5 Wrong Expectations of Travelers Visiting Chiang Mai for the First Time

You all know that I adore Chiang Mai and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else... but some things about life here simply aren't postcard-perfect.

Sometimes travelers have misconceptions about Chiang Mai. I definitely did! These unfortunate cases of expectation versus reality can be avoided if you know what to expect - and where to find what you seek.

I was inspired to write this by Ranil Guarino's post about wrong expectations of visiting Palawan!


1. Chiang Mai is a quaint little town

There's nothing quaint about Chiang Mai! It's a great big exciting city, with so much to explore. Massive malls cast shadows over ancient Buddhist temples, and rickshaw drivers pedal past cocktail bars serving international standard mojitos and martinis. Super talented jazz bands play opposite the historical North Gate of Chiang Mai, people mosh in grotty rock bars, go to fancy pool parties and dine on rooftops.

Don't be discouraged! There are havens of quiet in the city. Rustic & Blue has a gorgeous garden to sit in, for example. Royal Flora Ratchaphruek just outside the city is huge and full of luscious flowers and trees. I love to hop on a motorbike to explore the countryside. The Samoeng Loop is a particularly lovely ride through green fields and rainforest. Chiang Dao, a few hours north, is just divine.

2. Thai street food is super healthy

Some Thai food is healthy, but a lot of Thai food is definitely not. My mum was so surprised when the street food we ate usually came with very few vegetables. The truth is, most street food that you'll come across really doesn't have much vegetable content, and most of it is fried in quite a lot of cheap oil... and it's overly salty and sugary.

Don't be discouraged! Eat street food for sure, it's delicious. But to get the super healthy food, juices and shakes in Chiang Mai that you're thinking of, spend a bit more at Pun Pun, Immaim, Anchan, Bird's Nest, Nice Kitchen and similar restaurants. Don't listen to anyone trying to berate you for not eating REAL LOCAL THAI FOOD. Eat wherever you want! The idea of 'local' Thai food in Chiang Mai is definitely changing, anyway. You'll see plenty of local Thais eating in restaurants with strictly 'foreign' menus, and in fusion restaurants that serve traditional Thai food with a modern twist such as Nasi Jumpru and Mixology.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user xiquinhosilva.

3. Thai people are gentle, friendly and welcoming.

It ain't called the Land of Smiles for nothing, right? Well... many Thai people are welcoming and friendly, but some simply aren't. Sometimes the smiles aren't genuine. For example, no matter how polite, calm and covered up you are, you'll definitely come across grumpy and sometimes rude staff in restaurants, accommodation and at tourist destinations. It's not just Thai staff - sometimes fellow foreigners can be rude. Forming real long-lasting friendships with locals in Thailand can be tricky. Of course, there's the language barrier - but there's also a pretty big cultural and societal barrier too.

Don't be discouraged! Make an effort every time. If you're rude, why would anyone be nice to you in return? Remember that Grumpy Thai staff almost certainly had to deal with ignorant and rude travelers before you came along and they're probably not paid enough to deal with their shit. If your best efforts to be respectful, speak Thai and be friendly fail, shrug it off and go somewhere else next time. There are lots of wonderful Thai and non-Thai people to meet and form friendships with. Don't waste your time with the rude ones.

Something I struggle with a lot is the fact that there is a high rate of domestic abuse against women in Thailand. It's hidden, but it exists. There's also a negative general opinion of hill tribe and minority groups and ignorance about non-Thai races.

Um... yeah, this is discouraging. But, my way of hopefully reducing the ignorance I encounter is... I choose to gently explain to my students in class why I don't like it when people laugh, make jokes, or are rude about others. It's a really tricky situation - I worry that my students might think I'm just a "privileged white girl trying to force her unwelcome views on others".... but I personally can't stand by and let my wonderful, smart, kind, lovely students think less of someone because they're not Thai, or white, or rich, most likely because they're parroting what they've heard and seen.

