The International Living Podcast

Episode 39: Temple-Hopping in Lampang, Thailand

August 23, 2023 International Living
Episode 39: Temple-Hopping in Lampang, Thailand
The International Living Podcast
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The International Living Podcast
Episode 39: Temple-Hopping in Lampang, Thailand
Aug 23, 2023
International Living

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This week we’re talking to Rachel Devlin about her recent exploration way off the tourist trail…to the north of Thailand and the city of Lampang—the provincial capital.

Though Thailand was never formally colonized by the West, its northern provinces—particularly Lampang—were heavily influenced by British and American immigrants. American Protestant missionaries arrived in the mid-to-late 19th century. At the same time, the British took advantage of the then-booming teak industry.

Today, the city of Lampang—a mere 90-minute drive from Chiang Mai—heads the province of the same name. Though it’s a sprawling, modern metropolis set against a rural backdrop of rice fields and small mountains, you can still find evidence of these British teak wallahs, or loggers, around Lampang’s old town. 

It’s a city of traditional crafts—the local ceramics are a highlight—and ancient ways. Reflecting a clash of cultures that’s endured for centuries, the local Buddhist temples are built in a Burmese style, in some spectacular settings. In between visiting those, Rachel got to enjoy the local cuisine, night markets, vigorous hiking, and a 1930s Hollywood/Broadway connection that’s controversial to this day.

But for Rachel, who’s lived in nearby Chiang Mai for years, the simple conveniences of Thai life are always the most enjoyable. Though Lampang’s history and culture is impressive, it’s also a top spot to just chill. In her own words: “This is a great place to stroll, stop for some $4 rice or noodles from a street cart, get a massage for $6, and take in the lovely old buildings.” 

Join host, Jim Santos, as he meets Rachel Devlin in the latest episode of Bigger, Better World.

Read her full article in the August issue of the International Living Magazine: Temples, Teak Barons, and Mystical Quartz in Thailand.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform: https://lovethepodcast.com/internationalliving.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

This week we’re talking to Rachel Devlin about her recent exploration way off the tourist trail…to the north of Thailand and the city of Lampang—the provincial capital.

Though Thailand was never formally colonized by the West, its northern provinces—particularly Lampang—were heavily influenced by British and American immigrants. American Protestant missionaries arrived in the mid-to-late 19th century. At the same time, the British took advantage of the then-booming teak industry.

Today, the city of Lampang—a mere 90-minute drive from Chiang Mai—heads the province of the same name. Though it’s a sprawling, modern metropolis set against a rural backdrop of rice fields and small mountains, you can still find evidence of these British teak wallahs, or loggers, around Lampang’s old town. 

It’s a city of traditional crafts—the local ceramics are a highlight—and ancient ways. Reflecting a clash of cultures that’s endured for centuries, the local Buddhist temples are built in a Burmese style, in some spectacular settings. In between visiting those, Rachel got to enjoy the local cuisine, night markets, vigorous hiking, and a 1930s Hollywood/Broadway connection that’s controversial to this day.

But for Rachel, who’s lived in nearby Chiang Mai for years, the simple conveniences of Thai life are always the most enjoyable. Though Lampang’s history and culture is impressive, it’s also a top spot to just chill. In her own words: “This is a great place to stroll, stop for some $4 rice or noodles from a street cart, get a massage for $6, and take in the lovely old buildings.” 

Join host, Jim Santos, as he meets Rachel Devlin in the latest episode of Bigger, Better World.

Read her full article in the August issue of the International Living Magazine: Temples, Teak Barons, and Mystical Quartz in Thailand.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform: https://lovethepodcast.com/internationalliving.

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube


Jim Santos 00:09 
Hello, everyone. I'm Jim Santos and this is Bigger Better World from International Living.

In this podcast series, we introduce you to a bigger world full of communities that are safe, welcoming, beautiful and largely undiscovered. A better world. A friendly, warm, great-value world where you can live richer, travel more, invest for profit and enjoy a better life. So let's get started. Hello, everybody, and welcome once again to Bigger, Better World. 

