Let’s Go Exploring! The Land of a Thousand Smiles Part 1

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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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View from our $575/month condo

Sometimes you fall so hard for a place you just know you’ll never find another one like it.

For me, that place was Thailand.

I fell so hard for Thailand we decided to stay twice as long as we did for the other SE Asia countries. And because my obsession with Thailand could fill an entire novel, I’ve decided to split this post into multiple parts.

Part 1: Chiang Mai

Okay, let me start with a confession.

Even though I wax poetic about Thailand non-stop to anyone within earshot, we didn’t always feel this way.

In fact, we almost didn’t go to Thailand at all.

After the bombing of the Erawan shrine in Bangkok in 2015, we seriously considered skipping Thailand completely. Despite Bangkok being the most visited city in the whole world and our favourite travel blogger Matt Kepnes picking Thailand as his second home, we were still on the fence. After all, there were so many other countries we could visit in South East Asia. Why bother risking our lives?

As it turns out, we were wrong. Not only were we NOT risking our lives (Chiang Mai, Thailand actually has a lower crime index than Toronto, and attacks are just as likely to happen at home…just look at Quebec) We are SO relieved that we ended up going to Thailand. At the time, our blog friends Jeremy and Winnie from gocurrycracker just happened be in Chiang Mai. So we figured, why not meet up? What are the chances that we’ll be in the same part of the world again?

As it turns out, I’m SO glad Jeremy and Winnie were in Thailand.

If we had stuck to our original (stupid and cowardly) guns, we never would’ve discovered our favourite city in the whole world:

Chiang Mai.

It was in Chiang Mai that we discovered the 3 things we loved the most:

The People

Thailand is known as “the land of a thousand smiles” and it does not disappoint.

From the friendly lady who made the BEST smoothies in town, to our AirBnB host (who went out of her way to drive us to the train station), to pretty much every person we interacted with, we were treated with respect and kindness and no one ever tried to rip us off or raise their voice.

And it wasn’t just the locals either. As the “digital nomad capital of the world”, Chiang is full of entrepreneurs bootstrapping businesses for 1/3 of the cost in North America. In fact, I got 3 job offers just getting a haircut because I met 3 expats there who were looking for software developers.

The mall next to our condo even had a work-share space called “CAMP”, a Thai boxing gym, and a 3-D printing office for start-ups. Chiang Mai had an entrepreneurial energy that made me think of a more laid back Silicon Valley or Waterloo.

The Massages

Pick up a rock, throw it in a random direction, and chances are you will hit a massage parlour. Thailand is full of experienced, high-quality masseuses, and let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve gotten a $12 oil massage.

I was a little hesitant at first, considering how the last massage I got a massage for a “deal” in Toronto ended up being only slightly more fun than waterboarding, but as it turns out, in Chiang Mai, I had nothing to worry about. The massage I got in Chiang Mai at Green Bamboo turned out to be one of the best massages I’d ever had. And the cost?

300Baht for 1 hour, or $12CAD including tip.

Which is just insane, considering how I used to tip my masseuses $20 for a $90 RMT massage, the full cost of this 1 hour massage was somehow LESS than the tip?!

At $12 a pop, we could get a massage EVERYDAY of the year and still live on only $31,000/year per couple. In Toronto, with the same lifestyle of living in a fancy condo with sauna and pool, eating out, and getting massages, you’d be looking at expenditure of at least $125K year, which would require a combined salary of $165K-200K before taxes. In Thailand, you’re looking at ¼ of the cost and way better weather.

See how they’ve written “NO SEX” on their door to indicate its a REAL massage parlour? Keeping it classy.

The Food

Oh God the food. Where do I even begin? Of all the places we’ve been to in Asia (Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam), Thailand wins, hands down for the best night markets and food prices (Malaysia comes in at a close second).

Based on our expat friends’ recommendations, we even discovered the holy grail of all dessert places.


A decadent snowball (and no, it doesn’t actual taste like snow), which melts in your mouth, and gets drenched with fruit syrup as you eat your way into it.

The best part?

The cheesecake surprise in the middle.

