My Chiang Mai Wishlist:
Visit an elephant sanctuary
Visit a hill tribe village
Hike through the jungle
See local waterfalls
Go to the highest point in Thailand
Bamboo rafting down the river
Spend time with monks
How I did all of this without spending a penny:
I’d made a last minute decision to go to Chiang Mai for New Years, having said goodbye to my family I had visited over Christmas on the Thai islands, and I was not keen to stay in Bangkok.
So I arrived at the airport after the seven hour ferry and bus journey from the Koh Chang hoping there would be a flight ticket that I could buy, and whilst I was the airport I contacted a few places on Workaway on a whim.
I hadn’t yet done a Workaway placement but it was something that I was eager to try. Workaway is a voluntary cultural exchange website, where you offer your various skills to hosts in exchange for free accommodation and meals.
This can range from anything from permaculture to graphic design, teaching English to working in hostels.
Since my money was quickly dissipating, my plan was to try and get a placement to miss the New Year price boom of the hostels.
What I actually got was so much more than anything I could have anticipated.
The placement that messaged me back was a brand new hostel that also owned an elephant park and they wanted someone to help write content for their new website, manage their social media and get the hostel up and running on booking websites.
They kindly picked me up from the airport, though I had arrived 5 hours late due to multiple delays. They were visiting their family in the hill tribe villages and told me that I didn’t need to worry about starting work until after New Year, but that I could still stay there for free, help myself to breakfast and use the kitchen.
For New Year, I went to Wat Phan Tao temple. The entire temple is made out of teak, with a small river surrounding a bank. On the bank, there stands a large tree and underneath, a gleaming statue of Buddha.
For New Year, the monk adorned the tree branches with white paper lanterns and the entire bank in hundred of candles.
We meditated with the monks for several hours until the New Year was in, and then the monk elders gave a speech about kindness, clarity and positivity. We watched the paper lanterns float above us in the night sky.
It cost me nothing but I gained a lot.
After New Year, I began my work for the hostel, if you could really call it that. I was sent to the elephant park on four separate occasions to write itineraries for the website.
I was taken on a sightseeing tour up the mountain, to the highest point in Thailand and the King and Queen’s pagodas.
I did several hikes and treks through the jungle with a local tour guide. I got to marvel at waterfalls, learn about fruit and plants, and have freshly ground coffee in a hill tribe village.
I got to sleep in a bamboo hut in one of the villages, run through the jungle and bamboo raft down the river.
I got to do everything I wanted a more, whilst doing what I loved. Even better than this, my hosts became my friends. They invited me to dinner, we had evening chats, and N gave me a handmade bag by her mother before we said goodbye.
Their generosity and kindness made it one of the best experiences I have ever had in Thailand.