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Last year, I was surprised to find that I just wasn’t feeling Chiang Mai. Surprised, because this is the city that travelers, bloggers and digital nomads simply love to love. But you know? I just didn’t really get it. On this return trip to Northern Thailand I was keen to spend as little time there as possible, considering my limited time frame.

But I’ve heard that plans are made to be broken, and somehow I found myself spending a total of ten days in Thailand’s second largest city. Did I change my “meh” mind about it?

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Well, um — no. I still feel a remarkable lack of magnetism about the place. It lacks Bangkok’s energy and excitement, the islands’ stunning scenery and effortless cool, or small town Thailand’s inherent charm. To be blunt, Chiang Mai still strikes me as a very bland city. And yet I spent more time there than I’ve spent anywhere on this trip, aside from Koh Tao.

What I did find on this second trip to Chiang Mai was that I sank rather comfortable back into it like an overstuffed beanbag chair, and it was kind of nice there and not very easy to get out of.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

I stopped over in Chiang Mai for practical reasons — I had an assignment for Hostelworld, and it was halfway between Chiang Rai and my next destination of Pai. But I was also fairly behind on freelancing work and in the midst of a not-unwelcome productive streak. I fell quickly into a routine of yoga or a run around the moat in the morning followed by lunch at Smoothie Garden, which was overpriced but delicious and the owners didn’t seem to mind when I sat for six hours straight working off the WiFi. Dinner found me at a cheap local street cart or meeting up with a fantastic crew I clicked into immediately. This group of travelers and bloggers were probably the largest part of my inertia when it came to finally leaving — Diana, Lindsay, Matt, Torre and Ivan and more were the loveliest insta-friends a girl could ask for. Sometimes, we even went for a drink or two and listened to Thai reggae bands play, er, creative renditions of Nosa Nosa. One night, a drunk guy pointed wildly at me. “You’re the girl who sits all day at Smoothie Garden!” I realized I was on my way to becoming a local.

It was really quite lovely.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Well. Hmm. Um. How to put this —

Also? There was something else. I was kind-of, maybe sort of kicking around waiting for someone. Someone that I met in Hawaii. Someone that I have ever-so-vaguely alluded to on this blog before. Someone that I may have ended up traveling with for a while.

After my last very public and raw breakup, I realized I was going to have to be fairly thoughtful about how I navigated the delicate balance between being a compulsive over-sharer, protecting myself, and respecting the privacy of others while dating on the road. I’m not really sure I have the answers to all that yet, but I’m also pretty sure I can’t just put up a month’s worth of posts including some guy with a mohawk and pretend like it was some random person who kept following me and photo-bombing me for like, five weeks straight.

So for now, you can just call him Mohawk Man.

He’s really quite lovely.

That’s all (for now).

Chiang MaiMM at my favorite food cart in Chiang Mai

What is it that I’m missing about Chiang Mai?

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31 Comments...
  • The Guy
    March 12 2013

    Congrats on meeting up with MM! I hope it works out well for you both. To be in an exciting country making great memories should be a great start for you.

    Wishing you the best of luck.
    The Guy recently posted..The Brilliance Of Bribie Island

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      Thanks for the kind words and good thoughts 🙂

  • Jen
    March 12 2013

    Alex! MM is so cute, and I am so happy for you!
    Jen recently posted..A little thought for the day

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      Thanks Jen 🙂 I’m just excited to start handing out aliases… wish I had thought of this ages ago!

  • meghan hochgesang
    March 12 2013

    ooh la la! so happy for you.

    i also shared your feelings about chiang mai. not that i had the luxury of spending as much time there as you did, but i felt very…”i don’t get it….everyone said it’d love it” while i was there. i found getting around really annoying since you had to rely on either foot or negotiating taxis and at that point in our trip, i was over doing that. 🙂
    meghan hochgesang recently posted..weekend roundup

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      Yeah, I should have mentioned one other things I really like about Chiang Mai which is it is a really practical base for doing activities like visiting an elephant sanctuary, doing a cooking class etc. But yeah, not so much charm about the city itself in my opinion!

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    March 12 2013

    Ummmmm…this is the cutest ever 🙂
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..A Year of Awesome.

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      Thanks Rika, virtually blushing 🙂

  • Sasha
    March 13 2013

    Weeeee! I’m sure I’m not the only Alex in Wanderland stalker who was hoping you’d get back into the game! A little bit of romance (and your hints thereof) spices up your already-awesome blog, Alex. Yay for you!

