Welcome to Chiang Mai

The last time we were in Chiang Mai we stayed about half-way between the old city and the university. This time, we rented an apartment closer to the old city but on the opposite side. We had selected the place last time we were here. Our last apartment was a studio that had very limited cooking facilities (a hot plate and a mini refrigerator). This one advertised a full kitchen, rooftop pool, and gym. It also has lovely grounds, unlike the last place.

We flew on Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai. The flight was fine, and definitely full. We were expecting it to be empty, but I think many people were on their way home after the holiday week they spent in Bangkok. It’s only a little over an hour from place to place; we arrived in Chiang Mai in the early afternoon. We grabbed a cab to the Smith Suites. The attendant spoke little English, so he called his boss who arrived within 5 minutes to complete our check in. We had asked for a particular apartment but had been told that it would not be available. But the current guest would be checking out the following day, so they put us in a smaller apartment for the night, and then we would be able to move into the larger one.

I was anxious to see what the “fully stocked kitchen” looked like. Let’s just say, their definition of fully stocked differs dramatically from mine! It did have a stove (including oven), full-sized refrigerator, and a microwave. There were also two plates, two forks, two spoons, 2 mugs, 2 glasses, a fry pan, a saucepan, a spatula, a cutting board, and a knife. I was really hoping that when we moved units the next day, there might be a few more cooking utensils. The apartment itself was quite nice. It overlooked the gardens and had a balcony so that we could enjoy the view.

Since we were located near the old city, for dinner, we decided to walk there to see how it had changed since our last visit. We had a coffee place we used to hang out at, opposite from the Tha Phae Gate; tourist central in Chiang Mai. We headed there. And felt like crying…there was virtually no one there. All the restaurants we passed were closed. We ended up grabbing a burger at Burger King and were the only customers there. We both thought that we had made a huge mistake and would be heading home to Seattle sooner rather than later. We headed back to our apartment but couldn’t unpack because we would be moving the next day. We did find a 7-Eleven to buy some drinking water and some toilet paper; two necessities! We decided to sleep on our decision whether to stay or not and talk about it further the next day.

When we got up the next day, we needed to find someplace for breakfast since we had no food in our apartment. We also needed to find a place to buy groceries and some local restaurants for meals out. We found a coffee shop first thing because hey, without caffeine, things would seem really grim! We found a good one (NuNu Ni Ni’s) and liked it so much we have visited there every morning since. We quickly discovered our error from the previous day was that we headed to the tourist area rather than where the locals live their everyday lives. Right across the street from NuNu Ni Ni’s was a fruit and vegetable market. Attached to that was a food market where you could buy all types of street food. Down the block were two grocery stores that had almost everything that we needed for the kitchen, including a toaster and an electric teapot (total for 2? Less than $20!). Things were looking up! The only necessity left to locate was a place to do our laundry for us and we found one near where we are living.

That afternoon we moved to our new digs. And nice digs they are! We each have our own bathroom – one has a shower, the other a bathtub. There is a walk-in closet with a vanity table. It’s large enough that it has 3 mini split air conditioners in it. The kitchen has the same amenities that the first one did, so we have purchased the items we needed to make it more usable. We were promised tvs with Netflix, but neither tv had it, so they brought us two brand-new tv sets, with Netflix! That’s some great customer service, don’t you think? I had brought an hmdi cable to hook up my laptop to the tv, so we would’ve had access to tv shows by streaming, but so much easier to just press the Neflix button on the remote!

We’ve been doing lots and lots of walking (7 or 8 miles per day) and have found plenty of places to eat near us. We revisited our old stomping grounds (from 2 years ago) and decided that we are much happier where we are located now. We have rented scooters to get around. The only issue we had with that is finding one large enough for Clayton. Most of the bikes here are 125cc (to put it in perspective, I ride a 400 and Clayton a 650 at home); they are not made for guys over 6 feet tall. There are a few rental agencies in town that advertise 155cc bikes (what Clayton rented on our last visit) but no one had any in stock. We ended up renting a 125 for him until Mango Bikes could get a 155. That ended up only taking a few hours, but by then, we were back at our apartment and didn’t want to drive back to pick up the new bike due to the time of day (evening rush hour) and the heat (upper 80’s).

We purchased our own helmets – cheap insurance for protecting our remaining brain cells!

We headed over to Mango Bikes first thing this morning. And, the bike they had set aside for Clayton had a punctured tire, which they discovered as we were getting ready to ride off. No problem, they would fix it for us in a few hours. We said that we didn’t really want to wait for a few hours and would take a songthaew back to the apartment and pick up the bike later. They looked at us as if we were crazy. Everyone rides 2 (or 3 or 4) to a scooter here and so they couldn’t figure out why we wouldn’t just ride my scooter back. I have never had anyone ride on the back of my bike and trying that out in Thailand where everyone drives like a maniac just didn’t seem like a good idea! So, they said that we could follow them over to the mechanic (just a few blocks away) and wait for 20 minutes. We agreed to that.