So good I’d eat it out of a polar bear’s ass hole. If you’re ever in Chiang Mai, don’t leave until you’ve tried this.

Chiang Mai also had a ton of ridiculously fun things to do. Things like:

Elephant Excursions:

This is where I got to meet real elephants up close and feed him bananas. After poking around suspiciously at me with his nose and snarfing up my bananas offering, he decided we could be friends.

 

Fish Spas:

 

Basically you stick your foot in a fish tank and these little fishies chomp away at the dead skin until your feet are smooth like a baby’s butt. Yay?

 

Cooking Classes:

Since we’ve been stuffing our faces non-stop this whole trip, I decided, hey why not learn how to actually cook it? That way, we can always take a piece of Thailand with us no matter where we go.

But mostly it was just another excuse to stuff more food into our pie holes.

 

Mountain hiking:

Due to Chiang Mai’s cooler Northern temperatures, mountain climbing is the perfect activity before going back to the Condo and jumping into the pool.

Of all the places we went to in Thailand, Chiang Mai had the perfect temperature at a balmy 27 degree C/ 81 degrees F.

 

Temple hopping:

If you love temple hopping, you will love Chiang Mai. If you’re staying anywhere near the Old City (the square, fortress-like thingy on the map), you will be within rock-throwing distance of all the best Thai temples you could want.

Quirky Cat Cafes:

This is a trend that started in Japan, but quickly made it’s way to Chiang Mai and Bangkok. It’s pretty much a coffee shop where you can to sit on comfy cushions and pet cats all day. And the best part? I got to annoy one cat with a mouse toy for so long that he freaked out and tried to claw my eyes out. Good times.

 

Food, food and more food:

We thought we had it made when we got lobsters for $40 in Boston. In Chiang Mai, you can order an ENTIRE TABLE of seafood (yup, that’s right “a table of” is now a REAL unit of measurement) and eat it with gloves to provide as little barrier between your mouth and the food as possible. The price? $17 CAD for two including drinks!

Pad Thai
Khao Soi
Crispy chicken, basil pork with garlic, pork liver with mint and cabbage
pork hot pot
Deep fried papaya salad with veggie dip
Coconut shake
Coconut ice cream served in coconut shell with real coconut shavings and peanuts.

So after all this craziness, did we break the bank?

You decide:

Category Cost/couple/day (CAD) Thoughts
Accommodations $20 In Chiang Mai, you can easily found brand new condos with pool, gym, and sauna for $575-$600CAD/month. Greatest deal on accommodations ever!
Food $20 Some days we splurged on seafood and all you can eat hot pot, but most days you can eat for even less than $20 a day.
Attractions $11.56 Other than the elephant excursion ($35 CAD/person) and cooking class ($34 CAD/person), we hiked, swam, and temple hopped for free. There was also the awesome 100Baht (or $4 CAD) movie nights every Wednesday. Massages were ridiculously cheap at $12, for 1 hour, including tip. This is where we discovered that even the worst masseuse in Thailand will still likely be the best masseuse in any of the other SE Asian countries. One of our favourite things about Thailand.
Transportation $7.25 We took a red truck-taxi called a Songthaew around the city for only 20-40Baht per person ($1-3 CAD) for a cost of $49.51CAD for the month. And guess what? Uber is also now available in Chiang Mai. To get to Chiang Mai, we took the sleeper train from Penang to Bangkok for $42 CAD/person, and then from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for $42CAD/person.
Total $58.81

Here are the pictures of our $575 CAD/month ($20/day) condo from Airbnb. If you’re signing up for the first time, click here for a $40 CAD/$30 USD credit.

Bedroom of our $575 CAD/month condo
Living room
Condo pool

Wow! At only $60 CAD/day/couple, Chiang Mai was, hands down, the best and least expensive place we’d ever been to.

Rating: 6/5 stars. If I wasn’t married already and Chiang Mai was a dude, I’d marry it and have a whole bunch of Chiang Mai babies to spread around the world.

With all the comforts of home, quality massages, and an innovative digital nomad vibe, it was the least expensive city we stayed in. And in terms of safety, it’s actually got a lower crime index than Toronto!

