Isa Abroad: Week 3 – Chiang Mai, Thailand

travel journal chiang mai thailand

The Italian Man – October 18 (Tuesday)

tiny banana chiang mai
chiang mai gate market

Today was Fufu and I’s weekly trek to the local market (and sadly, our last). The vendors don’t speak English—and I don’t speak Thai—so they usually write the prices on a notepad after weighing the items. However, today I tried to buy mushrooms and the woman said 60 baht ($1.6), which seemed perfectly reasonable to me and so I tried to hand her 60. She immediately started waving her hands saying, No, no, no. I thought maybe I owed her more and tried pulling out more cash when she held up her fingers to signal 6. 

I was shocked that she didn’t just take the 60, despite the fact that I’ve been shown over and over again that people in Thailand are the kindest, most honest people. Only a few months ago I was in Central America where I was paying three times the actual price unless I haggled aggressively with the vendors (which I dislike doing). If that same situation had happened there, they would have taken my money without a second thought. 

As we were leaving, we passed the world’s tiniest bunch of bananas, so of course, Fufu had to buy them. I’m not sure why, but two separate Thai women stopped us on our walk back to laugh and point at the tiny bananas. It was as if they had never seen them before, it was very entertaining seeing everyone’s reactions to them.

While my day was absolutely lovely, my night was somewhat ruined by an interaction with an Italian man. If you know me, you know that I am biased against Italian men from my summer as an Aupair in northern Italy. But that is a story for another time.

At first, he seemed harmless, Giovanni was well-dressed, young, and attractive; and then he opened his mouth and didn’t close it for the next hour. I was trapped in his monologue of advice (did you know that women need to be persuaded into liking men because they enjoy playing hard to get?) which ended with him asking me out on a date. I couldn’t believe how poorly he read social cues, especially after he bragged about being a fan of psychology and being “really good at reading body language.” I guess my folded arms signaled that I was definitely into him. 

When I finally escaped, I complained to Fufu about the emotional drainage I had just experienced and he told me that Giovanni had toured the empty room on our floor early that day. My heart sank, I couldn’t imagine living next to that man, and I was already planning my escape, when Fufu laughed and said I didn’t have to worry. Apparently, Giovanni had informed the coliving staff that the room was too small for his “sexual activities.”

Exploding Kittens – October 19 (Wednesday)

board game restaurant chiang mai thailand
hummus restaurant chiang mai thailand

The next day I would be leaving for a mini trip and would miss Fufu’s departure, so I organized a going-away lunch in his honor. We all went to Hummus, an amazing Mediterranean restaurant, and had debatably the best hummus and pita available in Thailand.

It’s interesting how quickly your perception of what is cheap changes. Within a few days of living in Chiang Mai, my brain decided that 100 baht was a reasonable lunch price and anything over 150 was expensive. I paid 350 baht at Hummus for baba ghanoush, pita, and a quinoa salad which at first shocked me, until I realized that was $9. It’s true that that is expensive for Thailand, but in Europe I would have paid double for the same meal. 

Back at the coliving, Giovanni resurfaced and was peering around our rooms and asked Fufu if he could look inside his. Fufu obliged and then commented that the room was too small and dark. It was the best parting gift he could have given me.

That night I went to a game night and played Exploding Kittens and some spy game. The concept of the place is genius, it’s a restaurant filled with board and card games, so people spend hours there drinking, eating, and playing games together. And on Wednesday’s they host a game night for digital nomads. I became friends with Marshall—a New York lawyer who works 10 hours a week—despite the fact that I tried to kill him in the first game that we played. Playing games to meet people might not be the best tactic for me, I can be a bit competitive.

I left early because I had my bus to Pai the next morning, but then Canada boy texted and said that his friend and him were back in town. So I had the choice to be responsible and go to bed early for my long journey the next day or go meet him at the pool bar, which would likely be followed by Zoe’s (the best/only club in Chiang Mai).

Bus Driver vs. Isa – October 20 (Thursday)

pai thailand mountians
nolo hostel pai thailand

3 hours of sleep. I snoozed my alarm too many times, and when I finally revived myself, I realized I had half an hour to pack, eat breakfast, and get to the bus station.

I don’t know how, but I made it, which made me proud of myself until I realized that I had put myself in this very position.

The journey started off rough, the bus driver yelled at me in Thai before we even got in—for unknown reasons—and then once we started driving, turned around and started yelling at me again. He pointed to my tote bag and said something along the lines of “you can’t have that bag up here, put it in the trunk.” 

