Leaving America was scary and liberating. We planned for about a year to leave the country. We used one travel, a popular site at the time to book one way tickets to Bangkok, Thailand. We’d both spent almost our whole lives watching the travel channel and dreaming of going far far away. After Sandra Bland’s tragic murder, we got on travel sites immediately. We wanted to leave. We did our research on teach abroad programs, chose the cheapest option and booked a flight. In retrospect, this was a great decision and saved us the additional legwork of having to find a job on our own in a foreign country. All that was required was a bachelor’s degree and to be a native English speaker. We were too hype! Thailand! Here we come!
It was both Me and Eb’s first time out of the country and our first time on a ten hour plus flight. Things we learned from that first long flight: 1. Always take Sudafed first. It keeps your ears from popping at high altitudes. 2. If you’re vegan, bring snacks. Most airports will NOT have anything that you even remotely want to eat. 3. Drink all the free wine. Once we landed in Thailand, we walked out of Suvarbhumni International Airport and out into the city of Bangkok with clear goals and expectations. We were not your typical go with the flow, down for whatever tourists. We had a plan; this was more than a visit for us, this was the start of a new life. Our plan was simple and direct: Live abroad and be our own bosses. Our expectations were that Thailand would be a place where we would be able to connect with spirit and nature and the universe that surrounds us. It was that and more.
We were in Thailand for months before we visited Chiang Mai, Thailand, a UNESCO site. We’d heard lots of stories from our traveling and teaching friends but nothing really prepares you for the people you’ll meet and the experiences you’ll have once you get there. We moved to Thailand to teach ESL and lived in a small town in Northern Thailand called Phrae (sounds like Pear) that is much harder to pronounce than it looks. After about two months, four bouts of food poisoning, and one very good hostel recommendation, we finally made it to Chiang Mai. Our first night ended on a rooftop rapping about everything from quantum physics to international hip hop artists with new people from about five different countries. Chiang Mai is filled with global citizens; international travelers who are aware of their ability to impact the world in positive ways and apply themselves to doing that wherever they go. There are artists, poets, musicians, yogis, chefs, activists, shamans, mediums, life coaches and locals who are understanding and supportive and welcome us into their communities.
Thai people are a rare jewel in the world and that kind of cultural niceness is something to see! It’s not something you hear a lot about but Thai people are lowkey amazing. Granted, nobody’s perfect and every experience with a Thai citizen isn’t roses but as black Americans, we’d never experienced the type of hospitality that we’ve received in Thailand. It’s difficult to put into words but this sums it up. In Thailand, a common greeting is, “Gin Khao?”, which means essentially, “Have you eaten?”. It’s a short phrase but it shows concern and a willingness to share that is typical of Thai people.
Food is a huge part of Thai culture and it’s no different in Chiang Mai. We love food, more than average. It’s how we became chefs, traveling for food and following our tastebuds. We’ve based entire vacations around food. We’ve gone to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia just for dosas. Kampot, Cambodia for world certified pepper and even Norway for vegan pizza. We invest in spices and quality ingredients. Food’s our thing. We even cooked for our first date. Nothing prepared us for the food in Chiang Mai and Southeast Asian cuisine in general. Chiang Mai is a foodie haven; amazing food, creative presentation, adequate service and extremely low prices. Want Chinese? Want American? Want street Thai? Want fancy Thai? How about Mexican food made by a Burmese chef? ( You definitely want that last one, trust me.) Vegan? No problem? Raw vegan? No problem! Do you love good naan? Pick a Royal India, they’re about 5 of them and they’re all delicious. The number of cultures taking up residence in Chiang Mai is amazingly beautiful. Chiang Mai organically merges Thai culture with other global cultures.
Being in Chiang Mai, affectionately known as CM, has also helped to increase my awareness of global issues. Living in Southeast Asia taught us about the multitude of violent conflicts happening in Burma, political corruption in Cambodia as well as Thailand’s own problem with plastic waste and its notorious penchant for human trafficking. Lightworkers never want for a cause here. There are various NGOs operating and changing lives. Organizations like Urban Light, which is one of the only organizations that focuses on specifically empowering boys who have been involved in illicit sex work; or Wildflower Home, that houses children and mothers who have escaped domestic violence, forced marriages, prostitution and various other abuses. The unspoken imperative in Chiang Mai is to serve.
Following your path and shining your light takes on a deeper more concrete meaning in CM. The lofty ideals of the perpetual altruist manifest here. From Suan Sati, a meditation retreat that practices a zero waste policy, citywide trash clean-up events, and tantric sex workshops to lunar steam nights at Mala Dhara, an eco-resort about twenty minutes outside of the city, singing bowl meditations, and laughter yoga, CM makes pilgrims out of all of us. The energy here is infectious and empowering and while the official religion of the country is Buddhism, you can strengthen any spiritual practice from Christianity to Shamanism in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai speaks to our inner children; to desires never fulfilled and passions never invested in. It’s probably one of the few places in the world where you can watch the sunrise atop a golden temple, go ziplining afterwards, get your aura read then have a good meal, read a book at a cat café and get a massage all in one day without breaking the bank. It’s an amazing spot for both the well seasoned and first time world traveler.