To be honest, Monday’s Knives Out Ottawa event seems like it was months ago; so I figured I better wrap up the tale of my Thailand adventure before I forgot any of the important pieces. Luckily this was the most amazing and fantastical part of my trip so it won’t be so hard to remember.

Chiang Mai. What a city. What a place. A real treasure in this world.

If I were to go back to Thailand – I would spend weeks here. It may be the second largest city in Thailand, but it feels so much smaller (and cleaner) than Bangkok. The city is divided into two sections – old and new; that are separated with the ruins of a large brick wall.

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Another important and amazing difference in Chiang Mai is the altitude. Because of which, at certain times of year, they actually reach comfortable temperatures. I’m told that in the “winter” they can see temperatures as low as +15 degrees celsius. After weeks of above 40 with humidity, 15 was sounding like heaven. Too bad it wasn’t “winter”.

There is a definite relaxed vibe in Chiang Mai. From their night market (an amazing assortment of vendors that sets up nightly for your shopping pleasure) to a gorgeous temple that is 30 minutes outside the city in the mountains. This was the place that I fell in love with Thailand.

But, like every place in Thailand, the people were amazing. One day – with the intent of going to the mountain temple – my travel companion Frank and I grabbed a taxi. On the way up, the driver decided he liked us so much that he was going to spend the entire day with us showing us around for the same price we had agreed on just for the temple.

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I got to be part of the show – this little guy was undoing the knots on my wrists.

This told me that either we had WAY over paid for the ride to the temple and he was starting to feel bad, or we are just really awesome people. I believe it was a little bit of both.

Either way he took us on a day long adventure to the temple, followed by a “monkey school” (a place where they train and keep these funny little creatures) and to visit the tigers.

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The most shocking part of this experience – no waiver forms were signed.

We also spent a day at an elephant sanctuary. In Thailand elephants are considered farm animals, so there aren’t very strict regulations in place for their safety or care. All of the elephants on this reserve have been injured in some way. Each has their story to tell, from broken hips that were not allowed to heal properly, to drug addictions to medications given to the animals to make them work longer and harder than they can naturally.

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The secret to getting them to open up is to say “Bon Bon Bon”!

There was one who was brought to the sanctuary after being blinded by her previous owners. Like many others, she was used in the logging industry in the neighbouring Burma. She was pregnant, but the calf didn’t survive. Distraught, she refused to work. She was beaten. But because elephants have such tough hide, they needed to inflict more pain and damage to try to ‘coax’ her back to work – thus the eyes.

In the end they sold the now useless to them elephant to the sanctuary. A place where tourists and volunteers feed and bathe and learn about the elephants daily. Something I’m sure to take with me for my entire life.

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But what about the food you may ask. Phenomenal. It was simply amazing at the fantastic meal you could get for $3. Like everywhere in Thailand it was easy to find Western food – but don’t bother. That’s not why you traveled this far and let’s face it… most Thai cooks can make a way better curry than a hamburger.

I also managed to take a cooking class while in Chiang Mai. The instructor warned us when we signed up to arrive hungry. I didn’t listen. I regretted it. We prepared 5 courses and had full servings from each course. I learned more in that 4 hour class about Thai food than I had learned from the rest of my trip combined. It made me wish I had time for more lessons.

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The look on my face is determination – I may be full… but I’m going to eat you. Yes I am.

In a nut shell – that was Chiang Mai. Beautiful, tranquil, surreal. The highlight of my trip to be sure. But next time I’m heading somewhere that wine, bread and cheese flow like water. And hopefully isn’t so hot!

** Side bar: once again amazing photos courtesy of Mr. Frank Pomerleau**

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