For the first time since mid-January, my bathroom bag is fully unpacked. It’s been a wild ride from Spain to South Africa, through Dubai and then back to Europe, but now we get to stop for awhile (6 months is a lifetime for us!) in Thailand. We have moved into a house in Chiang Mai and signed a 6-month lease. It felt like a major life-changing decision of which home to accept but in the end the choice was pretty clear.
House Hunting International – The Sherman Episode
No, we were not on the show… but we did kiss at the end. 😉
We looked at over 10 places to live. Our requirements were a bit different than many families who come here. Most people are content with a small condo, maybe a bedroom or two, somewhere close to the action and near a bunch of food. Well, I’d love to be close to the action but if you read this blog with any regularity, you’ll see a common thread… this family needs SPACE. We spend a lot of time together and the situation that causes the most conflict is when we don’t have our own separate areas to go to to do our thang. We even have a name for when Zoe is getting antsy and bored: Human Pinball. Human Pinball in a small space is much worse.
All in all, we looked at 2 condos and 8 houses. What we saw were all varied (including the Chinese house with no straight lines because bad luck travels in a straight line) but most had very minimal kitchens. Kitchens are just not a thing here because eating out is cheap and easy, but we still wanted at least an area where we could
prepare reheat a dinner or two. And Haley and Zoe both say they like to bake so we hoped they could still pursue that while we’re here. I don’t love cooking but I admit that the routine of preparing meals does bring me comfort and familiarity. Don’t let Dan know I said that.
So when it came time to make a decision, our two favorite places were a condo in the thick of Chiang Mai and a house in a neighborhood. The condo was so cute and had 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. You’d think that would be enough space! But the kitchen table would have to be my puzzle table, Zoe’s homeschool table, our dinner table and Dan’s office. Although Haley would have her own room, that would be the only place she would do homeschool. We really didn’t need Haley to have any additional reasons for staying in her room. So if you are predicting conflict with this scenario, you would be right. The location was great, however, and it was new with high speed internet and a community pool… so it was still under serious consideration. The price tag was $1344/month.
You can imagine the lady from House Hunters International right now, in her breathy voice saying “Dan and Allison hope to settle down in beautiful Chiang Mai with their two daughters. But will Dan’s need for peace and quiet conflict with Allison’s need for activity? Tune in after the commercial break to find out..”
In the end we chose a house in a gated community with 4 bedrooms (1 of which is now converted to an office for Dan), 2.5 bathrooms, a lovely kitchen in a room of it’s own and even a “Harry Potter Room” under the stairs where we have promised Zoe she could get a small table and make it her homeschool room. We might be seeing a lot more homeschool out of Zoe now that she’s got a classroom to call her own. Even Haley has a separate place to work on homeschool, away from the family but outside of her room, with plenty of natural light and overlooking some lovely green gardens.
But of course nothing is perfect. We had to weigh the pros and cons carefully. Here are some lovely features of the house:
- It’s squeaky clean. It was really clean when we toured it but the next day when we moved in (yes! the next day!) , it was being cleaned again. Clean is good!
- It has quality features. The windows close nicely. The floors don’t squeak. (We have experience with squeak). The mattresses are clean, new and covered with a mattress pad. The chairs have no stains or rips. Everything works, and is maintained well.
- It’s in a gated neighborhood. Chiang Mai is very safe and we definitely did not seek out a gated community, but I guess it comes with the territory. But the gates do provide a level of independence for Zoe, who needs the most amount of out-of-the-house activity. She can cruise the neighborhood at will and we don’t give it a second thought. I’m sure she’ll find all dog owners soon.
- It’s across from a mall. We like malls. They provide a nice, easy place to wander around, there are always restaurants, movie theaters and pretty much anywhere outside of the USA, malls have major grocery stores in them. So that’s helpful. This mall is a little sad, though. It’s very new but still rather empty and not busy. It’s got quite a nice variety of restaurants, however, so it can’t be too sad. And we have confirmed that the movie theater has caramel popcorn. We are not sad. The downside is the frogger-type skill you need to cross the road to get to the mall. We won’t do it a lot. Don’t tell my mom about this road.
- It has a community pool. We have learned that pools in this climate are very nice, and community pools are much better than private pools for making friends.
- The house has tons of natural light. That is so good for my mental health.