    • Alex
      March 14 2013

      Ha, thanks Sasha, this made me smile 🙂

  • ChinaMatt
    March 13 2013

    I enjoyed my stay in Chiang Mai and was tempted to stay longer instead of head to the beach (and it would’ve been the better decision). I may head back there this summer for an extended stay–it’s on my short list at this point.
    ChinaMatt recently posted..On a Cable Car to Buddha

    • Alex
      March 14 2013

      Hey Matt, different strokes for different folks! What did you love about it, do you think you can articulate it? Sometimes those things are hard to explain I know!

      • ChinaMatt
        March 14 2013

        It has been a while, but I’ll try to explain what I remember (some it was because I was there with someone). I found the city walkable and friendly–much more friendly than Bangkok. Taking a trip up to Doi Suthep was well worth it, as was talking with monks at the temple in the city. And there was a great stop in the center of town–fruit shakes next to cheap foot massages (fruit shake followed by massage followed by another fruit shake).
        ChinaMatt recently posted..On a Cable Car to Buddha

  • Sarah Somewhere
    March 13 2013

    MM, love it! Glad you are happy, he looks sweet, have fun guys!!!!

    • Alex
      March 14 2013

      Thanks so much Sarah 🙂

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    March 13 2013

    Just goes to show that it’s a mistake to completely write off a place… looks like CM was rather kind to you (& MM! Yay!) this time round, even if it isn’t your favorite place ever. We just reached BKK yesterday & we LOVE it. Totally baffled by those who don’t like it here, and if has definitely made us wonder how we will feel about CM when we make it that way. Won’t be for another few months, but I guess we’ll see if we discover that magnetic blogger pull as many before us have!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Finding the Thing You Can Never Leave Behind

    • Alex
      March 14 2013

      I’m with you — Bangkok can do no wrong! Enjoy my favorite SEA city… make sure to check out the midnight flower market and the Talad Rot Fai market (posting about it soon!) and Chatuchak. I love Bangkok markets, clearly 🙂

  • carly
    March 17 2013

    Chiang Mai is a great place. Visited there a few years ago and may plan to retire there in the (not too near) future 🙂 I just noticed that Retirement and Good Living selected Chiang Mai as a top retirement locations for 2013 at retirementandgoodliving.com/best-retirement-locations-abroad-2013/

    • Alex
      March 17 2013

      I can see that… great medical care, cheap transit, good cost of living. But I’m retiring on a beach!

  • Sam
    March 18 2013

    Ah finally can put a name to a face! Fun! MM is a babe, congrats lady! Can’t say I’m pumped to go to Chang Mai after this one but at least you’re honest xxxx
    Sam recently posted..Coconut + Raspberry Cream Scones

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      I think Chiang Mai is for Thailand first timers… you’re an advanced user now 🙂

  • Lauren
    March 22 2013

    I second your thoughts on chang mai! Not the place for me, but not a bad place to be.

    • Alex
      March 24 2013

      Yeah, as I said: “Meh” 🙂

  • Adrian Fleur
    September 18 2013

    Thanks for this, I enjoy different viewpoints on Chiang Mai. Even though it’s my home now I also get sick and tired of people raving on about how its the best place on Earth. It’s clearly not, and it has LOTS of problems – your analogy about the bean bag was perfect =D
    Adrian Fleur recently posted..Taste From Heaven Vegetarian Cooking Course & Recipes

    • Alex
      September 19 2013

      Ha, glad to hear that rang true to a local, Adrian! Thanks!

  • Ryan
    February 3 2014

    Interesting to read a different take on Chiang Mai. So many people just gush over the city. I love living here, but I wouldn’t say it’s the most exciting travel destination. But it makes a good semi-permanent base.
    Ryan recently posted..How to Get a Thai Driver’s License – And Why You Should

    • Alex
      February 3 2014

      Interesting distinction between living somewhere and traveling there — it is so true. I love my hometown of Albany and it was a great place to grow up but I wouldn’t really recommend it to travelers. And there are places I love to visit that I wouldn’t want to live!

  • Vinita
    November 10 2015

    Great post Alex! We’re arriving in Chiang Mai next week and staying for a month. Looking forward to it!

    • Alex
      November 11 2015

      Nice! That will be a great amount of time to soak up the city, I’m sure.

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