I cant even remember where I was for new years eve 2014. Granted, I don’t have a very good memory for that stuff, but I do know that in my wildest dreams I never would have imagined that I would be sitting in a cheap windowless hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam one year later.
I hear a lot from friends and family about how, upon learning of my new lifestyle, many people express a wish that they could do what I am currently doing. Its hard to know what to say when I hear that.
Part of me wants to say that anyone can do this. It just takes some time and determination. But obviously that just isn’t true. Although I know digital nomads/digital expats that travel with their wives and children, or who have a mortgage back home, it is simply not an option for many many folks.
Part of me wants to express how it wasn’t all luck and good fortune that got me here. It took a huge leap of faith into the unknown to leave my comfortable safe life. Quitting my well paying job, selling all my stuff, and boarding a one way flight to the other side of the world was the hardest thing I have ever done. And, although nearly every digital nomad will tell you that the lifestyle is totally worth it, digital nomadism is not without its sacrifices.
But most of me wants to say that not one bit of the awesomeness of my situation is lost on me. I often sit back in sort of awe at where I am, and find myself totally and utterly grateful that circumstances have allowed me to do what I am doing.
And in the spirit of new years, goal setting, and dream reaching there is one other thought that has often occupied my mind lately, and that is the power of trying.
Many people know how much I admire Elon Musk. He started Paypal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors. I’ve watched hours of interviews with Elon and one thing that strikes me is his attitude towards failure.
In an interview for 60 minutes he was asked how he knew Tesla Motors would be successful. He responded “I didn’t really think that Tesla would be successful, I thought we would most likely fail.” And as you know, Tesla Motors is doing very well and is single handedly changing the Automobile industry forever.
I’ve also heard him, on a different occasion, express the idea that just because the probable outcome is failure, it doesn’t always mean you shouldn’t do something.
Before he started SpaceX, nearly everyone he knew told him he shouldn’t do it. He risked everything he had to try. SpaceX had 3 failed rocket launches before one finally succeeded.
The way Elon Musk seems unintimidated by the idea of failure has always been inspiring to me. He is not scared of trying. And when he tries, he tries hard. And that has served him very well and allowed him to change the world in many amazing ways.
Many of us have things we dream of trying, whether that is starting a business, traveling the world, building an app, acting on broadway, or writing for a TV show. Sometimes those things are best kept on the shelf. For people like myself who have a shorter list of commitments and attachments than most, I cant help but think that the only difference between those who act on broadway, write for TV shows, travel the world, or work for themselves, and those who merely dream of doing so might be just a few good, hard, determined, tries. And sometimes, even if the probable outcome is failure, that isn’t a good reason not to try.
Being a digital nomad has been a most rewarding journey. Its amazing to think about how close I came to never giving it a try. Its also fueled my determination to try hard at some other things, and to make 2016 a year of tries instead of a year of dreams.
This is just a combination of small random things I noticed and learned from my time in Thailand. This is from my perspective as someone who has lived in the United States my whole life and with very little exposure to South East Asian cultures.
These are like red taxi trucks. They are one of the cheapest ways to get around. You just flag them down, tell them where you are going and then climb in back.
Usually you will want to negotiate price before you get in. Usually between 20-40 baht ($1ish) or maybe a little more depending on how far you have to go, or depending on the time of day.
Sometimes they will try to rip you off for being a foreigner but that hasn’t happened to me more than once or twice and as long as you know what price is fair and negotiate the price up front then you are good. I have even had a driver give me money back because it was a short ride and I gave him too much. So most of the drivers are cool.
Sometimes they will turn you down if they are not heading your way or something but if you hit them up on non-peak hours then many of them will be empty and will take you just about anywhere for the right price.
You will also see these tuk tuks everywhere. They are usually around 5 times the cost of a Songthaew.
I feel like the thai people have a higher than average love for straws. Like if you buy a bottle of something to drink, often it will come come with straw. Like, you buy a coke and they throw a straw in the bag. They also give you straws at like all the restaurants no matter how short the cup is. I’d heard that part of the reason may be that they view the lip of bottles to be dirty which would make sense. But I just thought the sudden increase of straws in my life was mildly interesting.
There just big clumps of cable lines everywhere. Not necessarily bad or anything, just interesting. Not sure if these are all power cables or if they are also data cables or something but they are everywhere.
I’d heard that this actually makes it quite easy to upgrade their infrastructure. Which makes sense. When you need to run new fiber optic cable in the States you have to dig up stuff and its a whole ordeal. To run a new fiber line in Thailand, you just tack it up to the telephone poles and you are good to go.
There are 7/11s everywhere. This turns out to be very useful. They are basically like 7/11s in the states but smaller. You can do everything at 7/11. You can pay bills, you can even pay cash for stuff that you purchase online. Its crazy. Plus they have drinks, snacks, personal hygiene products, etc…
Here is also where you can get a tourist sim card. Remember to bring your passport. It takes a few minutes to set up, they have to take a picture of your passport and submit things through a smart phone app but then you will be connected to 3G. I think there are other providers you can get as a tourist, maybe even a 4G network, but the TrueMove network you get at 7/11 is good for a 3G network. I have found it very adequate for navigating me around town and accessing twitter and facebook and stuff.
