This is my third trip to the second biggest city in Thailand. In a small way I have become a local. The baristas at Starbucks remember my name. They also remember not to ask me if I want yak milk when I order a black coffee. The owner of my favorite haunt for breakfast asked me if I really needed a menu “you know it by heart” he said. The ENT doctor at the Chiang Mia Ram hospital was gracious and said “nice to see you again, time to vacuum the ears?” I walked into Gecko Books and the owner looked up at me and said simply “Nope”. I had no idea what he meant. I shrugged my shoulders and he said “I have not gotten in any Hornblower novels yet.” It had been 4 months since I asked him if he had any. Most importantly, my dentist and all his assistants remember everything about me and treat me as a valued customer.
I know my way around the parts of town I need to know my way around. I know how to tell a Tuk-Tuk driver where I want to go. I know how to flag down a Sungtow (it is pronounced that way, the spelling is optional) headed in the right direction and how much to pay him.
I have adopted the attire of a resident expat, as opposed to a tourist expat. It helps fend off attempts at overcharging for transportation or other items. The difference I might pay if thought of as a Dickerson from Iowa as opposed to a local farong might be as much as a quarter in real money. It is a point of pride.
I have done all the tours and adventures already. So this trip is about finishing up a course of dental work and just “being a local.”
Of course I am not truly a local, but I am starting to think I would like to be, someday. It has become imperative that I eliminate or encounter other possible retirement locations before I convince my wife that there is no better place to hang our hats, watch our hair turn silver and feed the pigeons.
As said, this trip is hopefully, although doubtfully, my last trip to the dentist. Originally, almost a year ago, I came here to see my cousin. He has lived in Chiang Mai for 6 steady years. He seldom leaves. He blogs about it and emails me about it all the time. Once my wife and I settled into life in the UAE, I looked a the cost of flying here from Dubai. It was less than flying from our previous home in Central America to Los Angeles. Then I looked at the cost of dentistry in Dubai vs the same work done here in Chiang Mai. In short, it was less expensive to fly here, stay in a hotel, eat in restaurants and get my teeth fixed than it would be to have the dentistry done in Dubai. Plus I got a vacation, and Mary Ann got me out of the house.
My dentist here is the best dentist I have ever had. I have, since birth, had terrible luck with my teeth. So, I have seen enough dentists to fill a phone book. I once had an excellent dentist in Lima, Peru, but he was so expensive that my credit cardcompany sent me an emergency message that I was probably being robbed.
This dentist in Chiang Mai has equipment built tomorrow. He was educated at UCLA and speaks English perfectly. He explains everything so that even a fool like me can understand. He laughs at my jokes, which originate in nervousness. Yesterday he was screwing in an abutment. I told him I felt like a car. He turned to his assistant (yes, his CUTE assistant) and said, “Hand me the adjustable spanner.” She did not get it, but we had a good laugh. Plus, a BIG plus, something I cannot over emphasize, he is painless.
One other medical thing I take care of here is to have my ears vacuumed. Don’t ask. All I will say is that if I cut my head off, my health would be just fine. I walked into a first class hospital without an appointment, got the procedure done by an excellent doctor, and walked out less than an hour later. Total charge? About $30. Try that anywhere else.
But a person can only spend so much time in the dentist chair.
I planned this trip so that I would be here on a Sunday night. The Sunday night market in Chiang Mai is a colorful, vibrant and exciting event. Here are a few shots.
Besides the market I did not need to go anywhere or buy anything. Besides that, it has rained a few days during my visit. So, I have been reading quite a bit.
One of the reasons to love this city is a certain bookstore in town called Gecko Books.
An expat name George started Gecko Books about a decade ago. He has a handful of storefronts. They are all chock full of interesting books. He does not necessarily survive off of travelers, his local customer base is quite large as well. He buys books a customer/traveler is done with, and orders books both new and old from Australia, Canada, and the USA. If you buy a book from him, you can sell it back for 50% of what you bought it for. There is a time limit on this buy-back option, but I forget what it is. It has never been an obstacle. I have been able to find most anything I want to read. The popular authors such as Grisham are well represented. But it is not just a leisure reading bookstore. His shelves stock histories, science, theatre, dance, religion, and of course travel.
Anyone considering where they could afford retire to should consider Chiang Mai. My cousin is doing really well on about US$1200 a month, which includes rent, utilities, a great health insurance plan and he eats all his meals out. That is US$1200 a MONTH folks. Friendly people, very low crime, fresh air, great restaurants and a vibrant expat community.
