We find the title of this post very fitting as we literally found ourselves “lost” in this new world. As mentioned in our previous post here, we found ourselves enveloped in chaos our first night in Chiang Mai. It probably took a few weeks to really find comfort in our new surroundings.
Living in the largest city in Canada by population, we’re not new to big city life. We’ve read that Chiang Mai is Thailand’s 2nd largest city (some sources quote 5th and some 4th…who really knows???) with a population of nearly 2 million living within the city center and attracting over 1 million visitors a year. With such a large number of tourists as well as a big expat community, it definitely provided all the modern amenities which was one of our main requirements in researching places for our slow travels.
This Is Chiang Mai?
We quickly learned that the so called “modernism” of Chiang Mai did not have as significant a bearing on our comfort level in this new place we would temporarily call home. As soon as we stepped foot outside our apartment’s main door, we felt thrown into a foreign world trying to stand confidently on our own.
We’re sure that there are rules on the roads, but most drivers only use them as guidelines. There are scooters whizzing around and in between cars and pedestrians. Moreover, it’s not exactly a pedestrian friendly place as there may be NO sidewalks or if there are it’s probably obstructed with electrical wires dangling 4′ above the ground, or blocked by an abandoned moped or is missing a huge chunk of concrete.
I remember clearly, trying to cross the road and thinking “how the heck is this possible?” and holding onto Ernest’s hand like a 5 year old child. Luckily, we quickly found a guy (who we established was an expat) crossing at the same time and I instantly shouted out “how do we do this?” towards him. He smiled back at me and probably from the scared look on my face, assisted us with instructions as to how we would all successfully cross the disorderly road. He also reassured us that it’s overwhelming at first, but gets easier over time (he was right).
In that short time, I was able to strike up a conversation with him and found out that home is California for him and his love for CM brings him back on a regular basis. Hearing this put me at ease (kinda).
East Meets West
After 3 weeks of being here, I still have my days where I feel out of place. However, seeing the blend of east meets west culture; a blend of foreigners and locals soothes our minds. We are more confident that we now have a better grasp of how things work and may have finally found comfort with our new surroundings.
I think having a mix of the western foods/cafes has helped us become a little more content. Yes, we understand that we’re in an Asian country, but this gives us a little piece of ‘home’.
Also, one of the things we look forward to in a new place, is the food. We love Thai cuisine and when we were in Bangkok, the food blew our minds. Unfortunately, our opinions aren’t the same here. With the exception of Chiang Mai’s signature dish, Khao Soi, some of the popular Thai dishes such as papaya salad, pad thai, pad see ew, etc. just didn’t taste as good as the ones we had in Bangkok. Even the spice level was manageable for me, whereas in Bangkok after one bite my mouth was on fire. We found this in all our meals, even from the local places.
Thailand Known As The Land of Smiles
For the most part, the people are friendly in the sense that they’re nice, accommodating and welcoming. We’ve found that most places we go to, even the more “touristy” cafes/restaurants, the servers, with only a minor understanding of English, will smile, nod their heads and take what they believe is your order. Luckily Google translate came in handy quite a bit when we figured out the hard way that even with their smiles and affirmations, they more than likely did not understand the questions asked.
On another instance, while we were visiting a temple, a “friendly” man struck up a conversation with us. He informed us of some of the facts of the temple, asked us where we were from and how long we would be staying in Chiang Mai. Then he proceeded to tell us about the many temples that are worth visiting. He told us that while he worked for the temple we were currently at, he was also a private taxi driver who could take us to the surrounding temples. When we kindly declined (since I knew these temples were only meters away from one another) he became upset, threw his arms up and ignored us. Even after we thanked him, we would get no response back.
Chiang Mai In Our Eyes
As chaotic as the roads initially shocked us, Chiang Mai can be comfortable. It has a good blend of western restaurants and amenities. The technological infrastructure is also quite impressive with strong and reliable access to wifi wherever you may be (ie. cafes, hotels, restaurants, etc.). It even offers huge malls with North American branded stores such as American Eagle, Adidas and Nike, as well as British brands such as Top Shop, Zara and Marks & Spencer to name a few.
It is very budget friendly; if we ate locally, it would cost us approximately $2-3 CAD / $1-2 USD per plate/bowl. Even having a western meal, would cost no more than $10 CAD / $8 USD on average. Also, you can enjoy a night out at the movies (Cineplex theatre) for about $20-$25 CAD / $15-$19 USD per couple which includes tickets, popcorn and drinks. Accommodation is also quite inexpensive. We rented a one bedroom, fully furnished (bed, sofa, tv, kitchen table, chairs, cutlery, pots, plates), very modern and clean 35 sqm (approx. 400+ square feet) apartment with wifi and access to a gym and outdoor pool for $700 CAD / $530 USD per month (not including utilities such as electricity and water).
We can see why so many people choose Chiang Mai for their slow travels or as a place to retire. It’s a city that definitely has a whole lot to offer.
Have you visited Chiang Mai? What are your thoughts? What do you look for when choosing a destination for your travels?
Btw, if you’re wondering or interested in how we’re both able to travel full-time, check out Ernest’s blog at Steps To Early Retirement.
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