In addition to spending a day at the Elephant Nature Park, we had two other days in Chiang Mai. We stayed at the Anantara Hotel, which is located in walking distance of many restaurants and the Night Market. The hotel grounds were simply gorgeous. One side of the property fronts onto the river, so you can watch small boats go by, fishermen at work, as well as a few interesting birds at the water's edge. We ate breakfast on the patio facing the river each day. Later in the morning, the inside would be preferable, but we found the shade to be very pleasant for breakfast on the early side.
We spent the afternoons under an umbrella by the pool. The water was really refreshing as it was very hot! Someone periodically came around offering drinks or ice water, but the bar was in easy reach if a server was not around. The spa is located just behind the pool, but it not affected by any noise from the pool. I tried a Thai massage and it was wonderful.
We booked a Kasara suite, which ended up being a very large space for two people. The laundry service included in this room rate was most welcome as we were halfway through our trip and had a suitcase full of dirty clothes! Although we did not find the flawless service we found at our other hotels in Thailand, the staff by and large was quite accommodating and eager to please. We booked the airport transfers through the front desk, as well as a tour guide for a day trip out to the hill country. These were both easy to arrange via email before our arrival.
After a few days in Bangkok, we flew to Chiang Mai on a quick Bangkok Airways flight. One of the activities we planned far in advance of arriving was seeing some of Thailand's famous elephants. Unfortunately, the more I researched the different elephant camps and treks found outside of the city, the more disappointed I became. Many of the elephants in the these venues are terribly mistreated and live horrible lives. However, I read about the Elephant Nature Park and was happy to find an elephant experience that was humane. The Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for elephants (and cats and dogs!) from Northern Thailand and Burma where the elephants live in a somewhat wild setting. Visitors feed the elephants and go down to the river to bathe them, but there are no elephants rides or tricks performed.
You can schedule a visit online before arriving. They do have a limited number of visitors each day, so plan ahead. Their van will pick you up at your hotel in the morning. I asked our hotel front desk to call and confirm the day before. The ride through the forests and mountains was quite pretty. The driver shows a short video on the way about their work and the need for elephant sanctuaries. After arriving, you help feed the elephants and see them walking around the grounds. You are allowed to get quite close to them, but there is also a platform viewing area for those who are not as comfortable being close. A guide accompanies you throughout the day. Bring a large bottle of water and clothes that you don't mind getting wet (and dirty!) A vegetarian lunch was provided mid-day. After lunch, they show a video showing the traditional training process many of these elephants go through. It was absolutely heartbreaking, and I was not able to stay through much of it. You are welcome to leave and go out to the viewing platform until it is over.
While the house (actually a compound of several houses from around Thailand and rebuilt on site) was interesting, to me, the most outstanding features of the museum were the garden rooms you pass through between the buildings. There were water gardens, tropical flowers, and gorgeously composed niches throughout the complex.
When you visit the museum, you must take a guided tour. The tour was not long, but informative and a worthwhile addition to your itinerary.
I traveled to Thailand two years ago, but it remains one of my most memorable trips. Thailand has the amazing combination of history and culture, beautiful sights, warm people, and delicious food!
We stayed at the Peninsula in Bangkok. As you can see in the photos below, the grounds and pool area were all gorgeous, but the best part of the hotel was the service. Every employee we encountered was incredibly friendly and helpful. All the rooms and dining areas face the Chao Phraya River, and we enjoyed watching the non-stop activity. We made good use of the pool in the afternoons after long mornings of sight seeing. There was plenty of shade and ice water to help everyone cool off! The little boat with the green roof takes you across the river to the elevated train stop/ferry dock and other places along the river.
Working with the concierge ahead of our arrival, we booked a guide and driver for two days to see the sights in Bangkok. This allowed us to see what we wanted to see and not have to travel in a large group on a set schedule. It is totally possible to do the sightseeing on your own and take public transportation-or book a guide and travel on public transportation. However, it was extremely hot, so having the air conditioned car gave us a chance to rest up between sights. Our guide was excellent and having her tell us about each location was so interesting. She also taught us a lot about Buddhist religion and culture and how it shapes so many things in the country. We got so much more out of our visits to the temples and palaces than we would have by just reading the guidebook as we walked along. Check with the concierge desk to see what your hotel offers in the way of tours and guides. Due to the exchange rate and the generally low prices of Thailand, we found it was an extremely reasonable expense. We did tip her and the driver a small amount at the end of the second day. It is also a nice gesture to offer to buy them a bottle of water or soda as you stop for refreshments.
She helped us plan our days to include all the major sights in Bangkok, such as the Grand Palace, the Reclining Buddha, and the Golden Buddha. Take your time to examine the details in these structures-the tile work, the gilding, the small water gardens placed along the walkways. The level of detail is dizzying at times, but all incredible. Also take note of what the Buddha does with his hands as you encounter the various Buddhas around the city. The different hand positions signify different things, meaning all the Buddhas you think look the same are actually all quite different! Also look for the Chinese and Khmer influences in the architecture and decoration.
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