Sunday, July 10, 2016

[A little over] one month in Chiang Mai

Guess who's back? That's right, I'm back traipsing all over the globe, and this time I'm coming to you live from Thailand. In June, I moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand to begin a year of teaching at a Thai school. Since my arrival I've been to Hong Kong, Thailand, and Laos. I've seen some signature Chiang Mai sights like Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple, and the famous Night Market. Still, there are plenty of things to do over the next year (or so). In the month I've been here, I've learned quite a bit that I thought I would share.

1. Thailand is hot. Of course, I knew Thailand would be toasty, but I never expected constant heat and humidity. I am learning to accept being constantly covered in sweat. However, there is a silver lining; I can tell I'm getting used to the heat when 85 F doesn't seem all that hot. Air con is a gift from above and cannot be taken for granted.

2. Thai desserts are sweet, and often times jiggly. Thai people like their sweets and condensed milk is the sweetener of choice for many drinks, like the signature orange Thai tea, and desserts. Even the bread here is sweet. My first Thai tea was a shock; I couldn't believe how sweet it was, but much like the weather, I quickly adjusted to the sweet drink and now I actually enjoy it quite a bit. Not only are desserts sweet, they often have a jiggly component in the form of JELL-O, jelly, or some other congealed product. Needless to say, jiggly desserts aren't my sweet of choice and likely never will be.

3. Thai's drive on the other side of the road and motorbikes are the transport of choice. In Thailand, drivers drive on the left side of the road while motorbikes weave in and out of the cars, making them the perfect choice to avoid Chiang Mai traffic. Everyone, even babies and children, ride on the backs of motorbikes, some with and some without helmets. In this past month, I've ridden (and driven) a few motorbikes!

Sorry mom!

4. It's true what they say about Thailand being the land of smiles. Everyone is incredibly friendly, warm, and almost constantly smiling.

5. According to my students, I look like Ed Sheeran, the English singer, and appear to be from the North Pole. These were two things I had no idea about, but I'm glad to know for future reference.

6. Taking a 10 hour, overnight van is maybe not the best way to travel. I took a van with two co-workers to go to Laos to get Thai visas and needless to say, I felt like a human pretzel trying to get comfortable in the middle seat. At least the trip was worthwhile.

7. Thai food is delicious and inexpensive. Paying $1-3 for dinner is not unlikely here and the food is incredible. My personal favorites include Pad Thai (typical), coconut curry, and Khao Soi. Finding vegetarian food is a little bit more difficult, even though I learned the word for vegetarian early on. In the quest for good vegetarian food, I've found quite a few delicious spots that serve entirely vegetarian, and mostly vegan, food. The fruit is a whole other story. I could eat just Thai fruit for every meal. The bananas, mangos, pineapples, lychees, watermelons, and dragon fruits have been my personal favorites for far. Not only are they delicious, the fruit is also dirt cheap.
A young Thai coconut, fresh fruit and muesli

8. Temples are abundant, sprinkled throughout the city serving as a nod to the past. I love driving around Chiang Mai and seeing another golden temple glistening in the sun amongst the other buildings.

On the steps leading up to Doi Suthep

9. Thai massages are real and rough. For a one hour Thai massage, the going rate is 200 baht, or roughly $6 which is a far cry from the $60 I pay at home. When you go to a Thai masseuse, you will gaze in awe and wonder at the sheer strength of the thumbs of Thai women. Many of these women could become world-champion thumb wrestlers with thumbs that strong. Thai massages are one of those things that hurt so much that it actually feels good.

0. It's true what they say about Thailand and lady boys; you will see more of them than you think and no one bats an eye seeing a lady boy walking down the street. That kind of acceptance is pretty freaking cool.

11. When it rains in Thailand, it pours. Belgium is a country known for rain, as is Thailand. However, Thai rain is another beast. In Leuven, it would lightly drizzle all day, so no one ever really took notice of the rain. In Thailand, it will be beautiful and sunny all day until the dark clouds roll in at 4 p.m. on the nose. All of the sudden, it downpours and it is not fun to be caught in instant, pouring rain.

12. There are stray dogs everywhere. Some of them are groomed, some of them are scraggly, all of them are cute.

Stay tuned for more updates about school, travel, and everything in between.