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  • Writer's pictureDiann Schindler, Ph.D.

The Good News, The Bad News: Chiang Mai, A Day in the Life.

"Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable.

Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay.

The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body.

You take something with you.

Hopefully, you leave something good behind."

Anthony Bourdain


Anytime you are in an unfamiliar location, you experience challenge.

You wore the wrong shoes; your feet hurt. You forgot your scarf; you’re cold. You need to get back to your hotel, you saved the hotel address on your phone, but you can’t access it because the phone battery is dead. You are lost. You’re hungry and you don’t know a good restaurant.

This list is endless.

Travel to a different country with cultural differences and where you don’t speak the language, and problems not only multiply, they deepen.

This blog is a discussion about a single day in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Otherwise labelled, by expatriates living here, as a “Chiang Mai Day.”

First, to set the scene, let me explain the variables, the situations, and the pressures I was up against.

My Thailand Visa: I had a 6 month, multi entry visa for Thailand. The approved length of stay was from December 11, 2018 to June 11, 2019. A multi-entry visa is complicated for all sorts of reasons few understand. However, for this blog, I focus on the multi-entry part aspect which requires that I leave the country two times between December 11 and June 11.

Yes, I must leave the country…this is called a visa run… for at least 24 hours, get my passport stamped and return to Thailand. And do this twice!

My first visa run: My Alaskan friends I met in Kosovo last year, Sherry and Mary, joined me Chiang Mai and invited me to go with them to Myanmar from January 30 – February 8. They lived in Myanmar when it was Burma and knew the best places to visit. This was a great opportunity to see the authenticity of the country. Furthermore, this would fulfill my first visa run requirement.

My Chiang Mai apartment: Meanwhile, I had found an apartment and signed a 2-month contract (January 18 – March 18). Yes, it was slightly more expensive for a short-term contract, but this would give me time to be sure I liked the apartment and the neighborhood. If I want to rent beyond March 18, I had to alert the landlord 30 days before the two-month contract ended, or February 18.

Thankfully, I fell in love with my apartment and the location. And, yes, I wanted to extend my rental agreement. But, for how long? Well, that depended on my complicated visa.

The solution? Simple: go to a Visa Services office. Right?

Read on, my friend!

GOOD NEWS: I had a 6-month visa and a great apartment in a complex that included a pool, a gym, laundry room and laundry services, a mini mart, a spa, some shops, and a Visa Services Office! Just what I needed. I checked with them before we left for Myanmar and confirmed this Myanmar trip would qualify as my first visa run.

Fast forward. We had a great time in Myanmar, and, upon return, we went through immigration at the Chiang Mai airport. I stood on the painted foot prints on the floor, waiting in front of the glassed immigration desk as the officer repeatedly flipped back and forth through my passport.

I watched Sherry and Marty fly through an adjacent immigration desk. I continued waiting for at least another 10 minutes. I assumed my Immigration Officer was new to his job.

Finally, I had my stamp. I was free to go.

BAD NEWS: It was February 9. I had until February 18 to get a better understanding the intricacies of my visa so that I could decide how long to extend my rental contract. I stopped at the Visa Services Office in my building. After a rather long effort to get some answers, the clerks said there was a problem with my visa.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand their explanation for two reasons: the language barrier, but also, the staff were also confused. They asked me to come back when the manager would be there. I did exactly that. I visited the office daily for five days, sometimes 3 times a day, but the manager was never there.

It was February 13.

GOOD NEWS: Although it took a full FIVE days, I did get some direction from the manager about my visa. Let me be clear: I only got direction…no clarification.

All that I knew was that needed to return to the Chiang Mai airport Immigration Office, and go early to avoid long lines, to fix the stamp on my visa.

How and why? I had no idea. But I was on my way to resolution!

BAD NEWS: My favorite Tuk Tuk driver, Nuk, couldn’t take me to the airport. I have never been successful with Grab, Southeast Asia’s answer to Uber, so that wouldn’t work. The Red Truck taxi service was everywhere and inexpensive. But, if the truck had passengers that were going to a different destination, the driver could refuse to take me. If the driver didn’t refuse me, and I was conveniently on his route, he always picks up more passengers on the way, which could and often did make a short trip run too long. Chances were good I would be late.

Just how was I going to get to the airport?

GOOD NEWS: I contacted Kuhn Gon, owner of the hotel I stayed in when in Chiang Mai last year. He agreed to take me to the airport. It was great to see him again. I adore him.

I got there in no time and, it only took an hour to get my stamp corrected. Furthermore, I talked to an immigration officer who was fluent in English. He explained my visa completely and clearly. No more confusion! And, because this all was speedy, I had time to get a Tuk Tuk to Central Mall Department store to buy a much-needed fan.

BAD NEWS: Chiang Mai temperature was rising, and my apartment was getting sticky hot and uncomfortable. I have air conditioning, but I love fresh air. A fan would be perfect: refreshing air movement and a lower electricity bill.

Unfortunately, Central Department store was sold out of fans. I spent hours going to all the stores in the mall. No fans!

I gave up finding a fan for the day. Now, my focus was getting some food in my apartment.

GOOD NEWS: Guess what? I found a wonderful fan at the grocery store! Well, it was a putrid purple color, but it was a great fan! Perfect size, good price, about 2 feet tall, large blades, 4 settings, including an oscillating setting. Unfortunately, it was heavy, too heavy for me to carry 5 city blocks to my apartment, especially in the searing heat. I doubted I could even get it out the door, especially with two big bags of groceries.

