Two weeks after my journey over the Pacific, I’m still in love with Thailand. It’s a grinning clamor, beautifully cacophonous, taped-together wobbling tuk-tuk of good vibes. The closest thing to a teetering magical shanty built from a giant boot. Alright, enough with these up-their-own-ass metaphors. Let’s take a step back.
Chiang Mai is a northern city, which you’ll be told is quite cool by any Bangkok residents, especially in the colder season we’re entering now. Each morning begins with a crisp temperature in the high-20s (that’s 80-ish for Fahrenheit enthusiasts) before slowly escalating to water-boiling levels. Bring a jacket, it’s winter in the north!
I usually start my work in the apartment for the duration of the cool morning (while lazily eating a non-fat Greek yogurt bought from the corner 7-11 — I know it’s so foreign)! We have a fourth floor flat in the Nimman district, about a mile from the touristy Old City. The neighbourhood’s a good mix of locals and foreigners, with a healthy number of eateries and watering holes, and a good smattering of those hipster coffee shops that are the new rage here. How does one procure such an ideal apartment, with reasonable rent, down a quiet street in a popular district? Walking from complex to complex asking for monthly rooms to let. Yep, that’s really it. To any San Franciscan, this screams weeks of agony, and even then a lottery for something good, but in Chiang Mai, we had a handful of great options in one day of searching. Straight-forward, hassle free, good living.
Time for lunch? Strolling down from the apartment for a midday meal, a good rule is to walk past the air-conditioned restaurants for now — those are for later, I want something spicy, fast, and delicious to fill my belly. Stands just down the street that sell coconut curry, pad thai, and blood sausage? Yes, yes, and yes. It’s hard to argue that California refined my palette — a good paying job in a foodie city makes the Kraft Dinner college years seem desperate (but I would still eat Kraft Dinner, just with fancy ketchups). So while I appreciate North American fast-food as a late-night drunk guilty pleasure (Mel’s waves hello) from both a taste and health perspective, I’d never eat that crap more than monthly. Which is all the more reason to awe at Thai food stands. These chef cowboys sling meals faster than you could say quarter pounder, with steaming broths or glazes to melt your tastebuds, and enough greens to satisfy Pop-Eye. Oh, did I mention cheap? At just over a buck per plate, my entire concept of economics is shattered. How is food this good and healthy twenty times more expensive back home? Am I missing something here?
All that to say I’m pretty full and happy walking to a post-lunch coffee. And it seems the food’s satisfying qualities aren’t lost on the regular public. Everyone I see on the street meets my gaze with a smile and sometimes a wave. Am I crazy? I thought Canada was the peak of geniality. But everyone here is so chipper! It’s hard not to grin at the sun as your walk turns to saunter.
Coffeeshops are where the afternoon work begins. I usually spend three to four hours sipping slowly on an iced coffee, typing on my laptop, humming with the modern muzak. An entire afternoon sounds like a long time, but these coffeeshops are as much work-stations as cafés. I’ve flirted with a few different locations, but they all have good work chairs, solid WiFi, cool A/C, and an abundance of foreign and local twenty-somethings trying to compete in the internet-age from the keys of their Macbook (hey, me too!). The one mistake I’d made when picking the apartment is assuming I’d spend most of my work-day there. Sure, it’s nice to have a bigger space with a couch, but considering a coffee is only two to three dollars, working in the city is actually more economical than running the air conditioning back home.
After a good six-to-seven hour work day (I genuinely think Sweden’s onto something) I’ll stroll back home for a workout at our apartment gym and then hit the town for an evening meal. But let’s leave evenings and weekends out of this already lengthy post — just know that the entertainment options are wonderful and equally prudent.
Look, I know packing up and wandering isn’t for everyone. I appreciate the privileges necessary to affordably do this, even in an economical setting like Thailand — kids, mortgages, and various careers can all limit the feasibility of similar ventures. And conveniences from back home are still missing here (no Netflix!). Still, there are many friends who I know are in similar positions — smart youths with a sense of adventure and the ability to work with nothing but a laptop. Many have already asked if I think this trip is worth it so far. It is. Times a thousand. If you have any inkling, urge, or drive to pick up and go, even if it’s just for a short while, and you have the means to do it, I cannot recommend it enough. It’s been just two weeks, but I can already see how this trip has changed my shape. And it will continue to reshape me in the year to come.
Background image at Warorot Market by Amanda Gansfield