Its been several months now since we left Chiang Mai, returning to Sydney to save some money and plan the next adventure. It has afforded me the time to reflect on the nearly three years we lived in that wonderful city and all the amazing experiences we encountered.
Now that the blur of moving back home has subsided and we’ve settled in, I feel it appropriate to put together a list of those things I miss most about living in Chiang Mai and South East Asia.
1. The incredible food
Before we moved to Thailand I wasn’t a massive fan of Thai food. I enjoyed it and I had one or two favourite places to eat at in Sydney, but I wasn’t head-over-heels for Thai food. That all changed quickly when we got there and experienced the food for ourselves the way it was supposed to be. Every meal was incredible! No longer did I find myself pouring over menus trying to find something ‘safe’ that the kitchen wouldn’t screw up. I became confident in every order, and was continually impressed by the variety and flavours, but above all the freshness!
2. The variety of food
It wasn’t just the Thai food that was excellent. We found some brilliant restaurants of other cuisines that quickly became our regulars. From Japanese to Vietnamese, Italian and Mexican, Burmese, Shan and even one or two Falang joints. It was never hard to choose what’s for dinner when we were spoilt for choice, quality and value!
3. Cheap prices & excellent service
Everyone knows how much cheaper Thailand is in relation to Australia but what I wasn’t prepared for was the exceptional level of service everywhere from small cafes to bars, large chain stores and even hairdressers! Almost everyone we encountered was extremely helpful, courteous and always ensuring things were okay.
4. Ice in beer
Several years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of ice in beer, but these days it is an essential in hot weather. Not only does it keep your beer refreshingly cold, but also serves to keep headaches at bay even after an entire afternoon and evening on the white knights. Plus you’ll look like a local!
5. Everyone rides motorbikes
It’s fun, scenic and the fastest way to get around when things are busy. There’s no ‘1 person per car’ that is far too common at peak hour in Sydney. Instead you’ve got constant flow of traffic. Something all major cities could do with!
6. Great live music and bar culture
With everything from Jazz, Rock, Metal, Acoustic, Reggae, Ska, Funk and a lot of traditional Thai music in between you can pretty much find anything around the city, or even something you’ve never heard before. If the live music isn’t your scene then there’s plenty of DJs around as well.
The great thing about the bar culture here is that at even the biggest nightclubs down to the smallest bar, you can always order food or find someone nearby who’s selling food out the back of a tuk tuk. Perhaps that’s why we rarely witnessed any alcohol fuelled violence!
7. All you can eat BBQ’s (mookatah)
Speaking of eating, the all you can eat BBQs here are an event in themselves. With vast varieties of fresh meats, vegetables, fried foods, soups, fruits, desserts and various specials from the night.
This is my favourite area of Chiang Mai. Full of excellent bars, coffee shops, restaurants, galleries and an excellent creative vibe. This area is always changing with new places popping up all the time.
9. Geckos (Garys) & frogs
There’s a lot to say about a place that has many of the cute little geckos hanging about. Garys as we affectionately named them have a tendency to chirp at very appropriate times in a conversation (like when someone cracks a joke), so they are always a welcome presence. After heavy rains quite often you will hear a cacophony of frogs croaking away of which I always found fascinatingly soothing.
10. Thanin Market
This quickly became our favourite local market with its fantastic vibe, produce and prices. You’ll rarely spot a tourist here but you will find some of the best fresh meat and vegetables. We dearly miss our pork and chicken ladies.
11. Chinese markets (Khad Luang) for everything and anything
This market is simply staggering! Several floors of everything you could ever need! Khad Luang also has the esteem of being one of the oldest markets in Chiang Mai.
12. 10 Baht fruit
Bags of fruit for 10฿ each sold all over the city. There’s nothing more refreshing and healthy than the amazing variety of fruits these vendors provide. Fast food done right.
13. The weather
Consistent warm weather, amazing massive storms that are over within an hour during wet season and mild yet still warm temperatures at the end of the year. The weather was always lovely, always spectacular and never drizzly for weeks on end.
14. Our washing lady
She would wash, iron and fold our clothes to perfection and always with a smile. The price? Roughly 40฿ per kilo, yet at times it still felt like she was under charging.
15. Bum sprayers (bum guns!)
Many fresh visitors deride the bum gun but to be honest there’s nothing more hygienic than a blast of fresh water! These days the thought of only using toilet paper actually feels quite dirty and disgusting. Yet another thing that Asia gets right.
16. Song Taews
Convenient, cheap and efficient (provided you’re heading in the “right” direction). The distinctive red cabs are converted Utes with cabs on the back. Flag one down and let the driver know where you’re going, and provided you’re going the way he is then you pile in the back with the rest of the locals. This is the cheapest way to get around the city, and Song Taews are everywhere so they’re very easy to catch. Major cities could really benefit from this mode of transport. And with most trips costing a measly 20฿ you can see why I miss their familiar sight!
17. The buses
For longer travel between cities, then catching the VIP buses is a fantastic experience! Never have I seen such amazing pimped out buses, nor travelled over land in such luxury. Many of the buses between Chiang Mai and Bangkok are equipped with large plush recliners complete with built-in massage device and highly attentive staff. Catch an overnight bus, save yourself a night of accommodation and get some comfy rest!
18. Street food
Not only can you get fantastic cheap fruit all over, there’s also so much fantastic street food that it’s often hard to know where to start! Noodle soup stands that are open in to the early hours of the morning have served us well many times after a night out (and it sure as hell beats a greasy burger, sloppy kebab or sad-looking piece of pizza!). Then how can we forget the grilled meat stands that drive around from bar to bar. We always keep an eye out for these guys and it is always worth it. Deliciously grilled chicken, pork, beef and gizzards for the more exciting and adventurous eaters out there! It’s another one of those things you just wish could work in your home country (but never will).
19. Incredible temples everywhere
Growing up in Australia most churches in our area were horrible architecture hangovers from the 60’s and 70′. So living in a city where you’ve got amazingly detailed temples inside and out on just about every street or corner is something I never took for granted! I was always sure to marvel at the numerous temples and enjoy their tranquillity when visiting.
20. Our friends
This one is important as the friends we made in Chiang Mai are absolutely beautiful and are easily the one thing I miss most about the place. They are the people who kept us wanting to stay for so long. They shared many meals, laughs, fun and sad times with us whilst also giving us many amazing new experiences!
21. Our cat Bamboo
Lastly, our cat Bamboo is someone we’ll always miss and never have the chance to see again, as she tragically passed away whilst in our care in Thailand. It was a privilege to have known her and spend as much time with her as we did. Hopefully she’s chasing lots of Garys now wherever she is.