Our guest today is Rachel Devlin, International Living's Thailand correspondent and author of ‘Temples, Teak Barons and Mystical Quartz in Thailand’, an article you can find in the travel section of the August 2023 issue of International Living magazine. Rachel, thanks for working out the time zone difference with me and welcome to Bigger, Better World.

Rachel Devlin 01:05 
Thanks, Jim. It's lovely to be here.

Jim Santos 01:07 
As part of the excitement of doing this podcast is being able to talk to people who are all around the world. And I know it must be a big shock to the flat earthers, but it's actually probably dark where you are right now. Right?

Rachel Devlin 01:19 
It's getting dark and it's getting stormy because I'm in the middle of the monsoon season.

Jim Santos 01:25 
Oh, yeah. That's probably one of the few things that people know about Thailand, it’s associated with monsoons. Since this is your first time on the show and a lot of North Americans probably aren't real familiar with Thailand. I know it's a big expat destination and vacation destination for people in Australia, the British Isles, but for North Americans, it's really an exotic place. So how about a little background on yourself and how you ended up in Thailand?

Rachel Devlin 01:56 
Sure. So I actually started holidaying here maybe almost 20 years ago. And slowly I just started to get to know the place and I gained a small inheritance and real estate was really cheap here, and so I bought a small condo. And what happened was I'd come and stay at the condo and every time I left, I was sad and to go back to work and I'd leave a little piece of myself here. Then finally, I went back to Australia after one holiday and thought, I've left myself back in Thailand, and I quickly worked out a way to move over. Life was just too good in Southeast Asia.

Jim Santos 02:39 
What made it so good for you? What did you like about Thailand?

Rachel Devlin 02:42 
Well, I think part of it is just being an expat. I am privileged enough to have a lot of personal freedoms that I didn't necessarily have in my own country. For example, I could retire early and afford to live here and spend every second of my day doing what I want to rather than what I have to or what I feel guilty about doing. So that feeling of freedom was probably the driving force, apart from the great food, of course.

Jim Santos 03:09 
Yeah, that's probably the second thing that people understand about Thailand. It's known as being kind of a foodie paradise.

Rachel Devlin 03:15 
It really is. I mean, you can get top quality food while sitting on the sidewalk next to a highway on a small plastic stool and paying a couple of dollars for it, as well as going to top hotels and other restaurants that have reputations. Some Michelin stars. There's no Michelin stars in Chiang Mai. Michelin star restaurants. But quite a few have hit the recommendation list. So, yeah, so you can eat very well here. You can eat very cheaply if you eat the local food. Some of it is very palatable. Some of it I'm not brave enough to go there.

Jim Santos 03:56 
And Chiang Mai. Is that where you live in Thailand?

Rachel Devlin 04:00 
I live right in Chiang Mai, in the city. I decided to live here, really, because for the community, I mean, most people, even if the expats are living out in the countryside, when we meet, we usually meet in the old city. There's a conglomerate of lots of restaurants, so I chose to live near the city. And the other reason is I was living in a sort of a country area back in Australia, and I was really ready to live in a city and have some life and energy buzzing around me.

Jim Santos 04:35 
And Chiang Mai is in the northern part of Thailand, correct?

Rachel Devlin 04:39 
That is correct. It's the northern part of Thailand. And really, Thailand wasn't really unified until 1932, so this was the Wild West. There were lots of cultures living in Thailand, which is another reason why, sorry, in Chiang Mai, which is another reason why people appreciate the different feel here, because there are influences from Laos, from Burma, now Myanmar and Cambodia. All these cultures seep through in the architecture and cultural practices and food. So it is quite a different experience to central Thailand, Bangkok or down south, where the islands are.

Jim Santos 05:19 
How big a city is that?

