Three days of travel, three countries, two hotel rooms, seven hours of driving, 27 hours on two planes, four movies watched, and $32 worth of magazines that failed to keep me entertained landed me in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Chiang Mai means “new city” in Thai and was so-named because it in 1296 it became the new capital succeeding Chiang Rai of the Lanna Kingdom. The Lanna Kingdom is close to ubiquitous of Northern Thailand, the kingdom having been centered here from the 13th to the 18th century. It translates to “Kingdom of a million rice fields”.
Chiang Mai has a sizable population of around 1.5 million in its metro area and is increasingly reaching the tops of “World’s Best Destinations” and other such lists. Its mountainous location expertly melds the urban/natural contrast, majestic Doi (Mount) Suthep overlooks the city and the spires of Wat (temple) Phrathat Doi Suthep poke the clouds. The weather here has been surprisingly perfect. Assuming I’d be miserably stuffy in high-80˚ highs coming from snowy Michigan, I found it to be almost too perfect, similar and just as excellent as Northern Michigan’s summer. Mind you, this is their Winter, however.
Aside from my program, life here moves calmly, happily, and with excitement. Thais are incredibly friendly and accommodating – what a change from your typical Czech! The lack of any real resemblance of a ‘winter’ here manifests itself as a laid back, relaxed, carefree, and untroubled atmosphere absorbed by the entirety of the city. With no harsh winter approaching, there’s simply no need to rush to get anything done. “Jai Yen Yen”, we’ve learned, means ‘take it easy’ or ‘chill’. It so describes the feel of life here. Easy, breezy!
In Thailand, life happens on the streets. Restaurants and shops all spill out onto the sidewalk, the majority of them lack walls and keep their doors perpetually open- why confine and enclose a space when you can expose it to the liveliness of the city passing by and the perfection of the climate? Street vendors are set up literally everywhere and the initially terrifying but gradually becoming ordinary flow of whizzing motorbikes, songthaews (red taxi trucks with open backs), and cars characterize the city.
It’s no wonder so many expats flock to
paradise Chiang Mai to live happily ever after.