It was our second week in Thailand, and so far we were loving every minute of it. After spending time in Bangkok, Khao Yai, and Phuket, we were finally in the one place I had heard so much about, but knew nothing: Chiang Mai.
Many of our friends who had previously visited Thailand told us the best things to do here, but aside from hanging out with elephants, bespoke jungle temples, gorgeous waterfalls, and the Karen Longnecks, I really didn't know how my experience in Chiang Mai would measure up.
After scouring the internet for a comfortable place to stay, we found a reasonably priced guesthouse, belonging to a local Thai man, which looked like any ordinary accommodation. To be perfectly honest, we weren't really expecting much—guesthouses in Thailand aren't always known for their quality.
It was a private room just off Nimman Road, a new hotspot in Chiang Mai that has recently gained notoriety with digital nomads and alternative travelers. Lined with cool coffee shops and great wifi, the Nimman area proved to be the perfect jump-off point for exploring the rest of the city. Sure, it was a bit outside of the center, but it had it's own little community, and it provided a great opportunity to mingle with the locals.
From the moment we arrived, though, we knew we were in for a real treat.
What we didn't realize was that our room was connected to a local restaurant. We were tired and hungry, so decided to give it a shot. To our surprise, the restaurant had the most amazing meals made from 100% organic ingredients. As we ate, Charlie, the owner, sat with us and told us what it’s like living in Thailand with his girlfriend. Then a few of their neighbors and regulars joined in on the conversation!
Though not everyone could communicate because of the language barrier, it wasn’t long before we became fast friends. People broke out their guitars, computers, and we even played board games, and we hung out at Charlie's long after the meal was over.
Later that evening we met Bay, Charlie’s business partner. He was the Thai version of a hippie, with long black hair, a worn Nirvana t-shirt, and a laid-back attitude. Surprisingly, his English was perfect, and he even knew some American slang. His approachable manner made us feel like we were talking to a friend we'd had for years.
Charlie and Bay quickly became not only our tour guides in Chiang Mai, but our friends. We stayed at Charlie’s place for two weeks, and we'd start every morning with a delicious homemade breakfast and a Thai iced coffee.
Whenever he had a moment, Bay would sit with us and ask us what we had on our schedule for the day. He was keen to offer his own suggestions and, when he didn't have anything else to do, he'd take us out and show us the hidden gems in Chiang Mai that only the locals knew about. He took us to rent motorbikes, and despite Charlie trying to deter us, Bay wouldn't take no for answer. He knew exactly what we needed, and boy, was he right.
Sometimes it can be hard settling in to a new city when you don't know anyone. And sometimes it's easy to feel like you're just passing through without ever getting a taste of the real local culture.
But who would have known that our dinners with locals in Thailand would have been one of the highlights of our trip in Southeast Asia? Charlie and Bay, I know we said it a million times, but it can't hurt to say it again—thank you. You provided us with long-lasting memories that we'll be telling our friends about for years to come.
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