There are stray dogs around. And they like to lay around in the most inconvenient places.
At least at the time of this writing there is a lot of construction going on around Nimman road. Most of it, as far as I can tell, it is mostly apartment/hotel building renovations.
There are a few of these places that have already finished being renovated. They are really cool. They are well designed and trendy, but are also quite expensive. Like 3-4 times what I am currently paying for my cheap apartment.
So most of the power outlets look something like this.
** However I have seen some outlets that DO NOT have the 3rd grounding hole (only two holes) so you may need a little converter to reduce the 3 prong connectors to two.
If there is a dish that Chiang Mai is known for it is Khao Soi. This is a northern thai dish. You typically wont find it in any thai restaurants abroad or in the southern parts of Thailand. It is egg noodles with a sweet, curry-like coconut based broth. Then they top it with crispy noodles and usually add some sort of meat like chicken or beef.
So the napkin situation is different. Usually, if there are any napkins at all, it is like 2 ply toilet paper like what you see in the picture above or like one ply stacks of napkins. Its interesting.
Its important to stay hydrated in Thailand.
You can buy big like 1500 ml (about 1/3 gallon) bottles of water for about 14 baht (about 40 cents) but you can refil that same bottle for 1 baht (about 3 cents). So you may want to save a few bottles and just start refilling them instead of buying new ones.
You can, of course buy even bigger bottles and refil them. But I just used the 1500 ml ones since I thought they were easier to deal with once I got them home. Plus I could take one with me if I needed to.
Just keep your eye out for a machine like the one in the picture above you just put in a 1 baht coin and press the green button and water will come out of the spout.
If you are having trouble finding a water machine, you can try asking around. They are not that uncommon, chances are there it always one within a couple blocks of where you are staying.
Also, the tap water is not safe to drink. Some people report being fine brushing their teeth with tap water but I usually just keep a bottle of water in the bathroom for my toothbrush.
There is a night market on both Saturday and Sunday. Usually from like 6:30 to like 9:00ish, I think. The Sunday and Saturday markets happen in different places. They basically just block off an entire street and they set up booths on either side.
Expect it to be crazy crowded, everyone goes to these things so think traffic for both cars and bodies. In bottle necked areas it is shoulder to shoulder penguin shuffle kind of movement.
They sell everything you can think of here. Food, juices, smoothies, knick knacks, souvenirs, soaps, bags, clothes, shoes, sandals, lanterns, wallets, belts, scarfs, basically anything.
You can also get a foot massage when your feet and legs get tired from all the walking/penguin shuffling. There are foot massage areas spread evenly up and down the market.
There are also street performers that camp right in the middle of the crowded road. The crowd just moves around them which is kind of interesting.
Also expect to pay more for transportation to and from because the drivers lose time dealing with the traffic and crowds.
There are many massage places around. They range in price from 150 baht (about $4.20) to 300 baht (about $8.40). They often offer many types of massage but the most common are going to be a thai massage or a foot massage.
You are going to get the best prices from a shop that only does massages rather than a spa.
When you buy things from 7/11 they give you these stamps. You can trade these in for discounts towards your next purchase.
Usually if you think a normal sized portion wont satisfy your hunger, you can ask them for a big size. Usually is it only like 10 baht or so more to get a little extra food.
There are laundry shops all around. They will clean and fold your laundry for you. Usually for around 30 baht per kilo. If you want them ironed it will be a little more.
So Thailand is not a place where the people can talk freely about the government. In fact, everyone will tell you to be very careful when talking about the King. There are regular stories of people getting sent to prison for small stuff like posting a photoshopped picture of the king on Facebook.
But you will notice pictures and billboards of the king all over the place and if you see a movie there will be a part where you are asked to stand for the national anthem to show respect for the king.
Although the king and princess seem to be loved by much of the people, the prince is not. And the king is rumored to be quite ill. And the country is run by the military at the moment. Though I’ve heard that the northern part of the country is not affected much by any of that.
So my Thailand visa ended on Dec 30th so my time in Thailand came to an end. I thought a lot about staying. I like Chiang Mai so much it’s hard to imagine finding any place I like more. However, my journey is just beginning, and there is just too much to see.
I can’t even describe how amazing my time there was. I met so many amazing people, and made many friendships that I think will last for a long long time. My perspective and world view has changed forever. I saw and experienced many great new things. But the thing I liked the most is something beyond any experience or person.
Being a digital nomad gives one a travel perspective that I think is quite unique. When you have the chance to develop a routine in a new place, you get to simply BE there. This sense of BEING transcends any sight you see or thing you do. You feel it when you drive a scooter on the sidewalk because you saw some Thai guy do it. You feel it when you walk home at night and the streets are all empty and quiet. You feel it when you go to the cheap corner Thai food place so regularly that you just have to nod to the lady there and she brings you your usual. You feel it when you realize how sad you are to leave because Chiang Mai has started to feel like home.
