Rather than spend our time in chilly Seattle, we are trying something different. We enjoyed our stay in Chiang Mai so much last year that we decided to try spending a longer amount of time – a month. We may be Chiang Mai snowbirds if we like it enough! Rather than stay in a hotel, we have rented an Air BnB condo in between the old city and the Nimman area.
Rather than doing touristy things, we are just living our lives as if we were at home, albeit eating inexpensive, delicious food and enjoying the warmer temperatures! We are doing lots of walking but have also tried the city bus system and songtaews (red pickup trucks) . Songtaew literally means “two benches” – they are the cheap taxi of Thailand. For 30 baht (a little less than one USD), they will take you anywhere within the city. You flag them down and tell the driver where you want to go. If they are headed that way you simply hop in the back and they take you to your destination. The city bus is new – it has only been in existence for a year. Virtually no one rides them. Though they are air conditioned and more comfortable than a songtaew, they don’t run very frequently and cost the same. When we took the bus, we had to wait for nearly a half-hour to be picked up. No big deal, except that for the same cost, we could’ve arrived at our destination much earlier and have been taken directly to the doorstep of where we were headed.
A few random photos taken around town:
Last year, when we were here, we decided that we would like to have the freedom of driving ourselves around. In most of SE Asia, that means riding a scooter. Clayton knew how to ride a motorcycle, but I had a fear of riding stemming back from my college days when a boyfriend of mine had a bike. When going for my first ride, he thought it was extra funny to scare the living daylights out of me – accelerating fast, leaning extra far into turns, etc. One ride was enough – I was not going to ever ride a motorcycle again! But, if I was going to ride a scooter in Thailand, I would need to overcome my fear. So, when we returned to the US, we took a motorcycle safety class. I figured it would tell me whether or not riding overseas would be a possibility; I had absolutely no plans to ride around Seattle. To my great surprise, I aced the class (I fully expected to fail when I signed up). This made me eligible to get my motorcycle endorsement added to my driver’s license. After taking that step, the next logical step was being able to ride at home, which required purchasing bikes. Clayton bought a motorcycle and I purchased a scooter (200cc, so theoretically I can go up to 80 mph on it). We fell in love with riding! We spent a glorious spring, summer, and fall riding around the greater Seattle area. We definitely felt ready to ride on our trip to Thailand.
Fast forward to now – we decided to rent scooters for a week to see how we liked riding in Chiang Mai. One difficulty about riding here is that they drive on the opposite side of the road than we are used to. I was a bit worried about doing something dumb like turning into opposing traffic. That turned out to not be an issue. What is an issue is the crazy drivers here! There may be traffic laws, but they are routinely ignored. Lane splitting is the norm (driving between two lanes of traffic on a scooter/motorcycle). Driving here is an adventure! Hardly anyone wears any type of safety gear, though theoretically helmets are compulsory. Another issue is having no idea where you are going – being completely unfamiliar with the roads. Fortunately, road signs are in both English and Thai, but it is still really tough to navigate when you don’t know where you are going.
One word of warning if you are thinking of renting a scooter here – you will need an international driver’s license as well as a motorcycle endorsement. The international driver’s license can be obtained from AAA for $20. If you don’t have one and get pulled over (the police DO look for farang (white) drivers), you will be fined 500 Baht.
On our first ride, I got us hopelessly lost. I thought I had a route planned, but it didn’t quite go as planned. We ended up on the freeway which is definitely not what I had planned. So, we exited and regrouped. As we were heading back towards the freeway to return to our condo, I looked behind me and saw a rider and bike sprawled on the road. Sadly, it was Clayton! I was so scared that he had been badly injured. I pulled over and ran back to him. He was extremely lucky – lots of abrasions, but no broken bones. And, since he was wearing a helmet, riding gloves, long pants, and a jacket, the road rash was not nearly as bad as it could have been.
The bike was a bit worse for the wear – the front tire was now out of alignment. A very nice Thai man came out to assist us. He owned a bike repair shop, but did not have the equipment to fix the bike. So, we called the rental agency and told them what happened. Their manager was at the police station and wasn’t available to help us. So, they suggested we get back home and they would pick up the bike later. Clayton flagged down a songtaew and I followed it. At least tried to – the driver had a very hard time staying in a lane – kind of like Mr. Toad’s wild ride! We eventually made it back and cleaned up Clayton’s wounds. The bike shop never did get back to us to tell us whether or not they picked up the bike or how much the repairs will cost us. We shall see! By the way, we still don’t know how he fell; he didn’t hit anything, nothing hit him, he was steering straight ahead and the bike went down.
Clayton thinks he would like to rent another scooter so we can follow through with our plans to ride around the area. He is pretty stiff and sore at this point so will wait a couple of days to heal up before “getting back in the saddle”.
Beyond riding, we don’t have much planned in terms of tourist activities. We may take in a ladyboy cabaret show just for fun, and if I am feeling extra cheesy, we might head to Tiger World, where for 15 minutes you get to play with a tiger. Or, perhaps a visit to Elephant Poo Poo Park is in order…and massages, of course!
A couple of things we have noticed on this stay are that there are WAY more Chinese tourists in Chiang Mai this year than last, and that there are tons of farangs staying in our area. Chinese tourism is booming in SE Asia. About 98% of the farangs are male and of retirement age. They tend to hang out at restaurants that serve American food and drink together all afternoon and evening. Some have Thai girlfriends that are 1/3 of their age. I am sure the girls are in it for the sparkling personalities of their older boyfriends. Right?
Also, if you stay in the old city, you can use a credit card at many restaurants. Where we are staying, cash is king. The ATM fee for withdrawal is pretty stiff here – around $7 per withdrawal, so it is best to draw the maximum amount of Baht to avoid paying the fee repeatedly for smaller withdrawals. Or, do like we did and set up a Charles Schwab checking account. They reimburse your ATM fees.
Photos of a few more things that caught my eye: