Our first week or two, we tried all of the different ways of getting around – bus, songthaews, scooter, and tuk-tuk. We found that anywhere we wanted to go was walking distance (2 to 2.5 miles each way), so stopped using public transportation – there was no need. We learned that what looks like a bus stop isn’t one. We thought that the set of covered seats with a bus map behind was a bus stop, but it turns out we were wrong. Bus stops are marked with signs, and if there is no sign, even if it looks like a bus stop, it is not! Those crazy Thais!
Walking can be a bit of an adventure. The sidewalks are pretty uneven, and scooters typically park on them, so often you end up walking on the street. It took awhile to figure out which way to look for oncoming traffic since people drive on the left here. And, pedestrians most definitely do NOT have the right of way! Even if you are in a marked crosswalk, drivers will not yield to you. Don’t even get me started on Thai driving…
Unlike our visit to Chiang Mai last year, the air quality this year was quite bad. Farmers in the hills burn their crops which pollutes the city below. Typically, this takes place during March, but the skies were quite polluted pretty much every day during January. Many locals wore masks, but we were unsure whether that was due to the pollution or due to trying to protect themselves from coronavirus. We were in town during the beginning of the outbreak. Initially, we saw many Chinese tourists in town. They apparently love to visit during the Lunar New Year celebrations that take place. As the Chinese government cracked down on people leaving China, we saw fewer Chinese tourists. In a typical year, over 11 million Chinese visit Thailand. I am sure the effects of the lack of Chinese tourists will hurt the economy of Thailand.
One thing that was a bit of a surprise to us was how many expats we ran into. We rented an apartment on Air BnB; we stayed at the Nakornping Condominiums which is located between the old city and Nimman Road (side note – our hosts, Walter and Ohm, were outstanding!). Most of the people we ran into in the elevator were expats. There were several local restaurants that were definitely expat hangouts. We chatted with quite a few of them to find out what the ins and outs of living in Chiang Mai are. Right now, there is quite a bit of uncertainty in the expat community because the Thai government has changed the requirements for a retirement visa. Many of the people we spoke to have lived in Chiang Mai for years, but are making plans to leave because they fear that their visas will not be renewed. Vietnam seems to be the country of choice for those that can’t stay in Thailand.
It was quite noticeable that there are many senior men that have found “love” with much younger Thai women. One of the guys we spoke to told us that the Thai women really know how to make a man feel special. He also realized that some of these women hook up with expat men for financial security. He said that the Thai women that have come on to him wanted a permanent relationship very quickly.
We loved having our laundry done cheaply. Though we had washers and dryers available in our building, we preferred taking it to the local laundry to be washed, dried and folded. We also enjoyed having massages a couple of times per week. Again, so cheap compared to at home!
Food is quite inexpensive. The price for a meal of local food is around $2-$3 US. We absolutely loved having delicious tropical fruit available, too. We feasted on fruit every day with breakfast. However, if you want a Starbucks coffee, you will pay dearly for it – a cup of drip coffee there cost 110 Baht, which is over $3 – more than the cost of a meal! In general, Western style food costs much more than local food. Food delivery is a huge thing here, too. Everywhere we went, we saw Grab and Food Panda scooter drivers either picking up or delivering food.
Did we do any touristy things? Yes! I wanted to visit Tiger Kingdom, so we hired a tuk-tuk to take us there, wait while we toured, then drive us back to town. You can take a songthaew to get there as well, but it is off the beaten path (quite a distance from town) so you might have to wait awhile to find a songthaew to take you back! We met a couple that had found a songthaew to take them to Doi Suthep for only 60 Baht each (most songthaew rides cost 30 Baht, but Doi Suthep is quite a distance from town). Unfortunately, when they were ready to leave, the songthaew they found wanted 600 Baht to bring them back! They refused, and found another truck. This driver wanted less money, but refused to leave until the truck was completely full, leaving them to wait in the back of the truck in the 90+ degree heat until enough people came along to fill the truck. For a couple hundred Baht, we found a tuk-tuk that waited for us – priceless! Come to find out, it was an electric tuk-tuk. Our driver recharged it while we visited Tiger Kingdom.
We also visited the zoo, and took Mae Ping River cruise (our second). I took another Thai cooking class (I took one last year when we visited as well). Loved it!
We ended up skipping the Ladyboy Cabaret Show. Maybe we will try again when we come back next year. Yes, we will definitely be returning to spend more time in Chiang Mai!