I pointed to the woman next to me who was holding a bag bigger than mine. He did not care. I was pretty stubborn until he stopped the car on the road and forced me to get out. I was fairly certain I was about to be left on the side of the highway, but instead he brought me to the trunk, pointed to it aggressively, and then when I tried to put my tote inside, he shook his head.

Then he closed the trunk and let me get back in the van with my tote. All of the people in the van were also tourists and were completely confused by what just happened. 

After that, the four-hour windy road didn’t seem so bad, I was just grateful that he hadn’t left me on the side of the road.

The crazy morning, grumpy Thai bus driver, and long journey, were all worth getting to Pai. It was just as magical as I had heard (people had been recommending Pai even when I was in Bali); the town is small but filled with cute buildings, surrounded by mountains and forests, and much more peaceful than Chiang Mai. 

I was excited to explore but first finished my work at a cafe and took a nap at my hostel. There was a quiz night at my hostel but I was completely drained so I went to a light bath meditation instead. It was so beautiful and relaxing, exactly what I needed after the past few days. 

After, I explored the night market with a girl I had met at the meditation. I bought some street sushi—which I realized was probably not the best decision after eating it—-and a Korean corndog. Then I walked back in the dark, appreciating the calm; it had been a while since I hadn’t been surrounded by traffic and loud streets. Although I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t see the stars, which shows you how bad the pollution is in Thailand, even in the countryside you can’t get clean air.

I was in bed by 9:30, I listened to a podcast on being “sober curious” and stared out the window at the forest, from my amazing hostel bed.

Sober Bar Table Dancing- October 21 (Friday)

mo pang waterfall pai
pai thailand night market
nightlife pai thailand

I woke up early, feeling refreshed, and went to a cafe to work until Lolly arrived. We worked together for an hour then met up with her friends to find motorbikes to rent. 

Apparently every tourist in Thailand had decided that this was the perfect weekend to visit Pai, because almost every rental store was empty except for one. We rented the last two motorbikes; Lolly and I got the more expensive one, which was surprisingly fun to ride after being on cheap scooters for so long. 

After the girls left their backpacks at the hostel, we all headed to Mo Paeng waterfall. The ride there was stunning, it was 20 minutes of mountains, windy jungle roads, chickens, tiny houses, and cute dogs. The waterfall was nice—although the water was brown—and it felt amazing to swim in the cold water and admire the surrounding forest. 

That night we had dinner at the hostel which turned out to be the most expensive and worst dinner I’d had in Thailand. Thankfully, the night was redeemed after a round of ping-pong and our discovery of a bar with Jenga. We quickly decided that whoever lost the round would have to do a dare decided by the group. 

I lost first and had to go up to a guy (that the group chose) and tell him that he looked like my mom and that I found that very comforting. I relayed this kind message, but he was French and didn’t understand. So I had to repeat it to his friend, who was also (understandably) confused and so I had to repeat it yet again, to the final friend. The silent confusion was deafening. At this point I felt as if I had completed the dare sufficiently so I gave a little bow and left.

Then we changed bars, played Jenga again and tried to assemble a dominoes line, before our entire hostel (about 50 people) entered the bar and everyone started to dance. I had decided earlier that I wouldn’t drink that night and I had to suppress a groan. But my mood immediately changed when they started playing music I liked and I found myself dancing on the table with the other girls for the next few hours. Turns out all I need is good music.

Unfortunately, the next club only offered “music” of the techno variety and it took a lot more energy to keep dancing. But it was still a fun time, with characters like Mullet Man, PJ boy (a guy wearing teddy bear pj’s and who drunkenly insisted that everyone needed more shots), and two strangers who seemingly fell in love within the few hours of the night. 

It almost felt wrong being sober as I watched other people and had conversations with strangers, it felt like an inside window into their personal life that I shouldn’t be seeing. 

It made me think about traveling and partying, because the majority of people—my age—who go on vacation go to clubs or bars regularly. But why? There’s usually nothing special about going to a club in another country, the purpose for most people is to drink and hookup, although for some it is just to be with friends and dance. But even then, you could just do that at home. 

It seems like a waste of vacation time, especially since you waste the next morning/afternoon tired or hungover. I guess this applies to partying in general, but it seems especially wasteful when you have a limited amount of time in a foreign country. 

And I hope I don’t come off as righteous or judgmental, because I’ve done it and probably will again. Just something interesting to think about.

Hot Springs, Vegan Cheesecake, & Sunset – October 22 (Saturday)

drive to hot springs pai
vegan restaurant pai thailand cheesecake
two huts sunset pai

I woke up at 8 the next morning, excited to reap the rewards of a sober night out but still felt tired (although, to be fair, we did get back around 2). But I still got myself out of bed—after staring out the window for a solid ten minutes—then went back to my favorite cafe to work until the girls woke up.

