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“Hurry up, hurry up, we´re gonna miss that bloody train!” My travel companion is slightly out of it after a crazy Tuk Tuk ride through Bangkok´s buzzing concrete jungle. It did rather feel like a stroller ride on Speed, and it also did look rather funny of sorts with all our, or should I say my, mighty luggage squeezed into the Tuk Tuk´s modest space. And us squeezed right next to it like willing pieces of Tetris that somehow miraculously seemed to fit together.
Anyways, no time left for such silly musings while running through the Bangkok train station, desperately trying to catch the 12-hour-long jungle train ride to Chiang Mai, located 700 km north of Thailands´s capital Bangkok.
Boarding the train to Chiang Mai, the crown´s diamond
“This is it, this is it!” , I encouragingly mumble to myself while approaching the Thai-Railways-operated train. Better take up running again, I kinda lost my former almost-athlete-momentum – my thoughts ramble on as a smiling, composed train employee helps us to lift our suitcases onto the train. Did that vehicle already start moving while we were just jumping on board? Quite possibly!
We were not in safety-conscious Australia anymore, after all. Nor in rule-laden Europe. No, we were in spiritual, faith-full and for the most part royalty-revering Thailand, and on our intrepid way to Chiang Mai, the Northern capital of the province bearing the same name.
As indicated, any visitor to the land of the former kingdom of Siam should know that generally speaking, the Thais love and truly care for their king. The Thai constitution even emphasizes that “the King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated“. Let´s, therefore, remain royalty-positive and take in what former King Rama once said about our new travel destination:
Chiang Mai represents the prime diamond on the crown of Thailand, the crown cannot sparkle and be beauteous without the diamond…
Thai-train-training: Mind over matter
Friends, what can I say – if Chiang Mai was good enough for King Rama, it certainly would be good enough for us little munchkins. Whether King Rama would have diged that train-carriage, though – I guess that´s a completely different matter. In any case, we were booked in for the second class, which was quite alright. As was to be expected, the first class did look a fair bit nicer, and toilet amenities there were also more agreeable. A freaking lot more agreeable!
But our seats were clearly marked second class, and after my travel companion went on some train explorations and came back with his assessment of our current pee-possibilities (“Yeah, nah. It´s not good“), I decided to once again muster up all my courage and my iron strength of will and turn the train ride into a 12-hour-no-bladder-release-challenge.
While taking that almost heroic decision, I grimly clutched onto my “South- Eastern Asia on a shoestring” travel guide. Taking in as much well-researched information on impossibly alluring Thailand as feasible would be my best ally while defeating the lurking powers of down under.
And – taking in those views did its part in distracting me from the nether regions! Lush green landscapes moved past in a perfectly timed speed, allowing the eyes to be soothed after a week amidst the electric creative chaos of Bangkok. Humble shacks, built into the evergreen landscape, with beautiful Thai women carrying a child or two on their backs, passed us by. Contemplating these and other images of Central and Northern Thailand´s beating bountiful green heart, twelve long hours went by.
720 minutes whole minutes, in which I learned that Chiang Mai hosts over 300 Buddhist temples, the so-called wats, a Thai word you might recall from our previous Bangkok adventure. And that the inhabitants speak Northern Thai, otherwise known as Lanna, owning to the fact that the area of Northern Thailand was the birthplace of the first Thai kingdom, the Lanna Kingdom. For my poet-souls out there: the poetically charming yet linguistically precise way to clothe these words into more eloquent robes lies in referring to the Lanna kingdom as “the land of a million rice fields”.
On a slightly more trivial side-note: The twelve hours from bustling Bangkok to the land of a million rice fields did expire with zero bladder-release, I am proud to announce.
Arriving in Chiang Mai: A theory about Germans and a thailicious array of options
We reached Northern Thailand´s largest city around midnight, and a local from our pre-booked hostel was supposed to pick us up from the train station. Or so we thought. That local looked suspiciously Caucasian, though!
As soon as he opened his mouth, my nagging hunch got confirmed – once again, it was an adventurous German on the run from grey winters and possibly too much self-imposed discipline standing right in front of me! No matter how far you travel, you can never escape the reliable presence of wanderlusty Germans, I thought. As a half-German myself, I should know…
Thomas had moved to Chiang Mai some years back and had opened a Backpacker´s with his Thai girlfriend, a kind yet cheeky looking, petite woman we met that same night before checking into what would be our humble new home for the next three weeks. Thomas was a laid-back, rather skinny guy with glasses and light brown hair, and when we started chatting for a while in German, it was rather easy to detect the soothing, melodious dialect of the Bavarians in his speech.
Thomas and his girlfriend, the latter a much more lively and enthusiastic type than Thomas himself, laid out our many Chiang Mai leisure activity options that same night (right, I still had not peed!! 14 hours had gone by…I know, where is the Guinness book of records data-entry-person when you need him/her?!).
From cooking classes to white water rafting, from Thai-massage-workshops, Muay-Thay-boxing events to talk-to-a-monk-sessions – I felt a rush of excitement when perusing through all the exhilarating options. It was one activity that really jumped out at me, though – a one-day-training-experience as an elephant mahout, an elephant rider/ trainer. Getting up close and personal with powerful animals and learning from them? Sign me up!
Water for elephants: Learning to be a mini-mahout
Two days later, we were sitting on a vehicle with a Rasta-haired Italian, an intrepid German couple, and a few fancy Frenchmen riding through the Northern Thailand landscape, not far from the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. After a short stop at a picturesque butterfly garden, we arrived at our rather-out-of-the-ordinary destination – an elephant camp smack in the middle of the jungle nestled against a murky river. A quick introduction by the elephant trainers later, and…
there´s a rumble. It´s a different kind of sound, not too loud, yet powerful and imposing in its own right. Leaves are rustling, and all eyes are pinned on the horizon, as the massive shape of a majestic Asian elephant appears in the distance. A self-assured trumpeting noise resounds… and there she is, gorgeous, regal; around 5 tonnes of pure fabulousness, right in front of us tiny and pretty intimidated yet curious humans.
“Leila“, I name her quietly and completely awe-struck, just to get some kind of grasp on this almost surreal situation. Slowly, I m allowed to approach her. And then the first of a series of incredibly exciting things happen…
… next time, we will continue on the mahout-for-a-day adventure and find out more about ethical elephant encounters in Thailand – it´s important to distinguish here, more about this in the next post. We will also witness an eclectic, wild and inspirational night market and an intense Thai-massage-workshop, and much more. It will basically be my absolute best of 3 weeks in Chiang Mai for you, plus some juicy insights into the life of an elephant on top!
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever had any out-of-the-ordinary animal encounters? What stood out to you about it? Or would there be any animals you would be particularly interested in hanging out with? As always, would love to hear from you! 🙂
Healing travel tip: Am gonna share some healing travel tips at the end of some posts from now on. Healing here refers to both the planet and oneself – which are always interconnected in my perception.
Today´s healing tip – If you fly for leisure or work and have the means to, please check out the possibility of flying climate neutral, offsetting your emissions to lessen our impact on mother earth. Mindful flights is a great initiative I´ve just come across. Thank you, enjoy:)