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!



Tuesday Taste: The Pad Thai Family

It’s official, we’ve found our favorite place to snag some good ‘ol Pad Thai in Chiang Mai.  Luckily, they’re just a 5 minute walk down the street from our apartment.  Their food stall is located on Suthep Road.  This super friendly Pad Thai joint is family run, and sets up outside a closed storefront every night at about 5pm for dinner.  Dad takes your order, Mom cooks the Pad Thai, and their kids help out around the food stall.

Here’s Pad Thai Mom and Pad Thai Dad, hard at work on that Pad Thai:

Mom and Dad, makin' that Pad Thai

Mom and Dad, makin’ that Pad Thai


Look at that Wok:

Check out the enormousness of that wok

Check out the enormousness of Pad Thai Mom’s wok

At this Pad Thai eatery, they serve your meal up with a big plate of romaine, bean sprouts, green onions, and lime.  It’s like getting a free salad with your meal.  They have a dine in option:

The "Eat In" option for Pad Thai

The “Dine In” option for Pad Thai

But we enjoy the takeout option the most because we could sit at home in our air conditioning and keep away from flies and mosquitos.  Take out Pad Thai comes wrapped up in banana leaves secured with a short stick, or as Pad Thai Dad puts it, “Thai Style Takeaway!”

Pad Thai takeout, wrapped up in a banana leaf

Pad Thai takeout, wrapped up in a banana leaf

And voila, here’s the deliciousness bursting forth from the banana leaf:



Whether you do dine in or get takeaway, it’s 30 Baht for your plate of Pad Thai, which is just south of a $1 US.  If that’s not a good reason for friends and family to book a $1,000 flight over to visit us, I don’t know what is.  Safe travels, friends!

Packing for a Year in Southeast Asia

What do you pack when you’re going to spend a year traveling Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, The Philippines, and Indonesia?  We’re still not 100% sure about the answer to that question, but here’s a peek at what we brought along with us for our year-long adventure.

Folks close to us might be familiar with how picky we are about things we purchase.  When we registered for our wedding, we spent weeks researching and agonizing over the best products, appliances, housewares, etc, and we do the same with our travel gear.  Almost everything we linked to below (except where noted) absolutely has our endorsement and should be considered Kevin-and-Melanie-approved.  If you choose to buy any of these things for your own travels, we hope they serve you as well as they have us!



The Bags - this is everything we brought!

The Bags – this is everything we brought!

Our goal was to be able to carry everything we brought on our backs.  No roller bags allowed!  We also didn’t want to bring so much stuff that it’ll be annoying to change locations every few weeks.  We are based initially in Chiang Mai for 7 months, then we’ll be hopping around Southeast Asia, so we need to be mobile.  We’ll be getting rid of the black bag in the back when we leave Chiang Mai and will each have just our North Face duffel and our laptop bag.  The black bag in the back was filled with sunblock, half-used shampoo and soap bottles, and other toiletries we knew we’d use up during our 7 months in Chiang Mai.

The Bags:

  • North Face Base Camp Duffel Bags (Size Small) – We absolutely love these bags, and have taken them to Europe, Belize, and now all over Thailand.  They hold up great and are fabulous in somewhat wet environments (after a boat ride in Belize, we were the only ones in our tour group with completely dry clothes in our bag!)  They fit well in overhead bins on most airplanes.
  • Melanie’s Timbuk2 Laptop Bag – Perfect for a small laptop, can carry everything but a small child.
  • Kevin’s Laptop Bag – More manly, sans the sassy pink stripe that mine has


The Electronics

The Electronics

What can we say?  We love electronics…  Here’s what we brought and what we wish we had left behind:

  • Computers: 13″ Macbook Air & charger and 13″ Macbook Pro & charger.  (Very happy we brought these guys – their 8+ hour battery life is fantastic)
  • Reading: Melanie’s Kindle Paperwhite with awesome case, Kevin’s Basic Kindle
  • Kevin’s Sony Headphones (best headphones ever) & iPhone Headphones
  • Melanie’s Bose Noise Canceling Headphones and In-ear Headphones (I got killer deals on both of these sets of headphones, but would still only give them lukewarm reviews.)
  • Melanie’s Fitbit One – An awesome clip-on pedometer that syncs to an app on my iPhone.  This thing tracks steps, mileage, flights of stairs, calories burned, and can even track your sleep. It has been put in the washing machine and dropped in the toilet and still survives.
  • Apple TV & Remote (wish we had not brought – even our upgraded internet is too slow to use the Apple TV)
  • HDMI Cable (Kevin’s Macbook Pro has an HDMI port, so we can hook it up to watch online TV Shows and Movies through the TV in our apartment)
  • Mighty Mouse
  • Two iPhones (we got Thai sim cards so we have local phone and data plans), with cords & chargers.  These also act as our camera.
  • Voltage Adapter/Converters


