Chiang Mai Packing List

Chiang Mai Packing List

After the heat and humidity of Bangkok, we were not surprised that Chiang Mai was along the same lines. Walking around downtown to check out the various temples was worse than the most humid of days in Houston Texas, so wearing breathable clothes, lots of sun protection, supportive shoes, and keeping hydrated was essential!

On top of gallivanting around town, a huge draw to visiting Chiang Mai are the elephant sanctuaries. The sanctuaries are typically in the mountain areas and there was an unexpected 15 minute hike to get to our location, so sneakers and sweat-wicking active wear was the way to go. Additionally, during monsoon season (May – November), it rains like crazy and gets super muddy, so you will want to ensure you have a plan for packing and washing your clothes after the fact…. Mine was washing everything in the shower afterwards and using the hairdryer to dry things…

Wandering temples in Chiang Mai, Thailand

With all of that said, below are my recommendations for making the most out of your Chiang Mai packing space:

Chaco Dorra Sandals  | NeatPack Foldable Backpack | Forever 21 Floppy Sun Hat | Cheap sunglasses bought in the night markets so if you lose or break them, its OK | a poncho / umbrella | Under Armour UA Fly-By Capri | Coach Messenger with Pop Up Pouch Bag

Clothing:

  • Shirts (1 per day): Light, breathable tanks or tees that do not reveal too much. Make sure they can match with lots of prints so, if you buy clothes in Thailand, you can mix and match!
  • Maxi skirts or maxi dresses (1 per day): Perfect to wear at temples and they dress up and down so easily! Try and buy ones with slits so you can have a bit more ventilation.
  • Athletic capri leggings and top for jungle excursions: Focus on light, breathable, sweat wicking, and easy to clean for your muddy elephant journey or adventure into the jungle.
  • Formal wear (number pending your night plans): dresses or nice skirt / top combo. Remember, the night markets are a great way to spend an evening and are very casual so, if you only have two nights, make sure you check out a market for one of them!
  • Bathing suit: bring one on the elephant tour and make sure you check out the hotel pool to relax your body after a long day of walking in the heat!
  • Buy some elephant pants in the markets. They are the most comfy $5 pants you will ever own. I wore them almost every night!

Accessories:

  • Water bottle
  • Camera
  • Light scarf: to cover your shoulders at the temples
  • Umbrella: for both sun and rain protection
  • Hat and sunglasses: A MUST
  • Day bag: pack-able backpack recommended to put your shoes in at temples, carry your water and snacks for long days, a change of clothes for after the elephant park, and anything else you may need.
  • Sun screen & bug spray: make sure you apply often!
  • Purse: A small, zipped (for security reasons), cross-body purse, to carry your personals. Try and make sure it is easy for you to get in and out of when you need to grab your phone or camera quickly to capture your favorite moments of the trip! Also, an easy to clean leather material will help if you maintain it and pick a color that is easy to match with.
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Tissues / toilet paper: if you want some in the bathrooms…

Shoes:

  • Sneakers that can get muddy
  • Comfortable walking sandals that are easy to take on and off (at temples)
  • Sandals for walking to the spa or pool / hot tub
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Chiang Mai – Day 2

Chiang Mai – Day 2

Today marked the day I was most looking forward to for the entire trip – our day with elephants! We had a 3-course breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, thai soup, and banana pancakes at the hotel with the most amazing orange juice I’ve ever had, and then we met our transport at 8 AM outside of the hotel to head to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We climbed into the back of the truck bed which had some covered bench seats and were pretty crammed in there as we picked up another 7 people.

We sat across from 2 Canadians who quit their jobs and were traveling for months through Asia and were going to end in Australia. They were really nice and we had great conversations about our travel adventures over the two hours it took to get to the jungle. We bonded even more as it started to downpour while we drove and we got soaked! We were driving up very windy mountain roads and eventually turned off onto a mud path that went almost straight down. Not only was it muddy, but the heavy monsoon rains had turned the dirt road into a part mud-slide, part river! We were scared out of our wits that we were going to slide off the 4 inches we had between the roadside and cliff. It definitely reminded me of the crazy ride I had up a jungle volcano in Guatemala – just as scary, but knowing how we survived that ride, I had faith we would somehow survive this one.