4. Chiang Mai is super safe

Crime happens in Chiang Mai. Don't be afraid, but don't be stupid. The most common kinds of crime encountered by travelers include petty theft, scamming and driving incidents. Drunk driving and aggressive driving is a problem on the roads of Chiang Mai. If you're involved in any incidents or accidents, as a foreigner you can end up in big trouble.

Don't be discouraged! Stay safe. Keep your wits about you. I heartily recommend taking risks and scaring yourself sometimes... except when it comes to driving. Please, wear a helmet, don't drive drunk and buy insurance that covers you to drive a motorbike or be a passenger on one. If you've never driven a motorbike before, go somewhere quieter to learn. Renting a bike in the city centre then driving straight onto the moat road as a newbie puts your life and others lives in danger. It will probably be fine, but what if it's not? Helmet-less parents drive helmet-less kids all over Chiang Mai... imagine if you killed a child? Imagine if you killed your passenger? Imagine if you killed anyone at all?

5. Chiang Mai is totally exotic, magical and beautiful

Occasionally, I'm reminded that whilst there are lots of exotic, magical and beautiful places and experiences in Chiang Mai, there are places that have zero magic. Seriously, zilch.

Paying my water and electricity bill is mundane and totally un-exotic. There's little beauty to be found at what-could-be stunning lakes covered in trash. When I've been trying to find a space to park my motorbike in the jam packed Maya carpark for the last twenty minutes... that feels pretty un-magical. Sometimes there just isn't magic in the air.

Don't be discouraged! It's easy to find the magic of Chiang Mai. If you find yourself wondering where the beauty is, hop on your motorbike and drive out into the countryside, play in waterfalls, peek around corners in traditional Thai temples and join in the local festivals. A clear night sky dotted with stars and fireflies in Chiang Dao is breathtaking, camping on top of Doi Suthep mountain is beautiful and jumping in the cool river at Ob Khan national park can't be beat.


Are any of these familiar to you?
Posted by Amy Lou

The best places to stay in magical Chiang Dao, Thailand.

I gazed at the jade-hued mountain that dominates the skyline of Chiang Dao. The sun was sinking and I knew that fireflies would soon emerge to glitter in the dusky sky. Chiang Dao is paradise.



Chiang Dao: misty, cool and magical

It takes 3 hours on a motorbike to get to Chiang Dao, but I promise it's worth it. Andy and I have been more times than I can remember. The fresh, crisp air in Chiang Dao is noticeably cooler than in Chiang Mai, and it gets downright chilly in cool season. In this slice of paradise you can hike to mountain peaks on forested mountain trails, explore caves by torchlight, bicycle through fruit orchards and past rice paddies, dip your feet in cold streams or a hot spring and climb 100s of steps to reach a mystical golden temple. At night you can drink wine under the bright, bright stars, undimmed by light pollution. Then when you're sleepy-drunk you can climb under a thick duvet and feel cozy. It's heaven.

If you're thinking about going; stop hesitating and go. I haven't met anyone who doesn't love Chiang Dao.



We've stayed in three places in Chiang Dao: Malee's Nature Lovers Bungalows, Chiang Dao Nest 1 and 2 and Chiang Dao Hut. Chiang Dao Nest is the best place to stay in Chiang Dao - both Nest 1 and 2 are beautiful beautiful beautiful. Chiang Dao Hut comes second and Malee's is third. They're all in the same stunning location, shadowed by the mountain.



Chiang Dao Nest

There are two Chiang Dao Nests, and they are both so wonderful. It's the perfect place to relax in nature near Chiang Mai, surrounded by lush green, birds and butterflies. It would also be a great place to work; there's free WiFi in the large communal airconditioned chillout floor at Nest 2 or plenty of shaded places to sit about under the tall trees. The food and drinks are phenomenally good. I'm not exaggerating - people have told me they drive all the way from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao just to eat at the Nest, then drive home again! I heard that the chef is Michelin trained. It's way too easy to consume a lot of delicious food; prepare for a big bill but a very satisfied tummy.

