Finding a city you selflessly love is always border-lining on serendipitous. It doesn’t stem from necessity, convenience or lust. Manhattan was my first love. I’d developed a thing for New York City after an entire childhood of expeditions there. I adore every part of it that most people hate, even after living there through college. Falling for NYC was slow and steady, but falling for Chiang Mai was something else entirely. It was in a flash. Immediate, and without me even realizing it happened.
My flight from a weekend of partying in Krabi had landed at 8 am. I had a solid 30 minutes of sleep in my system. My 12kg (at the time) bag felt unbearably heavy. I had left a group of friends and now I was by myself again. And yet, when I walked out of that comically tiny airport, I felt it. I just knew. Everything about Chiang Mai fit me. It’s a place of perfect combination. Bustling veins of city streets, engulfed in the belly of endless mountains. Nightly outpourings of street food carts packed full of the cheapest & most delicious. The vast amount of intimidatingly divine temples, is met in equal number to the amount of bars, tiny nightclubs, and ladyboys. The energy influenced by both locals and the influx of expats. It’s a wonder.
The days and nights in Chiang Mai can be adventurous or lazily fun. One day, I was swerving through traffic on the back of a motorbike, towards a day packed with jungles, waterfalls, temples, and what seemed like endless good food. The next, I was spending eight hours aimlessly wandering markets while getting lost in the streets and sights. That’s what I think is so great about Chiang Mai: the experience is malleable and within reach for just about anyone on a budget. There’s something for everyone, even if it’s doing nothing at all.
Every place on earth has one thing you recommend to everyone, and for me, that was visiting an elephant sanctuary. After a little research and a rec, I landed on Toto’s Elephant Sanctuary.
Throughout my entire travels, this excursion remained one of the most expensive (40$/half day), and one of the most memorable days of my entire experience. I was committed to finding an elephant sanctuary that did not permit riding and treated their elephants with respect. When I arrived, I knew I’d made the right choice. The elephants were a part of their family, and for generations, had been taking care of them. We had to dress in these(extremely flattering...) garments because that’s what they’d always worn around the elephants. Their comfort was the priority. There were three adults, and a baby, named Lucky. Seeing an elephant in person is strange. They look like you’d expect them to, but coming face to face, somehow looks like an entirely different creature. I remember thinking they looked like an alien species. A strangely mind-altering thought, like before actually coming face-to-face with an elephant my mind couldn’t comprehend them being of this world. We learned about them, walked with them, fed them, gave them a bath in this lake, which was surprisingly terrifying when considering the probability of getting crushed. It just simply was a great day, or rather, half-day.
That was the thing about Chiang Mai. Spending a day with a family of elephants in the middle of a jungle in Thailand would’ve always seemed like a day that couldn’t be topped. But, everyday was like that. They were all just, amazing. It’s rare to find a place where even the least eventful days were some of the best. Chiang Mai is one of those places for me.