Category: Chiang Mai

More medical services…Dermatologist visit

This is just a quick post about another of the medical services available in Chiang Mai.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am generally quite satisfied with the medical care in Canada, but they just do some things really well here. Peter and I wanted to get our skins checked by a dermatologist for sun damage.  I had tried to do that before I left, but couldn’t get an appointment.  My nurse practitioner told me to email her in a few months so she could get me in after we returned.

Appointment

I got the name of a dermatologist last night  from a friend in the building.  The doctor is Thai, but trained in Boston for 3 years so came recommended as a capable English speaker as well as a good dermatologist. She works at a new skin clinic at Chiangmai Ram Hospital, about 2.5 km from here.

I filled out the appointment request on line when I woke up this morning.  Within 30 minutes the office phoned and offered us an appointment at 10:15 today.  I gave our names, birthdates and nationality.

Services

We got a ride to the hospital and were met at the door by a woman in a suit and heels.  She was the greeter.  When we told her we were looking for the skin clinic she told us it was in another building and to wait in a seat.  Within  3-4 minutes a golf cart shuttle arrived to drive us to the new clinic.

shuttle

The nurses, who still wear uniforms and white hats with a black stripe, met us as we arrived.  We completed information sheets that included our address here as well as at home.  They asked if we needed a receipt for insurance purposes.  This clinic is obviously used to dealing with medical tourism.

We were called in to have vitals taken-weight, height, temperature,blood pressure and blood oxygen.  After about 15 minutes we took our turn with the doctor.

Peter

After a complete check from head to toe, most of the growths are attributed to aging.  She asked him about any serious sunburns to his face, which he had when high altitude climbing. He did have a couple of spots of sun damage on his face. She removed them immediately with liquid nitrogen and assured him that they would heal easily and the damage was gone.  She reminded him to use sun screen on the beach but that a hat with a big brim was the most helpful thing in the city.

Wendy

I was also checked thoroughly from top to bottom.  Any spots that I obviously knew about, she reassured me that they were normal, without even asking.  She let me know that the scrape on my knee from November could take 6 months before the color disappears.  This getting older sure has lots of unexpected side effects.  The rest of me was fine.  Since I had a suspicious mole removed a few years ago, she recommended getting checked again in 6 months.  I guess I’ll have to get back to Chiang Mai in time for my next appointment.  She also gave me a couple of sunscreen samples to try.

Cost

We had heard that the cost was reasonable but we weren’t sure.  We just hoped that Alberta Health Care might cover the cost of what it would be at home.  Here are our bills:

Wendy  Doctor fee  $30.38

nurse and office fee  $4.69

total $35.07

Peter  Doctor fee with procedure $38.22

nurse and office fee  $4.69

liquid nitrogen $11.47

Total $54.38

We were out the door by 11:00 am, reassured, treated and enough money left for a coffee at Starbucks.

 

 

Travel Vaccines and Medical Care for long stay travel to Thailand

We didn’t know much about travel vaccines or medical care in Thailand before we left.  After visiting the travel clinic at home, and experiencing medical care first hand, we are comfortable with being in Thailand for a long stay.

Travel Clinic Visit

Before leaving home, we met with the pharmacist at the travel clinic at London Drugs in Red Deer.  We had to pay $40 each for the consultation but we could make our appointment on-line from home and see what fit best with our schedule.  The health unit in Red Deer also has a travel clinic for about the same price.  The following information relates to our experience and may not be applicable to everyone.  Be sure to see a professional before you travel to get the most up to date information.

We filled in our medical history on-line in advance and specified where we were planning to travel.  The appointment took an hour and we discovered that we should have made this appointment sooner in the process.  You need 4-5 weeks to complete immunizations for travel, especially when you are behind on some of the usual ones. She was able to accommodate our schedule, although we will need a booster when we get home.

Thailand Vaccines

You don’t need any specific immunizations to enter Thailand, unless you are coming form a country where Yellow Fever occurs.  We needed our 10 year boosters for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.  The health unit does those free of charge. They also gave us a measles, mumps and rubella booster.  We have probably had all those diseases as children, but if there is a measles outbreak, we have evidence of being protected and would not be seen as carriers of that disease.

Some of the immunizations we chose to get for Thailand I felt were necessary and some optional. Most of these shots last 10 years or more, so we won’t have to go through this each time we travel. Typhoid and Hepatitis A/B seemed obvious for travelling to a developing country.  Japanese Encephalitis is mosquito born and in some cases is serious so we added that.

Rabies

Rabies was one that we discussed for a while.  The pharmacist recommended it because of the stray dogs in Thailand, and the amount of time we were away.  She also said that lots of tourists get monkey bites and scratches because they act so excited when they see this animal, they intimidate the monkey.

We had all 3 shots.  If we do get bitten or scratched, we will still need 2 more doses of immunization.  If someone has not had the vaccine ahead of time, they will require 4 doses as well as Rabies Immune Globulin.  It is a blood product and is not always available in smaller centers.  A flight to Singapore would probably be needed to ensure this product.

