5 ways to beat the Expat Funk

Just like hitting the Travel Funk, as an expat, I’ve come to learn, you hit the Expat Funk, too. Know what I’m talking about?

It’s that shitty feeling when you wake up in the morning and you can’t be asked to go about your daily routine. When the things you once found charming, like the slow-paced walking though the early morning market on the way to work, dodging motorbikes, staring at the moat and looking at the lights twinkle in the murky waters … when they all lose their charm. When the wide-eyed awesome you first felt dissolves and turns into … meh.

A sunset in Chiang Mai

If you’re an expat living in one place for a long time and you haven’t felt that, congratulations.

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

Spring in Chiang Mai

I wake up and walk out of my air-conditioned room. I step into the teak upstairs of my home and am hit.

A blast of steam, of hot, humid air so powerful my cool flesh immediately begins to bead with sweat.

March in Chiang Mai.

Elephant Nature Park Spring

Not pictured: the steam rising up from my body.

Coming from the desert, I am well-equipped to deal with the heat. But the desert heat is a different kind of heat. A dry heat. I used to hate when people would tell me I was lucky to live in Vegas because at least the heat is dry, versus the humid and hot air of my hometown.

I would laugh.

“You think dry heat is better?” I would ask, rolling my eyes. “Let me tell you this. Go grab a hair dryer, put it on high, and tell me how you like that dry heat blowing in your face.”

Las Vegas

Can you FEEL the dry heat?

Normally, the point came across quite quickly.

I thought coming to Chiang Mai, I would be able to deal with the humid summer. But, I didn’t realize what I was in for.

From February through June, it is hard not to melt from the heat. From the thick, sticky air. Temps soar into the 100s and there is no relief.

In Chiang Mai, there are very few places equipped with cooling systems. Suddenly, fans become the gospel. Little misters are moments of cool on a hot day.

And then, there is the burning.

Chiang Mai air quality during burning season

A look at Doi Suthep at the beginning and end of burning season. Photo courtesy: BoundingOverOurSteps.com

During the hottest time of the year in Chiang Mai, the rice fields are also glowing orange. The valley fills up with smoke, making visibility close to null. The air quality is crap, coughs become the norm, and masks to cover mouths from pollutants lingering in the air are the fashion statement of the season.

Do I like it?

Not really.

Do I tolerate it?

You bet.

After all, I live in an amazing city.

But, I do tell people who come here to skip the burning/summer season in Chiang Mai. Head south to the beaches. Unless you like that sort of thing. Then come on up, hang out with me and plop some ice in your beer … because that’s a great way to keep cool.

Koh Samui

A clear alternative to the burn and hot: island living.

What you need to know about “spring” in Thailand

What Westerners consider the spring months is actually Thailand’s summer. Here, schools close during these months and many make a mass exodus to the more temperate and cleaner air by the water.

If you are going to be in Chiang Mai (or anywhere other than the islands, really), be prepared for heat. At times unbearable heat. Heat that penetrates your every inch. Sweating dripping from every pore in your body. Thick, humid air that makes you long for air-conditioning and will send you into a 7-11 to cool off, even if just for a brief moment of air-con bliss.

There’s a reason why the high season in Thailand is November through early February — the temperature is pretty much perfect, minus some cold spells.

The SE Asia resource site, Travelfish, has plenty of detailed information which breaks up Thailand by region and gives you an idea of what to expect.

What to wear

Thailand is a more conservative culture, so for the ladies, that means skipping the booty shorts and barely there tank tops (or worse, the sheer shirts with a bikini top underneath) and opting for loose-fitting cotton shirts and light, breezy pants. Men, you have a little more freedom, but shorts and tee shirts  are the best way to go.

If you’re going to be on the road a lot via motorbike or bicycle, purchase a filtered mask to protect your lungs when the burning really gets going.

Beating the heat

Since air-conditioning isn’t widely spread, minus guest houses, there are few chances to really cool down. Fans can help (especially if you soak a towel in water and then place it on the fan), but for those who are used to cranking the AC, it will cost more money to get a room in a guest house or hotel with the beautiful cold air.

