Editor’s Note: Pam Johnson and her husband Woody are in the midst of a yearlong trip abroad, visiting 12 countries in 12 months. Pam will file monthly stories along the way.
By Pam Johnson
Of everywhere we’ve been on our adventure around the world, Chiang Mai is the city most visited by our family and friends. My foremost question before we arrived was, “Why Chiang Mai? Why is it such a destination city?” Now, after spending a month there, I better understand the desire for not only visiting the city but settling down there for the long term.
For tourists, Thailand is a hot spot. Literally and figuratively. The whole country is tropical, and there are beaches, mountains, jungles, elephants, mangoes and bananas. Kind of like Hawaii on steroids. The people are friendly and accommodating, and everything is so laid back. No one seems to rush around for anything. You can get by (at least in the larger cities) speaking English. The food is varied and exceptional, and there are plenty of temples to explore, coffee shops and cafés to hang out at, and outdoor markets to investigate to keep you busy for a long time.
One can stay engaged just roaming the cities, but many of the best adventures lie in the countryside. There are elephants to feed, mountains to climb, jungles to hike, and waterfalls to discover. Our favorite excursion was a tuk tuk (3-wheeled motorbike taxi) tour that took us to all of the above. There’s nothing quite like getting in the river with elephants, throwing buckets of water on them, and trying to avoid being squashed when they start rolling around and playing in the water.
We chose Chiang Mai over the world-renowned Thai beaches because so many family members and friends highly recommended it, and we wanted to be near the mountains. If it’s the beach you want, you’ll need to stay closer to Bangkok or head to one of the islands like Phuket. I hear amazing things about the beaches of Thailand, so take time to explore those if you get a chance.
Take note, though, if you’re not a “hot weather person.” It is hot. It’s always hot. You can’t get away from the hot. This is the only country on our journey where we’ve had to deal with such heat. It wasn’t unbearable, but we definitely didn’t get out during the daylight hours like we have in our other locations. Also, keep in mind that the field-burning season is during February and March. Like in Nepal, the air quality and the views were not great. Still, put Thailand on your list to visit, but when making plans, my advice is to go in the fall after the rainy season and before the burn season.
Thailand isn’t just a fabulous place to visit, it’s a popular place for foreigners to live. An American expatriate (someone living outside their native country) we met said that she values the international schools and church communities. She mentioned that Chiang Mai is less humid than Bangkok and touted its great cool-weather season, beautiful hiking, low-cost medical and dental, and delicious Thai and international cuisine.
Another expat told me that Chiang Mai was a good place for raising her kids. She came to appreciate the slower pace. She also recommends learning a bit of Thai if you plan to go. Thai people appreciate it so much when foreigners attempt to speak their language. Another American told us, “The kindness of Thai people, the beauty of the country, the mild climate, good food, and good health care are just a few of the things that make it perfect for me.”
Thailand seems to love hosting expats, so if you’re thinking of ever settling down abroad, put Thailand on your short list. You may be interested to know that there’s a retirement visa. It’s good for one year, but it can be extended continuously. (I also heard rumors of a 10-year visa, but I’m not sure if that’s in effect yet.) Keep in mind, though, that while housing and medical care are inexpensive, we didn’t find other things as cheap as we thought we would. Prices in stores and restaurants were rather comparable to what we pay in Tennessee. However, if you stick to street food, you can eat cheaply. And it’s very good and plentiful!
I understand now why people go to Thailand, and one cannot go wrong with a visit to Chiang Mai.
A stroll in Chiang Mai means:
the roar of a tuk tuk, the heat of the sun
the sight of a temple, the cicadas loud song
the smile of a vendor, the taste of Thai tea
the glint of a Buddha, the shade of palm trees
a massage for relaxing and street food galore
an unhurried pace in an enchanting place.
Now, off to “Down Under” to visit koala bears and kangaroos!
If you’d like to hear more about our travel adventures and see more photos, please visit my blog and follow me on Instagram and TikTok @amimionthemove. Check back next month to read about Australia.