Learning About “The Land of Smiles”

Thailand is called the “Land of Smiles” quite simply because of the smiles you see!  


But there other names too. Chiang Mai, also called “The Flower of the North” is in Lanna Country which translates as “Land of Thousand Rice Fields.”  

We visited a Hmong hill tribe village above Chaing Mai.

 

 

Blooming trees and flowers are abundant. Besides bougainvillea, hibiscus and plumeria there are many (unfamiliar to me) flowering trees with beautiful flowers in oranges, yellows and all shades of pink.


‘Thailand (Prathet Thai) means “land of the free”. They have never been colonized by another country. Prior to the name Thailand, the area was called Siam. Siamese cats originated here as well as the term Siamese twins.

The longest place-name in the world is the full name of Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand: Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit. It means “City of Angels, Great City of Immortals, Magnificent City of the Nine Gems, Seat of the King, City of Royal Palaces, Home of Gods Incarnate”.”

From A Note from Abroad 21 Things I learned About Thailand

Can anyone identify the bright red leafed plant (lower right) which has long tassels?

 

Weather

In March we have been experiencing temperatures in the low 100s  –  a dry heat like Sacramento, California, and a lot hotter than February’s 80s temperatures. April is generally the hottest month and the rainy season begins in June. November to February is the best time of year to visit.

“Chiang Mai has a particularly chronic problem with burning (and resulting haze) in March. The mountain views disappear as the Ping River valley chokes under a dusty haze that can often be a health hazard. This is the result of indiscriminate burning by peasant farmers, coupled with stagnant breeze-less weather.

Generally speaking, the weather of northern Thailand is far more temperate than central or southern Thailand. The mountainous terrain and location in the Asian interior brings cooler temperatures and less humidity.”  – Unknown blog site

We stay inside during the heat of the day, going out earlier in the day and after dark.
The other day while swimming I noticed “leaves” falling into the pool one after another.  Looking up I couldn’t see any reason for “leaves” to be spiraling down and wondered where they were coming from. I scooped one from the water and it dissolved in my fingers; they were ash!

Modes of Transportation and Driving

Vehicles drive on the left. While driving the scooter on the left side of the street one has to be on constant guard for those scooters coming at you driving against the traffic, cars entering the highway from side streets, parked cars in the lane (as there is no shoulder), cars coming from the right cut you off so they can park or turn left, slow or stopped songtheows, scooters passing left and right – and, of course pedestrians and an occasional dog.

 

The red trucks are called songtheows, inexpensive group taxis that operate in the main city, that drive slowly on the left trolling for passengers. They don’t have assigned routes, so one flags them down and states their destination. If there are existing passengers and it’s going your way you climb in the back. If there aren’t any passengers you get in the back and the driver trolls for additional passengers going your way. There are other colored songtheows for routes to further locales.

 

A bike taxi.

 

A tuk tuk taxi. Tuk tuk drivers consider themselves to be driving a motorcycle. They hog the left side of the road and cut in front of scooters but are slower and more cumbersome than scooters!


The main roads are divided highways, but what if one wants to go directly across the street or to a place a block down the road to your right?  


Driving a scooter gives you options. If one doesn’t want to travel miles out of the way in order to take a u-turn back, you can drive along the curb against the traffic or down the sidewalk!

If one is driving a scooter they ignore many traffic signs. For Steve, ignoring traffic signs takes some practice, but he’s slowly improving 😉


Dining

The kitchens are tiny spaces, maybe with only 1 or 2 burners so entrees are delivered to the table once they are ready, most likely not at the same time unless ordering two of the same entrees. This means one person may be finished eating before the second entree is delivered.   

Iced drinks cost more and now I know why! Ice made with purified water is purchased and delivered therefore it costs more to add ice to a drink.

Thais eat with a fork (or chopsticks) in one hand and a spoon in the other using the fork to push food onto the spoon.

 

This Chicken Khao Soi has a chicken leg, and both soft and crispy egg noodles and is eaten without using the fingers. A soup spoon is used for soups and rice dishes. To eat noodles, they carefully fork a small amount onto a spoon, arranging any dangling noodles so it can be inserted into the mouth without slurping or splashing. I am converted!

 

Many restaurant napkins are no different than single ply toilet paper.

Tipping is not expected.

Many restaurants and coffee shops play English songs in their establishments!

Suggestion: Carry napkins, toilet paper and hand sanitizer in your day bag.

Sanitation

 

The guidebook says Chiang Mai is “clean, not sterile.” We have found it to be remarkably clean especially considering all the “walking street markets” and food stands.  

There are lots of street sweepers.

There are lots of street sweepers.

Workers.

 

We did discover this view of trash by the river. Not keen to eat river fish!

 

The downside to buying from street venders and all the take-away food – lots of plastic, strofoam, bags, etc.

 

Europe has its bidet, and Thailand has the “Bum Gun”. Just like the spray nozzle at your kitchen sink, most toilets have one. It’s supposed to eliminate the blockage of the sewer drains by toilet tissue. It took me a while to attempt this adventure. I wasn’t sure if the entire toilet stall was going to get wet or not. It didn’t. I haven’t converted either.

 

The People

Beautiful Thai smile. Her scooter is loaded down with fresh flowers.

