very good as well. I really wish I had some right now!

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3) Visit a native village tribe in Chiang Mai to take a peek into a life so different from yours!

If Bangkok is all about the shopping and Phuket is all about the beach, then Chiang Mai is definitely all about the culture & food.

We drove up a hill to visit the Miao tribe and for an hour, experienced the tranquility of their relatively carefree lives. They may not have much in terms of monetary value but they are living simply, happy & free.

The Miao tribe (also known as Hmong tribe I was told) are known for their delicate embroidery.

This is one of their forms of entertainment.. trying to get a bullseye on a dangling fruit on a crossbow! I wanted to buy a crossbow back for Sam coz he would’ve loved it so much but you can’t take weapons onto planes, lol.

I got a bullseye on my second shot!!!

Other forms of entertainment included jumping again and again into a reservoir…

Sweet little girl! She gamely posed for a photo when I asked her to!

There was something precious about rustic living like this. It’s so close to nature, and even though it’s not the glamorous life we’re used to, it sure is beautiful in its own way.

Happy to be frolicking around in Chiang Mai :)

Spotted a man selling Thai ice cream – yes please!!!! Coconut ice cream (SOOO GOOD) wrapped with white bread, filled with glutinous rice and peanuts.

Loved everything but the peanuts. Not a fan of nuts.

Know why there are so many standing sticks on top of this rock? Apparently if you pick up a fallen stick and place it standing upright on that platform, you’ll turn all your bad luck into good luck!

There was a shop that sold and rented their traditional embroidered attires… and for a brief moment in time, we had a chance to be one of them tribal people!!!

My #ootd is pretty spiffy, don’t cha think?

Those hand sewn details are out of this world. So much tender loving care and long hours went into making a piece like this, probably one of each in the entire world ♥

Sawadeeka!!! The true Thailand experience. Now I’m REALLY in Chiang Mai.

I love going into the country side to see the REAL “country” when I travel, staying in the city is so boring! Sightseeing is always my number one priority when traveling.

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4) Visit an elephant sanctuary / camp to learn more about Thailand’s sacred animal!

Maesa Elephant Camp came as a really nice surprise.

The last time I blogged about riding an elephant in Phuket, a blog reader informed me that riding on elephants is unethical because they often get mistreated while training to be humanized and that the living conditions tend to be terrible. So I was quite conflicted inside about riding an elephant even though it was planned to be part of our itinerary.

To my relief, Maesa Elephant Camp didn’t seem like one of those places that ignored the welfare of their elephants. It appeared to me, as far as I could tell, like a nice sanctuary for elephants. I mean, just look at the forest that they live in!!!! It’s SO gorgeous and wild and free. They get to roam around (spot the ellie in the distance!) like they would in the wild, and not worry about starvation, poachers or harsh elements..

Maesa elephant camp houses over 70 beautiful elephants!

It takes a lot to feed a creature like that. Now imagine more than 70 of them. I can’t imagine how much funding and resources this place needs.

They have a natural river to bathe and play in that runs across the compound! Visitors can also ride on rafts that will along this river and they can choose to play with the elephants if they want.

The trekking path was amazing! A much more pleasant than my previous experience. We had to go up and down steps and slopes which made it all the more fun.

 Maureen was squirming and dying from anxiety next to me, it was hilarious to watch. I was relieved that there were not any huge insects flying around the elephant and landing on our legs (happened to me last time and I freaked out more about the insects than the elephant) and the mahout didn’t whack the elephant repeatedly in disrespect…. he talked to it nicely and gently and it obeyed him obligingly! I looked out for any puncture wounds or stab marks from the hooks that mahouts use to control elephants with, but I could find none on the elephants I saw in this camp. I was told they do not tolerate any form of abuse of mistreatment here. So glad to hear that – makes me feel happy for them.

Ethical elephant riding - possible?

After our 30 minutes trek through the jungle, we were seated down for the elephant show of a lifetime!