What could go wrong? Well, we didn’t take into account that we would be following a guy that drives in the typical Thai fashion – riding between cars in the lanes, cutting in front of cars, doing basically everything that would get you killed in the US. Clayton followed him, I followed Clayton. We made it but it was an “interesting” experience. When we got to the shop, we were told 2 hours, not the 20 minutes we had been promised. This is a typical Thai thing – as a culture, they hate conflict (sabai, sabai (comfortable) is a mantra here) so they told us one thing (20 minutes) that turned out to be not true. Getting angry here is greatly frowned upon; it is a tremendous loss of face. So, we smiled and waved goodbye to the employee from Mango that had taken us to the mechanic.

Rather than wait for 2 hours in the sun, we hopped a songthaew home to wait and texted the company to let us know when the bike was actually ready. By the time we got to our apartment and texted, the bike was ready. So, we headed back. We ate lunch at the Maya Shopping Mall at Duke’s, a chain restaurant here. They have an amazing lunch buffet, so we pigged out before picking up the bike.

A little bit about riding a scooter here. First of all, unless you are an experienced rider, don’t do it!!! The rules of the road are so different in Thailand. The obvious one is that they drive on the left-hand side of the road. This is shockingly the easiest thing to adapt to. What’s much harder is that you are only responsible for reacting to what you see in front of you when you are driving. So, if a car cuts you off, you are supposed to adapt by moving out of its way. Anything behind you is not your concern. Let’s just say that it makes driving very, very interesting.

The basic idea is whatever the idiot in front of you does, if you hit him/her, you are at fault!

One other thing we have done is to visit the immigration office. As I mentioned earlier, we are allowed to stay for 30 days. But, if you pay a 1900 Baht fee (about $57), you are allowed to stay another 30 days. It used to be that you could just go to the immigration office for a new passport stamp with a new exit day (or so I’ve been told). Now, things are a bit more complicated. As you enter the facility, there is a tent for the requisite covid temperature check. A nice lady asks what your business is and directs you where to go. We were told that we would need to go to window 3. But, before entering the building, there is another tent set up with lots of people filling in lots of forms. We found an English-speaking person and he told us he though we needed a T7 form. So, we grabbed a couple and sat down. That form was mighty confusing in its layout! And it seemed to need quite a bit of information that didn’t seem to pertain to us. But, we figured we had better fill it out, just in case. We had brought along visa pictures and copies of our passports. It was a good thing we did because they were indeed required. We joined a queue for our documents to be looked over before we could move on to the next step. Another English-speaking person helped us. It turns out that not only did we need the T7 form but also needed a T30 and a signed copy of our departure card. And we needed to sign the copies of our passports. When we filled out the T30 we would also need to get a copy of that and sign it. We found the office for the T30 and had to get a number and wait to be called. This form was more confusing than the last. It is a form that your landlord is supposed to fill in within 24 hours of your arrival in the kingdom. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. There was also a space for your landlord to sign it. Ugh. So, we filled it out as best we could and signed it ourselves. When our number was called, it turns out that the form basically got rubber-stamped, so we had nothing to worry about. We took our new form next door to the copy place and had it copied, along with our departure cards. The cost of the copies was a total of 8 baht (24 cents US). At least it was cheap!

Time to go back to the first line and have our documents checked yet again. They pretty much passed muster, so now we could go into the immigration office and join another line to have our documents checked yet again, and to receive a number to wait yet again.

All was in order, so we progressed to the waiting area. When our numbers were called, we turned in our documents and passports and were told to wait some more. Our pictures were taken, and we were given our passports back with a new exit date stamp – February 6th. It was a crazy morning! Our flight home is on the 5th so we are set. Unless, of course, we decide to stay longer. In that case, we will need an actual visa. We may or may not want to extend our visit but at least if we have to return to immigration, we will know what to expect. Oh, and the person that told us to go to window 3 when we arrived? Completely incorrect information. Ah, bureaucracy. The Thais seem to have it perfected.

Now, what will we do for the remainder of our stay? Walk, ride scooters, eat, sleep, repeat. I don’t think we will do much sightseeing because that is not why we came. I will probably take a Thai cooking class (or two); we may visit some outlying communities (or not). We shall see! If we do anything of interest, I will post it here.

Oh, yes. We did find time to visit our favorite chicken place in Chiang Mai – SP Chicken. If you like rotisserie chicken marinated in oodles and oodles of garlic, this is your place!!