I’ve now been in China for almost six months, and lately I’ve been finding myself getting a little homesick. Not for New Zealand (although Beijing definitely makes me miss good ol’ kiwiland), but for Chiang Mai, my home away from home in South East Asia.
Life was easy in Chiang Mai, and most of the expats I knew truly appreciated how good they had it. Everyone would mention how great it was living in the city and compare it to home or other places they’d traveled. For many people it was a retreat. An escape from their lives where they could either ignore what was going wrong, or try to pick up the pieces.
It’s the kind of place you can return to again and again, and while it will definitely be different (they were throwing up those apartment buildings like they were building them out of lego), I got the feeling that the heart of Chiang Mai will never change.
Ultimately I had to leave. While I was enjoying working full-time freelancing, there was little motivation to actually make any strides in my career since living was so cheap and it seemed like most other expats were in chill-out mode.
I still miss the city though, and I can definitely see myself living there again in the future.
Here are the 5 things I miss the most about living in Chiang Mai:
1. My Apartment
I have a pretty decent apartment in Beijing. I live in the best part of the city, a 7-8 minute walk from the expat hub with all of the best, bars, clubs, shopping, and restaurants. But I definitely miss my wee apartment in Chiang Mai.
I miss my neighbours and the Thai owners who couldn’t speak a word of English (we got on just fine with Google Translate), I miss how clean it was (no matter how much we clean in Beijing, a fine layer of dust quickly builds up on polluted days), and while I somehow ended up with the best roommates in the world here, I do miss living alone and being able to walk around naked.
2. My Scooter
In Chiang Mai I rented a scooter and paid monthly. It cost me around $4 to fill it up each week, and gave me the freedom to explore the city at my leisure, without needing to negotiate with tuk tuk drivers. With the sun on my skin, the wind in my hair, and the fact that I could sing tunelessly along to my music without any judgement, even my hopeless sense of direction couldn’t bring me down. Some of my favourite days were those when I got lost and ended up at some out-of-the way cafe or restaurant.
3. The Food
I couldn’t get enough of the food in Chiang Mai. While I could stuff my face on Pad Thai and a smoothie for less than $2, I could also go crazy with Italian or Mexican the next night, or grab hangover food at McDonalds. In Chiang Mai I had the best coffee of my life, tried food I never thought I would touch, and gradually found spots that only the locals knew, where I’d relax with friends and people watch.
4. The Markets
I’m not a great shopper. I’m a get in, grab what I need, get out kinda girl. I mean don’t get me wrong if I had unlimited resources I’m sure I’d be a shopaholic, but I usually end up comparing what I’ve bought to how long I could have traveled with the same amount of money and it depresses me.
I love browsing as much as the next girl, but I soon get tired of walking around aimlessly. However in Chiang Mai I would find myself lingering, taking photos, and spending way too much money on things I didn’t need. The markets are simply awesome.
Between the Saturday Market, Night Market, and Sunday Walking Market, the opportunity to shop is always there. And it’s easy to be tempted by all the interesting things available, many of them handcrafted in Chiang Mai.
5. The People
I met so many people in Chiang Mai, all with interesting stories to tell, and time enough to tell them. Dan, Jack, and Michelle all lived on my floor, and were usually free to grab a bite to eat and have a laugh. Romana, and Emanuele are also travel bloggers at thesiracusas.com, and I often babysat their son Diego while they worked on European time.
The couchsurfing meetup every week was especially fun, and an opportunity to hang out with local expats, as well as those just passing through. It was awesome to get together with people of all ages, who were looking to relax over a few drinks and compare travel stories.
Thai people are known for their smiles and kindness, and while I had a couple of run ins with some corrupt cops, for the most part I was treated very well by the Thai’s. I could speak around four words of Thai, and you’d think with the large amount of tourism they’d be sick of tourists but they would always go out of their way to help me.
On one occasion I was walking down the street and asked a man for directions. He was getting into his truck and gestured for me to get in. I’m a pretty good judge of character and felt no heebie jeebies from him, so I jumped in and he drove me up the road to my destination. I opened my wallet and he waved me off with a grunt, smiling as I thanked him in my awful Thai.
When my mum came to stay we needed to get all of our bags up the five flights of stairs to my apartment. We’d been traveling all day and had just arrived in from Cambodia, exhausted and grumpy. The security guard from downstairs immediately left his post to grab one side of my mums bag, and together we hauled it up stairs, taking frequent breaks.
The guy must have been in his fifties, but went out of his way to help us when he saw us struggling. After living in China I can now look back and truly appreciate the small acts of kindness I was given in Thailand.
Some travelers believe that Chiang Mai is overrated and full of tourists. For me it was a place to get on my feet, relax, and meet new people. I’m constantly tempted to go back, and I think it’s only a matter of time before I end up there again.