Thanks for reading, tell a friend and make a comment. Next post….from KENYA!
Dubai is a city of extremes. Just about everywhere you go you can find the biggest, the fastest, the tallest.
My mother came to visit my wife and I last week, and we decided to be tourists in our own town. Technically we live in Sharjah, which is next door to Dubai. While being a rather sleepy town (Emirate actually) it is lovely, but without the superlatives you encounter in Dubai. Dubai seems to be working towards the Guinness Book of World Records for the most entries by a municipality in the Guinness Book of World Records.
We visited, in order;
Attached to this mall is the new icon of Dubai
On the top of the Burj we visited
The elevator to this observation tower is the worlds fastest elevator, 124 floors in 45 seconds. Yes, your ears pop.
All along we were met with plaques put in place by the Guinness book people. However, I just know that when I went to the gents room in this observation toiwer I was using the world’s highest urinal. Even though there was no plaque. I did not have a magic marker or I would have written graffiti to let people know what an honor it was to urinate there.
We also visited
To top it off my mom flew round trip on the 4th longest regularly scheduled air rout. LAX/Dubai/LAX. It is a 15 hour flight one way. Way to go mom!
Dubai is like the land of Oz. It is becoming a big tourist destination, for cause. The tourists are mostly European and Asian. Americans watch too much Fox news. I just feel lucky to live here.
Thats is it for this post. Next week I am off to Chiang Mai and the first week of June…KENYA! Stay tuned. Tell a friend, and please make a comment.
If you ever asked me in my younger days what would be an exciting week I may well have said something like “fly 5000 miles, have currencies from 4 countries in my wallet, and wake up wondering where I am.”
In my adult life I have had quite a few weeks like that. I am in the middle of another one.
The day before yesterday I was in Chiang Mai. A 90 minute flight on Air Asia took me to Bangkok for one night. At five a.m. I was on my way to the airport to catch a 7 hour flight to Doha on a Qatar Air Triple 7. After a three hour layover in the Doha airport, an hour on an A320 to Dubai, and hour in a cab to our townhouse, I spent one night in “my own” bed and got up with the call to prayer for my ride to the Sharjah airport.
As I write this I am in an Air Arabia A320 on my way from Sharjah to Beirut. Yes Beirut. They say it is the Paris of the Middle East. (I have heard that honorific compared to winning the NIT.)
I have a relationship with the back of the seat in front of me that the second dog in a dogsled team must have with the lead dog.
But I love it.
Let us start this episode of The Other side of the Coconut in Chiang Mai. I had planned to be there a month. My plans were for nothing more exotic than oral surgery and subsequent recovery. The surgery went extremely well and the recovery was like finding a $20 bill in an old pair of jeans, pleasant and quickly gone.
I was able to change my flight home very inexpensively.
So my month was now a week. I was very familiar with Chiang Mai. I had done just about every dumb tourist thing to do that exists there. I had timed this trip to the dentist to attend Loy Kathrong, which if you are a faithful reader you already know I enjoyed immensely.
There was one thing in the Lonely Planet book that I missed last time, and was determined to see this trip. There is a village in the mountains north of CM, near the border with Myanmar (or Burma if you prefer). The name of the village is Mai Salong.
Mai Salong did not exist before a regiment of the Kuongmintang Army escaped from China after the revolution, complete with their families, horses and traditions. Horses are rare in Thailand and the Thai word for these people translates to “The Galloping Chinese”. For the first 35 or so years of their existence, the villagers survived, and thrived, on the opium trade. The village was inaccessible except on foot or hooves. Eventually, the King of Thailand told the people that they would be accepted in Thailand, but they had to quit running opium, and let the government build them a road to civilization. The King also sponsored a new industry, that being the cultivation, processing and sale of tea.
Lonely planet described Mai Salong as a mini Hong Kong, steeped in Chinese culture and architecture. Poppycock. The only thing it is steeped in is tea. Lots and lots of tea.
It was interesting to find four Christian churches and two mosques in Mai Salong. I do not remember seeing a single wat.
The following day I was up before the poppies bloomed to go see an amazing, yearly, but amazing event. The entire Monastic community of Northern Thailand, 12,500 strong, gathers in Chiang Mai in a ceremony to receive alms. The monks arrived in the dark and filled about five city blocks on one side of a raised platform. The platform had a statue of Buddha and the venerated elders of the monastic community. The four blocks on the other side were filled with civil and military authorities. The point of the gathering, after much praying and chanting, was the thousands of monks walking thru the government/military people who put offerings in their big bowls. Normal civilians could also give alms. You bought them from an alms dealer nearby. The alms were mostly rice, noodles, bottled water and fruit juices. The bowls filled up quickly and people walked behind the monks and transferred the lot to large plastic bags. I would estimate that they collected at least a few tons of subsistence for the monasteries. I will let the following photos give you a better picture of the event.
