Sitting on my pergola at the back of our house, looking toward Doi Suthep (big hill overlooking Chiang Mai), with the wind gently blowing, trees rustling and birds singing my memory drifts back to the days when retreating from the everyday working grind in Australia to a tropical place in Thailand was a vision.
This vision has now been a reality for 3 & 1/2 years and life in Chiang Mai, for Ace and I, has settled into an easy, often routine, pace but very enjoyable and most relaxed – like it was meant to be! It’s been a couple of months since posting any news of life in our tropical paradise, although there have been Facebook posts, so time for a little rambling from me on bits and pieces of our life in Thailand.
Day to day life
The past couple of months have seen most days enjoyed in the routine activity that involves an early morning bike ride with Lex our dog to allow him and me some exercise. We meander around our Moo Baan (housing project) to check out the progress on new house building or renovations being made to newly built houses or wonder outside the gates and down some country lanes. Often saying hello (sawadee krub) to the workers or neighbours. A nice start to the day, wakes you up – and before the days heat up and Lex loves it.
This morning ritual is followed by a nice, freshly ground, Thai grown morning coffee while checking out the latest online news & information sources sitting in our nicely shaded back kitchen or pergola. After trying many types of Thai coffee we settled on the ALTI Premium Coffee beans as our favourite. I really hadn’t appreciated the extent of the coffee and tea business in Thailand. At a recent exhibition we attended there were over 150 coffee and tea producers showing their products.
Here is a little information from the Alti coffee website about the industry that I found of interest – “Thailand is a major producer of coffee and is ranked fourth in Asia. Most of the coffee you find in Thailand is coming from coffee beans from a single origin. For example Doi Inthanon, Doi Wawee or Doi Chaang. Each of these coffees has quite distinct characteristics for example bitter, rich or strong. Most of the coffee shops will sell coffee coming from the beans from one of these sources so you know in advance what the coffee will taste like.
Visitors to Thailand will be surprised at how strong the hot coffee is because it is common practice to use the same dark roasted coffee beans for hot coffee that they use for iced coffee. Whilst the dark roasted beans lend themselves well to iced coffee, due to the diluting that comes from the ice, when used to create hot coffee it results in a coffee that can taste far too strong.
For over 10 years Alti Coffee has been testing the coffee from all the major coffee growing locations in northern Thailand. It then skilfully blends these beans to create a coffee with all the best flavours from the different regions. The result is a fine roasted coffee blend called Alti Coffee.” So a couple of times a month we head to Alti Coffee in Hang Dong to pick up our supplies.
The best way to work – working from home is such a wonderful approach – wish I could have done it years ago. With the consulate operating 4 mornings a week, there are morning emails and phone calls to attend to. For Ace and I this is interspersed with gardening activity and house tidy up chores. With two cats and a dog there is always pet care and hair to be vacuumed up. This time of year is also the green season so that means more rain and with the sun everything grows at a hurried pace – so more frequent gardening tasks.
While our garden isn’t big ( a villa garden as I refer to it) I’m amazed at how much gardening there always seems to be needed. Most everyone around us seem to hire workers to mow, trim and tidy the yards, but we are still doing our own? Why not, we have the time.
It’s the green season – a lovely time of the year with everything green and lush; amazing to look at and knowing that it precedes the cooler season, that starts in November, and something we look forward to. It’s also a great time to plants anything new as the rains and sun will ensure easy growth – no real gardening experience required. We have been doing some replacement planting around the yard with this in mind recently – didn’t like some plants, that seemed nice when small but not so attractive when they mature.
The animals are all going great and enjoying their tropical home. The cats and dog all get along very well after being around each other for a few years. So much so that Lex and Lindsay are happy to eat together – talk about sharing. Great to see them all getting along.
Home & decorating
We had spent the first few years living here organising and arranging the house and its various improvements, so much so there is not much to do these days – other than maintenance & a few enhancements.
One of the monthly maintenance chores is to clean our water filtration system. According to the Chiang Mai water management agency the liquid here is fit to drink. Ok – well just to be sure – we have installed a couple of water filtration systems. In Thailand homes either have mains water supply or are on a well or collect water daily from a communal supply for personal use.