Turn off the water heater. Because the water tanks heat up as the day progresses, take a shower in the morning when it is at its coolest.

Songkran in Chiang Mai

Nothing says “cool” like icy streams of water during Songkran

Be in Chiang Mai for Songkran. The icy buckets of water can send momentary chills and relief from the heat.

Baby powder is you’re friend. While you will still sweat, picking up some of the cooling baby powder can help cut it down and cool you off at least a little bit.

Have you survived a “spring” in Thailand? What were your experiences?

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

Daily Wanderlust: the streets of Bangkok

Despite the protests and travel warnings coming from many countries about Bangkok, I headed down south to the capital the other day for some family time.

As someone who comes to the city quite regularly — mostly for work since I have yet to really fall in love with what other see from this massive sprawl of skyscrapers and elevated highways and trains — there wasn’t much different, even with the political turmoil.

The same little street stalls crowded the sidewalks, the same trains rushed back and forth, packed with people … nothing really seemed different.

Until I heard the booming voice over a speaker. A protest. And, until I saw a large tent city erected by the water. And, the massive traffic that was pretty much halted on Sukhumvit.

Did I ever feel like my life was in danger? Nope. Not once.

Did I go near the protests? Not a chance.

But, would I return to Bangkok, even with what is going on? Absolutely.

There’s something about escaping from Chiang Mai and being in a big city that sends my blood pulsing and opens my eyes to wonder … and reminds me life exists very differently in other parts of Thailand.

This traffic? I’ve never seen anything like it in Chiang Mai!

A crowded street in Bangkok

Asia Blog Destinations Thailand

The things missed as an expat

The grass is always greener. Oh, the age old quote (is it a quote?) will always ring true. Regardless of where in the world I am.

Why?

Well … even as an expat, there are times I long for some of the things I miss from my American life.

Maryland

Privacy

I felt the need for privacy more so when I lived in an apartment and everyone could see my comings and goings. But, even now, privacy is difficult to achieve in my life as an expat in Chiang Mai. Walking down the street, more times than not, I see someone I know. It’s always nice to see people, but sometimes I just don’t want to be bothered. Sometimes, I want to have a bad day, or not smile, without everyone knowing about it.

Living in Vegas, it was easy to hide out. To escape from people. To be intensely private when necessary. Sure, Vegas is a small enough town where heading out to Town Square likely means running into someone, but it is far easier to avoid people there than it is here.

Home-cooked meals

Granted, I am not a cook, but I do miss the ease of being able to run to the grocery store, know exactly what I need and find it, then go home and pop it in the oven. Here? Well, if I know by photo what I want and use my translate app, I can sometimes find what I need. But, more often than not, I get frustrated and head out for street food instead. Oh, and while we are talking about food — dammit, I miss real chips and salsa. And Papa John’s garlic sauce. Don’t judge.

My family

This goes without saying, but I dream about Mom Hugs. The family I have created here is wonderful and supportive, but nothing can ground me more than time with my real family. Nothing can erase Sad or Lonely more than my family can. And, with them so far away, it can get difficult. Often times, I find myself losing perspective and only an e-mail from my mom can make that dissipate. Friendships as an expat are not always easy, and there are definitely moments when I just miss comfort only my family can provide.

The ease of communication

Language barriers aside, there are communication issues that make life here interesting at best and a struggle at worst. It is important to keep in mind my Western ideas and ways of communicating are not the same as the Thai way. I haven’t had huge problems with it, but there are moments when I wish I could express myself better … or at all. A smile goes a long way here, but even that can be misinterpreted.

Shopping/buying what I need

There is nothing worse than knowing I want to go and buy, say, a cleaning agent to wipe my counters with, and knowing what it is called in America, knowing what is should look like, and then hitting a store here and being totally unsure of what it is I am actually buying. Here, what I would imagine to be in a pretty little plastic spray bottle comes in a squishy cardboard container with a screw-off top. It’s got a photo on it — sometimes — but hell if I know what is actually is I am buying. Case-in-point: I purchased a bottle of shampoo, thinking it was deodorant. Yeah. No. Clue.

