Expat · Thailand

Chiang Rai: First Impressions

plowing-the-fields-2
Near the Buddha Cave temple, Chiang Rai, 2014

I underestimated how much my life would change. Part of this had to do with not knowing how my life would change. Nevertheless, I tried to guess.

Originally, I thought my biggest adjustment would be down-shifting from busy Chiang Mai to quiet Chiang Rai, and while that is true, there is so much more to it than that.

I moved 3 months ago right in the middle of the burning season and well-meaning colleagues made it sound like Chiang Rai’s pollution would be much worse because CR is closer to the mountains and neighboring countries that practice slash and burn agriculture. However, we experienced one really bad hazy day and then things tapered off.

I think part of it has to do with CR getting twice as much rain as CM, and CM sits in a valley, thereby “trapping” the toxic air in the city. CM also has a much grander traffic problem which I think is the bigger pollution culprit.

When I lived in CM, I used “red trucks” or songtaews frequently, so I became a heavy mask user in an attempt to counteract the lack of emission laws. But now that I live in CR, I haven’t had to use my masks. I realized this when I was changing purses. Air-conditioned taxis are common, clean and affordable in CR. Tuk tuks, with their belching, stinky and loud ways, are rare, and relegated to tourists’ areas which span about two (okay, maybe four) streets.

When I drive, I also don’t need to use a mask. Chiang Rai simply does not have that many old cars on the road. In fact, I wish they had fewer cars because CR is just as terrifying to drive in as CM. I blame it on the lack of driver’s education in this country.

So, I’m breathing fresher air, and experiencing not only the physical health benefits, but the mental ones as well, as blue skies often surround the city. CR is really green, too. I love that I live in a natural environment. Even wandering downtown I notice the tall trees, and there is even more just a little ways out. (I’m even bicycling again!)

Seriously, that sky. Not photoshopped. Sad that I have to say that. Wat Phra Kaew, 2014
Seriously, that sky. Not photoshopped. Sad that I have to say that. Wat Phra Kaew, 2014

CR streets are wider with sidewalks and trashcans, and contrary to popular belief, there are Western amenities. It’s actually a nice size town. Apparently CR is what CM was like 10 years ago. And I think whatever I miss about CM can be had just a short bus ride away.

Oh, no! I'm suffering!!! Arggg! Work @home burger and it's good :)
Oh, no! I’m suffering!!! Arggg! [Work @Home] burger and it’s good 🙂

Although, the toughest part for me when I first moved here was the lack of familiarity. After living in CM for 4+ years, I took for granted that I knew where everything was. Starting over meant finding all those things that you have to go looking for when you first move to a new area. Places to eat, where to buy food, clothes, household goods, where to get your motorbike fixed and all that mundane stuff that expats have to work extra hard for because you’re a stranger in a strange land.

honda-classic
Okay, got me some wheels! Now where to go!? (*These are not my wheels, yo.)

Of course, I miss my friends, too. CM has such an amazing and diverse expat community, but I’m okay here because I feel like I’m in Thailand, not just an extended international hub. I speak Thai more often. I have gotten to know more locals. There is no work drama. My coworkers are mentally stable. Seriously. I thought CR would attract more of the “fringe types,” but I think the kind of expats that choose to live here are more independent.

Am I being unfair to CM? Nah, I don’t think so. I recognize that I haven’t been in CR in comparison to CM very long, and there is often a “honeymoon” phase that we go through. But I didn’t go through a honeymoon phase. I went through a “I feel vulnerable because of all this change” phase.

Now, I feel like I am able to appreciate the changes that I have gone through. A routine has been established, the differences at work have been absorbed, and I’m ready to enjoy the rawness that comes with the newness.

Famous last words? Always and forever.

Continuously see new bugs...these guys have eaten the plant in our front yard.
After I gorge myself and leave poop pellets behind, I’m ready for change… YEAH!
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24 thoughts on “Chiang Rai: First Impressions

  1. Please keep the info about CR coming. CM was getting too crazy busy for me before all of the new malls opened and so many people decided to buy their first car. I hear it is much more intense now, so CR is the natural next choice.

    I spent time in Mae Khachan (just north of the hot springs when you get to the north side of Doi Saket) but it was way too small and rural for this non-Thai speaking westerner. My attempt to seek peace and quiet in the Thai countryside was poorly thought out.

    The mountains, blue sky, and fresh air sound nice. Do you have thoughts about English speakers trying to cope in CR? I am capable of a few phrases but will never speak Thai well. I know there are a growing number of expats in CR and wonder if you have feedback on how they are coping.

    Thanks for all you do Lani.

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    1. I think it helps immensely if you can speak, and even read Thai in CR. In CM, you probably can get away with never learning. In fact, I know of such expats. CM is also very big, so that means you can find a neighborhood that’s not as crazy as, say, the moat area. There are some quiet and natural places about 7km from the city. Perhaps by the 700 year stadium, or the Doi Saket or Sansai area.

      I’d recommend visiting before you make any moves, CR is not for everyone. I’ve always been a small town girl myself, so I think this is one of the reasons why I like it.

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  2. We are looking forward to following your adventures in CR. We have thought about checking it out as a place to live in the future …. when we understand and speak Thai at a level that is above “House Cat Thai”. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I was surprised at the level of pollution here. Because of past bronchial issues I must wear masks daily when using transportation and I have also found it necessary when walking places because half the time I have to walk in the street because the sidewalk is taken. 🙂 I am shocked that more Thais and tourists don’t wear them.