OK, the plane is now coming into Beirut. I am looking forward to seeing this city that is so full of history and conflict.
Thanks for reading this post. Tell a friend, make a comment, and stay tuned for the story of our visit to the land of Danny Thomas.
Mary Ann and I were on the 14th floor of the Hilton Hotel for NYE in Caracas, Venezuela. Everyone in Caracas bought BIG skyrockets, and with no organized program, complete mayhem ensued. That was the most impressive display of community participation in an event I have ever seen. Until now. The night(s) of the November full moon find the city of Chiang Mai alive and vibrant in a wonderful celebration. Actually there are two different traditional celebrations happening at the same time. The first is Loy (some times spelled Loi) Kathrong. The origin of this celebration is lost in folklore. It is either to thank the river for bringing bounty to the land or to celebrate Buddhas first steps on the bank of the river Narmaha river in India. No one seems to care. What happens now is that couples make rafts, mostly the size of a medium pizza, with flowers, incense and a candle. They light the incense sticks and the candle and include a token coin on the raft. They make wishes for the next year and set them afloat in the Ping river. They drift down river but never reach the Pong river (sorry, dumb joke) before they get collected by young boys for the coins.
However, the most impressive part of this celebration is something that makes Chiang Mai almost unique. I hear this is done other places, but I also have read in magazines and in a book about cultural festivals that nowhere else is this done on the scale it is done here.
Now what would a community celebration be without a parade? Chiang Mai did up an excellent parade. OK, if the Rose Bowl parade is excellent, that makes this one very good. Lots of pretty girls and floats. In my coomitment to a full service blog, here are some photos.
Of course every parade has to have a military presence. This is the float of the Royal navy of Thailand. It is shaped like a royal barge, and was gold in color with lots of flowers. The two guys riding it could have been made of plastic, I mean they never moved a bit.
And no parade ever walked the streets of any town without politicians. This is the United States Department of State at work.
And last, the music. The parade started off with a marching band bigger than my high school’s, but smaller than say Ohio State. They were playing, of all things…wait for it…the theme song from Rocky 1. Gotta play something I guess. I always like the drummers in my former home of Bocas. This is what the drummers looked like in Chiang Mai last night.
The entire town was gussied up. Here are a few photos for those of you still awake.
Of course for every celebration, there must be an aftermath,
Thank you so much for joining me for Loy Kathrang and Yee Peng. I hope you get to see it yourself someday. One thing I forgot to mention, booze was prohibited outside of bars and inebriated people were not present anywhere. When you play with fire, safe and sober is a good idea.
Although I have other places to explore, Chiang Mai is now on top of my retirement possibilities. After all, if the US Consul can go native, why can’t I?
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Very random. If you don’t feel like following me through the trees jumping from limb to limb, catch me next time.
Thai Language: If I say it is different, will you say “duh”?
I know there are many languages where intonation is so important that it changes the entire meaning of words. Thai is one of those.
The intonation is lyrical. A word may go sianwhEEEExiao, or might go sianwhUMPxia. Big difference right? Well the fist means “I am happy in Chiang Mai” and the other means “I just arrived from planet x, take to your leader.”
Thai Money: It is the Baht. Roughly 32.5 of them buys a dollar. They have notes in 20, 50, 100 500 and 1000 denominations. Coins in 10, 5 and 1. 20 Baht will get you across town in a Sung Tawl (sp?). More on that later. Consequently you always want to carry twenties. They are dollar green. It takes a day or two to not freak about spending a 20 greenback. The ten coin is only useful as tips, and half a fare on the Sung Tawl. The other coins you put in the charity boxes at every checkout stand. Everyone does. They are not worth carrying around. But the charity boxes are full of them!
Getting Around Town: It really is not that big of a town, and when you eliminate the areas Farongs have no need to go to, you have reduced Chiang Mai to a few small neighborhoods. These are the neighborhoods with the bookstores, the restaurants and of course the Starbucks, all 7 of the things. The only franchise bigger than Starbucks here is “Sembleven” (7/11). In these neighborhoods, and I think elsewhere in town, you are never out of site of a 7/11.
