Chiang Mai is Boring.
Holy provocative headlines, Batman! Hang in there. I can explain.
I’ve been trying, almost since arriving, to make sense out of Chiang Mai. To wrap words around how it feels here, how my experience so strongly contrasts the praise I’d heard from every single person who’s been here.
The past two days, insistent that it just must be that I hadn’t been to the great parts yet, I got up, and walked. And walked. And walked. My feet cramped up and I kept walking, determined. I canvassed the town, looking for magic. The Saturday night market. The Sunday night market. The temples. Little food carts. Art galleries. Fancy restaurants. Gardens.
It is Thailand. It is not like any other part of Thailand I’ve been to. The city feels like a cross between Thailand and Portland, OR. You can quite literally walk down the street, stop in a cafe, and order organic quinoa on whole-grain locally sourced toast. There are coffeeshops everywhere. Everything is in English - and a huge number of businesses have no Thai signage at all. It’s strange, surreal, confusing.
Chiang Mai is a city of 172,000 people. 40,000 are expats. Yes, you’re doing that math right. It’s nearly one-in-four. A quarter of the human beings in town moved here because they wanted paradise, on the cheap.
And it feels that way.
Chiang Mai is really nice. But that statement is double-edged. My fifth-grade English teacher, Barbara Burcher, banned the use of the word “nice” in her classroom. “Nice doesn’t mean anything,” she’d intone. “Use a better word.”
Nice is the correct word for Chiang Mai. It’s safe, unthreatening. It’s a summer afternoon with nothing to do. Not too hot, not too cold. It’s vacation. Oatmeal. A really lovely salad.
All of these things - and Chiang Mai itself - are lovely. There's great art here, a nightlife, affordable housing and a walkable city - there's so much to like. But none of it gives me that zing. It doesn’t have a hum, a pulse, a spirit. There’s nothing here to be afraid of - and nothing to make you feel alive.
The food follows suit. It's cheap (<$2 USD for dinner), yes. But it’s also tamer. It’s less spicy, less salty, less sweet. It’s less interesting. I’ve eaten close to 30 dishes in the past week trying to find something great, and I haven’t found one that compared to my usual fare in Kathu or Phuket Town.
Even my pen, electric every day since I’ve arrived, has fallen silent.
So, rather to my surprise, I’m cutting my time here short.
Partly it’s because my apartment - where I spend most of the day, coding and writing - is rather dark. I’ve learned the hard way that a lack of sunlight contributes heavily to my depression, and these days, I tend not to fuck around with it. But mostly, it’s that lack of zing - that lack of an edge. I’ve thrived on that bit of risk - it’s allowed me to grow and engage with the world more fully than I ever have before. And I want it back.
There are a few more things to do here: visit Doi Suthep - a stunning temple and garden perched on a mountain, get a massage at the women’s prison, take a cooking class, zipline through the jungle.
But once those adventures are done, I’m saying a respectful goodbye to Chiang Mai.
I’m moving to Bangkok.
Did you enjoy this piece? Get more by subscribing to my letter. It's awesome, free, and contains stories every week from my adventures living around the world. :)