It has been over a month now that we have arrived in Thailand. Some might think we are crazy to slow travel with an infant in Thailand but the experience has been amazing so far. They don’t call it the Land of a Thousand Smiles for nothing. Everyone seems fascinated by our baby! 🙂
With everything to discover over here, we never found the time to write at all but here we go.
Our free hotel in Bangkok
Since we flew for free with Swiss airline (thanks to our American Express cards) we had to land in Bangkok. From there we flew to Chaing Mai after only 5 days in the capital.
Arriving was pretty hectic. We took a taxi from the airport at 6 A.M. got to our hotel before check-in time but they were great and had our room set up by nine.
We stayed at the i-Sanook Residence, a great hotel away from the crowds. It is not located right in the action but it is still close to everything and offers free transport to four main spots around the city.
It had a superb pool, included breakfast, and was really affordable for such a bustling city. We really enjoyed the huge breakfast variety, from bacon and eggs to dumplings and chicken stir-fry. The offerings of both Western and Asian cuisines were delicious.
We booked this through credit cards rewards and the whole 5-day stay was completely free.
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A true foodie destination
Bangkok is a crazy city. Amazing, but crazy.
We had a blast exploring the many many street markets. Discovering so many dishes. Tasting all the flavors.
The food game here is on a whole other level. There is street food everywhere! Even on the smallest, narrowest, streets, there would be three or four vendors. The most surprising thing is to see their set-up; they usually have a scooter with a sidecar where they put their propane or charcoal grill and a workstation. Like food trucks but on scooters.
We ate Pad Thai, fried chicken, sticky rice, curry, ramen, a ton of delicious meals. Out of all of the time we ate out, we were disappointed only once or twice. Thai’s sure know how to cook!
As per the cost, most meals were around 60 Baths ($2) per plate. As long as you are willing to try the local cuisine, you can find plenty of restaurants, even sit-downs, for 60B or 90B ($2 or $3). Some street stalls even have dishes for under 30B ($1).
A good find for us, especially with an infant, was to eat lunch in mall food courts. They offer a huge variety of local cuisine, every stall is locally run, not franchises or anything like in North-American malls. The best thing is; they charge the same price as street vendors.
In food courts, at least, you get clean tables and AC. It was a great break from the heat right around the noon peaks.
In a city that reaches 35°C (95°F) on a regular basis, air-conditioned malls are a life saver.
In Bangkok, we only ate Thai food from food courts like at MBK or Central World, street stall or local joints which mostly consisted of a few tables in someone’s house with a grill or wok out front where an old lady cooked.
Getting around Bangkok
Oh, the traffic! We could not believe how much traffic there was. Any time of the day, it was always jammed.
Transport, in general, was pretty hectic. Taxis in Bangkok are known for over-charging tourist so we always asked for the taxi-meter. Instead of the driver simply saying how much it will cost, the meter runs on the official taxi rate and is usually half the price as what the drivers try to get away with.
The problem was, even with a cute baby, most drivers would not take us when we asked for the meter. Especially on a rainy day, they would just drive away if we asked for the meter.
The worst was when we were coming back from the Grand Palace. There was a huge downpour. We waited inside for the rain to stop and then we walked around for a good 20 minutes before anyone would pick us up on the official rate. Looking back, we would have greatly benefited from using Grab; the local Uber app. It is safe, reliable, and reasonably priced.
We overpaid a few times and got the meter price a few times but in the end, it was never extravagant. We are talking about a few dollars here and there.
Thailand is really really cheap, most of our taxi rides came to about 100B ($3). The most we spent during our stay was going to and from the airport. The 30-minute drive was 500B ($17).
A great discovery we made was to try the Chao Phraya River Express Boats. These commuter boats are amazing to get around the city cheaply and run all day long, every 20 minutes. The fare was only 15B (50¢) per person and you simply hop on and get off when you want.
Our hotel offered transport to one of the piers so we just got on and explored the city from there. We went to the Grand Palace and visited some temples by boat. We also used it to get back home a few times just to save on the taxi and skip the rush hour traffic. Not only was it cheap but it was also pretty fun. Riding the river was much better than sitting in a taxi.
What to do all day?
With a baby, our outings were a bit limited but in no way boring. We still got to do a bunch of stuff.
Before leaving for this around the world trip, we expected to slow travel with very few activities, apart from taking care of our baby. We had the time off and rather than staying home, we saw this trip as a nice way to explore the world while raising her. However, after spending weeks in Europe, never stopping and doing stuff every day, we realized how awesome our baby is! She is such a good traveler.
We were able to do much more than we anticipated. As long as we did not go out for more than three or four hours at the time, she was fine. Also, she has been great about taking naps in the stroller and baby-carrier, allowing us to be more flexible with our outings.
