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!)
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.
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.
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.