Rachel Devlin 05:21 
Look, it is actually a medieval square based on Chinese cities. Medieval Chinese cities. So there's a square, and each square, I think, is three miles, and that square has a moat around it. The moat is to keep the Burmese away from the city, like in ancient times, 500 years ago, we were having lots of problems with the Burmese, although I think those sort of racial tensions still exist to an extent. 

But it's beautiful because it's a moated city, and there are walls that are crumbling now, but the old fortifications well, actually, they were rebuilt because they had crumbled instantly. When you meet the old city, you feel like you're going back in time. And, of course, there are ancient temples that are built in the 15th century all through the old city. So it really does feel like you're really breathing in the exoticness with your eyes. Every step you take around the old city. 

The old city is where the Thai people lived, and actually, America has impacted upon Thailand, probably more so than any other Western culture. And that's because the intellectual Presbyterians from missionaries from America came out to Chiang Mai in the 1850s and really helped put the place on the map in terms of giving medical services. So it built up this city quite a lot in that century.

Jim Santos 07:04 
Well, you mentioned the temples and the influx of Americans and British as well. That kind of leads us to your article, which was in the August 2023 issue, ‘Temples, Teak Barons and Mystical Quartz in Thailand’.

Rachel Devlin 07:18 
Yes.

Jim Santos 07:19 
So this was based on a visit to the is it called Lampong? Lampong Province?

Rachel Devlin 07:24 
Lampang. Lampang.

Jim Santos 07:25 
Lampang, okay.

Rachel Devlin 07:27 
Yeah. It's actually a destination I don't think many tourists get to. Typically, if you come to Chiang Mai as a tourist, you may stay for three days. I think you can't see everything great in two weeks. But maybe I'm biased, but a lot of Thai people travel to Lampang for a holiday. So it is a tourist destination, but it's a bit of a secret to Westerners who come here. It's about an hour and a half drive, sort of northwest from Chiang Mai. Highways are good, so it's not difficult to get to by car.

Jim Santos 08:02 
Did a little research on the area. I was surprised that it said that 70% of the province is still forested and there are eight national parks and two wildlife sanctuaries in there. So that makes it sound rather remote. But then Lampang City is rather large, isn't it?

Rachel Devlin 08:19 
Well, it is, but northern cities do feel different. It's nowhere like a metropolis like Bangkok, but there are office buildings, there's industry there, though it is slowed down. I mean, post-COVID and also just with political things that have been happening over the last, I don't know, ten years in Thailand, tourism slowed down a little bit too, so things aren't as lively in Lampang as they used to be, or even in Chiang Mai. 

But I think that's why it's a great time to explore it. It's a little bit more laid back with less. And yes, you do feel like you're out in the middle when you do feel like you're sort of in the middle of nowhere. But also you can buy hot chips if you need to. Fries. Hot fries.

Jim Santos 09:04 
That's the important thing. Right?

Rachel Devlin 09:06 
Yeah. Well, if you're out in the middle of nowhere, sometimes it is nice to have a creature comfort.

Jim Santos 09:12 
Right. Something familiar.

Rachel Devlin 09:13 
Yeah.

Jim Santos 09:14 
Now, your article starts describing a rather arduous climb to reach the Stupas.

Rachel Devlin 09:20 
Yes. This was the reason I wanted to go there. I'd actually been to Lampang before, but I didn't know these stupas existed. I found it some other time. So we went I took a group of friends of mine, the oldest lady was about 85, and she made it up the climb. So we drove to the base of the mountain and then we didn't really know what was going to happen. 

So, we were corralled into these buses that cost a few dollars to get, and they take you to the base camp where you walk up to what they call the floating temple. It was a bit daunting at first, but not knowing what was ahead, but really it wasn't too bad. And there was quite sophisticated in ways that there were little wooden seats to sit down and have a rest if you needed to. But the climb up and seeing vistas of just those lime green, vibrant, humming rice fields stretching out with mountain ranges behind them, I mean, it's pretty magical.

Jim Santos 10:22 
And what exactly are the stupas?