The Shoes

The Shoes

The List:

Melanie’s Clothes

Melanie's Clothes

Melanie’s Clothes

Quick-dry is the name of the game for clothing in a tropical country.  Have you heard of swamp ass?  If you haven’t, where do you live, Alaska?!  Well, if you come over here with only cloth underwear and non quick-dry shorts, you’re going to be living in your own little swamp ass hell.  Trust me, quick dry is the way to go.  Plus, you can wash laundry in hotel sinks, hang it up, and you’ll be ready to roll the next day!

The List:

  • A hat, because I’m the whitest person ever
  • 3 quick-dry dresses – I searched all over the internet for other travel dresses, but nothing can beat these, so I just have three different colors.  Please don’t judge me.
  • 3 pairs of quick-dry shorts
  • 1 pair of quick-dry pants that roll up into capri pants (definitely will need these – you should have your knees covered to visit temples)
  • 2 quick-dry t-shirts & 5 quick-dry tank tops
  • 2 normal bras & 3 sports bras
  • 5 pairs of socks (3 would’ve been plenty)
  • 3 pairs of quick dry underwear (5 would’ve been better) & 5 pairs of cloth underwear (these are nice to have to just feel normal every once in awhile, and better for sleeping, in my opinion)
  • 2 running outfits, plus 2 extra pairs of gym shorts
  • 2 hoodies (because how could I come over here without at least one piece of Seahawks gear.  Turns out 2 was definitely overkill, though.)
  • A long-sleeve white mesh shirt rated at SPF 50, for snorkeling
  • 2 swim suits, a one-piece for snorkeling and a bikini for beach lounging
  • Rain jacket
  • Scarf (for covering my shoulders if we visit any temples)
  • Pajamas
  • Beach skirt

Kevin’s Clothes

Kevin's Clothes

Kevin’s Clothes

The List:

  • 2 pairs of quick-dry shorts with a hidden zip-up security pocket
  • 1 pair of pants, with zip-off legs to turn into shorts
  • 2 pairs of swim trunks
  • Rain jacket
  • Hoodie
  • 5 pairs of socks (too many!)
  • 4 quick-dry t-shirts
  • 4 regular t-shirts
  • 1 cotton polo, for “dressy” days
  • 3 quick-dry boxers
  • 3 regular boxers
  • 2 pairs of gym clothes
  • 1 pair of jeans (only wore ‘em on the flight here, it’s too hot here for jeans)
  • Leather belt with a bottle-opener belt buckle



The Drugs & Toiletries

The Drugs & Toiletries

“Western” toiletries are a little bit tough to find here, and you have to pay a premium when you do find them.  We brought along a LOT of toiletries, mainly because we couldn’t bring ourselves to just throw them away when we moved out of our house.  If you’re willing to use local brands, you’ll save a lot of money.  For example, you can find a Thai brand of deoderant for just $0.60 US!

The List:

  • Sunblock (7 bottles) – bring as much as you can fit!  It’s so expensive here!
  • Deoderant (Kevin brought 3 of his fave Old Spice brand, which we have yet to find in any stores here)
  • Electric toothbrushes and chargers – can’t go a year without these puppies
  • Daily Multivitamins – these are impossible to find here, and counterfeit versions run rampant. Best to bring along if you rely on these for your nutrients.
  • Birth control, 14-month supply – because seriously, WHO could stand to be pregnant in 90+ degree temperatures.  Birth control pills are available over the counter here very cheap, but it was also cheap and easy to stock up through my health insurance before we left.  I’m glad I did.
  • Bonine, the best motion sickness medicine out there.  Best to bring this along, I don’t think it’s easy to find here.
  • Ciproflaxin (prescription antibiotic for traveler’s tummy, we never, ever travel without this.)
  • Allergy medication
  • Excedrin, ibuprofin, and immodium
  • Chapstick, because Burt’s Bee’s isn’t sold in Thailand, so sad.
  • Electric Razor
  • Misc. lotions, shampoos, soaps
  • Hand sanitizer, because not all bathrooms here have soap
  • Melanie’s makeup
  • Foot scraper – really glad we brought this.  Wearing flip flops everyday doesn’t promote soft feet, need to keep those calluses in check!
  • Bug spray
  • Cortizone cream for bug bites
  • Bandaids and antibiotic ointment
  • Hair brush and comb
  • Note: don’t even think about bringing a hair dryer.  If you must have one, buy it here so you don’t have voltage compatibility problems, but you should know I think you’re crazy for blow drying your hair when it’s 90+ degrees outside.


