Recalling back to the good ol days when we lived in Canada, both had good jobs and only thought about Thailand when searching for a dinner option, I remember that first beautiful Western Canadian summer. With some of the craziest weather changes anywhere in North America, Calgary often serves up four seasons in one day. Literally. But that last year of western world innocence back in 2001 brought an incredibly beautiful pattern of high pressure, bright sunshine and warm temperatures. Partying like it was 1999, I remember hearing all about snow in summer, sudden changes, hail, wind, floods, black ice, arctic chills and Alberta Clippers like it was yesterday. And despite my awareness of what was to come having left the relative temperate comfort of San Francisco for the crazy Canadian climate, I went into a blissful state of denial and went on enjoying my first fog free warm summer in many years.
And then it happened. Almost like Mother Nature was watching the calendar and laughing at me, Labour Day weekend arrived and reality set in faster than an ignorant tweet from Trump. Dropping almost 30 Celsius degrees overnight, the infamous unofficial end of Canadian summer kicked in with a vengeance. Dropping over four inches of snow on our beautiful garden, summer’s abrupt end came quickly and showed no mercy. And that’s when I knew I’d left California far behind. Sixteen summers later, we landed in Chiang Mai, Thailand just in time for the start of rainy season. Having been incredibly spoiled but bored and unhappy with almost everything besides the great sunsets and abundant sunshine of Penang, at first we welcomed the rain like an old friend. Statistically the wettest and cloudiest time of year, July and August brought long bouts of heavy rain that often went on for three days straight but as newbies taking in the sights and sounds of a new home, it didn’t really phase me. At first, anyway. Apparently dryer than normal for the past few years, most expats on the always cynical and sarcastic Facebook groups welcomed it as a big respite from the burning season despite stories that it wasn’t so bad this past spring.
Clearly a creature of habit, I wake up when the sun rises and here in Thailand, that’s an hour earlier than Malaysia so sunlight begins streaming into the windows just after 6. And because our moo-baan is the quietest place to live anywhere in the developing world with copious amounts of foliage and trees, the zebra doves provide a natural alarm clock and start their never ending “badda da bum dum” calls about fifteen minutes after sunrise. But while I’m unclear if this year is normal, above average or insane, the lack of sunshine and above average deluges put a damper on anything even resembling sunshine since the day we arrived. Needless to say, humidity levels stay torrid and despite daily walks in Penang and two years of tropical living, my energy level remains way below peak. And joining a real gym after a two-year layoff that doesn’t open until two hours after sunrise has been challenging on some days and downright exhausting on others.
Understanding it’s probably best to experience the worst before the best, I’ve been patiently waiting for November’s arrival. Actually, I’ve been counting down because we’ve been here as visitors twice in November. Nine years ago when early retirement was nothing more than a distant long-term goal, I remember November’s picture perfect bright sunshine, warm days, cool evenings and low humidity as one of the primary reasons for Diane’s stunningly strange comment where she expressed interest in moving to Chiang Mai. Two years ago, while Penang suffered through the worst haze since the Indonesians began poisoning Southeast Asia with illegal burns, we escaped the choke-fest and spent three weeks in Thailand. Arriving in Chiang Mai just in time for Loy Khrathong and U.S. Thanksgiving, we enjoyed perfect climate, a great holiday dinner and the beautifully colorful floats from the annual parade that ends Chiang Mai’s best three-day celebration. It’s taking place this weekend but since we live in the suburbs, we’ll only be venturing out one night to see the lanterns launch. And of course it looks like rain now that we’re about ready to leave.
With all the hoopla surrounding the Royal Cremation last week, the water company once again didn’t process our electronic payment despite assurances from the friendly English-speaking guy one day before the scheduled payment date that they would. So we made our third trip down there to pay it manually. Again. And we still got a default notice today even after the aforementioned supervisor assured us we wouldn’t. Known as TIT (this is Thailand), these are things you just put up with and eventually things always sort themselves out. Anyway, it poured again as October’s end approached and right when I was sure rainy season wasn’t ending anytime soon, the Thai version of Canadian Labor Day occurred. Even happening one day early, like goblins on Halloween Day tampering with things, the winds magically shifted, the temperature plummeted to almost chilly overnight and most amazing of all, they clocked the humidity at 35%. Easily the most comfortable day we’d felt in Asia, November 1st did in fact mark the magical shift from “rainy season” (hot, humid and uncomfortable) to “Winter” (sunshine and warm but tolerable days and cool comfy nights).
Ironically, the Thai government declared it “winter” a week earlier. Yes, here in the developing world, the government makes their own seasons and since it apparently dropped by one degree Celsius in Bangkok, that was enough for the Thai people to don their jackets, scarves and hats because winter had arrived. Comically marveling at how cold they all get when overnight temperatures fall a degree or two, we had one amazingly beautiful night when we slept with the windows open. But despite a break from the worst of the heat, the beautiful blue skies that Chiang Mai always enjoys in November are mysteriously absent so far. Blanketed with a hazy sky usually seen in March and April at the height of “the burning season”, I’m unsure how or what took away the sun this year. After one glorious day, overcast dreary skies returned albeit with a much lowered chance of rain. And the forecast models for the Southern beach regions of Thailand show continuing rain and no sun right through mid December. Prompting us to cancel a scheduled one week vacation to Koh Samui, I can’t see spending our limited vacation budget laying on a cloudy beach with thunderstorms in the forecast every day.
So for now, I’d say the start of winter that leads into the high season is slightly disappointing compared to past years. Many longtime expats swear they’ve already seen over raging agricultural fires on the north which would explain hazy skies taking the place of clear blue sunshine. Seeming empty for the Loy Krathong holiday, we’re hypothesizing many Thai that visit Chiang Mai for the festival blew out their budget during the Cremation ceremonies. All I know is that the sweat is pouring down me again while writing this post so if one occasional day of cooler temperatures and clear skies marks this year’s dry season, I’d have to ask what the hell happened to the beautifully perfect tropical mountain weather that caught our attention almost a decade ago?
Attributing an increased activity in the North American hurricane season to global warming, nobody talks about the same concept applying to tropical monsoon season. Probably scared of shortening high season if the statistical models begin reducing the “peak weather” by a month or two, the Thai government might act as blindly as Trump and his ignorant gang of 60 million science denying supporters and never acknowledge human activity as a cause for a decreased peak season. On the flip side, Vancouver and coastal British Columbia started enjoying record warm temperatures with abundant sunshine well into mid fall and starting earlier than Victoria Day. So maybe the solution for us is finding places with short peak weather seasons that seem to be improving and not becoming Experimental Expats in a once ideal tropical paradise where the sunshine appears to be on the decrease. Or maybe I’ve just been listening to those cynical Facebook posts too much and need to lock up the phone for a week. Either way, we’re hosting our first visitor next week so we’ll probably be too busy to notice anyway. Cheers from cloudy Chiang Mai and Happy Yi Ping Festival .
Comments always appreciated.