BarclAysia Day 12: Elephants and Lanterns

(posted by Emily)

30 December 2014
Chiang Mai, Thailand 

People come to Chiang Mai for a lot of reasons--there are many things to do here, but one of the most popular is booking an excursion to interact with elephants. When we knew we'd be stopping through, it was the first thing we booked. 

Rick put a lot of research into finding a company that treat its animals humanely--too often, people are riding elephants with seats or it's all a show and the animals are mistreated. Ran-Tong is an elephant rescue, saving "angry elephants" and bringing them to a place where they can be happy. I know many of you saw my album of pictures on facebook, but I wanted to still do a post on what a wonderful experience it was. 

Like any other excursion company, we were picked up by a minibus from our hotel. There were actually two other couples from our hotel going on the same trip with us. However, they weren't quite the kindred spirits of our new cooking class friends........let's just leave it at that. 

We drove north out of Chiang Mai, up into the more mountainous areas, where the elephant camp is. 

When we arrived, we headed down into the camp and got right to it, changing into our mahut (elephant guide) clothes and feeding bananas to the elephants. 

Rick chatting up Nancy, our guide

Mahut clothes. We wore these so our clothes wouldn't get wet or dirty. I think some of the folks in our party missed that memo, as they donned their mahut gear on top of their regular clothes...

Rick meeting Tong Dee, the baby. He's only one and a half
Tong Dee swings his head side to side when he stands still, the after effect of being locked up in a cage before he was rescued. He'll grow out of it :)
Before lunch we met our elephant Tong In (said een) and mahut. They are paired together and the mahut works with Tong In every day. It was totally clear that they absolutely love each other. So cool. We rode on Tong In for a while, exploring the areas around the camp and letting him eat grass. Tong In eats 350 kgs of food everyday--he is always hungry! :) The mahut took photos for us (on the camera) and we asked him questions about himself and the elephants. Tong In is 37, and was the first elephant at the rescue. The oldest elephant at the camp is 55--she doesn't work anymore, and just hangs out and lives the good life :) Not sure how old the mahut is, but he came to Thailand from Burma to have a better life and to make sure the elephant he worked with had a better life, too. 

Lunch was Khao Soi, a noodle dish native to northern Thailand, prepared by the camp. 

After lunch, it was more fruit for the elephants, a journey up and around the mountain, and shower time. 

This elephant wouldn't go up the mountain, so our mahut had to go help. Tong In wasn't happy about it.  

In all, we had a blast hanging out with Tong In and the elephants and staff of Ran-Tong. I can't recommend them highly enough!

The company drove us back into the city, and we headed straight for food before heading back to the hotel. There was a Chinese tea house, TianZi, around the corner from Le Meridien that serves vegetarian food and we decided to check it out. 

Inside the garden--a beautiful escape from the city
Making a new friend. This one seemed like a domesticated house pet you'd see in the states. 
Aged tea made from orchids. This batch was 2009. Apparently, tea gets better with age like wine or whiskey
Miso soup

Wasabi spinach--our favorite dish of the meal. Very simple, but tasted like something we would have at a fine dining establishment
veggie dumplings
Brown rice salad with veggies and seeds
Even the bathroom had a garden feel to it
After our afternoon meal, we headed back to the hotel to shower and change. Rick wanted to walk through the main old city of Chiang Mai, which is in a square shape. I was craving ice cream, and attempted to get us to a place that would have some. Following directions from my maps app was a no go--we have up trying to find it and instead wandered in the north east corner of the square, where many of the guest houses and foreigner friendly restaurants are. 

As we wandered, we passed a garden restaurant on a corner. Just like in Venice, we noticed their chalkboard outside. It was advertising a raw chocolate hemp tart and....raw hemp ice cream! That's when we knew it was meant to be! 

The shop/restaurant are run by a Japanese family and they sell vegan food and desserts and eco-friendly clothing in the shop upstairs. We had fun trying the ice cream (hemp and brown rice flavor) and shopping. 

Sweet tooth craving cured, we continued to wander in the area until we stumbled upon a brick oven pizza restaurant. It was packed (always a good sign) and the chef was working right outside to make the pizzas. 

We had to wait a few minutes to get a table, during which Rick made two new friends. These pups just hang out at the restaurant--when we arrived, they were napping in between tables and by the oven. 

The little brown guy looooooooved Rick.

The pup even sat down right next to our table for more lovin'
Making pizzas right next to the oven
This was a veggie pizza, no cheese. The chef asked if we liked pesto--duh!--so he added some. Definitely worth the wait!
This was a vegan umami pizza with truffle oil, porcini mushrooms, and eggplant. We told the chef to get creative with this one and were very happy with the result.
It was so busy, this group of Japanese kids just parked themselves on the ground, in the driveway of the adjoining building.
After some great pizza, we started heading back towards the hotel. Chiang Mai is famous for its paper lantern festival in November, and the same lanterns are lit for New Years. We had noticed them in the sky, and happened up a bridge area where people were lighting them. 

In addition to regular lanterns, you can buy character ones like this Angry Birds version 

We kept walking, and soon found our way into some sort of a street market again. As we were passing by one of the temples, we heard music and saw a lot of people going inside, so we decided to check it out. 

Once inside, we found the music group--they were playing drums, cymbals, and this crazy gong contraption that would play 8 gongs of all different sizes at once, just by turning the handle. 

The monks inside the temple were selling lanterns and providing markers for people to write messages. We had planned on doing a lantern on New Year's Eve, but with the music and the monks, we just knew it felt right to light one that night. 

our wishes
Ready to go!
The monk helping make wicks for the fuel

Waiting for it to get hot enough--if you let it go too early, it won't fly


Here we go!
and away!

An amazing night in Chiang Mai :) 

Massage Count: 7



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