Lessons I’ve Learned in Chiang Mai

Moving out of the country you call home and essentially becoming an immigrant in a foreign land is as daunting of a task as it sounds. The quicker you get past the culture shock and come to terms with the fact that you will not be able to understand 95 percent of the people you encounter on a daily basis, the better off you’ll be.

Sunday walking market - Chiang Mai - Lessons I've Learned in Chiang Mai - A Taste of Our City

I think because I’m open to learning from new experiences, it’s helping me to adjust. Though I researched as much as I could before the move about Thailand through blogs and TripAdvisor reviews, there were a few things I didn’t know that I have experienced already in such a short time.

Here’s a short list of the lessons I’ve learned in Chiang Mai:

1. We can survive on about $25 USD per day.

Currently, the exchange rate is about 33 Baht to 1 USD. We have a very nice condo on an ideal side of town, and three months rent came out to a little over $1,000 USD. A meal for two comes out to maybe $5 USD. You can buy three 1-liter bottles of water for less than $1. Long story short, the dollar’s spending power here in Thailand is almost unbelievable. If you budget well, you can eat great food, travel, and enjoy recreational activities without putting a major dent in your wallet. If your goal is to stay here for awhile and still have money left when you leave, then frugality is definitely the way to go.

2. The food here is crazy good and cheap.

Thai food in guesthouse - Lessons I've Learned in Chiang Mai - A Taste of Our City

One of the main methods of eating here is grabbing something from the ubiquitous food stalls around the city. This is because many houses and apartments don’t even have kitchens (also because the apartments tend to be so small that an oven would bring an unbearable amount of heat inside). Once you get away from the inflated food prices in the tourist areas, it’s not uncommon to grab a meal cooked right in front of you for about $1 USD. Go to one of the many markets where the food stalls gather (think food truck park but without the trucks), and for about $2.50 USD you can have a taste of a few different types of cuisine that will leave you satiated and happy. Some of the best food stalls we’ve encountered have been just outside the North Gate of the Old City, and on Suthep Road right next to Chiang Mai University.

3. The swagger here is on a hundred thousand trillion.

First and foremost, shout out to those that caught that Kanye West reference. But seriously, Thai people take a lot of pride in their appearance. They are dressed up in their best H&M attire no matter what time of day or how hot it is. I have a friend who thought when I moved to Thailand that I would be giving up my lifestyle for loin cloths and mud huts. That is the opposite of true. I may actually be the worst dressed person in the city, as my wardrobe hasn’t been updated since the Falcons last won a Superbowl.

4. Driving here is a game of inches.

Corey on a scooter in Chiang Mai - Lessons I've Learned in Chiang Mai - A Taste of Our City

One way to get around town is by driving a moped, as they seemingly outnumber the cars, tuk-tuks, and songthaews on the roads. Driving in these Chiang Mai streets is not for the nervous or queasy as you will almost die as your driving skills will be tested every time you pull out onto the road. Traffic lights and traffic laws are seen as suggestions. Do the cars here come equipped with turn signals? I’m not sure because they aren’t used much. Maintaining your lane is apparently strictly forbidden not a common occurrence. Combine that with getting used to riding on the opposite side of the street and you have a recipe for an always interesting commute (and the occasional yelp of terror from the misses as her leg almost gets side-swiped by a passing vehicle). Your life will flash before your eyes but with a little practice you should get the hang of it. Or just hail a songthaew, because they are cheap.

These are just a few of the gems I’ve picked up from being here so far. I plan on sharing future lessons with you as we continue on this adventure in Chiang Mai.

Does this match up with what you thought of Thailand or have you learned something new?

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  1. I’m actually surprised by the baht to dollar ratio. I knew it was low but your comparison really put it into perspective. I didn’t expect for everyone to have swagger. I grinned at the Yeezus reference! Good read.

  2. I knew Thailand was relatively inexpensive, but had no idea it was THAT inexpensive. I can only dream of living off $25 a day and paying rent that low.

  3. Desiree and Richard Fulton sent me here, as my wife and I are looking at making an almost identical switch in a year or two (ATL to SE Asia).

    It’s awesome to hear that you’re on a bike. Did you ride in Atlanta, or is this a completely new thing for you? I ride to work every day, and I really hope to be in a place where lane splitting isn’t frowned upon one day.

    • Erica and Coredelle says:

      Hi Caleb – Thanks for checking out our blog; Desiree and Richard are great people and awesome friends to have. Before coming here, I’d only rode a moped once the Caribbean. My lack of experience has resulted in a couple of incidents that are to be expected with a novice riding in such a fast-paced driving culture. Your experience will serve you well. If lane splitting is your thing then you will feel at home, as it seems that is the only way to drive around here. Be sure to let us know of any other questions you have!


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