Our house has mains water supply that fills up a 1000 litre tank. This is then supplied by pump to the house. The first point of filtration is here, with a 3 step system, to remove any large debris and then further treatments through charcoal and resin. Once in the house for drinking water we have a 5 step ozone filtration system under the sink with a separate tap and connected into our fridge for ice cubes and cool water supply.
Every month there are filter cleaning duties and then yearly there are filter change requirements. This month was filter change time. Its a pain in the butt but keeps the water softer, helps prevents hard water staining and we don’t have to buy bottled water – much more convenient. All good and all healthy after 3 years on this water.
We finally acquired a lovely, small wall hanging of the “Tree of Life”and something that had attracted by attention for some time. The tree of life means that you are not an island, but are deeply connected to the world around you and dependent on it for your ability to grow and thrive. It is proudly hung on the hall wall as you enter our house.
Internet TV is our new way of watching entertainment and news. Having ditched our cable provider and worked out how to set up our android tv box I am now able to watch some Aussie TV through applications and a wide range of other programs. Our internet with TOT is broadband cable with great speed and reliability so this approach seems to work well. Not that we are big TV watchers it is a nice way to get a broad variety of programs for those rainy days or when you just want to be entertained.
Out and About
Having moved into a slower pace in our retreating life there hasn’t been the desire recently to be explorers and to see the world. However, we are not hibernating and seem to be active and out most days. When the Consulate closes at noon we often head to a favourite or new restaurant for lunch. Some days we enjoy take away from one of the many shops near our house and indulge in lunch at home.
Thailand is awash with food outlets from fancy eateries to road side (street food) stalls, so there is always food being offered on almost every road. The volume of restaurants, food markets and cafe’s in and around Chiang Mai is staggering. It is a food lovers paradise with not only Thai but much international food as well. Interestingly we are seeing the emergence of food trucks around Chiang Mai, particularly near tourist spots – so we are keeping up with trends:
During afternoons we often have chores, consular matters or administration tasks to attend to in or around the city. Later afternoon normally sees a coffee or tea break at home or at one of the many lovely coffee or bakery shops around Chiang Mai. I was amazed at the vast coffee shop culture here in Thailand but appreciate their abundance. All have lovely cakes or treats on offer to temp the waste line.
An early evening walk again with Lex usually precedes an outing for dinner or a takeaway from local markets to bring home. Here are a few of the foodie places we visited for meals recently that can be found by Googling them.
Royal Rose Garden Restaurant – a nice spot up the Samoeng Road about 20 minutes from our place. We headed here for a lunch with some friends and neighbours of ours. You are surrounded by roses grown in the nearby gardens. We stopped off for a coffee on the road heading back home.
Baan Suan Kafe & Massage – a lovely and quiet spot in the bushy hills below Doi Khum temple, past the Royal Park Ratachphruek, about 10 minutes from our house. A cute place in the jungle with a stream meandering through. Nice choice of food. It has a lovely massage facility up a hill at the back that offers wonderful, relaxing treatments as you survey the jungle canopy.
Royal Garden restaurant – One of our favourites that we visit at least monthly. It sits beside the Royal Park Ratachphruek with it landscaped grounds featuring flowers, plants & sculptures, plus an elegant commemorative chapel. The restaurant sits across the road from royal project vegetable sales shop. Nice food, modern presentation and nice outlook.
Charin Pie – If you are looking for cakes or pies with refreshments then this is a great place, Located in the Nimmanhaemin Road area Lane 17 in Chiang Mai. An old house and court yard to enjoy your choices.
Yummy Pizza – always one of our favourites on the Canal Road. A family restaurant with western menu and food we are used to from Australia – love the pizza’s and many other menu foods. Wednesday night is live music.
The Cave – a new Thai eatery beside Baan Suan Kafe (noted above)…set in the jungle with lots of leafy greenery around and a stream. Food is Thai with a menu in Thai only when we visited.
Asama Cafe – a quiet, cosy and casual eatery off the Canal Road hidden in lake land village (moo baan) with both a coffee shop and restaurant.
