Kuba and I wanted to visit Thailand to scope it out because we were considering moving there this summer. In the fruit vegan community, people speak about Thailand as though it’s a magical place full of fresh fruit and sunshine, and Chiang Mai is THE place where one can live as a vegan in a tropical paradise for very cheap.
So of course we were interested in moving to Thailand! The fact that you can rent flats (or live out of hotel rooms) for cheap is alluring, in addition to the abundance of affordable fruit.
We spent the majority of the three weeks in Chiang Mai with only two days in Bangkok. First I’ll go into the things we liked about Thailand and then I’ll explain why we’ve decided that we don’t want to live in Thailand long-term and where we are moving to instead.
What we liked about Thailand
We found accommodations for decent prices though we should have booked them in advance. We stayed in four different hotels in Chiang Mai. The prices per night ranged from $6 to $25, though the $6 per night hotel was terrible so we ended up booking a second hotel on top of it for three nights (one for $25 per night) and it was much nicer. Including our hotels in Bangkok (for the two nights we spent there), we only spent $365 on accommodation for 3 weeks.
Granted, we would have been able to find something for cheaper if we had booked our rooms in advance, but nearly everyone we spoke to about Thailand advised us to just wait until we arrived. The problem with waiting until we arrived was that we were travelling to Chiang Mai during a peak time (New Years weekend) so everything was booked up already.
Healthy vegan options when eating out.
This was my favourite part of our trip to Thailand. We were able to eat out often, usually twice per day without breaking the bank. Usually, we’d spend between $11 – $28 a day on eating out. That isn’t much for two people, especially when we’d order anything and everything we wanted on the menu! Our typical meal of two papaya salads, three sides of rice, Thai tea, and water cost around $8 for the entire meal, just to give you some perspective.
The best part about eating out like this was that we had so many healthy vegan options to choose from. Kuba and I have never eaten out together in the UK because you simply can’t find healthy high carb low fat options in restaurants or cafes here (at least none worth the expensive cost). Our meals in Thailand included fresh veggies, fruit, and rice or rice noodles. Yum!
The fruit (was okay).
We assumed the fruit in Thailand would blow us away. I liked the passionfruit and bananas there, and Kuba LOVED the mangoes, but we didn’t care too much for the watermelon or other fruits. I was so disappointed in the watermelon! The mediocre fruit is one of the reasons why we ate out so much. We did visit Thailand in the winter so obviously, the fruit situation would be different in the summer months, but none of the fruit spoke to me in the same way that fruit spoke to me when I was in Spain, Slovenia, or Croatia.
The fruit markets didn’t impress me either. I’d rather shop at the markets in Ljubljana or Zagreb, to be honest!
And the hot, sunny weather!
And now, why we don’t want to live in Thailand long-term:
Intense air pollution!
The smog was so thick! It covered the city in a haze. When we first arrived in Bangkok, we wondered why so many people wore masks, then we realised these masks are necessary if you want to minimise the amount of exhaust you breathe in! At the end of the day, my skin was covered with a thin film of grime from all of it floating around in the air. It was absolutely disgusting.
Air pollution of this magnitude is a deal breaker for me. Even if the fruit were stellar, we still couldn’t live in Thailand long term because breathing heavily polluted air like this for a long period of time isn’t healthy. We didn’t even think about air pollution being a determining factor when it comes to travel…but now I know it’s something we need to consider in the future.
Lack of waste management.
Rubbish bins are difficult if not impossible to find in public. People just leave bags of rubbish anywhere they please. There’s rubbish laying around everywhere and the city isn’t clean at all. And of course, there’s no recycling. I can’t live in a place where waste management isn’t taken seriously, no matter how cheap the accommodations are.
Not being able to use the tap water.
You can’t drink the tap water because of waterborne parasites, so we had to drink and brush our teeth with bottled water only. This got old real quick. Not only is not being able to drink or cook with tap water annoying, it’s wasteful because we’d end up using so many plastic water bottles and containers. If I have the option of living in a country where I can drink the tap water without getting terribly sick, that’s what I’ll choose.
Also, in most of the hotels we stayed at, we weren’t able to flush toilet paper because the plumbing couldn’t handle it. Keeping soiled toilet paper in a bin in our room doesn’t work for me.
The cities aren’t pedestrian friendly.
The sidewalks in the Chiang Mai are tiny, taken over by food stalls and scooters, crumbling apart or non-existent. Instead, the city is scooter friendly. Chiang Mai doesn’t have a pedestrian-only area, so it doesn’t matter where you go, scooters and tuk-tuks are right behind you.
The traffic is insane! Roads have lanes but these are only suggestions. We found a few pedestrian street crossing signals but again, these were only suggestions. The only way to cross the street is to just cross in front of traffic and hope they slow down. And all this traffic creates lots of noise. Luckily, our last hotel in Chiang Mai was in a quieter part of the city so we were able to get some rest.
We were able to handle these things for a few weeks because of all the pros of visiting Thailand (namely the amazing vegan Thai food and hot weather!). But by the end of the trip, I was SO READY to return to the UK. We could have cut the trip short by a week and I would have been fine with that. I’m not sure how anyone could live in Chiang Mai for months…we met some people who regularly live there for five months at a time!
We were only in Bangkok for two days but we have no desire to explore it further. Chiang Mai is nice and more chill than Bangkok for sure, but it’s just another tourist city to me and not a very pleasant one at that. It only had one small park in the south-west corner of the city (and no surprise, it was always busy!). We did do one day trip outside the city which was fun, but I still wouldn’t want to live in rural Thailand because of the water and rubbish situation. I’d assume the air would be cleaner, though.
If we had to visit Thailand again, we’d probably stick to the islands because the air would be cleaner. I’m not so sure the rubbish or water situations would be any better. Or we could visit Chiang Mai again for a week or so, just to have another eating out holiday. (I really do love Thai food!)
I’m still glad we visited Thailand this time because now we know it isn’t for us. We still had fun, ate loads of delicious food, and had the chance to meet up with some friends I met during my 6-month trip around Europe. And for a three week holiday in a country on the other side of the globe, we didn’t spend that much either. Money well spent!
Since Thailand is off the table, we are moving to Torremolinos, Spain in June. We’ll be there for three months and then we’re off to Zagreb, Croatia. We already sorted our accommodations and flights. I’m so excited to travel the world with Kuba by my side! This summer will be way more fun than last summer when I travelled around Europe by myself. Can’t wait!