Chiang Mai, Thailand – Elephants and Songkran

Quite possibly the highlight of our trip so far, Chiang Mai totally won us over. We left Bangkok and headed to Chiang Mai just days before the start of their New Year festivities called Songkran. While Songkran is celebrated throughout Thailand, and even other parts of SE Asia, Chiang Mai is the place to be. The Water Festival is just that, several days of throwing water at people of all ages and nationalities all day long. While we hadn’t necessarily planned to be in Chiang Mai for Songkran, we were very happy to be able to participate in the celebrations!

We stayed at an adorable hostel called Uno Bed Chiang Mai. It was one of the cutest, most home-y hostels we’ve stayed in so far. The room was great, it had a lot of common areas and living spaces, the bathrooms were clean, the location was close to all the fun and city center and it had laundry facilities!

Jackie (from our liveaboard) was in Chiang Mai the evening we arrived, so we met up with her and wandered the market near our hostel. We all bought some tank tops, consumed some drinks and food and spent a lot of time catching up and laughing. Jackie is a beautiful person who is always smiling and so kind, it was great to see her again! We cannot wait to go visit her in Amsterdam later this year.

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On our first full day we visited Hug Elephant sanctuary. We volunteered for a full day of working with the elephants. Our ride picked us up at 8 am and stopped around town to pick up a few other people as well – Sam, Ollie and Talia from London who were 18, 19 and 19. Talk about feeling old! Our small group bonded over the hilarious truck ride out to the elephant camp and the bizarre things that happened. We also learned that Songkran celebrations were starting a day earlier than we thought… and we got the first bucket of water to the face on our drive there.

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The day was spent interacting with 4 different Asian elephants. We learned about how they end up at the camp, their ages, how Asian elephants are different from African elephants, what their normal days are like and much more. It was highly informative and absolutely amazing. We fed them treats of sugar cane, walked up and down the mountain with them, took tons of photos and videos, gave them a mud bath (and also had a mud fight with everyone), then bathed them in the river. It was a great bonding experience and a wonderful way to learn what sweet and gentle creatures they are. Afterwards our group went to a nearby waterfall and played and laughed. We all agreed to spend the evening together once we got back to the city and have dinner, drinks and participate in the start of the epic water fight that is Songkran.

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The ride home resulted in tons of water being tossed in the back of the truck where we were sitting. We embraced it and took video, laughed, waved, smiled and yelled “thank you!” and “happy new year!” to anyone that “blessed” us. We arrived in Chiang Mai completely drenched, dropped off our bags and grabbed some beers and food. Then we headed out into town, bought some buckets and started to celebrate! The night was filled with laughter, nonstop smiling, water tossing, beer drinking, selfies and celebrating new friendships! We are so fortunate to have met such a great group of friends and gotten to spend the day with them.

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On the first official day of Songkran we continued to embrace the water wars and headed to city center to wish even more people a happy new year. We also headed back to our new favorite hole in the wall, Good Friend Bar, for some amazing Thai food and beers. We threw water all over strangers and got surprised when random people had ice water in their buckets instead of room temperature! BRRRRR!

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Friday was our second day of volunteering at an elephant sanctuary. This time we went with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, which was a larger company and had a lot more volunteers. The group included a lot of younger backpackers, a lovely family of 4 from Brooklyn, a kind couple from Canada and many more. This time we had over 20 people interacting with the 6 elephants, but it was just as fantastic as our first time around. We did many of the same activities with the elephants (feeding, bathing, etc.) and learned more about them. This time there were several younger elephants (around 3-10 years old) and one that totally won our hearts that was 50 years old! She was the sweetest thing and just let us hug her and love on her.

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This time around we got to make “vitamins” for the elephants and feed them to them. Once they saw that we had these, they came running towards us (particularly the younger ones). Our 50 year old beauty was slower making it down the mountain for us, so we tried to save some vitamins for her. The younger elephants were so excited and persistent, they cornered Jenny at one point and she could barely escape! They surrounded her, reaching their trunks around her and followed her all over trying to get their tasty treats. She escaped with one treat left for our favorite elephant 🙂 When we left that day we were smiling ear to ear, totally in love with our new elephant friends. Then we started the long car ride back to the city which resulted in being more soaked than we have ever experienced and shivering cold! During Songkran the locals love to target tourists, particularly those in a bed of a truck, and the driver loves to stop and let the locals drench said tourists! We were stuck in massive traffic jams in each town where the locals would toss buckets of water on us for several minutes straight.

Once we got back we headed to celebrate some more! After some water tossing, some dinner and beer and a great conversation with a gentleman who has been living in Thailand for 16 years, we headed home to catch up on sleep. The following day we were lazy and lounged around our hostel, then went out to meet up with Sam and celebrate some more. We also got wild and crazy and actually ate at a new restaurant!

It’s now Monday in Thailand and we are preparing to leave the country and head to Vietnam. We’ve loved Thailand and are already discussing what future trips here will entail. But we have to leave since our visa expires today, so get ready Vietnam! We’re excited to see what’s in store for us, experience new foods and are looking forward to getting our tans back. Here we go!!

~ Kerry & Jenny

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