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If someone told us three years ago that we would be unconventionally living as young expats in Chiang Mai, Thailand we would have laughed. Not because it wouldn’t have sounded amazing, but because we would have thought it to be absolutely impossible, unachievable, and unwise. But now that we are here, we wanted to share what life is like for us as young expats in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The Benefits of Being Young Expats in Chiang Mai
Living life abroad affords us many opportunities and a degree of flexibility that living and working in the US never did. Although when we think back to our lives in America and appreciate the things we used to take for granted, living abroad has also given us freedom to live life the way we want.
Although Angela does work full-time as a teacher in Chiang Mai, we both find ourselves with more time and interest in traveling than we ever did back in the US. We are no longer limited to two weeks of vacation a year, and we agree that the traveling options in Southeast Asia are much more affordable than back in the US.
We have taken trips to Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos and have traveled throughout several areas in Thailand without much hesitation. We make an effort to regularly look into new places for future visits when time allows. Traveling is definitely a new lifestyle we’ve embraced since becoming expats in Chiang Mai.
Food is up there with travel on the list of fulfilling aspects of living as expats in Chiang Mai. Famous for its northern Thai style of cooking we can always count on new and exciting dishes to try every time we venture out on our motorbike. Being that Chiang Mai has such a large international community, we also enjoy a variety of foods around the world. Although they aren’t always exactly what you’d get in the dishes’ countries of origin, we have been surprised by how many places we find that do our favorites justice.
We love the variety of fresh produce available at our local markets. On the days that we want to stay in and get some work done it is always nice to be able to walk down the street and pick up a couple of things for a quick dinner.
Meeting Other Expats
We’ve met people from many countries during our time as expats in Chiang Mai, and we’ve enjoyed sharing traveling stories, “life before travel” stories, and life goals. There has never been a time in our lives where we’ve met such a diverse group of people who share a similar passion. Our favorite thing about meeting other expats and world travelers is learning about the places they’ve been to that are off the beaten path, and their favorite travel tips.
Fulfilling Personal Goals
Blogging takes up much more time than we imagined it would, but we are spending time doing something we like. I spend most of the day working on the blog while Angela is teaching during the day, and then we collaborate on the blog’s progress and share ideas with each other during the most evenings.
We both find fulfillment in blogging, which is what often occupies our day. Blogging is challenging because it brings out many different skill sets for any given task and is enjoyable because it’s become a creative outlet. It’s also manifested itself as the reason to travel to places we never thought of visiting before.
Life is a lot different living as young expats in Chiang Mai as compared to office workers back in the US. While some may think of blogging as “work”, our blog has allowed us to establish new personal goals for ourselves and share our experiences with those who would also like to become expats in Chiang Mai. We’ve found that helping others find a path in life is a rewarding way to spend our time abroad.
The Negatives of Being Young Expats in Chiang Mai
Along with the drastic changes that come with moving to another country, we also faced personal challenges and some let downs. Living as expats in Chiang Mai is amazing, but at the same time it is an ongoing challenge to understand the language, culture, pace of life, and how we fit into it all.
Challenges and Adaptation
Every new expat or first time long-term traveler is bound to run into a challenges or things that they were not expecting. We have dealt with a range of trivial speed bumps as well as some tougher times. Being expats in Chiang Mai has been a true test of our relationship, patience, financial planning, and ability to cope with substantial change.
There have been many times when we have questioned this move, and being completely honest, there have been times where second guessing our decision has come up.
Why did we move here?
What are we going to be doing a year from now? 10 years from now?
These are questions that we think most people in our situation probably ask themselves when times get tough. When we start to feel disconnected, it’s easy to begin hearing some of the voices of the people who doubted our move in the first place.
We have to remind ourselves that there are reasons for these types of feelings. We chose a life that most people don’t understand and would never consider to be a viable path for themselves. We still don’t fully understand it ourselves, but we know that we are much happier, relaxed, and eager to face these challenges together.
