Overeating in Pai, Part 2: Savory Eats

This is my third post about our recent 3-night trip up to Pai, a slow little mountain town that’s popular with the backpacker crowd and tourists seeking relaxation.  Like I said in my previous post about cakes, pies and coffees in Pai, about the only thing to do in Pai is eat!  I don’t want you to think we only ate sweets and drank coffee while we were in Pai – we had some savory Thai food too!

Our favorite spot in Pai was Charlie and Lek’s, a great little restaurant that also has cooking classes.  We found a dish there that we haven’t seen anywhere else in Thailand – Pad Thai made with shaved green papaya instead of noodles!  If pad thai and som tam got together and had a love child, it would be Green Papaya Pad Thai.  IT WAS SO GOOD, as shown by Kevin’s face in the photo below.

Green Papaya Pad Thai at Charlie & Lek's

Green Papaya Pad Thai at Charlie & Lek’s.  Kevin is bursting with excitement for this food.  Naturally, we returned three days in a row to get this dish.

Red Dragon Fruit Shake and Watermelon + Lime Shake at Charlie & Lek's

A Red Dragonfruit Shake and a Watermelon + Lime Shake at Charlie & Lek’s

Green Papaya Salad at Charlie & Lek's - so so so good.

Close up of the Green Papaya Salad at Charlie & Lek’s – so so so good.

We also enjoyed some delicious Thai food from Na’s Kitchen.  The pad see iew may have been the best we’ve had so far in Thailand.  We also continued our love affair with Som Tam at Na’s – it did not disappoint.

Mango Shake at Na's Kitchen

Mango Shake at Na’s Kitchen

Great Pad See Iew at Na's Kitchen

Great Pad See Iew at Na’s Kitchen

Som Tam on the left, Sticky Rice in the basket on the right, and Pad See Iew in the back.  All for $4.

Som Tam on the left, Sticky Rice in the basket on the right, and Pad See Iew in the back. All for $4.

We splurged and decided to get burgers one night after realizing we hadn’t had any beef for almost 2 months!  We visited Maya’s Burger Queen to satisfy our beef craving.


Maya’s Burger Queen

Hawaiian Burger? Yes please.

Hawaiian Burger? Yes please.

The Hawaiian Burger, check out how big that pineapple slice is.

The Hawaiian Burger, check out how big that pineapple slice is.  Wish the beef patty had been bigger, but it was still super tasty!  And just $3.

Fried Chicken Burger - delicious.

Maya’s Fried Chicken Burger – delicious.

Homemade French Fries

And of course, we got Homemade French Fries

The cheapest meal we had in Pai was at Chew Xin Jai, a Chinese and Thai eatery with vegan and vegetarian food.  You get a plate full of rice with 1 scoop of food for 30 baht, 2 for 35 baht, 3 for 40 baht, or 4 for just 45 baht.  Cheap, filling, and pretty tasty.

Vegetarian food at Chew Xin Jai

Vegetarian food at Chew Xin Jai

No vacation in Thailand would be complete without some street food.  We started at the end of the main road in Pai and ate our way down the street back to our hotel on the last night.  It was fabulous.  Not pictured: an ear of corn on the cob that I scarfed down before we had time to take a photo…

Curry Puffs, 3 for 20 Baht

Curry Puffs, 3 for 20 Baht

We had a chicken BBQ skewer for 20 Baht

We had a chicken BBQ skewer for 20 Baht

We stopped for some Beef Curry and Rice from the Indian Food street vendor for 60 Baht

We stopped for some Beef Curry and Rice from the Indian Food street vendor for 60 Baht

She also had delicious Samosas for just 5 Baht apiece!

She also had delicious Samosas for just 5 Baht apiece!

We capped our street food dinner extravaganza off with a Chang beer at our hotel bar, where we sat and enjoyed some live music.

Chang Beer, what some locals lovingly call "elephant pee"

Chang Beer, what some locals lovingly call “elephant pee”.  WE MISS PACIFIC NORTHWEST MICROBREWS.


We want to hear from you!

What’s the best thing you’ve eaten on your international travels?  My favorite meal is still a cook-your-own-hot-plate meal we ate in a dark alleyway in Hanoi, Vietnam last year. We were sitting on tiny plastic stools at a tiny plastic table in a tiny little alley with motorbikes racing by.  Sometimes it’s more about the surroundings than the food!


