Beyond the tourist activity of Southern Thailand, Chiang Mai is the northern city everybody tells you to visit. However it has not so much: temples and markets, mainly the same that can be found in any other Thai town but with night life due to the tourism and quite more quiet and not so chaotic like Bangkok.
This city is a good place to be relaxed. In fact, I had there my first Thai massage which was in a local where the masseuses were ex-prisoner women. In Chiang Mai the prisoner women are taught how to give massages to have a job after the prison. My massage was awesome
Additionally, the day I arrived it was the king’s birthday, so there was party everywhere at night (but not alcohol in bars).
But what attract the most to the tourists are the surroundings. Chiang Mai is the Northern Thailand‘s hub, full of mountains and jungle.
From Chiang Mai it’s possible to go easily to Chiang Rai and visit its White Temple. I was in a very quick visit there and I couldn’t see the Black House of the city (you can look for it in Internet) nor the White Temple’s indoor because it was close that day, but you’ll see googleing it’s so interesting as outdoors.
But the star attraction here are the packages offered by the dozens of tourist agencies: trekking in the jungle, zip-line, rafting, visiting hill tribes (it’s just theater, those tribes lost their traditions and now live only from the tourism) and elephants rides.
If you have a minimum of decency don’t hire ever a package where elephants are involved in any way. These poor animals, supposedly sacred, are cruelly abused since they are 4 years old to domesticate them using a technique called Phajaan. That technique consist of having tied and enclosed the small elephant in a cage where it cannot even sit down without food, water and no sleeping even for a week. If that were not enough, mahouts, their supposed carers, will batter the elephant with sticks with a nail, stabbing them into the eyes and ears as well as into the head and other parts of the body of that poor animal. After the Phajaan the elephant will be terrified and “break”. For all its life (until it’s very damaged and will be abandoned or killed) it will be battered and stabbed any time it must be taught or doesn’t do whatever mahouts want to.
You can have a look to this web (or searching “Phajaan” in Google) to read more about it and watch videos, photos and recommended places where elephants are really well treated.
Around Pai I could see myself a couple of elephants camps. They were tied with a 1 meter long chain swinging like autistic. Was so sad… I also could see the mahouts with their sticks with nails prepared to hit the elephants in the moment they don’t do what mahouts wanted.
Hiring a package where elephants are used in any way (either if it’s for riding or for performing shows or drawing) means to support and continue such an atrocity.
By the way, many places claim to be elephants sanctuaries and to treat well the elephants. That’s mainly false. If you can ride them it’s sure that they’ve been trained and they’re abused. You can also check the worst comments of webs like TripAdvisor. People horrified with that will post there.