Clothing that fits

And, while we are on the topic of shopping, let’s talk style. Clothing. Good grief, it is hard being a not rail thin woman to get any sort of cute clothing here. Or being super size-shamed. In America, I’m a medium, in Chiang Mai? Oh, 2XL. I can’t shop at department stores because my legs cannot squeeze through pant legs. Shirts? Ha ha. Not with these American boobs.

Sometimes, I find myself longing for a Dillard’s. Sweet, normal-sized clothing-filled Dillard’s.

Thankfully, I have Thai friends who can help me navigate the flowery Thai writing to determine some items I need. Others? Well, that’s when I enlist my friends and family to bring stuff over like Febreeze or a pair of size 10 Old Navy jeans.

A tuk tuk driver races down the street in Chiang Mai

A car … sometimes

When I sold my Prius back in 2012, it was freeing. And, in true D form, a bit dramatic. Living in Chiang Mai, I don’t need a car. I often don’t even get in cars as most of my friends simply have little motorbikes to zip down sois with. But, seeing as I am far too chicken/know myself well enough, I don’t drive bikes, and since the traffic here scares the crap out of me, I won’t ride a bicycle either. Every now and then I long to be able to just grab keys and hop in a car and go explore.

There are so many little towns and villages and places around Chiang Mai that I have yet to tackle largely because transportation isn’t easy. Sure, I could take a songthaew, but I love to look out the windows and see life whirl by.

A good haircut

I was a hair snob in my former life. Hair. Snob. Every six weeks, I’d go and get my split ends trimmed, my roots touched up. Here? No. Way. I’ve gotten my hair cut four times since I became an expat. The first was a simple bang job, which resulted in a thick splay of bangs running parallel across my face. The second in Cambodia where I chopped it off and ended up with a mushroom head; the third was to fix that; the fourth was at an expensive more Western salon in Bangkok, which took off inches (at my request). However, when I returned to the States in September, my go-to stylist wanted to take a “before” photo to show me just how wrecked the cut actually was.

Clean feet

Living in a jungle climate has it advantages. The weather (except in the winter for a few brief weeks) is always warm/hot which means most days make me smile. It’s all wonderful — except my feet. My poor, poor feet. Because of the heat, wearing shoes and socks is normally a big, fat no. Therefore, I wear Crocs (yes, Crocs) or flip flops. The result? A constant layer of black on my feet. Dirty feet, that even a pedicure cannot fix. Although, trust me, I try.

Diverse weather

I live in the jungle. We get cold (on occasion), hot and rainy. When I get to wear long sleeves here, I relish it. I look on Facebook at feeds of those living in America or Europe and get a tinge of homesickness when I see people bundled up in the winter … wearing light airy clothing in the spring …

Men

Being a western girl in an Asian world is not easy. The Asian men normally don’t look twice, the western men are interested in the Asian women. Where does that leave me? Perpetually single and most likely, rolling my eyes at the ridiculous antics I am witness here on a daily basis. More about this coming soon. So, for now you’ve got a teaser.

Are you an expat? What do you miss about life as a non-expat? Be sure to leave your comment below!

 

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

The truth about expat friends

“You’re my best friend,” he says to me in a drunken slur on New Year’s Eve. “Really, you are.”

I stand there, with the red brick stupa glowing gold in the night. What do I say?

“Really? I don’t think so.”

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Never an easy thing to admit to someone whom you thought was one of your closest friends. And, certainly never the thing to admit to the person who is saying how they feel about you.

But, the truth is this — I’m no one’s best friend here. I don’t have a best friend here. I’m lucky to have a small core of people whom I love and adore, but if you took me out of the equation in their lives, it would be a minimal loss.

Why?

Because that is the way friendships as an expat in Chiang Mai go.

People come. People go. People swear up and down they will be friends with you forever. Then, they pack their bags and head to a far off land and you have fleeting conversations courtesy of Facebook Messenger. Moments of seeing their faces thanks to Skype or FaceTime or whatever-the-app-of-the-day is.