Overeating in Pai, Part 1: Cakes, Pies and Coffees

We recently took a little 3-night trip up to Pai, Thailand to get away from the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai.  Pai is a slow little mountain town that’s super popular with the backpacker crowd and tourists seeking relaxation.  There’s not a whole lot to do in Pai other than eat and relax, so we did as much eating as possible.  What could be more appropriate than overeating in a town whose name is pronounced “Pie”, anyway?  Also, writing about your overeating burns off some of those excess calories.  Ok, I may have just made that up, but I’m hoping it’s true.  Here are some snapshots of the tasty cakes, pies and coffees we sampled in Pai.  Stay tuned for a second blog post of all the non-sweets we had in Pai.

Cakes and Pies in Pai

First stop for some sweets was All About Coffee, a fun spot we found through some fellow traveler’s blogs online.

All About Coffee

All About Coffee

Kevin had the Binoffi Pai on the left, which was sort of like a banana cream pie with chocolate drizzle.  I had the Mango Cheese Pie on the right, which was pretty much a cheesecake with mangos on top.  Super delicious, but a bit expensive.

Binoffi Pai and Mango Cheese Pie

Binoffi Pai and Mango Cheese Pie

Next, we learned that Thai folks interpret “Ice Cream Sandwich” concept very literally.  We picked up this concoction below for just 10 Baht. It’s literally an ice cream sandwich – a piece of sandwich bread filled with scoops of coconut ice cream, a scoop of sweet sticky rice, sweet coconut drizzle, and peanuts.

The Infamous Thai-Style Ice Cream Sandwich

The Infamous Thai-Style Ice Cream Sandwich

We also made a visit to the Witching Well restaurant, which we’ve read has delicious cakes and desserts.  Their decor is also fun and unique.

Fun Decor at Witching Well

Fun Decor at Witching Well

Menu and Decor at Witching Well

Menu and Decor at Witching Well

Decor at Witching Well

Decor at Witching Well

Kevin ordered the Apple Crisp, and I got the carrot cake.  Both tasty, both cost 70 Baht.

Apple Crisp at Witching Well

Apple Crisp at Witching Well

Carrot Cake at Witching Well

Carrot Cake at Witching Well

We also stumbled onto this street vendor, serving up delicious coconut pancakes.  We got two with coconut + corn, and two with coconut + banana.  SO GOOD.  Don’t miss these if you’re in Pai – it was the best dessert we had there!

Coconut Pancakes

Coconut Pancakes – don’t miss these!


Coffees in Pai

All the cakes and pies made us lethargic.  Naturally, we sought out some high-caffeine high-sugar beverages as a pick me up.  During our visit to All About Coffee, we also snagged some tasty drinks.  Kevin got a Siphon Coffee, black, and I had an Upside Down Coffee, which is a shot of espresso on top of sweetened condensed milk.

Kevin's Siphon Coffee

Kevin’s Siphon Coffee

My Upside Down Coffee

My Upside Down Coffee


News Flash: Melanie is now addicted to coffee

News Flash: Melanie is now addicted to coffee

Kevin kicked back and relaxed at All About Coffee

This is as relaxed as Kevin gets, enjoying some reading at All About Coffee.

We discovered a little cafe called Cafein in the center of Pai with two rocking chairs right by the street.  This cafe is situated right across from a motorbike rental place, so we killed several hours watching brand new motorbike riders come up and shakily ride off on their newly rented motorbikes.  We saw some of them again later with knees and elbows wrapped in gauze!

Our favorite spot in Pai

Our favorite spot in Pai

Green Tea Latte at Cafein

Green Tea Latte at Cafein.  Spoiler alert – all that green coloring is not natural.  My tongue matched the drink after I finished it!

Iced Lattes at Cafein

Iced Lattes at Cafein

Wonderful Cafein

Wonderful Cafein

Another favorite spot was Cafe d’tist, just down the street from our hotel.  They had tasty iced drinks for just 50 baht, and we really liked their Iced Lattes and their fun decor.

Iced Latte at Cafe d'tist

Iced Latte at Cafe d’tist

Cafe d'tist

Cafe d’tist

Cute little rocking swan at Cafe d'tist

Cute little rocking swan at Cafe d’tist

Enjoying some Iced Lattes at Cafe d'tist

Enjoying another round of Iced Lattes at Cafe d’tist

A stray dog hanging out at Cafe d'tist

A stray dog hanging out at Cafe d’tist

Not all our caffeine came from coffee in Pai.  We also stopped by Art in Chai, a little coffee house that’s super popular with backpackers.  Art in Chai is known for their Masala Chai.  For each glass, the barista uses a mortar and pestle to freshly pound up all the spices that go into that cup.  We met a few people at Art in Chai who came to Pai on week-long vacation and are still here two years later.  A lot of people seem to come to Pai and just never leave!

