East Meets West in Chiang Mai

Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Take a comfortably familiar environment complete with western style cafes and jazz clubs, add a dash of the exotic, a splash of perpetual summer, a sprinkle of the affordability common throughout South East Asia and you’ve just cooked up something approximating life in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

It’s obvious why so many digital nomads and western expats relocate here. Life is shockingly easy. It doesn’t matter that we know only a couple of words in Thai, nearly everyone we encounter speaks at least a little English and most speak far more. In fact, we’ve had a much easier time communicating here than we did in Spain, even though our Spanish is miles better than our Thai.

Banana pancakes in Chiang Mai, Thailand

They don’t call it the “Banana Pancake Trail” for nothing

From noshing on banana pancakes over canned country music to savoring red wine with a nicely prepared boeuf bourguignon in a decent French restaurant, it’s possible to spend your days in Chiang Mai without really ever feeling like you’ve left the west.

I write that neither as an endorsement nor as a complaint. It’s just an observation.

Is this Asia or Vermont?

And while it does occasionally feel like western culture has completely overrun this tiny slice of Asia, finding a comfortable oasis far from home is sometimes a blessing – especially when you’re constantly out of your element the way we are. We’re not ashamed to admit we’re enjoying the respite.

At the same time you don’t have to venture far to be reminded that you’re really not in Kansas any more. Take any random turn off a main street and you quickly leave the night clubs and brightly lit streets behind in favor of a more residential setting featuring quieter establishments with a more local feel.

Of course sitting down at a restaurant is only one option, and not necessarily the best. Sampling street food at bustling markets is a terrific way to get a taste of Asia you won’t find at home.

And then there are the temples, glorious and gleaming gilded temples. There are more than 200 of them in and around Chiang Mai. People say there are so many that travelers run the risk of getting “templed out.” I don’t think that will be a problem for us. We haven’t yet reached our limit of castles and cathedrals in Europe. I doubt we’ll tire of temples here. Or comfortable cafes for that matter.

If you go: We stayed at two different places in Chiang Mai and recommend Awanahouse for its central location in a vibrant area in the eastern part of old town. It’s tucked away on a quiet side street with plenty of restaurants and bars in the vicinity. At $25/night, it’s a lovely bargain with a nice, spacious room, a pool, and a roof deck.

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8 Comments on “East Meets West in Chiang Mai”

  1. Travelin' Kait November 21, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Love this post! We will be in South East Asia starting in January and Chang Mai is a must on our list! Love your blog and look forward to reading more!!


  2. Sam November 21, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    I do enjoy a nice comfortable cafe, too! My husband and I are planning to visit Chiang Mai next year and stay for about a month, to follow in the footsteps of every other digital nomad in the world! I know there are some who would be put off by your description, but I’m rather looking forward to experiencing this for myself.


    • Brian November 21, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

      It’s true. A lot of people are put off by a lot of things. I think the key to being a good traveler is the ability to appreciate all kinds of things.


  3. Wondering Celt November 22, 2014 at 3:53 am #

    Lived there for two years. Great little city!


  4. skycastles November 23, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    Chiang Mai is such a great place! I loved it and did indeed get my fix of the Western World via Mexican food at two restaurants.


  5. thecaptainnemo November 23, 2014 at 11:19 pm #

    Mmmm banana pancakes


  6. The Earth Beneath My Feet November 24, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    Thank you for the foretaste – I’ll be in Chiang Mai in three weeks time and can’t wait for my fill of temples and street food and all; things Chiang Thai 🙂



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