Rachel Devlin 10:24 
The stupas are shapes that are used in temples. So a temple isn't that when we say the word temple, we actually mean a compound with things in it, including a building for worship. But a temple has a bell tower, a temple has drums, a temple has to have a stupa. And those stupas are used in rituals and they often carry relics to relics of the Buddha or relics of monks past, so they're reliquaries as well. In a normal temple, you'd walk around the stupor three times, but these are just sort of visual stupas to represent Buddhism. 

And the height is important, of course, because reaching enlightenment, you're going higher. So, yes, not used for ceremonies, but people come to still pay religious respect visiting these stupas, they just can't walk around them because they're perched on top of these peaks, these mountain peaks. It's just stunning. I can't imagine the people that built them. It would have been very dangerous.

Jim Santos 11:36 
You're able to go and go into these places and examine them.

Rachel Devlin 11:40 
Well, there's a lookout point, so really it's about looking at them, so you're not close enough to touch them, but you can take great photos and there's a sort of little walkways and platforms. So there is a temple which has no walls. It's more like…we call it a sala here. But there is a place to worship as well. And there's a place to ring a big gong. The sound of a bell or a gong is very important in Buddhism in terms of remembering that things aren't permanent. We're here a short time, like the sound of a bell or a gong. It's like an adventure rather than just a simple walk into a traditional building. These little places are popped on the mountainside with pretty views.

Jim Santos 12:33 
Yeah, it sounds amazing.

Rachel Devlin 12:35 
It was actually one of the most wonderful things I've done since I've been here. I've really enjoyed that day. It was really one of those moments where when I got there, it took my breath away. It was just a magic moment with a beautiful blue sky and these beautiful rice paddies. It felt very peaceful. It was really tranquil.

Jim Santos 12:59 
And then that's not all there is to the Lampang province, though, right, because you also spent some time in Lampang City, which is a city.

Rachel Devlin 13:06 
Correct.

Jim Santos 13:07 
Like 700,000 people. So I assume there's a lot going on there as well.

Rachel Devlin 13:12 
Well, the city, it's interesting. I would only ever recommend anyone to go to Lampang on the weekend. That seems to be where all the things that you'd want to see are open. So I think it's pretty quiet during the weekdays, like maybe people are working in offices and things, but the markets and little streets, the streets come alive at nighttime on the weekends. No, it doesn't feel big. 

The Old City, I'm calling it the Old City. It's just one street with some old buildings on it. That's really the quaint place to stay away from the city. But it's called a city too. But it's really a quaint street with pretty old buildings that were built in the 1850s, 1860s, with a colonial influence. So it's quite fascinating to see that in this remote part of northern Thailand.

Jim Santos 14:12 
So that would be a British influence, then, in that particular area?

Rachel Devlin 14:15 
Yes, it is. The British teak wallahs that were coming in to get the teak, and I think they were all related to the East India Company, which is a company that was started in the 17th century in Britain, but they had a lot to do with Thailand from the 1850s onwards. And the teak business was booming because it's such great wood. All good quality buildings here. All the buildings that have survived a few hundred years, are all made of teak. They're hard for termites to get into. So that was this boom. There was a boom time in the 1850s to the 1900s. So that Lampang was really buzzing. It was an important city back then. It's older than Chiang Mai, by the way. Lampang was established earlier than Chiang Mai was.

Jim Santos 15:04 
Now, in your article you wrote about, I believe it's Talad Gao Road. Am I saying that?

Rachel Devlin 15:09 
Yes, that's actually the road I'm talking about, sort of like the Old city. And it has a night market at nighttime. Kad Kong Ta night market, and that's worth seeing. And that only runs on the weekends.

Jim Santos 15:24 
So it's only open at night?

Rachel Devlin 15:26 
Yes, it's only open at night, and it's probably only open for about four or five hours. But lots of little noodle joints pop up, heat up, and there's lots of little stalls. It is geared for tourism to an extent, but it's not sort of the commercial tourism that you might see in a market in Bangkok. It's really quaint. It's very simple. A lot of homemade items rather than hawkers trying to sell drones to Western kids. It's a lot of crockery and ceramics. So I get a massage there when I go. I can sit on the sidewalk and have a leg massage and watch the people walk by. It's lovely. 

