Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is a popular location for expats, retirees, and digital nomads, who are tempted by the ease of living and the blend of familiar and exotic. It has everything you need from cinemas and shopping malls to international cuisine, but it’s not a bland Westernised city. It has a fascinating culture with hundreds of Buddhist temples, their golden spires shimmering on almost every street in the Old City; captivating Buddhist festivals; and a superlative food scene with abundant inexpensive food stalls and dozens of vegetarian restaurants.
Many visitors come to Thailand hoping to fulfil a bucket list dream—to ride an elephant. Unfortunately they don’t realise the cruelty of the act, the horrific abuse young elephants suffer during their training known as the crush, which quite literally crushes their spirit to make them submissive to humans by keeping them caged, sleep deprived, hungry, and beaten.
In our Slow Travel Manifesto we said that one of our most enjoyable ways to explore a new place is to wander aimlessly and be open to what we might come across. In a big city this can be overwhelming and the best way to focus your exploration is to choose a specific neighbourhood. Our favourite cities have distinct diverse neighbourhoods with their own characters, and we gravitate towards areas with independent businesses and restaurants, good food, an artistic creative vibe, beautiful architecture, or a village-like feel.
We ended up spending seven months in Thailand. We didn’t plan to stay so long but Thailand has a way of sucking you in with its gentle Buddhist ways, the fiery cuisine, and an style of living that’s both easy for a foreigner to adapt to but exotic enough to keep things interesting. It’s the quirky details of daily life that we loved the most.