As great as it is to see the cool temples, visit Pai, and do all the other touristy things, I think that had I not done any of it, I would still look at my time in Chiang Mai as a total success. And as the first stop in what I hope will be a long fulfilling journey, Chiang Mai will always have a special place in my heart.
So there is a little town called Pai about a 3 hour drive from Chiang Mai. Its sort of known as a backpacker party town. But there are also a lot of interesting things to see and do in that area. I’d heard a lot about it, and was happy when a chance came to go check it out with some friends.
Luckily I was able to just tag along again while other people organized everything. Big thank you to my Chiang Mai friends for being cool like that.
Anyways, we rented a car for 3 days and decided to make a weekend of it.
The drive was quite pretty and interesting. I had heard that some people just drive their scooter or motorbike there but we found that there was a lot of dusty, dirty, construction areas, and it was hard to imagine a motorbike being a good idea.
None of us really knew what we were going to do once we got to Pai so on the way we looked up some of the sites. One of the attractions mentioned repeatedly was something called the “Land Crack.” Basically there was this farmer who’s land randomly developed a large crack due to some strange soil erosion. So he decides to turn it into a tourist attraction. Anyways, this Land Crack was on the way to Pai so we decided to check it out.
The crack itself was a little underwhelming. But what made this experience cool was they provide some food and snacks that they grow and make there on the property. These included fresh papaya, banana chips, passion fruit, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and this juice and jam they make out of a plant called a roselle plant, which I had never heard of.
Overall it was a nice and relaxing time. The farmer and his staff were very friendly. They also don’t actually charge anything for the snacks or to see the Land Crack. They just ask for you to make a donation of whatever you feel it was worth.
While we were in the area of the Land Crack we checked out a little waterfall.
Off to Pai.
We stayed in these cute little bungalow things.
So since there were 6 of us and only 3 beds we all got to double up, but everyone kept their hands to themselves as far as I know, so it all worked out fine.
We had a fun and long night out in the town.
The next day we decided to check out the Pai canyon.
Then on the way home we checked out some hot springs. I didn’t get hardly any pictures of the hot springs. Basically you can walk up to the hottest ones that is, according to a nearby sign, about 80 degrees celsius. And apparently you can boil eggs in them. They have these long sticks with baskets on the end that you can use and you can also buy eggs somewhere.
Anyways, the hottest springs then flow down over this wide area and the water cools down. Then it gathers in these little pool areas that you can swim in. As you get farther away from the top the temperature gradually gets lower. The ones we swam in were about 32 degrees celsius if I remember right.
Also on the way to the hot spring we randomly saw some elephants on the side of the road.
So, overall it was a really fun trip. I had an amazing time with some amazing people. And if you are ever in Chiang Mai, be sure to checkout Pai.
Me and some new friends saw the elephants the other day and it was amazing.
You have to be a bit careful which places you go to visit the elephants. Some places are abusive to the animals, but other places, like the one we went to, helps to rescue animals that have been abused, and treat the animals very well.
The place was called the Happy Elephant Home. This place had a baby elephant which was really fun. Not many of them do, and one of the workers told me that it was very lucky for us to come when they have a baby.
When we arrived, they gave us bags and a bunch of green little bananas. Then we all just went out into the field and fed the elephants all our bananas. When you run out of bananas they will come up to you and like pester you for some food and when they figure out you don’t have any they will like leave to pester someone else.
The reason it was so lucky to have a baby elephant is because apparently good bulls for breeding are rare or something. The stud fee for a bull elephant can be up to $100,000 if successful and even $30,000 if it fails.
Side note, all the elephants we saw that day were female. With this type of elephant females actually grow tusks, however they are much smaller than the tusks on a male.
The baby was still many hundreds of pounds and it liked to play. Basically that means it likes to charge up behind you if you aren’t looking an like knock you over. It actually tackled one of the other visitors, a girl a little younger than me. It almost trampled her which was a little scary for a few moments. But she was ok.
After that, we went down to the river and got into the water with the elephants. They would like lay down in the water and put their whole body, head included, under the water with just their nose out so they could breath which was kind of funny. We would basically just go up and splash with water. But you still have to be quite careful you don’t get caught in between them and stuff. But it was really fun.
It was just really really cool to interact with these animals they all seemed very gentle and friendly. Plus it was just incredible to be so close to something so big and powerful, yet so gentle. It was just great. And I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to going except I met someone who scheduled it all and I just had to show up with some cash so that was cool. There were 4 of us that went and we all had a great time.
And as a bonus, here is my favorite picture from all my time here in Thailand.
Here are a few pictures of my new apartment. It is 8,000 baht per month ($221). It is not as good as my other place and is a little more expensive but it was the only place I could find in my “as cheap as possible” price range.
I don’t really like this place. There is like no chair. Its weird. But hey, I like having an excuse to not stay in my room very often. Plus it was cheap so I am not complaining, just assessing.