Travelling, Doha, Thailand, getting Expat hate, Blogging stuff, and other odds and ends having to do with Hygiene

March 11, 2018

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.

 


Being back in Thailand

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.

 

Plans

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:

Travel Forums 101: dealing with Trolls, Haters, Expats, and other “Uglies”

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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23 Comments

  1. OMG – I am snort laughing at your hygiene comments and nodding my head in total agreement! As for negative comments – I always appreciate stories about travel fails, things that go sideways and downhill and places that suck. I think it gives you some street cred. (Plus it makes me feel better when I think about all the things that have gone wrong over the years during our travels!) Any experienced traveler knows that travel sometimes is a less than glamorous slog and includes crappy food, nasty people, places where you cringe at the filthy conditions, accommodations that are cramped with beds too soft or hard and uncomfortable, long and tiring days, illness, etc. It’s a balancing act of terrible and terrific that’s offset by fairytale settings, lovely hotels, and wonderful food. And, lest I forget, my sincere congratulations on being included among the Top 15 Travel Blogging Couples in the world by Holiday Lettings. What an awesome achievement and the recognition is well-deserved!

    1. You hit the nail on the head Anita about the positives and negatives of travel. And it always shocks me people who complain whenever you say anything negative or, as I say, realistic. The reason people generally read travel blogs is to know the truth about a destination or travel in general. Aren’t people sick of the glossy, syrupy, everything-is-peaches-and-cream version of travel you get in travel magazines? That’s not real life, just as Harlequin romances are not real life portrayals of relationships.
      Thank you for your congratulations. Awww, our name must have fallen out of a hat somewhere…:)

    1. Hey Tom! Yep, we we’re watching Muay Thai tonight at the Lio Kroh Road Boxing Stadium. Tons of fun!

      We do the Muay Thai 3 times a week, 2 hours a pop. You’re right, great cardio. It’s been great.

  2. It sounds like it’s the burning season in Chiang Mai. We got sideswiped by that a few years back and ended up leaving early.

    BTW, definitely agree on all the gratuitous vomiting scenes in movies these days, like it’s on the director’s checklist.

    1. Yes, it’s burning season here in CM. We’ll be back in May and it’ll be interesting to see the difference. Still, it’s not taking away from our pleasure, we’re even doing some Muay Thai training!

      Too much bathroom stuff period. I’m not sue why they need that.

    1. Most older people I know don’t even bother showering anymore Ted 🙂 So I’m not sure what it is. Maybe the truth is that most people have no concept or just don’t care.

      1. If you can find a shower that works. Place I stayed the other year, the shower was terrible, so went to my friend’s hostel and showered there.

    1. I can’t compare not having been here this time of year before. But yes, we’ve had a lot of days where buildings is the background are barely visible…even a day when I couldn’t see Doi Suthep. Today was nice though. But Expats here have told us it is the worst time of year.

  3. Frank, I looking forward to the day when I can be an expat in Chiang Mai. Jim and I just signed up for two more years of teaching. We’re heading to Japan, so change of scenery, but still two more years! After that I will have to check out CM for at least 90 days. Is it hot there already? It’s still cold and rainy in Germany…

    1. HI Corrine. I’m sure you guys happy to be teaching in Japan. Lots of time for sitting around drinking beer with the local expats when you guys are ready.
      Temps around 35 C these days and just getting hotter! 🙂

  4. It’s not just you. I have huge pet peeves about hygiene issues as well and I completely agree – people going into airplane bathrooms without shoes on nauseates me.
    I won’t brush my teeth in an airplane bathroom either and I see people doing that as well.
    Just this morning I had words with someone who was in my office coughing without covering his mouth.
    How are people not aware of basic hygiene in the year 2018?
    Also agree about Hollywood needing to be more realistic and showing too much vomiting. Gratuitous grossness bothers me more than gratuitous nudity.
    Regarding your reply Maureen and your friend who complained about how dirty Thailand is, I feel your pain. I have heard so many people complain about how much they disliked various cities in Europe because they’re dirty. They’ve said it about Brussels, Athens, Barcelona and other places and act horrified when I say I actually like those places. It would never occur to me to dislike a city because it’s dirty, unless there are piles of odorous trash piled up in the streets or something like that. I expect cities to have a certain amount of dirtiness to them, but then again maybe I have a higher threshold for that sort of thing having grown up in NYC in the ’70s and ’80s.
    Another great post!

    1. Hi Patricia!
      Glad to know we’re not crazy germophobes! And I totally agree with you, nudity much more appealing than grossness 🙂
      People have different threshholds for dirtiness. Lissette grew up poor in the South Bronx and was no stranger in her childhood to rats and roaches. She can’t take them as an adult. Meanwhile this week I see a dirty backpacker sitting in a gutter petting a stray dog. Dog was in bliss but I wonder how many fleas that dirty backpacker got…
      Hey, forgot that you and Lissette shared a New York past!

