We are just shy of two months into our around the world trip and have spent the past three weeks in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Sad to admit, but three weeks is the most time we’ve spent in one place away from home since graduating college thirteen years ago. Our time here would have burned our yearly vacation allowance in our previous jobs. That would be a painful pill to swallow given all the places in this world we want to visit.
If we had visited as tourists we would have allotted about three days of our precious travel itinerary in Thailand to breeze through this city in the North. As tourists we would have visited one of the elephant parks and Tiger Kingdom to get some animal selfies. We would have attended one of the many Thai cooking classes, maybe attended a Muay Thai fight and hiked the 309 steps to see Doi Suthep temple and then had a foot massage.
We thought about all of these, even intent on doing some, but as the days passed there was no strong desire to see or do any of these things. So now I humbly admit that we did none of these.
What did we do then? Why did we bother coming here? Can we really say we experienced Chiang Mai?
We came here to see why so many expats make this city their home away from home and we timed our visit around the biggest tourism event of the year, the Yee Ping festival.
Though my festival pictures fell short of the beauties I see on Pinterest, the experience will without a doubt be one of the best things we’ve done on our trip around the world. Read more about our festival experience here.
As for the expat draw, Chiang Mai is one of most popular cities in the world for digital nomads. Low cost of living, speedy internet, western amenities and a laid back small town feel are some of the many reasons people want to extend their stay. Before we arrived it was a city I knew little about but it was one that would keep coming up as I listened to podcasts and read through travel blogs. I knew I wanted to stay a little longer to see what all the fuss was about.
During our time in Chiang Mai we stayed in four different areas of the city: Old City, and just outside of the moat in Chang Puak, Night Bazaar and Chang Klan. We visited the hip University area called Nimmanhaemin (Nimman for short) a few times. We would have spent some nights there if we had motor bikes but we opted to walk everywhere which logged about six to seven miles a day on my Fitbit. It’s nice to be active again, especially when working out doesn’t mean waking up at dawn to go to the gym.
We went to the weekend night markets, spent a day at the park, shamefully finished in last place at trivia night and wasted away the afternoon in front of the computer booking flights at a café. We visited Art in Paradise and amused ourselves taking pictures with 3D artwork. We also did things we’d do back home like going to the doctor and dentist, doing laundry, getting a pedicure and going to the hair salon. We stopped in no less than a dozen different 7-Elevens which was a close to a daily routine as we had.
-A fancy snow globe at the Art in Paradise-
We tried a lot of restaurants, some multiple times like our favorite breakfast places, The Hideout and Bear Hug Café. I sampled Khao Soi, a Northern Thai specialty, at about six different restaurants. My favorite was the first place I had it, Bamboo Bee Vegetarian Restaurant. Chris found some minced pork steamed buns that might be in his dreams for years to come at a 24 hour place that served Thai and Chinese foods. We also tried a few unimpressive tea houses.
We did not hit the bar scene but shared some beers with some locals and fellow travelers at a weekly Couchsurfing meetup at Bus Bar. How cool to have a seat at a table with over twenty people from all over the world including someone from the coldest spot on earth, Yakutsk, Russia.
We also attended a free happy hour sponsored by Fiverr, a website where budding entrepreneurs post work they will do for $5 and up. Jobs range from illustrations and copywriting, to writing messages in the sand and doing voice impersonations. The happy hour was held in Punspace which is one of the co-working spaces. It was like entering a dream world, no bosses, no hours and a fridge stocked with beer in a room full of people with an array of different talents. We left with a t-shirt, tote bag and new life goals.
-Party hosted by Fiverr at Punspace…free beer, food and laughs-
So that was our Chiang Mai experience. Nothing glamorous or noteworthy, for the first time ever we opted to just experience the city as though we lived there. Food was great, people were nice and we felt safe. Maybe one day if we are fortunate enough we will return for another Yee Ping and recount the three weeks we called this city home.
As I write this we are on a bus weaving our way through the mountains to Chiang Rai, Thailand. Kid Rock is singing Roll On in my ears and roll on we will. From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and countless places thereafter. Whether we stay for a night or stay for three weeks the journey continues.