Knowing What I Know Now about Chiang Mai

Now that I’ve been here for a little over a week, I see more of what has worked and what does not, for me. This is not necessarily a list of recommendations. Those are scattered throughout my posts, but maybe I’ll put some here. There are some definite DO NOT recommendations in this post though. All sides are useful perspectives. Here’s what I know –

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Definitely check out a Muay Thai match. I love the ritual, friendly sportsmanship, and the bloodsport nature, all wrapped up in one evening. Bring small coins to pay for the toilet. Don’t expect tissue.

I’m Glad I…

  • Got my visa beforehand
  • Spoke to many friends who have gone
  • Organized all the notes above in a document to get an idea
  • Have a phrasebook (but phrasebooks and a good Nancy Chandler map are cheap AF here so…)
  • Brought my country’s (quality) signature hard candy (See’s). Seriously. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a friend.
  • Brought Sunscreen
  • Brought plenty of synthetic underwear
  • Brought a P-Style
  • Brought bio degradable wipes for moments when there were no toilet paper (I haven’t worked up to using the bidet)
  • Took a language class here. Best $35 spent here.
  • Am so social. A lot of the great places I’ve gone and the cool things I’ve experienced are because I strike up conversation, am polite, try to learn the culture and language (and act on it whenever I can).
  • Checked out other packing lists
  • Brought a dry bag
  • Brough a Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner with insect repellent. That was the other best piece of advice advice from a friend.
  • Brought coconut oil for burns, moisturizer, etc. Though, they have it here.
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Monks at the Open Meditation Night at the temple with the City Pillar. It’s on Fridays from my understanding.

I Wish I Would Have…

  • Read the mandates on what you can bring on a checked bag and what you can bring on a carryon a bit more closely. Nothing like arriving to a foreign country to find that your charged up extra Anker battery has been taken out of your checked bag.
  • Read this before arrival. Though, it’s been fine to read here: https://www.into-asia.com/thai_language/grammar/krapka.php
  • Learned a little Thai before arrival. At least off of youtube or hooked up with a Thai-speaking friend. This website is good, and this article on it is useful for language.
  • Brought a back up thing of eye drops. Little comforts, and I really needed them last night, but misplaced/lost my bottle.
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On the trek to see the elephants

Modifications to my Packing List:

  • No jackets, but yes to a long sleeve shirt. Jackets just take up space.
  • Bring less clothing. The clothing is cheap and nice (but make sure you wash it first, as I am writing this with a Smurf butt, thanks to Songkran and new blue shorts).
  • Life straw is not necessary (unless you plan on backpacking)
  • Bring less bug repellent, but still bring some. I prefer Repellent with Lemon Eucalyptus Oil.
  • Less sunscreen – worth bringing, but I brought a few bottles too many. I would have brought two. One full bottle of Badger Sunscreen because it has citronella, and one for face.
  • Still get a visa prior to arrival if you plan on coming for more than 30 days. This is for peace of mind. But, order it from a local Thai Embassy. The govt website just lists the DC address.
  • Bring one nice hat, maybe one broad rimmed hat as well. Or, get them here.
  • I brought my thai tourbooks and a phrase book. The phrase book has been more or less useless, but it has been helpful to have in strange situations. Google translate is just as useless.
  • Pony up the cash (less than $10 US) for a Thai sim card so you can get data anywhere. They sell them at 7-11 standardly.
  • Bring a nice chunk of US cash. I am here for 1.5 months, exchanged $800 US before getting here at my bank (order at least one week in advance) and only brought ~$200 US with me – bring more, and here’s why: with an ATM you will pay about 220 baht per transaction. That’s about $6 US you could be saving, an entire days worth of food.
  • Bring US hard candy (See’s is great) because they are cute gifts and great icebreakers/kind things to offer Thai people
  • I would not bring a water bottle unless trekking. And even then, I would just hang onto a plastic one I think. This one has been mostly a hassle. If I was to bring one, I’d never bring a wide mouth one again. Impossible to drink while moving in a tuk tuk, etc.
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Bhubing Palace

Upon Arrival:

Take a Thai language class. It will come in handy. Besides being useful and getting you friends, negotiating room, you will quickly become a popular farang and invited to more Thai-specific gatherings. I wanted to learn because I didn’t want to feel like an oaf, and it helps me feel a bit more grounded and capable of being respectful. But, different people, different motivators – which is why I list all of this here.