Le Crystal Restaurant – a lovely, fine dinning establishment on the Ping River. Fashionable surrounds, quality service and french food. Don’t do many of these now a days but was a nice treat and with friends to celebrate a birthday on their world buffet day.
We haven’t been travelling or exploring any new tourism sites over the past few months. The urge to explore hasn’t driven us and there have been too many activities around Chiang Mai to keep us busy. Had a quick trip to Bangkok in August for the Embassy opening otherwise we have stayed close to home. You can see how that has kept us busy by checking out this Consulate Blog Post.
Observations & Experiences
Bureaucracy and process is a fact of life everywhere it seems. With my new part job comes the opportunity to have consular license plates for our vehicle. So I thought why not, how hard can it be – well – so many administration steps required.
First off, I had to have the Isuzu MUX registration transferred from Ace into my name. A visit to the Dept of Land Transport (DLT), fill out forms, take the Isuzu and queue up for a vehicle inspection (2. 1/2 hours), wait for inspection report (40 minutes), queue up for submission of forms & registration book (30 minutes) – told to come back in 2 days to pick up updated registration book. All afternoon, all good!
Next step was to provide copies of various forms, passport, ID card, vehicle info etc to the Australian Embassy Bangkok, They then write a note to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs seeking approval for a consular license plate. 6 weeks later an approval letter is received, but I then learn that I must attend the Bangkok Dept of Land Transport motor registry to apply for consular plates and have another vehicle inspection. Oh no – me having to drive to and around Bangkok??
There must be another way! I asked around the Consular community and it was confirmed that I have to make application in Bangkok but it was possible to get the vehicle inspection done in Chiang Mai. Hey Embassy can you help – apparently I need a letter form Bangkok DLT to CM DLT asking for a vehicle inspection. Two weeks later I was provided the letter thanks to the Embassy Support Manager who arranged this.
A visit to the CM DLT again – this time we head to the registration managers desk avoiding queuing. She is helpful and undertakes to re-register my vehicle to Bangkok to allow a smooth transaction when I visit there. We are then directed to a VIP inspection facility – yeah – no need to line up for another 2-3 hours. Inspection done in 10 minutes, wait for the inspection paperwork and letter to take to the Bangkok DLT.
All set now – trip planned to Bangkok this month, but I can fly to avoid driving to continue the process. Apparently have to show up in person, apply for my consular plates armed with my approval letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and my inspection report from CM DLT. This should be all I need – then wait about 3 or so weeks for the plates to be ready. When they are ready I will have to send my old license plates, registration book and receipt for new plates to the Embassy – they will then collect my new plates and sent by mail to me.
I was told this process was a bit of a pain – I wonder? Now to find out how the annual registration renewal process is done. Can you imagine if I decided to replace my vehicle – all this over again? Not for a while.
Thai Funerals & cremation
I have had the occasion to attended two funerals in the past couple of months – they were my first exposure to Buddhist funeral ceremonies and cremation. Having experienced western style funeral these were different in some ways – similar in others. I think the cremation aspect was the most differential aspect to my experiences. This led me to explore more on Buddhist funerals and the next few paragraphs explain what I learned.
I understand it is a basic teaching of Buddhism that existence is suffering, whether birth, daily living, old age or dying. This teaching is never in a stronger position than when death occurs. After death a bathing ceremony takes place in which relatives and friends pour water over one hand of the deceased. The body is then placed in a coffin and surrounded with wreaths, candles and sticks of incense. Usually a photograph of the deceased is placed alongside the coffin.
At an ordinary funeral in northern Thailand the cremation normally takes place within three days. Sometimes the cremation is deferred to allow distant relatives to attend or to show special honour to the dead. The friends, relatives and neighbours gather each evening to feast, visit, attend the services and maybe play games with cards. The final night is the one following cremation. On the day of the funeral a final celebration is held with music and every effort to banish sorrow, loneliness and fear of spirits by means of music and fellowship.
