I’ve talked quite a bit about my big adventures here in Thailand but very little about my everyday life in Chiang Mai. Not surprisingly, life is orchestrated very differently here than in the US. Here are a few bits and pieces of everyday life to give you an idea of how things move along here.
Cost of Living
I know many of you are probably curious about how much things cost around here. I’ve mentioned a few things, but here is a short list to further display just how low the cost of living is here in Thailand. Keep in mind these prices are based on what I’ve found to be the most common prices of these things.
Average entree: 30 – 70 baht ($1-$2), or you can really splurge and spend 300 baht at a really nice, Westernized restaurant ($8.50)
Songthaew (Thai version of a taxi): 20 baht to go anywhere in the main part of the city (about $0.60)
Coffee/tea: 30 – 45 baht ($0.85-$1.30)
Fruit shake: 30 baht ($0.85)
Laundry: 2 lbs for 35 baht ($1)
A comfy pair of pants or a flowy shirt: 100 baht ($2.85)
Yoga class: 250 baht ($7)
Massage: 200 baht/hour ($5.60), or you can get a more experienced massage therapist for about 350 baht/hour ($9.90)
Needless to say, the US dollar goes really far here. I often feel guilty about spending 30 or 40 baht to get a green tea latte in the middle of the day before realizing that it’s only $1. Bargaining is also acceptable in the markets, so things that are already cheap are usually even cheaper after a little good natured haggling (always with a smile!). But don’t be fooled. Not everything is cheap here. Dairy products (cheese and butter especially) are usually at least 100 baht for a decent size package and usually run a lot more. Common things found in an American kitchen such as peanut butter, jelly, breads, yogurt, and cereal are also quite pricey compared to other products here. Electronics are often more expensive than those found in the US, and a yoga mat set me back about 500 baht. As a general rule (there are always exceptions), products that fit within the traditional Thai lifestyle are very cheap, while those that are being adopted from Western cultures are more expensive. This is a good motivator though to live like the Thais, which I’ve found to be an effective way to adapt to the culture.
They have what Westerners would refer to as coin laundromats here, but much more common is what I’ll refer to as the drop-off laundromats for lack of the correct term. These places are scattered all around the city. All you have to do is drop off your laundry and go back in 24 hours to collect your clean, folded items. They also do ironing for an extra 60 baht per 2 pounds if you’re interested, although many of the places seem to think it’s called “roning.” One of these drop-off laundromats is conveniently placed directly across from my hotel. I was quite anxious the first time I used this place since the woman did not take my name, give me a number, or visibly attempt to memorize what I looked like before taking my clothes and heading to a back room. Obviously I was a little concerned that whatever clothes I would receive the next day wouldn’t be mine. But my worries were unfounded, as they often are in Thailand. Lots of things seem to just kind of work themselves out here, and I’ve gotten used to banking on that. Both times I’ve used this laundromat I’ve paid around $3. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and my clothes smell super fresh after their hours of hang drying. Even though it is very cheap, I try to prevent making more than one trip to get my laundry done every week by washing a few items in my sink every few days. I actually enjoy the few minutes of washing my own clothes. There’s something that feels very primal about it, very natural. Try it sometime.
Walking has been my go-to mode of transportation since arriving in Chiang Mai. The city is fairly easy to navigate once you get used to it, and everything you need is generally within walking distance, especially if you live near the Old City. But of course not everything is easily accessible by foot. Some of my classmates have chosen to rent motorbikes for a few thousand baht per month, but I’m not that brave yet. Maybe in a couple months if Chiang Mai becomes a permanent home. Songthaews are a cheap and easy form of transportation in Thailand. They’re basically pickup trucks with a covered bed, complete with padded benches. Eight to ten people can squeeze in the back, and usually do. To use a songthaew, you just have to flag one down (waving one down with your hand raised like in the US is a little offensive here; instead you need to put your hand down like you’re patting a dog), make sure the driver can speak enough English to understand where you want to go, agree on a price (usually 20 baht), climb in the back, and enjoy the ride. Tuk tuks are another option for transportation, but these generally cater more to tourists and are, as a result, pricier. They’ll usually charge anywhere from 40 to 100 baht depending on what part of the city you want to go to. But sometimes it’s worth the extra money just for the fun ride. They do have taxis here that fall between the songthaews and tuk tuks in price, but they’re not as common. If you’re going longer distances, say to a different province, buses are a cheap option. My friend and I went to Chiang Rai, a province about three hours north of Chiang Mai, and it only cost us about 600 baht ($17) round trip per person. Trains are also fairly common and affordable. If you have to travel more than five or six hours, planes are an option, and I’ve heard you can get a ticket for less than $50 to anywhere in Thailand. I still need to test that though.
The air quality here is probably my biggest complaint and the thing that makes me question whether I want to stay in Chiang Mai to teach or not. Because of all the traffic, car exhaust and smog penetrate every bit of air in the city. The only time I’ve felt like I’m breathing somewhat clean air is after a big rain. Having mild asthma and being very aware of my health, I’ve been struggling with the poor air quality. Chiang Mai sits in a valley surrounded by mountains, which only makes the problem worse since the pollution has nowhere to go. I’ve heard it gets even worse around March or April when the farmers in the north in and around Chiang Mai start to burn the old crops. The smoke settles into the valley and doesn’t leave for a couple of months.
Just walking through the streets of Chiang Mai is often entertainment enough for me at this point, but if you’re not as easily satisfied, there are plenty of other options. There are bars all over the city, a few popular nightclubs where a lot of tourists and expats can be found, a couple movie theaters (haven’t tried these out so I don’t know if they play movies in English), some nice book stores, massage parlors out the wazoo, and of course the endless markets. If you want to get into nature for a day, you can hike up Doi Suthep mountain to see Wat Phra That or Bhubing Palace. Doi Suthep is also home to Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, which has places for camping and a couple good hiking trails. But be warned. The hike up the mountain is not for the faint of heart. It’s over 6 miles to get to the temple, and it’s all uphill—usually steep uphill. But you will be encouraged by Thais cheering you on and giving you thumbs up as they drive by—they know it’s a hard hike. If you decide to take the nature trail, be prepared for an hour of steep steps and swarms of mosquitoes.
Life moves in a different way here, and I’m starting to understand what it really means to “live on Thai time.” It means that life moves a little slower, that things get done in their own time, and that you don’t worry about the things that don’t get done when or how you want them to. Days here often feel longer and more complete somehow, and the local attitude of “No worries, it is what it is” is quickly rubbing off on me. When I first arrived I found myself frustrated with having to go out and search for dinner every night because I can’t cook in my hotel room. Now I just accept it as an inevitable part of everyday life and enjoy stretching my legs, people-watching, and experimenting with new foods. My everyday life is settling into the Thai version of itself, and I’m letting it.