It used to really bother me. Like, devastate me, when people left. People I had grown so accustomed to having in my life. People I thought I could not  not have in my life.

But, you know what? I can. I do. Sure, it takes a few days to get over the initial sting of changing a routine, of knowing I can’t pick up the phone and call them because their SIM card is now a different country code, but I move on. And, so do they.

Friendships here are odd. There is a community I have found here. A community of people of all ages, with all different desires, doing all different things. I used to love it. I used to relish nights spent having cheap beer in the sticky night air. And then, I fell out of love with it.

Why?

It’s a rat race of a different sort. Expats in Chiang Mai (and yes, I am being quite sweeping and general) are clawing for something. They just don’t know what. Some come here to teach. Some come here to be digital nomads. Some come here because their lives were shit where they used to live and they need something — anything — to give their lives some sort of meaning. To fill some sort of void, even though they aren’t sure what that void is.

Up until now, I have rolled over. I have played the part of a submissive dog and let anyone come and scratch my belly because it felt better than curling up alone. I’ve sacrificed what I have wanted because others did not want it. In a city that is as charming as it is toxic, I have skipped moments, things I have desired, because others did not feel the same pulse, the same electricity, the same things calling to them that were calling to me.

I have been taken advantage of. I have been used. I was that shitty tattered doormat, that person in an abusive relationship that kept coming back for more. And, it is all my fault.

“D, I don’t like it when friends take advantage of you,” my friend says to me across the bar.

I stop sipping my Leo and look at him.

“What do you mean?” I ask, because I am blind.

“We are all friends, and to treat you like that, to blow you off … that isn’t the way you treat people.”

I freeze.

When he says I am being taken advantage of and I don’t deserve it, it hurts more than I imagine.

Friends don’t do that. Friends … real friends … no matter where in the world they are … don’t treat you like you don’t matter. That you are expendable. And yet, here I am, sitting in Chiang Mai, thinking I have so many close friends, and they aren’t really. We are all in this together, only it is every man/woman for his or herself.

So, today starts something new. Today starts boundaries. To not just rolling over and letting people treat me like I don’t matter. That what I want isn’t as important as what they want.

It isn’t easy, but it is about not being complacent. It’s about getting out of my comfort zone. And, that is totally ok with me.

Disclaimer: To my expat friends reading this, this is not an attack on you. If you are reading this, then you know me well enough to know I love you with all of my heart. 

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

‘Tis the Season … sort of

Twinkling lights adorning homes. Nativity scenes. Malls overloaded with garland, Santa and merriment.

That’s how I recall the holiday season in America. Nothing short of sensory overload to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”

But, the holidays in Chiang Mai? It’s an entirely different story.

Christmas Eve in Chiang Mai

There’s no snow. There’s no Santa. And, there’s definitely not a sense of an impending holiday season where we can expect to deck the halls. In fact, the only semi-holiday thing I am gifted with is a cold front that chills my jungle blood.

It’s almost easy to forget it is the holiday season, except for the barrage of Facebook posts filling my feed, displaying photos of families smiling, Christmas trees, food (oh, the food), and the seasonal sentiments.

This year as an expat in Thailand, the holiday season was hard for me. Sure, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but oddly enough, it was the one thing I craved this year. To be with family. To see homes decked out in blinking, colorful lights. To walk through a mall under an assault of commercial holiday cheer.

Thanksgiving

“I miss you,” I say over Skype to my parents, shrouded in darkness Thanksgiving Eve in Delaware. Here, it’s Thanksgiving, and there is nothing to honor it. I am at work, not with my family, for the first time ever. I don’t expect to be as emotional about it as I am, but something that Thanksgiving morning pinched me.

I want to be home. I want to be snuggled on a couch, watching football, scarfing down green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. I want to wake up to and see the bare trees and the rays of the cold winter sun jutting through. I want that comfort.

I wipe the tears from my eyes because suddenly, I am crying. I am longing for a hug from my parents. For them to just be in a room with me, instead of half-way around the world.