    I am excited to visit CR to look around and see if it might be a possibility of a future home. Thank you again for your time and effort with this great blog!

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    1. I’d consider getting an air-purifier, too. A lot of expats swear by them, and I almost broke down and bought one many a time. I was shocked as well, but you get used to the “shock” and then you just “be local” and not think about it anymore. But during the burning season it was too much and folks do get really sick, but then it rains. Thank gawd for the rain!!! Hoping to see you both soon 🙂

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  4. As Linda has said, I’m surprised there’s quite a lot of pollution in CM. Apart from it’s valley location, the city must be really congested with traffic every day. I agree with you that we tend to take things for granted after we’ve moved in somewhere a while ago. There’s always something so comforting about being comfortable. Moving, it can be scary trying to set up shop but rarely you’ll feel bored.

    I spy Heinz tomato sauce there with the burger. Didn’t know that Australian sauce was popular over there 🙂 I hope the burger tasted great too, I love burgers.

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    1. Yes! Heinz is everywhere here. Did you know they made chili sauce, too? The burger was indeed yummy, and not my first time having one there.

      The thing about CM is, it is a great city, but there hasn’t been any planning for the growth, so new problems are being created. I kept wanting CM to go green! Tuk tuks can be electric! I saw a TV special ages ago on this innovative guy in BKK making electric tuk tuks, but it never took off.

      I also heard that the reason why CM doesn’t have trash cans is because they are afraid of bombs being put in them. Crazy, right?

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      1. Yes, we have a big range of Heinz sauce in Australia. Did not expect to see the sauce in quiet parts of Asia. Heinz isn’t my favourite brand of sauce. I’m more fond of the Asian Maggi sauces 🙂

        Going green takes a lot of planning and resources, not to mention funds. For a major project like that, the whole town has to back it too.

        That is indeed crazy. Where do you throw rubbish? Keep it in your pockets? 😀

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      2. Actually, folks do carry it until the find someplace to throw it. Or they just toss it on the ground. Sometimes, you see piles of trash leaning on the side of a building or lamppost. The popular walking street on Sunday’s now has street vendors with signs saying they will take your trash…this wasn’t always the case.

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  5. Lani, Isn’t it satisfying to know that you made the right decision? It’s great that you are really enjoying the “Thai” more, and not depending on the expats as much as before. I’ll bet your language skills will really ramp up, too!

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    1. Thanks Corinne. I wasn’t sure if the risk of moving from familiar and comfortable would pay off. It’s too early to tell, but then again, maybe it’s not 😉

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  6. This is such a good point about changes. When most people move, there is that honeymoon phase mixed with intense anxiety and insecurity, but I think few people think about the changes that accompany an internal move. If you stay overseas, you’re bound to change cities, and that’s a whole new kind of different. Same country, different city. You think it’ll be the same, but the changes can throw you for a loop.

    I’m glad you like your new place! It looks and sounds much nicer, which is wonderful! And your posts from around the area are gorgeous!

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    1. Wow. I wish I would have said what you said. Yeah, if we moved from a different part of the US, the experience would be different as well. Of course the US is massive in comparison, but subtle changes can be big ones depending on what you are used to.

      It’s more remote, so it’s a little lonely sometimes. Thankfully, that fits my personality!!!

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  7. So I scrolled down bit by bit as I read this, enthralled with the first photo and envious of all that fresh air and green.

    And then I saw the burger and fries.
    LOL. Omg.

    The city with the Western amenities aside, we are worlds away, Lani! Glad I can see what it’s like o’er there.

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  8. It really is amazing how different the experience of an expat can be even within the same country! This was great to hear, Lani, and I’m happy to hear that you’re settling into your new home so wonderfully. I love the idea of less pollution, especially being a scooter rider myself. I definitely dream of ditching the face mask, but alas, it’s not possible in this city. This piques my curiosity about what life would be like in a more rural setting here in Korea. It’s refreshing to think that you don’t have to completely switch cultures to experience something different.
    PS – totally wantin’ some of that delicious burger right about now…*drool*
    ~ Andrea ❤

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    1. You are too sweet Andrea! Yeah, I think we forget how varied life is within our expat country. It’s easy to be comfortable, and the idea of moving to a different town isn’t always appealing. I’m glad it was for me. It certainly has made me realize CM isn’t the best place for expats in Thailand. There are many, and it really depends on what you want. Hugs from the rai!

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  9. Just got back from CM and it was way more polluted than last time I was there many many years ago.Know what you mean about too many weird expats,that’s something expat teachers of EFL always have to consider.It’s great to have real locals as friends,in my opinion,although nobody wants to be completely isolated.I wonder could you point me in the right direction to getting a job in Ecuador? I tried to leave a comment on a post you wrote about this elsewhere but it didn’t work for some reason.Please bear in mind that I am a “bit” older than you!

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    1. Just got back from CM, actually, went for a few days for a quick visit, and I found the air quality barely tolerable. I’m just spoiled now that I’m away from it all. CM has changed a lot and I think will con’t to do so without much quality control. That being said, it has great food and quite an extensive expat community. There are good people everywhere and CM is no exception.

      The good thing about Ecuador is they don’t have the age hangups and restrictions that Asian countries seem to enjoy. So, don’t worry about being older…google CEDEI and see if that helps. It is where I taught, and I really enjoyed it. Good luck ^ ^

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