The Chiang Mai Experience
March 11th, 2010 by Jeff

Chiang Mai is a wonderful city in the north of Thailand. We flew up there from Bangkok while we waited for Kate’s new veneers to be made. We had plans for a number of great adventures while we were in this town, including Thai cooking classes, visiting some of the 475+ Wats (or temples) and to have an another elephant encounter.

The first day spent in Chang Mai we used as what I call a utility or down day. This is one of those less glamorous sides of our extended travels Kate blogged about earlier. A number of things typically get done one these days. Usually this is when Kate and I realize that we’ve been slipping in our parental duties and haven’t forced the kids to do any homework in a couple of days, and they need to do some math and writing (much to their chagrin). Also on this particular day I spent two hours going to the train station to book our train back to Bangkok only to learn all the trains were booked for the next week. After making this discovery, I ended up coming back to the hotel to book a plane back via the internet instead. I then made arrangements for a hotel once we arrived back in Bangkok. Finally, I dropped of the dirty laundry for cleaning at the local laundry. By this time it was 3:00. We did make it out after this to the Chiang Mai Museum of Arts and Culture to learn a little about the area and the northern Thai peoples. It was a pretty good museum that had quite a bit of information in English (so I could count that towards the kids schooling – parental duty done for the day!).

The next day we spent a gluttonous day at the Thai Farm Cooking School. They picked us up from our hotel and took us to the local market. At the market our instructor taught us about the various ingredients we would use in our cooking that day. We then made our way out to the school were we walked through their garden to learn a little more about the various herbs and plants we would be added to our Thai dishes. We then proceeded to start cooking.

Kate and Tessa Cooking Phad Thai

Kate and Tessa Cooking Phad Thai

Phoeve and Jeff Pounding on the Curry - Making for quite an appetite!

Phoebe and Jeff Pounding on the Curry - Making for quite an appetite!

We actually used mortar and pestle to pound the ingredients into the various curries we were making. The curry could not have gotten any fresher! Tessa opted for a yellow curry, Phoebe and Kate made green curry and I went for red. Needless to say we all loved our entrees! We then continued with cooking a five course meal. In addition to the curry we made soups, spring rolls, a noodle dish, and desserts (mango and sticky rice!!! Yum!). We all rolled away from the table after the first four coursed and brought the noodle dishes back to the hotel for them to heat up for us as dinner. We are all looking forward to cooking Thai food at home when we get back to our kitchen in the Phoenix!

The following day we decided to explore the Chiang Mai. This included visiting the local Wats. The highlight of the day for us all was Monk Chat at the MCU Buddhist University at Wat Chedi Laung. This is a great program that has been put together to give tourist and foreigners an opportunity to interact directly with monks on a one to one basis. It is an open forum where the monks and the tourist sit around tables and the monks answer questions from the tourist about their lives and living in Thailand as a monk. The discussion was very interesting. We learned many interesting things about monk’s lives. For example a monk in Thailand can choose at any time to leave the monkhood and return to normal Thai life. If he then chooses to return to the monkhood he can, even if he has been married – as long as his wife grants him permission to return. Also of the three monks we met, each had a different objectives or goals for their future.

Chatting with the Monks.

Chatting with the Monks.

One had started as a novice at the age of 12 and was now working his way through college. He was very frank about wanting to leave the monkhood as soon as he obtained his degree. The second monk of the group had begun his time as a monk at nineteen. He was also working his way through the English program at the university, but he planned on continuing as a monk and hopefully traveling to the U.S. It was also very interesting to find out their take on technology and how it impacts their lives. For example they can use computers in their studies, as long as they don’t use them for listening to music, playing computer games or anything involving entertainment. They also are allowed to use cell phones for communication with their families and other monks. Overall this was an extremely enlightening discussion and we all walked away understanding each others culture that much better.

I think everyone in the family agrees that the best part of our time in Chiang Mai was our visit to the Baan Chang Elephant Park for their Mahout for a Day program. In this day long program we were given the opportunity to work directly with the elephants and their trainers (mahouts), and had direct contact with the animals. The day started with another trip to the market to buy bananas and sugar cane. Each elephant eats about 250 kg of food a day. We then came into the camp, changed clothes and were given the opportunity to feed each of the nine adult elephants and the two babies (eleven months and 2 years old). According to the camp owner, this gave the elephants a chance to meet us and to understand that we nice and that we came with food rewards. It seemed that the elephants were just as curious about us as we were about them. They reached out with the trunks to take the bananas and sugar cane.

Kate & Phoebe w elephant

 The also searched the pockets of our mahout clothes for goodies and gave us sloppy elephant kisses with the trunks. During this whole introduction phase we could get right up next to the elephants, pat their heads, stuff bananas in their mouths and scratch them behind their ears. It was quite an amazing experience in and of itself. After this introductory session, we were given instruction on how to mount, ride, and control the elephants. This was a little intimidating for us all. Phoebe was especially brave, and with a little help, she mounted a large female that was probably fifty times her size (3000 lbs) and rode her around in a circle with the help of a mahout on the ground beside her.

