After an incredible six months of adventure and thrills in Chiang Mai, we left Thailand three weeks ago to extend our Southeast Asia adventure.
At the time, it felt like my favorite teddy bear had been stolen from me in the middle of the night. I unexpectedly fell in love with Chiang Mai in a really short time span, and it felt like I had to abruptly leave and move on with my life. I even delayed writing this blog post because I kept telling myself that maybe I’ll be back sooner than I thought.
Though we always had plans to leave and explore other parts of the world, it didn’t feel real until we packed up our one-bedroom condo and handed over the keys to our scooter. I spent my last evening in Chiang Mai much like I did my first: peeking out of the windows of the red bus, bracing onto my bulky luggage so it wouldn’t slide out and wiping the tears streaming silently down my face.
Though this magical place had me so moved and inspired, it didn’t fail to upset me at times with minor annoyances and inconveniences of living as an expat in Chiang Mai. And with that said, I wanted to wrap up my experiences and lessons learned with the following things I miss about Chiang Mai (and the things I won’t miss!):
What I miss about living in Chiang Mai
Many people view food as a necessity, or sometimes even a treasured delicacy. My perspective of food is that it’s a full-on sensory experience that should be appreciated and enjoyed. Thai food rarely disappoints when it comes to heightening your faculties, elevating your taste buds and (on the downside) giving your stomach a roller coaster ride. With cultural influences from nearby countries like Burma and Laos, you can expect each dish to be satisfying, fresh and full of flavor and rarely did I eat something that contradicted these characteristics.
my stomach I became tired of consuming and processing Thai food and wanted something that reminded me of home, I could eat at Butter is Better, an American-style 1950s diner that made fluffy buttermilk blueberry pancakes or grab sushi rolls at one of my favorite Japanese restaurants, Musashi. Looking back, I took Chiang Mai’s food scene and its diversity, accessibility, cost and familiarity for granted.
When I lived in Atlanta, I regarded massages as a special yet forbidden treat, something that I could only enjoy if my disposable income allowed it, and something we gave up when we started saving for our trip abroad. But Thailand reinvigorated my love for massages. I relished in getting massages for anywhere from $3-$10 USD. As the Thai masseuse performed a foot massage, I could literally feel my organs jolting into action, as though they were waking from being in a “computer sleep mode” state. They were relaxing and healing, and simply a part of life in this country. Since leaving Thailand, I’ve noticed that the massage scene isn’t as ubiquitous in places like Laos and Vietnam.
Accessibility to Wifi
For six months, we didn’t have to purchase a SIM card because we had internet access everywhere. Now, I know Chiang Mai has been touted as a great place for digital nomads to be because of this, but it was more than just a business need for us. A steady wi-fi connection allowed us to talk with our family and friends back home, communicate with each other if we separated at any point during the day and get news updates from home (that wasn’t from FOX News or Al Jazeera). That was invaluable for us.
The familiarity of it all
I loved the feeling of visiting my “chicken spot” for lunch and having one of the girls who worked there frequently ask us for help with her English homework. It was comforting for me to grab my chicken fried rice for breakfast at a stall down the street from where I lived, ran by a family who began to know that specific order very well. It was remarkable that Ms. Pa at the Chiang Mai South Gate always remembered my order even though she receives hundreds of visitors a day. These rituals and habits kept me grounded and helped me quickly acclimate to the city.
Our fellow expat friends
The friendships that Corey and I developed with a few other expats also contributed to our special time in Chiang Mai. It was refreshing to have friends that we could rely on, trust and hang out with, and we loved being able to introduce them to our family who visited us in Chiang Mai. What’s unique about our bonds with these special people is that they transcend distance, and we know we’ll hang out with them and connect with them long after our time in this city.
The Sabai Sabai culture
The easygoing and laid back pace of Thailand, particularly Chiang Mai, is what drew me in and made me fall in love. My constant worrying and over-thinking dissipated as during our time in Chiang Mai because life felt so simple there. It’s hard to explain it, but normal issues that would escalate into huge problems back home in the States never actually amounted to anything. Chiang Mai taught me how to slow down and take it easy, and it did wonders for my weary soul that was always looking for the next milestone to conquer and the next event to go to.
What I don’t miss about Chiang Mai
Lack of public transportation
True story: The old adage that people say (“It’s like riding a bike”) is not true. You can learn how to ride a bike and then completely forget. I am living proof of that, ahem. Moving on, even though I was near all of the action near Nimman Rd (a hipster part of town), I always had to walk to places or take a small red bus (aka songthaew) if Corey wasn’t able to drive me somewhere on the scooter. This method proved to be very difficult at times, because the drivers of said red buses can deny you a ride, and there isn’t an actual public transportation system. So I had to haul ass when I least expected it (and on the hottest days ever!), making me late for events, dog tired or just flat-out frustrated with getting around the city.
Luckily, this never happened when our family came to visit us, as we were able to successfully grab a red bus throughout our time in Chiang Mai. But it was definitely an inconvenience when I was by myself and needed a ride.
There are a lot of disrespectful tourists who frequent Chiang Mai, not only those who inconvenience and take advantage of Thais but also just stomp around the city like they own the place. They were impatient, rude and more frequent than you would think. They left a bad taste in my mouth, and I know they did to the Thais, as it was evident by their unsolicited complaints and jokes about said tourists.
Haggling and dealing with tourist inconveniences
If it’s not obvious to you yet, we’re Black, and though it has never been a problem per se in Thailand for us, we are clearly foreigners. Foreigners automatically are treated differently here, and it’s something you have to live with. Corey has gotten tickets on the scooter, simply because it’s easy to spot that he’s not from here. I’ve had to haggle outrageous transportation costs even though Thais would never have to deal with this. One tip I’d recommend for people visiting who are foreigners include learning some Thai so you can negotiate red bus transportation prices (“yi sip baht” for 20 baht, “sam sip” for 30 baht and “see sip” for 40 baht). Another tip I’d say is to haggle everything you can except for things that have displayed prices on them and food.
What do you think you would miss about your city if you left today?