We eventually stopped on the path and parked. The drivers made us get out of the truck and the rains subsided for about 10 minutes during our hike down the very muddy forest path. We had to forge through a waterfall and go over some very small wooden bridges before the sky’s faucet decided to turn back on and drench us again. Talk about an incredibly fun hike! It was gloriously muddy so why not just embrace the monsoon season – when in Rome right?

We finally came upon a long, dry, and inviting wooden hut. Our guides gave us shirts to change into that had big pockets to hold bananas for the elephants. The rains held-off as we walked up and back down a hill into a valley where the elephants were! They were so majestic! There were three adult females, one was 55 years old, and three toddlers that were between 2 and 4 years old.

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We walked up to them and said “bon bon” to tell them we had bananas. The elephants were all about the bananas, knew where our pockets were and kept trying to stick their trunks into our pockets to grab more bananas. It was so cute and just goes to show how smart they are…

The tip of the elephant’s trunks was soft but the rest of their skin was very hard and leathery. They were also covered in 2-inch long, black hairs that stuck straight out. The hairs flung mud everywhere when you tried to pet the elephants, but I didn’t care and I got mud all over the place. We fed the elephants all of the bananas we could and then the guides took all of the guys back up the mountain to bring down what looked to be bamboo shoots for the elephants to eat. Boy do they eat a lot! We fed the elephants for about an hour before they took off up the hill towards the huts. We followed them and washed off at some water hoses overlooking the waterfall.

Our lunch of stir fried veggies, chicken wings, and fried rice was waiting for us after we got cleaned up and we ate lunch while watching the elephants swim in the rapids under the waterfall. I don’t know if I will ever be able to top that lunch experience.

Watching the elephants play in the river at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand

We chatted with our fellow tourists, some from Chili, Spain, Canada, and Belgium. They were all really friendly and we swapped stories and talked about world politics. It is always interesting to hear other opinions about world events, especially those from different countries. All of them had similar views on our Donald Trump situation, and we talked about the differences in Texan accents and view points from Texans in cities vs. the more rural country side. All of the people we talked with seemed very down to earth and worldly.

We moved to the edge of the hut and watched the elephants frolic in the water and up the hillside for a while. One of the baby elephants decided to come say hi, despite his handlers best attempt to lure him away, stepped carefully over the fence, and scratched his bum on the mud right in front of us. It was super cute. Eventually, the handler got some bananas and persuaded the elephant back down the mountain to the rest of the pack.

Baby elephant joining us for lunch at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand
Our guide told us it was time to make the elephants a snack of rice and banana balls, so we helped make those and then got into our swim suits to head down the muddy path to the mud bath area. All of the elephants were delighted at the banana ball treats and, after feeding them, we smeared mud all over the elephants. Our guides picked up piles of mud and threw it on us to get everyone into the experience! The mud was so deep that my legs sunk until the mud was at my knees and we got covered just like the elephants. The only thing I did not like about the whole day was that the guides were yelling a lot during the mud bath time to get everyone excited and were throwing mud around, some of which got in my eye. Also, one of the guides kept running up to the guys to rub mud on them in a bit too-touchy-feely kind of way. *Shoulder shrug* – but, other than that, it was a bunch of fun!

Once we were basically covered in brown, we all headed to the river to wash off the elephants. Since the monsoon rains were so heavy in the morning, the river was rushing and was too strong for us to full get in the river, so we stayed on the banks. It was still a blast to splash around with the elephants and watch them roll around in the water. The babies were especially playful and would fully submerge themselves by laying on their sides under the water. I could have stayed and watched them there for hours and hours.

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The experience ended waaay to quickly and we headed back up to the hut to wash off and dry off in the sun for a few minutes. We had some tea and cookies while drying and one of the guides told us that the guide who had been rubbing mud all over the guys earlier had a girlfriend who was a lady-boy. I totally knew it! The guides were saying some pretty crude things about each other which was surprising but really entertaining. Got to love a good culture shock!

Once we dried up, we hiked back up the path to the truck. The rainfall from other areas converged at the waterfall, turning it into a super strong rapid that we wouldn’t dare cross, so we had to take a different path back to the truck. It was all uphill and a bit of a workout! Our guides kept stopping to pick flowers and were being very playful – a very strange but fun pair.