And as the light goes, as the sun sets and you can sort of see the sunset from the street between these old buildings, these old wooden higgledy piggy buildings, these historic buildings, and the lights come along in rows along the street. So it's almost a little bit sort of romantic, really, but not in a way that's high-end way, in a really beautiful, sweet, simple way.

Jim Santos 16:40 
This region is also famous for its ceramics. You mentioned these are ceramic shops there as well.

Rachel Devlin 16:46 
Yes, and I had no idea about this, and I'm not particularly passionate about ceramics, but I had a great day looking at ceramics there. I found out you can do tours of the ceramics places, but I had a chat to a fellow that ran one and he said that, yeah, the earth there is perfect for white ceramics. It's the perfect clay. So it became quite popular. 

And it is actually good fortune to buy ceramics from Lampang. It will bring you good luck, but you have to buy either something with a rooster on it, which is a symbol of the town, so you'll see lots and lots of cups and plates and vases with roosters on them, and you've got to buy one to take it home for good luck.

Jim Santos 17:35 
Yeah. The rooster is on their provincial seal as well. So what is the story behind the rooster?

Rachel Devlin 17:41 
Well, like a lot of old symbols, there's multiple stories justifying why it is. But one of the stories that I'm familiar with is that a very wise Thai king decided to, instead of letting Burma come in and invade the land, instead of having a war, he said, why don't we have a rooster fight and see which one wins? Or something like that. So he won the land from the Burmese with a rooster and protected the people from the evil Burmese people. Not that they're evil in any way.

Jim Santos 18:17 
So that's one of the stories.

Rachel Devlin 18:19 
Yeah. So the other cute thing about the rooster is that on the ceramics, there's a rooster that's sort of comical and it's running, and there's another rooster that's very proud and stands upright with its chest puffed out. And if you're high class, you will only buy the rooster that's proud with its chest puffed out. And if you're lower class, you have to buy the rooster that's running frantically around.

Jim Santos 18:42 
So if the shopkeeper is trying to push that one on you, they're actually dissing you.

Rachel Devlin 18:46 
I don't think they do, but I think in the olden days, maybe 100 years ago, you probably weren't allowed to buy a proper rooster if you were from the lower classes or peasant classes. Yeah.

Jim Santos 18:59 
Now, is this also the place where you can find the mystical courts that you wrote about?

Rachel Devlin 19:05 
Oh, yes, that was another surprise. The great thing about northern Thailand is that wherever you go, you will find a surprise that you weren't expecting and it'll be quite fascinating. So I met this man known as Chang, and I think that's the word for elephant in Thai, if I'm pronouncing it correctly. And, yes, it's like the clay area. It's minerals and clay. It's a very earthy place, a lot of wealth in the earth. 

So he gets quartz out and that the Northern Thai people believe that certain quartz has certain properties. And there's a type of quartz here with sort of almost a glittery inflection in it that he told me is only here. It can only be found in Lampang, nowhere else in the world. And so you can buy quartz to help your life out. He makes this beautiful jewelry with the quartz with leather and necklaces or bracelets or rings. It's to heal you in some way. Whether it can help you with your sexual prowess or whether it can make you feel more loved by people around you or if you want to be wealthy, you can buy one to accumulate wealth.
So it's a pretty magical place, Lampang. I didn't realize much magic was actually going on there.

Jim Santos 20:30 
If you're into crystals and crystal healing, then this is definitely the Mecca for that type of person.

Rachel Devlin 20:35 
Yeah, for sure. There's just so many beautiful stories about mystical stories. So I love that. I love listening to the locals tell stories about their ancient beliefs.

Jim Santos 20:50 
Speaking of stories, there's a story connected with this area that most people probably aren't aware of the connection. And that's the musical The King and I, apparently it's actually based on a real event that happened in that area.

