Exotic, Idyllic, And Among The World’s Cheapest
Thailand is arguably the cheapest place on earth to live well. Intrepid Correspondents Paul and Vicki, on-and-off residents of the country for more than two decades, have long been teasing and tempting me with tales of US$1 Pad Thai lunches and US$11-a-night hotels (including breakfast and free Wi-Fi).
They’ve gotten my attention, not only because I want to see a comfortable and pleasant US$11-a-night 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.
Vicki wrote recently to explain that her doctor in Thailand says she needs more exercise. So she and Paul began taking morning speed walks through the back lanes of Chiang Mai’s inner city. As Vicki explains, “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, semipublic 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.”
Life in Chiang Mai is both traditional and increasingly influenced by the growing and active expat community in this region of Thailand. Living here, you could fill your calendar completely with expat activities if you wanted to. You 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 Newcomers’ Club, dine with other women at the monthly women’s dinner club, and on and on. You could meet Thais in Rotary or Toastmasters. There are a couple of mega fund-raising parties each year for local charities. For more physical activity, there are hatha yoga classes, tennis groups, and hiking clubs.
Best of all, you could meet people from all around the world, people like you looking for new lives in an exotic, beautiful, welcoming, and almost unbelievably affordable part of the world.