One the plus side, the jungle road had dried up. There was no way the truck could have driven up that slippery, muddy mess of a path we drive down to get to the Sanctuary. Once we got piled into the truck, however, we realized it was taking a while for our guides to start the truck. I looked out the window and saw our guides flinging wrenches in the air while pointing under the lifted hood of the truck. I couldn’t imagine getting stuck in such a remote part of the jungle in monsoon season!

It turned out the carburetor wouldn’t start so we all had to get out and push the truck backwards up the hill so our driver could turn downwards and get momentum to spark the engine. Thankfully, we had 4 strong guys and all of us girls / lady like guides to push the truck. It took about 15 minutes to get it turned around and the driver kept yelling about break problems (not a funny joke!) but we finally got the engine started. Crisis averted! We barely made it back up the mountain path and there was quite a communal sigh of relief once we made it to the main road. All-in-all, with the mountain issues and traffic back in Chiang Mai, it took about 2 hours of driving and good conversation to get back to the Rachamankha Hotel.

My sneakers and clothes were totally covered in mud so I tried to wash all of as much as possible. Re-wearing clothes in Thailand sounds like a good idea, but between the tours where you get super muddy and all of the humidity, there is no way you can re-wear anything without washing it thoroughly first.

Anyways, we got cleaned up and then took off to find something quick for dinner. Street food was insanely cheap compared to our hotel. Per the recommendation of one of our Canadian tour mates, we tried some street grilled pork and friend wontons for 10 BHT total ($0.30 USD) which was amazing! We then found a little restaurant and I ordered “the best noodles in Chiang Mai”, Khao Soi, to try something different. Gosh was it good! It was like a chicken curry with thick ramen type noodles. Ryan’s Pad Thai was also scrumptious and, in total, our 2 entrees, spring rolls, and two drinks were 200 BTH – $7 USD! While we opted for nice hotels on this trip, our fellow elephant tour friends were staying in nice hostels that were $4 USD per night and living on about $20 a day. It is amazing how different the costs are in Thailand!

A delicious dinner in Chiang Mai, Thailand

My mud inflicted eye was really starting to bug me at this point. I was really afraid I had gotten pink eye or something from the elephant park mud that had flown into it earlier in the day and needed to flush it out more with eye drops and water. We walked back to the hotel so I could do so, and then relaxed by the pool listening to the birds before heading to bed.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Another early wake up to catch our flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai! We hopped in a cab and it took about 40 minutes to get to BKK airport. About 10 minutes before we arrived, we noticed our taxi’s meter was off. The last I saw, it was at 197 BHT for our trip, and by the time we arrived and pointed this out to the driver, he tapped the meter and demanded 400 BTH for the ride. There was no way the fair doubled in the 10 minutes the meter was off, so I told him I would only pay 350. He agreed but then refused to give me change for my 1,000 BHT bills. He started to ignore us and look everywhere but at us and would not talk to us either! I ended up having to go into the airport, to the exchange counter, and get them to give me smaller bills so that we could pay the cabbie. I was so mad and worried we wouldn’t have enough time to catch our flight since we had about an hour before boarding.

Check-in was actually a breeze since Thai Smile airlines had different counters for each flight and there was almost no line in security. Phew! We found our gate and then walked back to the food court area. Ryan got Dunkin’ Donuts, which I initially scoffed at since it’s so American, but he bought a cookie dough doughnut and I couldn’t resist a bite of that heaven! Since I hadn’t had it yet, I got some Pad Thai and mango sticky rice. It was pretty decent but I was still excited to try the local street Pad Thai outside of an airport.

We walked to the gate and it was so quite! Talk about the cleanest and easiest airport experience. Everyone at the gate was very friendly and we boarded with ease. We took off and I got out my laptop to blog. The stewardess brought by water and this delicious curry burrito thing as a snack. I was already sooo full but had to at least taste test….
Curry burrito on Thai Smile Airways

I just started journaling and we started to descend. I think the whole flight lasted an hour. We were quick to the gate and at the hotel within 45 minutes of landing! Our hotel, Rachamankha, was a piece of paradise in the middle of the city. We walked into a quite corridor of white buildings with beautiful gardens – so tranquil!

