Escape to Chiang Mai

A couple of friends told us about a programme on U.K. tv based on the film ‘The best exotic marigold hotel’ about a group of retirees who go to India, it’s a great film. The television programme, a spin off of the film, has a group of celebrity retirees who go to different cities to check out how it would be to live and retire there. The reason I am mentioning this is because they have just filmed in Chiang Mai. We downloaded the programme and watched it a couple of nights ago. They filmed at Worrorot market, ate lots of food, had a health check with different Thai style treatments and went on a Buddhist retreat for a day. The 2 ladies who went on the ‘silent retreat’ never stopped talking and I found myself (all mindfulness training out of the window) shouting shut the f*** up very loudly at the TV. Even the monk in charge looked brassed off, grrr. Anyway rant over, they went to a market, bought a few catfish (alive) and went to a local temple called Wat U Mong just out of the city. To a Buddhist, releasing an animal back to the wild is an honourable thing to do and earns merit.

Anyhow, we were out and about on the bikes heading for Wat U Mong as we decided it looked lovely with a big lake and we had never been before. We stopped at a little local market showing our friend Andy around and buying some ice cold coconut water and snacks to take with us on our day out when we noticed a woman with a big bowl full of catfish and decided we would also earn some merit and good luck. We asked if we could buy one and had to quickly say ‘alive’ before she dispatched it. She laughed a lot and spoke to other stall holders and they all had a good chuckle and gathered round. This is obviously where they marigold hotel group had bought theirs. After much splashing the now named Colin the catfish was in the bag with a little water heading off to the Wat. It was less than 10 minutes to the Wat and we parked the bikes and headed for the lake to the exact spot where the other fish had been released. We left him in the bag a little while longer to acclimatise him to the lake temperature and let him go. He wasn’t keen at first and kept swimming back, we thought he might be hungry so found rice left for the pigeons and threw it at him which he gratefully munched. We all felt quite good about the whole thing. As we walked round the lake we noticed lots of enormous catfish and hoped that Colin wasn’t going to be lunch for something else………he was only little.

Wat U Mong is really different to most temples. It is a unique 14th century temple built into the side of Suthep mountain and is a series of underground tunnels in a forest. It is magical and quite unlike anything I have seen here. In some of the enclaves, in the tunnels, are Buddha statues and on the ceilings are early paintings of elephants and temples There is a monastery and many monks live around the grounds surrounding the lake. There is a meditation retreat centre and on a Sunday, in English, you can talk to the monks, monk chat, and have discussions about Buddhism. As well as huge catfish in the lake there are enormous turtles which are supposed to be good luck if you spot them, we saw loads. Feeling lucky.

This brings me to a story told to me by a friend David who lives and runs a guesthouse in CM. David’s brother was visiting him and had taken his dogs out for an early morning walk by the river. He had seen a fisherman about to kill and use as bait a turtle, so had bought it off him to save its life. He excitedly rang his brother and told him he had a turtle and where could they let it go. David suggested the big moat which runs round the city. They got to the moat and with due ceremony they dropped the turtle into the moat and it sank never to resurface. The words for turtles and tortoises in Thai, land turtle and water turtle, are the same and sadly this was a land turtle (tortoise) who couldn’t swim. Whoops. Good intentions, language breakdown.

Many people retire here. The climate is perfect, it’s cheap to live here and the people are friendly. To get a retirement visa here you need about £1000 a month coming in or £20000 in the Bank and you need to renew every year, it costs £44. There is a 5 year multiple entry retirement visa which will save people having to renew every year and costs £11000, expensive, and more for wealthy retirees who can’t be bothered to renew If you want to come for a shorter time a 30 day visa works which you get on arrival, no charge for 30 days. A 60 day visa costs £35 which you apply for from the U.K. You can renew once at the immigration office for about £30 and it gives you another 30 days. If you leave the country for a few days, you get 30 days when you come back in on a waiver visa. There are lots of options depending on how long you want to stay.

It is cheap to live here if you live like a local. It gets expensive if you want to drink lots of alcohol and eat western food. Condos can be expensive £400-500 a month when they have gym’s and pools but if you look around you can find fabulous accommodation for £150 a month plus water and electric. If you can resist the air con you can save money. The money you save not being in a posh condo buys you a gym membership and lots of days out and all your food. Entertainment can be reasonable. The cinema on a Wednesday is 100 baht (£2.25) and more high tech than our new local cinema at home, reclining seats and very plush. We have seen every new Star Wars film on the day of release. To compensate for seeing Star Wars, I make Chris watch Disney films with singing animals, the more the merrier, brilliant!!! There is plenty of live music in bars, for free. Lots to do. If you want to meet ex pats there are lots of groups that meet and play bridge, go fishing and lots of different activities just like at home. Not for us really we would rather meet and chat to locals.

Tomorrow we are leaving for Krabi and the islands. Chris wants to see the James Bond island and the unusual rock formations in the sea. We are also hoping to see dudongs which are similar to manatees on one of the smaller remote National Park islands. I am looking forward to swimming, reading and just chillin……..

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