Rachel Devlin 21:04 
Not in the area, actually. And I just have to preface this with that movie The King and I, which is about a 1950s movie with Yul Brynner, is actually illegal in Thailand. Yes, because there are very strict because Thailand still has a monarchy and we have very strict, lese majesté laws there. So you can't actually publicly say anything bad against the king. You can face imprisonment. 

So this film… and I can look through contemporary eyes now and see that it would be offensive to Thai people. The Americans did represent the king as a bit of a dill in it, but he was actually a very smart man. And yes. So Anna Leonowens came over to teach the Thai king's children. She was an educator. Somehow she got a job with him and she an influence on him. And he had a great influence on her, too. But he was very modern, helped modernize Thailand in terms of having banknotes, for example, rather than other types of more basic ways. And he learned English very well and communicated in English well. So her son, her son…I think he came to Thailand when he was about four, but he became a teak wallah as well.

So he built a company, and his company was based in Lampang. And so you can see this Lewis Leonowens as a child in the film, but he actually stayed in Thailand and built this company in Lampang. And you can visit his house, which is beautiful old house, beautiful old teak house that they've renovated recently. I mean, it would have been like a palace back then. It's wooden and open and it has very high ceilings to help keep things cool. So you can sort of learn about how Western people survived in the tropics with the mosquitoes and the heat.

Jim Santos 23:07 
So it's through Anne's son that there's a connection with that story and the mountains.

Rachel Devlin 23:12 
That's correct.

Jim Santos 23:12 
And he's one of the teak barons, then?

Rachel Devlin 23:14 
He was the teak baron. He was one of the teak barons. There were quite a few. There were even Burmese people who came down to take advantage of the work. A couple of those became teak barons and built some of those old colonial style houses on the road, on the night market road. So it was a boom town once. It's not quite a boom town at the moment, but certainly lots to see and think about, and the history behind it has been quite fascinating.

Jim Santos 23:44 
What's kind of interesting is you've mentioned a couple of times about how the Burmese people are kind of held at arm's length and kind of sort of the bogeyman for the region.

Rachel Devlin 23:54 
Sure, yeah.

Jim Santos 23:54 
But I also read that there is like nine different Burmese temples in the region, too.

 Rachel Devlin 23:59 
That's right. And they were built at the time that they were all teak wallahs. They were all working for teak wallahs at the time, so they were all in the logging industry. So, yes, they would come down for work and I don't know if it would have been a really popular job at the time, but probably most Thai people were farming, so the Burmese came down to do that. So they were responsible for building up a lot of Burmese culture in the area, but a lot of northern Thailand, not all of it, but a lot of northern Thailand was Burma for 200 years, so Thailand got it back.

Jim Santos 24:36 
So it's interesting that the Burmese people would be so reviled, but their temples would be not exactly restored, but kept up to date.

Rachel Devlin 24:44 
Oh, yes, but that's because they're Buddhist temples and Thailand is predominantly Buddhist country, which makes it quite interesting. I mean, that's part of the cultural experience. But of course, no one would ever destroy a Buddhist temple. The Thais believe that the main Buddha image in the temple, there's usually a big one, there's usually lots of them, but the big one actually has the spirit of Buddha in it. So they would never tear down a temple because the Buddha spirit is embodied in the main statue and the monks can invoke that spirit in and out of the statue.

Jim Santos 25:22 
It's typical human behavior, though, that you can still tear down the people who built the temple.

Rachel Devlin 25:26 
Yes, and I don't know if Thai people it's not of interest to them if the place of worship has a Burmese style or not. That doesn't seem to be something that bothers them. They don't see that as an issue. It's part of thinking differently to Westerners. Yeah. As long as they go to a temple, they don't really…I mean, there's a lot of temples with different styles, I guess, but, yes, they're really beautiful. I like Burmese temples probably better than Taiwan's.

