When we first arrived in Chiang Mai and were headed to the Elephant camp, our driver made a pit stop in the middle of the city to pick up another passenger. She was a young South African woman who left home five years ago and is now teaching English and yoga in Chiang Mai while spending her free time volunteering with the elephants. She was bubbly, interested in our story and since we had an hour to kill in the back of this truck, we began talking. Just ten minutes before, as we pulled away from the airport and being the eager tourists we are (we’ll try to become pros eventually) we began making ourselves at home as we brought out our camera, portable BlueTooth speaker, and phones. So after we picked up this new and unexpected friend, we felt pretty exposed as she began making comments about our belongings. She loved our camera and wanted us to take pictures of her at the camp (this was a creepy request and never happened). She mentioned she loved my dress and accessories as she grabbed my hand to admire a few rings. As these compliments kept pouring out, Shawn and I became more and more quiet. We slowly stopped taking photos and turned off our music. All I could think for the rest of the ride was, “Jordan, you’re an idiot and the worst tourist, this girl is going to take all of your belongings while you’re sleeping”. For all I knew, she had the keys to our room in her back pocket. However, even as creeped out as we were by her and her admiration of our things, I am grateful we crossed paths. She provided us with a slew of restaurant and attraction recommendations back in the city, and if you know Shawn and me, we will travel for food so we were becoming very persuaded into changing our travel plans. Prior to this chat, we had no intentions of staying in the city during this leg of our trip, but we also did not realize the camp was so far into the mountains. So as she began to describe her favorite dishes and our mouths were salivating, I knew we would have to make it back into the city one way or another. I remembered the camp’s cancelation policy was flexible through AirBnB, so on our second evening at the elephant sanctuary and a glass or two of liquid courage later, I asked if it was possible for us to end our stay early and arrange for someone to take us back into town the next morning. To my surprise, all we had to do was a make a call to AirBnB. Within thirty minutes after receiving this good news, we were booked into a new hotel and were ready to experience Chiang Mai.
Once we arrived and checked in, we spent the morning walking to the Old City where the majority of the original walls and moat around the perimeter are still intact. We followed our map to South Africa’s favorite lunch spot where you’re asked to take your shoes off at the door and are served the most amazing green curry fried rice and big noodles. Once we finished fueling up, we wandered through the old city streets as we made our way towards the many gilded Buddhist temples. Most of the streets were narrow alleyways covered with wildflowers and ivy with vibrant unique building fronts for each shop and cafe. The design and decor of the storefronts were fresh and familiar, it almost felt like we were back home. At each temple, we were greeted with a sea of other tourist’s shoes and racks of robes and shawls for the women to wear in case you were dressed inappropriately. It is rude to have exposed shoulders and legs while inside the sanctuary, so being the novice I am to this side of the world, I was obviously a culprit at each temple we visited. After temple hopping, we made a pit stop for coconut oil and Thai massages before slowly making our way back to the hotel to enjoy burgers and cocktails in front of the lively night market. While at the elephant sanctuary, we had met an amazing couple in their late sixties who had retired back in 1999 and have been sailing around the world ever since. We reveled in all of their stories and I felt Katy was my kindred spirit, so we were sad to find out they had left camp before we were able to say goodbye. It was kismet when they walked up to the same burger stand as we sat down; we spent the meal sharing photos and swapping stories before properly parting ways.
We spent our remaining hours wandering the night market bargaining prices for souvenirs and stopping for the famous Thai Rotee Banana Pancakes. After a long day of walking through the city, the warm chocolate and banana dessert was just the perfect ending to our first stop in Thailand.