Saturday, August 18, 2012

Get to Know Chiang Mai

We finally found a house today. We put money down and we are now locked into a new house. We also saw three other houses that were equally as amazing and I would live in any one of them in a heartbeat. That is not what this blog post is about. If you want to know more about the day and how it all played out, you can go read it here on my wife's blog. I want to give you a virtual tour around the city.

The center of our Chiang Mai lives as a couple is the international school: Chiang Mai International School. This is where Britty works as a 4th grade teacher. It is a great place with a lot of great people. The second most important part of our first few weeks here was our hotel room, at the CMIS compound. Our trip to school was here. Starting location was the location of our hotel room, ending location is CMIS. If you zoom out a little bit (or a lot) you can see the whole city in all its glory.

This first trip, from home to school, was a very easy trip to walk. There are a lot of cool things along the way as well. Right outside the school's entrance, from 10am to 5pm, are street venders offering all sorts of food and drink. They have places to get ramen noodles for 10 baht (33 cents) chicken and rice for 15 baht (50 cents) and you can get a 2 liter of orange fanta for 30 baht (a dollar). They sit outside of the school, not to target the CMIS kids. Oh no. CMIS only has about 700 students. What they are really there for are the 7000 students who go to school right across the street at Prince Royal College (college is what they call high school/elementary combos here). 7000 students all trying to get to school and home all at the same time, all without any form of busing system. It is absolutely brutal. Fortunately, CMIS starts earlier and ends earlier than PRC, to avoid the other 7000 kids.

The first few weeks were very tough. I had no idea where I was or where I was going. We had no transportation and we were at the mercy of other families to help us get to where we needed to go. We were blessed to have the help of some very excellent friends, the McRady's and the Owen's. They both helped us around. From our place, the McRady's would come and pick us up and take us (sometimes seven in one car)   around the town to get what we needed. We would go to Big CRimping Supermarket, and even a place called Butter is Better (great western food). Butter is better is located on the street that the Night Bazaar is on. This market opens every night at around 5pm and runs till midnight. It is the touristy place to go to shop and you can get anything from keychains to artwork to food to t-shirts to shoes and much more.

When we wanted to go to the McRady's, we would take this route (I have no idea where they actually live on google maps, I'm just guessing). Then to get to the Owen's we would take the highways and go this way. They have both been absolutly wonderful to us, especially the McRady's who I call our Thai family. No one actually calls roads by their actual numbers (or names for that matter). 11 is the big "super highway". 1001 is "Maejo Road" or "Pharo Road" or "Sansai Road" they just make up names for roads I think (really, they call any road where that road will lead you). 118 is "Doi Saket Road". Its fun to learn the names, but it is also not fun to try and get a ride on a Songthaew and the driver have no idea what "1001" means.

We eventually moved from our old place to here, and we are now house sitting for a friend. I have a motor bike and the route into school that I take is back-roads. This is the route me and Britty take, riding double on a motor mike. It is right up against the Ping River. I now drive all over the place, and absolutely love driving the motor bike (although I have been trying to take it much slower, just to be safe)

Today, we took a look at four different houses (you can see pictures of these houses on my facebook page). They were all the same cost (15,000 baht a month) and they all had their own great features. We went from our place to the first house here. We very much liked it, and I wanted to sign a contract right there, but my wife decided it would be wise to look at the other three houses before we made a decision. I said that was fine and we took off on our way to the second house. It was beautiful and I was torn. I said lets move on, and we came to the third house. As you can see, we are getting further from Britty's work, but also they houses keep getting nicer. This house was a very western suburban home with a view of rice fields in the back yard. It is the few places that I actually could feel a breeze blowing through the house (and a big one at that) because of all the open space coming off of the rice field. We then took a look at the final house and this house was the type of house I envisioned a Thai house would be: sliding glass doors all around the living room making the entire living room feel open. It was incredible and we had a very tough decision to make.

The first house was so close to the school, was a three story house with a flat roof that could be used to hang out, a view of the mountains in the west, a massive kitchen and still maintained a Thai feel to it. The three other houses were all three bedroom, cookie cutter houses all with their own amazing attributes, but the location and amazingness of the first house was way too good to pass up. We now are renting a house on the Ping River that is a short distance  to school. We are very excited and now have a house that was going for 16,500 baht. Our agent talked the price down to 15,000 baht and we move in in two weeks.

I hope you had fun time with my virtual walkthrough of Chiang Mai, and I hope to do a much shorter version again very soon, as we explore more of the city and get more stories.

As always, enjoy the sunlight.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Night Life

Brittany left her phone at school, so she has no alarm clock. It is then my job to go find her an alarm clock at 9pm and thus starts my first adventure out, alone, and at night.

Chiang Mai is very small. It has the same population of Columbus, but it could be fit inside the outer-belt like, 4 times. They have one large highway called the super highway (original, right?). Here is the route I took. As you can see, the starting location is where I currently live. The end location (approximately) is Big C (Thai Walmart). This is a very long trip in Chiang Mai standards, its pretty much across town but it only took me about 10 minutes to get there.