Aha! The clerk read my mind! She said they could deliver my fan the same afternoon, between 3:30 and 4:30, for free! They simply needed my Thailand phone number. Thank goodness I bought a Thai SIM card for my phone. I gave her my phone number and began my trek home.

BAD NEWS: When I finally arrived home at 3:00 pm, over 7 hours after my 7:45 am departure, I could NOT find my keys to the apartment! Even worse, my keys are attached to 2 electric cards essential to entry. One card opens a door on my floor, and the other, opens the swimming pool door.

I distinctly remembered putting them in my bag!

I sat on the floor at the elevator…I’m confident I was a lovely sight! …and emptied everything out of my bag. I felt my blood pressure spike and spark my entire body, despite the cold tile floor cooling my bottom. bag…three times! And, to be honest, I’m sure I was pouting throughout this scene. Now, I really needed a fan.

No keys!

I got up to a standing position, gathered my groceries and walked back to where I had stood at 7:45 am, waiting for Kuhn Gon to pick me up. It was on a busy street with a bank, a hotel, and a jewelry store close by. I went inside of all three. Of course, no one spoke English, but I pantomimed dropping keys outside. I crinkled my face to demonstrate my anguish, acted as if I were searching everywhere, showed my empty bag, and asked if they had my keys.

They were kind. They didn’t laugh at this crazy woman acting like a fool. But they also did not have my keys.

MORE BAD NEWS: It was 3:40. The fan was to be delivered between 3:30 and 4:30. Did I miss the delivery? Maybe the grocery store had already tried to deliver while I was looking for my keys. Maybe I missed their call.

I checked my phone. No call.

More distressing, I realized I was out of minutes. I couldn’t receive or make calls! I had to go to the nearest 7-11 Store to buy more minutes. (Yeah, 7-11! That’s another blog!)

It would take me at least an hour to get to a 7-11, buy minutes, and return to my apartment. You remember, the apartment I couldn’t enter because I had no keys!

Good News: I approached the Information desk in my building and confessed. Of course, as always, the receptionists had a three to four-minute discussion among themselves in Thai.

What possibly could they be saying to each other?

I waited. I worked on my patience, breathing deeply and repeating silently, “I choose to let go…I choose to let go….”

I conjured up the sound of my singing bowls to calm myself. I love my singing bowls.

To learn more about my Tibetan singing bowls I bought in Myanmar, listen to this “In the Know” podcast show episode.

Finally, they gave me a set of keys that I could use…temporarily.

BAD NEWS: They didn’t have the electronic cards. They would have to order the cards which would cost 700 baht or about $20. (Truth is, I should pay for the cards for being so careless.)

GOOD NEWS: The receptionists would have new cards made and the cards would be available in a week or so.

Well, maybe not so soon. Likely longer. You know….

MORE GOOD NEWS: I rushed to the elevator, went straight up to floor 12A (12A is code for floor 13. Hmmm. Significant? Hope not.) Some kind soul failed to shut of the floor door completely and I slipped through without the electronic card. I peered down the hall and, to my surprise, I saw a large box sitting in from my door.

My fan!

BAD NEWS: The fan required assembly and the directions were in Thai. Gawd!

GOOD NEWS: You know my father didn’t raise no tomboy for nuthin’! I opened the box to find a lovely, conservative, gray-colored fan! No putrid purple. I put it together, turned it on, and my cool down began.

MORE GOOD NEWS: I extended my rental contract for five months and before the February 18 deadline. Now, my rent is reduced by $100 a month!

Indeed, given my long, frustrating adventure, the searing sun, and aggravating stress, my day ended with in peace and harmony.

I sat in front of my fan, looked at my spectacular 12A floor view, and sipped on an ice-cold, full-bodied Thai Singha beer.

I love Singha beer.

“Chiang Mai Day” or not. What’s not to LOVE!

POST NEWS: The next morning, I was scheduled for much-needed massage at an elegant spa in the Old City. Their driver was to collect me at 9:30 am.

I waited on the curb early. Nine-thirty came and went. Ultimately, no one came.

I took a breath and said to myself, “Who knows? Who cares? Why dwell? It’s okay. Breathe.”

I’m playing my singing bowls even more often now.

I choose to let go. I choose to let go….

"Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable.

Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart.

But that’s okay.

The journey changes you; it should change you….”

Anthony Bourdain

I am changed. Well, I’m changing.

As you may have noticed when reading through this blog, I met all these challenges with increasing frustration. This was my choice.

Note, everyone…employees at the Visa Services Office, Kuhn Gon, the immigration officers, the receptionists in my building, the grocery clerk…all were kind to me. Not one person was rude or disrespectful.

This day was MY problem, due to MY responses and my reactions. I created it. I could have chosen another perspective. I didn’t. I chose to view the Chiang Mai culture as an annoyance.

My “Chiang Mai Day” was difficult because I expected, I wanted, those issues to be easier to resolve. I wanted to the steps to disentanglement to be familiar to me, like it is in my community in the United States. If I were “home,” I would know exactly what to do, where to go, etc.

Further, I wouldn’t have a language barrier which can often turn a simple request into a long and aggravating test. And, whose fault this that? Well, I don’t speak Thai and I’m in Thailand. Take a guess.

And, now?

I’m grateful for this experience. And, blogging made it crystal clear to me.

Chiang Mai is very different. And, of course, their practices and culture are not wrong.

Embracing, developing compassion for the Chiang Mai culture required effort. And, I'm still working on it.

I’m determined to change. I choose to be more mindful. I’m changing.

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