Phoebe the Mahout

Phoebe the Mahout

After all this excitement it was time for a break and we had lunch. After lunch we all got to get on an elephant to take a trek into the jungle. Each elephant carried two people. The person in command of the elephant rode on the elephant’s neck right behind the ears and the passenger rode on the elephant’s back.

Phoebe and Jeff - into the Jungle

Phoebe and Jeff - into the Jungle

It was great fun and the elephants seemed didn’t seem the least bit phase by having an extra 200-300 lbs on their backs. (Part of the reason we chose this elephant park is because of there treatment of the animals. They only do one group a day with one trek per day, they do not use seats – which some feel are at least uncomfortable for the elephants and in the worst scenarios are painful for them, and this park is located on a large private preserve area so the elephants can roam when not working.)

Kate and Tessa on Elephant Trek

Kate and Tessa on Elephant Trek

After our trek, it was time to cool down and clean up. To do this we rode our elephants into a large 30×70x5 ft deep mud water pool. We then proceeded to scrub the elephants down, and get completely soaked in the process. It was great fun. Phoebe even got the opportunity to hop on the 2 year old elephant to sneak around and spray us with his trunk.

The Baby Attacks!

The Baby Attacks!

Scrubbing the ride!  It's wierd to sit on them while you was them.

Scrubbing the ride! It's wierd to sit on them while you wash them.









This whole day was unforgettable and a wonderful experience that I know we will never forget. I highly recommend it to anyone making their way to Chiang Mai.

Up close

Everyone say "Cheese"

8 Responses  
Pappy writes:
March 11th, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Jeff the Chef and Pheobe the Elephant Girl — Sounds like you had a Blast (or Bath).

Pappy writes:
March 11th, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Hay — Maybe the Big Snake you all saw was NAGA

Pappy writes:
March 11th, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Ops, it is Nana. Think you all will enjoy the Phoenix zoo again?

Yum, yum – now I will be expecting some delicious new meals from this family. Nana will be happy to learn a new receipe, as you know.

Cricket Bourget writes:
March 13th, 2010 at 11:29 am

I have such respect for Buddhists, and was fascinated to read of your time spent with the monks. And what a delight to read about your elephant day and see the great pics–including Kate’s dazzlingly enhanced smile!
I’m wild about sticky rice with mango–I won’t get the craving out of my head now until Maggie and I get out for Thai food, now that she’s off on spring break (and I’m certainly looking forward to being derelict in my own academic-related parenting duties, for a few days anyway).
Marvelous post, a very relaxing and rewarding read to help shake off the aftershocks of a bonkers week on my end, thanks!

Rachel & Wayne writes:
March 14th, 2010 at 8:23 am

Hey guys! Just wanted to say hi and that we hope you’re having a good time in India. Looking at these photos makes us nostalgic for Thailand, though China has been fun so far. Enjoy the rest of your trip and safe travels!

Ilana writes:
March 16th, 2010 at 4:02 am

Hey guys! It was great meeting you all in Chiang Mai (we talked in tne van on the way back from the amazing elephant trek!). I was really inspired about your trip and took the liberty of suggesting it to a colleage here at the BBC that produces a program which is broadcast on national radio in the U.S. She might contact you guys to discuss the possibility of an interview :-) .
Hope all is well in your travels!!! Enjoy!!

Chad Schneider writes:
March 16th, 2010 at 9:42 am

Long lost hello from Canada :) I havn’t visited your website for some time and can’t beleive all the activities and literally countries you visit between the times that i visit wells360 to check up on your adventures. Your life is literally happening faster than i can login and read all about it! :D I love sitting down to see all of you guys on your adventures and living out this dream. I see you’re in chaing mai now, i’ve always wanted to go there, many of my friends go there all the time yet the 2 times i’ve been to thailand we always went south to pattaya and Phuket. My winter was a blur of many guests for the ski season here to ride our resort hill for it’s 3rd season. It’s been gaining popularity 10 fold every year. We also just got a huge dump of snow over the weekend that will keep the hill going a lot longer we hope. They had a snowmobile competition here the day after it and a slide hit the crowd of 200 people, injuring 30, killing 2 and leaving 1 on life support. It was a scarey weekend because they didn’t know how many more could have been under the slide that they couldn’t get to. Yikes, i didn’t write to you to speak doom and gloom, but anyways i just wanted to say hello and catch up with the Wells :) Take care and play safe!

That baby elephant attacks picture is priceless!

Auntie Krissy writes:
April 28th, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Nice outfits!

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