We’re now up to Thursday the 12th. Breakfast at The Larder again, on the principal that it was likely to be the last time I’d be there for a while, then back to the hotel, do internet stuff, meditate, and then start packing. I got everything packed up by 11:30, checked out far faster than I was expecting, and basically twiddled my thumbs until a little after 12:00 when Theera picked me up.
(At least, I think Theera picked me up. It might have been Thira. This has confused me for some time. He signs his e-mails Theera, so that’s how I address him in them, but his label for his e-mail address spells his name “thira chotkasidis”. When he eventually gave me a business card, it was “Theera”, so I’m just going to ignore the other one.)
Theera runs a real estate company called Chiang Mai Habitat, and has been there for about 30 years. If you go to that website, be aware of 3 things:
- Prices are in Baht, and the exchange rate is currently about 32 Baht to the dollar. So, if the rent is 25,000 baht, that’s about $800/month (a bit pricey for the area, but not yet at the peak).
- Apartment/home living space measurement is in square meters; multiply by 10 to get approximate square feet.
- If you find the website downloading slowly, do not adjust your set. This site had the slowest download speed of any of the agencies I looked into, and when you add in my hotel’s horrible download speed, I often couldn’t see any more than the text, the initial picture and the thumbnails. Super frustrating.
Generally speaking, rental prices tell you 2 things: how large the place is and how close is it to someone that *I* want to be. Which was mostly the western, Nimman area near my hotel. So, I could get a pretty sweet 2 bedroom house in a complex with a lake and beautiful furnishings for 15,000 baht/month (under $500/month), and drive 25 minutes to get into the city. Or I could get a pretty sweet one bedroom condo in Nimman for 25-30,000 baht ($800-$1K/month). I know me: if I have to drive, I won’t be going often. So I was resigning myself to paying more to stay close.
Damien lives in the Pong Noi area, just a little south of that Wat Umong temple I’d been to the day before, and I was looking for something from that point in the southwest area, heading north to maybe a few blocks north of the University, which would keep me in walking distance of the Nimman area that I’ve been in. Damien had recommended Theera, as the guy who’d helped him get located, and I’d sent Theera the relevant data (west side, upper limit of 25K/month, has or can install great internet) plus a list of places on his site that I was interested in.
He picked me up in his car after I checked out (with my trekking pack now loaded into his back seat) and we started looking. I’m not sure which to talk about first: Theera, or the rental search. How about this: I’ll try to summarize the search, and then mention more general stuff about the overall process:
1) Small two bedroom cottage near Wat Umong, in a small complex of other buildings. Recently built, landscaping still going on. AC in bedrooms, but not in house as a whole, and only a screen door on the kitchen so that any AC you used to cool the whole house wouldn’t stay in. Upsides: cheap (15K baht?), location, pretty natural setting, lots of trees, fully equipped kitchen. Downsides: the AC situation, and big glass windows offering a clear view into my place from the other places up the hill. Don’t you dare step out of the bedroom unclothed! I’d never stop feeling watched. (Here’s a link, if you’re curious.)
2) Large, 3 bedroom, former US ambassadorial house, all old hardwood, garden, covered patio, just barely south of the university and Suthep Road. Upsides: kind of beautiful, really. Worn hardwoods, fantastically carved furniture, huge at about 2500 sqf, would almost have to get roommates just to use the space, sweet little old lady owner. Downsides: No AC, just fans. Right next to campus housing, so assume loud students late at night. It felt worn, and on a less than ideal block, didn’t have great energy. (Link.)
3) Doesn’t matter. We walked up to the house and the neighbor’s barking dogs were going absolutely berserk about something. Nope, nope, and… nope. (Link.)
4) A fairly large 3 bedroom place, with construction just finishing, 25K baht, on the west side but way south of the city. He said, “Let me just show you this one,” so I said, Ok, but it was way out there. Upsides: my gods, it was gorgeous, all tile and hardwoods and right on a riverbank/canal next to what would have been a small waterfall in the wet seasons, and nature everywhere. AC in every room, great kitchen. It was wonderful, just where you’d like to live if you wanted to be in a peaceful setting. Downsides: just too far out. I can’t. I’d never see anyone; that’s a risk enough as it is.
5) A 2 bedroom townhome closer to where my hotel was; nice enough I guess, about 15K, but right on a fairly busy side street.