On the day of cremation a man carrying a white banner on a long pole will lead the procession to the crematorium, followed by men carrying flowers in silver bowls and then by a group of even number monks walking ahead of the coffin and holding a broad ribbon which extends to the deceased. The coffin may be carried by pallbearers or conveyed in a funeral vehicle drawn by a large number of friends and relatives who feel they are performing their last service for the deceased and engaged in meritorious act while doing so. The procession may be accompanied by music with musicians riding behind.
During the service monks sit facing the coffin on which rest special robes( Pangsukula). After the chanting is over the coffin is either moved to cremation furnace or in rural areas placed on a pyre made of bricks. People at the service come up with candles, incense and fragrant wood to either place in front of the coffin or toss beneath it. The cremation then takes place. The following day the ashes may be collected. These may be kept in an urn, spread in a favourite place or buried.
The cremation ceremony for me was different to what I had experienced before at funerals. In one case the funeral was in the city and the service was done in a sala (covered open pavillion) and the coffin moved into a gas crematorium. The other funeral was in a rural area outside Chiang Mai and the older fashioned brick pyre with wood was used. The service was at a temple sala and then the coffin was transported to the crematorium. Once the coffin was placed on the pyre a rocket was lit and travelled (on a guide wire) to the coffin, setting ofd fireworks and the wood cremation fire. The wood was then doused with liquid fuel to help it burn. It initially seemed strange for me. People paid their respects to the family, took photo’s, chatted and slowly wandered off.
Perhaps being my first buddhist cremation this all seemed a bit different, but having read about it and know now what to expect I will be more prepared for future events. It does make one think about your own arrangements!?
Thai Village & communications – the loud Speakers
One thing about Thailand is the level of noise you can be exposed to. The thing that caught my attention after moving here was the loud music, loud speakers and noise levels. It is not such an issue for local Thai people it seems but something that is noticed by foreigners.
Where our housing development is located there are a number of small local Thai villages located nearby and surrounding us. While most of the day you wouldn’t know they are there, but between 6 or 7 am and then late in the afternoon around 5 or 6 pm, you often get a blast of loud Thai music followed by a loud public announcements. Kind of the town crier approach from historic times.
If you wonder through the rural villages you can often see on the telephone and electric poles many loud speakers. This is the public address system used by the village leader (headman) to share local news and government information of interest to locals.
When first arriving here it was somewhat annoying but like many things in life after a while you almost block it out and it is hardly noticeable any longer. It does seem to an easy and effective way to communicate information to villagers.
Another unique aspect of life in Thailand – as a guest in the country it is one of those “learn to live with it” matters. Likewise if you go out to an event with music – be ready for it to be very loud.
One downside to living as an expat abroad is that you are not handy to regularly visit your children and grand children. While keeping in touch is easy with texting and chatting by phone, Skype & Line I do miss out on some milestone events and casual catchups. Ace keeps in touch with his mother and sister regularly.
Recently my daughters little girl had her first birthday celebration. My daughter wanted friends and relatives to write a letter to Oliver that would be kept and read at her 21st birthday. So a challenge to Papa to write some words of wisdom and advice that might have some meaning to a young lady 20 years from now. I confess it was something I had not contemplated and looking 20 years to the future was in itself a little daunting. Will I be lucky to be around or not – never mind, time to pass on some of the many years of life experiences and lessons learned. Hope it works when Olive celebrates her 21st.
My oldest son lives in Houston Texas so have been busy watching the flood disaster and keeping in touch about this families well-being. Luckily their house was not flooded, water only reached to their backyard. They were busy with helping at shelters and trying to get life back to normal.
My other son in Sydney and family have been busy as well with career’s and it’s so nice to see pictures of their various activities and outings. My grandson in Sydney has taken up the drums at school and has an electronic set with headphones for practise at home and the granddaughter is in her first year of school and enjoying life.
Next few months -What’s happening
We are planning a trip to Bangkok for a few days during September to attend to a variety of matters. Then in early October we have been given a voucher for accommodation in a lovely hotel in Chiang Rai by a friend so plan a few days up that way. Looking forward to November we will likely head up to Mae Hong Song area for a few days as well.
Life continues to be enjoyable. Here are a few reflections on life that I can relate to now that I am relaxed and retreating: