I’ve been back in Thailand for more than two months now (I swear time goes more quickly in Chiang Mai…).
I never meant for this site to become a ‘living in Thailand blog’ but then again, I never expected to be staying here so long with. The questions and my answers/experiences below are a follow up to this post I already wrote on the questions people ask about what it’s like to live in Thailand. There were simply too many to answer in one post. If you’re thinking about spending a while in Southeast Asia or Thailand I suggest you read that post first, where I talk about everything from how much money I made as an English teacher to ridiculous fears about getting sex trafficked, then pop back over to this one.
Haven’t you already done/seen everything in Thailand?
Hardly. I can easily name 15 places or regions I have never visited that I would like to (such as Kanchanaburi, Hua Hin, Koh Tao, Khon Kaen…) and have a long list of activities, attractions, places and experiences still left to discover. I’ve never been to the eastern part of the country and have only been to a handful of the islands. Even in Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand, where I spend the majority of my time, there are a ton of places I’d like to go and things I’d like to do (stay in a treehouse, do a trip through Mae Hong Son by motorbike, try all the new coffeeshops in Chiang Mai…).
Do you use a squat toilet?
Wherever you are in Southeast Asia, unless it’s a nice resort, you never quite know what you’re going to get when it comes to bathroom facilities. Particularly at bus or train stations and small roadside restaurants, there’s a good chance they’ll only have a squat toilet and bucket of water to help “flush” and clean yourself. You get used it. Most the time you can find a Western-style sit down toilet (though finding toilet paper is another issue…).
How can I ethically visit a hill tribe?
Good question, and the answer is, I don’t know. I’ve never done a hill tribe trek because I don’t know which operators treat the hill tribes fairly in terms of compensation, or how the communities feel about outsiders regularly coming through. I recently had a reader ask about visiting the hill tribes saying they would love visit one, but wanted to make sure it wasn’t like a human zoo. In reality though, even if the tribes are being paid fairly, which I assume for various reasons that many are not, you’re still wanting to visit a place in order to see a unique group of people and how they live – that feels pretty unnatural and zoo-y to me.
What’s the weather like? Have you gotten used to the heat?
It’s hot. Then sometimes it’s hotter. Then sometimes it’s hot and rainy. I’ve acclimated to a degree but still regularly complain about the heat (and mosquitoes). As I write this, it’s the middle of April and I’m in a town about an hour out of Bangkok in Central Thailand. At 8:00 a.m. this morning it was already almost 90 degrees (32 Celsius) with 75% humidity. Now it’s almost noon and 100 degrees (38 Celsius). I’ve been sweating (and getting bitten) for hours.
Have you made friends?
Yes, there’s a large expat community in Chiang Mai made up of long-term residents and people who tend to spend part of the year here. However, I feel like I’ve said good bye to friends more quickly than I’ve made them (everyone leaves at some point) and do not have any Thai friends – acquaintances, yes, but no one who I would go grab coffee or hang out with. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there’s a wall up that’s difficult to get through. Most everyone I’ve met has been very polite and welcoming…but polite and friendly are two different things.
What do you normally eat?
It varies, but the longer I’ve lived here the more Western food I’ve added back into my diet. I love Thai food and am completely content with usually eating cheap street food, but lately have started spending more on groceries and Western dishes. I just really can’t live without cheese.
What’s your favorite Thai food?
This question is impossible to answer. Thai cuisine encompasses such a wide range of food and dishes that you can’t have a favorite. Also, to really eat “Thai-style” you share several dishes with people eating a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. What sounds good to eat just depends on the day, where I am, and what dishes go well together. I do tend to like curries, stir fries and noodles, however, over soups and Thai-style salads.
Is there anything you don’t eat?
I don’t like moo yor (steamed sausage made with pork and flour), along with the pork or fish balls and congealed blood that often comes in noodle soups. I’m also not a fan of khao moo dang (barbecued red pork on rice with a sweet brown sauce), yen ta fo (a pink soup made with fermented soybean paste) or many of the Thai desserts (I like chocolate!), but that’s about it.
What’s your house like?
I recently moved into an older, Thai-style house in the heart of the Old City and it is…interesting. From my (somewhat limited) experience of Thai homes, they mostly seem randomly put together and for some reason tend to feature a ton of different tile colors and patterns. While part of my house is absolutely beautiful, the upstairs bedroom covers the entire floor and is entirely polished Thai teak wood, other parts are a bit dingy, pieced together and…well, just kind of strange. I’m working on it.
How much is your rent?
I’m currently paying less that $300 USD per month for a two-story, with two bedrooms and bathrooms, plus utilities, internet and cable. It’s cheap, especially for the location, but part of the trade off is that it was only partially furnished (and a little bit sketchily at that) so we’ve had to invest in some things I would have rather not spent my money on like a new mattress and refrigerator.
How do you get around?
When I’m in Chiang Mai I have a motorbike. Getting around the country I usually take a bus (you can get a bus anywhere) or keep an eye out for cheap flight deals from AirAsia or Nok Air. I just booked a ticket flying from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (which takes about one hour) that was only $10 more than taking a 9-hour overnight bus.
How can you fund traveling and living abroad?
The same way you fund anything else, by working, saving money and being careful how I spend it. Since I left home four years ago I think I’ve only dipped into my savings by a couple thousand dollars. Before I left I worked full-time and saved everything I could. That meant living with my parents, not going out that often and rarely shopping. Since then, I’ve been incredibly cautious and aware of how I spend my money, have worked most of the time trying to make ends meet and simply make traveling and my current, simple lifestyle a priority over other potential expenses – a lot of my clothes are falling apart but I have two trips coming up in the next month. Priorities.
Can you read Thai?
Yes. Especially when it comes to menus.
Do you still have your puppy?
What was it like when the military took over?
Last May the military took over the government in a coup. It was interesting reading the Western news and comparing how the media portrayed the situation with how it seemed like on the ground. I don’t understand my own country’s politics, much less Thailand’s, and realize that people across the country had different experiences and opinions, but for expats and travelers in Thailand, little changed.
What bugs you about living in Thailand?
A lot of things. The country can be a very confusing, frustrating place and is difficult to figure out. Just when you think you understand something or did something right, things will change, not be true in that particular situation, or you realize you really just made a huge social faux pas. It’s exhausting. It’s also never boring.
What other questions do you have about living in Thailand? Let me know in the questions below and I’ll do my best to answer.
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
New places are always calling my name...
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