Chiang Mai is Back!

Hey Everyone! I am in Chiang Mai for 2 months to see my parents. This is the 5th time I came to Thailand since the Covid pandemic started in 2019. The last 3 years were difficult for all of us. But it was even more so for countries that depend on tourism. Before Covid, tourism accounts for about 18% of Thailand’s GDP. That’s huge. In 2019, Thailand had almost 40 million visitors. That number dropped to around 427,000 visitors in 2021. It was a big decrease. Fortunately, things are improving.

I’m happy to report life is almost back to normal in Chiang Mai. The peak travel season for Chiang Mai is in November and December. That’s the cool season here and many visitors come north to escape the heat. Also, it is the monsoon season in the south so this isn’t a good time hit the beach. I visited in 2020 and 2021 and it was dead here. There were only a few people in the street and many shops were closed. Even locals were afraid to go out. This year, Chiang Mai finally came back to life. I see many local and foreign visitors out and about. The hotels’ parking lots are full of tour buses again. Festivals are back on and everyone is having a great time. Finally, Chiang Mai is getting back to normal. It’s great!

5 visits in 3 years

Ok, I’ll quickly share my experience of the last 5 trips to Thailand.

December 2019 – This was right at the beginning of the pandemic. Covid just started in China and many countries were still open. We came to visit my parents and then took a short trip to Vietnam. It was our last trip from the pre-Covid days. Thailand and Vietnam didn’t have any preventative measures at that point. We went through immigration without any problems. At that point, nobody thought this Covid thing would drag on for 3 years.  

January 2021 – It was a different story a year later. Many countries instituted mandatory quarantine. Healthcare systems in many places were overwhelmed and the bodies were piling up. I had to quarantine in a hotel room for 15 days when I came to Thailand on this trip. Mrs. RB40 and Junior didn’t come with me. The bus picked people up from the airport and headed straight to the hotel. We got tested twice during the 15-day quarantine. It was extremely boring to spend that much time in one room, but I got through it. On the upside, there were plenty of empty seats on the plane. I was able to stretch out and get a good rest on the flights. I think most if not all the festivities were canceled that year. Everyone was afraid to mingle.

Dec 2021 – After 2 years, many economies were battered. Thailand started to relax the quarantine slowly. When I visited in Dec. 2021, they only required one night of quarantine. As soon as the negative PCR test result came in, I was free to go. This was a lot easier to handle. A few tourists started coming back, but it was still very slow. Many countries still required quarantine on the return trip so it was still difficult to travel. Activities started coming back around this time. It was still mandatory to wear a mask and keep your distance. I had to check my temperature before I enter most businesses.   

August 2022 – By the middle of 2022, Thailand no longer required any quarantine. Mrs. RB40 and Junior came with me on this trip. We flew all over Thailand to see families and hit the beach. It was a great trip. There were more tourists than on the previous trip, but it was still somewhat subdued. Many public places still required masks, but it wasn’t strict anymore.

November 2022 – By the end of 2022, many countries relaxed their quarantine procedure and tourists are back in full force! This is great because Chiang Mai depends on tourism. Many shops, restaurants, and hotels went out of business over the last 3 years. Finally, the customers are back. Well, business isn’t quite back to pre-Covid level yet. There are only a few Chinese visitors. China was the biggest source of tourists for Thailand previously. It’s still difficult to travel to/from China so casual tourists stay close to home. Actually, I think this level of activity is perfect. Chiang Mai feels lively without being overrun by tourists. It’s quite nice. On the downside, the plane is packed like a sardine can again. There were no empty seats on my flights.

Affordable eats

The best part about being in Thailand is the delicious and affordable food. Check out what I tried and see what it cost.

Khoa mun gai – This lunch plate cost 40 baht, about $1.10. When I was a kid, khoa mun gai only came with boiled chicken. Now, you can also get fried chicken. Nice. This dish tastes way better than it looks. The sauce is the key.

Grilled chicken with papaya salad and sticky rice. Yum! This is the perfect combo for one. I ordered the half chicken plate. It was so succulent and smoky, perfect. The papaya salad was really good too. I paid about $4 for this combo.

Tom yum noodle. This soup was great. The broth was spicy enough to make me sweat. It’s just the right size for lunch. Well, the serving size is a bit smaller in Thailand than in the US, but for $1.10 you can afford two if you’re hungry.

Okay, this is what local people really eat. Clockwise from the bottom.

Larb – water buffalo tartar with chilies and local spices. They also add some bile juice to make it a little bitter. Yum! Local people eat this with sticky rice and vegetables. Actually, a real local would order the pork tartar. They say it’s much better than beef/buffalo. But I’m a bit afraid of raw pork so I avoid that version.

Tom zap – spicy soup with pork. Good stuff.

