I’m no stranger to travel, particularly in Asian countries, but coming to Chiang Mai definitely had many surprises. When I plotted this adventure, I admit I couldn’t help but have visions of a tropical paradise, fresh fruit galore, massages every night, and more money than I knew how to spend. There have definitely been highlights already, but I must say, there has been a few reality checks too.
A week in now, I wanted to take a moment and write down my first impressions of Chiang Mai and this nomad experience in general. Thankfully, Nicole and Rae have been completely happy and positive, but I’ve been much more uptight about certain things than I thought I was going to be. Although I know in hindsight I will remember this as an experience of a lifetime, these are my honest first impressions and a few things that have taken me by surprise so far.
Chiang Mai feels like a typical busy Asian city.
When you think Thailand, you think beaches, sand, board shorts, and coconuts. Of course I knew Chiang Mai was inland, but it was still a bit of a shock to find more of the big Asian city feel here, like cities I’ve been to in Japan and China, rather than the “resort town” feel. Nicole says it feels like home (as in Tianjin, China).
Ironically, as I write this I notice that I am indeed sitting under a palm tree sipping juice out of a freshly cut coconut and realizing how ridiculous this “complaint” is.
The Internet cafe (or co-working spaces) is paradise.
I think this is true especially in the area I’m in (Nimman), but if you head out on a walk in any direction, you’ll find cafe after cafe advertising wi-fi and/or “co-working.” They all expect you to be there for hours, and they are set up to make your visit a productive one.
The cheapest, crappiest cafe is on par with the best in Victoria. And the best one’s I’ve seen so far are like luxury restaurants. The one Nicole worked in today had rows of Mac computers that you could work on. Rae and I went to explore the place next door after breakfast today, which I thought was some sort of temple or something with the long driveway, bridge and moat, hanging flowers, and gently chirping birds… but of course it turned out to be yet another of these cafes.
You definitely do NOT need an office to work in Chiang Mai!
Money is top of mind.
Before the trip, I was pretty confident that money would be one of the last things I’d worry about. Surprising the opposite is true. I’ve been totally stressing about cash. In Victoria although expenses were high, we rarely gave spending habits a second though. But suddenly I’ve been obsessed with daily budgets and pinching bahts.
It’s a combination of a few things I think:
- Our Canadian dollar is worth about 30% less than last time I was out in this neck of the woods
- It feels like prices are quite a bit higher than last time
- We’re now 3 people, so if I want to go grab a banana pancake, it’s x3
Combine that with the fact that we’ve lost one income and the other is down, and our savings in stocks have tanked, and money has become one of the main things I think about.
I don’t necessarily fit in the “digital nomad” category
When I was 19 and teaching english in Japan, I definitely felt like another English teacher among many. When I was backpacking in Australia, even though I’m not particularly social, it was impossible not to feel part of the backpacking community. When I was living in Shanghai as a student I felt like I was in a club that included every other exchange student in the city.
Here in Chiang Mai there are thousands of digital nomads. In my building alone, you can’t walk two feet without seeing some western guy hunched over on a laptop. That’s who I am too, right? But they seem to be in a different world for some reason.
I realized they are all 20-year-old single guys, as was I back in my previous traveling days. I’ve been a part of that community before, several times in fact, and I don’t remember any 35-year-old married guys with 4 year olds being a part of that group.
So although I make my income online, but I’m now a different kind of traveler… the nomad family. So far others of this breed have been hard to spot, but I’ve turned to Nicole to help seek them out, so we’ll see where that leads!
Crossing the street is hard!
I’ve lived in many cities where the traffic is nuts, and it’s not that bad at all in Chiang Mai… but I have no idea how you’re “supposed to” cross the street. There are no lights for pedestrians even on the main giant intersections, and it seems impossible to know when cars are going to turn in any direction. The only way I see how at this point is to dart between cars flipping your head back and forth to make sure there are no cars coming from any of the other directions.
It’s a Night City
The giant mall and only grocery store we’ve found isn’t open until 11am. The little convince store downstairs doesn’t have hours posted, but we usually have to wait until the afternoon to go there. Even restaurants that advertise breakfast food seem to be closed when we’re looking for breakfast at around 8-9am. The night market down the street is crawling with students the moment the sun goes down, but up until sunset there is no one around and the hundreds of stalls that were full of cloths, trinkets, and steaming street food have completely disappeared!
When the weather forecasts storms, it means less sun (maybe).
So far every time I’ve looked at the weather forecast it has shown sunny for today followed by a full week of either rain or thunder storms. So far though I haven’t felt a single raindrop. I did see some lightening the other night behind the mountains, but it was clear sky’s where I was and in fact I was swimming at the rooftop pool at the time. I heard a bit of thunder last night, and the grass was damp this morning, so I guess it does rain… but I’m starting to think that the storm forecast means something different in Chiang Mai than it does at home.
In our manifesto we stated our intention to create some problems for ourselves and push ourselves to grow and change and keep life interesting. Given we have experience traveling, I have to admit in the back of my mind I wondered if traveling would really be something “new” and if we’d have anything more than a good long vacation. I think so far, however, it’s been a pretty good mix of fun and challenge, and I’m sure as we continue on, the things we worry about and the things we enjoy will evolve and change. I look forward to the months ahead!