I think that’s all we saw that day. (Aside from a place that we went to but never went inside because it turned out it was already rented.) It was a day of “shopper’s syndrome”, where you’re looking for something that fits certain general parameters, and everything you look at has pluses but then the minuses overwhelm them, and you after a while you start wondering if it’s not them it’s you, and you start apologizing to the agent for making his life difficult. As if all this isn’t part of his natural function. But then you add that you’ve just moved to a 3rd world country (advancing, but still literally 3rd world), and you start feeling like you’re being super unreasonable expecting something “perfect”. But I just couldn’t, not any of the places we’d seen so far.
There were two bright spots in this search. One was that Theera pulled into a gas station and I got to see how that works here, good for future reference when I get my motorbike. (Spoilers: I got it. More on that later.) It’s like it used to be in the US: you pull up to a pump, go give the attendant some cash, then fill until you hit the limit that the attendant set based on what you gave him. I assume if you didn’t use it all, you can get change. Gas is super cheap, about $1/gallon. Explains why there’s so much traffic in this city.
The second bright spot was that Theera was a delightful person, friendly, knowledgeable about the area, spoke very good English, knew everybody. (“My friend owns this place.” “I’ve known the owner for 20 years.” etc.) Apparently, in Chiang Mai, a broker is a full service entity: he’d have help me get a local cell phone if it would help. I don’t know if help beyond what you need to get set up — renting, arranging payment, installing internet, etc — is a common service, but Theera constantly offered to help out with things, give me lifts to places, etc. A really delightful person. And more responsive to e-mails than any of the other agents I’d contacted; he’d get right back to me any time I sent something.
I was getting a bit worried about the possibility that another place I’d inquired about with someone else, before our day together, might become available. It was a pretty ideal condo in a great location, but they weren’t getting back to me. If they had, I might have accepted and then felt super bad about Theera wasting his time.
Theera dropped me off at my new hotel, near one of the last places we looked at. I mentioned this place before: the Sang Serene House. It was northwest of the Nimman area, and about a 25 minute walk from the northwest corner of that, down the busy Canal Road (which had a sidewalk on one side, thankfully). The room was nice enough, on the ground floor and with a view of a neighboring wall across from the patio, but the grounds were negligible — I’d thought it was a little more resorty from the pictures I’d seen. However, the worst part was that I’d booked this out of the way place on the strength of Travelocity mentioning “Complimentary WiFi and wired internet”. WIRED internet, yes? Meh, it turns out, not exactly. WiFi in the rooms, and computers you can use in the lobby with wired internet.
My disappointment, on top of the days rather tiring search, and being hungry for dinner and no restaurants near this place, was considerable. This place’s WiFi is *barely* better than the last place’s WiFi. I soon discovered that, first thing in the morning, I might get 3.5 Mbps down, 0.85 Mbps up. Other times, it can drop to 1.1/0.25. Once more, I’m lucky if I can log into ESO to pick up in-game mail, much less play. I was so bummed; I’d signed up for this place for 2 weeks, on the strength of having a better connection. Now, I had a nearly as bad a connection and was away from everything useful!
It was around 5:00 by that time, and I knew that I needed to stop thinking about this and just go get food. So I pulled up Google maps, and started walking down to Nimman, the Focus Gallery which (if you recall from nigh 2 weeks before) had taken forever to bring me food but at least it had been decent food. At least it was a known quantity, and everything else was further away. So I started walking. 20 yards past the hotel (which sits at a quiet dead end in the road), is a neighbor’s house with 3 dogs. They’re not big, but they certainly act aggressive, barking and moving forward, and I was ready to follow advice I’d read years ago and pull off my belt to use as a weapon, but they seemed too uncertain of me to push in and then I was past them. I continued walking to the restaurant — crossing the Canal Road was a bit hair raising (2-3 lanes each side, with barrier divider except at intersections, and pretty fast moving) — and when I finally got there, the wait for food this time was a bit long but not horrendous. I had a mushroom omelet, which turned out to come with rather a lot of food, and a better orange juice (if you order the wrong OJ item, as I seem to have done last time, it comes in what is nearly a demitasse; I don’t know what that’s meant to be), and they had a good WiFi code this time. So, a much better experience than last time. Then I walked the 25 minutes back in the early night (sunset’s at 6:24 here, now), had a briefly stressful repeat of the dog experience in the last block, showered, and watched Youtube until bed.
That evening Theera had sent e-mails suggesting other places we might see, and by morning I’d agreed to meet him at 10am. Unfortunately, the other realtor had gotten back to me about the condo I mentioned before; I’d followed up with a couple of questions, but was thinking this place might be ideal, especially since Theera hadn’t found anything I liked. I was waiting for the other realtor to reply, and hadn’t heard back.