The simple-but-special wooden huts are really comfortable and beautifully lit. The bed is covered with a thick duvet and more soft pillows than you could ever use. The bathroom is stocked with homemade soap, kaffir lime shampoo and a white cotton robe for each guest.

If you stay at Chiang Dao Nest 2, you can use the facilities in both Nests, so every time we go we spend an afternoon splashing about in the salt-water pool and playing ping pong at Nest 1!


Chiang Dao Hut

The superior bungalows in Chiang Dao Hut are big and have TVs and a large area to sit out on the porch. There was a hammock on our porch; much hammock-hilarity ensued. We spent ages on the porch; talking, reading and drinking wine. I played a Thai-style violin (awfully).

For two people I'd recommend paying a bit more for the superior bungalow rather than the standard one - it's bigger, nicer, has a private bathroom and generally feels more homey, and is still a good budget price. Families can stay in a big two bedroom house!

Malee's Nature Lovers Bungalows

We've stayed at Malee's twice. It's OK, and it's fairly cheap. I would stay here if the Nests and Chiang Dao Hut are fully booked. There's a tiny cute pool to splash about in and colourful flowers blooming all over the garden. I hear that Malee's is the best at organising bird-watching trips. They rent motorbikes and bicycles.

Till next time, Chiang Dao...

Posted by Amy Lou

New TEFL Teachers: DON'T be freaked out by all the jargon!

It's the start of a new school year, and the school I work at has hired a few new teachers. In a meeting held to teach us the lengthy process of how to edit different sections in our complicated, school-specific (Thai language!) grading program, I realised an important thing:

New TEFL teachers: you might hear a lot of jargony teaching-terminology at your new job that you've never heard before... and a lot of it is baffling!


Image from Flickr Creative Commons user Christian Bucad

Some teachers have never taught before, and so haven't even graded real student work at all yet, never mind entered grades into a complicated grading program - something that's definitely not covered in a standard TEFL course.

If you don't understand stuff, it's not you. It is confusing at first.

Of course it doesn't bother everyone, but I remember getting really stressed out about things like grading systems when I first started. I just really wanted to get it right. It depends on your school, but at my school there's a lot of jargon for new teachers to understand and a lot of new information to get your head around.

CEF, Indicators, Strands, MOE, VIXS, Bookmark, Prathom, Mathayom, Anubarn, IELTS...

DON'T be freaked out by all the stuff you're hearing that you don't understand yet.

Seriously, don't worry about it. You'll be able to spend time understanding all the terminology and school-specific systems later. Even if it all seems really complicated and baffling at first, you will understand it after a while, I promise. In my opinion and experience, trying to learn all the terminology and systems in three days before school starts is pretty impossible and you'll feel crappy about your new job. It's overwhelming and it'll stress you out. Unnecessary stress is the last thing you need at your new job.

For the first couple of weeks, focus your energies on...

1) getting to know your students and their English abilities,
2) knowing what you're expected to teach,
3) planning lessons and finding great ways to teach,
4) keeping a record of any student work you mark,
5) knowing when grades are due,
6) forming good relationships with your Thai and Western colleagues,
7) asking questions whenever you need to (How do you discipline students? What does this mean?),
8) understanding the terminology and school systems slowly, with the help of your colleagues.

Enjoy your first few weeks of teaching. You'll love getting to know the different personalities in your classes and inspiring students to want to learn.


Photo from Flicker Creative Commons user Susana Fernandez
Posted by Amy Lou

Eating At Big C Supermarket in Thailand is WEIRD.

I'm back at work. On Monday I'll be saying hi to a bunch of new classes, trying to get across to them that I'm nice only when they're good. I'm trying out a new Discipline System this year that I think will be awesome, so I had to get stationary supplies from Big C, a cheap and popular supermarket chain in Thailand.