Art in Chai, backpacker's paradise

Art in Chai, backpacker’s paradise

Masala Chais at Art in Chai

Masala Chai Teas at Art in Chai


I’m almost embarrassed to post all of this.  Yes, we were only in Pai for 3 nights, and yes, we really did eat all of these sweets.  If you could win a vacation award for eating cakes, pies and coffees, we definitely won on this trip!  YOLO, right?

We want to hear from you!

Where in the world have you had your best coffee?  There will always be a special place in my heart for Vietnamese coffee, which tastes almost like chocolate.


Getting to Pai from Chiang Mai

Off we go, to Pai!

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to Pai we go!

The Road to Pai

The road to Pai from Chiang Mai is a stomach-churning nausea-inducing blood-pressure-increasing 80-mile-long nightmare.  According to legend, the road has 762 hairpin turns and is one of the most dangerous stretches in all of Thailand.  Zoom in on the map below to see all the twists and turns as the road nears Pai – it’s quite the ride!  In spite of it being just 80 miles, the drive usually takes 3-4 hours unless you’re a crazy daredevil.  Being the idiots that we are, we still wanted to make a trip to the cute little mountain town of Pai, Thailand, but it was harder than we thought it’d be to decide how to get there!  We visited no less than 8 travel agencies here in Chiang Mai to assess all of our options.

Option #1: Fly

The quickest way to get there is to take a half-hour flight with Kan Air, a tiny airline that only serves a handful of towns in North Thailand.  But they only make the trip Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday, and only once per day!  Their flights are close to $60 one way, and were mostly sold out for the next few weeks.  Also, as a former Boeing employee, I tend treat small domestic airlines in foreign countries with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Option #2: Public Bus

The word on the interwebs is that a bus fare to Pai costs 150 Baht, or about $4.60. I’ve read that the “air conditioned” busses don’t have very good air conditioning, so what ends up happening is that you’re just stuck in a hot bus with windows that won’t open!  Non-air-conditioned busses also make the trip to Pai, but  stories of fruit rolling around on the floor and random loose chickens deterred us from bussing it.  We’ve only been in Thailand a month, after all, so we aren’t sure we’re ready yet for that experience.

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Option #3: Motorbike

We were encouraged by several strangers to attempt to motorbike up to Pai.  Now that we’ve seen the road, we are about 95% sure that motorbiking to Pai would’ve killed us.  Neither of us has driven a motorbike before, so a 3-hour trip through the mountains in the rainy season with tons of hairpin turns would have been an absolute disaster.  I’m pretty confident I wouldn’t be writing this blog post right now if we had attempted to motorbike to Pai.  This road is definitely for advanced motor bikers only!

Option #4: Aya Minivans

When we started looking into the Minivan option, we found that the most popular van operator, Aya Service, has a plethora of terrifying reviews online.  Phrases like “don’t use this company if you value your life” and “someone threw up everywhere in the van” were commonplace. Some people’s reviews even said their drivers were acting erratic, like they had used some sort of drugs to stay awake.  More than a few people mentioned that the Aya drivers go way too fast, hustling up to Pai so they can load up a new vanful of passengers and race back down to Chiang Mai.  We even read a post online claiming that the passengers in one Aya van revolted, forced the driver to pull over, put him in the back seat, and a passenger finished out the drive up to Pai!

Before I snapped this photo, I asked Kevin how he felt about our upcoming journey...

Before I snapped this photo, I asked Kevin how he felt about our upcoming journey…

Reading these reviews had us rethinking our trip to Pai altogether.  It made us nervous for the trip no matter how we got there, as shown by Kevin’s face in the photo above.

Option #5: The winner, a Minivan with Terminal Green

Luckily, we found Terminal Green!  This company operates the same style of 16-passenger minivans as Aya Service, and their tickets are the same price.  The fare for a ride up to Pai is 180 Baht (about $5.50) and includes pickup at your hotel/apartment.  The ride back down costs just 150 Baht (about $4.60), and ends in Chiang Mai’s Old City, close enough to our condo that we could just walk home afterwards.  We could hardly find any reviews online for Terminal Green, but we felt “less unconfident” about them just because of the lack of bad reviews online.  It seemed like the least evil of all options.  To book the Chiang Mai to Pai portion, call Terminal Green at 081-960-9283 (and be sure to request seats in the front of van!)  The return journey can be booked at the Terminal Green storefront in Pai.  Seats on the return journey are first come first served for the trip back to Chiang Mai, so you have to arrive early and throw some elbows to sit in the front.

The Journey

We each took some Bonine for motion sickness before leaving the house to head to Pai.  This turned out to be a great idea – highly recommend a Bonine pill or two.  A Terminal Green van picked us up near our condo at 9:45am and drove us over to the Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station to load up into another Terminal Green minivan.  Try to show up with an empty bladder – it costs 3 Baht to use the filthy bathrooms at the bus station.  Do you at least get toilet paper or soap since you paid 3 Baht?  No way, man!