On Friday, Lolly and I had eaten at an amazing vegetarian restaurant—we both had delicious Buddha bowls filled with fresh veggies, tempeh, and topped with peanut sauce—and only after we were completely full, noticed they had so many vegan and sugar-free treats. So Saturday she picked me up from the cafe and we had vegan, sugar-free (I haven’t had sugar in three weeks!) cheesecakes for lunch.  

After that, we picked up some snacks and drove to natural hot springs. Again, the ride was stunning, everything was so incredibly green and wild, it reminded me of Costa Rica. The hot springs were peaceful and we floated and chatted for an hour. 

The hostel organized a trip up to Two Huts for sunset, so we took quick naps then drove up to meet them. The set-up was perfect, there was a giant platform with a view of the vast landscape below, a bar with plenty of seating, an upstairs area, and a huge lawn where people were slack lining, hula hooping, and juggling. There was a dj playing chill house music and everyone was sipping on smoothies (or coffee in my case, yes at 5 pm). 

When the last colors of the sunset faded, Lolly and I went back into town and walked around the night market while eating street food. That’s one bad American habit I can’t break, eating food while walking on the street. 

Then I wandered around the neighborhood by myself and listened to yet another podcast; I just discovered the Huberman Lab and am hooked. He’s a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology (whatever that is) at Stanford and presents information in a very clear and understandable way, which I appreciate considering I have never been great at science but love to learn about how the brain works, mental health, biohacking, etc.

Elite – October 23 (Sunday)

bus from pai to chiang mai
nolo hostel pai

My bus left at 9am on Sunday, so I popped another quarter pill of dramamine, settled into my neck pillow and listened to four hours worth of podcasts while falling in and out of sleep. Thankfully the bus driver didn’t verbally assault me this time.

I was in a pretty horrible mood that afternoon, probably because I had left Pai and was missing it already. Also, my best friend Fufu had left and I had come home to a depressingly empty floor. 

My day turned brighter when I was informed that Giovanni had left the coworking after offending one too many girls. With this weight off of my consciousness, I went to the gym, journaled, and made dinner, before being given the (second) best gift that the universe could offer, a new season of Elite. 

I have no idea when they updated the series, but I had completely missed it. If you haven’t watched Elite, let me fill you in. It is a Spanish TV series about rich high school kids who are constantly killing or kissing each other. I’m pretty sure every character on the show has kissed each other (at the very least) and every season opens with a new murder. It is a horrible, horrible show and I can’t get enough of it.

Coworking Friends – October 24 (Monday)

shabu buffet chiang mai thailand
beans liquor club cafe chiang mai

I tried out a new cafe with Earphone and Marshall; the name is BeansLiquor, which I thought was a weird way of saying coffee but we later discovered that it’s because it is a cafe by day and club by night. It is actually a great idea and the space is perfect for it with three levels, open spaces, and huge windows. 

Earphone joked about the place feeling like a club because of the loud Megan Thee Stallion blasting from the speakers, but after seeing a bar and their cocktail menu, we finally realized that it really was a club. It seemed like the kind of place I would open with my friends, cafe/coworking by day and club by night (except we would play good music during the day).

That night was my first family meeting at the coliving, although it felt a bit useless since I’d been there three weeks and was leaving soon. I met two new people from California—it feels like I only meet Americans from California or New York—and then ended up going to dinner with one of them and a girl from Bulgaria. The girl from California, Fifi, is my new next door neighbor (Fufu has been reunited with his wife and children sadly) and she is my age which is rare to find in colivings. 

We went to a Thai hot pot buffet, an experience I had been too afraid to try by myself because of language barriers and the fact that it looked like it involved a lot of instructions (which it kind of did). It was great having Fifi there because she had lived in Japan for two years and was more experienced with this style of eating, although she was appalled when the sushi came out cooked and with wasabi on top.

I ended the night by applying for my tourist visa for Vietnam—the first country I’ve had to get a tourist visa for—and was surprised that one of the required fields was your religion. It’s funny how much that answer has changed for me over the years. As a kid I would have said Methodist, in college it would be atheist, Barcelona Isa would have chosen something like “new age spirituality,” and now I would say the closest answer for me is Buddhist. 

Whenever I tell people about my work they inevitably ask me if I’m Buddhist, to which I always answer, I’d like to be. I never know exactly what to say, I think I still need to learn much more before I could consider myself Buddhist and I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not.


That’s it, until next week!


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