Friday, January 29, 2010

Welcome to Chiang Mai!

On January 29th we flew from Phuket to Chiang Mai, arriving in the evening. The Chiang Mai temperature seemed much cooler than Phuket (thankfully) but still very warm. Unfortunately the mosquito's were everywhere. The best defence we found against them was to crank up the A/C in the hotel room; they seem not to love the cold. Leave your room open and warm for five minutes and you end up with ten+ of the little bastards to try to kill off.

Once out into the arrivals area at Chiang Mai we found that taxis were curiously elusive. There were two taxi stands outside the arrivals area, both featuring people promising taxis, small crowds of prospective customers, and NO taxis. We debated with one of the less obnoxious salespeople and agreed on a meter + 50 baht price ride. Fixed rates are apparently the #1 way to be cheated in Thailand and India as they are always higher than the meter rate.

After finally agreeing on a price we had to deal with the "no actual taxi" issue. The staff claimed a taxi was coming and encouraged us to join them on a jaunt across the parking lot, supposedly in aid of helping the driver avoid traffic. This seemed shifty but we agreed for some reason. Our taxi eventually arrived so perhaps it really was just a traffic issue. Our driver Phen spent most of the drive to the hotel advertising her services as a day-trip driver. She had a nice booklet with fancy laminated pages and color pictures of all the destination and some of them were things we already wanted to visit. With only a day or so in Chiang Mai we thought transport sounded helpful so we agreed to hire her for 600 THB to drive us around the next day. Highlights were to include the Maesa Elephant "Sanctuary" and the Tiger Kingdom, where we were told we could hang out with some tigers that were relatively unlikely to try to dine on us. Doubtless some or all locations pay kickbacks but $20 CAD to be chauffeured around to things we were interested in still sounded pretty good and spared us the entertainment of having to find transport and plan a route the next day.

After arriving at our hotel we decided to go for a quick stroll around the 'hood. Late night foot massaging was everywhere.

Ever since the government banned commercial logging in '89 the options for mahouts and elephants have been a bit unclear. Some of them end up in facilities like the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (where we propose to take a three day mahout course in the near future, if we ever get a response from their staff). Sadly others see no option but to come wander the streets of the cities trying to make enough to get by off tourists. These elephants are (according to our guidebook) often poorly treated. Giving to these mahouts encourages this practice so although sad it seems best to give your money to facilities like the conservation center than beggar-mahouts. We had only been wandering Chiang Mai for about half an hour when we spotted such a street elephant.

This was a very small and presumably young elephant. Hopefully it will find it's way into the conservation center or something similar at some point. 

After getting the lay of the land we crashed to ensure a decent level of awareness while being eaten by tigers.

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