This is the ticket counter at the Arcade Bus Terminal where you can buy tickets to Pai

The Arcade Bus Terminal Ticket Counter

We loaded up into the van, packed like sardines.  One seat even had two passengers – a mom with her 5 year old daughter on her lap!

One last selfie before the drive - hopefully not the last selfie ever...

One last selfie before the drive – hopefully not the last selfie ever…

By 10:30am, we were en route to Pai.  We were probably the only passengers who wore seat belts.  Even the driver didn’t buckle up.  Luckily, the air conditioner worked well and it wasn’t too warm!

Please Expect Seat Belt

We chuckled at this sign in the van: “Please Expect Seat Belt”

We stopped at a rest stop halfway up to Pai. Using the bathrooms at this stop cost 3 Baht, toilets were of the squatting variety, and it did not include toilet paper or soap.  Sigh.

We were glad we brought snacks along – it was a long drive and the food at the rest stop was expensive (and by expensive I mean $3/meal) and it looked like it had been there for more than a few days.  After eating our makeshift egg sandwiches (not egg salad… just a boiled egg wrapped in a piece of bread… we are simple folk), we piled back into the van.

Our trusty van which got us safely up to Pai

The trusty steed which got us safely up to Pai

En route to Pai, we drove through a herd of cows on the road and passed several big semi trucks on the windy road.  We arrived safely at the bus station in Pai at about 2pm, hungry, tired, and with a Bonine hangover.  Luckily, no one threw up in our van.  Success!

If we had to make the trip up to Pai again, we would definitely use Terminal Green.  They were one of the cheapest options for getting to and from Pai, and we never felt unsafe.  We liked both of our drivers – they took their time getting us safely through the mountains and always passed slower cars/motorbikes carefully.  We did spot a few Aya vans that seemed like they were really zooming around other cars on the road – several zoomed passed us on our journey – so we were happy with our choice to use Terminal Green.

We want to hear from you!

Have you ever had a terrifying journey on your travels?  We want to hear all about it!  Please leave us a comment with your story.


Tuesday Tip: Cockroaches Travel in Packs!

Cockroaches, Frogs, and Lizards, Oh my!

Yesterday was a bad day.  A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Why?  I was ambushed.  By cockroaches.  An “intrusion” of cockroaches.  You know how a group of crows is very aptly called a “murder”?  A group of cockroaches is called an “intrusion”.  Trust me, I looked it up.  And intrude on me they did.

This intruder appeared in the bathroom of our 5th floor apartment.  How did he get up there?!

This intruder appeared in the bathroom of our 5th floor apartment. How did he get up there?!

We were at our new favorite spot, Doi Coffee, working hard on our latest projects when I felt something tickling the top of my foot.  In Thailand, land of many mosquitos, gnats, and flies, I’ve developed “phantom fly syndrome”, which is something I just made up.  Essentially it means you just think you feel tickles and itches, even if there’s nothing there.  And usually there isn’t anything there, so scratching every itch or slapping at every tickle makes you look like a crazy person.  Trust me, Kevin told me so.  In an effort to look as sane as possible, I indefatigably ignored the tickle until it was clear it was not in my head.

Finally, I relented and looked down at my foot, and was utterly horrified at what I saw!  Not one, but two (TWO!) cockroaches were trying to climb up my leg!  The horror!  I screamed, I jumped, I hollered, I nearly knocked over my bar stool. Shockingly, I don’t know the word for cockroach in Thai, so I couldn’t convey what had happened to the ladies in the cafe.  They just stared at me with these “check out this foreign nutcase” looks on their faces.  (I’ve grown used to that look, you know, being somewhat of a klutz.)

I decided that this intrusion of cockroaches was a sign that it was time to head out, so Kevin and I packed up our things, paid, and went on our merry little way.  On the way out the coffee shop doors, another cockroach made its debut!  This one seemed to be running towards me with a mission on its mind (“ATTAAAACK THE FOREIGNER!” perhaps?), and I deftly hopped over it and escaped into the great outdoors.  Once we were outside, yet another cockroach scurried across our path, completing the superfecta (a trifecta, but with four) of cockroaches.

We’re still not sure what was behind this intrusion into our daily life.  Could the cockroaches know something we don’t?  Is another earthquake headed our way?  Do they sense a drop in barometric pressure and an impending thunderstorm?  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, we’re doing our best to live with all of these creepy crawlers in peace since they’re part of daily life here.  Just a couple weeks ago, we were having dinner outside at Magical Garden Cafe and a frog landed on Kevin’s arm!  Several days ago, a lizard fell from a coffee shop overhang and landed in Kevin’s hair!  And after we first moved into our apartment, Kevin was pinched by a cicada he tried to kill.  It has been a wild ride.  We’ll keep you posted as the wild ride continues.  Safe travels, friends!