When I disconnect, I walk back into the office and try to shake the lonely that has wrapped its gray tentacles around me. I remind myself tonight I am getting together with friends for sushi and then going to see a movie.

“I’m starting a new tradition,” I had proudly announced to my potpourri of expat friends earlier in the month. “I can’t be with my family for Thanksgiving, so I’m starting something new with my family here.”

The best laid plans.

People get sick. People bail. Quickly, it’s me and a Leo sitting outside at a bar watching the tuk tuks putter by and the stray dogs bound up and down the pocked street.

This is not how I imagined Thanksgiving to be.

A friend comes and joins my gloom and I convince him to meet me and another friend at the movies. At least I can have a little bit of America tonight. We head to see “Catching Fire” and for a brief moment, I feel like I am back in the States, enjoying a movie.

The next week, I head to the western supermarket to buy some stuffing … just to give me a quick Thanksgiving fix. Of course, it’s terrible and I shovel two spoonfuls in my mouth before announcing it a bust and trading it for a glass of red wine with friends.

Then, Christmas happens.

Falalalala

I return from work one day to find my patio has a new addition — a strand of Christmas lights draped across the windows. Set against the jungle setting, it gives me that little tinge of home and delights me more than I expect.

Christmas lights! In Chiang Mai! Joy to the world!

Just to have that little strand of color, that little flash of America, on my patio instantly makes me feel more at home. Suddenly, Christmas is about celebrating life here. It is about accepting I am not with my family, my old friends, but with a new and beautiful life. Unlike Thanksgiving, I tell Lonely to fuck off and go Christmas Crazy.

Yes, as a Jew. Who has never once celebrated Christmas.

The week before Christmas, I turn on my Apple TV and put on a Christmas mix courtesy of iTunes Radio. I listen to it for hours as I sit outside and type. I don’t know what has gotten into me, but it makes me so stupidly happy.

Christmas in Thailand

I’ve got Christmas Fever and now I want to infect everyone with my special little virus.

It gets bad. Like, real bad.

The days before Christmas, all I can sing are Christmas songs. I have a stupid holiday smile on my face and an “I love you, man” attitude. Towards everyone. I decide Christmas Eve is all about the Eggnog. And Christmas? Hell, it’s a party with my closest at my friend’s establishment, Little Bar, on Loi Kroh.

On Christmas Eve, I invite over some Americans and we all sit outside, sipping eggnog as Christmas music blasts from my television. On Christmas  morning, I call my best friend in Vegas. Every Christmas in Vegas was spent at his house, with his family. When he picks up the FaceTime call and I see him in a car with his family, the tears start again. But, it isn’t because I am sad. It is because I am happy. I’m happy to have those memories. I’m happy to see his face, his family’s faces. I miss them, but I don’t miss that life. And, when I hang up the phone, I linger over that thought.

Thailand's version of Christmas

At night, I head to Little Bar and party. All of the ladyboys and ladies on the street have donned their best and sexiest Santa and elf attire. Barbecues sprout up on the uneven sidewalks. Carols fill the crisp night air.

It’s a Thailand Christmas.

And, I love it.

While I did learn I can’t do Thanksgiving as an expat next year, I can certainly do Christmas. It’s now my second favorite holiday, thanks to friends and my life in Chiang Mai. Even as an expat, I can get some good ol’ American cheer.

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

The elephants of Instagram

A round-up of dtravelsround.com's favorite elephant photos on Instagram.

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I often get asked what my life is like as an expat in Thailand. But, more than anything else, I get asked what my experiences with elephants entail.

So, what is it like?

Well, for starters, I don’t spend every day with them. I’m not that lucky. I get up to Elephant Nature Park about once a week or so. When I am there, I am normally escorting people through the park, working with the staff to show them the gorgeous herd of 36 elephants.

And, I take a lot (and I mean A LOT) of photos.

Back to the question: what’s it like?

Amazing. Incredible. Awe-inspiring. Beautiful. Peaceful. I could go on, but instead, I would rather show you.

