Diana_Ziplining_Jungle_FlightChiang Mai is a bustling modern city, smaller than Thailand’s capital of Bangkok, and uniquely its own. Tucked in the northern part of the country, Chiang Mai is primarily known for its ancient temples and abundance of cultural options from ancient temples to royal gardens.

Although I enjoy the historical aspect of traveling, my trip was all about Thailand’s monkeys, elephants and tigers.

It was a whirlwind adventure, once we landed in Chiang Mai. I was still sleep deprived, trying to get my body clock to the right time zone. Once my group landed in Chiang Mai, we stopped off at our charming boutique accomodations, Tamarind Hotel, to drop off our luggage, changed our clothes to begin our adventure, really an eco-adventure.

Jungle_FlightSituated at Baan Nam Khong at the end of a peaceful village road, in one of Thailand’s 5th highest mountains, Doi Lungka, is Jungle Flight.  They bill the adventure as “pure 5 hours soar experience through the air on cables, 50 meters above the ground on our 300 meter-long line, walk on our unique spiral stairway…sky-bridges, 570 meters suspended canopy & swing walk…unique scaling net as a spider man…abseil down Jungle Flight platform with is 40 meters high…” Uh-hum that’s 164 feet in the air!!! 

After a tasty lunch served by the village locals, I was zipping through the trees like a monkey — yes, Grandmom zipping through the trees! I didn’t see any monkeys, because probably they were a lot smarter than me. This is the sixth zipline I’ve dared – and I think it’s time Grandmom put her zipline adventures behind her. Did I mention that I’m terrified of heights?

Diana_Patera_Elephant_FarmThe next day I experienced the most life-changing day in my life when I became an elephant trainer at Patara Elephant Farm,  30 miles south of Chiang Mai. The elephants are like oversized puppies, eager to please, bouncing up and down on their heavy feet, ears and tail flopping. My elephant was one of the studs, Bodo, and he simply *loved* it when I bathed him in the river, scrubbed the muck off his body and splashed him with water, even got an elephant shower when Bodo sprayed me with water from his trunk. The finale was quite the feat as I scrambled up the elephant, stepping on the back of his foot, then his leg and up on top of his neck. I tucked my knees behind is ears and off we went to the waterfall where the elephants frolicked in the water — and really frolicked is the word. They played in the water like little kids. It was so cool! Sign me up again!

I learned a lot about the elephants and that they are basically disappearing in Thailand – that means becoming extinct! All the Thai have a healthy respect and love for this lumbering beasts with a big heart, and now I do too. (I only wish my family, especially my grandchildren, could’ve have had this experience!) The owner of Patera Elephant Farm, Pat, is passionate about the Thai culture, and his passion includes “saving” the elephants by breeding and educating the public.

Diana_Tiger_KingdomOn our way to transfer to Lisu Lodge, we made a short detour to Tiger Kingdom, where I stepped into the cage with two big tigers. I admit was a bit nervous – okay, tons of nervous, and it was hot and humid, so that’s probably why was sweating. Really. But the staff was well trained, and I’d read that the tigers here were born into human care, and the staff is well trained, lurking nearby. Yet, I did hesitate before dropping to my knees and touching both tigers, and I’m not sure what possessed me to lay my head on their soft fur. All in all, adding tigers to my animal adventure in Thailand was definitely a bonus.

When I returned to Denver, I gathered my two grandkids around me, and we checked out the photos of Grandma zipping through the trees like a monkey; frolicking with the elephants; and “napping” with the tigers. They were pretty impresed with their Grandma’s trip, even at ages 3 and 5, but the belly giggles really rolled when I shared the pictures of the baby elephants taking a bath.

My first visit to this friendly country was an amazing experience, and to kick it off in Chiang Mai was the perfect start to an amazing two weeks in Thailand, the land of smiles.

Read more about my adventures on my Traveling In Heels Blog and my Denver Travel Examiner column.