To get around in town you can walk. But seriously folks. I take Sung Tawl’s all the time. For those of you in Bocas, it is exactly like the Bocas PD Paddy Wagon. Two benches face each other in a covered back of a pickup truck. You stand on the curb (if there IS a curb) and wave a green 20 in front of the driver like a red cape. He will pull over, you tell him where you want to go (better pronounce it right or you might be telling HIM to go somewhere). If there is no one else in back, no problem, he sets off. If he has customers already he might be going in a different direction and he will tell you no. Thats cool, one comes along every fifteen seconds. You give them a landmark, like Tha Pea gate. He drops you conveniently close and you walk from there.
The other common way to get around is the TookTook. A three wheeler with a bench on the back. Again, covered from rain and sun. These guys charge more but take you right to where you are going, like back to my hotel. They are more fun to ride in than the Sung Tawl, like a C ticket at Disneyland instead of a B ticket. (If you get that you are old)
The locals get around mostly on scooters. Small Hondas. Everyone over 12 seems to have one. I think they get them when they get their first cell phone. The scooters are designed to be two seaters, they often carry three. Sometimes you will see Papa Thai, Mama Thai, two baby Thais and a chicken all on one. Thanks to Buhda, they use mufflers, so the streets are quiet. But that also means you really must be careful before you step out onto the street. Two things to get your mind wrapped around is that first, pedestrians have no right-of-way, and secondly, Thais drive on the wrong side of the road. That second one still bugs me. It would take a long time riding around in tooktooks before I drove here, or I know I would cause a head-on. Meanwhile, I still remember to look both ways, but the other way first.
Tourists and Expats: Tourism here is way down. The expats all talk about it and say this is as low as they have seen it in however many years they have lived here. Most are quick to blame the recent incidents of the oppressed taking it to the streets. No, that is the way yours truly puts it. They will call it political unrest. or “that shit that went down in Bangkok” .
In comparison, I hear from my friends in Bocas that tourism is really low there this year as well. The last political unrest in Bocas was when the mayor closed the bars for easter.
Also, I do not want to think of myself as “One of the few, the brave, the stupid”. So I will just assume that traveler types have already gone everywhere they want to go. That is the most positive thought I can have about it. I think the Buhdism is getting to me. Smiling in the land of smiles is easy to do.
Anyway, back to the last limb…tourism. I chose to be here now, (Oh Oh, now the buhdism is slipping into quotes from Baba Ram Dass) and am lucky enough to be here. Restaurants are not crowded, tourist traps like the Tiger Kingdom are quiet and you get more personal attention. It is a great time to be here now.
Expats seem to have it awfully good here. One of them quoted “some magazine” that rated Chiang Mai the second best city in the world to retire in. Be here now, but be here for the rest of my life? Hmmm. I have been here three weeks and felt a breeze maybe three times. After Bocas and the Arabian Gulf, I have grown used to air that is moving. Not air just hanging there, heavy with the threat of rain, but no rain. The temps range from 80 to 90 mostly. The sun here enters the moist atmosphere and sort of boils it. I guess that is called humidity. But really, you have read this far so I wouldn’t say something lame like “it is humid”.
Beyond the weather…little or no crime. Or so I hear. Most people here are too busy trying to smile at you to steal from you.
Traffic is not bad. Mostly because of all the scooters and people movers. Also, people walk here, they walk a lot. The town is laid out in your classic E-W/ N-S grid with mostly straight streets. Traffic flows pretty well, albeit in the wrong direction.
Food. Name what you want. Mexican, Southern, great burgers, Indian, Japanese, French, Italian and oh yeah, Thai. You can get off the Sung Tawl in one of two neighborhoods and be close to any type of restaurant. However, most of them are members of Meals on Wheels. This is not for shut-ins, anyone can have an Italian meal (no not a Pizza, a meal) delivered to their hotel or home. They charge 50 baht to bring it. That is $1.50. Kick back and order some fettucine. I think I have it best. Right across the street is a comfortable garden restaurant owned and run by a guy who was a pastry chef in New Orleans, and a chef/butler to a rich guy in Denver. The man can cook.
Water. Potable. Other water? Well there is a river and a moat. Yeah, a mote. This was a walled fortress for something 8 thousand years, well quite a while anyway. (I wonder what tourism was like then!) Some of the wall still exists and some has been rebuilt. But no beach. You can visit waterfalls with pools, I have not done it yet, but long-time expats say there are nice spots.
This will be the last post of the week. I am in a Thai cooking class! I’m in class all day and so full of glass noodles afterwards that I just nap. I’ll write more at the end!
Thanks for reading. Comments?