5 Things That May Surprise You About Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’ve been living in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s “Rose of the North”, just shy of two months and continue to be enthralled by the city’s bustling vibe and seemingly never-ending beauty.

When we made the decision to move here, many of our friends and family raised concerns. Was it safe? Was it clean? Would we be able to enjoy all the creature comforts we’d grown accustomed to back home?

I can happily report that the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding ‘yes’. But, like anywhere new, there are things that caught me by surprise.

Life in Chiang Mai is blissful – but some things may surprise you.

1. Asian Covers of Western Songs

No matter where you go in Chiang Mai, you are bound to hear a soft Asian voice singing the latest Western pop hits, or even classic rock hits like Pink Floyd’s, Another Brick in the Wall.

It seems Thais prefer dulcet tones to the loud, no-holds-barred vocals of Western singers. While I’m personally not a fan, it does make for some interesting moments in cafes and restaurants.

2. Bartering

Unlike places like Bali or India, where bartering is part and parcel of being a foreigner, a lot of Thai vendors tend to shy away from the practice. Losing face is considered a major faux pas in Thailand, which could explain why bartering is less prevalent here.

While bartering is still expected, Thai people are less likely to negotiate if they think your offer is too low. This is particularly obvious with songthaews (open-air shared taxis). In my experience, drivers will simply move on if the price isn’t right.

3. Money Matters

Some items will cost the same as back home, and some will cost more.

Asia in general isn’t known for its coffee, so a fresh brew in Chiang Mai will set you back about $3—not much less than what you’d pay in Australia.

Another fairly consistent price point is hair salon treatments. For a bottle-blonde like me, a standard cut and colour will cost about the same as back home (unless I go to a local salon where no one speaks English, but I’m not that brave).

And there are certain items that will actually cost more than back home, like wine, breakfast items (I’ve paid more than $20 for a one-kilo packet of low-sugar muesli) and luxury skincare.

I was delighted to find a beauty house stocking my regular skincare brand, only to discover the item I was after would set me back over $140, compared to $85 in Australia. Ouch.

4. Unparalleled Efficiency

I have to admit that when we decided to move here, I thought it would be a long and arduous process sorting out visas, a place to live, and so on. How wrong I was.

Everything in Chiang Mai happens super-fast. Visa requests are processed in all but a few hours and we secured our luxury condo in a single morning.

Neither Australia nor Canada (where I’ve also lived) is anywhere near this efficient. All hail minimal red tape!

5. Animal Matters

On my travels over the years, I’ve been dismayed and saddened at the state of animals in some parts of the world.

Happily, not so here in Chiang Mai. While you do see dogs walking around, they’re generally well fed and healthy-looking. This was a big plus for me.

If you’re considering a move to Asia, I strongly encourage you to consider a more peaceful, organic lifestyle in Chiang Mai. You won’t regret it.

Just brace yourself for the Asian pop covers!

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