But after spending 2 whole months in Chiang Mai (which still didn’t feel long enough), we realized that there are other cities in Thailand, and we should probably go visit them as well.

So, did they measure up? Find out next week on Part 2.

 

CHAUTAUQUA UPDATE:

Okay I know this has nothing to do with the travel post but I just HAD to share this insane news.

Remember how I said Chautauqua Ecuador week 1 SOLD out in just 1 week? Well, due to the demand, a 2nd week has been added for Oct 14-21.

And guess who’s going to be there?

THE Vicki Robin, best-selling author of “Your Money or Your Life”! When I heard about this, I immediately passed out from shock because this is The book that completely changed my life and got me started on the FI journey. That’s why it’s my #1 recommended book in the Financially Independence category.

And if that news isn’t enough to make your head explode, guess who else will be joining us at Chautauqua Ecuador?

Mr. Money Mustache himself!

For those of you who have read this blog from the beginning, you know in almost every post I write I mention MMM in some context because when it comes to Financial Independence, he is THE KING.

And I know that I’ve JUST told you about this, but due to the long waiting list from week 1, we are already more than half sold out for week 2! So I don’t expect this to last much longer.

Here’s your chance to sign up to meet Vicki RobinMr. Money Mustache, the GodFather JLCollins, Jesse Mecham (founder of YNAB), and myself! Trust me, this is going to EPIC and you don’t want to miss it!

Now, if you need me, I’ll be putting my head back together and trying not to end up in the hospital from too many fan-girling related injuries today.

For more details, click here.

To register, click here.

 

Chautauqua UK is now SOLD OUT! Click here to add yourself to the waiting list

30 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! The Land of a Thousand Smiles Part 1”

    1. Cycling in Chiang Mai is great! Not super hot like the islands so very comfortable. I see lots of people riding up Doi Suthep mountain and they seem to enjoy it 🙂

  1. Finally! Thailand, and you were hinting at did not disappoint. That’s some seriously cheap lodging you have there FireCracker! That food looks delicious too!

    Yet, no photo of this place that cost you $20/day?

    What did it cost you to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok? I’ve heard trains are one option…

    One final question — After spending two months in Chiang Mai, would you ever go back?

    1. Just added the pictures of the $20/day condo (was in another post so initially didn’t want to bother adding it again).

      Cost from Chiang Mai to Bangkok by sleeper train is around $32USD per person. And because it’s an overnight train, you also save 1 night in accommodation cost 🙂 Sleeper trains in Thailand are super comfortable and also have dinner carts attached. Highly recommend riding the sleeper train at least once.

      I would definitely go back. If it weren’t for all the other places I want to explore, I’d just move there and not bother going anywhere else. Chiang Mai is one of my favourite places in the world!

    1. I was originally skeptical about Thailand but it ended up beating all the other SE Asian countries we went to. Now I totally get why it’s one of the most visited places in the world! Highly recommend adding it to your list.

    1. Luckily for Americans, you guys have way better credit card sign-on bonuses than us Canadians. For us, we needed 90,000 points for a round trip…so 4-5 credit cards.

      For you guys, just 2 Chase Sapphire Cards (50K sign-up bonus each) and you’re done. Here’s a list of travel hacking cards I found on MadFIentist’s site:http://madfientist.cardratings.com/

  2. I like the temperature, but I’m not sure I can withstand 118 rainy days a year there.

    Also, may I ask for the name of the condo where you stayed?

    1. So what you can do to avoid the rainy season in Chiang Mai is go to other places (like Koh Samui or the east side of Malaysia) where it’s dry season during that time. Check out https://www.travelfish.org/weather_fish.php to see what’s the best time to go.

      The name of the condo is “OnePlus”, close to Maya Mall in the Nimmanhaemin area.

  3. Great article as usual! Might want to check the link to MMM’s website though. You crazy Canadians and your alternate (but probably correct) spelling of “mustache”. 😉

  4. So cool! We really liked Bangkok but were amazingly disappointed by the lack of heat. We begged for spicy hot food…and it rarely ever came. Sad face emoticon.

    Still, really loved Thailand. Will have to see more of the country next time.

