Chiang Mai is one of the most interesting cities in South East Asia. Here you have countless numbers of beautiful temples, and old-looking city that has resisted a lot of modernisation, and access to elephant trekking experiences, and the original and best Tiger Temple.
Baanchang Elephant Park
Elephant parks in Thailand get a bad reputation as some of them are very inhumane. I picked a day at this one because of its humane record - if you're looking for an elephant experience out here then this is the one for you!
Me feeding elephants
Your day starts with coffee, breakfast, and a safety talk (obvious things, elephants are huge and wild animals etc). After the talk your first elephant experience is feeding them. You are given buckets of bananas and bamboo, and you roam through a herd of elephants, feeding whichever one takes your fancy - or whichever one steals food from you! This is a lot of fun!
You'll read a lot of negative reviews online about all experiences like this from people who are against them no matter if they are humane or not - these people have never visited these parts so have no idea. All the elephants here are rescue elephants and from what I could see are very well looked after.
Next up is learning how to ride them. When you ride them you will have a guide alongside you, so don't worry too much about mastering this task. But you are taught the basic commands for stop, start etc - amazingly the elephants respond to these (when they want to!)
Me learning to ride an elephant
After riding orientation you are assigned your elephant, and taken out trekking in the grounds of the complex. You ride for a good couple of hours, stopping occasionally to rest your elephant (and your thighs!). Unless you book alone and pay extra you will be riding in pairs, taking it turns to be back and front.
Me riding my elephant
My elephant scratching against a tree during a rest period
Once riding has finished, you end up at a river and it's time to wash your elephant. The elephants clearly enjoy this part. You get in the water with them and literally scrub your elephant down - it's an amazing experience!
Elephants getting into the river
Me washing my elephant
Washing is the final part of the experience. Showers are provided, as is a hot lunch and a lift back to your hotel - a good end to an amazing experience.
Entrance to Tiger Kingdom enclosures
There are a lot of tiger experiences in Thailand, and a lot of them are not very humane, giving them all a bad reputation. The Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai however is the original, and also very humane. None of the tigers are drugged (I can testify to this as I had tigers jumping on and around me all day), and are treated very well.
I would suggest getting here first thing in the morning - this place can get very busy very quickly. I went early and did not queue for a single enclosure.
There are 4 enclosures you can buy tickets for: smallest, small, medium and big cat. I did all 4 and I highly recommend you do the same. I also paid for one of their photographers to follow me round and take photos (which you get on a CD later on). This seemed to ensure that I got priority access to all the tigers, and didn't leave a tiger until the photographer got the perfect shot.
Playful "Medium" Tigers
Wat Phakhao is a small but pretty temple in central Chiang Mai. Entrance is free, and you can walk in and around the temple and grounds.
The History of Wat Phakhao
Another beautiful temple in Chiang Mai, again free to enter.
Wat Umongmahatherachan is quite a mouthful, and it's another pretty temple, again with free entry.
Entrance to Wat Chediluang
Wat Chediluang is probably the most famous and iconic temple in Chiang Mai, as well as one of the oldest. Entrance again is free, and the complex is large with several temples, Buddhas and structures to explore.
Unfortunately the day I visited the site it was raining, so I didn't get the pictures or the time that I would have liked.
Just down the road from Wat Chediluang you will find the small but beautiful temple Wat Pantao. The inside of the temple here is particularly pretty.
Inside Wat Phantao