- In addition to the house, we have a small yard on all sides, so we are surrounded by a garden. When the owner asked us to water it, both Dan and I got a little panicked. Green thumb is really not our strong point. But she insisted that we only need to water it if it doesn’t rain. OK, I think I can handle that, because it seems to rain enough to keep plants happy. We’ve already figured in the cost of replacing plants in our deposit return, if it stops raining. Because if they’re counting on the Shermans to water them…. they will die. You can bet on it.
- The girls have very comfortable rooms and they share a bathroom that no one else has any need to go into. #smallmiracles
- We have been told that this community is 60% foreigner and 40% Thai. If that’s true that’s a great scenario for us. The houses are all about the size of ours or bigger so we predict there will be other families here. Zoe and I will be testing that theory soon.
- The fact that the house was barely furnished turned into a “Pro” feature for me. Renting furnished houses here is a little different. They have furniture, for sure, but that’s about it. No trash cans, not a single spoon, no glasses or plates or even an oven. There’s a stove – two of them in fact. There’s an electric one inside and two gas burners outside. But no oven. I guess they don’t bake much here. This is not altogether unfamiliar to us. We had no stove in Panama either. But a countertop toaster oven does the trick nicely. #brownies
- The kids loved picking out their own sheets, we let them choose their own towels (who needs a matching set? Not us!) and we even took it a step further and each family member picked out their own dishes. At first I objected to this unconventional method of furnishing the kitchen but then I realized that when everyone has their own dishes, it’s very easy to tell who hasn’t washed their plates, and who left their dishes up in their room! Brilliant! Our dish rack looks like a garage sale with all the mismatched dishes but it makes me laugh every time. While we were shopping Haley said “If this is what it’s like to move out of your parents’ house, I’m doing it soon.” I pointed out that when you move out you don’t get to spend your parent’s money. #DamnItJim
Ah, but there are always downsides. Nothing is perfect. Here’s just a few:
- Location, location, location. It’s not steps away from street food or $6 Thai massages. These things have to be sought out and traveled to via Uber or GrabTaxi. There’s a lot more to tell you about the
challengesadventures of this location, but we’ll save that for another blog.
- Along the same lines as #1, this means we will probably rent a car here. I don’t love renting cars. For one, I will not be driving (they drive on the left and there are way too many scooters darting in and out of traffic to keep track of) so it decreases my independence for said Thai massages and street food. It’s also a bit more complicated because Dan has to get either a Thai or International driver’s license. Nothing is ever easy. But it’s probably easier than calling Uber to come get us when ever we want to bust out of prison and they hit the brick wall every time. But that’s another story for another day. #staytuned
- The owner is Thai and does not speak a lick of English. So our poor rental agent has to translate… everything. Thankfully the owner is a very good landlady and has no problems fixing things and maintaining things. She even wanted to take a picture with us when we signed the lease.
Greenbacks (or, rather, Thai Baht)
But of course, you’re probably interested in how much things cost here. There are USD figures. Here’s the specs: the house is to US standards… very nice quality. It’s probably 3000+ square feet. It has 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, washing machine, maid’s room, ginormous TV with high speed internet (100 MBPS download and 30 MBPS upload), cable TV and neighborhood fees all included… all for $1195/month. We will pay a gal to work two days a week (all day, both days) to clean it for $30/week (this was at the owner’s suggestion so we felt it was important to honor her desire to protect her investment although it’s almost double the minimum wage for this area). We have to pay for drinking water to be delivered. We had to pay for the internet to be installed, which entailed 3 guys coming out THE NEXT DAY AFTER WE ORDERED IT and spending a few hours running wires…etc…. all for $18. And we had to put down two months deposit. We had to sign a 6-month lease, which was much less than what the owner originally planned but I’m pretty sure our winning smiles won her over. God knows it wasn’t our scintillating conversation. Smile, nod, form an A shape with hands (mumble something so they think you’re saying the right Thai greeting phrase) and bow. Lather, rinse, repeat.
So here we are, settled, unpacked and living the Thai life.
For those die-hard fans who are ready to book the next flight and take advantage of the economical housing, here’s a video of the house so you can better see our comfy digs. (If you’re reading this in an email you’ll need to go to the actual blog to see the video). All four Shermans are in this video, although one of them looks more like a hobbit. #wasntme