After shopping for post-its, future board and card, Andy and I ate at the Big C food hall. It's so weird.

This photo of Beer Garden at Big C Donchan is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Judging by the amount of people packed in the beige, brightly lit canteen; eating dinner at Big C after a big shop is a popular family activity. 

A meal ordered from one of the kitchens around the edge of the canteen costs 30 - 80 baht. Usually the food is nice and you get quite a lot. When it's cooked, you pay with your Big C Food Hall Coupon Card and carry your food on a plastic tray to your plastic table and sit on a plastic bench. 

For me, it's the sexy beer girls serving the families that make it so odd.

If you want, you can order beer (in a jug or a tower) or whiskey, ice and soda water from one of the young female-only waitresses. They wear a lot of makeup and tiny tight white, green, blue or red dresses promoting Thai beer brands. When they're not taking alcohol to tables, they stand leaning against the tables with their arms folded. Their uniform has been designed to make them look sexy... and they're serving beer and whiskey to families eating 30 baht meals in a supermarket that prides itself on selling cheaper produce than Tesco and Rimping.

This photo of Beer Garden at Big C Donchan is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Doesn't that seem weird to you!?

This photo of Beer Garden at Big C Donchan is courtesy of TripAdvisor

At about 6.30pm, a very unenthusiastic band go on the tiny stage that you hadn't even noticed to play lack-luster covers of Thai pop songs. No one seems to realise except one elderly grandma who taps her foot along with them.

This photo of Beer Garden at Big C Donchan is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Then, when everyone in the family group has finished eating and drinking (some of them are completely hammered), they climb into their cars and drive home.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm really, really, really pleased that when I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron last week this was shown before the movie started:

Posted by Amy Lou

GIVEAWAY COMPETITION to celebrate Thai New Year 2015!

I've been telling you all how much I love Thai herbal massage compress balls, and now I want to share them with you, my readers!
 
Click the image to enter on Facebook!

So, I'm giving four of them away in a giveaway competition to celebrate Thai New Year 2015, known here as Songkran!

Each winner will receive two of these 150g herbal compress massage balls, pictured.

Two lucky My Chiang Mai Everything readers will win two 150g herbal massage compress balls each.

Simply enter on Facebook here!

Terms and conditions here.

What ARE herbal massage compress balls!?


A herbal massage compress ball is simply a porous cloth pouch filled with medicinal aromatic herbs. They're used in traditional Thai massage to improve circulation, relieve pain and relax muscles.

I love them and they're really easy to use.

The heat penetrates deep into your body and is so satisfying and relaxing. The fragrant herbs used inside the balls are chosen specifically for their healing properties and smell gorgeous. I find that the compresses are great for massaging really achey muscles that can't handle more intense massage.


Directions for use


I recommend using two massage balls, so one can be warming while you use the other. It's easiest to have a friend use the massage balls on you, because they can reach your back more easily! If you don't have a friend to do it, you can still give yourself a lovely self-massage for a real alone-time treat.

Wet both of your massage balls with water then steam them for about 15 minutes. A vegetable steamer is perfect - the massage ball mustn't be in direct contact with water.

While I'm waiting, I like to do some gentle stretching and light oil massage to prepare my muscles for the massage balls.

After 15 minutes, remove one massage ball from the steamer, taking care not to burn yourself (a towel comes in handy!). Test the temperature on your hand to make sure the ball isn't too hot and then press the ball quite firmly into any achey or sore areas. Experiment with what feels good: a light tapping, or maybe prolonged deeper pressing. When it cools, put it back in the steamer and get the other one out. Repeat for fifteen to sixty minutes.

I really like to listen to lovely music and have my massage in candlelight. Perfect!

The massage balls are not suitable for children, pregnant women or people with severe diabetes. Do not use on open, infected or painful wounds. Always take care not to burn yourself!

