I almost couldn’t put the word “crappy” in the title of this blog post. It sounds too harsh for our sweet Thailand. But I do like consistency and since I’ve done this post for many other countries, Thailand gets the same treatment. I show no favoritism in my country reviews!
We are wrapping up our stay in Thailand. It has been one of our longer stays, the longest other than Panama (14 months) and Mexico (10 months). Thailand was our home for 4 months, with a little less for me and Zoe and a little more for Dan and Haley. That’s a long story that is explained here.
We did not get to travel to a lot of other parts of Thailand other than Chiang Mai and Phuket, and a quick day trip to Chiang Rai. But there is still enough fodder to give you our happy and crappy list. But as you are reading this, assume most of it applies to Chiang Mai. Here goes:
- Stress on the Streets. This is probably just my issue, but I was pretty stressed while driving around Chiang Mai. And I was not the one driving! Thailand has the second highest road fatality rate in the world, behind Libya. The drivers are a bit crazy, the streets are not very well maintained and traffic can be very heavy at times. The foreigners (called farangs) report that if a car and a scooter are involved in an accident, it is automatically the car’s fault. Likewise, if a farang and a Thai are involved in an accident, it’s the farang’s fault. Thankfully we did not get a chance to test these theories but hearing them was enough to make me fret.
- Thai kids are busy. We didn’t see a lot of kids out doing kid things – wandering malls, playing outside on the streets of our neighborhood, in the pool, etc. I think they are pretty busy with after school activities, including learning English. So we missed connecting with Thai kids, and even the expat kids seemed to be pretty quiet. Usually, we can schedule our way out of a paper bag, but we had a hard time finding regular activities to do with peers in Chiang Mai.
- Stringent Visas. To stay longer than a month, it involved visa extensions (which were not cheap) or border runs (even LESS cheap). And extensions were a 4- hour process waiting in line. So that was not so easy.
- Pollution. We were not here during burning season, which I hear can be a real challenge for air quality. And we didn’t do a lot of walking because it’s just not easy to walk around here with uneven sidewalks and many barriers. But the times I was out and about I really noticed the air pollution.
- Language Barrier. This sounds pretty obvious but this is the first country we have lived where there was a real language barrier. It was tough. Even with 8 weeks of Thai lessons, we still could only direct the Uber driver right or left or order water with dinner. It’s a very tough language to learn, and English is not spoken widely. I really missed chatting with Uber drivers, store clerks and customizing my meals.
- Time zone. Thailand’s time zone was pretty hard on us. Dan liked it the most because he got to overlap more hours with his developer who was working on some of his programming needs. But for me, it was sad not to be able to connect with friends and family throughout the day. I would overlap with them briefly at night and in the morning but that was all. Zoe took an online class at 10 p.m. on Saturday nights, and Haley had a conference call once at 3 a.m. – that’s how hard the time zone was for us!
So by now you’re thinking “Geez, did you like it AT ALL?” Yes, we really did. It was a really nice place. I liked it more than I thought I would. Here are some things we liked:
- Yummy Food. Of course we liked the food! Haley will write about it a few counties down the line. Panama has the same opportunity to grow this type of food (due to similar weather) but the approach in Thailand is so different. Thai people love to be creative with their food. Although we could always find the traditional dishes, we could also find them done with variety as well. The night markets had endless food stalls that were great for sampling (and at markets you walk and eat so you could try a lot of things). Thai people also liked a variety of food and we would always see them at restaurants from different countries. Thai people seem to like KFC but KFC does their chicken spicy here!
- Low Prices. Yep, it’s true. The prices were great. We paid $1200/month for a 4-bedroom house in a very nice gated community. Electricity (with A/C running pretty much all the time, including 3 of them all night long, every night) averaged about $175/month. If you were eating out locally you could get a meal for 4 for less than $12. Movie theaters were really nice, too. They were on par with any theater you’d visit in the US. Our family of 4 could see a movie and all get popcorn, drinks and candy for less than $25 total.
- Pleasant Weather. We like tropical climates (Dan more than anyone) and Thailand did not disappoint. When we arrived in July it was fairly humid, even at night. But as it got closer to November the temperature dropped and it became even more pleasant. We had some strong rains in August and September but it rarely rained for long and it smelled so good after a rain. I think November and December are probably the best times for weather (and it’s before the burning season).
- Our House. We loved our house. It had great, stable internet, lots of room, it was sparkly clean with great natural light and comfortable living areas. I think it’s my favorite house of all the places we’ve lived (Marbella Spain is #2).
- Very Safe. It felt very safe here. Thai people are incredibly sweet and their avoidance of conflict meant that you really felt safe walking around anytime day or night. Other farangs report forgetting their iPad on a table at the mall and returning hours later to find it in exactly the same spot.
- Night-friendly. Speaking of night, this place comes alive at night. It’s the Southeast Asian way to beat the heat: shop and do your activities early, go home and rest, then go out again after dark. I loved all the lights that made everything so welcoming after dark.
- Grand Canyon. No, not the one in Arizona! It’s the name of our favorite waterpark in the world. It was kind of like a mini “Wipeout” without the moving parts. We tried to go every week. Even when it was raining it was still so nice, and the rain made the obstacles even more slippery – and fun! Although, one other nod to the Crappy aisle, Dan lost his wedding ring of 20 years to the park. #potatodiet
- The Islands. There are so many places to explore in Southern Thailand. We must come back to spend more time in the Thai islands. They reminded me of Bocas del Toro in Panama but more coastal and less beach-y. We will have to go back and see them all!
- Central Location. Chiang Mai is a nice central location in Asia. It was a very easy and cheap flight to other parts of SE Asia. It’s a good base for traveling around the region. Our flights to various places in Malaysia and Cambodia were no more than 2 hours and Air Asia frequently has great sales for hopper flights like those.
- Medical Care. We all ended up seeing doctors here for various and sundry ailments. The process was easy – at any time day or night just go to the hospital. Even if it’s not an emergency. If you can’t be seen right away they’ll make an appointment for you. And once you are seen by a doctor, they have really sweet staff members who will literally walk you around to your next station to pay, or to the pharmacy, or to a specialist if you need further care. They were so nice and good prices too. A normal doc visit was about $15. A specialist was a little more. Haley saw a doc, then a specialist and got 3 prescriptions for a total of $85.
- Shopping. From chicken nuggets to a desk chair, you can find anything you need. Clothing is the exception. You could find clothes but we didn’t find the quality to be very good without spending US prices in the more upscale areas of the mall. I found tons of adorable gifts for everyone back home. Some of the art from the Night Market was incredible and there are markets every day of the week! They were huge and had block after block of really interesting vendors. Honestly, there was some seriously good retail for treasures here.
Don’t take my word for it, do your own research!
I found this article online and I agreed with most of it, as you can see from this graphic.
Of course, our experience in Thailand is unique and different to anyone else’s but we did enjoy it. I would definitely recommend Thailand to anyone or any family who is curious. It’s an easy, safe and very interesting destination. Come on over and see for yourself!