Finally in the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Since I had just spent way too long sitting on the train I opted to walk to my hostel (D-Well Hostel) located abut a 20 minute walk from the train station. I was greeted by extremely friendly and helpful staff upon my arrival there, the rooms and the facility were all very clean as well. It was a great location near the night bizarre, though as I did some research I found the hostel was a bit pricier than some locations I later moved to during my stay. Yes, I stayed at several different hostels while in one city. Chiang Mai is a fantastic city with very friendly people everywhere you go, I far preferred it to Bangkok and the temperatures are a bit more tolerable as well. I also found the city to be extremely clean everywhere you went as well which was a very welcome change from Bangkok. The other two hostels I stayed at during my time in Chiang Mai include City Capsule and Deejai Backpackers, which are both located quite close to each other actually. If you are looking to meet new people regularly and don't mind some late night party noise you definitely want to head to Deejai. They have also recently opened a bar and pool area (Deejai Gardens) a few minutes down the road from the hostel which hosts regular weekend parties, and has a killer (and quite well priced) kitchen serving up amazing food day and night. Access to the pool is free for registered guests, but even if you are not staying at Deejai and perhaps some of your friends are or you simply want to hit up a pool, you can pay 80 baht (I think) for the day when you arrive. City Capsule is kind of the polar opposite of Deejai, you will not likely not meet any new people there as the isn't really much of a common area, but you will have a fantastic nights sleep which is always nice to have from time to time. Each dorm room at City Capsule features A/C (or AirCon as everyone else outside of North America seems to call it) as well as a small personal fan in each bed area. One truly endearing feature of City Capsule is the owner, whom Chris early on dubbed as Mr. Miyagi, cause he really did have a resemblance. I ended up having several chats with Mr. Miyagi during my time in Chiang Mai and can honestly say I have never encountered someone so genuine and willing to help in any way possible. From his ability to obtain deep discounts on treks and tours, to his area restaurant recommendations, he hit the nail on the head every single time and was extremely happy to do so. To this date he remains to be the most honest, humble and helpful person I have met on this trip (I am actually now writing this about 3 weeks after my time in Chiang Mai).
At one point during my time in Chiang Mai I spent a half day with elephants out in the mountain jungle. What a great experience that was! The company/tour we used was called Happy Elephant Home. They specially cater their tour around feeding, bathing and interacting with the elephants without the touristy exploitation or riding of them. On some of the rescue elephants they had in their care you could actually see the scarring on the back of the animal where the "riding cage/seat" was mounted previously, it looked quite painful actually. I really enjoyed the day trip and highly recommend anyone interested in interacting with these beautiful animals look into a day trip like this. At one point our tour guide had me knocking whole papaya's out of a nearby tree using a pool skimmer. We then proceeded to feed the fruit by hand to the elephants, it's really quite something to see how fast these animals throw back a whole fruit and immediately reach back for another one.
The weekly Sunday Market (walking street) is something you will likely hear about in Chiang Mai, and it is definitely something to be seen. It is located right in the middle of the Old City area on Rachadamnoen Road. It is far different than the Night Bizarre you may also hear about since the Sunday Market features far more locals showcasing their own handmade arts, crafts, clothing, musicians, food and just about anything else you an think of rather than just knock off clothing and purses. If you could do one shopping trip before heading home I would try to make it at this place, in fact I will try and do just that before I fly back home to Canada in the new year. I actually ended up walking through this market on 2 separate occasions since I spent about a week in Pai and returned to Chiang Mai a second time. Even after two separate ventures through the street market I didn't come close to seeing all of the vendors there as there are so many side streets that branch off of the main road filled with goods.
All in all I really enjoyed the city of Chiang Mai. The people, the energy and vibe, it was exactly what I was hoping to experience from what I had heard from other travellers.