My First Week in Chiang Mai

Categories Food, Personal Musings, Thailand, Where Have I Been?

I wasn’t really sure what to expect upon my return to Thailand. In retrospect, my time here last year was a strange and surreal circle, starting with a huge tweetup on the heels of TEDxBangkok and progressing to my unexpected coverage of the Red Shirt protests, to the devolution of those protests from a raucous, festival-like atmosphere to a tense standoff between the government and the protesters, to the resulting army crackdown and subsequent cleanup following a week of arson. And in the lull between the deaths at Kok Wua on April 10 and the day APCs rolled through Silom on May 19, I celebrated Songkran with the rest of Bangkok. My last days in Thailand echoed the initial crash course: dinners and drinks and time with newfound friends. To say I lived a year in one tumultuous spring would be an exaggeration, but it certainly felt that way. It still does.

I had no qualms about returning here. ┬áPeople from home often ask why I would come back, why I wouldn’t look at Thailand in a different, cloudier light. I often say that in choosing a home, even a temporary home, it has to be a place where the things that you dislike don’t get under your skin and the things you like really, truly make you happy. For the moment, Thailand remains that place. For the glorious food, to learn more about the politics and ongoing protests, to improve my Thai, to spend time with people I respect and enjoy. And for the next few months, Chiang Mai will be my home.

I arrived here on Tuesday and spent the week exploring the city with new and old friends. I was still on the fence about living in Chiang Mai versus Bangkok, but sometimes things fall into place so seamlessly that you’d be a fool to ignore the path curling out in front of you. In only a few days here, I found a terrific place to live, made a bunch of new friends (thanks to the introductions from old ones), played miniputt, sang my heart out at karaoke, and came to the satisfying conclusion that Chiang Mai would be my base for the coming season.

Karaoke O’clock in Chiang Mai, with Lindsay & Bessie. Think we had fun?

Karaoke in Chiang Mai

And did I mention the food?

Somtam (green papaya salad) from a tiny restaurant near Chiang Mai university:

Delicious somtam from Chiang Mai

No really, let’s take a closer look at this salad: HOW CAN YOU NOT WANT TO EAT THIS?

Somtam salad in Chiang Mai

Perfect mango sticky rice from mango sticky rice lady. I’ve been warned she only uses the best mangoes and when she runs out, she shuts down for the night. She served the rice with the traditional sweet coconut cream, but hers was warmed up and it made the succulent dish even more perfect than usual:

Mango sticky rice in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has a large Burmese community, and I was able to have one of my favourite dishes from my time there: Burmese tofu salad. This is the before (unmixed) and after (mixed up) versions:

Burmese tofu salad from chiang mai

And it wouldn’t be Chiang Mai without its specialty, khao soi! A rich, spicy coconut soup with egg noodles and braised chicken, it remains one of the tastier soups in Thailand. The city is crawling with khao soi places to try and I plan on souping-it-up in my months here.

Khao soi in Chiang Mai

Finally, from the night market near Chiang Mai gate, more food than I know what to do with. I bought a bamboo, noodle and chili dish I had never seen prior. For breakfast tomorrow, obviously.

Food stall at the night market near Chiang Mai Gate.

I still miss Bangkok, and I’m looking forward to visiting at the end of the month, but I’m excited to kick off a new year getting to know a new city. I’m also thrilled to be sharing a lovely place with Shannon from A Little Adrift. The apartment just happened to be available a few days after I arrived, and Shannon just happens to be arriving in a week and we just happen to get along well. Though we were both planning to live alone, the apartment was bright and airy and I emailed her to see if she’d be willing to bunk up. As I said prior, everything fell into place in the blink of an eye. We’re both planning to do quite a bit of exploring while we’re here, but after many months on the move, with my belongings in haphazard boxes, I’m very much looking forward to having a home base for the next few months.

Our new place (and its lovely kitchen table – perfect for working!):

Part of me wondered if I really did feel at home in Thailand or if my opinions were just tinted with the rosiness of retrospection. But only days into my stay, I can safely say that it is great to be back. As first weeks go, this one was terrific. Looking forward to what the coming months will bring.

-Jodi

70 comments to My First Week in Chiang Mai

  1. Your new place looks fantastic! So jealous, mostly of the food.

  2. Yay for Chiang Mai! I might have to get off my computer and go by some mango sticky rice now!

    We signed up for three months here and two have passed already, going to be hard to leave!

  3. You know what? Even if this is the rosiness of dreaming, nostalgia, and introspection, you are living one version of paradise and you are cherishing it photographically and otherwise for the rest of us. I am hungry just looking at this. Envious just looking at the light of your new place, and ecstatic at all the possibility that lies ahead. I am thrilled Thailand is welcoming you back and hope it makes for a fantastic beginning of 2011.

    • Ah, Roxanne. You always leave most thoughtful comments. A great thing about this week was confirming that nostalgia had nothing to do with it. A very satisfying feeling! Looking forward to reading about where 2011 takes you, too. Thanks for reading.

