Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. It is located at approximately 700 km from Bangkok, among some of the highest mountains in the country. The city is on the banks of the Ping River, the largest tributary of the Chao Phraya River.
In recent years, Chiang Mai has become an increasingly modern city. Although it lacks the cosmopolitan gloss of Bangkok it has many attractions for the thousands of foreign visitors who come each year.
Except for being one of the most religious cities in Southeast Asia with over 300 Buddhist temples and characterised as a cultural hub hosting the most important festivals in Thailand, Chiang Mai is also considered as the perfect spot for outdoor activities.
is popular for outdoor activities
Just a few minutes away from the city there are mountains with rich vegetation, waterfalls, hill tribes, elephants and remote scenic villages waiting to be explored. From Chiang Mai, one can begin his journey to explore the beauty of northern Thailand whether by himself or with a tour guide.
Having been in Chiang Mai for 4 consecutive years we have explored various amazing nearby places by ourselves. Places of interest that are reachable in 1-2 hours by motorbike are a great option for a daily excursion such as Doi Suthep, Doi Pui, Mae Rim, Sticky waterfalls or even Mon Jam that takes a bit longer to get to. It is safe and easy to visit them even if sometimes there are police checks to deal with or the extreme heat.
When it comes to spots that are further tho or those that are just to hard to find yourself, like hill tribe villages or trekking routes, the help of a local guide can be approved precious. Especially those travellers who don’t have any experience in driving a motorbike in Thailand spending some extra cash in return of professional guidance and peace of mind is the only way to go.
Having thought of that lately, we realised that a few years ago we had a lack of awareness and were behaving blindfold by choosing activities from any tourist information stand that was advertising the cheapest and most common tours. Most of them are decent but the majority operate on a massive scale instead of offering tailor-made services.
Because we have tried choosing random tours agents before, we didn’t want to find ourselves packed in a minivan again, that is advertised as VIP service ?, waiting for the driver trying hopelessly to locate every guest, to pick everyone up and at the end of the day, along with fellow travellers, regret for not having chosen a more WOW experience.
So does it really worth it saving a few baht to have just an OK memory instead of experiencing an unforgettable private tour?
our local guide in Chiang Mai
So after considering to visit an elephant sanctuary, we were recommended by our good friend who lives in Chiang Mai to go on a tour with Tony. Yes, Tony is from Thailand and specifically, he originates from a Karen hill tribe. He is an energetic young guy who speaks perfect English, thing that makes it super easy to communicate and understand every part of the tour. Actually, he learned speaking English by himself when he was a novice monk.
Tony offers a variety of amazing tours in and outside of Chiang Mai but also customizes the schedule according to the needs of his customers. He has skills to navigate one through the jungle, during a trek, and he is also keen on taking amazing pictures which is priceless to have as a memory when you’re back home or for some cool Instagram posts.
Some of the recommended tours that you can find in Tony’s guidebook are:
- Elephant Sanctuary and waterfall visit.
- Chiang Rai, Hot Springs, Saeng Kaew Temple, White Temple, Blue Temple, Black House Museum (1 Day Tour). With an option to visit Hill Tribes (Akha and Long Neck).
- Chiang Rai, Hot Springs, White Temple, Golden Triangle (1 Day Tour). With an option to visit the Long Neck Tribe Village by Longtail Boat.
- The Unseen Chiang Rai (2 Days Tour).
- Elephant Sanctuary, Trekking and Bamboo Rafting (2 Days Tour).
- Trekking in Doi Inthanon National Park (1 Day Tour).
- Trekking to the Karen village and visit Elephant Sanctuary (1 Day Tour).
- 2-Day Trekking with a stayover at a Karen village.
Find more information about the tours on Tony’s Facebook page
Getting to know
the elephants, feeding and bathing
Our latest experience with Tony was a visit to an elephant sanctuary to feed, bathe and walk with them. This is something that we love doing and it was not our first time.
We started around 8 am and arrived comfortably with a private 4×4 car about an hour later. The sanctuary is situated at the foothills of Doi Inthanon, hidden amongst the rice fields and the trees, away from the city buzz. There were no signs that could direct us to the sanctuary itself and without Tony we would be lost. After walking through the rice paddies and crossing an old bamboo bridge we found the elephant camp.
The first thing to do was to meet those incredible giants and offer them some sweet treats to gain their trust. The sugarcane sticks were so sweet that I couldn’t resist sharing one with Dao and Thun Wa, the female elephants above.
Afterwards, the ladies followed their friendly mahout and together with Tony we had lots of fun feeding those impatient creatures. They ate all 3 buckets of sugarcane and went next to the river to have some tree leaves for a snack.
Next, the big ladies went to relax and we were introduced to the youngest member of the family, the 6-year old Joy, with whom we had the chance to play in the mud and have a bath.
When we finished the games with our cute buddy we had a delicious lunch that was included in the price. Thai food at it’s best!
Our fun time ended by sharing our watermelon, sharing kisses with Joy and taking some last photos to remember those amazing moments forever (watch our video below).
dives at the waterfall
We got into the car and headed back to the city but on our way, we had a refreshing surprise waiting for us. Tony took us to a nearby waterfall and with only 7 or 8 more people there it was like we had this beautiful place just for ourselves. As the water during March is not cold at all we enjoyed a few dives.
Having visited elephant sanctuaries before this was the first and the only time I enjoyed it so much. We learnt many things about elephants, how much they eat, what it is their daily routine, about the relationship with the mahouts and how sometimes they can be dangerous to humans and to themselves (this is the most important reason that still they have to be fenced or chained during the night). Tony has studied elephants when he was younger and on our way back we discussed important topics such as the ethical part of the tours and how after many years finally the power of tourism changes back the values and rises the awareness of non-riding and abusement.
I saw no hate or chains, instead, I witnessed love and respect in this mysterious relationship between the man and the elephant.
If you find yourself in Chiang Mai and want to live the same unique experience with us, contact Tony through his Facebook page ‘Chiang Mai Amazing Tour‘. If you have any questions or need further recommendations, you can find us on our social media channels.