I thought I’d try something a little different. Rather than writing about a particular event or place we’ve gone, I’ll talk about a few different topics to give you some insight into what it’s like living and traveling here. So without further ado…a list of lists!
Top 5 Things I Love About Thailand
5) Driving. I love driving in Thailand. I’ve written about this a few different times, but it’s just so refreshing to drive in a country where everyone drives like the most important thing is everyone (not just themselves) getting to where they need to be safely. Having a moped is even more liberating. Stuck at a red light with nobody crossing? Go right ahead. Need to make a U-turn at that intersection that says “no U-turns”? The traffic cop waves you on. Want to weave between all of these stopped cars to get to the front of the line at the red light? Drive on the sidewalk if you need to. I’ve never once seen anyone pulled over or given a ticket, and I’ve never seen an accident on the road (though I’m sure they do happen).
4) Cheap everything. I honestly feel a little bad at how cheap everything is here. While imported goods such as electronics and gasoline are basically the same price as back home, everything else is incredibly cheap. Transportation, food, hotels, excursions, attractions, national parks – basically anything where labor is the main cost of providing the good is almost too cheap to be believed. It’s gotten to the point where if we go out for a meal and spend more than eight dollars, we consider it very expensive!
3) Not working. It’s not hard to see why so many Westerners move here to retire, or open a hotel/restaurant and give all of the work to locals as a sort of early retirement. Any Westerner with a decent amount of savings could easily live a simple life and retire very early in Southeast Asia. As for me – I was a little worried going into this trip that I would not have enough to do after more than six years of working forty hours a week. However, I haven’t felt stir crazy at all. Julia and I keep ourselves busy with our trips and roaming around town, and sometimes we’ll just have a lazy day without doing too much except relaxing by the pool. It’s going to be pretty tough to go back to the real world and have to actually work all the time.
2) The food. I already loved Thai food before coming here, and I heard from other people that traveled here that the food was good – and it certainly lived up to its reputation. Even besides all of the high quality local restaurants, and more expensive Western restaurants, the street food is sometimes the best food we have. Some dishes that are hard to find back home are definitely going to be part of our recipe book!
1) The friendly people. I feel like we’ve said this a lot on this blog already, but the locals just about everywhere in SEA are the warmest, friendliest, most hospitable people on the planet. I don’t know what it is about society in this region that causes this behavior, but I wish it could be reproduced everywhere. Even in the Pacific Northwest, where we have a reputation for being very friendly people, it’s not quite the same. Sure, you see your fair share of rude people – but we just get the feeling that the Thai people are so genuinely concerned for the well-being of others, helpful almost to a fault. Thailand is sometimes referred to as the “Land of Smiles”, and we have certainly learned why.
Top 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Travelling Here
5) I brought too much stuff. I thought I was packing very light when I fit everything I wanted to bring into one backpack and one carry-on sized rolling suitcase (with maybe a little bit of my stuff spilling into Julia’s large suitcase). Looking back on it, there are so many things I’ve brought that I haven’t used, or have only used once. The main problem is that I brought way too many clothes. I brought maybe eight running shirts and four pairs of athletic shorts – easily twice as much as I need. I brought three pairs of hiking shorts and two pairs of pants (though in my defense, one of the pairs of pants can be converted into shorts). This doesn’t really matter too much – since we have our condo in Chiang Mai, it’s not like I’m taking all of this extra stuff everywhere, and we’ll probably buy an extra suitcase to ship the souvenirs we’ve bought home, anyway.
4) The weather makes this not a great time of year to visit. This one couldn’t really be helped, since we planned this trip around my job ending in December. January and the first half of February were actually very nice – it never got too hot during the day, and it was still comfortable to walk around at night with a light jacket (It was funny seeing the receptionist at our condo working in a hooded parka when it was 85 degrees outside). In fact, for a few days in late January, it was unseasonably cold and rainy – in the mid 50s – the coldest it’s been in Chiang Mai for over ten years. However, the weather is now 100 degrees or more every day, making it uncomfortable to walk outside after about 9am or before 8pm. Thankfully, we have A/C in our condo, and we try to plan to do things that involve being outside early in the morning or late at night. Perhaps worse than the hot temperatures, though, is the smoky haze that lingers over the entire SEA region bew
3) I should have learned more Thai before coming here. I overestimated how much English the average Thai person would be able to speak. Sure, the locals that deal with tourists every day speak decent enough English, but most of the merchants at the local market or off-the-path restaurant speak none at all (except for maybe “spicy?”). The language is very tonal, so you can’t just look up the Thai translation of an English word and say that – there are five different ways to pronounce a single syllable, and the different pronunciations often yield different meanings. For example, if you say the tones correctly, “mai mai mai mai mai” means “new wood doesn’t burn, does it?”. It would have been nice to learn more than just “hello” and “thank you” – at least numbers and some more conversational stuff. We’re trying to pick more of it up now, but we really should have started before we traveled here.
