In search of the White Elephant...Thailand - Day 1 - Day 5

by Jay Quest on 03 August 2015

A holiday in Thailand, with the family, is a rare treat. It proved to be everything I had heard and read about from our friends who had already visited, particularly Col. Manoj Keshwar (Mike) and Maj. Priyadarshi Chowdhury (Paddy) of Viktorianz. And it was so affordable; we are now looking forward to another trip soon!

 When you travel with family, not only do you actually relax and unwind – because you know you’re among people who care – but you also end up not wasting your time and hard-earned money.

Frankly, it wasn’t too difficult to convince my husband, Raj, to show us around. He had already been there several times with his biker friends and had regaled us with his experiences – the sights, the sounds, the food, and the people. The serenity of the temples, the bustling streets, the rich culture, and the welcoming warmth of its residents made us feel like we were among a serene and comfortable set of people.

The TRIP

For starters, you need to check that you’re all packed for your journey.

Tickets, travel documents, appropriate clothing and footwear, and of course, your credit cards. Don’t forget your camera – to capture some really awesome sights. Make sure you’ve done your web check-in to save you the hassle of long queues. Also, pre-book your taxi to the airport. With kids in tow, you don’t want to miss your flight.

Visa is available on arrival at the Bangkok airport and so are local Sim cards. Website:

The flight from Delhi to Bangkok takes about 5 hours. With a boarding card you can get a free shuttle to Don Muang airport, from where you can take a domestic flight, which is a far cheaper option, into Chiang Mai.

We were booked to stay at the Raming Lodge in Chiang Mai, and transfers to and from the airport are complimentary.

SIAM – Land of the White Elephant

Sawasdee’ – the Thai welcome greeting awaits you, warmly…

CHIANG MAI

Chiang Mai is a city in mountainous northern Thailand, dating back to the 1200s. Its Old City area still retains vestiges of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center. It’s also home to hundreds of elaborate temples, including 14th-century Wat Phra Singh and 15th-century Wat Chedi Luang, adorned with carved serpents.

There are cinemas, shopping malls andinternational cuisine, existing harmoniously with its fascinating culture of hundreds of Buddhist temples, their golden spires shimmering on almost every street in the Old City; and captivating Buddhist festivals.The food scene is superlative, with plenty of inexpensive food stalls and innumerable vegetarian restaurants.

DAY 1

We set out for an early morning walk to the temples and returned to have a hearty breakfast – both the Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang are definitely worth a visit.

The Wat Phra Singh temple is situated in the heart of the Old City, which is where travelers spend much of their time. Amidst the close sois, or alleys, and heavy motorbike traffic, the temple rises at the end of Rachadamnoen Road. It is the largest Wat in the city, and dates to 1345 when an ancient king built it in his father's honor. The father's ashes are still buried on the grounds - but don't let that spook you from visiting. The grand structures are impressive, and it's an especially great place to check out on Sundays.

If you head to Wat Phra Singh in the early afternoon, you'll have a chance to browse through a market on the grounds, perusing creative souvenirs, and sampling fresh juices and teas after visiting the temple.

Ruins aren't exactly a rare sight in Chiang Mai, or in Thailand generally, for that matter. But there's something about Wat Chedi Luang that is particularly beautiful and haunting. Constructed in 1401, the imposing structure was damaged during an earthquake in 1545. But it remains remarkable today, and you can still see the massive elephant carvings that adorn it.

Beneath a huge gum tree on the left of the entrance to the precinct stands a delightful little temple, the Lak Muang. Built in 1940 on the site of an earlier wooden building, the shrine is the abode of Chiang Mai's guardian spirit (Lak Muang). According to tradition, if the great tree should fall, disaster will overtake the city. The temple is something to behold at any time of day, but it's particularly lovely at night, when it is all lit up.

We enrolled in an evening slot for half day of ziplining. One can choose between morning and evening slots. They come and pick you up at the hotel and drop you back. A meal is included in the fare, though it was no big deal.

A walk through the Night Bazar is a rare treat. We enjoyed haggling over prices and did quite a bit of shopping.

We tied up with a car hire service and engaged a family car with a boot. One can easily strike a bargain for it and a hatchback or an SUV are available at 1000 – 2200 ThB per day.

DAY 2

We rose early the next morning and drove out on a beautifully scenic trip towards Northern Thailand. On the way we stopped to take in the Phayao Lake, lunched at White Temple which also conducts a small display of paintings by one artist every day till 5 pm. We then proceeded to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle by the Mekhong River.

We stayed at Banthai Resort–a neat, clean and affordable hotel. For a little more, one could stay at Serene hotel, which is a better choice with some great views of the mighty Mekhong river.
The Banthai Resort has fixed meal timings - so be sure you have your meals on time. But then, there is always the 7-11 Store around the corner for such emergencies. For an Indian vegetarian though, this will be quite a challenge as, sadly, there are no vegetarian dishes available, except for fruit and eggs!

