This is a post that talks about some of the “little things” – things about our travels here that aren’t really big enough to necessitate their own article, but still help give you an idea of what it’s like to be here! I’ll also intersperse the list with some short paragraphs of day trips that Julia and I have gone on. This post will be mostly a disjointed list of thoughts rather than a flowing, cohesive article, so hopefully you enjoy it!
- I mentioned in one of the early blog posts how prevalent 7-Elevens are in Bangkok, but it’s also true in Chiang Mai. There are six 7-Elevens within a two kilometer drive of our condo. 7-Eleven is where you go when you need to add more money to your mobile phone, and even where you pay your power bill. It’s strange to see an American company so integrated into Thai society, especially since they’ve only been in Thailand for about forty years!
- A few days after our first trip up Doi Suthep on a motorcycle, we decided to go back to visit a waterfall that we had seen a sign for on the way down. There was actually a short trail that leads to the top of the waterfall (around a two mile round trip). It was a lovely hike, and it actually felt much like being in the Pacific Northwest!
- It’s well known that the water here is not safe to drink. However, the water that comes out of the faucets is incredibly cheap (our monthly water bill is around three dollars) and is safe for washing and showering. So where do locals get their drinking water? Most people get it delivered, and we are no exception. We get a crate of twenty-four one liter plastic (reusable) water bottles delivered to our door, for a little over a dollar per delivery! Judging by how often we see the delivery trucks while driving around, it’s safe to assume that many locals get their water delivered this way, though we have also heard that many locals have no qualms about drinking the tap water – their bodies have grown used to the bacteria within.
- We see old white men walking around with younger Thai women ALL THE TIME. It is fairly common for these “sexpats” to travel to Thailand and marry a Thai girl and start a family here, often while starting a business such as a hotel or bar in the process. I can’t really blame anyone seeking this lifestyle – it’s very cheap and easy to move here, and judging by the looks of the men, it’s apparently pretty easy to find a Thai woman willing to marry you. Locals are very aware of this practice – though apparently they think it’s a lot more common than it really is. One woman that Julia was talking to guessed that somewhere between thirty and forty percent of American men travel to Southeast Asia to marry a local woman, or “cheap wife”. Probably a bit of an overestimate.
- We visited a cat cafe! Catmosphere has over twenty cats, all with names relating to space in some way. The price of admission is just to buy a (only slightly overpriced) drink for as long as you want to stay. The cats are very friendly and playful, and have lots of obstacles and toys to play around with! It definitely seems to draw tourists more than locals; it was fun to chat with other tourists as we played with kitties!
- The timing of our trip unfortunately coincides with the “burning season”, which lasts from early February through late March. Though it’s supposedly illegal, many farmers in the area employ the “slash and burn” method of farming, which fills the sky with a thin haze of smoke 24/7. Most of the time it’s not too noticeable, but sometimes while driving around we’ll pass through an area that is very thick with smoke. It’s definitely a smart idea to wear a smoke mask while walking or driving around outside during these months.
- One touristy excursion we did was sign up for a cooking class! Our class had eight people, and we all got our own workstation. We made five different dishes that day, all from scratch (other than the curry paste), and they were all delicious. We were even given a cookbook by the lovely couple that ran the school, and we’ve made several dishes at home on our own – still amazing! We’ll definitely be sharing our culinary prowess with our friends and family when we get back!
- Ordering food at a restaurant is mostly the same as the experience back home. The main difference is that when you sit down at your table and are given your menu, the server remains at the table waiting for your order. I’m not sure if Thai people are faster at deciding what they want to eat, or if the servers are just used to standing for 2-3 minutes while waiting for the customers to decide, but it is definitely a bit awkward to make them wait – especially when the menu is usually in “Thanglish” and every single thing looks amazing!
- I think we’ve made it clear in our various blog posts that the standard of English in Thailand is not as high as in other foreign countries. However, you might be surprised to find that this low standard extends to things like museums, road signs, and other more “official” postings. For example – look at the inscription below (that someone got paid to translate) at the Chiang Mai Zoo. Nobody read this and thought “maybe we should get a native English speaker to look at this”? This is an inscription just outside a Giant Panda exhibit at a very high quality zoo!
- In Chiang Mai, there are plenty of gas stations outside the Old City – though they are not allowed inside the Old City walls. But in smaller towns and more rural areas, plenty of people still drive every day and need gas. The solution? Buying gas from a street vendor! Sometimes the gas is sold out of a large barrel, but often the gas is sold in used whiskey bottles! Forty Baht for 700 ml of gas when buying by the bottle – usually around 25 Baht per liter at the big gas stations.
- Video games, particularly PC games, are quite popular in Southeast Asia. But most families can’t afford their own internet, let alone a PC, peripherals, etc. The solution? Gaming cafés! Not terribly popular in the US because of how widespread good internet is, gaming cafés are very numerous in Thailand. There are people (almost exclusively teenage boys) playing at all hours, but the hours just after school are often filled to the brim!
- I’m not entirely sure what the people of Thailand did for street food before the popularity of plastic. We’ve seen banana leaves used, but these can’t be used for drinks. Getting food “for takeaway” is so cheap, and part of that is thanks to the cheap packaging materials that the vendors use! Many vendors will use the classic styrofoam doggie bag that can be seen at any restaurant in the US, but some will just give you your food in a plastic bag, tied up with a rubber band. That practice isn’t limited to solid food – we’ve gotten curry, soup, and even drinks in plastic bags!
- Most of the hotels in Southeast Asia have a slot for your electronic key card built into the wall, just inside the door to your room. When the key is inserted, it powers the room. When you take the key out (i.e. when you leave for the day), the power goes off. It’s definitely a cost-saving measure to prevent tourists from keeping the A/C on the whole day – but it would be nice to be able to charge my laptop while I’m doing a massive photo upload to my Google Drive!
- This isn’t really a “day trip” so much as a thing we did, but Julia and I stumbled upon a mall not too far from the shopping center that we usually go to. This mall looks like it was built in the 70s and then forgotten. Some areas of the mall are very busy, like the karaoke place with over a dozen private rooms (that were all booked when we visited), but turn a few corners and there are rows and rows of vacant rooms. Walking around this area, it honestly looks like the mall is completely abandoned. But funny enough, it’s the only way to get to…the bowling alley! I didn’t take any pictures of the inside (other than of the scoreboard, since Julia destroyed me in two straight games), but if you ever went to a bowling alley in the early ’90s and played with Brunswick technology, it was the exact same. I imagine this place was state of the art whenever it was installed. In the outdoor courtyard of the mall was a Star Wars exhibit! Not at all what we would expect to see in Chiang Mai.
- Chiang Mai has a lot of festivals! In addition to Songkran in the middle of April, we have been here for two other major festivals. The first was the flower festival in early February, and then the balloon festival in early March. The flower festival had a large parade with lots of floats, many contests, and of course, tons of flowers!
The balloon festival was little more than a bunch of food trucks in an open field with some hot air balloons. There was live music though, and the balloons made for some good pictures!
Well, that’s all for now…if you have any other questions about our day-to-day life here, feel free to ask! Until next time…