Chiang Mai: We’re Home?

We arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, last week with very high expectations for the city. Everything we read online, especially on sites geared toward digital nomads, spoke of it in glowing terms. But we were underwhelmed for our first few days here. Now we’ve found our groove in Chiang Mai, but we don’t have the immediate sense of homecoming we felt in our prior long stay locations of Budapest, Puerto Escondido, and Medellin. Still, I think we’re going to like it here.

Our Chiang Mai Home

Our Airbnb apartment is in no way to blame for our initial lack of feeling at home. In fact, I think it already rates as one of the most comfortable apartments we’ve had. This is our first long-term experience with a studio apartment rather than at least one bedroom, but so far we don’t mind one-room living at all. It is spacious enough to provide separation between the different room functions (kitchen, desk, and bed) and has a very nice little balcony where we enjoy coffee and breakfast each morning. The AC works great, we have a washer in the apartment, and it has one of the best hot showers we’ve had on the road. The building is huge but seems mostly empty, and there is a mini-mart on the ground floor and a fantastic pool.

Also, our host is exceptional. She and her daughter kindly picked us up from the airport – we’ve never had a host do that before. And, they gifted us with a pair of super-soaker water guns for the Songkran Festival (more on that later). The apartment is full of thoughtful touches, like toiletries and a hairdryer, cleaning supplies, and decent kitchenware. And the wifi works well, which is a must for us. So an A+ for our accommodations here.

Our Routine

We arrived in Chiang Mai really needing to get some work done. We’d basically taken off the full week it took to travel to Asia and see Singapore and Siem Reap. Our first full day in Chiang Mai was a Wednesday and we were able to get right into a workable daytime routine – coffee on the balcony, yoga, breakfast, a long walk, working for a couple of hours, lunch in or out, a little more work, then a trip to the pool.

We’ve enjoyed our morning walks here and have been pleasantly surprised by how lovely the weather is in the mornings. At home, when the high is going to top 100 Fahrenheit, the mornings usually already feel sticky. Here, although it is 100 degrees each day, the mornings are pleasant and breezy. We’ve explored a great deal of our neighborhood, which is close to the Maya Mall and takes about 20 minutes walking to reach the wall of Old Town.

Food court lunch!

There are plenty of restaurants around here and we have a few grocery options. Eating out is so inexpensive here, it is almost cheaper than eating at home. The Maya Mall food court offers numerous options for just 50 baht (about $1.60). We struggled a bit with our first grocery trips being a bit pricey (at Rimping Supermarket in Maya Mall and Tops Supermarket in the mall toward Old Town) but then found a Makro Supermarket, which is more of a warehouse-style discounter with tons of produce. We intend to maintain our past system of eating out three nights a week and also have a couple of lunches each week out too (because how can you beat a great meal for 50 baht!?!?).

Songkran Festival

Our enjoyment of Chiang Mai really hit high gear yesterday (Saturday) with the start of the three-day Songkran Festival, AKA Thai New Year, AKA an amazing citywide water fight. We had a fantastic day getting drenched and watching people enjoying the festivities. We stumbled across a procession of Buddha statues being “washed” by the people on the streets throwing water on them. The procession really gave us a peek into how the Songkran tradition likely developed and was quite beautiful: people approached the statues to splash their water on them, and then often received water back from the monks that they’d then splash on themselves. There were also monks in the trucks throwing water at people on the street, including me and Chad, which felt very much like a blessing. According to the internet, washing the Buddhas is supposed to wash away the bad luck of the previous year to start the new year with good luck, as does splashing water on each other. It is a very neat tradition and I’m so glad we’re here for it. The procession of the Buddhas actually inspired me to enroll in a free Harvard MOOC course on Buddhism, which I started (Sunday).

After my online Buddhism studies today, Chad and I ventured back out into the Songkran mayhem, this time “armed” with our super-soakers. At first, I admit, I was a bit shy about returning the “friendly fire” we received, but I reminded myself that this tradition is connected to the Buddha washing, so instead of shooting people with my super-soaker, I told myself I was blessing them. Chad and I both got blessed a lot! In addition to squirt guns, people roamed the streets with buckets that they’d dump down your back. Many people travel around in the backs of pickup trucks with water guns and buckets (sometimes Thailand is more ‘Merica than we are!); some of these folks have big chunks of ice in the barrels of water they use to refill, so when the water hits you it is cold! We expected to get wet during Songkran, but we really got soaked. But it was a lot of fun and an unforgettable experience.

Summary

All in all, we’re very happy to be in Chiang Mai and enjoying our time here. I think as we get to know the city better we’ll appreciate it even more, but for now it is nice to be settled in a comfortable place and taking part in a truly amazing festival. Songkran is one of those events like Dias de los Muertos that should be on any bucket list (even if that bucket is filled with icy cold water!). I think we’ll be really happy here in Chiang Mai.

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