Chiang Mai, Thailand (Part 1)

November 6 – November 17, 2019

We arrived to Thailand with only 1 week of reserved accommodations and no additional reservations for the rest of our 9-month journey. Despite claims that traveling by the seat of your pants gives you flexibility and consequent richness of the overall experience, that is not the case for us. This might work for a party of 2 but not as well for our party of 5, especially when 3 of 5 look up to the other 2 for some sort of action most of the time.
Since we only had hotel accommodations for the first week, we needed to spend significant chunks of our first few days figuring out our next steps. What we confirmed was that the lack of planning costs us in time, money or sanity.

Once we got our ducks in a row, we made all sorts of plans, not only for the following few weeks but a few months ahead too. We put some stakes in the ground for a few major moves, found few accommodations, even got our plane tickets back from Asia to Europe in May and back to the US on August 31, 2020. Once we were set with those few anchor points, it was easier to fill in blanks in between with details.

We flew from Belgrade to Bangkok on November 6th and spent that first night in Bangkok in the world’s smallest hotel room close to the airport. We had the next flight to Chiang Mai the following morning and just needed a quick, clean and convenient place to sleep. This room was so small that there was only enough standing room for 2 people while the rest had to be in bunk beds. I really appreciate the fact that all 5 of us are fine with staying in wide range of accommodations and as long as they are clean and safe, no one complains about its size, amenities (or lack thereof), or fanciness level.

Our time in Thailand was absolutely fantastic. We loved every part of this beautiful country but are especially glad we started the first 3 weeks in Thailand on the north side of in Chiang Mai.

Here is a quick summary of only about part 1 (out of 3) of our time in Chiang Mai (the first 11 days):

1 – We arrived to Chiang Mail a few days prior to Thailand’s major light festival called Loy Krathong. Loy Krathong is often confused with another light (lantern) festival called Yi Peng as they overlap and are celebrated around the same time in November. I’ve seen photos of Yi Peng festival, with beautiful lanterns lit up, floating up in the sky. We decided to start our Thailand journey in the north mostly based on this festival. It turned out to be a great decision on our part.
These festivities span over 3 days and make for the visit to Chiang Mai especially beautiful and full of festive events. It turns out that Loy Krathong is one of Thailand’s most enchanting festivals characterized by launching of floating flower baskets down a river. These baskets are made out of a piece of banana trunk decorated flowers, banana leaves, candles and incense sticks. They are then sent floating down the river to pay respect to river goddess and Buddha.
Petra and I got to make our own krathongs one afternoon as we were walking by some square where a free, volunteer event was organized by local businesses to teach people to make these floating baskets.
We did not end up seeing tons of lanterns being let up in the air because with raise in tourism and subsequent popularity of these festivals, these lanterns have raised environmental issues for the region and are these days more often done as controlled, organized and (imho) overpriced private events. We did see many of them far up in the sky and we ended up lighting a couple of them a week later while we were in a village close to Chiang Mai.

2 – I learned that paying for airline tickets while in Thailand with our US bank cards is almost an impossible task. It cannot be done without paying hefty transaction fees (sometimes more than 15-30% of the ticket costs) but sometimes even that is not an option. I learned that in order to purchase some of our tickets, I had to make a reservation on line, then go to the nearest 7/11, pay for the tickets there and then, a confirmation email would be sent to me that the tickets were purchased. There was no way for me to know this without trial and error. It took me a whole day of lots of frustrating attempts to purchase several airline tickets (entering our names, DOBs, passport numbers, etc million times), before I put 2+2 together and figured out how this system works. This is one of many small learnings I picked up along the way that add to the overall enriching experience of this Refresh journey.

3 – We all love Thai food and for the first couple of weeks, no one complained about having Thai for every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Petra liked every possible new fruit she came across and she is our family food expert that knows every dish and every fruit we came across in Thailand. We loved how Thai sell fresh cut up fruits all over the place, and those were very often our favorite snacks. Maki got motivated to learn to eat with chopsticks and 3 weeks later, we could proudly say that he acquired this new skill. The downside of food in Thailand is that you are almost forced to eat every meal in a restaurant or a street market. It’s less expensive and more convenient than buying food in local small grocery minimarts and then preparing it yourself. Chiang Mai’s night food market is legendary and it lived up to its fame. We ate some fabulous food there, even the boys were quite adventurous.

