(a.k.a. the halfway mark in the Land of Smiles)
It seems that everyone I know who has been to Thailand loves it. And it’s not just that they love it, but it’s their FAVORITE place. This had me very skeptical. But when we landed in Chiang Mai, I was just overcome with this feeling that I’d really enjoy it. Sometimes you just get a feeling about a place, and I was feeling Chiang Mai already.
It’s crazy what acclimation can do to you. I was walking home from the workspace the first worknight and thinking to myself what a lovely evening it was. I could tell there was humidity in the air, I felt it on my skin (but not my hair, thanks to Brazilian Blowouts…haha!), but it really wasn’t bothering me. The temperature felt comfortable, and it was just a perfectly pleasant walk home. I googled the current weather in Chiang Mai – it was 81 degrees and 75% humidity. I would have DIED in that kind of weather 6 months ago (living in AZ), but after the absolutely treacherous weather that was Hanoi last month, this felt pleasant. I’m still stunned by that.
Chiang Mai was such a charming place to spend the month. I really fell in love with the people (they don’t call it “the land of smiles” for nothing), our accommodations for the month, the lush greenness of the city, and walkability of the town. I’m not really sure why I loved it, other than it’s just a place I felt immediately drawn to. I met some other digital nomads this month too, and many of them had been here 5, 7, 10 years. I can easily see this being the kind of place you think you’ll come for a few months and end up staying forever.
6 Month Celebration
This month marked 6 months of Remote Year, our halfway point. We had a bit larger of a farewell celebration this month to commemorate the occasion. We took a songthaew (the red truck public transportation) about 30 minutes outside of the city where we had a giant pool reserved just for our group. We had a catered thai lunch, received the postcards we wrote to ourselves in month one, and had some superlatives for the group.
I think we were all in our feelings a bit that day – it’s hard to believe that it’s already been six months, and that we only have six months to go. Part of it was a reminder that the goals we had for ourselves on day one are still achievable, and it’s time to set some new ones too. It also served as a reality check that this will all come to an end faster than we think it will, and there’s a lot of decisions to make about what life looks like post RY.
We started with 34 remotes + our Program Leader, and we currently have 27 remotes + a new Program Leader. We’ve seen some changes within the group, we’ve had people lose people close to them, we’ve had people find love, and lose love. Contrary to what you may see on instagram, life goes on (even while on Remote Year).
- Khao Soy – coming from someone who doesn’t really like Thai food, I really enjoyed this dish. Definitely try it if you get to Northern Thailand! I liked the version from Khao Soy Maesai the best.
- Toasties – these are sandwiches from 7-11, which they will heat up for you. Basically glorified grilled cheese, but they are cheap (about $1 USD) and available 24/7.
- Ristr8to coffee – order the drink that comes in a skull and prepare to be amazed at both the coffee and the serving glass. They also earn bonus points for playing a bunch of 90’s and 2000’s alternative rock.
- Into the Woods – this was a great café to work from. They had a good latte, nice big tables, comfortable chairs, enough power plugs, and crazy fast wifi (105 down/up)
- Love Princess House– This was a nail salon right next to the apartments we stayed in. It was decorated in all pink, had giant massage chairs, and you were offered snacks and Netflix while they worked on you. Gel manicure with nail art on every nail was 700 baht (around $23 USD)
- Beast Burger– I ate here 4 times, and each time I liked it better than the last. This was a delicious burger, and their curly fries are pretty amazing too. It’s pretty pricey though by Thailand standards ($220 baht or around $7 USD for a burger, fries, and soda).
- Riverside Bar – This is one of those places that feels like you have to be “in the know” to know about. It feels like a bit like a dive bar, but their live music is phenomenal (even playing lots of well-known American hits).
- Smoothie Blues – had a really good smoothie and pancake here for breakfast one day.
- Red Car taxis (Songthaews) – these are the public transport in Chiang Mai. They are red pickup trucks whose beds have been converted into 2 benches holding 8-10 people. You hail these similar to a taxi – just stick out your arm.
- Tuk Tuks – these are by far the most expensive way to get around town, but they are really enjoyable. Try them once if you haven’t done so already, but be sure to negotiate the rate first (and don’t be afraid to bargain them down)!