I didn’t really think elephants could be trained to do much but these guys could PLAY SOCCER, basketball, paint and throw darts!!!!! I would never have guessed!!! 

The elephant paints better than I do. Ridiculous. You have to see the show to really understand how mischievous and intelligent these gentle giants were. Another reason for me to believe that these animals are treated kindly is due to their behavior. You can force an animal to perform a trick begrudgingly, but you cannot force an animal to be happy while doing it. If its behaving so naturally playfully, it has to like the attention!

Awww!!!! Friendly ellies!

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5) Learn how to cook delicious Thai food at one of Chiang Mai’s aplenty cooking schools!

We chose Baan Thai Cooking School for their competitive prices and for their hotel pick up service!

Rode from our hotel to the cooking school in a tuk tuk Chiang Mai style.

The set up was extremely homely. I felt like I was going to a Thai’s friend’s house to cook!

Before the cooking begun, we set off to the markets to buy fresh produce for our dishes..

You don’t wanna know how that smelled :P

Apparently these are baby eggplants (?!?)

Bought a mango smoothie from this nice lady to cool off, then back to the cooking school!

Spot Maureen and her huge camera as the group learns how to whip up delectable Thai dishes from a friendly and patient local cook.

The dishes they taught us to cook were relatively simple (but yummy!) – the most common ingredients being lime, chilli, fish sauce… And since I cook often at home I found the whole class very enjoyable and easy to follow.

The instructors spoke pretty good English and gave very simple instructions, so even if you’re not familiar with kitchen tools and preparation work at all, this should be a breeze!

This…..

Turned into this, after 15 minutes! Spicy coconut seafood soup!

Most of the class participants were white people. In fact we were the only Chinese / Asian people out of like 20 attendees.


Other food I prepared that day:

Crispy Thai Spring Rolls

Pad Thai

Pork Red Curry

Feasting at our table!!! After cooking our dishes, the attendees would gather around a table and share their dishes with one another.. we cooked different stuff and it was fun sampling everyone’s cooking attempts while exchanging stories from where we’re from :D

We made new friends with lovely ladies from USA and Ireland!

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6) Get your adrenaline pumping with extreme sports in Chiang Mai!

One of the coolest things I’ve done in my life… We went to The Shooting Club and fired real guns like true badasses!!!!!!! I can’t believe I can say I’ve used a gun before, coming from a super sheltered and safe country like Singapore where owning a gun or even firing one is often unheard of.

It was my Left 4 Dead fantasies coming true!!! I love FPS games! Except I totally hated how loud shooting a gun was, even with my ear plugs on. I get frightened by loud noises easily.

The instructor teaching us how to properly handle a loaded pistol. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous….. I was getting cold sweat just knowing that I was about to operate something so deadly in my hands and actually fire a bullet at a target. A bullet, that could potentially take or save a life, given the circumstances. All my life I have grown up casually watching shows with thousands of different guns in them and never thought much of the whole thing but to actually hold a loaded gun in your very own hands is an overwhelmingly powerful and intimidating feeling.

We chose to shoot with the Glock 19, which was nice and light for girls like us!

So I may have a cute fluffy bunny and my hair is purple and I make rainbow cakes for a living but I’m decently accurate with a gun so don’t screw around with me. :P

We also did indoor drift karting that day… Which was like go-karting but more fun, because these were modified for you to drift easily. The whole time I was drifting (like a noob) through the tracks, the annoying song Tokyo Drift repeated through my head. Du du du du du du~ I wonder if you know, *the rest of the song is gibberish I can’t understand*

I wanted to go zip lining through the forests but Maureen doesn’t do too well with heights so we opted for a milder option instead! Chiang Mai has other exhilarating extreme sports such as zorbing, bungee jumping, ATV riding through the jungle if you’re keen on more thrilling outdoor activities. Definitely give their ziplining mazes a go, it’s one of Chiang Mai’s most popular tourist attractions and I heard it is a TON of fun flying through the forests in the air on a cable!!! I’m dying to go back and try some day!

