CITY GUIDE – Chiang Mai Surprise
This laid-back northern Thailand city offers ethical ways to meet elephants, terrific temples and some sublime takes on afternoon tea. Take a trio of tours with Jetsetter.
Where animal welfare comes first
At the Elephant Nature Park (elephantnaturepark.org), you’ll find dogs, cats, horses and buffaloes in addition to pachyderms. You can feed them and watch them bathe in the nearby river and custom-built pools after playing in the mudpit. There’s also the opportunity to do jungle walks and go rafting.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (elephantjunglesanctuary.com) offers half or full-day and even overnight stay options, and the packages include Thai buffet meals. You’ll be feeding, bathing and playing with these gorgeous pachyderms, and the money raised from visits goes towards rescuing and feeding elephants and providing veterinary care. The in-house photographer will take photos throughout the day and guests can access those free of charge.
Into The Wild Elephant Camp (intothewildelephantcamp.com) provides elephants with comfortable, happy lives in a free environment after retiring from logging and tourism, and the focus is on getting to know them and feeding them bananas. The camp employs local members of the Karen hill tribe community and provides clothing and supplies to neighbouring villages.
If you’re looking for a longer stay where you can really get stuck in, try Burm & Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (bees-elesanctuary.org), which offers a minimum one-night stay. Main activities include observing the elephants, preparing their food and cleaning the elephant areas. Guests will stay in one of seven private Thai style accommodations onsite.
Sample the Thai take on a classic
Kick back at a restored teak house dating back to the 1800s at 137 Pillars (137pillarschiangmai.com) which offers afternoon tea in sublime, quiet surroundings. Expect smoked salmon and wasabi cream cheese rolls, logan and cranberry scones, red velvet cookies and passion fruit macaroons, which can be paired with its signature white tea, Zhin Yen. Don’t forget to have a walk around the tropical gardens: they often have art exhibitions in the grounds.
Head over to Khao at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai (fourseasons.com/ chiangmai), for its Tropical Sunset Afternoon Tea, a real Thai-influenced menu that includes salmon souffle with young coconut and durian salted cheese tart.
With a menu designed by world-renowned pastry chef and Michelin-starred Belgian chef Roger Van Damme, Anantara Chiang Mai (anantara.com) offers orange butter scones, pandan rolls with Himalayan cream and a Yuzu double bar brûlée on its afternoon tea menu, which is served by the riverside.
Fancy a cosy outdoor roof terrace as your afternoon tea setting? Then head out to Laan Cha Tea Terrace (rayaheritage.com) for river prawn ceviches, mini chicken yakitori, peanut and coconut mousse and caramelised apple crumble. Signature teas include Cha Payom with honey and there’s organic forest coffee, too.
The most beautiful places of worship
Situated in the historic centre of Chiang Mai, Wat Chedi Luang has a huge pagoda that dates back to the 14th century and a naga (water serpent) staircase on each of its faces and statues of elephants at its base. The temple hosts monk chats every day, where tourists are invited to ask them about Buddhism and Thailand.
Situated around 15km out of Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is situated at an elevation of more than 1,000 metres and offers stellar views of the city. The original gold-plated stupa is the most holy area, and there are also pagodas, statues, shrines and even a museum. It’s 309 steps up to the top, but there is a tram.
The main attraction at Wat Phra Singh is the elegant Lai Kam assembly hall and its restored murals, which depict the lives of locals hundreds of years ago. Located inside the old city wall, other highlights at this walled-in temple compound include a 15th century Buddha image cast from copper and gold at the main assembly hall, Viharn Luan.
Set atop a forested mountain in the southwest of the city, the main attraction at Wat Phra That Doi Kham is its sitting Buddha statue, a golden affair that stands 17m tall. The chedi enshrines a sacred relic of the Buddha, and huge naga serpents guard the stairs on both sides of the pagoda. Walk 300 steps to get to the top or board the funicular.