We made it! We have arrived in Thailand! We had a long but somewhat uneventful transit from Milan, Italy to Chiang Mai, Thailand. The entire process door to door took over 24 hours and we counted 2 sunsets and 2 sunrises before finally going to sleep. Although there were a few surprises, as usual (why can’t luggage restrictions be standardized and simple???!), it all worked out just fine and we dragged ourselves into our hotel in Chiang Mai around 2:30 a.m. local time.
We were not able to find a hotel with all the bedrooms we wanted so we booked two one-bedroom apartments with one parent and one kid in each room. It’s kind of fun to be Haley’s roommate, in a “why are you dumping your stuff all over the floor where I’m trying to walk?” kind of way. Sometimes we laugh really loud to let Dan and Zoe know we are having more fun than they are. #thefunroom
After a night of not much sleep (“Get up! We have things to do!” said Dan for the first time EVER in his life), we tackled our errands. First stop was the mall to get SIM cards for our phones (easy! cheap! friendly! fast!) and then we met with a real estate agent who showed us a few homes for rent. It’s always a good feeling when the homes are acceptable. As in “if that’s the worst that we’ll get, they are acceptable.” We are holding out for a little bit longer in hopes of finding the PERFECT place but at least we know there are options.
We are still in our wide-eyed, mouth agape phase of adapting to an entirely new language, culture and currency. But I’ll share some first impressions with you in no particular order. Full disclosure: I have read a lot of blogs about this region and they all have similar themes to what I will describe below. So if you’ve been to this area you’ll nod your head and say “yep, yep yep” and maybe even yawn a little. But those of you that hang on our every word, you will enjoy this. #all8ofyou
Yeah, 7-11 is everywhere! We counted 2 in the first 1-minute of our drive from the airport. It was our first store in Thailand, at 3 a.m. after arriving at our hotel. And don’t think that it’s an American expat store either. 7-11 is owned by a Japanese-American company and has 59,831 stores in 18 countries. Thailand has the most 7-11 stores (9,400) after Japan. They are extremely popular in Asia and filled with all kinds of interesting foods, including hamburgers that hang in a bag and moist towels that are sold in the refrigerated section in a plastic bag. We bought some snacks for the hotel rooms, a moist towel that Zoe begged for and fried rice that the guy was happy to heat up for us right there on the spot.
I Heart Retail
For some reason I did not have high expectations for retail options here. I was thinking it would be more like Panama, which is a “make due with stuff you find until you get back to the USA and can shop for reals” kind of place. But no! The malls have some amazing retail! New and different stuff, and plenty of nice, quality options. I found my favorite shoe brand (ECCO) and a backpack with ALL the features I have been seeking for the last month in Europe (to no avail) and it was in the first mall we went to in Thailand. Add in movies that play in English and caramel popcorn and Dan is ready to hand in his passport and take Thai language classes. Ha! But lest you think all the good stuff is in a mall… nope! The streets are crammed with little mom and pop stores with really interesting things like flow-y pants and neat t-shirts and handmade bags and jewelry and elephant everythings and… pillows. When I first saw the sign “100% latex” I wondered if it was a store selling condoms and medical gloves but turns out there’s a huge industry of pillows and mattresses here. #twistmyarm #buyingapillowfersure
Hello, Customer Service, My Old Friend
The service-oriented culture is a lovely contrast from Italy. And Spain. And some of South Africa. And Panama. Well, it’s just a lovely contrast from just about everywhere we’ve been other than the US. Everyone is helpful even if their English is limited (a lot better than my Thai!) and there are a lot of smiles and bowing. It’s really nice. Dan said the SIM card process was the easiest he’s ever had. And we’ve had a LOT of SIM card processes. There’s also no hovering. You walk into a store and the staff greet you but then leave you to browse as you want. They are there if you need help in a nanosecond, however. It’s awesome.