  4. Wowza. That house IS gorgeous. Definitely meant to be!

  5. You & Shannon are going to have such a great time together!! Eat some extra sticky rice for me :)

  6. Yummy yum yums!!! So glad to have had this time w/ you & see you settling in CM. It could never be BKK, but it’s a great place to be!

    • If by “settling in Chiang Mai” you mean “shadowing your every move” then sure! :) I’m thrilled to have had a week of Bessie & Kyle time and you two are the greatest, most food obsessed hosts a gal can ask for.

  7. Kickass! Wait, is it ok to say kickass on here?

    F*** I hope so

    Muahahaah!

    Stoked for you and the new abode. Hi five!

  8. I’ve heard so much about mango sticky rice and am really annoyed to have not found a Thai restaurant here in the Bay Area that serves it. Those pics make me hungry….

  9. Welcome to your new home! All that food looks amazing – it’s lunchtime here in Oz so you’ve just made me extra hungry!

    • People at home would ask me what I missed from North America or what I was stocking up on before I left again. The truth is that I missed the food from Thailand when I was in Canada! It’s hard to explain to those who have never been here, as the sheer volume and variety of dishes is beyond contemplation if you haven’t seen it stretch out in front of you. I’m very much looking forward to exploring what food stalls CM has on offer. Hope you had a great lunch!

  10. Wow your new house is amazing, so I’m officially throwing my hat in on the jealous bandwagon. I hope you having a great time back in Thailand. :)

  11. Glad you are so happy Jodi!! I hope to get over there and visit you and Shannon both! Its exciting that you are going to live together – its crazy the way social media brings people together isn’t it?
    Can you ship some of that food to Canada? I’ll trade you cheese curds and gravy mix!

    • I brought poutine sauce with me! The kind you just add water to. Will need to find some adequate cheese but it’s going to be poutine if I can help me. Very happy that timing and circumstances have Shannon and I bunking up. Any plans to come visit?

  12. It’s strange many people can see Thailand as a home whilst being there. Myself included. Many factors add up to that point. It is the country I tend to miss the most when away.

  13. Umm…are you sure that house doesn’t have a third bedroom that you’ve haven’t discovered yet?

    It’s good to know that your trip is off to such a positive start and I’m willing to bet that the wonderful people you’re now surrounded by have played a huge role in making sure that everything falls seamlessly into place. Every day seems brighter and more rewarding when in the company of such good people!

    • There is a crawl space under the stairs. It even has a door on it, and if you crouch down and we stuff you through the entranceway, there ought to be enough room for you to unfurl. We’ll have to call you Harry.

      Yes, trip is off to a great start and the amount of smart and fun and interesting people convening on Chiang Mai is a big factor in convincing me to stay.

  14. Yay for Jodi in Chiang Mai!
    Looking forward to spending good time until summer (imagine Songkran in CM!) and meeting Shannon.

  15. Wow, it looks like absolute perfection! So excited for you!!!

  16. Ok, since your going to be soooo close to India… you have to come (and bring that new roommate of yours with ya) and visit me while there, seriously! If I get that tuk-tuk, we can drive around India with it until it blows up or you get tired of it. Super cheap flights from Thailand to India via AirAsia.com! :)

  17. The photo of sticky rice with mango waters my mouth :) It’s my favourite desert ever!

  18. Holy shit! So when can I move in?

  19. Jodi, do you cook yourself as well? If so, any Thai dishes? Got a good workin’ kitchen in your new pad?

    I’ve heard of numerous wonderful cooking schools and workshops in Chiang Mai, which I’m sure you already know about (though may find unnecessary given the fact you probably have circles of friends who are locals who can teach/share recipes)…

    Seeing your photos makes me miss all the meals I ate there. Sigh.

    Cheers,
    Cheri

    • Hey Cheri! While I do love to cook, most apartments here have a microwave and nothing more – it’s far cheaper and more convenient to run out for $1 meals than to stay in and make dinner. Yes, Chiang Mai has some great cooking schools (I did the Farm School in 2008 and really enjoyed it) but have reveled in aggregating the knowledge friends like Onourownpath.com and GotPassport.org have picked up about best street carts to try and northern Thai specialties to discover. More pictures to come! Thanks for reading.

  20. what do you think about Chang Mai vs. Bangkok in the all-important street food category? Which has better food?

    • That’s a good question. I that that while Chiang Mai has some great vendors, the sheer size and variety of what Bangkok has on offer makes it superior. From Soi 3/1 (great Middle Eastern) to the myriad of somtam vendors to tiny stalls set up around the BTS stops, the BKK food scene is enormous. There are definitely some Northern Thai specialities worthy of prizes here in Chiang Mai, but overall I’d say Bangkok.

  21. Thanks for the post, Jodi. I think CM is an awesome choice! Life seems so much more laid back there.

    Also, you’ve inspired an alternate option I hadn’t considered in long-term travel. Will be leaving SKorea soon and am not quite ready to go home just yet. Was wondering how to get around staying in one place for an extended time without having to stomach hostel costs.

    Was it easy to find an apartment in CM? Did you find it through some kind of broker or real estate person?