In Bangkok, we spent a lot of time in markets, temples (called Wat), and just exploring the city.
Almost every day went like this:
- Woke up when our baby said so,
- fed her, showers, breakfast at the hotel,
- got a complimentary ride from the hotel,
- go to a mall to eat lunch in cool AC,
- go back to the hotel for the nap, feeding, and relaxing,
- another short activity,
- supper, often takeout if our baby was asleep,
- relax and go to bed.
We visited huge markets like the Pratunam Market which is Thailand’s largest clothing market. From food stalls to fake Louis Vuitton bags, to hand-make silk, the markets offer a huge variety and are an adventure of its own. We could spend the whole day in one of those.
Over the days, we also visited so many Wats! They are all over the city and it is an easy way to escape the busy noisiness. It was so quiet and relaxing in there. The Wat Phra Kaew, for example, had beautiful grounds, enormous sculptures, and impressive architecture.
Thai temples are museums of themselves and most of them are free to enter. However, they ask you to cover up. No shorts, skirts, or tank tops.
In Wat Pho, we saw the reclining Buddha. A 46m long gold Buddha so big they had to build the temple around it after it was sculpted. Wat Pho is now recognized by UNESCO in its Memory of the World Programme and is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage.
Talking about Thai massages, they are dirt cheap over here. For about 200B ($6), we got some amazing massages. That will buy you an hour-long session in most places around town.
After five days in Bangkok, we took a budget airline, VietJet, to Chiang Mai. Waiting at the BKK airport, we tried the Domestic Bangkok Airways Blue Ribbon lounge.
The service was impeccable. The duck we had was very tasty. The food selection was nice. They had good snacks and hot meals cooked to request.
However, their alcohol selection was very limited. We visit a lot of airport lounges and this is the first one which does not offer liquor. They had beers and wine, that’s it.
Comfort-wise, the lounge was amazing. They even had massage chairs to decompress, a nice seating area, and a modern decor. This lounge was meant for Bangkok Airways first class passengers but we had access through our Priority Pass membership included with our American Express card.
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Once on board, we were very pleased with the level of service, legroom, and quality of the aircraft given the fact that we flew budget and the tickets were only $40.
Slow travel in Chiang Mai, digital nomad central
Once we landed in Chiang Mai, after a very short hour-or-so flight, we took a luxurious airport transport to the condo we had booked. We traveled in a large SUV, with leather seats and all, and only paid 150B ($5) for the ride!
For our accommodation, we rented a really nice condo called the Nimmana located in the trendy and touristy Nimman neighborhood. Since Chiang Mai was the longest stop in our trip, we booked through Airbnb and stayed at one spot for the whole time.
The condo offered amazing grounds, a beautiful pool, a sauna, and a gym. Not to mention great staff and a central location right in the action.
This city is renowned for being a hub for digital nomads, slow travelers, expats, and alike. It offers most luxuries and comforts of the West at a fraction of the cost, great weather, delicious food, and amazing people.
The place we got was far from the cheapest. You can easily find studio apartments under $150. We even found some places for only 3,000B ($100) per month. It will not be luxurious but it will be livable.
We opted for something nice, new, and central. Comparing other complexes around, we chose one of the nicest spots. Even so, we only paid $570 for the month and it would have been a hundred dollars cheaper if we leased it for 12 months.
Being so expensive in Thai terms, there was a lot of expats and tourists in our complex. It was nice to meet people at the pool and easy to make friends for the month.
The neighborhood was super nice. Mostly aimed to cater to Chinese tourists and expats. Many of the co-working spaces, coffee shops, restaurants, and bars were all walking distance from our place. Even if there was a lot of Chinese and Westerners, there were still a bunch of local, authentic Thai restaurants and shops. The market beside Maya Mall was very enjoyable and the food stands all over the streets were amazing.
Meeting new people
The people we met here were great. Traveled people, most of them working remote or running something online, living the stress-free life.
Over there, someone making $20 per hour teaching English online can easily work two or three hours per day and live a life of luxury. The cost of living is so low that most of the financial stresses of Western life disappear. It is easy to live without a budget and still never run out of money.
We’ve met Jason from Mr. Free at 33 who lives in Chiang Mai now full-time since 2017. He was a great host and we had some very insightful chats.
He reached financial independence at the ripe age of 33 and moved to Thailand to benefit from geo-arbitrage. Moving here practically made him feel like an instant millionaire. Lifestyle wise, with a modest passive income, he can live like a king! It was great to meet him and see how it is possible to retire early and still live a very comfortable life using geo-arbitrage. We admire his jump to move to Thailand for good and his determination to achieve FIRE so early.