The Miscellany

The Miscellany

The List:

  • Keen travel purse, with about six hundred hidden pockets
  • Bag for dirty laundry (someone gave me this for High School graduation a decade ago, it is finally having its 15 minutes of fame)
  • Vacuum pack bags, for maximizing your bag space
  • Sunglasses
  • Steripen, a UV light pen for sterilizing tap water if we’re in a pinch.  Highly recommend!
  • Head lamps (We brought 2, one would’ve been fine.  Power outages are fairly common everywhere we’ve visited, and these serve us well when that happens!)
  • A hat for Kevin
  • Travel journal, moleskin notebooks for writing down ideas, and pens
  • Kevin’s snorkel goggles and mask (Prescription masks are tricky to find here, but if you don’t need prescription lenses, you can easily borrow or rent them at any beach destination.)
  • Dry sack (small size)
  • Day pack (we swear by these day packs, they are cheap and awesome)
  • Travel lock and cable, to secure our bags to a stationery object in hotel rooms
  • Platypus pack-flat water bottle
  • Super portable external hard drive that doesn’t require an external power source
  • Money purse for occasions where we feel like we need to wear our valuables under our clothes (haven’t used it yet, you could easily skip this if you have clothes with a security pocket)
  • Travel kleenex, for those “Oh no, there’s no toilet paper in here!” moments
  • 2 books Kevin wanted to read: RESTful Web Services and Into the Wild (we will leave these in Chiang Mai)
  • One piano music book
  • Passports
  • 2 credit cards, 3 debit cards, $1,000 US Currency (for emergencies) and our driver’s licenses

It’s definitely easier to pack for a year-long trip when you’re facing just one climate: HOT.  We hope this list will be helpful to others thinking about making a similar trip.  If nothing else, we hope this list makes you understand why we seem to be wearing the same four outfits in ALL of our photos.

We want to hear from you!

What’s the one thing you never travel without?  Sunblock?  Ambien?  Chocolate?  Let us know!

Tuesday Taste: The Chicken Shack


Kevin and I discovered a restaurant last week in the Nimman neighborhood of Chiang Mai that we’ve decided to make a part of our regular lineup.  We’ve lovingly dubbed it “The Chicken Shack”.  One of the toughest things to me about traveling abroad is being bold enough to walk into a restaurant that doesn’t have any sort of english menu.  Sometimes you get lucky and someone working there speaks a little English, but we’ve gotten pretty comfortable lately with pointing and using hand gestures to try to order our food.  We’ve also mastered the art of creepily lurking outside a restaurant, spying on people ordering and paying for food until we have a vague idea of what we’re getting ourselves into and how much it’ll cost us.  Sure, there are plenty of restaurants in Chiang Mai that cater to tourists, but we’ve found that in general those places are less tasty and can cost several times more than the little hole-in-the-wall places we’ve come to love.

The Chicken Shack is located on Nimman Soi 11, just west of Siri Manklajarn road.  You can smell the chicken grilling from a block away… just follow your nose.  For those with a less acute sense of smell, here’s a link to the Google street view.


We went in for lunch and ordered a whole chicken with rice (the photo above is just my half!) for 150 Thai Baht (less than $5), plus a plate of Som Tam for 40 Thai Baht (just over $1).  This was definitely a little bit of a splurge for us now that we’ve grown accustomed to spending less than $2/person per meal.  Luckily, we were uncomfortably full for several hours, and we weren’t hungry again until maybe 8 hours after eating.  Actually, I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but it was a lot of bang for our 6 bucks!


