Our pit-stop in Chiang Mai

I was supposed to write a final post on Sri Lanka, alas, time has flown by and I realised that I didn’t have that many stories to tell about our final days in the country. So, I have done you all a favour by saving you from a potentially boring post. You can thank me later.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to a post from Sophie on our last days in the holy cities of Sri Lanka.

One of countless similar statues here

We are now unbelievably coming to the end of our stay in Chiang Mai. It was more of a rest stop than a whirlwind tour like we did of SL, but that was exactly what we planned and what we needed. Believe it or not, but traveling for an extended period can be quite exhausting, and we were definitely feeling in need of a break from it if we were to make it to the end. Three weeks of R&R in Chiang Mai would hopefully do the trick…

On our first night in Chiang Mai (CM), we celebrated our 150th day on the road, which if all goes according to plan, represents exactly half way through the trip. We had our first taste of amazing Thai food in a little restaurant near the night bazaar called Lemongrass. After the so-so food we had been eating in SL, this was like heaven to our taste buds! We tried allsorts, including the classic Pad Thai,  noodles in curry, pork and garlic, drunken noodles, and everyone loved their dishes! To top it off, we had mango and sticky rice, which was to die for! It was a great way to celebrate our achievement.

We had rented a so-called “luxury penthouse apartment” for 7 nights on Airbnb, and we had high expectations. Needless to say, we were sorely disappointed to find a mediocre flat in a slightly run-down apartment block in a location far enough away from the center of town to need transportation, but close enough to have all the smog and noise pollution. Despite the fact that we were on the 15th floor, the bass and vocals from the karaoke bar down the street forced us to get the earplugs out if we wanted to get any decent sleep. The terrible renditions of 90’s pop songs would have been funny if not for them keeping us awake until late. Then there was the hideous smell emanating from the bathroom. On the first night we made the mistake of leaving the door slightly ajar, and I was literally woken by the smell around 3 am, had to get up and close the door it was that bad! We didn’t make that mistake again… Then to top it all off, the wi-fi signal sucked since we had to piggyback off of a router in a completely different apartment down the hall! Our emails to the contact person remained unanswered, so we resigned ourselves to our fate. We were stuck here for seven nights. Could have been worse – it could have been the Grand Nest Resort 🙂 ! I could continue to rant here about how the AirBnb site has been taken over by companies that do not care for anything but making a profit, but I’ll stop myself right here.

Luckily, we had learnt our lesson from the Grand Nest fiasco, and had rented for only seven nights and not for the whole of our 21 night stay in CM. So, we got right to the task of looking for a new (hopefully better) place to spend our final 2 weeks in Thailand. I decided to use my new found fame as a level 4 contributor on TripAdvisor to search for vacation rentals, and I came up with a nice looking house, the only downside, if you can even call it that, was that it was located in the suburbs 12 km from the center of CM. This quite appealed to us really, so we decided to book it. The owners are a Thai-American couple who live in Hawaii, and they replied promptly to my request and even sweetened the deal by giving us a few free nights! It was a deal we couldn’t resist. We decided to go and visit the house on a Sunday, and had entered the address in the Uber app, got a price, and waited for the car to show up. After about 10 minutes wait, we got a message saying that the driver had cancelled the pickup. We would have to start again. We had used Uber many times in India and Colombo, and had never had this happen before. This should have been a warning sign. We then ordered a second car which did actually arrive and picked us up, only to give us some bullshit story about the destination being “out of his territory”, and he dumped us a bit further down the road. Then the adventure really began as we started asking the red trucks (pickups with seats in the back that are communal taxis) if they would take us. We didn’t like the prices they were giving us, so we kept walking and eventually stumbled across an old guy standing next to a battered old Honda. He asked if we wanted to go on a tour, and we said no, not really, but would like to go visit a house in the suburbs. After a bit of haggling, we agreed on a price and got in. We then had to guide him to the destination using Google Maps, since he didn’t have a clue where it was. Also, his car sounded as though it was about to conk out at any minute, and leave us stranded by the side of a busy thoroughfare.

Our home away from home

We found the house eventually, and it was located in a gated community of 2000 homes that had an uncanny resemblance to Alexandria, that mostly-deserted housing estate on The Walking Dead. It was eerily quiet, the streets deserted, not a soul about. We looked around the house and it was nice and spacious and had a big kitchen, washer & dryer, dishwasher, etc.. We were hooked, and would deal with the inconvenience of living in a ghost village. On our way back home, we realised that we would need transport, since nobody knew where the place was, and also taxi fares would probably end up costing just as much as a rental car, so we decided to rent a car for the duration of our stay.

Cycling around the estate

Turns out that the streets are deserted in the afternoon because it is stinking hot outside, and once the sun goes down in the late afternoon, the residents emerge for a stroll, jog or a bike ride around the streets. There’s a small lake nearby with a good collection of carp in it that the locals like to feed, and also a children’s play park not too far away. We had use of 4 bikes too, and the kids love cycling around the lake (a little too fast for the parent’s liking, but so far no major incidents!). Also, early mornings see a bunch of joggers, dog-walkers and moms with strollers out on the streets, and Sophie and I have now joined the regulars in doing our morning run around the estate. Most of the houses are in good repair, and you could almost be in Florida somewhere if you didn’t know better. This was just the sort of place we needed to properly relax in, and I’m sure that we will be sad to leave in a few days’ time.

At the elephant sanctuary

We have not been completely idle here in CM however, and have done a few excursions out and about, most notably to Chiang Rai (near the Border with Myanmar and Laos), a Thai cooking course, plenty of Thai massages, a visit to an elephant sanctuary, a visit up to Doi Suthep temple up a mountain, and today’s visit to the so-called Sticky Waterfall.

Foodcourt at the Central Festival Mall

In addition, we have been to pretty much all of the shopping malls in CM for one reason or other, and by far the best is the Central Festival Mall, which is quite high-end, but still has a lot to offer us “normal” folks – apart from the usual chain stores, a supermarket full of Waitrose branded goodies (but at triple the price!), and a bakery that does excellent croissants and baguettes. There is also food on several levels of the mall, and a huge kids arcade and play area, plus an IMAX cinema. In fact, I have never seen a mall this good anywhere back home in Canada. It puts our malls to shame, to be honest. And 5 hours of free parking to top it all off.

Add to this the relaxed and friendly people, the amazing (and cheap) food, the hot sunny weather, and you can easily understand why so many expats come here to live. If I had to choose a place to live outside of Canada, Thailand would most definitely be on my list!

View of the mountains from the Maya Mall

This being my third trip to Thailand, I can say that it has lived up to my expectations yet again. The only thing slightly negative I can say is that Chiang Mai has developed way too fast and bears no resemblance to the small town I visited nearly 20 years ago. Perpetual traffic jams are the norm near the old town now, and the whole region is blanketed in a thick layer of smog due to the sheer volume of traffic on the roads, among other things. This is a small price to pay however. Viva Thailand! And as Arnie would say: “I’ll be back!”.