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7) Have a meal among the Thai mountains & heavens in Chiang Mai!

Atop a mountain 45 minutes from the city called Mon Jam, nests a little home-style restaurant serving you delectable food. But it wasn’t the food that enticed us.

This is what we came to the top of the mountain for:


To have a private little picnic in adorable wooden huts in the clouds. To have lunch at one of the most serene and stunning places I’ve ever had the privilege of sitting down & enjoying a meal at.

Maureen & I couldn’t stop gushing about how perfect our lunch spot was. This was definitely the highlight of my trip. All of Chiang Mai was great, but this literally tops it all.

The weather was warm in the city but enjoyable where we were – as we were higher up in the mountain, cool breezes came along every now and then and generally we didn’t perspire at all. Chiang Mai gets quite chilly during winter, about 15 degrees in the city during morning and nights!

And the food…. :’) Oh, what more can I say about authentic Thai food??? Really? Can I do it justice with mere words?

Toto, you are SOOOO awesome for bringing us to places like these which aren’t usual tourist spots! Thank you for allowing us to see the real Chiang Mai!

We sat there for a long, slow lunch, popping juicy sweet strawberries from nearby farms into our mouths while enjoying every second of the peacefulness that surrounded us. Just breathing in the fresh air, pondering over life and being happy.

If you ever come to Chiang Mai there is no way you can miss out on this place. You will leave with a happier, lighter heart :)

I did.

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8) Get up close with dangerous exotic animals with crazy people who risk their lives for your entertainment in Chiang Mai!

I’m not that afraid of reptiles. I am a lot more scared of insects like butterflies & moths than I am of lizards and snakes!

Praying, I assume, for their safety as everyday they face huge job hazards (hint: its brown & green & sitting right behind them!!!)

These boys make Steve Irwin look like a wimp.

Maureen & I screamed a few times during this show. AKDAJIWERWFUKSjskasdal;qr3 WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT!!!!!!!!!!!!




Another insane man toying around with a king cobra at another show. I don’t mean insane in a bad way. But let’s face it, you gotta be insane to a certain extent to work at a job with these sorta animals right?!?!?

Them demonstrating releasing the venom of a poisonous snake into a cup right in front of my face. O_O

Ok I know I said I’m not that scared of snakes but I still don’t like them around my neck and it was so heavy and warm but cold at some parts and just “WTF WTF WTF” the expression says it all.

Eventually I managed to compose myself for a few seconds for this shot. The snake looks like it’s gonna bite my…

A cuteeee baby hedgehog (also found at the King Cobra Show) to balance out the evurl creatures overload. It reminded me of my old hamster Pudding! So small ♥

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9) Watch pretty Thai girls dance & perform as you feast on a traditional Khantoke dinner show!

At the Old Chiangmai Cultural Center!

Sitting around a low round table on the floor in front of the stage enjoying our drinks and waiting for the show to start

“What makes the traditional Lanna Khantoke dinner so special is the music and dance accompanying the mouth-watering food. Thai Classical Dance is a matchless piece of performance art that cannot be described in words. However, it could be compared to a group of dancers performing in the field of wheat, or sunflower dancing together in the evening breeze. The dancing resembles poetry in motion. This informal style of dinning with different style of cooking and gentle slow-tempo dance makes the Khantoke dinner a remarkable experience.

There could be hardly a better plate than the traditional Thai meals. Thai dishes are completely different from Western concept. Generally, a traditional Khantoke dinner starts with fried pumpkin. Then you can proceed to the mildly spicy red chili, tomato and minced pork dip. The alternate options are mouth-watering Burmese pork curry, so delectable that you wouldn’t wait to have it twice and the luscious fried chicken.        
 
