We arrived in Chiang Mai on the 6th December 2013, just over a week ago. We have chosen Chiang Mai as it is described by lots of bloggers as a very lively city where western lifestyle meets eastern culture. We read about low prices and friendly Thai people. This post will get you through our travel from Italy to Thailand, summarize our first week here and list all the things which grabbed our attention so far.
Anna on a wheel chair
We arrived in Bangkok exhausted in the early morning after a delayed flight from Abu Dhabi. We tried to catch the plane from Bangkok to Chiang Mai but we were late. I was waiting in the long queue for immigration when I saw Anna sitting on a wheel chair carried by a young Thai guy. She was just supposed to check how to catch the next flight! What happened?! She was laughing but covering her eyes, visibly embarrassed.
Anna quickly explained that she went over to the man and asked if there is any way we could be prioritised as we will miss the plane. The men looked at her and said “sit down… you look sick”! Anna did not even get a chance to think about his “proposal” and quickly jumped on the chair. Anna and her new friend grabbed me from the queue and 5 mins later we were already on the other side of Immigration.
So the Thai gentleman (he really was!) helped us a lot but unfortunately all those efforts did not pay out. We missed the flight and Anna got some serious pangs of conscience. Luckily Bangkok Airways booked us to another flight to Chiang Mai free of charge.
We arrived in Chiang Mai mid-day on Friday and were welcomed to our new home by friend of ours Romana from thesiracusas.com. Romana brought us to our apartment in which we will stay for the next 3 months.
As soon as we checked in and left our bags we went for a walk. Chiang Mai offers a cool mix of Thai tradition with modern western amenities. We will definitely write about this more. After a week we can defo say we are really delighted by the city. For now we want to share with you the list of our first 15 impressions about Chiang Mai and Thailand in general.
15 First Impressions
- Renting an apartment in Chiang Mai is very easy. There is a large selection of apartment buildings offering daily, weekly and monthly rental. It is true that you can find a lovely studio apartment for 4000THB (90EUR) a month but if you are hoping for a modern 1 or 2 bedroom apartment you should budget for a min 10.000THB (225EUR). The longer the contract the cheapest the rent. As a tenant you do not have to sign any additional contracts. You can move in and from day 1 enjoy internet etc. No hassle with bills. At the end of the month you receive information on how much electricity and water you have used and you pay fee at the reception of your building. Apartments are very modern, however usually do not include western kitchen (you can always purchase electric cooking plate – so far we did not need it even once) and washing machine (there is a large number of cheap laundry shops where you will have your clothes washed, dried and ironed for a small fee). Usually apartment building offer in rental price cleaning once a week or if not included it can be arranged for less than 5 euro).
- Chiang Mai is much bigger than we originally though. It took us 30 min in a taxi to move from our apartment to International Balloon Festival which was held well within boundaries of the city. It is busy and a tad rowdy but you can have peace and quietness at any time. Just go to one of the many nice restaurant or try go a little bit outside of the old town.
- Thai people are very warm, nice, friendly and good-hearted. Even the way how they say goodbye is so sweet that it puts you into a very positive mood. We have encountered this number of times when we received help completely unexpectedly e.g. lady from reception run out of her room when she saw Anna with two shakes to help her open the door to the apartment, man which was sitting next to us and talking on the phone as soon as he saw us eating part of the dish which should not be eaten immediately come to us to stop us, etc.
- The number of activities / sites to visit. There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai. That means that its very unlikely we will ever see even half of them! There is more massage and SPA studios than banks & pharmacies. Full 1h body Thai massage costs 200THB (4.5 EUR). You can take courses in Thai language, cooking, yoga, massage. There are excellent trips to jungle and elephants/tigers parks. But also if you like golf you should not be dissapointed as Chiang Mai offers great selection of golf courses. I am sure that as time goes by we will discover more and more cool things to see and do in this amazing place!
