There’s just a different energy in Chiang Mai that I’ve never experienced anywhere else in the world. It’s a large city, yet somehow makes you feel completely at home in your own little comfort zone, wherever it is you make it. After spending a couple days there, I was super excited about meeting up one of my best friends, Amee, and her friend Sonia. Part of this thrill was introducing them to a city (at least the main part of the city) that Samir and I had just started to explore and were already falling in love with. And, as if the biking around the city, ziplining in the rustic trees, (icky) fish therapy and the bustling night bazaar weren’t enough, good ole Chiang Mai had so much more to offer… like THE BEST DAY EVER!
It started off bright and early at 9:30 am (now I realize this isn’t early for most people, but anyone that knows me knows I am NOT a morning person normally… and a morning person while on vacation?! Eesh). We headed off to the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai. I was a little hesitant at first about going because of how they may treat the animals, but this was definitely overshadowed by the chance to pet a tiger. Yes, read that again, pet an actual tiger! The Tiger Kingdom is basically a ‘tiger park’ that allows visitors to come and play with tigers of different ages (all under two years as those are the ones that are ‘safe’). We had the choice between small tigers (2-5 months), medium tigers (6-9 months) and big tigers (10-20 months). All of us chose the big tigers (though a part of me really did want to play with the little cubbies – but the chance to be in an open cage with a big beautiful tiger like Princess Jasmine with Raja from Aladdin was too tempting) and so we bought our tickets and entered the tiger park. With our entrance, we were allowed to walk around the entire park and see the other size tigers as well! My fave were the little cubs (not even 2 months yet so we weren’t allowed to play with them) which we got to observe from a distance playing with each other. And there was also a random lion there. Not sure what that was all about. But, the piece de resistance (pretend I have a French accent) was going inside and hanging out with the big cats. I’d like to emphasize that the tigers didn’t seem like they were drugged (as I had feared), nor were they de-clawed and they still had their teeth – which gave me a little more comfort that they weren’t mistreated and were treated as their website said. The guides told us not to stand near their heads and to approach them from behind. And we could touch them below about their midway point, lay on them and rub their bellies (sorry Bergs!) which they seemed to enjoy. These creatures are just beautiful – I loved looking a their paws and their eyes… piercingly fierce yet gorgeous at the same time. The way they walk – which such power and purpose, yet playful and cute when they sleep – we saw more than a couple pairs of tigers with their paws draped around each other. I narrowed down the pics to a select few which was really hard – the full album will be on our Photo Albums page shortly!
Tiger Kingdom website: http://www.tigerkingdom.com/
After the Tiger Kingdom, our taxi driver took us to a large gem factory (obviously a ploy for us to shop at the store) to learn how stones were cut and polished. I have to admit, we were all a little tempted to buy something – especially my Aim 🙂 – but we were good girls (and Samir) and walked out empty-handed. Our taxi driver then took us to another similar shopping ploy, but this one was actually pretty interesting. They made large painted umbrellas at this one and we got to see how the paper was made from the Saa tree (useful skill if I’m ever stranded on a desert island?!).
We then proceeded back to the heart of Chiang Mai and went to a Veg Restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet called Aum… for once, not a bad rec from LP! You could taste the freshness of the food and vegetables – it was one of the tastiest meals I’ve had in Thailand so far.
Now, since we’d had SUCH a long, stressful day ;-), we decided it was time to get massages. Samir, Sonia and I opted for a relaxing foot massage while Aim decided to get a traditional Thai massage (each of ours was 120 TB – $4 for an hour!). We all fell asleep during the massages, though Aim got stretched and massaged to the point that it hurt!
After our massage, we headed over to our final activity for the day – a Thai cooking class! The Baan Thai Cooking school was an excellent class that included a market tour (which was really helpful because the instructor was versed enough to know what was available in Thailand and what a suitable alternative may be in other countries), a stir-fry dish, a soup, an appetizer and a curry (no dessert but the morning class did have dessert and we could have made mango and sticky rice – yummmmmmmm!). Because there were four of us in the class, including veggie Amee, we tried choosing a different item from each of the selections (each category had three selections). We were amazed at how easy the recipes were – who knew that I could make such great pad thai and spring rolls?! The school also provided us with a Thai cook book with the recipes we learned plus a few more – I especially liked that it gave vegetarian substitute options and a picture dictionary of different Thai vegetables and spices.
Baan Thai website: http://www.cookinthai.com
The only downside to the class was that I got full after the first two courses (and our late 2:00pm lunch) and barely tasted my last two. I was even too full after the class to get mango and sticky rice or grab a drink!
All in all, this was definitely one of my best days on our trip so far and it was made even better that I could spend it with two of my favorite people – the boy, of course, and my Aim!