Aug. 31. 2015
Essay
McKel Hill

McKel Hill

MS, RDN, LDN, Dietitian


CHIANG RAI, THAILAND

NAVIGATING CHIANG RAI, WHILE LIVING WHOLE AND EATING WELL

I shared the first of several spots we traveled too in Thailand, in part I Bangkok, today I’m sharing a bit about my experience in Chiang Rai. This location was definitely a once in a lifetime experience not only in the region with the locals but also the elephant experience so many of you have been asking about! I have to be honest, I’m still fighting jet lag far more than I thought I would, so apologize for being slow with your comments, emails, etc.; but fueling my body with the obvious healthy foods, plenty of rest, hydration, and exercise- are there any other tips you all have to kick the rest of it out!?

STAY.

We stayed at Anantara Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai- first off, this resort was a dream! I won’t be able to capture the vibe, experience, or landscape I saw upon waking each morning or sunset at night through writing and photography, it’s one of those things that has to be experienced first hand. The staff was amazing, the food was delicious, and the elephant camp was incredible! Those of you who know me, I’ll take any and EVERY chance to be by water, whether that’s swimming, running in the rain or being in the ocean. This resort had a beautiful infinity pool that overlooked the entire elephant camp which was incredible to see when you felt like you were in the middle of nowhere but feeling completely pampered. I splurged on myself while at the resort and experienced a traditional Thai massage, Anantara was ranked by Travel and Leisure magazine as being in the top 10 spas in the world- I mean, how could I not splurge on this! It was such a unique style of massage, what I compare to a combination of neuromuscular massage (slightly painful), deep tissue, and relaxation/lymph drainage massage. I left feeling like I was floating, so relaxed, but also felt the work on my back and body the next morning, feeling quite sore which is totally normal for a deep tissue massage like that. Case in point, if you have the option to get a Thai massage, try it! The last morning we were there, I went down to check out the tropical fruit buffet spread and was waiting for a fresh juice to be made, heard something over my right shoulder and looked over and saw one of the elephants greeting all the hotel guests…at breakfast! One of the Mahout trainers walked her up from the camp to take the morning to hang out with the guests… i..e to be loved on and fed copious amounts of sugar cane and chubby little bananas! I can’t speak to any other local resorts since my stay was only here, but they had so many hotels and affordable bungalows to stay in while visiting Chiang Rai that I definitely recommend looking into. Anantara hotels has resorts all over Thailand and the world, it’s somewhere I’d definitely stay again when traveling around the world.

 

 

EAT.

Just as in Bangkok, the hotel/resorts provide traditional Thai breakfast options, which tend to be more savory, and also Western-style breakfast options which tend to be more sweet like waffles, pancakes, and muffins. During my entire stay I whizzed past the Western-style breakfast without a second thought and went straight for the tropical fruit spread, juices, and traditional savory Thai options. My favorite, like I mentioned in the last post, was congee a boiled white rice porridge dish, topped with chili flake, chives, and even coconut sugar. That plus heaps of fruit was my breakfast for almost 10 days, I also brought with me protein powder (a tip from my Healthy Travel Bundle) to make sure I was consuming enough while being active and to balance the macronutrients at breakfast time- it was a little carbohydrate heavy in the best way!

We ate dinner one evening with the owner of the hotel and head of the Elephant Camp, that was my favorite dinner of my entire trip to Thailand! That evening was special, we had dinner outside under a hut in the thick of the Elephant Camp. John, the head of the camp, told us his story about why he started the camp, where other Elephant Camps are, how this one is unique, and where his other start ups will be in the future. It was not only inspiring, fascinating, but also incredibly motivating to be doing something to give back. I’ll give the link for the Elephant Camp here so you can read up on greater detail than I can share here, but in a nutshell, the Elephant Camp is a completely supporting place where elephants and their owners (Mahout tribe) can allow the staffers of the camp to care, feed, walk, bathe, train, and support/love the elephants as they need. Elephants are incredibly intelligent animals and they love to be in “families” of other elephants, here at the camp, they have free roam to hang out with each other, graze, walk, all while being trained and cared for by human beings. We took the elephants, Suki a 16 month old baby boy included (who already weighed 500lbs), for a nice long walk around the camp, free to roam. As I was walking behind Suki and his 2-ton momma, I felt completely enamored by their beauty, love, kindness, and power. She was so attentive to Suki, and Suki like any baby mimicking his mom with everything she did- even from eating grass, which he can’t eat yet! It was precious and powerful to see these gigantic animals not tied up in any way, just walking with 6 other humans like it was no big deal. As sweet and cute as they both were, you still have to keep in mind, these are wild animals, they weigh 2 tons, are incredibly powerful and to respect that and handle your time with them with great care. I was so happy to have experienced that and still seems crazy to think I was able to just walk with them like this! To learn more about the conservation efforts of The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, you can visit:http://www.helpingelephants.org

On another note, the dinner we had outside with John was incredible! We had spicy papaya salad, green curry, Tom Kha with shrimp, pad thai with rice noodles, and a dessert recipe that blew.my.mind. I’m keeping this one a secret until I share this on the blog next month…or maybe for cookbook 2?! Besides the dinner experiences and eating on the property, we took a cooking class which was SO much fun! If you were following along with my snapchats you saw the outtakes of them and what we made- pad thai and green curry being my favorite. I think you can see a theme here- green curry was my jam! We experienced so many different Thai dishes, I’m embarrassed to say there was no way for me to remember their names or correctly recall all the ingredients without taking away fromt he moment of enjoying it to write it out! One thing that I would never forget, is the Black Ivory Coffee (i.e. elephant poop coffee); gah, I know it sounds crazy! I’m not even a coffee drinker, but when this once in a lifestyle cup of joe is offered, I’m drinking it! But hear this out, the elephants here on this ground (it’s only made and sold here in the entire world!), consume organic coffee beans, they reach their tummies intact like sesame seeds are for us, not chewing them. They pass the beans through their digestion, enzymes takeover and break down the acids and proteins in the bean making the coffee less strong, more fruity, and easy for us humans to digest. Here’s where the name comes into play- the elephant’s owner will collect the bean after it’s passed from the elephant, then washes it (really well), roasts it, and then it can be made into coffee that’s perfectly safe and delicious for consumption! Just to give you perspective on how much this costs per cup, $50 USD AND has to be made with a special machine costing around $400 and can only be found/bought at the Elephant Camp/Anantara (blue mug picture below).

DO.

Same with Bangkok, all around Thailand you have fresh markets, flower markets, etc.; there are great freestanding markets all around town. That’s where I found several “elephant pants” that I had to bring home with me, they’re made with incredibly lightweight cotton which is perfect for the heat and humidity in Thailand. You can also purchase these Elephant Pants which are my favorite from the trip and can easily be shipped out to you- added bonus proceeds from the purchase of each pair of pants go to elephant conservation efforts. I would’ve loved to be less active and bouncing around from activity to activity to just enjoy and soak in the resort, but I suppose that’s for next time!

Stay tuned for the next blog covering my stay in Koh Samui, a close favorite to Chiang Rai! In the future, when going on travels, what is it that you’d like to see me cover here on the blog? Anything through video, etc.? Share below, I’m incorporating a lot of new things in the new year and would love to hear from you all.

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xx McKel

A huge thank you to @ThailandInsider with #ChooseMyThailand made this trip possible.