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Lights, cameras, action in Chiang Mai

Choice locations in this city in northern Thailand could bring to life that movie in mind

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CHIANG MAI, Thailand — In the ’80s, A-ha had a minor hit in “The Sun Always Shines On T.V.” Eclipsed by its predecessor, the group’s signature song “Take On Me,” the former wasn’t played as widely as the latter though it was as good; perhaps even better with its soaring orchestral parts, epic structure and powerful singing matched by a full choir in bit parts of the chorus and coda.

Chiang Mai

More than 30 years later, it’s that song that kept playing in my head when we toured this city. Upon the invitation of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) that flew us there via Philippine Airlines and Bangkok Airways, we went to see why it’s the second most visited city by tourists after the capital, Bangkok — and why it’s been choice of location for some scenes from Hollywood movies “Rambo” (starring Sylvester Stallone), “American Gangster” (Denzel Washington), “Into The Sun” (Steven Segal), “Beyond Borders” (Angelina Jolie), and “No Escape” (Pierce Brosnan).

More than 30 years later, it’s that song that kept playing in my head when we toured this city. Upon the invitation of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) that flew us there via Philippine Airlines and Bangkok Airways, we went to see why it’s the second most visited city by tourists after the capital, Bangkok — and why it’s been choice of location for some scenes from Hollywood movies “Rambo” (starring Sylvester Stallone), “American Gangster” (Denzel Washington), “Into The Sun” (Steven Segal), “Beyond Borders” (Angelina Jolie), and “No Escape” (Pierce Brosnan).

The month we visited (May 2019), we heard this rumor that Spike Lee had just wrapped up shoot in Chiang Mai (of course, these things are always hush hush affair but it’s likely true as The Gate Theater posted an audition call in Chiang Mai for a Spike Lee movie last February on its Facebook page).

But back to the song, one can’t help but feel as if you’re on cloud nine, high on sunshine when you’re in Chiang Mai. The slower pace of living, the absence of traffic jams, the friendly people, the breathtaking tourist attractions…it’s as if you’re living out a movie with stellar production value. It was summer when we came to Chiang Mai so the sun was up every single day, allowing us to take great photos and pushing us to go from one place to another as there was no danger of travel plans getting rained out.

Here are some of the places we saw that could interest movie producers to shoot there or at least have tourist pleased for being Instagrammable:

Wat Sri Suphan
Also known as the Silver Temple, it is completely covered in silver from the walls and the roof to the Buddha statues and carvings. We saw the temple in late afternoon but we think that if seen in the morning or midday, the reflection of the sun on silver and mirror would be almost blinding!

Wat Sri Suphan

Due to old Buddhist rules, women are not allowed to enter the inside of the temple. Well, the ladies can still enjoy the visit as the area around Wat Sri Suphan has lots of silver studios with real artists at work. One can even commission works of silvers from them.

Home Cook Program
We spent four hours at the home of a family in Hang Dong district. They showed us how to cook several Thai dishes (e.g. Pad Thai) from scratch, including grinding the spices ourselves and picking the herbs that went into the food from their garden.

Home Cook Program

We were also told about some of the superstitious beliefs of Thai people concerning houses, the equivalent of Feng Shui of the Chinese. We were made to chew betel nut with leaves then we cunningly spat these out into a bowl. It was fun!

Patara Elephant Farm Clinic
Many who dream of visiting Thailand, also include in their bucket list the chance to feed or maybe even ride an elephant there. We did both and even bathed the elephants in the river. More, we were blessed to spend time with a baby elephant that’s just a few days old.

Patara Elephant Farm Clinic

Before all of those, though, we heard a talk from the owner of the clinic on how to behave around elephants, how to understand and respect them, and how different they treat the elephants from other farms. Apparently, some people just “use” the elephants to get donations. Not good.

Chiang Mai Night Safari
Modeled after the Singapore Night Safari, this one has three animal zones (Savanna Safari, Predator Prowl, Jaguar Trail) set around a lake. Visitors ride open-sided tram at night or explore on foot by day, if they wish. What to do? Feed some wild animals by hand, take a selfie with a giraffe or a zebra with faces side by side, hoot back at exotic birds.

Chiang Mai Night Safari

Other animals we saw that night were flamingos, pumas, wallabies, lamas, jaguars, so many more. There’s also a laser light show and a “dancing” fountain. The action starts at 6 p.m.

Karen Long Neck Village
Women and even young girls walking around with brass rings around their necks? You’ve arrived here.

Karen Long Neck Village

Ah, but we went not to gawk at them, but to learn about their traditions firtshand. They are a tribal group that has historically lived in the hills, in the Myanmar side of the Thai border. They also wear the brass rings around their forearms and shins.

In an interview, members of the tribe told us that the more brass rings, the more beautiful a female is deemed.

Elephant PooPooPaper Park
A verse from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible has got it right: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

Elephant PooPooPaper Park

And so we got this time to regard, er, “poopoo” in a different light.

On the website, the Elephant PooPooPaper Park is described as “an eco-friendly, naturally built, outdoor museum park that introduces and explains the unique steps involved in making our much talked about paper products from elephant poop fibers.” Pretty straightforward, huh?

And that’s exactly the tour you get here. There are pavilions explaining each stage of the process, from collection of the fecal matter to final product assembly. You can also channel the artisan in you by designing your own fan and book marker using poo poo paper (don’t worry, elephant poo poo doesn’t smell at all). (Photos by Jojo Panaligan)

Special thanks go to Kajorndet Apichartrakul and Len Rivera of TAT, Joana Marie Santos of Philippine Airlines, and Selina Paguirigan of Bangkok Airways. The tour was made more enjoyable in the company of Jocelyn Castro, Michelle Lamotan, Jonathan Sta.Maria, Dorothy Aytona, Marcelo Santos III, Bernadette Palacios, Christian Garrido, Jane Marie Jaspe, Dr.Maria Amihan Panes, Lorna Longno, Alberto Reyes Jr., Cherylle Ann Lim Dela Cruz, Leah Meneses, Juman Prk, Kimmy Descalso, Johansel Aguilar, Jessa Aperajado, and Wipaporn Waleesajjakarn.

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