News from Chiang Mai and North Thailand – July 2022
It is time for some news from Chiang Mai after a long silence. We have been very active and busy during these strange times. Chiang Mai is very slowly rising from the ashes but it will take time. For the time being no one talks about the second Chiang Mai airport anymore. In this blog I will inform you about developments and the state of affairs regarding tourism in Chiang Mai and North Thailand.
Table of Contents
Face masks in Chiang Mai
Although the wearing of face masks is not compulsory anymore in Thailand since June 24 I have not seen much difference on Chiang Mai streets. Last weekend I visited the weekly Sunday Walking Street and all Covid-related measures were still in place. At the entrance at Thapae Gate, there was a table with volunteers with an entry and exit arrangement, temperature check device, hand sanitizer, etc. Most Thai people still wear their masks even on motorbikes, in cars, and in other situations that make no sense.
Before the pandemic, the walking streets in Wualai street (Saturday) and in the Old City (Sunday) had become hugely popular and very crowded. Last Sunday there were Western and Indian tourists walking around but in small numbers and they didn’t seem to buy much. The walking street usually attracts a lot of local visitors as well but they were absent. The high fuel prices have brought domestic tourism to a standstill, it seems. The month of July will see more visitors than in May and June but it will be far from pre-pandemic numbers.
Trips to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle
Recently I traveled twice to Chiang Rai, Mae Sai, and the Golden Triangle. That said, I had a great time again in Chiang Saen, a place which I love dearly. The border at Mae Sai is closed, and the many shop owners don’t make any money. It was sad to see. According to authorities and business people I spoke to in Mae Sai, the border is still closed because Myanmar authorities refuse to open it. If it is up to Thai authorities the border would be open by now, according to them.
At the Golden Triangle, I saw a couple of Thai visitors and western tourists but nothing compared to the pre-Covid period. The French and Dutch governments have a warning against traveling to Mae Sai and the Golden Triangle but I was not aware of any security issues. During my last trip, I noticed a large group from a local school visiting the Golden Triangle.
Elephant venues in North Thailand
It is not easy to get an overview of the elephant situation at the moment. It seems that places like Patara Elephant Farm and Elephant Nature Park are still operational. I visited several other elephant venues. In the Mae Wang area, I visited Chang Chill, where “elephants can simply be elephants”. It is a good place but quite far and there is not that much more to do than to observe elephants. It appears that most people want only to do that but if that is worth the drive I wonder.
I also visited Kanta Elephant Sanctuary. It was quite busy with mostly western visitors who engaged in elephant feeding and bathing. These are now activities that many people don’t want to do anymore. After that, I went to the Thai Elephant Home, which I liked very much. You walk with elephants through the forest, which seems a nice activity. Thai Elephant Home has a fairly new venue, called Chang Land, which was highly recommended to me. Next time I will check it out. By the way, the Chiang Dao Elephant Camp, one of the oldest in north Thailand, has closed.
The Chang and Mae Sa Elephant Camp
In the Mae Sa Valley, I visited The Chang, which used to be called the Thai Elephant Care Center. I enjoyed my visit very much. The Chang takes care of 15 elephants of which one was born in 1937: Khammeun! It is a good place that offers different activities, in which you can join or not, and is very educational. Besides, the elephant cemetery, where the remains of 14 elephants are buried, is quite touching.
Next door is the Mae Sa Elephant Camp, the last place where I witnessed an elephant show and elephant riding, about three years ago. It is one of the older elephant camps in North Thailand, home to 68 elephants of which 15 are in The Chang. The Kalmapijit family owns both The Chang and the Mae Sa Elephant Camp. My guide told me that the times of riding and shows are over. Entrance to the camp is now free and you can join only a couple of feeding activities for a small fee. How to raise money to take care of so many animals is not clear to me but the elephants I saw were in good shape and well taken care of. If you have guests who want to pay a nice, short and inexpensive visit to an elephant camp, Mae Sa Elephant Camp is the right place.
News from the Chiang Mai hotel and restaurant front
The Meliá Chiang Mai has been open for a while but construction was not finished when I visited and lunch with GM Edward Snoeks in May. July should see the official grand opening of the hotel. Many old Chiang Mai hands commented on my post in Chiang Mai Memories about the history of the Pornping Tower Hotel, which is now The Meliá Chiang Mai. Let’s hope this hotel will breathe new life into the Chang Klan/Night Bazaar area. Later in the year, the Intercontinental Hotel Chiang Mai will join the Meliá as a new arrival on the hotel front. The Intercontinental Hotel is the former Imperial Mae Ping hotel.
The popular River Market restaurant on the Ping River has closed and is undergoing something that looks like destruction. Allegedly, the tenant, who also runs the chain of Western restaurants called The Duke’s, didn’t pay the rent. The Nightbazar area is very slowly coming back to life but we expect it to be gradually busier over the second half of 2022. We will keep updated regarding Chiang Mai hotel news.
Kad Suan Kaew closed
On July 1 the Kad Suan Kaew Shopping Mall closed its door. According to the announcement from the owners, the closure is only temporary. This mall was the first big shopping mall in Chiang Mai when it opened in the early 90s. The Lotus Pang Suan Kaew Hotel, located in the building, is also closed. Many netizens relived their memories of this unusual structure, in which I lost the way several times. It almost felt like a labyrinth. What the future has in store for Kad Suan Kaew is unclear. I doubt it will ever open again.
Tribal Villages and Trekking Trails
At the moment all the communities we work with have opened to visitors. I have been in Karen, Palong (Dara-ang), and Hmong villages over the past few months. Everyone was happy to see tourists coming back. I have led a group of students to the Karen village Ban Mae Klang Luang on Doi Inthanon, as part of a Community Based Tourism study project from Stenden University in the Netherlands. The feature photo shows Phongtu, the mayor of Ban Mae Klang Luang in discussion with Somboon, our guide, and translator.
Many of the trekking trails we use in Chiang Dao are overgrown so we (me, Lung Chai, Lung Bun, and Lung Pornchai) cleared one of the trails we use a lot on our family trips later this month. It was a wet affair but nature is at its best in the rainy season.
Zip Lines in Chiang Mai
Once upon a time, there were 14 Zip Line operators in Chiang Mai province. Flight of the Gibbon was the first company, opening in 2008. I have done the Eagle Track and the Flying Squirrel zip lines and I found both terrifying experiences: never again. There is now only one zipline operational which is the Phoenix Adventure Park, just a couple of km of the Mae Sa Valley road, about 45 mins driving from Chiang Mai.
One of the owners is Songsai Mangklad aka “Sunny”, who also used to own the Eagle Track Zip Line. Sunny was a tour guide who I met regularly during my early tour leading days, more than 30 years ago. It was great to see him again, doing so well. He told me that they are about to re-open the King Kong Smile zipline in Doi Saket. This attraction offers a zipline of more than one km. I will leave the inspection to daredevils.
That concludes this issue of News on Chiang Mai