Songkran


Thai New Year starts on Monday the 13th of April and ends on the 15th. Everyone goes outside armed with buckets and super soakers to participate in a nationwide three day water fight.

In the past Songkran was a much more gentle affair: a time to cleanse images of Buddha and respectfully pour water over family and friends to bring them good fortune.
Posted by Amy Lou

How to Celebrate Easter Like A Boss At Sankampaeng Hot Springs, Chiang Mai

How to celebrate Easter in Chiang Mai? Sankampaeng hot springs of course!


How To Celebrate Easter at Sankampaeng Hot Springs:

1. Grab a bunch of your favourite Chiang Mai-ian friends.

2. Drive to Sankampaeng hot springs through gorgeous Chiang Mai countryside.


3. Pay to get in, currently 50 baht if you have a Thai work permit and 100 baht if you don't.


4. Walk through the green gardens and beyond the strange egg sculpture, that is rather phallic actually.


5. Sit for an hour or two near the bottom end of the bathing canals, dangling your legs in the hot sulphery water. Sit nearer the spring source only if you're hardcore and like the feeling of your legs being boiled.

This photo was taken by my friend Charlie! Thanks dude!

6. It's hot in April. Stay hydrated: sip 30 baht coconuts and 15 baht iced herbal roselle juice.


7. Buy a cute handmade basket of eggs. 20 baht for three big chicken eggs, or lots of tiny quail eggs.


8. Look at the sign for how long to boil your eggs for. BUT BEWARE. Follow the sign's instructions at your peril because it vastly underestimates how long the spring takes to boil an egg.


9. Boil eggs in the hottest pool of spring water, near the guisers, by hanging the basket on one of the hooks. Ignore the sign. Trust me: leave your chicken egg in there for 25 minutes. Run around in the steam and pretend that you're in an apocalypse movie.


10. Wash the sulphery water off the eggs in clean (?) water in the troughs nearby.


11. Give everyone their own egg.


12. Admire your egg. So smooth. So unblemished.


13. Look at the sad, broken egg that was taken out of the boiling water too soon. That's the Judas Egg. Feel pleased that it isn't yours and you listened to Amy from My Chiang Mai Everything.


14. Crack open your egg, breathe a sigh of relief that you ignored the sign. Eat your perfectly cooked egg dipped in soy sauce.


15. Discuss Easter.

This photo was taken by Charlie too! Thanks again Charlie!

16. Ponder the ways other people around the world are celebrating Easter right now.


15. Eat delicious cheap Thai food (phrik ong, pad kapow, spring rolls and som tam and sticky rice) in the restaurant and drive home in the late afternoon sunshine.


But don't drive too fast and overheat your bike, because remember, it's hot in April. Oops..
Posted by Amy Lou

We found an abandoned hippy-commune style guesthouse!

My lovely friend Jessy and I went on a girl-date motorbiking adventure yesterday.


It was so much fun and you won't BELIEVE what we found by accident. Click on the photos for bigger versions!
 

It was an un-sign-posted, seemingly abandoned guesthouse resort in the style of a hippy commune!

It was SO amazing. The buildings were made of earth and undulated beautifully. There was incredible art EVERYWHERE and everything was so colourful. We shouted 'hello' lots but nobody came. Such excitement! So, naturally, we were dying with curiosity and just had to explore a little bit ;)


It felt like we'd accidentally entered another realm.


This terracotta family were chilling together on the patio with a bunch of cookies and lily pads.


This truck was basically a huge bright yellow plant pot. Maybe that freaky demon owned it.


The undulating buildings were gorgeous. I want my home to look like it.


A watery world with houses stuck on. Why not?


These two ladies were enjoying a leisurely stroll in the garden.


I hear your question, carried on the wind: "Where is this amazing place of magical wonder!?"


I want to keep it a secret. At least for now.


"Ohhhhh :( Did you at least peek inside?"


I couldn't possibly reveal the answer.
Posted by Amy Lou

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