Chiang Mai, Thailand ~ Living well on very little!

After our trip to the little Northern town of Pai in the mountains we return to Chiang Mai. We get to see Adam a couple of days before he leaves on a solo adventure to Myanmar (which only opened a few years ago to tourists and gets a relatively small number of visitors.)

We feel quite at home in Chiang Mai. It’s an easy city to navigate and has a lot to offer. We have our favorite cafes, vegetarian restaurants,  street fruit and food stands, yoga and massage spots. The Wats everywhere give the city a certain aesthetic beauty and sense of surprise. No matter how many we visit, there are always new ones. Many of the less famous ones have few visitors (it IS low season) and we often have the Wat to ourselves. In the early evenings we enjoy sitting in on the monks chanting, as the soft glow of the evening descends on the city.
The walled city of Chiang Mai only has the four corners left as a reminder of the mighty walls that once protected the city.  Here, one of the remnant four corners.
The moat around the old city provides a corridor of green and water.

Many of the Wats have healthy dogs milling around, and one of them, has six dogs, lounging around inside the temple with their owner, the senior monk. We have noticed that Thai people are kind to dogs and cats, a welcome yet striking cultural difference to Viet Nam. We wonder if this is the result of the frequent appearance of dogs on the Kings’ official portraits or whether it’s a broader cultural trait?

Evening chanting at a  Wat in our neighborhood.
Chiang Mai’s surviving wooden temples are superb examples of Lanna architecture.
Gold everywhere… A reminder of Chiang Mai’s enormous wealth during its glory years.
Revered monks are remembered through (golden) very realistic looking sculptures.
A grand temple with an extremely high ceiling to house this tall standing Buddha.
One of the creatures that typically welcomes one to a Buddhist temple is the dragon.  Usually represented as two dragons, one eating the other… It is a symbolic reminder that, with time, all is impermanent.  Time “eats all” – Buddhist  essential concept of impermanence.
A partially 3D rendering of the revered elephant, on a temple wall
A bright red wooden temple ceiling decorated with gold figures.
Exterior of a Lana style temple decorated with lines of small sculptures.

One last wink at Chiang Mai’s particularly strong culinary culture. We have so enjoyed the variety of curries, noodles and spicy salads, fantastic fruits (mangoes, lychees, rambutan), to name just a few favorites. A nice dimension to the food is that almost everywhere one can order it Thai style (very spicy by Western standards) or “mai pet”, mildly spiced.

A favorite vegetarian restaurant “Pun Pun” in the shade of a big tree on the grounds of Wat Suan Dok with its striking guilded and many white Chedis.


Silken tofu, extremely delicate… served with nuts and mushrooms.
Flower salad with lightly fried bougainvilea flowers!  Who knew these are edible?!

Different, two color tofu – also delicious.

What kind of accommodation are we staying at during our return to Chiang Mai?

For a few days, we stay at an uber rustic guest house.  Cute wooden cabanas, for $12 a night. There are four Wats within one block of our little home. One of them has a Thai massage school where we get good massages for $4 each.

We then move to a home-stay, at $9 a night with Zhen, whose family house is directly across from a beautiful big salt water pool, to which we have access and is a great way to beat the heat.  

At $9 a night we know we can “hunker down” here for as long as we need to. Our funds are now at an all time historic low. We are waiting for overdue payments from 2 sources, for work done by Ben.

(Since we left Nicaragua August 2013, we have managed to stay afloat mostly thanks to the combination of rental income from our house in Granada, sales of Peta’s dog paintings in Granada and some timely and most appreciated cash from family and a good friend.)

One of the two customer payments is the final resolution of our work in Nicaragua – a payment overdue by TWO years!!! For the last 3-4 months Ben kept a small flame of hope that a new government in the indigenous region where we built 60 bamboo houses would be easier to work with, than the prior government. Things came to a crashing halt about a month ago when the new team program manager essentially hung up the phone on Ben after Ben suggested that they were in fact stealing his money. Ben to Peta: ” Thats it! we are done. We are not getting the payment owed to us.” At this point, I (PK) suggested we had nothing to lose and that perhaps we should go public with the story of how a World Bank program essentially tanked our social enterprise in Nicaragua. Ben wrote a stinging letter to the World Bank and within days the wind turned in our favor. As of this writing, payment is now imminent.

The second source of income we are waiting for is work done 3 months ago in Indonesia and Viet Nam by Ben, as a consultant to the United Nations on bamboo value chain development. This consultancy seemed like a dream job, combining travel and bamboo knowledge in SE Asia, except for an administrative/bureaucratic context creating delayed payment for work done.

So ours is a now waiting game to see what money will come in and lift us out of our “bare bones survival” mode. Chiang Mai is a good place for us to live while we wait. It’s an inexpensive city, the food is good, and we have a clean, comfortable room with a hot shower across the road from a pool.

Not exactly the most comfortable feeling to be this low on funds, and Ben is amazed at my resiliency and ability to see past this challenging financial situation. For me, I choose to focus on all the good stuff in our lives and see little value in getting stressed out about a situation we have no control over at this point. We are both healthy, happy and enjoying our nomadic life. (And looking forward to hopefully continuing, but with more cash in our pockets.) We did always say… “if our money runs out, we are going to live in Asia.” So here we are.

Our  spacious room, is above the entrance.
Peta and Zhen from our home-stay. We enjoy the interaction on a daily basis with a Thai family.
This is Peta language for “I like this room”. We have movies, wi fi, hot shower, comfy beds and a pool.
P.S. NEWS FLASH:
The money FINALLY came in from Nicaragua, thanks to World Bank co-ordination.
Yay! we can pay our home stay family and travel on when we like. (Whew!)

5 thoughts on “Chiang Mai, Thailand ~ Living well on very little!

  1. barbara ford

    AS always I read your news with total ” délice” as we say in french, like a delicious cake of piece of chocolate that you take your time to savour, I follow your journey, I can feel it, smell it, taste it, in fact I’m with you can’t you tell ??? Ha !!! I wish …. still keeping tags so that we can bump into you at some stage …. Nov 2014 could be Thailand so we never know. Well done for being patient and showing the rest of us that material things are just things and you can let them go, your memories of these very special moments are your wealth your true wealth. �� Thank you for your continuous writing of your blog its fascinating xxxxx Barbara Ford

    1. Peta Kaplan and Ben Sandzer-Bell

      Barbara – what nice comments! We do indeed feel as though you are “traveling with us”. One of the pleasures of writing this blog is that we know that some of our readers, resonate with particular aspects of our experience. For some, it’s about tracking the story as it unfolds… Interesting that we are deepening our exposure to Buddhism and to the core concept of “detachment from material things”, precisely at this time. We are conscious that many baby boomers, now empty nesters, are yet to recover from the harsh 2009 economic crash and hope to illustrate with our experience that the associated “financial constraints” need not equate to “life constraints”.

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