Jim Santos 26:00 
I've talked to expats in Malaysia, for instance, not too far from you. And some of these beautiful regions are rather difficult to get to. Like, there's only one road in, and in one place it was only one-way traffic during part of the day and then coming back the other way in the evening. Is this province difficult to get to, or the area with the floating temples?

Rachel Devlin 26:22 
It's funny, northern Thailand has great roads. I mean, I don't have any problems with the highways. They're well sealed, they're maintained. I don't know how or why that happens, but no, it was really easy. I have a car here, so I just jumped in with my Google maps on and found everything really easily. And there wasn't a lot of traffic on the northern Thailand. All the things that you want to see are very accessible through the highways.

Jim Santos 26:54 
Is there an airport in the region, too, if you're coming from, say, Bangkok?

Rachel Devlin 26:58 
Well, there is a small airport in Lampang and with a much smaller plane. But I think that probably most people, if you're coming as a tourist, want to see Chiang Mai as well. So you'd land in Chiang Mai and drive out or get a driver to go out to Lampang maybe, or rent a car. You can rent a car for about $30 a day here. So you'd probably drive from Chiang Mai.

Jim Santos 27:21 
And you mentioned that there are a lot of places to stay in the region, too, at reasonable prices.

Rachel Devlin 27:26 
Oh, yeah, I've stayed in a few places there. Hop In is sort of like a chain, and if you're a clean freak and you want everything clean and perfect, the Hop In, I think, was about $25 a night. It wasn't near the old town, it was a bit further away. I did walk to the old town, though, so it's in walking distance. But that was great. But there are quaint little cheap hotels like on that old street. And that old street, I neglected to say, was on a river. So that sort of makes it even more pretty. 

So I stayed at maybe a place for $20 a night. Now, it didn't feel quite as sparkling, as fresh as the Hop In chain hotel, but it was quirky and you could sit in funny old wooden furniture on the river and have a cup of tea and chill. There are lots of little places that you can stay, but the one I haven't stayed at is Riverside, and I'd love to stay at that one.

Jim Santos 28:36 
Talking to other expats and people who are interested in being expats. One of their big concerns other than safety is always, am I going to be able to speak the language? Is language going to be a problem? And when people think of Asia, of course, you have a different alphabet. So has language been a problem for you in Thailand?

Rachel Devlin 28:56 
Well, in Chiang Mai, people do speak English, but not a lot. But if you're going to immigration or banks, there'll be someone who can speak English or hospitals. If the doctor can't speak English, you'll have an interpreter, so there is English here, but I'm learning Thai, so I can communicate a little bit. But I had an American friend who lived here for about six years and she communicated only through Google Translate and she got curtains made for her place. She did lots of sort of wheeling and dealing and never had a problem with the simple Google Translate.

Jim Santos 29:33 
Yeah, it's amazing how much technology has made travel a lot easier.

Rachel Devlin 29:38 
Oh, absolutely. I mean, yes. I just learned the other day that there's an app, I can't think what it's called, but there's an app where you can look at where the public toilets are everywhere in the world. Like, how awesome is that?

Jim Santos 29:52 
That could be very useful.

Rachel Devlin 29:56 
Because when you're in Asia and you're in a night market or a night bazaar, all there are is stalls, and it's very hard to imagine where a toilet might be, right?

Jim Santos 30:05 
Especially if you don't know the sign for it in that language.

Rachel Devlin 30:08 
Exactly.

Jim Santos 30:09 
You probably know Thailand pretty well, so be in good position to answer this. If you're an expat, whether it's American, Australian, British, and you're considering Thailand, what would you suggest as the point of entry? What would you suggest for coming to take a look and decide whether it's right for you?

Rachel Devlin 30:27 
Well, I think there are a lot of expats in Bangkok, but they're working, they're younger working people because it's such a big place. So most people either end up north, where it's cheap, or the beaches or islands down south, so definitely depending on your age. Hua Hin is very popular for older, retired expats. I think there are good infrastructures there and a nice beach if you want to walk along the beach every morning. Although living on somewhere like Koh Samui is also beautiful, there are amazing places there. 