We want to hear from you!

What is the strangest creepy crawler encounter you’ve had on your travels?

Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, A Budget Breakdown

A beautiful temple in our front yard: Wat Suan Dok

The beautiful temple in our front yard: Wat Suan Dok

The main reason Kevin and I picked Chiang Mai for the starting point of our adventure abroad is because of its reputation for being a dirt cheap place to live.  Luckily, we love Chiang Mai for lots of other reasons too: the wonderful locals, the delicious food, the beautiful mountains surrounding us, the ease of getting around the city, and the huge expat community.

We are both officially unemployed now, without much reliable monthly income.  Luckily, we make enough money from renting out our house in Seattle to cover many of our expenses here, and Kevin still makes a little residual income from past app successes.  However, we saved up and set out for this year abroad knowing that it’s highly likely that more money will be going out than is coming in.  And we are ok with that.  The whole point of this year is to experience new cultures, as well as to spend all of our time learning and working on projects we are really excited about.  In order to do that without worrying too much about finances, we came somewhere cheap!  So how much are we spending in Chiang Mai?

The Budget

Note: When this post was published, the exchange rate was about 32 THB for $1 US.


  • Seattle Rental Income (Rent minus Mortgage minus property manager fees): $860
  • Unpredictable App Income
  • Begging for money in the Old City (just kidding, mom and dad, we’re not really doing this)

May’s Expenses

Cost (THB) Cost (US) Note
Rent ฿14,000 $430 41 sq. m 1-bedroom apartment
#8211; Water ฿225 $7 #8211; Electric ฿1,400 $43 We run our aircon a LOT.
#8211; Cell Phones ฿749 $23 #8211; Internet ฿641 $20 We upgraded the free "Internet from Hell" that came with our place
Massages ฿1,630 $50 Three 1-hour Massages each
Coffee ฿4,837 $148 Cafes are our work space!
Food: (We only cook breakfast now!)
#8211; Restaurants, Cafes, Food Stalls ฿7,466 $93 40% of this was at Pun Pun! #8211; Farmer's Market ฿2,283 $70
#8211; Grocery Store ฿841 $26 Booze ฿971 $30 One large beer here will run you ฿55 at the 7-11 Transportation ฿480 $15 Travel ฿0 $0 No travel in May! We were settling in, and plan to pick this up soon. Miscellaneous ฿1,757 $54 Soap, toilet paper, laundry detergent, toiletries, etc. Travel Insurance ฿2,050 $63 IMG Global's Patriot International Insurance with Adventure Sports Rider Grand Total ฿39,330 $1,203 For 2 people per month in Chiang Mai

What Does $1,200 per Month Get you in Chiang Mai?

A great 1-Bedroom Apartment

Enjoying the apartment pool

Enjoying the apartment pool

We love our apartment!  It is brand spankin’ new, has two aircon units, a washing machine, a hot water heater, cable TV, and a great well-stocked kitchenette.  It also came with the slowest internet ever, so we pay each month to have our own wifi network that is much faster.  We use either the pool or the gym every single day, so we’re definitely getting our money’s worth.  Our landlord also sends a cleaning company over every month for a top-to-bottom scrub.  For more info, photos, and a video tour of our apartment, check out my previous post about our apartment search.

Delicious Market Fresh Breakfast Supplies

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We cook just one meal a day now – breakfast.  Every few days, we head to the Ton Payom market, where the farmers bring their goods and set up shop.  We always buy eggs, mangos, lychees, bananas, bok choy, sugar snap peas, baby corn, a bell pepper, tomatoes and onion and rarely spend more than $7 per market trip.  Sometimes we pick up a whole pineapple from the gal down our street for 50 cents.  Sometimes we impulse purchase food from “cake guy” who sells this amazing coconut cake for 30 cents per piece.  More often than I care to admit, we stop to buy Kanom Krok from a street vendor from 20 Baht.