    And the prices! So cheap.

    That place you found on the monthly rent sounds like a steal, too. Would be a lovely place to try out global arbitrage.

  5. This must have been great for you guys! Aren’t you planning to stay there for longer? I’m actually going to Thailand next week for the first time in my life; can’t wait!

    1. To anyone going in Northern Thailand, I recommend you also check out Chiang Rai, which I preferred to Chiang Mai because I like small towns. I suspect Chiang Rai may be included in part 2 of this article. I was there in mid December.
      Chiang Rai is more walkable, slower paced and is even cooler at night (which is good). It is close to nature and has a great night bazaar with free shows every night. Here is a hint: somewhere in the night market is the best Khao Soi in the entire world. Only 30 bath (1$) per portion but they sell out early because so tasty!
      Give Chiang Rai a shot, you won’t regret it.

    2. That’s awesome! Sadly, we’re not there anymore because we had to fly back recently for a family emergency, but hopefully we can get back there soon.

      Make sure you get lots of oil massages (not the Thai traditional ones, they hurt) and EAT EVERYTHING!!!

  6. You guys are seriously living the life and are a true inspiration. One day when i grow up I hope to live at least half the live you live.

    1. Aww thanks! That’s how I felt reading other FIRE blog posts while I was on my FI journey. If there’s a will, there’s a way! 🙂

  7. Looks amazing! Deinfintely on my cities-to-try-living-in list. I read that there are a few months a year when the pollution (smoke?) is bad. Did you guys happened to be there then?

    1. I have heard of that, but we managed to avoid that time period. We basically planned the timing so we would be in Thailand during the dry season and outside the haze season.

  8. Ahh soo jealous! I feel like so many FIRE bloggers talk about Chiang Mai and how amazing it is! My hubby doesn’t want to go visit cuz Thailand is unstable with the military and all that, but I really really want to go! I still need to convince him that it’s fine!

    On a side note, all those food pictures makes me so hungry. I cannot read your blog before lunch hahaha

    1. We were worried about that too, but once we got there we realized it’s actually quite safe and stable. The media makes the world seem a lot scarier than it actually is.

      And yeah, the food is one of the reasons why we love Asia so much. So addicting!

  9. First of all, thank you. I’m planning our first-ever-in-my-life Asian excursion this year. I’d picked Taiwan for the family part because a friend said her family could set us up, but this makes me look at Thailand because it looks so easy and fun for my kids. I don’t know if you have time to look at this, but if anyone can weigh in:

    1) How easy (cheap) is it to include a side trip to Beijing with Thailand from Montreal? Because I want/need to see Forbidden City and the Great Wall for novel research, and we won’t have enough card points for any significant plane tickets. Eva Air looked reasonable.
    2) Mosquitoes. Aren’t they a big annoyance in Thailand?
    3) Can anyone compare Thailand and Taiwan for a delicious, family-friendly, safe yet fun vacation?
    Thanks!

    1. Taiwan is awesome. Haven’t been there yet but it’s on my bucket list.

      Okay to answer your questions:

      1) There a lot of low-cost airlines in Asia, so you could look into those. Beijing and Bangkok are major hubs and generally have lots of reasonably priced flights. I don’t think Taiwan is a major hub, so the cheaper flights are probably going between Beijing and Bangkok. Check out https://www.google.com/flights/ and https://www.skyscanner.net/. Those are the sites we use to find cheap flights around Asia.

      2) Depends on where you are. Don’t remember ever getting bitten in Chiang Mai, except for when we were hiking. The Thai islands probably have more of a mosquito problem but not worse than any other beach areas around the world. Just makes sure you’re staying in a hotel with aircon rather than a bungalow with fan on the beach.

      3) Thailand is more hectic than Taiwan, so if you want convenience, Taiwan is probably better but more expensive. In terms of family activities, the elephant parks in Thailand and beaches are awesome for family activities.

  10. I think you’re going to enjoy talking with Vicki. She’s long been one of the “tallest trees in the canopy” and extremely encouraging. Wonder what she’ll be drawing on from generations past for chataqua? Wish I could be there, see her again.

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