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Cheap Living In Chiang Mai

At Home…And At Peace…In Chiang Mai

Thailand is arguably the cheapest place on earth to live well right now. Friends Paul and Vicki Terhorst, on and off residents of the country for many years, have been teasing and tempting me with tales of $1 Pad Thai lunches and $11-a-night hotels (including breakfast and free wi-fi).

They’ve gotten my attention, but not only because I feel like I want to go to see this $11-a-night comfortable and pleasant hotel for myself, but also because the way of life they describe sounds both exotic and idyllic…full of adventure and discovery and, at the same time, completely at peace.

As Vicki writes this week:

“My doctor says I need more exercise. So I’m joining Paul in his morning speed walks through the back lanes of Chiang Mai’s inner city. We leave around 7 a.m., when it’s still cool and there’s little traffic. At that hour, we often see the last few Buddhist monks, in their flowing orange robes and bare feet, finishing up their morning ‘begging’ rounds. Actually, the monks are not begging at all. They’re allowing households to make merit, and receive a blessing, by offering the monks cooked food in single-serving-sized plastic bags.

“On our walk, we pass two schools on a narrow lane. Private police control traffic at the school entrances. To help keep traffic moving at the first stop, a nursery school, the cops open car doors and gently lift the sleepy little children out of the cars. They then hand them off to the staff of the school.

“At the second school, grade-school students arrive on the backs of their parents’ motorcycles or in cars, hired vans, or small, red, semi-public buses. No one walks to school here. We see the kids wearing different uniforms on different days, and we figure that Friday must be ‘tradition day.’ On Fridays, girls wear long sarongs and dressy white blouses.

“After weaving through the school traffic, we pick up our walking tempo. We stay attentive to cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and dogs that share the lanes with us. I also pay attention to our lovely surroundings. We pass several temples. The sun plays on the golden ornaments and brings the glazed tiles to sparkling life.

“We pass mini-mansions and small, ancient teak houses. We pass empty green fields and well-tended gardens with bright, tropical flowers. We pass small food stalls selling favorite Thai breakfast treats. Rice and spicy meat. Vegetable curries. Sweet, milky, iced coffee or hot, sweet soy milk, served with fried doughy squares.

“After about 10 minutes walking, we arrive at Buat Hat park, the only public park within the old city walls and moat. On a typical weekday morning, we see speed walkers, joggers, and amblers chatting on cell phones. We all loop around the small park several times on a well-worn cement path. We pass ponds, bridges, pavilions, a children’s playground…

“But mostly we pass through lush, tropical green: grass, trees, bushes, and plants. Even the ponds look green, reflecting the surroundings. Gardeners work everywhere, keeping the park in shape.

“In the open area, locals play badminton, and, on the weekends, students play soccer. Some days, a dignified-looking woman leads elderly Thais through a series of elegant movements with brightly colored hand fans.

“After various loops in the park, Paul and I head back. We stop for a Thai breakfast: noodles and vegetable soup or a combination plate of rice or noodles with vegetable stir-fry and spicy curry. Then we return home and get ready for the day.

“Paul and I have been coming to Chiang Mai for many years. We’ve made a few Thai friends, but, until this year, we’ve met few expats.

“Now that’s changed. For the first time, we’ve become aware of the active expat community here. We’ve been meeting for lunch every week with a few longtime expats from England, Australia, and the U.S. They’ve introduced us to others.

“I’ve found that I could fill my calendar completely with expat activities if I wanted to. I could sing in a choir, act in a play, volunteer in one of several service organizations, participate in a writing club, learn what’s going on at the Newcomer’s Club, dine with other women at the monthly women’s dinner club, and on and on.

“There are opportunities to meet Thais in Rotary or Toastmasters. There are a couple of mega-fund-raising parties each year for local charities. If you want more physical activity, there are hatha yoga classes, tennis groups, hiking clubs…

“We went to an expat potluck party the other night at a friend’s home. Several in the group are musicians, and some perform together once a week at a local bar/restaurant. In fact, the original reason for hosting the potluck party had to do with the Queen’s birthday, an official holiday…meaning bars are closed.

“The impromptu party band included guitars, tambourines, a small accordion, a flute, and a fiddle. The group played folk music, much of it old English and Irish songs. We had a rousing sing-along, enjoyed by all, even though few knew the lyrics. We ate well. The buffet table groaned with mounds of Western food, from fried chicken to fish stew.

“Best of all, I met people from all around the world, people who, like us, enjoy living in Thailand. When we left the party around midnight, it was still going strong. What a treat to meet this tiny and dynamic segment of the expanding expat community here in Chiang Mai.”

Kathleen Peddicord

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