Transportation options are endless. Tuk Tuks are everywhere but they don’t fit a family of 4 all that easily and they are open to the air so not as safe from accidents. I think we got the “Farang” (foreigner) Fare on Tuk Tuks. They are probably a lot cheaper for Thai people. Dan’s first Tuk Tuk ride ran out of gas on him so he had to abandon it mid-ride and hail another one. But we are happy with Uber. A 10 minute drive home from the mall was less than $2, which is cheaper than the Tuk Tuk. They also have these red pickup trucks that seem to operate like busses, only a bit more informally. It goes like this: you stand on the side of the road and look around. A red truck drives by slowly, does a little beep, you acknowledge that you want to engage (much like an auction, you only need a slight flick of the hand or eye) and the truck stops. You tell him where you want to go. If he’s going there, or near there, he tells you to get in to the back of the truck which is lined with benches. If he doesn’t want to take you, he keeps moving and you keep looking for a different red truck. It’s 30 THB (less than $1) per person. We haven’t used it yet but it seems like a decent option if you are going somewhere along the main roads and time isn’t important.
Om Nom Nom
So. Much. Food. You see stands and food markets everywhere. The three houses we looked at all had very small kitchens. One owner explained to us that no one cooks in their own kitchen because eating out is so good, easy and cheap. So kitchens are used for breakfasts and that’s about it. I can get used to this! We ate dinner at the mall and had a nice sit-down meal that would have cost $90 in Europe but came to $30 here. It will probably be one of the most expensive dinners we will have here. We have tried street food too, which is also very tasty and very cheap. The downside to street food is that Thais do not seem to need to sit down and eat. The street food is usually served on a stick or eaten with fingers so you buy it and continue strolling while eating. I’m not a fan of the eat/stroll combo but I’m getting used to it.
My Girl (or Boy?) Friend, Heroin
There are quite a few young men here who wish they… weren’t young men. I think? I’m actually not sure what they want to be but they are called “lady boys” and they are pretty common. They seem to have nicknames (our hotel clerk is nicknamed Heroin) and like to speak in falsetto. But they have short hair. But so do some women. And due to their universally small stature… well, it’s all very confusing. And amusing. We have gender confusion a lot. It’s a good thing Thai people mix up their “he and she” pronouns in English, and are too polite to correct us when we make a mistake for other reasons.
His Royal Highness
The Thai people love their previous king. He died seemingly unexpectedly last fall (at age 88… not sure how unexpected that could have been) and I recall it being a very newsworthy event due to the incredible sadness of the Thai people. You find a lot of billboards and signs remembering him with great love and affection. I’m sure they like their new king too but this past one was especially popular. It’s really nice to see such positive feelings about a leader. Really nice. Before a movie starts you have to stand for the king’s anthem. This was really fascinating.
It’s humid! We were expecting that… I recall it well from Panama and Cancun. But it’s not quite as hot as those places. We’ve had some cloud cover, a few raindrops, some thunder and some breezes. Walking around outside you don’t work up a sweat if you don’t run, but you feel moist and shiny. A/C is everywhere and thankfully is not overdone to the point of being cold, just comfortable. As I type this, I have not yet turned on the A/C in our room this morning, but it will be needed in a few hours I’m sure.
Legendary Traffic and Pollution
I have heard several common themes about Chiang Mai, including the traffic and the pollution. We did notice the traffic. There are just a lot of cars and roads are somewhat narrow. There are long waits at stoplights. But it’s not as chaotic as I expected. I guess now that we’ve driven in Naples, everything else is tame. I think the lack of honking helps it feel a little less crazy. Thai people don’t honk aggressively, only a polite little beep to get your attention. The pollution is also not as bad as I expected but I know the worst season is during the burning months from February to June. And nothing can compare to Antigua, Guatemala when it comes to smog. Unless you’re running your car in a sealed garage, that is. So I’ve been pleasantly surprised on both of those topics.
Show Me The Money
Prices. Yep, they are low. We looked at a 4-bedroom 2-story house in a gated community for about $500 a month. A 1-hour Thai massage is $6. SIM cards were $3 and monthly unlimited mobile phone data at 4 Mbps is $18/mo. And 12 GB of data at 167 Mbps download speed is $28/mo. Dan is a happy camper.
Moats Float My Boat
This town has a moat. A real moat! I’ve never lived in a town with a moat but I like it! I love major geographical landmarks, like Table Mountain in Cape Town. The old city and the moat really help me get my bearings as we drive around. So fun!
That’s a lot of impressions for the first 36 hours. I’m an overachiever, I know! But we are all really enjoying our experiences so far and are really looking forward to finding a place to call home for a few (6!) months. Settle in, you’ll have a lot of blog posts about Thailand to read between now and the end of the year.