Hello from Chiang Mai, Thailand!
I haven’t done a Newsletter in a long time so brace yourself for a long read.
10 Days ago we left Split. Actually (and this is going to piss off more of the Croatian Expats who hate me right now) it was like Croatia wanted to give us one last kick in the butt. I had gone to the train station to buy tickets for Zagreb. “No train, only bus” said the teller. Seems it was due to snow in the tracks. So I had to buy bus tickets which I knew would send Lissette into a panic. She HATES those Balkan buses. It came just as advertised but worse – 7 hours in an old bus (about 2 hours longer than the average Split – Zagreb bus), winding through mountain roads, with no toilet onboard. 2 toilet breaks. Luckily nature didn’t call for either of us.
If you’re travelling through the Balkans, please know that 99% of the time there are no functioning bathrooms on board and that instead you’ll have bathroom breaks every few hours. The one exception I know about is Flixbus, the German bus company. It has 3 or 4 buses a day between Zagreb and Split. But otherwise I think people should know about the bus situation and be prepared (I remember we met a British couple a few years ago exploring Croatia with their young kids. They carried plastic bottles with them on their bus trips in case they had an emergency).
People will ask, why didn’t you just book the flight from Split? Well, flying from Split you have to connect through Zagreb anyway, plus tickets with that extra leg would have cost an extra $200 each. I had figured paying $20 each for the train would be economical plus we’d get a night’s rest in Zagreb to break up that long trip. Good plan except for the bus substitution which had Lissette upset at me for being a cheapskate.
Below: Our bus at one of the toilet stops.
We stayed a night in Zagreb at the Palace Hotel (our favorite hotel), then we were off the airport the next morning for our flight to Chiang Mai (Flying Zagreb – Doha – Chiang Mai with Qatar Airways).
What you should know about Qatar Airways and Doha Airport (officially Hamad International Airport)
The photo at the top of this page was taken upon landing in Doha after flying from Zagreb. A 5:30 hr flight and we were lucky to have a row all to ourselves. I guess there’s not much traffic on the Zagreb – Doha route. Great flight.
Doha Airport: Clean, modern, full of really expensive designer stores, very warm, with no views. Not a very traveller-friendly environment and our 4 hr connection seemed very long. We’ll have a 13 hr connection through here in June so I went to information with some questions. I was told that travellers with more than 8 hrs connection times are allowed to leave the airport to visit Doha. No Visa required. They DON’T however have storage lockers so make sure to plan ahead. On this flight we travelled with just carry on, the next time we’ll make sure to check everything in so that we can see the city as light as possible.
Above: Doha Airport Teddy bear
As great as the Zagreb – Doha flight was, the connecting flight (to Chiang Mai) sucked. The flight was delayed 90 minutes on the tarmac due to a technical problem and we had the row right next to the toilet. Great if you have to go to the toilet, not so great if you have to watch the non-stop parade going to the bathroom. Thoughts on Qatar airlines: friendly staff, very professional, good food (portions a bit small, but that’s sometimes a good thing on a flight*). But leg room is tight in economy, they don’t come around with the booze often enough, and they don’t clean those toilets (they do have an obsession however with always adjusting that curtain between 1st class and economy).
* I say that’s sometimes a good thing on a flight because if you’re like me, you maybe get really bad intestinal gas sitting in the same position for a long time. That’s maybe more than you need to know but it’s a fact of travel. I find that a big shot of cognac really smooths that out.
I have to say I am incredibly happy to be back in Thailand, specifically in Chiang Mai. I don’t think there is any EASIER expat/digital nomad base in the world than Chiang Mai and I get that now (we’ve previously travelled through but our longest stay was 3 days). Food is cheap, locals are friendly, there’s a huge option of accommodations as well as tons to see and do (including some amazing temples).
