Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai
If you’re an animal lover, there’s one activity in Northern Thailand you must put on your bucket list. Chiang Mai is famously known for its elephant sanctuaries that are scattered around the city. Thailand is notorious for its use of elephants for tourism purposes through elephant trekking, but a more ethical option for the animal lovers out there is to visit a sanctuary. Asian elephants are an endangered species, so these sanctuaries primary purpose is to rescue elephants from their harsh working conditions to promote good health, safety and freedom.
One of the most popular elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai is called Elephant Nature Park. Located about 60km outside the city, Elephant Nature Park allows visitors to join them in half day, full day, or overnight visits to interact with and learn about the elephants.
While visiting, you will learn all about elephant behavior and their history in Thailand while helping with various activities. These activities include feeding the elephants sugarcane and bananas, bathing them, interacting with them, and of course taking photos with them. During bathing time you will help give the elephants a fun mud bath, then walk them down to a waterfall to wash the mud of both yourself and these beautiful animals. It’s truly an experience you will never forget, so be prepared to fall in love with these gentle giants before the day is over.
Explore Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) - Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is a city in Northern Thailand famous for its beautiful buddhist temples and stunning landscapes. It is famously known for one temple in particular, which is so unique that it’s often the sole reason tourists come to the city. Wat Rong Khun, most often referred to as the White Temple, is a Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai and is nothing short of magnificent. As the name suggests, the temple is completely white to represent the purity of Buddha.
Wat Rong Khun was designed to tell a story through its religious symbolism. To reach the temple, you will first cross a path guarded by demons, then walk across a bridge above hundreds of sculptured hands reaching upwards. This is meant to symbolize greed, desire and passion, and is quite a sight to see after visiting traditional temples. The temple itself symbolizes Buddha’s teaching and reaching Nirvana.
After seeing the pristine white outside of the temple, you will be amazed once you step foot inside. The main wall is covered with colorful murals and intricate Buddhist symbols, leaving visitors speechless. But it’s not just traditional designs that span the walls of the temple. You will also find paintings of superheroes, the twin towers, Harry Potter characters, Kung Fu Panda, and many more whacky images on the opposite wall. You may think of this as unusual, but it holds heavy symbolism just like the outside of the temple. The artist’s goal was to show both good and bad images of present life, and turning away from the violence and greed in life to move towards religious enlightenment. The temple is bizarre and untraditional, but definitely worth a visit when you’re traveling through Northern Thailand.
Take a Thai cooking class - Any location
Food is a very big part of the Thai culture. For example, “Thai style dining” is when each guest orders one dish to share between the group and is typical when going out to eat. Booking a cooking class is a fun way to learn more about the culture while learning to make your favorite Thai dishes with friends.
The typical class will teach you to make 4-6 meals in a half-day course. You will watch an instructor prepare a meal step by step and then have the opportunity to create the dish yourself in your very own cooking station. The cooking class provides you with a cookbook for reference but the instructor is also there for guidance if needed. Many of the Thai dishes have similar ingredients like coconut milk, rice, fish sauce and curry paste, but each is different in its own way.
One of the best parts of the class comes after you have prepared all your meals, which is eating them! Most cooking classes cost between 800 and 1200 Baht for a half day course, so you get the most for your money since you get 4-6 meals out of it.
Visit the hill tribes - Chiang Rai
Thailand, despite the huge rise in tourism over the past 20 years, is still home to indigenous hill tribes in Northern Thailand. These tribes are found up near Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and live a quiet life amongst the jungle hills. Taking a tour to one of these tribes will give you an amazing insight into the isolated tribal life that still exists for some Thai natives. There are several tours that visit the different tribes, with each tribe slightly different from the next.
One of the popular tribes to visit in Chiang Rai is the Karen Long Neck Hilltop Tribe. You will quickly see where the tribe gets their name from, as women wear coils of rings around their necks for the traditional beauty purpose of achieving an elongated neck. Although this tribe has been influenced by the tourist industry, it is still a fun experience to get a first hand look into the tribal culture of Thailand.
Get a Thai massage - Any Location
After a long day of sightseeing, the best way to end the day is with a Thai massage. As a luxurious activity in many countries, massages can be pretty costly if you have frequent visits. In Thailand, however, a massage will only cost you 200 to 300 Baht for an hour-long visit, and will cost even less if you go with a group.
You will likely see hundreds of stores offering Thai massages while your in Thailand, so how do you decide where to go? One of the best spots for a massage would be Wat Pho. Wat Pho is located in Bangkok, and is home to the WatPo Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School. If you want the best of the best, this school will give it to you. The art of massage is one of the school’s four disciplines, so you will be massaged by amazing professional therapists.
Another great spot for a massage is the islands. There’s something extra magical about having a massage on a tropical island while listening to the waves roll against the shore. Thai women often have little platforms set up along the beach where they offer some of the most relaxing massages imaginable.
The style of Thai massage is different from any you’ve ever experienced. It’s characterized by its powerful technique of deep-tissue kneading using the masseuse's fingers, elbows, knees, and sometimes even their feet! While most Thai massage shops are professional, you will want to watch out for any that use the words “love”, “soapy”, or “hot”, because you don’t want to accidentally end up purchasing any sort of sexual massage!