2) When travelling, plan for lots of delays. For road travel – when looking up directions to something far away, assume that your average travel speed will be around 50 km/h. The roads are usually just one lane, often with traffic, and often narrow and windy. For air travel, assume that your flight will not start boarding until at least thirty minutes after the scheduled time (we’ve flown many flights in SEA in the past few months and not one has boarded before it was fifteen minutes late).
1) Windows phones suck, especially for travelling, and especially for travelling in Southeast Asia. I could honestly write an entire article about how much I hate the phones that I bought for us to use on this trip (our Verizon phones aren’t compatible with the mobile networks here), but I’ll give a quick summary – lowlights, if you will. First and most importantly, the app store is awful. Google apps are not supported at all, nor is Snapchat or various other apps I’ve come to rely on. The only way to get Gmail on these phones is through a third party app, and that one doesn’t even support notifications for Gmail. Bing maps is serviceable – most of the time – except for the fact that it doesn’t have map data for Laos and Cambodia. I actually thought that the 4G network in Cambodia was poor when I couldn’t find our hotel (though it’s certainly a lot worse than Thailand and Vietnam) – nope, just Bing maps sucking. Add on to the fact that the phones routinely crash and a whole bunch of other boring problems, and I find myself missing my two year old smartphone back home that I was getting very tired of. I’m starting to write an entire article here – let’s just move on.
Top 5 Things I’m Glad I Brought
5) Camelback Backpack. Four of these five items I’ve brought with me on every trip we’ve taken down here, and this is what carries them all. I’ve gotten pretty good at fitting four days’ worth of clothes, my laptop, camera, all of my chargers, my toiletries, and even an extra pair of shoes in this thing. Even better is that it has a built in water carrier that holds a lot of water – enough for Julia and I to share while spending all day walking around Angkor Wat, for example! Thanks to Derek and Kelly for gifting this awesome present!
4) Salomon Waterproof Shoes. If it weren’t for the fact that I prefer to have a pair of shoes dedicated to running, I could definitely get by on these being my only footwear. They breathe very well; my feet never feel hot even in the 100 degree heat. We have done a lot of hiking around streams and waterfalls, and through the occasional puddle in town, and as long as I don’t completely submerge my shoe, my foot stays bone dry. On top of that, they are incredibly comfortable – and the zip-style laces make it effortless to slip on and off when entering a wat or other sacred place necessitates doing so.
3) Magic Cards. No, not for making
tricks illusions. Julia and I play a trading card game called Magic: the Gathering, that is easily our favorite game to play – and we LOVE games. We’ve amassed an impressive collection of cards that we love to play with at home over the years, but we don’t feel comfortable bringing it with us on long trips. With a lot of help from my mom, we made proxy copies (basically, printed out on paper) of our favorite cards so that we could continue to play! It’s proved indispensable for those times where Julia and I have a few hours to kill and don’t feel like going anywhere.
2) Ex Officio Briefs. These were more than I’m used to paying for underwear, at fifteen bucks a pair, but the two pairs I got have been worth every penny. With how hot it is and how active we are, I sweat a lot…everywhere. These briefs are really comfortable, and dry quickly. Most underwear makes me feel like I’m living in a jungle, but with these I never even think about it. It’s gotten to the point where I exclusively wear only these two pairs of briefs – washing one pair and letting it air dry while I wear the other pair. I don’t think I’ll ever go back!
1) Laptop. With my previous laptop well past its last legs (originally purchased in 2005!), I was way overdue for a new one. This birthday/Christmas gift from my parents came at just the right time – I love this laptop. Having a laptop in general allows me to stay connected to the goings on back home, upload pictures and write this blog, play music in the condo over the surprisingly good built-in speakers, and of course play video games. What can I say – I’m an engineer! I need to be connected, and this laptop checks all the boxes I need. I’d highly recommend the Asus X555U as a great mid-range gaming laptop – with Windows 10 and an SSD!
Top 5 (Food-Related) Things I Miss About America
5) Fast food. Don’t get me wrong – it’s very easy to get cheap food in Thailand, and very easy to get it quickly. But sometimes we’re out late at night, but we’re still hungry and the only thing at home that’s quick to eat is toast or cereal. There are still food trucks to be found, but oftentimes the only thing we can find is boiled pork meat – arranged into little balls that make the constitution of a hot dog seem downright genuine. I tried it once in our first week here, and didn’t finish it – it just didn’t really taste like food. I should note that there are some fast food restaurants here, but they are only in the very touristy areas (which we generally avoid at night) and airports, and they are actually more expensive than they are back home.