Just to give you our example. We are staying in a Suite at a well-known expat residence (a Suite, with 2 bathrooms!). Cost is 19,000 baht (600 US). Most of the non-Suite rooms are half that price. Our apartments gets cleaned twice a week by cleaning staff. One floor above us is a swimming pool and a gym where you have sweeping views of the city. Downstairs (also in the building) we have a little restaurant where we eat at least once a day. The average cost of a dish is probably 80 Baht ($2.50 US), usually rice or noodles with chicken/beef/prawns or tofu with vegetables. We usually make breakfast in our room (we have a stove top and fridge) but most of our meals are eaten out because it is so inexpensive. If we’re feeling lazy we’ll order room service. Within a block you’ll find many restaurants with whole bunch of different cuisines, lots of coffee places, a place that specializes in fruit shakes, a little fruit lady outside our building who sells fresh fruit. Last week we had incredible Indian food at the Grill of India. 3 appetizers, 2 mains plus rice plus naan and 5 beers. Total cost 400 baht, or $13 US. Amazing. Also downstairs in our building is a laundry lady who will wash your stuff from A-Z. A few days ago we gave her a bag full of dirty laundry, the next day it was ready, all nicely folded. Cost: 180 Baht, about $6 US.
So we haven’t had to clean, cook, or do laundry. And “grocery shopping” has been limited to buying water and a few basics. I could get used to this.
Above: Khao Soi Gai, Northern Thai Coconut Curry Noodle Soup With Chicken. Love it. 70 Baht, or about $2.20 US
But no place is perfect and the one thing that takes getting used to in South East Asia are rats, roaches and stray dogs. I think I want to write about this one day. Travel Bloggers love to write about South East Asia and how great everything is, but they don’t mention the negatives. I remember a few years ago meeting a travel blogger couple who spent a lot of time in South East Asia. The liked it, and always came back because of the cheap cost of living. But after a few drinks the female of the couple started talking about the stray dogs, rats and roaches and how she had a hard time dealing with it. Again, you’d never know reading most posts by bloggers. Earlier this week we had our own story. We were walking down the street when we suddenly saw 3 or 4 large rats gathered around a spirit house where food had been left. Lissette freaked and jumped away from the side of the road, almost getting hit by a passing car in the process (oh, another thing about South East Asia – very few sidewalks). In fact I notice many girls clinging to their boyfriend’s arm when walking down the street here in Chiang Mai. It takes getting used to, especially when walking the street at night.
Related to the above
See my post on Hua Hin written a few years ago where I talk about stray dogs, rats and roaches. I got in trouble with Expats as you’ll see reading the comments (more on that later). But we didn’t enjoy Hua Hin. Chiang Mai on the other hand I’m loving. Yes, there are rats, roaches and stray dogs, but there is so much else that more than makes up for it. It’s just something people have to get used to to survive.
Another old post, this one on the old white men and their young Thai girlfriends. This is something else you see all over Thailand. I wrote about that here and I think it puts things in context.
So we’re loving Chiang Mai (or at least I am. Lissette is getting there) but at the end of this month we’ll be doing quite a lot of travelling through Thailand and into Malaysia and on to Singapore. We’ll stop in at least 10 different locations along the way. I’m not sure how that’ll go – Lissette and I don’t usually travel like that and too much moving around has sometimes lead to tension. But we want to see as much of mainland Thailand and Malaysia on this trip so we’re sure to experience a lot. One thing is for sure – we’ll have lots of posts, photos, and thoughts on our experiences.
Sometime in May we have to come back to Chiang Mai in preparation for our flight back to Europe in early June. Then we’ll have those 13 or so hours in Doha before arriving back in Zagreb. From there we plan on spending a few months in Poland, Ukraine, and Moravia. But that’s far away and I don’t want to think about it. I’m happy to be in South East Asia.
A Few Blogging Topics
Getting in trouble with Expats
Getting in trouble with Expats is nothing new, happens whenever one writes about a popular Expat spot. I mentioned above my post on Hua Hin. Another was my (first) post on San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. But I was surprised that the last post I wrote (on leaving Split) also got me in trouble. Unfortunately not on the blog, but on the Split Expat facebook pages. Surprised because I preluded my post with “Love you but…”
Some Expats are like born again Christians. They get all holier than thou if you say the slightest negative thing about their new home, even more so than locals who’ll often be the first the point out things that are negative. In this case, the facebook chatter by a bunch of hens reminded me of another post I wrote a few years ago:
Substitute Travel Forums with Facebook Groups and you get the same thing: a bunch of Expats who love to hear themselves talk and who pat each other on the back like the a bunch of high school kids ingratiating themselves to their clique of virtual friends.