I got to Big C and I asked three people if they had alarm clocks. Two didn't speak english and passed me on to the next one and the last guy still spoke no english, but I made a hand gesture like so "Tick Tick Tick Tick RIIIINNGGGG" with one finger and then on ring I made a sleepy face waking up from my hand pillow. They had no alarm clocks. I then went to Home Pro (Home Depot without the lumber) which was next door walked right in, found an three attendants all standing in a...


The unemployment rate in Thailand is 1.2%. Unreal right? The reason is (from what I can see) is everyone loves this country. Everyone who has some stake in the country genuinely wants the country to succeed and the people to succeed. In America, it is all about money, which is not always a bad thing (this is not political at all) but in Chiang Mai, if you walk into a place like Big C or Home Pro there are at LEAST 25 workers on the floor doing next to nothing. Just standing around waiting to help someone. I would have to say there are almost always more workers in a store than customers (a typical, small "verizon" type mall stand selling phones will have 4 or 5 workers).

These companies hand out jobs like water. All this talk in the States about job creation and how its all politics blah blah blah, but could you imagine if Wal-Mart decided to hire three people per shift per location in America? I know those spots would never get filled (working as a cashier at a Sams Club, I can tell you that they are never going to turn away an able bodied cashier if they want a job) but that is what happens here. The stores all hire random 20 somethings just because they want their people working and they understand that working people means money is flowing and since most all the money stays in Thailand, they can hire hundreds of useless workers because rice is cheap and the extra money will be spent on things. This is one of the most fascinating things about being here so far.


I walked into Home Pro looking for an alarm clock. Walked right up to three dudes all standing talking and said "alarm clock" then I made my hand gesture. They all looked at me like "what is this kid on" and one of the guys said in near perfect English "We don't have alarm clocks, sorry"

The rest of the story is boring, I walked downstairs and found an expensive alarm clock (300 baht) in some random mall stall and left to ride my bike home in the beautiful weather.

It's dark here and close to bed time. Hope you are enjoying the sunshine in the states. Till next time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Busy House

Today, I am not home alone.

Woke up at 6:15am this morning to take Brittany into school. I enjoy being up early here. The houses are built in such a way to allow maximum breeze. This house has three sliding glass doors all around the living area and when they are all open, it is like sitting outside. Even though the entire city of Chiang Mai rests in a bowl of mountains, the occasional breeze makes it down and it feels amazing. The morning drive on the motor bike is a lot of fun as well. Traffic gets really bad at 7:05 here. Not 7:00 or 7:10, exactly 7:05. Before then, the drive is smooth as back roads in Michigan: terrible road conditions with no cars in sight.

I have yet to experience a morning rain either. It is the rainy season here in Thailand. When it rains, it rains hard.  Late morning, the skies turn overcast and by early evening it has usually rained at least once. The rain falls and floods the area at times. Last year the flood waters got up to knee high, from what I hear. Hopefully it doesn't happen again.

My wife and I are currently house sitting for a family visiting the States. Along with the house comes a dog, a maid and a gardener. Up until today, I have only had to deal with the dog: taking her for walks and feeding her. Today, however, they all came.

It is very strange to have a maid, who speaks little English, come in and clean up all of my messes. Whats more is that I have no idea what to do. I mean, it's my mess, so I should have to do my own dishes and my own laundry, but this is this woman's job. The family I am house sitting for is already paying her for the month, so they told me to leave all of my chores for her to do. I'm just doing what I'm told, but I still feel bad watching "The Dog Whisperer" while she does my laundry.

At about 9:30am, the gardener showed up. I was not expecting this, but apparently he does all of the yard work for the ex-pats around the neighborhood (Moo Baan in Thai) and he gets paid about 300 baht for 2 or 3 hours of work. If you are keeping track at home, that's 10 usd for 3 hours of outdoor labor in a tropical climate. (Edit: Just paid him. Turned out to be 250 baht for 2.5 hours work. I told him to keep the 300 since I didn't have exact change. Still seems like unfair wage, but minimum wage is 150 baht for a days work, which is ~20 baht an hour. Compared to cost of living, that's a pretty good deal I think.)

The maid is now mopping under the couch I am sitting on. I am embarrassed.

In about noon, I will head out to get lunch. Cost is very different here. I will go out and eat a nice, Thai lunch with rice, meat, vegetable and drink for about 25 baht. That is 85 cents usd. When people ask me questions like "Is McDonald's expensive there?" I always answer "sorta". It costs 150 baht to get a big mac meal, which is about 5 usd. That is about the same cost as in the States. The issue is, you can't go out and get a lunch for less than 5usd in the States. Here, it is strange to pay more than 30 baht for a lunch. So while the cost of McDonald's is the same, conversion wise. Cost of living makes it so much more expensive, to the point where it is like eating a 15 dollar big mac.

This fact makes cost of living very low, but western grocery items high. A very nice 3 bed 3 bath house with a pool will cost around 25,000 baht (~800usd) a month but a small box of Honey Nut Cheerios costs 300 baht (~10usd). If you went out and got a really nice lunch for 50 baht, it would cost you 6 lunches out to buy one box of Cheerios. That's like trading one box of Cheerios for 6 Subway footlongs. Not really sure it's worth it.

I need to eat. So until next time, remember: the sun is always shining somewhere.