  5. A not of stuff going on! I will beware of Balkan buses…I took one from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik, was a lot more pleasant than your experience.

    Glad all is good in CM and always great to enjoy a lower cost of living.

    The lounge in Doha is incredible….if you can figure out how to get a lounge pass, it is pretty awesome.

    1. Thanks Ric.
      Not so long ago I took the bus Sarajevo – Split at 6 am after a night of heavy drinking with newfound friends. Thought for sure I’d be sick going through the mountains but ended up passing out and felt better when I woke up. But again, no bathroom, smelly bus…

      Someone else mentioned to me that Doha has a great lounge. The question is how to get it with an economy ticket? I’d be curious…

  6. Hi Frank, I do enjoy your blog and your newsletter BUT I am not surprised you got a few smacks for your post on why you were leaving split … It was a total whine, most Europeans do not like whining from travelers, there is always red tape wherever we go but we can move around and many others on the planet cannot so ……..

    Hua Hin well yes of course there are rats and roaches, just go to ubud in Bali, it is the Far East with lots and lots of people from a whole different culture, if it was the same as Europe well ????? Yes, accommodation on those street signs can be wonderful, I got a studio apartment at the end of soi 88 for 14 euro a night for three months and it had everything I needed … About 1,200 euro for nearly three months … As for the strays, yes, you just have to learn a sound and use it to keep them away but they do were the reason I did not settle in the east …

    Complaining has no place in a blog, it is spoilt, better I feel to be “surprised” and explain that.

    Could you also name your favorite hotel, not a link to booking.com !!!

    I do enjoy your posts, keep them coming ! Stay safe and well, mo

    1. i Maureen,

      Thanks for the email.

      For the hotel you’re right, I’ll name it with the link (Palace Hotel by the way).

      As for Split – well, the post was within the context of the immigration laws and real estate market in the center of Split. Laws in my opinion unclear, ever changing, and seemingly at the whims of the local police station. Real estate market – I don’t know if you’re an expat from Split but finding an unfurnished apartment for rent long term in Split is very hard. And I’ve never heard of a month pre-advice on renewment of a lease anywhere. Yes, some people may have found it be a whine but I know a lot of people who travel like us who would want to know these things.

      Rats and roaches sure. I’m not saying it’s worse than Europe, I’m just stating that it is what it is and that some people have a hard time with it. I think a lot of people only write the shiny, happy version of places. I think travel magazines are for that. As are inflight magazines. I find that all very boring. I can get that anywhere.In my opinion a travel blog should cover the good and the bad of a place and a blog should be opinionated because it is a person’s experience. And it certainly wasn’t complaining in this case, it was stating what many people may not know*

      * many years ago a friend had asked us if she should go to Thailand and where she should go. This was before the blog. We had given her an itinerary. Well, when she came back she lashed into us, telling us how dirty Thailand is and that she regreted ever having been. It’s like she blamed us for having ruined her holiday. We never ended up speaking again.

      We don’t have to agree to everything :). But I do appreciate you saying you enjoy the posts. In the end that, and some interesting dialogue, is what it’s about.

      Take care,
      Frank

      1. Completely agree! Especially, about airplane bathrooms. Ugh! We always travel with a pack of wet wipes in my bag so we can constantly wash our hands. Even with that when we flew back to the states just before Christmas, our flight was packed. Seven hours in a flying tin can. No surprise we both got taken down by some bug/virus. Had to leave our son’s house (his wife is pregnant) and check in to a hotel where we tried to avoid all human contact for a week. Ugh. I think now-a-days one has to book in “sick” time upon arrival/departure. We are looking at possible return dates to Portugal in 2018 and just thinking about the flight makes me cringe. Well, and I hate to fly so there’s that as well.

        In response to one of the comments on your newsletter. Personally, I like that you keep it real in your posts. If, as bloggers, our message is to share our experiences, then we need to keep it real and honest. It isn’t all a bed of roses and some travel days really REALLY suck. For example, our travel day between Budapest and Zagreb was painfully long. I believe my readers want to know that there is a section of train track under construction and as such people are off loaded from the train on to a bus (in the middle of nowhere) and transported by bus and then back to a train that has been baking in the 95 degree sun. These are not things that are written in guidebooks, but should be shared.

        Anyway, Frank, I’m pretty sure you’ll keep on keeping it real and that’s a good thing!

        1. Thanks for the comment Patti.
          I was on the same Zagreb – Budapest train in November and glad I didn’t have to deal with hot temps.
          Just like what you say about the flying tin can and viruses, I think that bloggers have to keep it real. There’s enough fakery in the world.

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