THE CYCLE RIDE: CHIANG MAI TO BANGKOK

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*Warning: excessively long post, only immediate family need feel obliged to read*

For anyone who knows us or has been following our blog, you would not be wrong to assume that we were not at all prepared for what lay ahead. For example, instead of purchasing appropriate road bikes, we opted for the cheapest bikes we could lay our hands on, which happened to be mountain bikes – not at all fit for our purposes (in fact they tethered us to the road!).

DAY 1: ‘NOT THE BEST START!’

Chiang Mai to Lampang – 106km/66 miles (Route 11)

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And so it begins… 0km down, 800km to go…

We’d aimed to start at 5.30am, so rising at 7.30 we were slightly behind schedule. We were slightly put out further when first mounting our bicycles and discovering our little rucksacks were far too heavy for the front baskets that we’d bought to save weight on our backs, and we couldn’t turn the bike handles to steer. Nevermind… they’re only little…. on our backs they go! Rather than panicking at these small hindrances, we went for a calming latte in Starbucks to send us on our way! Of course this was an error, and the enormity of actually doing the bike ride, rather than just talking about it, soon sank in. Continue reading

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GUEST POST BY CATHERINE PICKLES: ELEPHANT NATURE PARK, CHIANG MAI

Charlotte’s mum came to visit us for a week in Bangkok – it was brilliant to see her and gave us a real boost as we were starting to become a bit homesick by that point. Whilst Catherine really enjoyed the madness of Bangkok, elephants have always been a passion of hers and so we headed to Chiang Mai for a couple of nights…

It was such a treat to visit Charlotte and Sarah in Thailand, so when Charlotte suggested we spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai I was ecstatic. We boarded the overnight train from Bangkok’s busy station around 6.00 pm on Sunday evening and arrived in Chiang Mai refreshed and happy around 10.00 am the next day. Before heading for our hotel we paid a visit to the official office of the Elephant Nature Park in the centre of Chaing Mai and booked the last two places for the next day.

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We were collected from our hotel at 8.00 am by the tour guide in a very smart mini bus and were introduced to the rest of our group (about 10 of us). The journey was just over an hour’s drive up into the hills and we were given an overview of the Park’s mission – to protect, nurture and rehabilitate rescued elephants in a natural, loving environment.

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The Park was founded in 1996 by a local woman named Sanguden Chailert (or Lek to everyone who knows her) and is the only one of its kind in Thailand. ‘Lek’ means ‘small’ in Thai so it’s ironic that she is so akin to these magnificent giants! The elephants under Lek’s care come mainly from private owners and she has had to negotiate fees to enable them to join her herd. Some had outlived their usefulness to loggers, whilst others were no longer of any use to trekking camp owners.

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CHIANG MAI WOMEN’S PRISON

So when we told our friends that we were heading for a Thai Massage at a prison, we didn’t receive the most enthusiastic response. Yet if you head to Trip Advisor you’ll see that the Chiang Mai Women’s Prison is one of the most highly rated places to visit in Chiang Mai and it was up there with our favourite experiences in Thailand.

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Brilliantly, there is a spa and restaurant alongside the prison, which is staffed by inmates due for release within the next six months, having been imprisoned for minor crimes. It’s a genius scheme, teaching these women a trade, social skills and acting as a stepping stone towards integrating them back into society. Just as noteworthy, was that having gone for many many many massages in Thailand, this was by far the best.

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