Arriving at Chiang Mai train station we all stuck together and were greeted with a colourful bus which was ours for the next 3 days and we were also introduced to our local guide. With Contiki throughout Asia you've your own personal guide for each specific place which is wonderful. Each and everyone of the guides were so informative and friendly and would answer any question you had! We boarded the bus and drove 15 minutes or so to the Hotel. This hotel was by far the nicest hotel. We weren't able to check in as it was early and our rooms weren't ready yet, but we dropped off our luggage and headed to breakfast. This breakfast was by far the best- Hello Waffles? After eating our bodyweight in Waffles, we all relaxed for an hour and around 11am we were on our way to our second temple of the trip, Doi Suthep.
Doi Suthep is located 15km outside Chiang Mai. The Pagoda's are located up 309 steps and I promise you it's worth it. It wasn't too difficult and thankfully it wasn't too hot for us all! It definitely didn't disappoint, it was stunningly beautiful and we got the chance to be blessed by monks which was a lovely experience. We also had a chance to learn about the Chinese Zodiac and find out which ones we were. Mine was the year of the Snake -1989, something I'm not too fond about, but as a friend told me a lot of the great's are Year of the Snake, so here's hoping! We spent around an hour and a half here and it was the perfect amount. The majority of us got blessed by monks and we all got our Chinese Zodiac in that time too as well as having many a photo opportunity.
After the Doi Suthep we had an optional that Contiki don't endorse and I now know why. The Tiger Kingdom. The majority of the group went, myself included. I'm not saying I wasn't aware of the fact the Tiger's aren't treated as fairly as they should, but I went along anyway and along with the Ping Pong show is one of my only regret's of the trip. For around 1,000 baht(€29 Euro) you can take photo's of Tigers ranging from baby cubs to adults. They are very much on drugs, and where the tiger keepers(is that what they're called?) weren't obviously cruel towards the animals but you still feel uneasy. On the way out I saw four grown tigers kept in a cage, no bigger than a Box room and my heart just sank, It's something that doesn't resonate well with me that I went, but I did and I can't turn back time. The only thing I can do is try and warn others about it and discourage people from going. Anyway, after the hour drive back to the Hotel after a quick shower and change we were on our way to do one of the Optional Extra's which was a Thai cooking class, which was so much fun and probably one of my favourite Optional Extra's. We set off to the local food market first to learn about all the different ingredients.
After the market we hopped into two separate vans and made our way to the Cooking School, which was a little bit outside of Chiang Mai. The cooking school was so popular it has recently been refurbished to cater for it's growing demand so we had a swanky new kitchen to work with, each having our own spacious work station. It was all outdoors which our Tour Manager had pre-warned us about so we all made sure to cover ourselves in insect repellent. Thanks for the heads up! We made four dishes, the first being Tom Yum soup which was absolutely delicious and so simply to make and really quick. After demolishing it down, we started making our main dishes. The second being a pumpkin curry which was different but tasted amazing! The third dish was chicken and cashew nuts which is what I'd usually order out if I was in an Asian restaurant and the fourth my all time favourite Asian dish being Pad Thai. Needless to say they all tasted delicious. We all ate all our dishes at the end together at a number of tables and bonded more over Thai food. For desert Mango and Sticky Rice was served up to us, and My God it tasted amazing. I'm not a huge fan of Mango back home in Ireland, but the Mango over there was so juicy and sweet. Definitely something I'm going to make for my friends and family.