 

Thais are sweet, gentle, honest and soft spoken people. We’ve never experienced “gringo pricing” in Chiang Mai (although I’ve heard it’s prevalent in the south.) Unfortunately their use of the imperative (command) form doesn’t translate well and seems bossy. I once asked to see the price list at a spa and when I was commanded two times to “Sit down” and then told to “Take it easy” I overreacted and felt (incorrectly) that she was being rude.

On our travels we have realized that many cultures tolerate loud noise more than we do. Moving to this new location in Chiang Mai we realize that we had been isolated from much noise. Here we hear trucks broadcasting announcements and the daily anthem and announcements from the schools loudspeakers, but isn’t continuous or unbearable. I have noticed that any music from the weekend street market ends exactly at midnight. I find that very civilized!

  

Customer Service

A common phrase here “Mai pen rai” which roughly translates to “no problem!” Even if your request is an inconvenience, you will still hear a very courteous “Mai pen rai”.


Walk into a pharmacy and a clerk hovers over you. They ask what we are looking for, but we are usually just looking – not, for anything in particular so it feels uncomfortable to have them watching and waiting.

We walked into a department store to look at and price coffee pots and espresso machines. There were 12 sales assistants (yes, I counted them) in the kitchen appliances department and they all asked if they could help us!

The cost of labor must be so cheap to have so much staff. (We heard the minimum wage is  300 baht a day – $8.60) Business is slow in many stores, booths and offices that the workers entertain themselves (watch movies) with their smart phones (which I realize is not unique to Thailand.) I’ve watched girls grooming and putting on their makeup.

Order at a restaurant and the waitstaff never returns to offer any additional assistance. They leave you alone until you flag them down and ask for the bill.

I love the “wai” greeting. One has to put down what ever is in their hands first, then place their palms together in a prayer-pose at the nose to chin level and bow the head to each person as they say “Sawasdee-ka” (female) “Sawasdee-krab” (male).


Politics and Patriotism

The National Anthem is broadcast daily at 8:00am and 6:00pm. We can hear it in our condo from a nearby school Monday – Friday. We experienced it twice on the Walking Street market in the Old City; business stops and everyone stands at attention and listens. As one who tears up hearing the U.S. National Anthem, I find it endearing.

At the cinema everyone is asked to stand to pay tribute to the King.

It is illegal to criticize or speak badly about the King. Since the King’s image is on the paper currency, Thais use caution not to wrinkle or misuse the paper bills.

All channels show the same newscast. Must be only one approved news outlet.

Religion

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We visited this church located in the Old City and shares a fence with a Buddhist wat.


One of the original Christian churches in Chiang Mai.


Language

Thai is a syllabic alphabet consisting of 44 basic consonants, 18 other vowels and 6 diphthongs. Thai is a tonal language with 5 tones with different meanings.

The “h” is silent in Thai (Tie), Doi Suthep (Doy SueTep) and Koh Phi Phi (Ko Pee Pee).

Thai script is beautiful; too bad I can’t read it, except for the Arabic numerals! The direction of writing is left to right in horizontal lines.

 

There are no spaces between words, instead spaces in a Thai text indicate the end of a clause or sentence.

 

Buying Real Estate

Foreigners are allowed to own up 49% ownership of land and units in a condominium.

There are many construction sites all around us so we visited several sales offices. The condos come furnished. All the units have the same sofa, dining set, bedroom set, etc. and some include the electrical components: refrigerators, microwave, TV, a/c, tankless hot water heater, and washing machine.

 

What could we be up to visiting condo sales offices and furniture stores?


Can you tell that I like it here? What are your impressions of Chiang Mai, Thailand? I always look forward to reading your comments.

This is to be our final week in Chiang Mai. There are a few things we’ve procrastinated doing and we want to revisit all our favorite places one final time.

This week I am saddened and disgusted to hear of the death and maiming of tourists by a suicide bomber in Istanbul. One news report stated, “…tourists were bewildered about where to go.” Yes, I remember that feeling. Link to our Istanbul suicide bomber experience here.

Happy Spring to you!  Until next time – when I Meet You in the Morning!

9 responses to “Learning About “The Land of Smiles”

    • Yes, Chiang Mai was our first stop and we haven’t gone to see any other part of Thailand! The weather is great for unwinding and we just stopped! We can’t get enough of the food either. We’re hoping it will be the beginning of several returns of extended stays so we can slowly explore further abroad and experience other seasons.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Good observation Elisa! So often I’ve wished I had a video cam on my helmet so I could capture everything I see! Steve misses most of it as he’s concentrating on traffic. CM is colorful and alive. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. We were in Chiang Mai for a month a few years ago on our round-the-world trip. We discovered that we there during Loy Krathong, the Lantern Festival. What magic! The entire town participates and everyone buys lanterns – some to float up into the air and others to float away down the river. Parades and festivals ensued for many nights. It was truly spectacular (and a photographer’s dream)!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, that would be wonderful to experience! We will plan our return to correspond with Loy Krathomg. November to February are supposed to be the best months here weather and temperature wise. So sorry we missed out on Vietnam and Cambodia, but if they are as welcoming and delicious as here we do t want to shortchange them. Next time I hope!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so glad you’re loving it there. Really makes me want to visit! Please go back so we can crash with you. I really like that picture of you on the scooter.

    Liked by 1 person

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