4 – Nina is quite social these days, and that’s all nice and sweet but he is driving all of us bananas. He approaches random people and talks about random things, usually asking them what passport they hold, or what countries they have visited prior to Thailand. He is a young child in a body of a young man. He makes Petra and Maki mad several times per day. He is cute as a button and stubborn as a mule. Chiang Mai was fun for him, especially during the festival. He enjoyed tons of activities and was happy as a clam that we got him a Chiang Mai T-shirt from some street vendor. He wore it proudly for days, telling everyone who would listen how much we paid for it and were we got it.

5 – Petra got to play Ultimate Frisbee pickup games again (last time was in Barcelona). These games are played with super fit 20-40 yr olds. She really plays well under these conditions. She regularly gets great compliments on her speed and overall skill level. She even scored several points in a few games she played during those three weeks. The games were taking place on the rugby fields of the Chiang Mai University and we got the opportunity to see that part of the city. We decided that we liked it a lot and wanted to spend more time there. Later on, we did. Petra’s playing of Ultimate along this trip has had multiple benefits for her. Not only has she come a long way in playing this wonderful game. She is stronger, more technically capable, she is more assured and she plays well. However, the biggest improvement for her has been overcoming anxieties of joining a brand new team, getting to the field, introducing herself to a group of folks all at least 5-10 years older than her, asking to join them and then playing at a high enough level to be relevant in the game. It’s not easy being 14 and overcoming the social fear of hanging out with people several generations older than her. She has had to do that several times by now and I can see it getting easier for her. This is something she had to do by herself, I couldn’t do it for her. She had to want it enough to get through the pain of being uncomfortable with new situations. This is probably the best part of this Refresh journey, seeing her grow a bit more into her skin, finding her voice and her strength along the way, mostly from being uncomfortable in situations like this one, joining team after team in different countries with different cultures. Ultimate Frisbee is a perfect sport for many reasons, but inclusive behaviors of the folks that play it is the most admirable one.

6 – Homeschooling was sporadic. Maki did very little of it during these first couple of weeks while Petra managed her own stuff any chance she got. I don’t sing her enough praise for how well she does the schoolwork. She is quite responsible, shoots for the stars and does it all along the way, whenever she catches a free moment (even while we were doing laundry at a laundromat).

7 – My hip pain moved around a bit, got better in one area (from all the PT I did in Serbia) but then got really raw and painful in another. Every few steps I took, it felt like I was stepping on an exposed (or pinched) nerve. It was unpredictable and really painful. It was quite depressing to have this chronic pain follow me around for the past 10 months. I’ve lost most of my muscle tone in both of my legs, my range of mobility suffered and overall activity level. I ended up finding an osteopath that had a few good reviews on google whish sounded promising. This young doctor turned out to be the best possible answer to my pain. More about that in part 3 of Chiang Mai report.

8 – Kids and I went to a 3D illusion museum. It was ton of fun for the kids, especially Nina. Surprisingly so, he was really into it. Now that we have done it once, I think there is no need to do it again.

9 – Petra and Pedja did a great hike up the Wat Pha Lat Monk’s Trail. There are ton of Wats (Buddhist temples) around town and we have visited a few but Wat Pha Lat’s position up on the hill made it for a good daughter-daddy outing which these two enjoy regularly on this journey.

10 – Chiang Mai’s old town was a great place to stay for the first part of our Thai experience. It is a tourist center but it’s really fun with ton of activities. We stayed in 3 different places in 3 weeks that we spent in this part of the country and the Old Town was a perfect starting point for this part of our journey.

That’s it for the first 11 days of our time in Chiang Mai. I’m sure there were more little details but this is a good enough start. Second part of our Chiang Mai experience is coming up shortly.

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