Chiang Mai and Koh Yao Yai

The sunset caught the all gold at Wat Chedi Luang beautifully.
The Reclining Buddha at Wat Chedi Luang.

Chiang Mai is well known as the city to visit in Thailand if one is looking for traditional crafts and the more ethical elephant sanctuaries. Like everywhere that has a large tourist industry, it has undoubtedly changed over the years to better accommodate the demands of travellers, it is impossible to go for a walk without spotting a hostel. Despite this, the city appears to maintain a precarious balance between the tourist and the local, selling local crafts to customers wanting that authentic piece of Thailand to take home with them. There is room for everyone to profit selling the genuine to the less genuine that looks just as good for half the price.

The complex at Wat Chedi Luang was beautiful. Something that created some confusion researching temples in Chiang Mai was that every source spells the names differently.
The sunset catching Wat Chedi Luang.

Night markets are saturated with goods demanding the attention of tourists and I can’t help but wonder how anyone makes a profit selling the same scarves and clothes as every other stall. By day the temples charge tourists for entry while worshipers can enter for free, an excellent scheme that helps to maintain the temples. The only issue being that “tourist” is often based on skin colour, an understandable method but it did raise a few eyebrows as bus loads of Chinese tourists walked in for free.

After arriving Chiang Mai, we headed straight out to the Saturday night market. The Chiang Mai night markets are the biggest I’ve ever visited and definitely have the most variety.
The Three Kings took us a while to find so we took a break until we realised we were sitting opposite them with only a tree shielding our view.

In addition to temples and night markets my mother and I visited San Kamphaeng Road. This road is the location of many local craft shops and at several miles long we carefully picked a few destinations within walking distanace to visit in advance. These were Baan Celadon pottery shop where we looked around the factory where celadon pottery was being made, the intricacy of the patterns painstakingly painted and carved was astounding; the Thai Silk Village which I talked about in a separate post; two silver factories, one more questionable than the other; and a lacquerware factory that was fascinating.

The front of the temple at Wat Phra Singh.
Scaffolding – the bane of every tourist. This is the Phrathatluang Chedi at Wat Phra Singh.

Something that we found a little disconcerting was how in many of the shops and factories, we were closely followed by a member of staff, ready to help at any moment. While I presume it is normal practice in Thailand, for us, who are not used to it, it came across as somewhat stifling and just made us want to leave instead of taking the time to properly enjoy looking around. The only place we were followed and it didn’t feel suffocating was the lacquerware factory, Lai Thong. We were greeted at the door to the factory and given an excellent demonstration of the lacquer making and decorating techniques before being shown into the store. Once there, while attended, we were given enough space to look at items and the members of staff were helpful but managed not to make it feel too much like we had to buy anything.

This is the interior of Warorot Market, full of dried spices and fruit. We also got some lovely fabric at a nearby shop.
We ended up in Wat Phan Tao by mistake while looking for Wat Chedi Luang. I’m glad we did as it was a nice break from all the gold.

We finished up our stay in Thailand at a resort on Koh Yao Yai island near Phuket. This was a nice break and I spent most the time revising and doing assignments but at least I had a good view while doing it and the breakfast allowed me to indulge in my pancake obsession and ongoing pancake photo war with my father.

This set of pancakes were devoured in Chiang Mai and I have no regrets.
Revising hard on Koh Yao Yai
At least revising is easier when this is the view.

Chiang Mai’s Thai Silk Village

For me, the best part of visiting Chiang Mai was the opportunity to look around the Thai Silk Village. This tourist stop teaches about how Thai silk is made, with a large selection of working looms. Fortunately for my dignity, I just about manage to stop myself from bouncing up and down in pure joy as the amateur seamstress in me first heard the rhythmic clicking and thunking of the looms. Sadly this self restraint did not last for the entire visit and I found myself grinning like a fool and vibrating with happiness when I left clutching a five meter bundle of the most gorgeous green silk to my chest.

The silk worms are fed on mulberry leaves and will shed their skin four times before forming their cocoon.
An example of the cocoons being formed. There were both yellow and white cocoons, presumably spun by different species.

Before we made it the gift shop of many colours however, we first looked around the factory section. Along one wall was a series of baskets, displaying the life cycle of the silk worms and moths. It was a little hard to tell for certain, but from what I could see, two different species of silk worm were on display. TexereSilk provides a reasonably good explanation of the full silkworm lifecycle and initial thread making. Next to this display a woman carefully unravelled the cocoons, spinning several filaments into the initial threads. Further on, these threads were dyed and spun into their final strands before being transferred to the looms.

