Chiang Mai, Thailand….Trekking up mountains and making friends with elephants


We arrived in Chiang Mai around 10 am on the overnight train from Bangkok. The train had been very clean and comfortable, the berths and bedding were large enough and clean enough. 

We woke up well rested. From Chiang Mai station to Chiang Mai Inn (Our little inn) we walked, Lovemore thought we should take a cab but I thought we should walk so we walked. I kinda underestimated the distance (totally my fault) and we ended up walking about 5 km. But it was all good because we are used to walking long distances and we were not in a hurry plus it counted as sightseeing.

The inn was decent enough except for the shower pressure! The water trickled at a painfully slow rate making it a total nightmare to take a shower!

We spent the day sightseeing, we’d seen more than enough temples in Bangkok but we visited some more anyway. We walked to the river, to the gate, around the town and just took everything in at a chilled pace. 

Chiang Mai, the city, is not that big and it’s not that busy, plus it’s super cheap, the cheapest part of Thailand we went to. It’s quaint and not buzzing with tourists and for once we could walk around without someone trying to sell us something! It was a breath of fresh air.

Chiang Mai Night Market

So Thailand is full of all types of markets! Day markets, night markets, weekend markets, you name it! They are everywhere and contrary to what tourists think, they are not cheap (by Thailand standards). They are targeted at tourists so why would they be cheap? But of course compared to South African and Zimbabwean shops they are stupid cheap, besides, it’s fun to just shop around for everything you want (and don’t want) under one roof.

On our first evening we walked to the night market. We first had pizza from pizza hut and although it translated to like R300 we didn’t care, our stomachs needed a break from all the spices and rice. 

 That pizza must be the best I ever had!

We didn’t buy anything on that night, we just observed and looked for things to buy on our last day and watched how negotiating is done. The  market is quote large, theres the outside section with stalls on the side of roads and as you walk further in, you enter a large building with many stalls inside. On the side of Pizza hut, there’s a food market with many vendors selling all kinds of foods amd there was a live band playing. We learnt a few things from walking around and talking to people.

1. In Thailand, avoid buying wooden and ceramic souvenirs (very popular in Chiang Mai market), they will cost you quite a bit and then crack when you get back to Africa due to the temperature and humidity changes.

2. Don’t buy your things the first time you go there (except if you pressed for time), first go and get a feel of the market and see how negotiating works. Then return another day and haggle like a pro.

3. All the labels you’ll find there are fake. No matter how good they look, they are still fake. Surely you don’t expect to buy a Louis Vuitton for R400 or a Rolex for R500, do you?

4. Only in Thailand can you buy a very good fake Louis Vuiton or a Rolex, with a cop standing next to you. It’s totally legal and some vendors will tell you ‘it’s fake, but genuine’ but most will lie and tell you it’s the real deal. So if you don’t know what sets the real deal apart from an imitation, you could fall for the trap. 

It’s interesting to watch people negotiating and buying things they probably don’t need. We left for our inn around midnight and walked all the way. It’s totally safe.

Trekking to the Hill Tribes

We booked a 2 day, 1 night trekking tour with Trek Chiang Mai. We were picked up at 9 am in a Thai-type taxi and joined 5 other people; 2 from Denmark, 2 from Ireland, 1 from Egypt.

We drove for like 2 hours out of town seeing nothing but large trees.

First stop was the Orchids and butterfly farm. It was beautiful but I’m not really a fan of butterflies. They look good but that’s just about it. So we just took silly pictures to pass the time.

We then drove for like 30 minutes to the local market at Shan village, a thai ethnic group. We bought snacks and debated on whether we should buy roasted scorpions or not. 

After a while of looking around at the fascinating goods on sale, we drove off to an elephant camp where we had lunch of noodles with chicken and vegetables.

Then after lunch, the real fun began. We went elephant riding, I shared my elephant with Lovemore. After a nice slow ride through the river and into the forest,  we returned and bathed our elephant, laughing as it sprayed water on us with its trunk, then we fed the elephant and thanked it for a good ride. I think me and elephant really bonded, I need to go back and visit him. 

It was sad to leave Elephant behind but we had a lot of hiking to do.

The sun was scorching hot or maybe it was just me heating up from all the hiking. We hiked for like 1 hour 30 minutes. I was so tired and my small back pack felt like it had bricks inside, Lovemore had to put it in his back pack and carry it.

Mental Note: Playing with elephants before a hike is bad, it drains you!

We made a stop at a waterfall where we soaked into the water. I just took off my shoes and got in with my shorts and tshirt, I didn’t have the energy to disrobe (Had a swim suit underneath). The sun was burning anyway so I knew I’d dry as soon as I got out. Boy was I wrong! 

Then there was more hiking, steeper this time, and my clothes were not drying and they felt so heavy, just dragging me down. I just soldiered on and our friendly guide, Tom, who’d become my bff, kept waiting for me. Tom didn’t look like he had walked a metre! He wasn’t sweating! He was wearing flip flops! He wasn’t breathing like he’d drop down dead any minute like the rest of us! He just walked as if on flat ground!!! Just before sunset we made it to the top of the mountain, to the Lahu village. We were shown to our lodgings and we dumped our back packs and went to watch the sunset, all tiredness forgotten.