The Hangleh (pork curry) with stir-fried cabbage and sticky or plain cooked rice would be etched in your mind forever. Further, the bowl of crispy fried noodles goes well with the rice. At the end, the scrumptious deserts with fried rice crispies await your tongue. Certainly, the Khantoke dinner would surely be the fantastic experience that will keep you craving for a second coming.” – credit source

The food was beyond delectable. The best part was the waitresses would come around every now and then to top up any dishes you’ve greedily devoured. Like a buffet brought to your table with classy dancing girls included. Loved the concept of sitting on the floor, it was extremely casual and laid-back, I don’t fancy fine dining settings too much – too formal for me and I sit cross legged 90% of the time, even in a lot of restaurants! Another must-do in Chiang Mai and a perfect way to spend the evening. Toto told me this was what kings / emperors used to eat! I wouldn’t mind having this once a week as a staple in my life. Honestly.

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10) Shop to your heart’s content for handicrafts and cheap bargains at the night market!

The weekend night market is the most happening place to be on a Saturday night in Chiang Mai. It’s bustling with people, food and merchandises. I LOVE night bazaars & markets in any country.. this one is the best one I’ve been to hands down! Just so much to see, smell and buy! All at the most affordable prices you can get.

I believe these are pandan leaves folded in roses. Mad!

A popsicle is always a good idea in Thailand

Real candies coated with lacquer and turned into hair accessories. Say whaaat? I was so tempted to buy one back home for the heck of it but realized it has no real use. Like, at all. Would you wear a candy clip out?

My favorite Thai dessert! Love Thai honey mangoes and glutinous rice!

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And that sums up our trip the last thing we did in Chiang Mai before flying back to Singapore the next morning. I bought a floral sun hat, a weaved bag, and some accessories for myself & friends not pictured here! I love bargains. $_$ Thailand is full of them. There you have it, my list of 10 things to do in Chiang Mai!!!! Or at least the main 10 things I went through there!

All in all, I absolutely loved exploring Chiang Mai and its hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

It proved to be a delightful new age city in Thailand that has won a new found special place in my heart. I feel like I came back to Singapore a slightly renewed person from all the experiences. Some of which I did not even blog about but stays known only to Maureen & I!

I think Chiang Mai is a severely underrated holiday destination that more people need to sit up and take notice of, but now that you guys have read this post, hopefully it will change your minds! Most of the Thai people I met in Chiang Mai were nice, and kind. I didn’t feel unsafe there or that I had to be wary and watch my bag or belongings all the time (as I’m sure we have all experienced when traveling at some point or another) I had the best 4 days ever and brought home with me memories to last a long time. Our time there was far too short, 5 days to a week would be perfect to tour all around this city. I will definitely recommend Chiang Mai to anyone who’s looking for a little bit of everything – food, culture, sports and more! It’s a world of discovery and adventure out there. Thailand just keeps on surprising me. Every trip I’ve made there has been so different and unique in its own way!

Thankful for the new friendships found, the generosity and kindness shown to me during this trip and.. just.. thankful in general.

A shout out to Chan Brothers and Tourism Authority of Thailand for the opportunity to embark on this trip!!! ♥ Thailand, it’s always a pleasure!

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VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE T.Y.E BLOGGER!

There’s an ongoing contest among the 3 groups of bloggers who visited different parts of Thailand on this Young Explorer Project, and we all created video diaries and blog posts based on our unique experiences….  Now we’re competing to see who will walk away as the ultimate winner! If you wanna see a video of me looking ridiculous while riding an elephant and firing a real badass gun, CLICK HERE and vote for Maureen & I! Of course, if you think the other teams did better than us, feel free to vote for them instead…  but I’m watching you. I will know who you vote for, and I will hunt you down.

Just kidding. :D Or, am I? But honestly, I reckon Maureen did a GREAT job at video editing, she made the video highly entertaining to watch and it must have taken her so many hours to do up something like that!!! So vote for us and stand a chance to win $100 Chan Brothers Travel Vouchers! Voting ends 2nd of June. Thanks in advance!

For more information about the Thailand Young Explorer Project: www.chanbrothers.com/tye/index.cfm