We can’t believe we’re already back in our daily Nobeoka routine! After countless hours of planning, surfing various websites, and scrolling through TripAdvisor reviews, our time in Thailand went by so fast! Jon’s cousin Keely, her husband Bread, and Jon’s sister Mere all joined us on this adventure where we made so many memories that we will cherish forever. We especially will never forget the people who made a lasting impression on our hearts.
Chiang Mai has such a vibrant, colorful, and somewhat chaotic culture! Immediately upon arrival, the five of us hopped into our first songthaew (a red pick-up truck used as a share-taxi) and rode to our hostel with the aroma of spices in the air. We could definitely tell we weren’t in Japan (or America) anymore… It is safe to say that Chiang Mai is a stark contrast to our home now, where order, safety, and routine are all considered cultural priorities. But we really enjoyed the break from our usual lives as well as the riskiness of ‘roughing it’ for a few days.
During our entire time in Thailand, we stayed within the Chiang Mai vicinity while taking a few trips outside of the city limits. The low-cost of transportation made sightseeing and traveling incredibly affordable and allowed us to do everything that we had planned in addition to some awesome, spontaneous adventures. Here is our trip itinerary: Some was planned and some just happened, but all of it ended up being amazing!
1. Zion Cafe and Hostel
Zion, which is run by a Christian organization called Lighthouse in Action, was the first stop on our Thai vacation. Their mission is to rescue girls working in the sex trafficking industry then provide them with opportunities to work in their cafe and hostel. We were able to meet many of the girls who have been rescued and set free by the love and truth of Jesus and they are so sweet! Plus they make THE BEST smoothies…
2. Chiang Mai Night Market
In the evening, the main street through the Old Town district of Chiang Mai transforms into a massive night bazaar. Locals set up various booths selling anything from colorful cotton pants to framed snake heads. Kaya couldn’t resist the dried mangos and bought a bag nearly every night. Be prepared to walk though! After 2 hours, we only made it about halfway through.
3. Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls
This isn’t your average waterfall. The rocks at Bua Tong are strangely rough, which makes it almost impossible to slip. We started at the bottom and climbed all the way to the top with a little help from locals along the way. The best part was that this place was definitely not a tourist attraction! It felt like a true local experience as we were surrounded by many Thai families, enjoying their picnics away from the city’s heat.
4. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
On the way to Bua Tong Waterfalls, our driver took us to Doi Suthep National Park to see Wat Phra That, commonly known as Doi Suthep Temple. The temple is a sacred site to many Thai people and it draws influence from both Buddhism and Hinduism. It also provides some of the best views of the city! The sheer size of it was impressive but, it felt like a bit of a money-making scheme. Our hope is that the people of Thailand could know that they are loved dearly by God without having to offer Him anything including sacrifices, money, or pilgrimages in that crazy heat. (click images to enlarge)
5. Thai Farm Cooking School
Everyone told us to take a cooking class in Thailand. And since we LOVE Thai food, we obviously had to. It ended up being one of our favorite parts of the trip! At Thai Farm Cooking School, we learned how to make five dishes, each tailored to our own taste. Our instructor, Garnet, was one of the coolest people we’ve met who also happened to be an incredible chef! She constantly had us laughing at her jokes and impressed us with her knowledge of all the plants at the organic farm where we cooked. Oh by the way… THE FOOD WE MADE WAS THE BEST WE ATE THE THE ENTIRE TRIP! This place is definitely a must for anyone going to Chiang Mai!
On our way to the farm, we were taken to the local market to learn about each ingredient and see how the locals shop. Some looked more delicious than others…
We learned that in Thailand, you can get a massage almost anywhere for about $6 an hour! The government apparently pay for locals to get their licenses free of charge. We had a couple disappointments, lots of laughs, and a few awkward moments. Jon and Bread accidentally got a couples oil massage, which was strange, but definitely a bonding experience. All the massages were awesome And so cheap!
7. Warot Market
This was Kaya’s favorite market. It seemed as if this was the place where all the locals do their grocery shopping. The market is comprised of all the spices, fruits, vegetables and teas that make up Thai cuisine. Kaya managed to buy 2 kilos of dried mango, a bottle of local honey, various curry pastes, palm sugar and coconut candies for our co-workers.
