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Have you ever found yourself in a new environment and realized right away that you were meant to be there? Recently, I had the opportunity to live in the city of Chiang Mai in Thailand for a month, and it was something I didn’t know I had to do until I got there.

So what did I learn on this magical trip, that you aren’t likely to find on the internet?

Now let’s chat about the top five experiences I had in Chiang Mai that might influence your to-do list if you’re visiting the city sometime soon.

Sure, their knowledge of the English language may be as limited as most travellers’ knowledge of Thai, so there may be a language barrier. But their hearts are made of pure gold.

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Reconnecting with the ‘self’ in Chiang Mai

April 24th, 2019

By Zainab Muse

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This was an interesting observation particularly after leaving the airport. Coming from Ontario, Canada, where we drive on the right hand side of the road, I was a little shocked as I didn’t find this tidbit of info online beforehand. o I spent the majority of my taxi ride from the airport thinking my driver was driving on the wrong side of the road, and that vehicles might collide with one another! Yet even this didn’t matter and didn’t shatter the blissful state that had overcome me.

The tinge in my visual senses; the connections with locals; the oneness with myself...these were all experiences that happened so naturally and unexpectedly. I truly felt a deeply rooted connection with Chiang Mai like I had been there before...and I thought...perhaps in a past life?

It all began at the airport - I had just taken Bangkok Airways from you guessed it - the bustling city of Bangkok. Once I arrived Chiang Mai, I looked to the large outdoor window located to the left of the arrival walkway and that was the moment it happened - I saw the faint frame of the glorious Inthanon Mountain. It appeared almost like a blanket or big brother looking over the city. The scenery was simply breathtaking. But that wasn’t all. I walked to the baggage claim and I saw multiple monks walking in sheer bliss to and away from me within the busy airport. This freedom to express culture and religion was beautifully overwhelming. All these solidified the warm feeling already brewing in my heart for Chiang Mai.

Once, I was finished with my business at the airport and walked outside, there was a heart-stopping feeling of elation that washed over me and that was when it all clicked, and instantly I knew that my experience in Chiang Mai would become an unforgettable adventure.

1. Thais are left-lane drivers:

This one was a fun observation that I caught onto immediately because I found it to be particularly fascinating. Coming from North America and of course being a native of the digital age and an avid user of the infamous ‘OMG’ (Oh My God) catch phrase - I found it refreshing that Thais made this famous expression relevant to their spiritual beliefs in ode to the Buddha - by exclaiming, ‘Oh My Buddha’ everytime they were in shock, surprise or in awe.

2. ‘Oh My Buddha’:

I know what you’re thinking, particularly if you’re Canadian - whatever happened to all those 7-eleven convenience stores? Well don’t quote me on this but I believe they all migrated to someplace tropical… they chose Thailand. 7-eleven stores are so popular that they are on every street corner like you would expect McDonald’s or Starbucks in North America. In fact most people get groceries and household staples from these convenience stores.

3. 7-Eleven:

I truly haven’t met any other group of people that are as charming and witty as Thais. Sure, their knowledge of the English language may be as limited as most travellers’ knowledge of Thai, so there may be a language barrier. But their hearts are made of pure gold. Most Thai people that cannot speak English, end up knowing only a few adept witty phrases. So you are likely to hear phrases from strangers like “I love you” or “Will you sit on my heart”. It was truly endearing to witness.

4. Wittiness is the go-to humour:

Of course everyone knows that most countries in Southeast Asia are very cheap - specifically those travelling from countries with very high currency value. But you never truly know how cheap Thailand is until you begin to live in the country. In one week I would spend less than 20 Canadian dollars on meals. This was truly amazing.

5. The cost of living is very low:

Picking up a book at the local bookstore and visiting the C.A.M.P Cafe in Maya Shopping Centre was truly a memorable experience. I was surrounded by what appeared to be University students. With books, laptops, pencils, and notebooks, we were a vision of knowledge accumulation. It felt like a creatively liberating space. Enamoured with the space and energy, I finished a 300-page book I had been reading forever in under 4 hours while at the Cafe. ime flies when you’re creatively immersed -that’s for sure.

1. Reading & Writing at C.A.M.P Cafe

Experiencing art, particularly local art, is one way to understand a culture...this was true in the case of the Wattana Art Gallery. The Gallery was built and designed by the well-celebrated Wattana Wattanapun, an artist inspired by Thailand’s rich history in textile weaving. All of his works are created with precision and an indelible eye for detail. I got to meet the artist and have lunch with him as he shared the history of the arts in Thailand and his most recent accomplishments. That was truly an honour.

2. Visiting the Wattana Art Gallery

Buddhism is no doubt at the epicentre of the way of life of Thai people. So if you’re visiting Thailand and you’re open minded about spiritual practices, make sure you checkout some of the revered temples (referred to as “wat”) in Chiang Mai. Some notable temples to visit include: Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Suan Dok, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Phra that Doi Suthep.

3. Practicing Buddhism in temples

Remember how I mentioned earlier that I fell in love with Chiang Mai because I could see the Inthanon Mountain from the airport? Well I knew that I had to find that mountain and when I did, it did not disappoint. Doi (Thai for Mountain) Inthanon is the highest spot in Thailand, situated at 2565 meters above sea level, which is roughly 8415 feet. The park itself is filled with beautiful trails and nature conserves, blanketed by low-level clouds. I had never seen nature so majestic and beautiful. It truly felt like I had been given the keys to heaven.

4. Touching the clouds at Doi Inthanon Park

It is no question that Thai food is extremely flavourful and delicious, so when in Thailand, why not learn to make a traditional Thai dish with local ingredients? I was determined to learn how to make one of my favourite Thai dishes, Pad Thai. So with the help of a local, we visited an authentic food market, where we had the opportunity to converse with farmers and buy fresh produce like lemongrass, coconut and everything else we needed to make the dish. So you may be thinking...how did the dish turn out? Well, let’s just say - this was one of the best meals I have had and my digestive system is still thanking me for it.

5. Learning to cook a traditional Thai meal

I am often asked, if you could pick anywhere else in the world but Canada to live, where would you pick? And without a doubt, Chiang Mai comes to mind. I understand the privilege that comes with travel, but I tell anyone that can and has the means that Thailand, particularly Chiang Mai should be at the top of this list. Not only do you get to meet incredible people with warm hearts, you also get to expand your worldview through cultural exposure and deep-rooted historic spirituality that brings you one step closer to your truest self.