The death of Facebook?
This might be of interest to other bloggers who have Facebook pages.
Anyone with a Facebook page has noticed how reach and interaction has died in recent years. We have 18,000 Facebook likes and get very little interaction these days. I don’t understand how facebook posts don’t reach followers. If there is any link included in the post it does even worse. Even boosting posts (which we’ve done a few times a year if we think something will be popular) no longer works. Yet Facebook pushes you to boost every post now. I linked this news article a few months ago – Facebook has changed its strategy. Forget the double talk, what their strategy amounts to is milking pages into paying as much money as possible to reach fans and the public. It’s one of the reasons I’ve started to use my Facebook profile instead of the page – I get more interaction from 100 friends on the profile than I do on 18k followers on the page.
I notice many people have abandoned their Facebook pages, including some people with huge followings. Lissette and I still post occasionally just to keep the page active but it we don’t count on it for any reach anymore. It’s a shame. But also a warning about other social media channels – you can never count on any of them because one day they can easily turn the tables on you and do the same thing Facebook is doing.
Getting named one of the Top 15 Travel Blogging Couples in the world by Holiday Lettings (part of Trip Advisor). And thoughts on getting more serious about blogging.
Just as I was drafting up this Newsletter I got the word. For the 2nd time, we’ve been chosen as one of the Top Blogging Couples by Holiday Lettings (the article here). That’s nice, but as I said to Lissette, now I have to leverage that into getting free beer. I’m kidding about that but the truth is that I have to start thinking about making a bit of money from this blog without selling out (which has always been my issue and which will not change).
This was made clear to me (also this week) when I was asked to do an interview for BlogProfits. It’s a blog featuring top bloggers and how they make money. Some make $5,000 – 10,000 a month. I had to write to write them back and basically say “sorry, but I don’t make money on the blog”. It made me realize 3 things. 1) how woefully inadequate the business side of this blog is. I’ve treated it as a hobby. 2) Most of the bloggers making money have backgrounds in journalism, social media or IT. I don’t so I’ve got a big learning curve. 3) Getting named a Top Blogger and being asked to interview with successful bloggers means I’m not a bum when it comes to blogging. I’m proud of my content. But I have to take it to the next level both in terms of traffic and eventually make a bit of money with it. Lissette won’t work forever and our mutual funds have been sucking (blame that on the crappy Canadian stock market). After all, travelling isn’t free.
So I might be blogging a little less frequently in the next little while as I do research and maybe take a course on how to do get a bit more juice out of this blog.
Other odds and ends having to do with Hygiene
– I still can’t get over people walking into plane bathrooms with only their socks on. As I mentioned above, we were on the Qatar Airways plane for 8 hours and I never saw a stewardess ever going in there to clean. And I never realized just how many people go into a toilet during a flight. We sat in the row next to the toilet and it was a non-stop parade. I can’t imagine the cesspool of bacteria that must have accumulated. Going into a plane bathroom with just your socks is disgusting.
– Why is looking into their kleenex the immediate reaction people have after blowing their nose? Does seeing the snot actually change anything? (“oh look at the size of that. Now I know why I’ve been so congested”).
– Whenever I see an Aer Lingus plane I think of Cunnilingus. Can’t help it.
The above points on plane toilets and floors brings up another few pet peeves of ours
– In movies, when people get on the bed with their shoes on. You’ve just walked down the street and probably picked up fragments of dog shit, garbage, spit, and people/animal vomit along the way. Now you’re getting in bed with those shoes? We’ve always had the habit of taking our shoes off at the front door to the apartment.
– Again, in movies: people waking up in the morning and kissing. I’ve hardly known anyone who wakes up with great breath in the morning. And they usually look like crap in the morning with their snot eyes. We wish Hollywood would be more realistic.
– Another thing we don’t need to see in movies. Scenes of people sitting on the toilet or of people vomiting. There’s way too much of that.
Is it us or do the above also bother you?
Below: Year of Cock. For some that’s a good year.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!
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