Three years ago, if you would have asked me about a future in Chiang Mai, I may have gone all glassy-eyed and distant. Chiang Mai was a dream to me three years ago. The elephants were a dream to me then, too. I lived in a world where I was not satisfied with my existence. I lived in a world, three years ago, where despite my (mediocre) efforts, I had fallen unhappily back into a world I didn’t want to be in.
Nearly fresh off my career break/solo travel through Europe, there I was, sitting at my parent’s home in Maryland, waxing melancholy at my choices and desperately trying to sort out how to rearrange my life to make it one I was grateful for again. (Note: I wasn’t not grateful for my life, it just wasn’t what I wanted).
I dreamed of Thailand travel. A world exploring Chiang Mai. Bangkok. Being surrounded by elephants and fighting for their well-being.
And then, just like that, those dreams came to life with a single e-mail from Lek Chailert, the founder of Save Elephant Foundation, the rescue organization I longed to work for.
Come to Thailand, she had written.
With not even a moments hesitation, that is exactly what I did. I traded in my life in Las Vegas for a life as an expat in Thailand.
For more than two years, Chiang Mai has been my life. It has been my home. It has been my world.
Here, this jungle paradise of northern Thailand has been my salvation. It has opened my eyes to a world I never imagined. It has made me far more grateful for life than I ever have been before. It has made me grow up in ways I never could have fathomed three years ago.
In Chiang Mai, I have lived. Truly. It has never been easy. But, every moment has always been worth it.
I have lost loved ones.
I have been on elephant rescues. I have cried more than I ever thought I could. But, I have also laughed more than I ever imagined. Loved deeper than I ever thought possible. And lived more passionately and happily than I could have ever dreamed.
Which is why it breaks my heart to leave this world and this life.
A few weeks ago, after returning from my second trip to London in six months, an old friend (who used to live in Chiang Mai) sat down with me and spoke frankly.
“Diana,” he said over a vegetarian meal down at the local shop, “You have to leave Chiang Mai before you hate it.”
For more than two years, I have lived and breathed SE Asia. Its beauty. Its quirks. Its heartaches and passion.
And on Dec. 25, I am starting another chapter. Because I love Chiang Mai. It is my home. I never want to hate the city where I became a grown-up. I want to protect it. To wrap it in bubble wrap and make sure it always has that special place in my heart.
So, it’s time to go …
On my favorite American holiday of the year, please, be grateful for all you have.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at why I am leaving Chiang Mai, the realities of life as a western women expat here, and my plans for the future.
18 thoughts on “Why I’m grateful for Chiang Mai”
Best of luck with your new venture! Looking forward to hearing more about it (as well as the reasons why you’re leaving CM)!
Oh I know what you mean about having to leave before you learn to dislike it. I moved around a lot in my university years and loved every minute of it (when I wasn’t stressing about assignments, about work, about all the usual stuff). After I graduated, I took off to live in a city I loved. It was a different culture and I settled down, at least so I thought. After a year and a half, however, it became clear that staying much longer was going to change me and my love of the city, so I made plans and left. The plans were important; moving TO something is better than moving FROM something and my plans included graduate school. It was a challenge because I was back in my hometown, living with my parents, but did it ever work. I have visited the city of my heart a number of times and have come away loving it more, but I know I would not be happy living there.
I think it is smart to leave before disliking a place. I have never done that before because it never made sense to me. But, for this particular chapter, and the experiences I have had in CM, I owe it to myself to stay in love with the city and the country. It will always be a “home” to me, and for that I am grateful.
Sometimes you have leave places to appreciate them more … good on you for not getting burnt out. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thank you! I agree. Happy Thanksgiving!
I’ve left three different foreign homes over the years and I have to say, I left all of them before I really wanted to, for a whole variety of reasons – but I’m glad I did. It’s definitely better to go while you still love it. I look forward to hearing more though!
Thank you! That makes me feel good! For the most part, I have left places well after I should have. This move is particularly difficult because I love Chiang Mai SO much! I am so excited for the next chapter, though!
After two years definitely is a big move. What do you have in mind next?
London and Berlin 🙂
I totally agree with your friend’s POV. Every place I visit and fall in love with makes me wonder for how long I’d feel that way about it if I were living there.
Best of luck for the next chapter of your life! So you’ll be splitting your time between London and Berlin?
Typically, I leave a place when I get to the point where I cannot stand it. I am glad I am doing this when I am doing it. Chiang Mai is so very important to me and I love it … and always want to. I will be splitting my time between the two at first, and then relocating to Berlin full-time.
I didn’t know you were from Vegas! I am too 🙂 Looking forward to reading about your new adventures. I hope to make it up to Chiang Mai from Bangkok very soon!
I’m originally from Maryland, but I spent the largest chunk of time this past decade living there and working as a publicist. Thanks so much for your support! I look forward to telling the stories!
I recently moved from New Orleans for very similar reasons. It’s been hard but I’m really understanding how much I love that city now that I’ve left. On another note, Chiang Mai and Pai were my favorites when I spent this summer in Thailand! The elephant nature park experience was absolutely amazing!!
Chiang Mai is so wonderful. Sadly, I never got to really travel in Thailand while an expat. I intend to return next year and travel the country properly! I’m so glad you enjoyed ENP!
” To wrap it in bubble wrap and make sure it always has that special place in my heart.”
YES. That is exactly how I feel as I leave for my next adventure. I always want to leave before things go sour, even when it breaks my heart. I don’t know if I can return to where I am, even if I wanted to.
Great article Diana! I feel the exact same way when you say this:
“I never want to hate the city [Chiang Mai] where I became a grown-up. I want to protect it. To wrap it in bubble wrap and make sure it always has that special place in my heart.”
I am leaving again soon for Phuket, Cambodia, Vietnam and maybe even to visit you in Europe this summer 🙂 Chiang Mai is the most perfect little place on earth to live and that is why I like to keep it in small doses of 6 months at a time or less. I always miss it that much more when I return and it never grows old.
Thank you!! CM is a perfect little place and I know I will go back forever. ❤