Sawasdee Krab from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Four days into our Exploratory Trip to Thailand it looks like we’ve got a beautiful place to live. Having given notice to our landlord in Penang, we worked out a very favorable and amicable deal whereby she agreed to use our two month security deposit in lieu of us paying rent through the date we’ll vacate so we bought plane tickets and headed to Chiang Mai for 15 days in search of a place to live. Also needing to open a bank account, we lucked out by finding a friend on a Facebook group willing to introduce us to his banker. Thailand’s always changing rules sometimes means navigating an endless web of complications and although Plans A and B both failed, we’re glad to report we opened a bank account despite not yet having a visa.
Since it’s quite difficult to navigate posts using an IPad, especially when the battery is almost dead and it constantly freezes despite the Apple Genius in Canada claiming that’s not possible, I wanted to check in and let everyone know what we’re doing. Given the amount of traffic I’m still getting even without having posted awhile, we also what to stress that as of July 7th, we will no longer be living in Malaysia. Given the blog’s focus on two North Americans choosing an overseas early retirement due to an unexpected layoff, I’ll be shifting the focus from Malaysia, the MM2H Visa and Penang to our life in Northern Thailand. Understanding there’s literally thousands of blogs on Chiang Mai, I’ll continue trying to tell stories rather than writing “we did this, we did that”. And many of you accustomed to my usual brand of sarcastic cynicism may be surprised because so far, Thailand is about a million times better than Penang.
Since I’m short on time and my ability to craft quality posts sorely lags at the moment given that we’re living out of suitcase with half our stuff still in Penang, I’ll post a few pictures on what we’ve done so far and when I’m back in Penang for the last 16 days of our Malaysian expat life, I’ll share stories about our house hunt, experiences opening a bank account, meeting our close friend for the first time that helped us immensely, why Thailand blows away Malaysia in our eyes and of course, details about the food which is possibly the best reason to move here. Choosing not to live in the core of the city, suburban Chiang Mai is not as boring as many North American suburbs and with close proximity to the core, there’s no reason to settle for noisy dirt cheap condos and four roommates in the popular University or Nimman area if you’re more of a suburbanite type.
Deciding to spend our house hunting time in a place outside the core of the city, we’re staying at a wonderful serviced apartment/hotel that’s also sells units for residencies. Centrally located a few kilometers south of the city in the Hang Dong District, The New Concept is perfect for people like us looking for single family houses for rent in the suburban areas. Hoping to live in a moo-ban (gated community), we scoped out several areas that seemed to be close to the core but with enough local activities and eateries. Utilizing two professional agents and a few unconventional sources (by western standards anyway), we checked out about nine or ten places and narrowed it down to three. Exactly like a real life episode of House Hunters International, we ruled out house number one because they staged it nicely but the owner wouldn’t budge on many things we wanted including price. After that, we visited the other two a second time.
Diminishing many of the communities in our eyes, many charge extra moo-ban fees that pay for basically nothing. Driving through the entrances of several communities, many simply opened their gates to everyone while others didn’t even have any guards at all. Thinking extra fees for garbage collection seemed kind of ridiculous, we also looked at the pools and fitness centers and found most of them were small, outdated and crowded on weekends. Luckily, one of our two choices was in a beautifully maintained moo ban where all visitors have to hand over ID, take a little clipboard and have a form stamped by the owner you’re visiting before leaving the community. And the pool and clubhouse looked more like an exclusive Southern California community than a neighborhood in Northern Thailand. Complete with lockers, saunas, a gym and a privacy, the owner was even willing to pay the annual moo ban fee.
So it was house number two for us and today we met the owner and signed a one year lease along with our very professional agent at Perfect Homes Chiang Mai who explained all the procedures and answered all our questions. Even leaving us the key and letting us leave some stuff there before we head back to wrap up in Penang, the house is closer to the airport than I’d prefer from a noise perspective but it’s not directly in the landing pattern as some other communities are and the neighborhood is so impeccably maintained that we couldn’t say no. And while we did have two separate sublet opportunities in houses we liked as a backup plan, my anal personality wanted to wrap this up soon after arriving so we crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s.
Always trying to help, Thai people go out of their way to help. While the beautiful new gym at the New Concept was supposedly under renovation right as we arrived, it turns out it was really just some leaking and the proprietor allowed us to workout anyway. And that’s a good thing since that we’ pounced on the opportunities afforded by Thailand’s unique blend of everything from western food to fusion that combines other styles with a local Thai flair. Remembering that Thai food is heavenly, we quickly made up for our deprivation of many things not found in Penang like real bacon, fresh and healthy salads, gourmet cheeses, bread that tastes like something and of course a cornucopia of pork dishes. Always claiming I’m not trying to be a foodie blog, it’s gonna be tough to keep the deliciousness out of future posts. If you love variety, spicy food and immensely fresh eating, Thailand is the country for you.
But in the spirit of full disclosure (the norm for my blog), I’d be remiss without mentioning that Thailand has a shitload of annoying things that makes expat life immensely more complicated than Malaysia. From never ending immigration rules that change daily to annoying reporting and obsolete banking systems that use passbooks (I hadn’t seen one since the early 1970s until we arrived), Thailand insists on keeping you on your toes if you want to enjoy all it has to offer. While it seems daunting at first, we did open the bank account and hopefully Penang’s resident expert in all things involving visas in Thailand will secure us what we need for a successful integration into the revolving door of non-resident expat life in Thailand. Promising to post details on much of what I touched on today after returning to Penang and then after we buy a new computer, we’re glad our next chapter in the Experimental Overseas Early Retirement looks like a lot more fun than the first one.
Cheers from Hang Dong, Thailand