8. Treehouse Hideaway
Imagine staying in that dream treehouse that you imagined when you were a child. That’s exactly what this place is, but better because it’s in the Thai jungle. Auddy, our awesome driver/trekking and tour guide, drove us up North to the treehouse where we trekked through the jungle, relaxed in hammocks and ate meals of authentic northern Thai cuisine prepared for us by a local family who manages the treehouse. The experience was unforgettable and it was the perfect escape from the city.
9. Tiger kingdom, Chiang Dou Cave and Snake Show
On our way back to Chiang Mai from the Treehouse, Auddy was kind enough to take us to see the Chiang Dou Caves, Tiger Kingdom and a snake show. With no idea what to expect on any of these detours, we were pleasantly surprised (and a little freaked out) with each one of them. Definitely one of the weirder parts of our trip!
10. Sunday Night Market
Within the walls of the Old City of Chiang Mai, the Sunday Night Street Market thrives as being a local and tourist attraction. It felt like everyone who was in Chiang Mai was at this market searching for the best deal on the handmade goods and most exotic snacks. We enjoyed wandering the street to admire the flare of the locals and their craftsmaship.
11. Brick House Hostel
After staying at the Treehouse Hideaway, we decided to get a completely different experience at the Brick House Hostel. This place was the party-backpackers dream. Fully equipped with a pool, bar, restaurant and free breakfast?! However, for us, we were just thankful for the out-of-this-world comfortable beds and clean showers. And we shared a room with a fellow traveler from Switzerland who joined us for dinner on the river to escape the party-scene of the hostel.
12. Chai Lai Orchid
Okay, we could write an entire post about this one. And maybe we will. Chai Lai Orchid is an eco-tourism resort that rescues and employs women from Burmese refugee camps, promotes humane treatment of elephants and provides opportunities for local tribes to make money by selling their beautiful handmade products. Here is a blurb from their website:
The Chai Lai Orchid was founded by Alexa Pham of DaughtersRising.org. Alexa started the resort as a means to house and train local minority girls at risk of human trafficking. What began as a brainstorming exercise for Burmese refugees to imagine their dream jobs, turned into an eco-lodge with hospitality training.
We decided to get a taxi to Chai Lai Orchid without any reservation. It was risky but we are so happy we did. Sadly, we didn’t get the chance to meet Alexa but we had the honor of meeting the girls who work there and the volunteers who dedicate their time to teaching and caring for the girls. We also were able to stay in two bungalows, feed and play with the elephants, and dine at the restaurant. Keely and Bread even got to ride the elephants bareback! It was an experience none of us will ever forget.
Kaya’s favorite part was her conversation with Bow, a young woman from the Karen village about one hour away from Chai Lai. That morning, after breakfast, Kaya decided to sit with Bow as she worked on her textiles. Within five minutes of the conversation, Bow was talking about her savior Jesus. She said that many of the tribes in Thailand are Christian due to the missionaries years ago. Now, after 200 years, they have the bible translated into their 2,000 languages and continue to pray that the rest of Thailand come to know Jesus. Talk about a miracle of God!
13. X2 Vibe Decem Hotel
Our next accommodation was the Decem Hotel. It was different than the other places we stayed. We’d say it was a little more “resorty” than the others. We had access to the pool, a delicious free breakfast buffet and bikes that we took out for an adventurous and slightly risky ride. Sadly, this was the part of the trip where we all departed; Mer first, then Keely and Bread, and finally us. But before we left, we enjoyed delicious street food, smoothies and one last massage.
14. Free Burma Rangers
After Bread, Keely and Mere headed home, we decided to venture out to what is called “The Ranch” owned by the Eubanks who co-founded Free Burma Rangers (FBR). The organization “is a multi-ethnic humanitarian service movement” (FBR website). They bring help, hope and love to people in the war zones of Burma.” FBR trains, supplies and provides medical care, food, and documentation to teams sent by pro-democratic Burmese groups.
The Eubanks are a unique family. Seemingly unafraid of anything, David and Karen have raised their three brave children under God’s protection as they risk their lives helping the oppressed. We were honored to meet them and learn about their work. We also met many of their volunteers who were the kindest people. We even got to participate in a quick game of touch football!
Leaving Chiang Mai was more bitter than sweet. Kaya especially fell in love with the people, the culture and the food. We were both inspired by the many people we met who are doing incredible work, listening to God’s call, seeing a need and putting plans into action. We hope to return someday to witness what God will continue to do in that beautiful city.