Chit chat with others to see what worked for them. There are many friendly people, and the Thai folks in particular do business with each other, through each other. Sometimes it’s a win, sometimes it’s a miss, so use your best judgment. Elephants and zip line were a win, but below was a recommendation from a good man, and it went horribly wrong.

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On Motorbikes –

Know that you might get stopped by the po and fined. I was fined 400 baht and I know some who were fined 1000 baht. Theoretically I won’t get fined anymore if I have the receipt on me next time they pull me over, but I don’t want to find out. So, if you see the po, get off the bike or turn ASAP. They don’t harass like they do in the US, so you’re in luck. But, I’m also white, so take what I say with a grain of salt, and don’t be a dick. I’d also learn the word for Mr Policeman followed by the masculine or feminine particle to be extra polite. I’d tell you what it is but I’ve forgotten currently.

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Do not go here to rent your motorbike.

Do not, I repeat, do not: rent your motorbike from “Motorcycle Rental Chiang Mai”. They will over charge you, and then your battery will die. I was past Doi Suthep on my way to Doi Pui. If it wasn’t for a very nice thai man with a man named Sam from the UK, I would be seriously SOL.

Google Translate was useless, and my Thai phrasebook was pretty useless as well. Luckily, I had a few hours of Thai instruction under my belt, so I was less stressed than I otherwise might have been. Several Thai folks stopped by and were incredibly nice. The one pair stayed with me, and then another man went to go get a truck. He and his friend are from the Mong Village and towed me back (for half the price they could have charged) to Chiang Mai (about an hour’s trip). The motorcycle rental folks gave me a different bike (which they tried to charge me another 100 baht for, but I wasn’t gonna do that). Suffice to say that new one they gave me broke down as well, and within 12 hours. So, don’t waste your time, money, or stress on those people. 

Also, carry candy with you from your country. It makes for a great ice breaker and helps me feel like less of a deadweight for not knowing much Thai. 

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As another Thai person put it, “There are many option in Chiang Mai to rent motorbike. They response for their bike. This not good place. Go to other place” when I told her about my trials as I was getting ready to have some of her delicious Phat Thai (40 baht).

A Note About Food –

Put it in your mouth.

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Lastly, there’s good food, tourist food, cheap food – it’s all good. I haven’t gotten sick, but I haven’t been completely stupid about it, and I have a strong constitution.

I’ve eaten ice in Chiang Mai, raw salads, fruits, used the water to brush my teeth (she said don’t swallow), all with fine results. The dairy hasn’t even given me as many problems as it normally does at home (they use a lot of dairy).

I haven’t tried the look-alike food to US stuff. There’s burgers, french fries, other things available here. I have heard that you are actually more likely to get sick from that. I’m told this is because they don’t now how to make it as well (which I don’t know how much of a reason that is, how hard are french fries to make?).

My guess is that actually, it is so foreign to the land here that a person will get sick not because the foreign food is made wrong, but because you shouldn’t be eating that shit in this country. The weather is wrong for it, the activities are wrong for it; the whole food culture has developed here more or less in sync with the land and the seasons.

True or not, why would I come all the way to Thailand to have a burger I can have any day of the week in the US? I’m here to experience the culture. That includes the food. I get the homesick aspect and the comfort aspect. I get it. Being homesick is part of the ride. If you have kids, this may be a different story at some point, but that’s not my jam so good luck.

RIP –

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So sad.

I’m sad that this little guy died on me while I was weight lifting. I’ve had this water proof watch since I was a kiddo, and had just replaced the battery before this trip. I learned from a person from Seattle that I could have taken this thing to a shop and gotten it fixed – Thai people are incredible like that – but alas, I thought it was a lost cause and had already tossed it. I know I’m an American because…

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