Chiang Mai

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4 min read by Dmitri. Published in Essays, Stories.

Within the eight-hundred-year-old crumbling walls, at the foot of Suthep mountain lies Chiang Mai. The city has outgrown its fort-like confinements many years ago, spreading far beyond the square perimeter that could be crossed afoot in thirty minutes. Even so, it’s no Bangkok. There are only about a hundred thousand people living here.

A land-locked city; there’s no sea, no skyscrapers, no over-the-top attractions. Yet it manages to draw over a million people each year. Some visitors end up staying: living, working, marrying, and settling.

A small street in downtown Chiang Mai that leads to a series of small homes, hostels, cafes and restaurants.

My girlfriend and I landed in Chiang Mai four years ago, broke from our Asia backpacking tour, preparing to fly home. Here we stole each balmy day, ever deferring our looming prospect of returning to our Canadian lives.

And at that time we felt most receptive to the town’s ability to offer good coffee, cheap food and the western amenities we craved after rolling through the dusty roads of Southeast Asia. Movie theatres, pizza, burgers, makeup, clothes, film cameras, alcohol, bacon, healthcare. A year in we realized that leaving is no longer in our immediate plans.

The city, remarkably, got charm that fails to fade over the years. Here you can meet expats who spent decades in the city — all with a similar story to tell. Came for a visit, never returned.

It’s been our home for a long time now. We rent an apartment. We had a wedding here, too.

Over the years our daily life got filled with work, tasks, errands, duties, frustrations, commute. No less mundane than anywhere else. With a Thai flavour of warm evenings, market dinners, coffee, street dogs, and tropical foliage. Occasional festivals, rock climbing expeditions, and trips through the mountainous, misty forests on a small sports motorbike.

Life here is real, curiously different from a typical western dwelling. Devoid of perfection, full of flavour, hard not to love.

A glass of ice water, Som Tam salad, and Singha beer. A typical northern Thai lunch. I will miss the grandma who served me this meal; her stall has been closed for over a year now. We never spoke, yet I always looked forward to seeing her.
A stray “Soi” dog that hangs around our neighbourhood. Like most others it’s being fed and taken care of by the people who live nearby.
The spread at the Monday market.
Every year during the Yi Peng festival thousands of sky lanterns are launched into the night.
Musicians playing at the North Gate Jazz Co-Op.
A waterfall near Pai, a three-hour ride along the windy mountain road away.
Mossy forest at the top of Doi Ithanon – the tallest mountain in Thailand.
Cherry blossoms bloom every February at the top of Suthep mountain, alongside with banana trees and coffee plants.