4) Craft Beer. The beer in SEA is cheap, and pretty good – but all of the beers are the same style. They taste a bit different from each other, but they are all basically the same beer. Tiger, Singha, Chang, Leo, Lao – they quench thirst and loosen the tongue well enough, but I wouldn’t ever order them back home. Any self-respecting bar in the Pacific Northwest has a stout, an IPA, and a blonde at the very least. It’s not hard to find a place that has a whole chalkboard full of offerings.
3) Beef. Most of the meat and seafood we get here, whether it’s buying it at the market or ordering it from a restaurant, is quite good. The quality of chicken, pork, prawns, and fish are all at least up to the standards we’re used to back home. The beef, however, is just simply not. After living in Thailand for a while, it’s easy to see the reason why – the cows here are really skinny! They walk around all day, often being put to work on farms, never getting a chance to put some meat on their bones. We often see the cows’ rib cages right through their skin – which makes for some very stringy meat. It is possible to find high quality steak, but it comes at a premium price.
2) Cheddar cheese. I don’t really consider myself a foodie by any means, because I just love everything. It’s pretty rare that I’ll eat something and not like it (coffee and tea notwithstanding), as long as the quality of the food itself is high. The top two items on this list, however, I have strong opinions about. On our first trip to the grocery store, we got excited when we saw a package of sliced Cheddar cheese. Only, we got home and tried it, and it was American cheese. Not even a blend of Cheddar/American. Straight up American cheese. It should honestly be a crime to label American cheese as anything else, especially cheddar. Luckily, we can buy other cheeses – Mozzarella seems to be the cheapest option at around eight bucks a pound. But actual cheddar has completely eluded us for any price.
1) Adam’s Crunchy Peanut Butter. Not Jif. Not Skippy (please God no). ADAM’S. Two ingredients: Peanuts, and peanut oil. You might think that in a region that uses peanuts so much – crunched peanuts are as ubiquitous here as ketchup is in America – that peanut butter would be an inevitability. However, peanut butter always seems to be in the “imported foods” section no matter what continent we are in – and it’s always Jif or Skippy. I’ve contented myself with Jif for now, but it just isn’t the same. Please, dear readers, eat a big spoonful of Adam’s for me.
Top 5 (Non Food-Related) Things I Miss About Home
5) Running. I already wrote a blog entry about this topic in great detail, so I won’t delve too much more into that here. I will add, however, that the original running post was written back in early February, when it got to “only” ninety degrees during the day. This week is scheduled to be a high of 103 in Chiang Mai, which further restricts the time that we can comfortably run outside.
4) Going to concerts. Julia and I love going to concerts. It was our first date (Endfest 15 back in 2004!) and we will rarely pass up the chance to see one of our many favorite bands. Luckily, living close to Seattle means that we see pretty much any big band that does a world tour like Muse or Red Hot Chili Peppers, all of the great local bands like Band of Horses and Fleet Foxes, and even the smaller indie artists that rarely pass up a chance to play in Seattle like Ratatat or Tycho. Living in Chiang Mai – not so much. Even the biggest Western artists rarely play in Bangkok, let alone Chiang Mai. We do enjoy going to bars and watching live music – there is plenty of that – but the Thai style of music is just not suited to our tastes.
3) Playing games online. Gaming is a passion of mine, and the great thing about online gaming is that it lets me do something I love with my friends. Unfortunately, the internet connection in our condo is not really stable enough for playing online games, and besides that the distance between Chiang Mai and Seattle means that there will be a large amount of latency when I try to play with friends from back home. The final nail in the coffin is the time difference – only a few hours of waking time overlap Chiang Mai and Seattle, so it’s even harder than normal to find time to play. I have plenty of offline games to tide me over until we get back, but playing with friends is so much better!
2) Conversing in English . I honestly don’t know how people live in this country that don’t speak English or Thai as a first language. The language barrier is already very tough for me as an English speaker – I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone who only knows conversational English to get around here. Luckily, Julia and I have each othe to talk to without having to use simple words, slow down our speech, avoid idioms (you don’t realize how often we use idioms until you talk to someone who only knows a little bit of English), or strain to understand an accent. People that come over here solo must go crazy without being able to speak their language normally!
1) Friends and family. This one is a no-brainer. We miss you guys! I’m actually surprised at how little I’ve felt homesick (don’t let this list fool you) – I’ve been out of the country for an extended period two other times, and both times I was terribly homesick after only a month. Julia and I were talking and we both agree – we would both be willing to drop everything we have back home (except for Luna) and live here permanently. We could get used to everything that’s different over here, and embrace the things we love, and even make new friends. Except – we could never be away from the people we love the most for so long. So…for those of you wishing for us to come home – congratulations! You’re part of the reason we will never be permanently away from the place we call home.