- Elephant Freedom Project – This allows for an ethical way to interact with elephants. They rescue previously mistreated elephants and give them a place to recover and thrive. You’ll learn about ethical elephant tourism, and why some of the tourist activities advertised by other companies are bad for the animals. You get to feed, play with, and bathe the elephants up close and personal. Highly recommend checking this out (note: not all “sanctuaries” or “ethical” camps treat their animals well. Do your research)
- Past Life Tea Party – for those of you into some of the quirkier activities, I attended a past life reading tea party hosted by a local digital nomad, which was really cool. Highly recommend checking it out if it’s something you’re curious about – she was so spot on.
- Mango sticky rice – I ate embarrassingly little of this delicacy this month, and I’m definitely going to miss it once we leave
Things I missed this month / what Chiang Mai lacked:
- Credit cards – Chiang Mai feels like a pretty big city. It has gigantic malls, and even has several American chains like Dairy Queen, Subway, and Pizza Hut. And yet, none of these took credit cards, and the few places that would accept credit cards had a ridiculously high minimum (often $15-$30 USD, which was basically impossible to reach if you were alone)
- Wine – Thai people aren’t really wine drinkers and finding a decent bottle in a store just didn’t happen.
- Chiropractors – it’s very difficult for non-locals to get licensed in Thailand, and Thailand doesn’t seem to treat this as a legitimate thing. There are 22 chiropractors listed on their official website as licensed to practice in all of Thailand, nearly all of them in Bangkok. Needless to say, I didn’t get my bi-weekly adjustments while in Thailand.
- Restaurant hours – restaurants keep strange hours here. If you want food at 3pm or 10pm, you’re likely out of luck. Many places close by noon, or 2 at the latest, for lunch and by 9 or 10 at the latest for dinner. Working night shift meant that we had to be prepared food-wise if we wanted to eat “lunch” while working.
Side trips / day trips I took from Chiang Mai:
I’ll probably try to write up some separate guides / trip reports on a few of these, but wanted to include the side trips I did this month to give you some ideas of what’s nearby.
- Ko Samui and Ko Pha-ngan (Full Moon Party) – Ko Pha-ngan is most well known for their monthly full moon parties. If you’re in Thailand during the full moon, it’s worth looking into the full moon party. It’s not something I’d do more than once or twice, but we had fun. The nearest airport is in Ko Samui (though there’s a cheaper option further away) and then it’s a short 30 min ferry ride to Ko Pha-ngan. Definitely book your accommodations in advance if you go for the full moon party – they will fill up early, especially in high season.
- Chiang Rai / Golden Triangle – Chiang Rai is Northeast of Chiang Mai, and borders both Laos and Myanmar (Burma). I took a day trip that visited several of the unique temples in the Chiang Rai area, as well as visited the Golden Triangle (where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet) and crossed the river to spend some time in Laos.
- Doi Inthanon – this is the highest mountain in Thailand and is home to a variety of activities: waterfalls, hiking, flower gardens, and temples.
Transition Trip from Chiang Mai:
In our 4th month, Remote Year started offering the option to opt out of the flight that Remote Year pays for, receive a credit, and book your own airfare to the next city. This month, I chose to opt out of the group transition flight from Chiang Mai to Kyoto, and instead stop in Hong Kong and Macau on my way to Kyoto.
When I visited, the Hong Kong protests were in their second month and they had just shut the airport down for two days only the week prior. When I arrived at the airport, the tourism department collected my contact information and exit flight information and offered their help to ensure I got out of the country in case more protests impacted flights. There was another planned protest for the day of my exit flight, but as there was still an injunction against protesting at the airport it didn’t end up impacting my flight.
Visiting Hong Kong and Macau was an interesting experience, even aside from the protests happening. The are both technically part of China, classified as “special administrative regions.” Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers in the world (nearly double that of the second place city, New York City). It’s an absolutely gigantic city with, surprisingly, the second longest life expectancy in the world. In Hong Kong, the British influence is noticeable: locals who speak English often do so with a British accent, and the whole city feels quite Western. If you’re looking to ease into a China visit, Hong Kong would be a comfortable place to start. Macau on the other hand felt much more like China. Macau is like a grungier version of Las Vegas (and in fact, they do have quite a few replicas of hotels found in Vegas). Macau was a little crazier, a little dirtier, a little more chaotic, and a lot less English speakers.