Here’s a guest article by my friend Alison Soloman who is just starting a website on cheap travel. . — Rosana
For years, my partner and I talked of traveling to Southeast Asia. Last fall we were finally able to take the trip of our dreams, a month traveling through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Little did we think that this trip would propel us into serious consideration of moving to Asia permanently. But it did, and we ended up having to decide – Mexico or Thailand?
Comparing Thailand and Mexico doesn’t make sense on many levels since both countries are so vast and varied in their geographic regions, their peoples and their customs. But they have their similarities: both are known for their stunning beaches and their affordable standard of living. Mention that you’re relocating to Mexico and most people assume you must be headed to the azure ocean, golden sand and endless sunshine of Cancun or Puerto Vallarta. Similarly if you indicate that you visited a large ex-pat community in Thailand, most will assume you’re referring to the gated communities and beach resorts of Koh Samui and Phuket. Our intention when we moved to Mexico was not to recreate an endless vacation in a beach resort, but rather to live in an average Mexican town which was why we chose Chapala. So too, the part of Thailand that we fell in love with was the everyday, vibrant, real-life town of Chiang Mai.
We loved everything about Chiang Mai. Like Ajijic, it sits in a valley surrounded by towering green hills. And like Ajijic, you can wander ancient, narrow streets to find tucked-away treasures of local arts and crafts. But Chiang Mai is much bigger than Ajijic. It has a whole section near the river devoted to daytime markets for locals and a difference section with incredible night markets for tourists. While Ajijic has a few beautiful churches, Chiang Mai had countless stunning temples. But the thing we really fell in love with was combination of ancient and modern, Asian and Western. Not only was there an abundance of ancient Thai culture, Chiang Mai also boasts several top-notch universities, which provide numerous concerts, plays and theatre. And while we’ve always considered the Galleria in Guadalajara first-class, the shopping malls in Chiang Mai were even more upscale.
As for affordability, Chiang Mai won hands-down. The friends we were staying with were renting a two bedroom condo in a building with a pool and gym for less than $300 a month. Fabulous Asian-cuisine meals with several courses cost us less than $3, and our favorite lunchtime stir-fry was less than $1. Not to mention the heavenly full-body massages I treated myself to, for all of $7.
As for the people, one of the things we liked about the ex-pat community in Chiang Mai was that it was more diverse than Lakeside. North Americans were the minority. There were Brits and Aussies and Europeans. Their activities were similar to ours here: volunteer activities, hobby-clubs, bridge, social gatherings and tons of eating out. We also loved the gentleness and politeness of the Thais we met.
So what made us decide not to take the plunge? The main drawback is of course, the distance. The flights were grueling and we had terrible jetlag when we got back. I also felt that while I could easily become completely fluent in Spanish, I would never be able to grasp more than the most rudimentary Thai, which meant I’d always be dependent on the ex-pat community. We both felt that if we’d seen Chiang Mai before Mexico, perhaps we’d have moved there. For better or worse we’d already chosen Mexico for our ex-pat experience and another exotic move was more than we could handle. Our motto: if you can’t be in the place you love, love the place you’re in!