Friday morning, I hadn’t yet learned that the WiFi wasn’t good enough to play ESO, since I’d been able to log in and get mail the night before. (The latency had been bad, but maybe not impossible for playing?) I had planned to wake up early and play ESO with Mom and Sarah, using the “great” WiFi I was expecting to have, and at this point I thought that maybe I still could. So I think I woke up at around 5:30, intending to prep and be ready for 7am game time (4pm on the West Coast). The first thing I discovered was large ants (and a few slightly smaller ones) in the bathroom, crawling out of the overflow drain in the sink. There were a few in the bowl, and only half a dozen had made it out onto the bathroom floor. I apologized for my lethal rudeness as I ran a small flood of water down the sink, and then I carefully captured the others and took them out to the patio. Then I had a shower (no ants in the shower).
I went to log on, and the userid/password that they’d given me for the internet didn’t work. No WiFi at all, and the front desk of this place is closed between 6pm and 9am. This was maddening! I sent Mom and Sarah aggravated and apologetic texts, and started looking for breakfast instead.
I figured that, with breakfast places opening late, I wouldn’t be eating for a while, so I shook out some more cashews (not many left in the bag now) and chewed and swallowed them. Then I noticed a couple of very tiny ants on my hand… the cashew bag was full of them, and I must assume that I ate a few with the cashews. Honestly, it’s a good thing no one was around, I was about ready to flip. I hunted, and found that the tiny ants were coming from the wood paneling near where the cashews had been (they were now thrown out in a hallway trash can). That was it, I was moving.
But clearly not until after 9am, when the front office opened. I remembered that Cafes 4 Nomads had mentioned a place near here, and I found it: Coffee Monster. A great rating for internet, and it opened at 6:00, which it nearly was now! I grabbed my stuff, started walking, had another confrontation with the dogs (who were drawing closer now), and maybe 12 minutes later I was there. Sadly, I was the only one; the place wasn’t open, despite it saying on the front that they opened at 6, and the time being about 6:20. But I could see a light inside, so I waited. Apparently, the light was just a light, because after about 5 minutes a youngish Thai guy pulls up, we exchange hellos, and he opens up. I ordered an American Breakfast (I swear these things are everywhere), and coffee in my Thermos mug, and settled down at a table.
This place is designed for digital people to come and eat and work remotely. The WiFi is great, there are all sorts of weird chairs and working spaces, and a fountain pond and a hammock and pingpong and pool tables. The breakfast was good (real sausage! Not just hot dogs! And bacon and eggs and tomatoes, and toast (well, faintly toasted white bread) and kidney beans), and the coffee was good but wasn’t any more than a normal coffee cup would hold, faintly visible at the bottom of my oversized mug. (This Americano style instead of drip is doing no one any favors.)
I went back to the hotel a little before 9, started hunting for a new place, found a possible one much closer in (couldn’t guess about internet quality) but held off reserving a room, and then went to see the receptionist. The college age girl spoke a little English, and was surprised by the ants and even more surprised that I wasn’t interested in staying after someone sprayed for ants. Eventually, she called her boss on the phone — no one was sure how Travelocity would treat my leaving early and she could give no assurances on that score — and after some discussion, she offered me a corner room on the second floor. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed; it wouldn’t fix the WiFi, but at least it would handle the ants. The room still needed cleaning from the prior tenant, but she assured me that if I came back it would be ready.
Theera came to pick me up at 10am, and showed me a couple of other townhomes that didn’t win me over. Then he took me to a house just being completed that was very close to my ideal area, had 3 bedrooms and a garden, was on at a corner bend of a largely untraveled side street, AC in every room, hardwood floors, a view of the mountains over some undeveloped fields, in an area with a bunch of similar houses all owned by the same guy and rented by Theera. It was perfect, the first place that I’d actually felt solidly good about. 25K baht, the limit of my comfort zone, but Ok. I was ready to say “Yes!”
Theera had made arrangements to see one more place, and we had an appointment there for 2:00. I was inclined to say never mind, but he thought I should at least see it, just in case. At this point, it was barely 11:00, so we arranged for him to drop me off at a Kasikorn Bank branch in Nimman so I could set up a local bank account to pay the rent with. We’d have our lunches, and then he’d meet me back there at 1:30 and we’d go to the last place.
Here is where it all falls apart.