Using the Meetup app and a local expat Facebook group to find like-minded people was really helpful. We played board games a few nights, attended a few meetups, and met so many interesting people from all over the world. Even attended a Bitcoin mixer a few times. Meeting new people was refreshing.
Things to do in Chiang Mai
Since we had a whole month to fill, we had to find a few things to do. One of the first things we did was to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a beautiful temple on top of Doi Suthep mountain.
In the past, it used to take hours to get up there but they have built a new road since the last time we were in Thailand. Now, it only took us half an hour to get to the top using a Songthaew (or Red truck taxis).
Those are amazing! Songthaew are shared taxis where other passengers can hop on with you. The driver calculates the route and drops everyone off at their desired location kind of like a bus. They are red pickup trucks with seats in the back and since the arrival of Grab (the Asian Uber), they lowered their fixed price to 30B ($1) per ride to compete. Awesome!
In Bangkok, getting around was almost impossible but in Chiang Mai, Red trucks made everything so easy. Just waved one down and pay a dollar. And there is no shortage of them, there was always one around!
The view from up at the temple was beautiful, the viewpoint offered views of the whole city. Dating back to 1383, this Wat was one of the nicest we have visited.
In the center of the Wat, a huge copper-plated chedi was shining in the hot sun with all its golden grandeur. Even the stairs up are an attraction. Two dragons protected the entrance and their bodies climb up the 309 stairs up to the temple, it was pretty impressive.
On another day we went to the Chiang Mai Zoo. It was an easy activity to do with a baby, even on a hot day. However, the zoo seemed to be made for cars. The distance between each exhibit was quite long. In terms of animals, they had a wide variety, ranging from local elephants to penguins and pandas. All-in-all, it was a nice day and the entry fee was only 100B ($3).
We also spent a few days in the Old City, the historical city-center of Chiang Mai. We visited a few Wats, our favorite being the very old Wat Chedi Luang. When it was built in the 1400s, it was one of the tallest buildings in the city before collapsing during an earthquake in 1545. Now, its ruins still stand and offered a nice piece of history.
There are also so many markets to visit but our favorite has to be the Tha Pae Walking Street Sunday market. This street market becomes so alive on Sundays. The smells, the flavors, and the craftsmanship, all come together.
In Bangkok, for example, most markets sold the same junk, replicas, or knockoff from China. Even when you look closely at the silk, which is one of Thailand’s specialty, they are all the same and clearly, all come from the same massive distributor. At the Walking Street, however, most of the things were handmade and sold directly by the artisans. Everything was unique and refreshing.
Finally, we also visited the Mae Sa waterfalls at Doi Inthanon National Park. To get there, we booked a private driver for three hours for a total cost of 600B ($20).
The Mae Sa waterfalls are a series of 10 waterfalls. We climbed up to number 8 before, finally, turning around. The path was nice, right in the jungle. Some people were swimming but the water seemed too brown for us.
After two hours in the National Park, we went back home and stopped at Maya mall for a nice lunch in the cool AC.
That about does it for the notable things we did in Chiang Mai. We mainly stayed around our neighborhood, walking around, attending meetups, playing bowling, swimming in our pool and taking care of our little girl. Once you get into the slow travel mood, a routine quickly take place.
The Thai healthcare system
Unfortunately, our little girl got sick during our stay in Chiang Mai. After a few days of fever, we decided to visit a doctor.
In Thailand, healthcare is free for locals but tourists and expats can visit public hospitals and get treated for a modest fee. With more than 1,000 public hospitals, most locals use these facilities.
Going to the hospital was an option, they offer a relatively good standard of care but we would have to wait in a crowded waiting room. Lines can be long and we wanted to make sure we get serviced in English so we opted to go private instead.
The private clinic was able to give us an appointment that same afternoon. We got there and saw a doctor after waiting only 5 minutes. Going private, we got the first-class treatment. The nurses and doctor were educated in Western universities, spoke perfect English, and had access to all the latest equipment.
It was also much cheaper than expected. Nothing near North American prices. Our total price for our visit, including a blood test and 30 minutes one-on-one with the doctor, came to less than 1,000B ($33)!!!
The anti-biotics then prescribed came out to only 150B ($5).
After a few days of treatment, our little baby was back to her normal, happy, self. Overall, we had a great experience with the medical treatment here, in Thailand.
Traveling down south
After a whole month in Chiang Mai, we are finally flying down to southern Thailand, starting with Koh Lanta. We will be staying for 3 weeks on this island before exploring the mainland a bit. We will keep you posted in our next article.
Mr., Mrs, and Baby Xyz.