Tasty, Cheap Thai Lunches and Dinners

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This has got to be the best thing about living in Thailand.  There is delicious, fresh, wonderful, crazy inexpensive food all around us!  It makes me want to use a gratuitous amount of exclamation points!!!  The most fantastic thing about being in Thailand semi-long-term is that it takes away the fear of ordering something that won’t be good.  If you’re only in Thailand for a week, you kind of want to play it safe and order things you know you’ll enjoy.  If you’re here for a long time, you may discover a surprising love of dishes with lots of chili paste in them (I used to refuse to even eat onions or garlic, people!  I’ve come a long way.)  Plus we rarely spend more than $2/person per meal.  I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Local Cell Phone Service

We have a family plan with DTAC, a Thai cell service provider.  In order to get this plan, we walked into their store, were helped out by an English-speaking employee, and left an hour later with Thai Sim Cards in our iPhones we brought from home.  For 700 Baht (plus tax) per month, Kevin and I each get 1GB of 3G data (and unlimited slow data if we go over that amount), we get 200 text messages, and 300 minutes apiece.  DTAC allows you to tether with their data plan, which means we can create a wifi hot spot from our iPhones.  This is great if you sit down at a coffee shop to work, then realize their internet speed is abysmal.

The occasional ride in a Tuk-Tuk or Songathew

Unfortunately, we don’t have a motorbike.  This is certainly the best way to get around in Thailand, but we’ve so many stories about foreigners being pulled over and forced to bribe policemen that we haven’t been brave enough to wade into the murky waters just yet.  We take the occasional ride on a Songathew, which is a red pickup truck with bench seating in the covered truck bed.  Songathew rides cost 20+ Baht per person depending on where you’re going.  Tuk-Tuks are a different animal – these are sort of tricycle-style motorcycles with a bench seat behind the driver.  He’ll take you straight to your destination and will generally cost at least twice what you’d spend on a Songathew.

Heavenly Massages

Green Bamboo, 1-hour Massage for 200 Baht

Green Bamboo, 1-hour Massage for 200 Baht

Coming in second behind the food, massages are another great reason to base in Thailand.  The most we’ve ever spent on a 1-hour Thai Massage is 250 Baht, or $7.70.  (We also typically each leave a 50 Baht tip, or $1.50.)

Travel Insurance

Many people travel without any sort of medical insurance, but I’m a little too high strung for that.  Before leaving home, we paid $760 for a 1-year Patriot Travel Medical Insurance Policy with added Adventure Sports rider from IMG Global.  This is essentially a catastrophic coverage plan that we’d use only if something major were to happen.  It also provides us with Identity Theft Assistance and Lost Luggage coverage.

Lots and Lots of Coffee

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Rarely does a day pass when we don’t hit at least 2 coffee shops.  We typically spend 3-4 hours at each spot working on whatever project is top priority that day.  This means we spend quite a bit on coffee, but we justify this to ourselves because we rented a fairly small apartment and spend $270 less per month rent than we had initially budgeted for.  Also, we’re from Seattle, which means coffee runs in our veins instead of blood.

A coffee in Chiang Mai can run you anywhere from 50-80 Baht ($1.50 to $2.50).  You can find bubble tea for just $1, and we have a favorite bar with Wifi and beers for just $1.  Life is good.

You Should Move Here Too

Do you see how inexpensive Chiang Mai is?!  One of the reasons we’re blogging is to try to convince other people to throw caution to the wind and spend some serious time abroad.  Hopefully this will help sell Chiang Mai as a great spot for a “mini retirement”, or even a full-on retirement (they have special retirement visas aimed specifically at folks over age 50)!

While there are certainly significant financial implications to consider (like getting ahead on retirement savings) before quitting your job and moving abroad, I think we’ve made a case here that it’s possible to really minimize your expenses in Chiang Mai.  We certainly don’t pinch pennies (er, pinch Baht?) – we live in a brand new “western-style” apartment with a pool and gym, we run our Air Conditioner a lot, and we’re eating as much fresh, healthy food each day as we want to.  It’s definitely possible to live here for much, much, much cheaper than we do.

Here are a few budget-isms we have found interesting:

  • We are now horrified to spend more than $2/person per meal
  • All our monthly expenses, including rent, are paid in cash
  • Can you believe our water bill was only $7?!
  • Electric bills are paid at the 7-11 store, so that’s something to get used to! I think the US should learn from this – it’s far more pleasant to pay your electric bill somewhere where you can also buy a beer.

We want to hear from you!

Are you surprised at what it costs to spend a month in Chiang Mai?  Have we convinced you to quit your day job and move over here to join us?

Tuesday Taste: Rice Cooker Banana Cake

Rice Cooker Banana Cake

Rice Cooker Banana Cake

What do you do when you’re an avid baker trapped in an apartment with no oven?  Improvise!  While it’s probably possible to throw some cake batter on the hot sidewalk outside to bake a cake, I decided to go with a slightly more sanitary alternative and try to bake in our rice cooker.  And what do you know, it actually worked out.