Grilled pork – This grilled pork was really nice and smoky. Grilled food is just so good in Thailand. They know how to grill over charcoal. The sauce was good too.

Jin som – This is fermented ham. It was pretty good.

All this cost about $4.  I got this from a local roadside stall. In a nicer restaurant, this amount of food probably would cost around $20 and it wouldn’t be as authentic.

Nam ngiaw noodles. This is a northern specialty dish. It usually has pork bones, ground pork, and blood cubes. I ate this at a local shop and it cost less than $1. It was great. I just wish it had more pork ribs in it.

Yet another roadside stall. I got the two items plate for 40 baht, about $1.10. The food was really good! I’ll go back and try some other things soon.

Oh wow, I ate pretty cheaply on this trip so far. I don’t want to go to any fancy restaurant since I’m alone. It’s just easier to eat local food. At this price, I can eat out every day. There’s no need to cook at all.

Chiang Mai Secret Festival

The Chiang Mai Secret festival is on right now for 12 days. They have food & drink stalls, live music, souvenirs, clothes, and lots of other fun activities. I haven’t seen this level of activity in Chiang Mai for a long time. I think it’s great.

Food stalls!
Free live music. Awesome!
The Jazz and Blues stage.

Alright, that’s it for today. If you’re thinking about traveling to Thailand, this is the right time. The festivities are back, but the country isn’t overrun with tourists yet. Once China opens up, I think it’ll be a lot busier here.

Do you have any upcoming travel plans?

*Passive income is the key to early retirement. These days, I’m investing in commercial properties with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the United States. It’s been working so well that I’m planning to sell our rental condo so I can invest more. Go check them out!

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

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16 thoughts on “Chiang Mai is Back!”

  1. Glad to see that it’s getting easier to visit. I remember reading your 15 day quarantine post and couldn’t imagine doing that myself. The food and prices boggle my mind, and I think I remember that you had stayed in some places on one of your visits for like $400 a month or something crazy like that.

    Hope your visit goes well!

  2. Glad Chiang Mai is doing better economically, and the people are returning to normalcy. The food looks fantastic Joe, think I need to add Thailand to my bucket list. Thanks for sharing, happy holidays!

  3. Congrats on your travel! I used to travel internationally regularly, but haven’t been able to make a trip since Covid because I don’t enjoy traveling with all the restrictions. Hoping 2023 is different.

  4. It’s always interesting to read posts like this where you can see some of the different facets of another country. It’s great that Thailand is getting back to normal. That’s a long trip there but for a longer stay, that might make it worth the trip! I would love to see and experience some of their culture… and, of course, partake in eating some of the yummy food!! 🙂

  5. Looks like it’s been a hectic year for you.
    Hope you will find more time to relax in 2023.

    Safe travels!


  6. Wow the food looks great!

    Interesting place with very affordable prices. Definitely have to check Chiang Mai out sometime.

    My wife is Japanese so we typically spend our Asian vacation time there but will have to try to see Thailand when we have a chance.

  7. That food looks awesome! I’m jealous of the cost of there. I’m curious if it’s healthier than American food. If you just ate out every day here, it might not be great with all the salt and fat in stuff. It looks healthier though.

    I like that the world is starting to open up. As long as we avoid another thing, we’ll get better at dealing with COVID and it will be fine.

  8. Hi Joe, it’s good to know life is almost back to normal over there. The last 3 years have been tough.

    I like to visit Bangkok someday.

    Have a great time there!

  9. It’s good that tourism is back in Thailand, visitors going from 40 million down to 400K must have made things difficult for the tourism industry and the livelihoods that depend on it.
    I see from your photo that mask wearing appears to still be normal practice. We found the same in Manilla recently, I’d estimated that 95% of people wore masks, although when we were in Coron, also in the Philippines, it was different with very masks being worn.

  10. WOW!
    The food looks great there and, to me, not because of the price.
    I just love Thai food and would be willing to pay 5 to 7 times what you are paying.

    I have thought of going to Thailand and I always have figured that Chang Mai would be the place to
    And what is this, about the jazz and blues stage? I love jazz and blues music.

    Here is what will interfere with my going to Thailand. I won’t fly on long flights overseas unless I can fly International Business Class (really First Class with the Pods and lie-flat seats) with Air Canada on a Dreamliner.
    I read not so long ago that Air Canada was going to operate the only direct flight from North America to Thailand from Vancouver. The only concern is the cost on International Business Class even with using Aeroplan points. When I last checked, Air Canada was charging a lot for this.

    • The Thai food is really great here. There are many nicer restaurants here as well. The tables and servers are nicer, but I like the local stalls.
      The flights are very long. It’s getting more difficult for me to spend so much time on travel.
      After this trip, we probably won’t come to Thailand as often.


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