To make it super easy, I compiled a list of my favorite photos I’ve taken and shared on Instagram for your enjoyment. I hope you can get a sense for the happiness of the elephants at ENP and can consider responsible tourism options should you find yourself in my neck of the woods.

For more elephant Instagram goodness, be sure to follow the eles (and me) on my Instagram.

#1. Mintra, Yin Dee and Malai Tong

This is my all-time favorite photo. I love it because it shows a family unit that wasn’t a family until the birth of Yin Dee. The son of Mintra, this little guy is special, mostly because experts at the park didn’t think Mintra would ever be able to give birth to a calf, thanks to her injuries from her previous life. Once he was born, Malai Tong, a victim of a land mine, joined the little herd and is now one of his aunties.

#2. A young Navann explores

Born in late October 2012 (I was there for his birth, which was greeted by trumpets, trunk slaps and elephant chatter), Navann spent his beginning months in a special enclosure to ensure his safety until he got big enough to get out and run around the park. During his time with his mom, Sri Prae (another land mine victim), he was photographed pretty much all of the time. I loved taking his picture. He would always play games with the photographers, hamming it up. Navann would spot someone taking a photo, let out a little grunt from his trunk, and then bound towards the lens.

#3. Lucky meets the family herd

Following a long journey from the Surin province in Thailand, Lucky’s first steps to freedom at ENP treated her to an introduction with the family herd. The former circus elephant showed no shyness and immediately got comfortable with the park’s largest group of elephants. Here, she gets to know Chang Yim, who, at 4-1/2-years-old is quite the cheeky boy.

#4. Chang Yim says “hi”

Speaking of the naughty boy, whenever I am near Chang Yim, I always look for a barrier between us. This afternoon, I was standing on the platform when he came by for some snacks. It’s the first (and only) time I have ever fed him.

#5. Girls just want to have fun

Mintra, who recently gave birth to Yin Dee, likes to have a good time. One of the most social at the park (and, apparently, who I would be if I was an elephant), we came upon her one day when she was playing with a rope. For about 10 minutes, she would throw it on her body and tug at it. Finally, she lost interest and went back to the company of her best friend, the crotchety Jampaa.

#6. The crunch

Medo was one of the first elephants I fell in love with when I volunteered with ENP in Sept. 2011. Her story broke my heart. She had broken her ankle in illegal logging, and then her back was broken when a bull aggressively mounted her in forced breeding. It took Lek five months to rescue this 30-year-old girl. On this day, I was with her and some VIP guests as she crunched down on some watermelon. There is nothing sweeter than the sound of an elephant chomping on a snack.

#7. Grazing with the family herd

Most times I go to the park, I am fortunate enough to get out in the field and be a part of the family herd. These afternoons are some of my most favorite memories of my life. Being able to sit with them and watch them as they enjoy their freedom is so uplifting. It makes me so very grateful for the life I have in Thailand.

#8. Yin Dee strikes a pose

The youngest of the babies at the park, Yin Dee is nearly as big a ham as the older boy, Navann.

#9. The human/elephant relationship

The darling of the park, Faa Mai, is one of the sweetest and most gentle elephants. She has spent an extraordinary amount of time with Lek and the two have formed a gorgeous relationship of mother/daughter. Faa Mai loves to put Lek under her front legs and stick her trunk up to Lek’s face to talk with her. It truly is one of the most surreal and gorgeous things to see Lek and Faa Mai together. In this photo, Faa Mai’s sister, Tong Jann, joined in the love fest.

#10. Jungle love

Thanks to recent donations, the park was able to purchase some additional land across the street from the main area. It is jungle, and elephants are taken up here regularly. Here, Medo, made the trek up the hill to spend some time in the leafy wilderness.

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A #happy #elephant in the #jungle

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For more elephant photos like this, and photos of my life in Chiang Mai and travels,  be sure to follow along on Instagram. And for more elephant goodness, check out Save Elephant Foundation’s Facebook page. Trust me. It’s packed with more pachyderm awesome than you could imagine.

Which is your favorite photo?

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