Full circle

Trip Start Feb 17, 2007
Trip End Apr 13, 2012

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sah wah dee kop,

Chiang Mai is a cosmopolitan city which appeals to most everybody.

For Thais, the city is the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom or "The Land of a Million Rice Fields."  It ruled the northern part of Thailand from the 13-18th centuries.  The Lanna is one of the larger of Thailand 40+ ethnic groups.  Their culture is known for its multi-ethnic origins, displayed colorfully  through the arts and architecture.

One of the most enduring parts of the Lanna culture are their shirts.  It's a simple design: a collarless, slightly baggy, heavy denim shirt, usually short sleeve, with either buttons or a knot and eye combination which secure the front.  I still see many older Thais wearing this garment around Chiang Mai.  I have six of my own - very comfortable.

Chiang Mai is also the largest city in northern Thailand.  Many young Thais move here from the rural areas in search of a better life.  There are more opportunities here for education and employment.  In addition, more exposure to pop fashion, music and technology.  It has always been the most culturally significant city in the north.

For foreigners, Chiang Mai is Bohemian.  The old city is marked by a brick wall about 20 meters tall.  It's square-shaped, measuring 1 kilometer in each direction, with towers in each corner.  Surrounding the walls is a protective moat of water.  And, keeping with Medieval design, was constructed close to the local river, Rim Ping.

Nestled between three mountain ranges, it makes a perfect reprieve from the heat and congestion of Bangkok.  Only 150,000 people live here at an elevation of 300 meters above sea level. The pace is relaxed with mild temperatures year-round.

Chiang Mai also makes a great base for exploring the northern culture.  Nearby are mountain treks, river rafting, elephant conservations and ethnic hill tribes.  Even closer are monkey and snake farms.  Shoppers can find fair trade silver and ethnic handicrafts.  One of my favorite night markets in the region opens up every Sunday night within the city walls.

For me, Chiang Mai is coming full circle.  It was here in December 2004, that I decided to become an expat.  Only two weeks into my first Asian holiday, the little mouse upstairs starting running overtime.  How can I live and work here?

Two years later, I was back leading tours.  A chance to learn more about Asia.  And also to introduce other westerners to the culture, people and food I'd come to love.

Chiang Mai is one of my favorite cities in Asia.  The city has an appeal which speaks for itself.  Returning here also evokes the nostalgia of where my Asian expat dream first began.

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