- You can buy all your favorite products which you are used to in Europe. Everything from food, personal care items, clothes, electric items etc. everything western-alike. There are few large shopping malls in Chiang Mai (e.g. Central Airport Plaza, Central Festival Chiang Mai) full of familiar brands such as Accessorise, Bata, Body Shop, Boots, Clarks, Converse, Dorothy Perkins, Ecco, Geox, KFC, La Senza, Mango, Marks & Spencer, Mc Donald’s, Miss Selfridge, North Face, Pepe Jeans, Pizza Hut, Samsonite, Skechers, Starbucks Coffee, Top Shop, Top Man, Triumph, Victoria Secret, Wallis, Zara. When we are on the subject of shopping its worth to mention that neither myself nor Anna had any troubles with using our bank and credit cards (Visa and Maestro) either in the shop or in the ATM. So far, each time we withdrawn monies we were charged by Thai ATM 150THB (3.4EUR) regardless of how much money we took. Ivana from NomadisBeautiful has suggested to us to use AEON ATMs as there is no charge. List of ATMs can be found here. Be prepared that also your bank in home country will add few euro charge on each withdraw.
- Prices of electronics. We read that food and accommodation in Asia are very cheap. We were also expecting electronics to be at a very good prices. Unfortunately its not the case. We checked prices of mobiles, laptops, tablets, hard disks and cameras – they are all on the same level as in Europe and sometimes even more expensive. The only benefit you have when buying here is that you can claim 7% VAT back when leaving Thailand (yes, VAT in Thailand is only 7%). Read about how to claim tax back on Trip Advisor guide here.
- Crossing the roads is the biggest challenge! So far we have only seen one traffic lights which in theory should make you feel safer when crossing the road. Yesterday we were passing on green light (for pedestrians) and red for cars – car did not stop. Run over on the red light as we were on 1/4 of the zebra crossing. Usually ritual of passing the street is to wait for the short break in the car traffic and run to the other side of the road as fast as you can. Do not hope that cars will stop even if your feet are already on the road. Anna is starting to believe that here riding motorcycle is safer than walking when you need to pass the street. We actually have not seen many people walking.
- Excellent organisation of events! So far we have been at International Balloon Festival (annual event) and Saturday Walking Street (weekly market) and we are impressed by the organization of both events. We will give you more details on International Balloon Festival in coming days but we can confidently say that neither myself nor Anna has never been on a better organised mass event before.
- Food is everywhere. If you love diverse food and eating out Chiang Mai is the place for you. Streets are full of restaurants – Thai, Asian and from places around the world. So far we have eaten in few Thai places, 1 Fusion, 1 Indian, 1 Iraqi, 1 Tapas, 1 Mexican restaurant and seriously cannot say which one was the best! You can spend as little as 1 euro for a tasty meal or go up to European prices. Everything depends on the place you choose. We also enjoy street markets and stands full of wonderful, colorful, fresh and super tasty Thai and Asian food. You will find lots of reviews of the Chiang Mai restaurants on our blog soon.
- WiFi internet is available in the vast majority of restaurants and coffee places. So far we have been in over 10 places and only one did not offer WiFi.
- There is less mosquitoes than in Sardinia and have been told that cockroaches are smaller. We are in the city centre but there is a lot of green around us and we were really expecting mosquitoes to be a bigger problem. By the way… when we are on the topic of animals… we had a visit from little gekon even though we are living on the 8th floor.
- Taxis & Bikes. There is no public transport in Chiang Mai. The best way to move around the town is to either rent a motorbike (sample: Mango bike offer automatic bikes from 2500BHT (56EUR) a month) or to take a red taxi. Red shared taxis are currently our main way of transport. You stop a taxi, tell the driver a location and agree on the price (usually 30BHT (0.67EUR) per person). You share the taxi with other passengers who are driving into similar locations. Alternatively you can take a little tuk-tuk. It will be more expensive as you do not share it with other passengers. Also Anna felt more safe in a larger taxi, especially when on 3 line fast road.
- Number of foreigners. We both knew that there are a lot of non-Thai people living in Chiang Mai but only when walking down the street we realised how many people from USA, Canada, Australia, UK and other countries live and work here.
- English. In most shops and restaurants you will find translation of everything from Thai to English. The biggest difficulty which we are currently having is understanding Asian accent but hopefully with time this will not longer be such a big challenge.
- Water Tap replacing Bidet. I was very pleased to find out that Italians are not the only one who are crazy about their ass hygiene. Bidet (mandatory for an Italian person!) is replaced by sort of water tap which actually works much better!