Clattering, honking, flashing, zooming, hawking cities like Bangkok offer endless charm and excitement when they are faced with one’s full energy and an equal portion of patience. The city bubbles at a rolling boil, overflowing with the interesting, the worrying and the extreme – just on the brink of tumbling irrevocably out of control at any moment.
On the other end of the spectrum there are cities like Mae Sot, which is a far throw from a sleepy village, but as far as cities with a serviceable airport go, it is mild and calm. Even quiet. I spent a week there back in February in a reasonably successful attempt to escape the veins of tourists flowing north from Bangkok, through to Chiang Mai and Pai and then embarking on a slow boat trip through to Laos.
Now well into June I’ve found myself up to my armpits in a hole of 10 days to fill in between Indonesia and Hong Kong. Thailand is, well, sorta, kinda between Indo and HK – and also doesn’t charge for a 30-day toursit visa – so I booked flights into Bangkok and then immediately brought up a mental image of Bangkok and had a minor panic attack.
From a small island to Bangkok International…
After a few minutes of hyperventilation I decided that I couldn’t be faced with ten days in Bangkok and booked an onward ticket up to Chiang Rai.
This is what I knew about Chiang Rai when I booked my ticket:
- It’s name is very close to Chiang Mai, but it is not the same city
- It is in Thailand, about an hour north of Bangkok by air
- It costs 1195 baht ($36) to fly there with an airline I’ve never heard of
- …. I think that’s it. Booked.
I dug out my Thailand Lonely Planet, which I have been carrying around despite my sworn oath to stop lugging a library with me, and learned a couple more things about Chiang Rai:
- The main attractions are the Heaven and Hell Temples, which are both quite arty and modern
- It is really close to both Myanmar (Burma) and Laos
- The surrounding mountains are populated by a number of ethnic hill tribes
- There is a little blue box in the LP that reads “Cafe Culture, Chiang Rai Style“
This is all promising.
Happiness and low expectations
As I have said many times before, I am happiest in towns where I arrive with either very low or no expectations. Sofia, Bulgaria pops to mind. What a pleasant concrete pothole that was. And I say that honestly and without sarcasm.
Chiang Rai is no exception. Right off the bat I did a speed test on the hostel internet and it clocked in at ten times faster than any internet I had in Indonesia over the last two months. Then and there I disappeared into 24 hours of making up for missed Skype conversations, uploading photos and syncing my Dropbox folders.
When I emerged it was time to take a quick walk around town. Chiang Rai is a city, but just. The buildings top out at four or five stories, the streets are busy but can be crossed without a serious risk to one’s life and the coffee shops are abundant and serve high-quality, local coffee. Kaa.
After two months of drinking 3:1 Nescafe I cannot even express my excitement at discovering that I can’t walk a single city block without finding and independent, cosy, air-conditioned coffee shop with fast internet and power outlets. This excitement *might* be (only partially) influenced by the fact that I’ve had three cups of coffee already today.
Chiang Rai: the next digital nomad hotspot
Watch out Chiang Mai, your misspelled sibling is gaining on you and might just be the next digital nomad hub. I actually don’t know why it isn’t already. In fact, I probably shouldn’t let the proverbial cat out of the bag, but Chiang Rai is a manageable size: not too big nor too small, it has excellent food, the internet is fast and reliable, accommodation is cheap and there is coffee everywhere. Also it is warm, yet set in the cool green mountains of the north, the scenery rivals that around Pai and the confluence of cultures gives the city a diverse yet distinctly Asian atmosphere.
I’m actually wondering why Chiang Rai doesn’t even make it into the Nomad List database, seeing as Chiang Mai and Bangkok top the list for best places to nomadicize (that’s a word, right?). With cafes like this, it is easy to forget I’m in Thailand, not Seattle. Except that my organic, local-bean white chocolate mocha is only $2.
So here I sit, with work to do, blogs to write and coffee to drink. I already expect these ten days are going to fly by in a jittery but pleasant blur, then it is onwards to Hong Kong and Seattle in no time! But for now Chiang Rai is just right…
Where in the world is Allison?
Up in the hills, bumming internet at Doi Chaang Coffee in Chiang Rai