Day 3

We woke up early the next morning and took a morning boat ride to Laos Flea Market - you would need Passports at the immigration, which would be returned once you come back. The Flea Market has some interesting stuff on offer – Scorpio whiskeys and Cobra concoctions …. And lots more …

A few decades back the Golden Triangle was infamous for drug trafficking. There is also a 212 House of Opium - a good walk-about to see and experience the history and culture of opium in Golden triangle.

We then got into our car and drove out to Doi Tung straight to the Royal Villa and took a very pleasant tour of the place – immaculate lawns and some of the finest work that the Royal Queen mother did to bring up the poor of the regions. There is also a garden to see here if you have time. We did not go as we were short of time. Please do not miss the local-made, shade-grown coffee at the Doi Tung cafe. The story behind the social engineering of this drug-ridden area is worth listening to. And, the coffee was awesome.

We then drove to Doi Maes along Tea Gardens and came down to Thaton, a hamlet by the Maekok river. I loved driving our car in those winding hill roads. And our kids kept playing Indian pop music, Honey Singh etc; that kept the environment lively in the car. We had lunch with our long-time friend- Brian at Maekok River Valley Resort. Beautiful place for children activities and maybe one of these years we will come back and spend a whole week here; kids could play around and I could just laze around reading a book and swim. Raj, my husband, confessed that he has always been stopping here on all his motorcycle rides too.

Once lunch was done, we bid farewell to our hosts and did a speed drive to Chiang Dao. The kids dozed off on this leg and Raj and I caught up reminiscing some old times. We reached Chiang Dao by evening, checked into our resort  which had nicely laid out bungalows and a splash pool. We had a gala time at the pool followed by an excellent a la-carte dinner. We loved this place and its people for their hospitality.

DAY 4

Just a 10-minute drive from the Resort took us to the venue where the Elephant Show is held. We had already promised the kids a good time there and they were quite looking forward to it. It’s a training center where they showcase all the activities – from the training of elephants for the lumbering industry (which is now banned) – to painting on canvas, which the elephants do more adroitly than even some human being I know.

The children took rides on the elephants and helped feed them. They are such exquisite creatures and so gentle, considering their size.

We got back to our resort and packed our baggage for our morning drive up to Pai - a beautiful valley town full of bars and bistros playing western music. It is also called the party town of the North. We indulged ourselves on a Pizza lunch there - and the kids loved the ambience too. There is also a hot sulphur spring in the area which is quite popular - one could go visit it if one is keen enough to do so. The charges for the spring are quite steep though.

We drove onwards and were soon on the famous Mae Hongson loop - winding roads and steep hill climbs. It makes the drive so much more interesting. This is the place my husband takes along his riders for rallies. He explained to us that they have loads of fun on the circuit and I could quite understand the exhilaration they must feel, because my kids and I could feel the heady rush. He told me that they traverse some 1864 hairpin bends in a 200 km loop.

We proceeded to Cave Lodge - a hideout in the rain forest jungles, safely tucked away from civilization. My husband claimed it was one of his favorite places in North Thailand. It is a simple lodge - close to Cave Tham Lod. We found a number of tourists hanging around in the central area – either reading books or just enjoying the serene peace of the jungles, stretched out on hammocks. The food here is temptingly delicious.

The Cave Lodge also offers some very interesting activities like caving, kayaking through the caves, and a scheduled visit to the tribal areas.

It’s a pretty spartan place with no air-conditioning. There is just a fan. But it is a neat, clean, and suitably sufficient place – definitely not for people and families looking to stay in luxury.

DAY 5

The next morning saw us up with the birds chirping around us – Raj shared that he had not had this feeling since his childhood days – when he used to stay in old military bungalows in Meerut and Hyderabad cantonments. We woke up the kids and went for a walk into the cave. We saw some pre-historic coffins of the cavemen, which have been preserved, and a cave painting too. It was an interesting and educative visit for the kids. We also got to see a lot of birds and bats in the cave. We managed to fit in a session of interesting Bamboo rafting before we headed back to Cave Lodge. The breakfast they offer is a set menu, with yummy fresh-from-the oven home-made buns.

After freshening up, we drove out to Mae Hongson - a town that used to be a Japanese Air base during the Second World War and was bombed by an Indian Fighter pilot. We drove across town and proceeded towards the Karen Long Neck tribals who reside pretty close to the Myanmar border. Long Neck women have an interesting story as to why they add rings to their necks and elongate their necks. But there are different versions. Go check it out for yourselves!

We then continued for another beautiful drive through the back roads of the Thai countryside to reach Chiang Mai. Here we ended our road journey within North Thailand. I really love the car drive on such fine roads – would love to do it all over again. We began to miss the drive, the moment we entered our hotel in Chiang Mai.

But we were also looking forward to the evening and the Ladyboy cabaret show at 9:30 pm. My daughter and I did some more shopping at the night bazaar while the men continued watching the show. My son Tanay was amused at the Fish-foot-massage and he did a tickling 20 minutes session with fishes. Our drop off car was at the entrance to our hotel the next morning, to drop us off to the Chiang Mai airport. From here we proceeded to the Hypercity of Bangkok for the next 5 days.

Click here > to explore DAY 6 – DAY 10 of In search of the White Elephant … Thailand.