Unravelling the cocoon and forming the first threads of silk.
An partially completed bolt of silk.

The looms are passed down through generations of weavers and possess a look that suggests they are just waiting to give one a splinter. However, despite their less glamorous appearances, these Thai silk looms have be instrumental in producing what is argueably some of the finest silk in the world, remaining constant as they pass from mother to daughter. I can only imagine the years of practice it mast take for the weavers to perfectly time the raising and lowering of the warp thread with the foot pedal while pulling on a rope to transport the shuttle as it carries the weft back and forth.

One of the looms in use.

Entering the gift shop, we were assaulted with a rainbow of colours as we perused first bolts of silk and, deeper in, everything one could conceivably make from fabric. My interest was in the bolts and I spent a huge amount of time humming and hawing over the the breathtaking fabric on offer, before finally settling on a two tone green and black silk which I look forward to transforming in to a cocktail dress when I am reunited with my sewing machine at the end of my exchange.

Walking with Elephants

After deciding that we’d go to Thailand, my mother and I realised that spending a few days in Chiang Mai so that we could spend time visiting elephants was an absolute must. In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the injuries riding elephants causes as well as the mistreatment of the elephant and their mahouts in the logging and riding industries. After some research we settled on spending a day with the elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

My mother with an elephant.

The day dawned bright an early and we were picked up from our hostel and driven to Camp 8 after picking up the rest of the group. After changing into the provided tops we were given the standard safety briefing as well as more information about the work of the sanctuary and how it helps rescue elephants and the mahouts from other industies. Collecting handfuls of bananas, we greated the elephants as they approach from the neaby jungle. They definitely appeared to love their sweet treats if the speed at which the bananas disappeared is anything to go by. Continuous laughter filled the air as searching trunks stole bananas from unsuspecting hands.

My mother and me with my favourite of the elephants we met.
Almost there. Apparently this isn’t an uncommon occurrence with him.
Here is a clearer view of his “GPS Locator”.

y favourite of the five elephants we met initially was a youngster who had a wooden bell tied around his neck. GPS locator the guide informs us. He later tried, and succeeded, to climb over the wooden fence that separated lthe seating area from the main yard. The moment when he was halway over the fence was most amusing as he awkwardly figured out how to lift his back legs over.

We next helped in the making of medicine balls to feed the elephants. These consisted of rice, tamarind and salt among other things to help provide the elephants with some roughage and ensure they are getting a suitable selection of vitamins and minerals. These sticky balls were snapped up as quickly as the bananas before them and provided another round of giggles and photos.

Scrub a dub dub

Here is me trying desperately not to lose my glasses. Should have thought it through a little more.

Our next stop was to give the elephant a mud bath, standing in a silty pond and gooping mud over their backs as well as each other before continuing down to the river so everyone, elephants included, could rinse off the mud. Us humans then had a go at sliding down a natural flume before drying off and tucking into an mouthwateringly delicious lunch of curry and watermelon.

Lunch concluded and bellies full we ventured in to the jungle, following the elephants on a small loop and just enjoying being in the presence of such beautiful and intelligent creatures. Our group as a little smaller by this point as some people had only been visiting for a day but at a few points on the trail I will admit to feeling frustrated with only being able to see the backs of people heads and the distant ridge of an elephant’s back.

Three elephant behinds in size order.

Fortunately this didn’t detract from the overall experience and we finished the day by visiting one of the Elephant Jungle Santuary’s larger camps to meet a bigger group of elephants, including an adorable baby.

Who couldn’t love this adorable five month old?

After this amazing experience, I would definitely say that it was worth it and would recommend everyone to give it a go and strongly advise against riding elephants. However, I think it is also important to remember that while this is way better than riding elephants, it is still a tourism industry and it is important to properly research where one intends to visit. Also bare in mind that it is not sustainable tourism. Even if it massively improves the lives of the elephants, they are still no truly free and must interact with humans far more than they would in the wild.

This is a post by Wanderlust Movement which explains why they decided not to visit an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I feel it provided a good explanation about elephant tourism and it has given me some thinking points about some of the bullet points on my bucket list and how I might change them.