I’ve now done my first ‘visa run’. This is what one does when their one month tourist visa expires. How it works is you walk out of the country and then walk back in. It’s kind of this gray area loop hole that exists here and some people say it’s frowned upon and others say it’s expected. The authorities I’ve come in contact with seem to accept it, so long as you have the necessary documents (passport and departure ticket) and have not stayed past your visa expiration.
I, however, screwed up on both of these accounts. I forgot my departure ticket which is a piece of paper that you fill out when arriving in most countries that is attached to an arrival ticket (that you also fill out) that the authorities rip apart and you keep the departure half for when you leave. I didn’t realize at the time, but I think I could have just stepped back away from the window, filled out a new departure ticket, and saved myself the little money that the authority demanded I pay because he had to fill it out for me – what I thought was him telling me to go home and get it, was probably just him telling me to go back and fill out a new one. If I would have done that, I would have probably saved myself the next bit of trouble, because as he was filling it out, he noticed that my visa had expired the previous day. More head shaking by the Thai authority.
Really though, all I got was a little hand slap and a small fee that still left me shy of the 30 day visa extension fee at immigration here in Chiang Mai, and the added journey made it worth while for me to go up to Myanmar to cross over the border and come back.
I stayed that night in Chiang Rai and found myself eating dinner on the edge of a night market. When I go to some places for food I have a fun time of it trying to explain that I don’t eat animal based foods. Most places recognize when I say the word: J, which means vegan in Thai, but others think I’m still talking english. When I say vege, tofu, mushrooms to further explain that I really do mean J, most understand me by that point. Sometimes they say: “No, not have,” or something along those lines, but most of the time they say: “Yes, can do,” and bring me the dish without meat and add either tofu or a few types of mushrooms. Sometimes all I get is noodles in a soup and I laugh because I know they have veges and mushrooms in their kitchen. I got noodles in broth in Chiang Rai, but wandered the market and found some of my favourite treats to enjoy, too. The next day I drove back south, this time returning through Phayao – a beautiful little town alongside a lake where I found a great café to sit and write a poem at called Phu Thaya Coffee. I kept repeating to myself as I drove home to Chiang Mai and the sun was going down in front of me: “This is paradise, I truly am in paradise.”
By now I have a few dishes that I order regularly. Khoa Soi is a northern dish that has soft noodles on the bottom and crunchy noodles on top, and it’s all in this kind of curry and buttery soup. So good. I think I found the best one in Chiang Mai the other night. I also love the red, green, or penang curries. They’re similar to what you’d expect if you’ve ever had these, and usually it comes with rice (you can’t really have a curry without rice). For my brunch I am fairly religious on my Khoa Pad J. This is a fried rice dish that I get from the place a few houndred meters from my apartment from kind people who smile at me when I arrive now, no longer muttering ‘phlang’ – meaning foreigner – when I mumble through an order.
A few other notable things that I’ve done are: gone to the Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens just north of Chiang Mai in Mae Rim, which was a very large piece of land with about 13 different spots to stop at along the big loop drive, one of which was a herb garden, a tree top forest walk, and a collection of glass houses (aka. greenhouses); visited Mae Sa Waterfalls, close to the botanic gardens, with my friend Jessica; and drove around Doi Suthep National Park.
Funny thing as I start to learn Thai I start to hear what people say. For instance, this morning as I waited for the monk to come the food truck came by and I was picking through their produce and was looking for these coconut rice banana packets, and the lady said: “phlang,” and I said “chi,” (yes) and she laughed. I’ve learned to count to 99 now, but 20 still gets me and 100 eludes me this morning. I enjoy the challenge of learning the language, and spend most of my days talking to people who teach me Thai. The very subtle nuances of the Thai language get me though. For ‘a’ it’s not like ‘ah’ or ‘eh’ in English, it’s ‘aA’ or ‘aaa’ – it’s inflection points that I’m not used to. For example, ‘come dog’ is ‘maA maa’.
I’m starting to get a routine here and I’m quite enjoying it. My alarm goes off at 0545 hrs and I slowly wake up and do my yoga asanas before I shower and go out to await the monk with Janpen, sometimes Aunyong, the old lady next door who they call grandma, and her friend. Grandma likes to buy me these sweets every morning that I snack on as I work away and await the café opening at around 1000 hrs. Grandma’s stopped telling me I should marry either Janpen or Aunyong. I find my way to the café around 1000 or 1100 hrs and chat English/Thai with Janpen (who runs Jikko Café) for an hour or so, enjoying some local Thai beans ground into an espresso or two. Aunyong and Janpen are friends, so Aunyong usually stops by a few times but she’s working during the day – manages the apartment I live at. When I get hungry, I walk down the street to get my Khoa Pad J. After a feeding, it’s back to my room where I do a little bit more work and usually have some sort of mission in mind. I try to make it in by 1500 hrs to my friend Korn (pronounced Gone who runs Jojo Smoothies) in the old town and I sit with him – drinking my smoothie – for a few hours and talk English/Thai. By 1830 hrs it’s getting dark and I find my way to one of the many restaurants to get some dinner, these days it’s usually by myself where I sit and observe.
Enjoying it so much here, I’ve decided that I will stay in this apartment for another month. What sealed the deal is I sat with a friend Donovan introduced me to, Dan, who said very authoritatively that Chiang Mai is the best city in all of South East Asia. He’s lived in Thailand for about 7 years or so, traveling it at some time or another quite a bit. I asked him why he lives in Bangkok now, he said change is good – I know he’s also got a girlfriend down there. Besides the routine, what I like about it is I have the rent I am looking for to save money, I have some friends here who I enjoy seeing, and within 20 minutes of driving my scooter I’m in the jungle. I think it’s a great launching point for adventures and also, I’m exploring what’s becoming known as one of the most exciting café cultures (and accompanying unique coffee roasters) in SE Asia. There’s this aesthetic that reminds me a lot of Budapest here: rusty bicycles, cactii, metal frames, wooden tables, and gray cement buildings.
I insist I am not here on vacation or holiday. I am not vacating anything, I didn’t leave a place to get away to here, I have no building stress ‘back home’ that I had to leave behind for a while. In fact, having to leave was a hard decision for me as I wanted to begin building the farm; being here has added a new stress to my life that involves patience. I find myself searching to find ways to integrate daily what it is that drives me in life, which are not any different struggles than what I face anywhere else in the world. I have a different region of the world to explore, this is true, but explore I definitely did in Canada.
I have a list here of things I want to do work wise, and I’m also getting distracted learning about gem stones, bitcoin/alternative currencies, and motorcycles.