Bureaucracy and Being Foreigners
We have had several new responsibilities placed on our shoulders now living as expats in Chiang Mai. For starters, we deal with the time-consuming, expensive, and somewhat confusing process of obtaining and maintaining a Thai visa to live in Thailand legally. Not only do we need to set aside the funds for the visa, obtaining the visa, and any extensions, it can be time consuming to travel to cities in countries that we may or may not want to visit simply because we need to go to a Thai Embassy.
Trips to the Chiang Mai Immigration Office have also become something that we dread. Arriving at 5:00 am, hours before the doors open, seems to be the only way to ensure that you will have your issue taken care of the same day. Arrive at 8:00 am and there is a good chance that you will sit in a massive queue only to be told that you will need to come back earlier the next day.
There is a communication barrier and we are aware that we are unfamiliar with nuances of the foreign laws. We would feel at a disadvantage if there were to be a situation that involved law enforcement. We’ve seen our friends extorted by the police at a traffic stop, and feel as though it is only a matter of time before we will might have a similar run-in.
We also grow tired of being targeted as unaware tourists and being quoted inflated prices by tuk-tuk drivers and street vendors. We’ve noticed this pick up during high season. With that said, we have become familiar faces in our favorite areas of the city and are always treated like Chiang Mai residents in these places.
Chiang Mai Is Not Perfect
Angela and I built Chiang Mai up to be perfect in our minds even before visiting. This is an issue that we feel is very common and happens to almost all first-time expats or travelers with a particular place.
We spent almost a year thinking about how amazing and exotic everything was going to be as expats in Chiang Mai, and in doing so, we let ourselves down in some respects. We found out that the weather isn’t as great as we once thought it was (rain showers or hot smoggy air for half of the year), and some things just aren’t as cheap as we assumed they would be. Together, we’ve come to the realization that no place is perfect and anywhere we go will present unique challenges and drawbacks that we may not have considered.
We’ve Been Told, “What You Are Doing Isn’t Normal.”
If we were already in our 60’s and wanted to become expats in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we think most of our friends and family would think it was awesome. But because we are in our late 20’s, becoming expats in Chiang Mai isn’t “normal.”
Even before we moved, Angela and I were subtly but regularly encouraged by our families to buy a house together and start raising a family. We understand that most people do this in their 20’s, but it’s not for us. We’ve both agreed that it is best to live life the way we want to and not how others want us to. We think this is a great motto to live by no matter who you are.
Some Expats Aren’t Who We Expected Them to Be
We realize that there are many different expats, and that they do not fall into the category of “well-to-do retirees with steady income.” In the expat community, some people thrive, some people are simply content with life, and others end up destroying themselves. We’ve briefly met a number of people who have come here to escape a problem they had at home only for it to be far worse once here in Thailand.
Are we Happy Living as Expats in Chiang Mai?
We guess the big question is, “Are we happy living as expats in Chaing Mai?” Living in Chiang Mai has created an environment in which we are able to see the bigger, clearer picture of our lives before expatriation.
Looking back now, we can see that life back home was too easy, which is what we think made us feel unfulfilled. Our former lives didn’t require much thought past the upcoming weekend or what we were going to have for dinner. Although traffic was a pain and sitting through a workday under fluorescent lights for nine hours tested our threshold for torture, beyond that we were coasting through time and missing out on an interesting world outside of our bubbles.
There will be days where we are content and happy, but there are days where we are lost about what we are doing halfway around the world. We appreciate the subtleties of daily life here more than we ever did back in the States, and we wouldn’t change our decision if we could. We know adjusting to our new lives will take time, and we are excited about our journey that lies ahead of us.
For those who may consider becoming expats in Chiang Mai, let our ups and downs serve as a reminder that life will be different. Whether your life will change for the better or for the worse has much to do with how you are able to deal with those differences. For us there are some things that we are still getting used to, but ultimately by trading in small comforts and conveniences we feel we’ve gained more personal freedom since becoming expats in Chiang Mai. If or when you move to a foreign country, what do you think will be most challenging for you?