For folks unfamiliar with Som Tam, it’s made with shredded green papaya, garlic, fish sauce, tomatoes, peanuts, carrots, green beans, and spicy chilis.  It is one of our all time favorite Thai dishes.  If you don’t like spicy, be sure to try to let them know – this usually packs quite the punch!  For anyone wanting to try this at home, here’s a recipe.  My sister-in-law Beth will sometimes make a version of this using all shredded carrots instead of papaya – carrots make a great substitution when you live somewhere without access to good tropical fruit!


We want to hear from you

Have you had any crazy dining experiences on your travels?  Have you ever accidentally eaten something you normally wouldn’t be up for because of a language barrier?  What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever eaten?  Please leave us a note to let us know!

A Typical Day in Chiang Mai

What do you do all day when you’re unemployed, have zero commute, rarely cook your own lunch or dinner, and don’t even have to clean your own apartment?  In Seattle, we filled our time with 40-hour-per-week jobs, gardening, cleaning, cooking, running, and home maintenance.  While we miss some of those activities (especially gardening and running at Greenlake), it’s nice to have so much time on our hands here in Chiang Mai.  Some of our family and friends have been curious what we with ourselves all day.  Here’s how we choose to spend our time:

Wake up naturally (we’ve nixed the alarm clock) and have breakfast.

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If it’s a market day (every 3 days or so), we walk 10 minutes to the Ton Payom Market to get a fresh supply of fruit, veggies, eggs, and coconut milk.

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If it’s a gym day, we’ll hit the gym to run a 5k and do some weightlifting.

Before leaving the house, slather Melanie with sunblock.

SPF 50+, a necessity in Chiang Mai

SPF 50+, a necessity in Chiang Mai

If it’s not a gym day, you can probably find us at Kaweh Coffee all morning, where drinks are discounted until 11am. (News flash: living in an inexpensive country hasn’t made us any less frugal.)

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6 days a week, we have a delicious Lunch at Pun Pun, which is right by our apartment.  We walk around aimlessly on Wednesdays when they’re closed and try to find something that is lives up to their tasty standard.  Nothing ever does.

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If it’s not a gym day, we hit the pool after lunch for some sun and swimming.

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On gym days, we spend our afternoons out at coffee shops.  Kevin has been going through the latest iOS book, and I’ve been working through an online Ruby on Rails tutorial.  Usually, we spend a few hours having iced coffees at one cafe, then move to a second cafe mid-afternoon for a bubble tea or a cheap can of Leo beer.

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When we’re hungry for dinner, we walk around until we find something that looks tasty.

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After dinner, we head back to the condo for some reading and maybe a Game of Thrones episode.

We are usually asleep by 10pm here.  (I know I know, this is super lame, we go to bed SO EARLY over here.  I’m slowly chipping away at the sleep deficit caused by 6 years at Boeing, I should be good in about 6 months.  At least now that there has been a military coup and a curfew is being enforced from 10pm-5am, I have a legitimate excuse for going to bed early.)

We shake things up every now and then.  Sometimes, we’ll go the Saturday or Sunday evening markets for some shopping and dinner.

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Sometimes, we head to Vigie Sist cafe in the Old City so I can play their piano while we have fresh fruit smoothies.

Playing Piano at Vigie Sist

Playing Piano at Vigie Sist

Every other week, we head into the Old City to get 1-hour Traditional Thai Massages at Green Bamboo for 200 Baht (about $6).

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This is our life now in a nutshell!  Now that we don’t have any daily commitments or responsibilities, it’s become important to us to end the day feeling like we accomplished something, learned something new, or made progress in some way.  It’s liberating to be able to fully control our daily schedule, but boredom has become our worst enemy.  Our advice to others thinking about taking a mini-retirement like this is to figure out what you’ll accomplish each day if your trip won’t be packed full of activities.  If you’re not into software development, maybe you’ll spend your days learning about the local culture, visiting temples and talking to monks.  Perhaps you’ve racked up a lot of books on your reading list and will chip away at those.  Or maybe you’ll enroll in a language class or take frequent cooking classes.

We love to hear from folks reading our blog.  This week, we want to know where you’d go if you took a months-long mini-retirement.  How would you fill your newfound spare time?  Leave us a comment to let us know!