I'd definitely look at some islands, look at Hua Hin and look at Chiang Mai as well. If you're moving to a beach area, life might be more expensive. Certainly transport is very expensive down south on the islands, so it really depends on quite a few factors. But Chiang Mai is definitely the most affordable place to stay, or Chiang Rai, which is even further north, closer to the Burmese border.

Jim Santos 31:32 
Yeah, I think it's true. You're always going to pay a premium if you want to live by a beach.

Rachel Devlin 31:37 
Sure. And I mean, of course, it's still going to be a lot cheaper than if you're living at the beach in the US.

Jim Santos 31:44 
For sure. Right. We're talking relatively expensive.

Rachel Devlin 31:46 
Yeah, that's right. For people here. And I know a lot of people start off at the beach and then come to Chiang Mai. There's just a bit more infrastructure in Chiang Mai for community. I think the beaches, I don't know if they have that as strongly, but some people don't need that. Some people just are happy with the beach and a pina colada. They don't need to go out every night and meet people, even though there are possibilities for that, too, of course. 

But there just seems to be a lot more community from what I've seen so far in Chiang Mai. I've just had a friend move up from Mui because she just felt like she needed to be more busy than she was living on a beach island.

Jim Santos 32:29 
Yeah, I lived on a beach in Ecuador for six years myself, and it's beautiful and it's wonderful, but after a while, living in a tourist destination can kind of wear on you.

Rachel Devlin 32:42 
And especially when you're paying tourist prices.

Jim Santos 32:45 
Yeah. Again, relative, which happens.

Rachel Devlin 32:48 
Sure. Yes. No, it's just the budget. I mean, Thailand is obviously a place that you can live beautifully on a budget, and Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are probably the cheapest areas, but I go down to the beaches and visit them if I need my beach fix, and it's a really cheap holiday.

Jim Santos 33:08 
Right, so live in the mountains and visit the beach.

Rachel Devlin 33:10 
Sure. Yeah. A beach is two hours’ plane flight away. It's $55, $60 a flight down. So yes. So why not just have the best of both worlds?

Jim Santos 33:24 
How long have you been living in Thailand now?

Rachel Devlin 33:27 
Seven years now.

Jim Santos 33:29 
Do you feel like this is home, this is it? Or do you get the urge to travel.

Rachel Devlin 33:34 
I mean, I do try and travel a little bit. I had a great trip to Greece last year.

Jim Santos 33:41 
Nice.

Rachel Devlin 33:42 
But yeah, it was wonderful. I love ancient places where there's ancient history, so Thailand's like that, too. There's ancient history here with its building structures and architecture. But I really do feel like this place is home. I would feel very lost anywhere else. I like the unpredictability and craziness of living in an Asian country. It just always keeps you on your toes. You always feel alive. And I love the beautiful, warm weather. It's great for my arthritic fingers.

Jim Santos 34:19 
Well, we've been talking with Rachel Devlin about her August 2023 article, ‘Temples, Teak Barons, and Mystical Quartz in Thailand’, and her life in the interesting expat destination of Thailand. 
Rachel, thanks again for sharing with us on Bigger, Better World.

Rachel Devlin 34:32 
My pleasure.

Jim Santos 34:43 
The Bigger, Better World podcast is a production of International Living. If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. If you have an idea for an episode or a question you'd like us to answer, email us at mailbag@internationalliving.com. And don't forget to put podcast in the subject line of your email. That's mailbag@internationalliving.com. 

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Why and Where Rachel Moved to Thailand
The Best Things About Living in Chiang Mai
Lampang—A Smaller City, and Way More Relaxed Than Chiang Mai or Bangkok
Hiking to Visit the Buddhist Temples and Stupas
Staying In the Old City—A Hub in a Remote Part of Thailand
Mystic Quartz Amulets for Good Luck and Sexual Prowess
Getting There and Around
How to Communicate When You Don’t Speak Thai