Our 10-cup Rice Cooker

Our 10-cup Rice Cooker

Friends and family know I’m obsessed with baking.  It is my own little form of meditation, and our tiny kitchen back home was full of cooking tools, baking pans and fun doodads.  Our kitchen here in Chiang Mai is sparsely stocked – we don’t have an oven, a mixer, measuring spoons, or even a full-sized measuring cup!  Using some creative math and a lot of google searches, here’s the recipe I used for Rice Cooker Banana Cake.  (Original recipe was sourced from this blog.)


Note: All “cup” measurements below were made using a rice cooker cup, which is smaller than a normal measuring cup!  I used creative estimation with a bottle of water to find that a normal measuring cup is 1.4 times larger than our rice cooker cup, and scaled the original recipe accordingly, yielding the ingredient amounts below.  I also estimated the quantities of baking powder and soda since I don’t have a teaspoon, and things turned out just fine!

3 eggs
3/4 rice cooker cups of sugar
110g butter (it’s best to just buy some new butter and try to eyeball this quantity based on how large the manufacture says your butter is.  Most butter here comes in 220g sticks, so I just used a half stick.)
1.8 rice cooker cups of flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 rice cooker cup of mashed bananas
Pinch of salt


Step 1: Gather your ingredients.  Plain ‘ol all purpose flour can be tough to track down in Chiang Mai.  Rice flour and cake flour were easy to find, but I had to go to the Rimping Supermarket to find all purpose flour.  Rimping is an upscale market in Chiang Mai that specializes in imported goods.  They also sell goldfish crackers!  And decent imported beer!  And all sorts of cheeses!  Heaven.

Have you ever heard of these brands? Me neither!

Have you ever heard of these brands? Me neither!

Butter!  This stick is 227 grams, so I used slightly less than half of it.

Butter! This stick is 227 grams, so I used slightly less than half of it.

Step 2: Stir the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.  Set aside.

This may or may not be 3/4 tsp.  I eyeballed it, and everything turned out ok!

This may or may not be 3/4 tsp. I eyeballed it, and everything turned out ok!

Flour, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, & Salt

Flour, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, & Salt

Step 3: In another large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy.  I wish I had a mixer for this.

Market Fresh Eggs

Market Fresh Eggs

Step 4: Combine sugar and butter in a pot on the stovetop and cook on medium heat until melted together.  Let the butter and sugar cool for a bit, then pour it slowly into the beaten eggs while whisking the eggs (to keep them from being cooked by the hot butter-sugar mixture!).

Combine sugar...

Combine sugar…

...and butter

…and butter

Cook until melted and combined.

Cook, stirring often, until melted and combined.

Step 5: Mash up enough bananas to fill 1 rice cooker cup.  For me, this was 4 small bananas.  Hopefully you have better kitchen supplies than I did – I mashed my bananas in a coffee mug.  So sad.

These old bananas are sweet like candy!

These old bananas are sweet like candy!

Mash those bananas!

Mash those bananas!

Step 6: Stir the bananas into the egg mixture until well combined.  Then add the flour mixture and stir until combined.

Banana Cake Batter!

Banana Cake Batter!  I had more than a few spoonfuls…

Step 7: Grease your rice cooker, then pour in the batter.

Before Baking

The batter, before baking

Step 8: If your rice cooker has a “cake” mode, use that.  If not, you can use the “cook” setting.  Rumor has it you can even use an old school single-button rice cooker (see original recipe for more info).  My cake baked for 35 minutes in our 10-cup rice cooker on “cake” mode and came out perfectly.  In the original recipe, it took 1 hour in a 5.5 cup rice cooker on “cook” mode.  What you should do is start checking it every 5-10 minutes once you start to smell the cake.  It’s done when you can insert a toothpick (or knife) in the center and it comes out clean.

Banana Cake is baked!

Banana Cake is baked!

Step 9: Immediately remove the insert from your rice cooker.  Let cool for about 5 minutes, then use the rice cooker spatula to loosen the cake around the edges.  Flip the cake out onto a plate, then use a second plate to flip the cake upright.

Look at that delicious crust on the bottom.

Look at that delicious crust on the bottom.

We cut the cake and ate it warm.  What a treat!

We cut the cake and ate it warm. What a treat!

We Want To Hear From You!

Have you cooked or baked anything in a rice cooker?  This is my first attempt at making anything but rice in a rice cooker, and now I’m hooked.  If you have any rice cooker tips or recipes to share, please leave us a comment!