    • Hi there. In Bangkok (last spring) and in Chiang Mai, I found my places via friends who were settled there and gave me some advice about where to look. In this case, it was completely fortuitous – friends were leaving town, their landlord was lovely and I asked if he had 1 bedroom place. He said no, but that he had a house, so I emailed Shannon to ask if she trusted my judgment and wanted a roommate and that was that. It really fell into my lap. Generally, you can walk around in the area you want to live and just walk into buildings and see what’s free. I’ve never used a real estate person/broker in Thailand.

      Do let me know if you come through CM and we’ll go for soup!

      • Great traveler’s luck and thanks for the tip.

        I’ll let you know if I swing by. I’m considering doing a stop over in CM for a day or two from Laos, before heading back to BKK.

        Soup sounds perfect; my stay in CM might be that quick. ha ha..

  22. Way to make me extremely envious (and hungry) for a return to a place we both love so much. Enjoy and say hello to everyone for me!

    • Thanks lady! You know what I found at the 7/11? Mangosteen juice! No preservatives, just pure mangosteen-y awesomeness. Next time you come back, I know what to give you at the airport. :)

  23. Congrats on the new roommate! :) I love Thai food and love how they put peanuts on their dishes. I have a bunch of peanuts at home now that we will throw on rice dishes just to make it more ‘Thai’!

    • Well, not all their dishes but certainly copious peanut use here. Lots of the curries are peanut-free but somtam’s crunchy roasted peanuts are part of what makes it so delicious. Thanks for reading!

  24. looks like a good place to crash for a bit — congrats!

  25. So glad that you made it back to Thailand! :)

  26. I spent 10 days in Chiang Mai in November and thought it was much more laid-back than BKK. You can still get everything you want, but it’s just easier to get around. And the khao soi! Oh my god! I love BKK, but Chiang Mai has a special place in my heart…

    And super cute apartment! Jealous!

  27. I don’t have a huge desire to visit Thailand, but the food thing is something that really is tugging at me. All of that food looks so delicious! Maybe I could swing by in the next few months…

  28. On January 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm Sharon H Miro said:

    Jodi-congrats on the new place–I so loved Chiang Mai in the 8 days I spent there several years ago–OMG Khao Soi–I may have to come back!

  29. I saw that karaoke photo on FB the other day and, omg, love it. Totally made my day. I almost like it better than all that fantastic food.

    Congrats on finding a great place and a new bike (and maybe you can send some of that magic-find-a place-dust our way and we’ll be able to close on our Art House soon.

  30. So awesome that you’re back in Chiang Mai! Jealous . . . I’m missing Thailand right about now. Have a blast, Jodi!

  31. I love khao sai! Very jealous of the new move…

  32. OMG, you’re making me hungry! That food looks delicious. And you’re new home is so cute and spacious! Nice job. Obviously I only know Thailand from what I’ve read online, but Chiang Mai sounds much calmer than Bangkok. Are you kidding about the apartments only having microwaves though? Wow…

    • It is much calmer than Bangkok, which is partly why I miss BKK as much as I do! Though I’m not as well-versed in Chiang Mai as many of the others here, from what I can see CM is like the West Coast and BKK the East Coast. Much more relaxed here, much easier to take your time and get around. And no, not kidding about the kitchens – why cook at home when it’s 75 cents to eat an amazing meal just outside your door? :) Most short term leases (3 mos – however many years you want) have a micro and that’s it.

  33. Awww, I miss Chiang Mai. The food is fabulous AND cheap. The house you’re staying in looks amazing, what a sweet find! I hope you enjoy your time in CM!

  34. Hooray! I love that pic of you and your friends singing, your house, all of it. And honestly the food descriptions and pic just made me cry a little.

  35. Wow! What a wonderful time you are having and your apartment looks great. Lovely to read your blog and thank you for sharing!
    xx

  36. What a great apartment and even better food. You are off to a great start! And I fully agree with you: it is much cheaper to eat outside than in it is to do so at home, so why bother? I’m wondering if your new place has internet?

    • Internet is actually included in our rent, and this month’s electric bill was also free because we used less than 90 units of electricity for the month (and the government pays to incentivise people to cut down). No complaints here!

  37. You were lucky to have that apartment! Most wonderful about your travel is the FOOD! I so love those cuisines you’ve featured and I can’t help but rush to a Thai restaurant instead. Love it!

  38. I found a good Italian restaurant near the Tha Pae Gate outside the wall, around the
    corner from the McD’s call Ristorante Italiana da Stefano. They have a great pumpkin
    soup and of course Italian food. Was there for a few weeks October of last year. My son lives in BKK and teaches school(past 4 years) and loves the food. It can be a little
    “my pet” for me at times. Also love the khao soi too! I just got back from 17 days in India and prefer Thai food over Indian.
    Enjoy your blog.

    • Thanks Jim. Unfortunately, I can’t eat wheat so Italian food is rarely a go-to place for me. However lots of fellow travellers in Chiang Mai miss it so I’ll be sure to pass your suggestion along. I agree that it’s hard to adjust to the spice levels – I get plenty of laughs because I’ve got sweat and tears rolling down my face when it’s a crazy spicy dish – but it’s worth it! Delicious and fun to see how different food can be from Montreal. Safe travels!

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