The first week in Chiang Mai was a crash course for what was to come in the next three months.
DP and I had independently traveled to various corners of the world before, so we weren’t clueless. Yet from the very first day, our time in Chiang Mai was filled with trepidation and drama.
“P,” a friend’s fiancée (whom we had never met), picked us up from the airport. We had made no prior living arrangements, so she drove around the city until we agreed on a temporary fix. DP is used to this sort of “flying by the seat of your pants,” but the lack of planning made me extremely anxious.
Lesson 1. Don’t worry if you don’t know where to stay. The best places are not advertised online anyway. There are so many guesthouses in Chiang Mai that if one doesn’t suit you, it’s easy to relocate. 5,000 to 6,000 Thai baht per month (depending on electricity, water, internet) is a good price range for comfortable accommodations. If you are paying in the 10,000+ range, you better be staying at the Grand Palace.
We moved three times in three months, which is not a big deal when everything you own fits in four bags. The best option for extended stays: get an apartment.
Lesson 2. Rent a motorbike. It turns out to be the cheapest, safest (surprisingly), most convenient mode of long-term transportation. And you won’t have to haggle with cab drivers.
After we dumped our belongings at the Goodwill guesthouse (small, no A/C, friendly staff and quaint rooftop), the next task was to find DP’s training facility and my internship point of contact.
The Goodwill is within walking distance of Kawila boxing stadium and gym, which was convenient for DP; however, my internship was on the opposite side of town, pretty much the outskirts. We would move the first time in order to find a guesthouse somewhere in between the two. Despite its drawbacks, we were quite fond of the Goodwill.
The first week also taught us:
Lesson 3. No matter how friendly the Thai, beware of intent. For example, on our first full day in Chiang Mai, DP and I encountered a “trainer” by the name of Mr. Pong, trolling in front of Kawila Stadium (imagine Mr. Miyagi but Thai). He sized DP up by squeezing his biceps and giving him a head-to-toe, then offered him a cheap place to train with the promise of high-paying fights. You’re thinking, That’s an easy one. Sounds like a scam. However, because we politely indulged in conversation with him, Mr. Pong later stalked us at our guesthouse and insisted we follow him to his gym out in the country. I’m thinking, Please tell my folks we got murdered or Locked Up Abroad.
His gym was a glorified tent. Then it turns out he was looking for gullible foreigners to match in rope fighting. (Rope fighting is what it sounds like: wrap your hands in rope, get in a ring, and you’re a loser even if you win. I rather like DP’s face and don’t wish it to resemble ground beef.) With P’s help, we somehow talked ourselves out of that one, and Mr. Pong didn’t bother us again.
Lesson 4. Money is king. The average monthly income here is what many Americans make in a couple days of work (an estimate based on what I have seen personally, not on any economic expertise). As a tourist, you are considered a target by anyone trying to sell anything. Beware!
Lesson 5. The actual King (H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej) is king. His likeness is everywhere, and everything you’ve heard about respecting him in speech and action is 100% true. Even if you are saying something you think is positive, it may be misconstrued and land you in jail or worse. When in doubt, say nothing of the King.
As I write these “tips,” I hesitate to share them with anyone because experiences will vary. Going to a foreign country is like living in one of those “choose your own adventure” novels – the outcome depends on your personal choices. So make wise decisions and don’t trust anyone, not even me.