Maximizing Productivity with the Pomodoro Method

One major problem Digital Nomads face is how to be productive on the road when your “office” setting is constantly changing.  We try out new cafes every day.  Some have blaring Miley Cyrus music (one can only hear “Wrecking Ball” so many times before wanting to take a wrecking ball to the people around you).  Some have painfully slow internet.  Some cafes are full of obnoxious young entrepreneurs who are oblivious enough to play their music from their laptops without headphones.  (Public service announcement: this is never acceptable in any culture when anyone is within earshot.  If you do this, I hate you.  “I forgot my headphones” is no excuse.)

So how do we maintain our focus and keep up productivity on the road?

Utilize the Pomodoro Method

Kevin got me hooked on the Pomodoro Technique.  I’ve been drinking that koolaid for a month now and will never go back.  When utilizing this method, you structure your work-time into 25-minute work blocks called pomodoros.  Before each 25-minute block, make a clear list of tasks you’ll work on.  After each 25-minute pomodoro, take a 5-minute break to stand up and stretch a little and check email or Facebook.  After four consecutive pomorodos, take a longer break of up to a half hour.

I love this method for several reasons.  First, it helps me work on tasks I’m not super excited about.  When there’s a light at the end of the 25-minute tunnel, I’m more likely to keep my nose to the grindstone and less likely to blow work off in favor of stalking family and friends on Facebook (that’s right, I’m watching you).  Second, it helps break an unmanageable to-do list down into doable chunks.  Focusing on just one topic per pomodoro helps me focus on the task at hand.  Lastly, because Kevin and I are both using this method, we are less likely to interrupt and distract each other.  Fellow koolaid drinkers know that you have to respect the pomodoro; knowingly interrupting someone’s pomodoro is not ok.

Subscribe to focus@will (and use good headphones!)

I cannot recommend focus@will highly enough.  The free version is so-so, but the paid version (which regularly is available at discounted prices… just wait and they’ll try to entice you via email with a discount once you subscribe to the free version!) is phenomenal.  They offer ten different “neuroscience based” music channels designed to help you focus on work, with everything from Baroque Piano to Alpha Chill.  With the paid version, you can use their nifty timer to help time your pomodoros, and you can even rate your productivity of your last “focus session” then use that information to learn which type of music best promotes your top-notch productivity.

Kevin with his Sony Headphones

Kevin with his Sony Headphones

It’s also important to have a good pair of headphones to block out sound around you.  Simple earbuds aren’t quite enough in most of the cafes we frequent where the “Let it Go” song from Frozen blares from the speakers at least twice a day.  We highly recommend these Sony Headphones – they’re probably the best bang for your buck out there.  If you like feeling like a total baller, go ahead and order the velour ear cushions, they really do make a big difference.

Become your own project manager

We have weekly planning sessions every Sunday to lay out our work tasks for the week.  Our preferred planning tool at the moment is Trello, a free, online task tracker.  It only works when you’re online unless you pay for the premium version, but that hasn’t been too bad.  Trello allows you to track and assign due dates to tasks for everything from bathroom remodel projects to work projects, dividing them into “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” lists and setting due dates.

Get a phone data plan with tethering

I don’t think this is a real option in the United States, where the damn cell phone companies seem to be so vehemently opposed to opening themselves up to data tethering.  However, in most other countries this is a great option.  For folks not familiar what tethering is, it allows you to create your own personal wifi hot spot using your smart phone, and hook up to that hotspot on your computer.  Essentially, you can create your own wifi network wherever you go using your phone data plan.

We have cell phone service in Thailand through DTAC, one of the two major local service providers.  They allow tethering, which we’ve used at cafes with abysmal internet speed.  It has also been handy during power outages, because we still have cell phone service even if nearby wifi routers are down.  (Power outages in Thailand happen fairly often and are no longer surprising to us.)

Glasses are my work hat

I’ve been running a psychological experiment on myself, similar to the Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiment where he was able to train a dog to salivate just by ringing a bell.  That sounds kind of bad – I’m definitely not comparing myself to a dog, but I have had some success training myself to get into work mode when I wear my reading glasses.  I have these glasses that I specifically use only when I’m working on my computer.  Putting these glasses on is like putting on my work hat and getting down to business.  I don’t wear them reading, I never wear them just walking around, and I remove them during Pomodoro breaks when I might be surfing Facebook or Reddit.

This is kind of a quirky habit, but I’m convinced it helps my brain know when to focus.  You should try it and let me know how it goes!  It doesn’t have to be glasses – maybe you go into work mode when you wear your headphones, oooh maybe you literally wear a work hat!  Perhaps you remove your watch when you’re getting down for some serious work time, or maybe you even do something crazy like removing your shoes.  Heck, your trigger could even be that you always eat chocolate when working, just don’t blame me for the weight gain.

We want to hear from you!

Do you work in obscure places?  Where’s the strangest place you’ve worked?  Safe travels, friends!