Daily Wanderlust: floating in Sri Lanna National Park

The boat that whisks us some 20 minutes from the red-dirt mainland to the floating bungalows and restaurant is loud. Super loud.

But none of us care.

A quick drive from Chiang Mai (about 75 minutes) takes city-dwellers to another world … filled with water and tree-covered mountains. The perfect day trip for those looking for a little less touristy options (think White Temple in Chiang Rai) and a little more bonding with nature (and friends).

Sri Lanna National Park, located in Maetaeng, is Thailand’s sixth largest national forest and comes complete with plenty of swimming, floating houseboats for rent, restaurants and more.

Entrance is 20 baht per person, plus the cost of the boat ride.

And, it’s my go-to place for escaping Chiang Mai … for the day.

Thailand's Sri Lanna National Park

Destinations

Daily Wanderlust: Elephant Love

My days at Elephant Nature Park consist of a lot of animal time. When Navann, the park’s new baby, was born on Oct. 28, it thrilled me to no end.

I get to spend time with a baby elephant!

And, while I don’t get to see him too often, the times I do are pure delight.

Yesterday, I spent a few minutes with him and his mom, Sri Prae, as he enjoyed a little interaction. But, my favorite moment wasn’t when he was head-butting me, but when he and mom took a moment to show their love to each other.

Oh, elephant beauty and trunk snuggles. 

Baby and mom at Elephant Nature Park

Destinations

Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai: the day trip

The early morning rays of the sun are barely creeping through my apartment window when my alarm buzzes.

Time to get up.

It’s a Saturday, and I am awake at 6 a.m. for a good reason: I am going on my first journey outside of Chiang Mai. Today, I’m hopping into a Top North minivan along with two friends, and heading out for a 13-hour tour of the Chiang Rai/Golden Triangle (Myanmar and Laos) area.

We hop into our van, which is filled with other travelers, and begin our journey.

The first stop, around 8 a.m., is a hot spring about 45 minutes outside of town. In my mind, I envision a bubbling, sulfur brook surrounded by lush jungle vegetation.

It is nothing like that. Not even remotely.

Chiang Rai hot springs

 

Instead, there are two little areas with water, both not natural-looking at all. Essentially, a large tourist area has been created around these two warm waters, which are now manicured and contained in stone casings. Around the hot springs are little huts hawking everything from food and coffee to T-shirts, bags, and other random souvenirs. It’s a well-done tourist trap with some water features. That’s it.

Chiang Rai hot springs

Fortunately, the hot springs aren’t really on my radar in terms of things I want to see. What I care about is the next stop: the White Temple, or Wat Ron Khung.

Chiang Rai White Temple

The intricate temple began construction in 1997 and is still a work-in-progress today. Created by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, the temple is designed to be open to all and to symbolize the passage into heaven, including passing through hell. The details here are breathtaking — from the twirls of smoke on the “no smoking” signs to the hands reaching up from the pits of hell as visitors walk across a white bridge towards the temple.

White Temple Chiang Rai

White Temple Chiang Rai

Even inside the temple, which was under construction when I visited, details abound. The murals, which have sparked some debate, further show heaven and hell, tying the concept to today and news of the world. Painted on the walls is the tragic 9/11, Superman and more.

We stand, silent, taking in these images for a moment before we notice a wax monk sitting at the head of the room.

Odd.

But, it seems to fit with everything else.

The next stop for us is the Karen hill tribe village.

After what seems like forever in the van, we head off the main road and down a windy path to a village with one dirt road. Only, it isn’t really a village at all. It’s more like some huts with villagers selling their goods, encouraging us to buy, buy, buy.

I don’t even take my camera out when we visit the long neck tribe. It just feels like we are exploiting them as they sit there, brass encircling their necks, arms, knees, and smiling for photos. Our guide even pulls out a picture showing us what they look like when they sleep.

I’m not impressed.

In fact, if there was one aspect of the trip I would skip, it would be this. I know there are other ways to support hill tribes and simply heading to a remote spot where they set up shop and are on display for tourists isn’t my idea of how it should be done.

“I hate this,” I whisper to my friend as some of our tour group stops to take photos with the token twins in the tribe. “It just doesn’t feel right.”

My friend nods her head, rolls her eyes and together, we walk back across the rickety bamboo bridge to where a litter of puppies are curled up.

Yeah, we’d rather play with puppies than “ooh” and “ahh” at hill tribe people who essentially are a tourist attraction.

After we don’t buy anything at the “village,” we journey onward to the Golden Triangle. What used to be vast opium fields, today the area is simply where three countries — Thailand, Myanmar and Laos — converge.

Golden Triangle boat ride

Golden Buddha

Its got casinos, huge golden buddhas and a quick boat tour that has  a stop on an island in Laos where people can drink Laos beer, try the whisky with dead animals in it, or shop for “genuine fakes.”

The stop in Laos

We hand over our boat ticket and when we get back on the boat, the ticket is returned with a Laos stamp on it.

Again, not impressed. But, the boat ride is nice and I love the idea of straddling three different countries at once.

Finally, we head to Mesai on the border of Myanmar. Typically, this is where people who need to do border runs head to get their stamp in and out. We are given one whole hour (compared to the 30 minutes we normally have at each spot) to shop (of course). But, its sweltering hot and the shops are all offering the same goods for the same prices.

It’s nearly 4:30 p.m. when we finally head back towards Chiang Mai from the Chiang Rai region. We’ve got a four-plus hour drive back to the city and the rain clouds are hovering. Eventually, they give way to thunderstorms, which at least lull me to sleep for a quick bit.

By the time we get back to Chiang Mai, I’m well-rested (hey, there were ample opportunities to nap in the van during the 14-hour day) and a bit disappointed in the experience.

The bottom line: I would not do the tour again. While the tour guide is great, the tour itself if lacking. It seems there are plenty of tour operators all offering the same itinerary. But, not enough time is given at the various places to explore. And, most of the time is spent on the bus. I’d prefer to head simply to Chiang Rai for two days and explore the area that way, instead of being ushered around with time limits and extensive periods sitting on a bus.

 

Asia Blog Reviews Thailand Tours

Daily Wanderlust: Bath time at Elephant Nature Park

Since I now am an expat in Thailand, spending my days helping Save Elephant Foundation (which includes a healthy mix of visiting it’s flagship project, Elephant Nature Park), I have oh-so many photos of life here. Namely, life with elephants. Let’s face it, I could take photos of tuk tuks, views from my apartment and more, but what people probably want to see are more of the adorable elephants, right?

Well, here you go.

Mae Kham Paan loves her time in the river. She’s one of the only ones who takes it upon her self during bath time to reach her trunk into the river, soak up water and then shoot it out of her trunk and onto her back. The most awesome thing? She does it with a huge smile on her face. Swear.

Bath time at Elephant Nature Park

Destinations

Daily Wanderlust: Morning glow at Elephant Nature Park

One of the best things about my expat life in Thailand is working for Save Elephant Foundation, which supports my most favorite place in the world, Elephant Nature Park.

A perk of my gig is that I get to head the 60 km north once a week or so to take photos, meet reporters and spend time with the elephants, Mr. Lucky, the pups and group of some of the best volunteers I have ever met. And, even better, every now and then I actually stay at the park for more than one day.

This past Friday, I headed up for an overnight visit. That night, I was treated to a spectacular sky that looked like someone threw glitter into the air and it stuck. Above me, I could see the Milkyway shimmer. And, in the morning, I got this.

Where have you seen your most beautiful sunrise?

The sun comes up at Elephant Nature Park

Destinations