The Elephant Experience – Go Banana’s
Chiang Mai, the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand and situated amongst the highest mountains in the country, is a great mix of rich Lanna culture, savory foods, relaxed lifestyle, a cooler climate and fantastic golf. We have taken you the beaches of Hua Hin and Pattaya, and the bustling metropolis of Bangkok, it was the perfect time to take a get away into this exciting part of Thailand.
More on Bangkok later, as when visiting Thailand, a stop in the #1 most visited city in the world, BANGKOK is a must.
Arriving in Chiang Mai, golfers are spoiled with a wide variety of accommodation options to choose from. Be it 3-star comfort, to 5-star luxury, there is something for everyone. The main area of Chang Klan Rd is a vibrant section of town, home to recommended hotels such as the brand new 5* Intercontinental Chiang Mai Mae Ping Hotel, or the 4* Movenpick Suriwongse Chiang Mai, to even the 3* Duangtawan Hotel Chiang Mai. Golfers cannot go wrong by picking any of these options, and will be just steps from a bustling market, excellent local and international dining options, as well as a few bars to soak up the local beverages.
Let’s be honest – we’re not going to be up in Chiang Mai to spend much time in the hotel, where there is a wealth of activities to do and golf to play.
One of the first stops in my trip to Chiang Mai was to the Tiger Kingdom. This experience allows people to get up close and personal with these majestic animals, and learn how they are being taken care of and rehabilitated. This includes getting accustomed to their natural habitat and the issues they face when in the wild. The Tiger experience is a more commercialized experience than some of the other animal interaction experiences in Chiang Mai. OMG we were in very large cages sitting and playing with big cats. Admittedly I was a little nervous at first but it was very much an experience of a lifetime. Where else can you hold the tail of a tiger?
Another must-do for golfers when on a non- golf day is a trip up the Doi Suthep mountain to the famous temple that overlooks the city, and a trip further into the jungle to meet an authentic Karen Long Neck Tribe.
The Doi Suthep temple, rising 1,073 meters above the city, is a sacred temple for the Thai Buddhist population and is home to a shoulder bone relic of Buddha. Buddhists regularly come here to pray and to ask for something good to come to them in their life. Additionally, once that good thing is realized, they will come back and pray and provide a gift which was promised to the Buddha during the original prayer. The views over Chiang Mai from the temple are spectacular, and it gave me a true sense of the size and beauty of Chiang Mai.
Into the jungle we go, an experience unto itself, visiting an authentic Karen Long Neck Tribe’s village. This was a fantastic experience where we got to interact with this unique tribe and see how they live their daily lives, and the handmade crafts such as brooms and wicker baskets that they make in order to sell on and support their day-to-day lives.
What makes this tribe the most interesting and unique are the brass coils that the women of the tribe place around their necks. The tradition starts when they are approximately 5 years old and once the ring goes on their neck, it doesn’t come off. The brass rings are replaced as the girls get older. In actual fact, the brass rings do not extend the neck, rather push down the collarbone to give the look of an extended neck. It is definitely a sight to behold and is something that is only common in the northern part of Thailand and into Myanmar.
There are many more spots to visit such as the temple walking tour around the Chiang Mai Old Town or the Bor Sang Umbrella Village, but a visit to Chiang Mai is just not complete without a visit to an Elephant sanctuary. The Elephant is Thailand’s national animal, and has a steep history in helping shape the kingdom as it is today. Used by kings down to soldiers, the Elephant was used in wars, infrastructure development and farming amongst others. So, it’s only fitting to learn how these Thai icons are taken care of, how they live their lives in their vast expanses, and the little things that make them tick! I was lucky enough to experience this while in Chiang Mai, being able to bathe an Elephant in the river and feel the pure power the Elephant has, along with crating it’s meals, and of course getting to feed them some Bananas which I can tell you from experience, is definitely their favorite!
….. And Now to The Golf
First off, when you think of Thai golf you generally think of playing in the heat. Being in the mountains gives you more moderate temperatures. Secondly, another iconic Thai tradition is having the company of a female caddy – she will be very knowledgeable and helpful to your round!
We played 4 of the 9 top courses in the area, in my humble opinion Chiang Mai Highlands Golf & Spa Resort was the champion of the group. Warm greeting to a cozy and comfortable clubhouse. Even playing in what was considered a drought the course was is superb condition and no doubt one of the reasons that it is always highly ranked in the country.
You can go back to about 7,200 yards if you dare but with water on at least 11 holes and more sand than Lawrence of Arabia had in his boots – why would you want too? Play the right tees and you will enjoy these rolling fairways right up to the uphill challenge of the 558-yard par 5, 18th taking you back to the clubhouse. This is a great collection of par 3’s. With 27 holes here, it’s even possible to get 2 rounds in here on a trip while still getting some excitement of new holes and new challenges.
Alpine Golf Resort, designed by my old friend Ron Garl, might be considered a little more robust a test than most. The tips will take you back to 7,500 yards and there is water on just about every hole. The 11th, par 4 is a muscular 485 yards and save yourself for an Amen Corner style 14 – 16th holes. With the addition of 9 more holes, bringing the total number to 27, 2 rounds here on a trip is definitely something to consider.
You know when there is one course in a destination that you just don’t forget? Gassan Khuntan Golf Resort might just be that one that leaves a lasting impression. Intimidation might be the word we are looking for. Set next to the Khuntan National Park, this course is widely known as one of the more difficult golf courses in Thailand. Bring your camera for this round, as the lush vegetation and vistas over the tree-covered hills make it one of the more picturesque courses in the north. From island greens to holes with wide panoramic views, there is never a boring moment at Gassan Khuntan. Another 27-hole complex with the 9 holes that were added in 2018, playing through the State Railway of Thailand tracks, includes the iconic white bridge over which the trains still rumble today!
Of course, no visit to Thailand would be complete without a short stay in Bangkok. After 2 weeks being immersed in Thai culture and cuisine spent some time in the capital and main arrival/departure port for the Kingdom. Whether continuing on to one of the beach golf destinations of Phuket, Pattaya or Hua Hin, or winding down your trip before heading home, a stop for a couple of nights in Bangkok is a must – especially when considering some of the fantastic Michelin restaurants and Michelin dishes that one can take in while in the city. We will focus here next time around.
If you have never been to Thailand, you don’t know what you’re missing. My friends. AJ & Ian from Asia Golf Experiences can help you out with planning an unforgettable Thailand golf holiday. www.asiagolfexpeirences.com
For more information on Thailand, visit www.ThailandInsider.com.