Our room was not yet ready so we talked to the front office attendant and he suggested some temples to go see while we waited. He also asked us which elephant tour we were planning on doing the next day and flinched a bit when we told him the one we booked, Chang Dao. We asked him why he reacted the way he did and he said something about it being far away, but I was a bit skeptical that that was the real reason.

With our map in hand, we took off walking to discover the temples of Chiang Mai. There were plenty. We came across our first within 5 minutes and realized that there was some type of monk ceremony going on so we decided not to interrupt in the main temple but walk the grounds to the other parts of the temple. The sun was blaring down on us and, despite being 80 degrees, the intense humidity was rough. We walked through some of the other buildings and the addition of my scarf made the heat double. Needless to say, we needed to hydrate.

We walked to another temple and through the buildings there until we couldn’t take the heat anymore. We found an internet café nearby and ordered some Thai tea and water. While there, we used the free Wi-Fi and discovered that, since I booked the Chang Dao elephant excursion, there were many negative reviews about how the elephants were treated and that the center used chairs to ride the elephants which is not good for the elephants. I felt really bad reading all of the reviews and we decided to cancel our tour with that company and find another one that was better to the elephants. The worst thing would be to travel 1.5 hours and watch elephants get mistreated.

We headed back to the hotel so that they could help us switch our tours and stopped at a few other temples along the way.

After wandering, we quickly realized our map was completely useless. While it had all of the landmarks on it, it was missing about 90% of the street names and we got super, duper lost. We walked for about an hour, stopping to have some locals point to our location on the map, most of whom couldn’t figure it out! How do you have a map that the locals can’t even use?! We were getting pretty grumpy in the heat, frustrated with the map, and a swampy kind of sweaty which just made things worse – yuck! We finally stopped at an internet café and Ryan pulled up Google maps which showed us we were about a block from our hotel. The hotel was down a side street which made things tricky but, by 2 PM, we finally made it back! Our room was ready and the receptionist booked us for a tour at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. I was so relieved but the Chang Dao place refused to give us a refund so I need to check with my bank to see if my travel insurance will cover the difference (fingers crossed).

After a much-needed shower and (more) Pad Thai for lunch at the hotel, we decided to find a massage place. The hotel massages were about double what we could find on the street, so we decided on this place called Lilia and screen grabbed the walking directions in Google Maps. It was about a 5-minute walk and there was supposed to be a large sign pointing to the spa when we got there. Instead, there was a dingy looking places called “Lalia” instead of “Lilia” which, I had a hunch, did the type of massage we did not want. Ryan was pretty frustrated with me after getting so lost twice now and now finding a massage place which I refused to enter, so we headed back. Thankfully, we came across a much better looking massage place about a block away that had hour-long massages for 500 BHT per person – about $12. We decided to stop there and left our shoes outside the door with everyone else’s to enter. We were given tea, had our feet cleaned, and then we were lead up 4 flights of stairs by a lady who only had 8 toes. Just like in Bangkok, we were given these really funny, stretchy, throw-away undies to change into and boy did they look strange. For 500 BHT, the place was very clean and the massages were quite nice and much needed.

The massages definitely put us in a better mood. We had some more tea on the way out and headed back to the hotel. We had a quick nap and I put on my extremely comfy and new purple elephant pants to explore the night market. We took a cab for 150 BHT ($5) to the market and were amazed at its size! It went on forever inside this giant pavilion and had everything you could want to buy. We were getting hungry and went to to the food court which was so overwhelming with the amount of vendors and options they had. Ryan got a smoothie and I ended up getting Chicken Tikka Masala which was super oily so I only ate the chicken. A bit disappointing but it was only 100 BTH ($3ish) so oh well.

We continued to walk and bought gifts for family from the different markets. Boy to I like to haggle for a good deal! There was also a cabaret show and the lady boys were performing in the streets which was interesting to see to say the least. We walked for about an hour before we called a tuktuk to head back to the hotel. Our tuktuk driver was a speed demon and our hair was flying everywhere as he zoomed down the back alley ways. Tuktuks are by far my favorite mode of transportation here and we are going to be riding in the almost more throughout the trip!