This place was so serene. No network, no electricity, no stress, just nature, beautiful nature. We walked around the village greeting the locals who didn’t understand a word we said but smiled at us anyway.

We had candle lit dinner of egg fried rice with an option of chicken or tofu and lots of vegetables and a drink of our choice. Our guide cooked really good.

 We then all sat around a bon fire under the stars answering questions about Africa.  The way I spoke about how great and magnificent Africa was (the Egyptian backed me) you’d swear I was trying to sell Africa to the Europeans! We spoke late into the night and decided to go to bed way after midnight. We played with a flash light and the go pro, taking silly pictures as usual.

The sleeping arrangement was hostel/domitory style. It was just a pick a bed (extra thin mattress), make the bed, let down the mosquito net and sleep.  The beds and blankets were Asian size so Lovemore had 2 choices, either to fold himself to fit or to sleep with his legs dangling and he wasn’t happy with either choice.

We woke up to a breakfast of bread and eggs. Then we just brushed our teeth and were off. We took a different path down and after about 2 hours of walking we came to a large, beautiful waterfall flowing down into a river. 

We all bathed (if we can call standing under a stream of water bathing), we spent sometime at the waterfall with some people swimming, some ‘bathing’ and me chatting with my bff, the guide. Then we descended a further 30 minutes, coming down to a camp of sorts.  We did whitewater rafting for like 45 minutes (now that was fun!). Then we did bamboo rafting for another 45 minutes. With bamboo rafting you sleep on bamboo sticks and someone rows you around the water. Lovemore and I shared a bamboo float and we just lay back and talked about how coming to Thailand was such a great idea. It was so serene with an occasional ‘Sawasdee’ from someone on the river bank or an elephant trumpeting from a distance. Pure bliss.

Then it was lunch time. We had chicken fried noodles, rested a bit then we were off back to town. 30 minutes into the ride home, 2 of the guys started complaining about nausea and stomach cramps but we just said they were tired and they would be fine. By the time we got to Chiang Mai (around 17h30) everyone was sick except Lovemore, Ahmad (the Egyptian) and myself. We got to our Inn and rook an hour long nap and got up to an email from Ahmad saying he too had fallen sick. That’s when I got worried but we felt just fine so we went to the night market to get food and to buy everything we had spotted on our first night as we would leave the next evening. My favourite things that I bought were my cat-bag and my elephant cup. 

I bought a couple of things I didn’t really need as well like boobs-shaped soaps which I thought were funny at the time until they started melting the next day and had to throw them away with Lovemore laughing at me.

We went back to our inn early that evening, around 10 pm, to pack. We got to our room and i just felt light headed. Then that’s when I too fell sick. I thought I was dying because the pain just rushed in attacking me from all angles. My stomach cramped so bad, my joints felt weak, my head was pounding, I wanted to throw up but couldn’t, the nausea was killing me, my throat felt so dry. I just felt terrible. Food poisoning is horrible! I self medicated being careful not to overdose, drank a cartoon of milk, drank a rehydrant and then lay on the bed groaning in agony for hours and drinking water till I fell asleep around 3 am.

What do you know! Miracles do happen. I woke up at 7 the next morning feeling as good as rain!

Thai cooking classes

We had a cooking class scheduled and they picked us up at 9. I felt a bit tired but the pain was gone. I just made sure to stay well hydrated.

We spent the rest of the day learning to make Thai dishes and eating them, dessert was my personal favourite. I made black sticky rice and Lovemore made sticky mango rice and I ate both.

Coconut must be the staple food of Thailand. They use it everything!

After class, around 4 pm, we were dropped off at the train station and waited for our 6 pm train. It was already there, so we boarded and just chilled.

I’d spent the whole day waiting for my food poisoning to return but thankfully it never did. Lovemore was the only member of our trekking group that survived the food poisoning!

Of all the places we visited in Thailand, Chiang Mai was the most authentic and the cheapest. For a true Thai feel, go up to Chiang Mai.


1. Book your train in advance especially in peak season. 

2. If you going to trek, make sure it’s not the first time you’ve ever hiked and have a good pair of shoes.  Unless you are Tom, our guide, flip flops won’t cut it.

3. If your stomach is oversensitive you might want to carry your own dried food. It might make your backpack heavier but I guess it’s better than risking falling sick 

4. There isn’t much to see on top of the mountains, for an African it’s just like going to the rural areas so don’t expect much. But the trip there is worth it.

5. If you not into elephants, water rafting, canoeing, butterflies and hiking then skip the trekking.

6. Unlike hiking up Mount Everest, you don’t get a porter, so keep your back pack light. Leave your big bag in the hotel. Pay for the extra night even though you won’t be there, so you can leave your luggage.

7. There a left luggage room at Chiang Mai train station if you want to leave your bags and wonder around while waiting for your train.

8. If you decide to go trekking, wear a swim suit underneath so you can just take off your clothes when you get to waterfalls. 

9. Have fun! Be happy! Do as much  as you can and see as much as you can! Just have fun.