Elephant rides, hill tribes, jungle hikes... sounds good but created for tourists

Chiang Mai Travel Blog

 › entry 4 of 45 › view all entries
As we rolled into town in the early evening on our tuk-tuk it my first impression of Chiang Mai was that it was much cleaner and a little quieter than Bangkok.  It was a bit difficult to find a room which seems to be a common theme during the high season.  Locals tell me that it is not even as busy this year as it had been in the past because of some political issues that have scared some half committed touristed away.

Bree loves the markets so I tagged along for the night market which had some of the best and most diverse products I have seen in any market in the world.
  Mood lighting, quality fake watches (if there is such a thing), swords, pillowcases, hand sewn pants, you name it, they have it.  The prices seem to be slightly inflated relative to others in Thailand but the selection and quality is better than I have seen anywhere.  We also went to the monstrous Sunday market inside the old city moated area.  The prices were slightly better but the selection was not quite as good.

Chiang Mai is the most popular place in the country to book "jungle" tours.  Most include elephant rides, white water rafting, bamboo rafting, jungle hikes, and staying with hill tribe people in their villages.  Sounds like quite an adventure.  Although we did do all of the above pretty much every aspect of the tour was disappointing for me.
  The hiking was the only part that I found to fell authentic but it is pretty hard to mess that part up.  The "village" that we stayed at was built three years prior, had concrete pathways and steps, electricity and running water, and the "locals" were wearing western clothes and almost all spoke English.  Hardly a authentic experience.  The white water rafting that was reported to be grade 4 was actually 2 which means I could have done it on my blow up explorer 200 that I bought at Wall-Mart for $15.  Elephants, well they drove us to a spot where there a bunch of other tourists.  Each group took a turn riding around in a loop for an hour then back in the car.  It all just felt very set up and non-authentic but I guess I can't complain too much because all the guide books pretty much described it being that way.
  To top it off I was violently ill during the whole trip and am still recovering now a couple days later.  I thin kI had some bad green curry.  I emptied my belly from both ends about every half hour for about 8 hours straight on the first night of the tour.

On our last night before going separate way, Bree, Shi and I went to Kawila Stadium for some Thai Boxing.  We were surprised how few people showed up for the Friday night event in the largest stadium in town.  Most of those who did show up were tourists.  The chain-link guarded rafters were almost entirely empty.  Everyone had ringside plastic chair seating.  There were gentlemen in the back playing instruments that sounded somewhere between a bagpipe and a clarinet the entire evening.
  Arms waving like a bird, heads bobbing like opium junkies, and feet flapping like a fish out of water, all fighters did a ceremonial dance to the whiny beats when the entered the ring.  The "music" continues during the fighting and the fighters still tap their front foot to the beat as the fight.

The crowd grew leading up to the best fight of the night which was fifth out of eight.  At 60 kgs, they were the heaviest on the card but still tiny relative to western style fighters.   Both short , thick and cut these two had a much higher intensity level than the others.  There was no clutching in this five round event.  All the rib crushing kicks left many in the crowd wincing.  The local crowd roared in unison with every strike for their fighter as if to ensure the judges saw it.  Action from start to finish with a few flying knees and spinning roundhouses, I was quite impressed.   I would love to see some higher end fighters in a title match.  Maybe in Bangkok.
yheleen says:
great blog - elephants and thai boxing :)
Posted on: Jul 13, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Chiang Mai
photo by: Stevie_Wes