The fact that my extended health plan covered these vaccines made the decision easier.  Since I don’t need to use my plan for much else, and I have to pay for it myself now that I’m retired, I felt it was good to go ahead and have the shots ahead of our trip.  Fortunately, so far the dogs are friendly and I have stayed well away from the monkeys.

Malaria

This is the first disease I think of when imagining travelling to a tropical country.  I learned that it is not common at all in urban areas.  We received copies of maps of all the countries we thought we might visit showing where there was the greatest risk of being bitten by a malaria carrying mosquito.  It’s hard to know where you might end up when you have 5 months to decide where you want to spend each day, or week.

We brought a supply of anti-malarial medication with us that you only take when you expect to be in a higher risk area.  You begin them 1 day before you leave, while you are gone and for 7 days after your return.  I had heard that this treatment made you feel as sick as the malaria, but our pharmacist assured us that this particular drug, taken with food had a very low reaction rate.  I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, as we have stayed out of most of the malaria areas.

Dengue Fever

We had heard that the medical care in Chiang Mai was excellent.  I’ve met people who had surgeries here.  One of the local hospitals promotes check up screenings for a reasonable price.  My friends in Cambodia come here for skin checks for cancer and an ultrasound follow-up that couldn’t be done in Canada in the 4 months she was home last year.

Earlier this month I had a chance to check it out firsthand.  While my sister was visiting, I felt like I had the flu.  I had a fever that came and went.  My joints ached, my eyes hurt and I had a constant headache.  I didn’t have any vomiting, but some bowel issues that I just put down to Thai food but I was also really tired.  After a tick bite in December, I worried that it might be a reaction to that, although enough time had passed to make that fairly unlikely.

A doctor owns our building and does “house calls”.  I explained my symptoms to him and he said that there was a flu going around and that his doctor daughter had seen many cases recently.  I took him at his word and finished showing Nancy Chiang Mai, although with more naps and some skipped meals where she and Peter went out without me.

The day after she left, I awoke to a rash all over my body.  It sort looked like a measles rash, although it wasn’t on my face.  The palms of my hands and soles of my feet were very red and itchy.  After entering my symptoms into google, It was time to get this checked out.

Hospital Day 1

We took Uber to the hospital recommended by Dr. Smith.  It was about 15 minutes away.  After giving them my name, address and passport number, I was asked to wait.  Within about 5 minutes, they had taken my temperature and blood pressure and recorded my symptoms.  After another 15 minutes or so, I was in to see the doctor.

He didn’t think it was related to the tick. He felt it was probably Dengue Fever, which is a virus you get from mosquitos.  It affects your bone marrow production of platelets and white cells, as well as causes plasma to leak out of you blood vessels.  Serious cases can turn into hemorrhagic Dengue Fever which can cause internal bleeding.  It needs to be treated with blood transfusions.  It was fortunate that we decided to get it checked out at the hospital, even though I had only a mild case.

He was surprised though, as there had only been a couple of other cases in the hospital all month.  It is much more common in the rainy season.  We had only been back from Laos for a couple of weeks, so maybe the bite happened there.  He said the rash is a sign that you are starting to get better and was the bodies reaction to the virus.  He sent me for blood work.

The blood results were back in about 45 minutes.  I waited a little longer for the doctor who said that the Dengue test takes longer, but that my white blood and platelet counts were below normal and that indicated Dengue.  He sent me home with Tylenol for the headache and fever, antihistamine and Calamine for the itch.  He also arranged for an “appointment” page to come back the next day for another blood test.

We waited about 10 minutes to have the appointment printed, the medications filled and went to pay the bill.  Within 90 minutes, 2 doctor talks, blood work and medication, the bill was 672 baht, or $25 Canadian.

I wasn’t very hungry but was craving some comfort food.  We had a couple of boxes of Kraft Dinner in our kitchen that we had been saving for just such an occasion. It did make me feel less far away from home.

Hospital Day 2

After sleeping most of the next day I returned the hospital, but this time I turned in my “appointment” and was sent directly to the lab where the blood was taken and processed.  I met with the doctor after about hour from arrival.  She showed me that the white blood and platelet count had gone down some more.  The previous test also confirmed it was Dengue fever.  The doctor suggested that I should stay at the hospital to have an IV to ensure I wasn’t dehydrated.  Since I wasn’t vomiting, I said I wanted to stay at home, but would come back if I had any signs of bleeding.  She sent me home with electrolyte powder to mix with water and another “appointment” sheet for the next day.

Again, it took about 90 minutes and with the extra Dengue test, the cost was 942 baht or $35.91!

Hospital Day 3

I woke up the next day feeling like I had a little more energy.  My headache was less severe and I felt like some food.  I did more reading and watched a movie.  We went back to the hospital in the afternoon and they took me right in for my blood work. They also wanted to check liver function and do a urine test.  When I saw the doctor, he showed me that the platelets and white count were on their way back up and that I didn’t need to come back.  He recommended continuing with the electrolyte drinks for a couple of days and continue to rest but all was well.

The wait time was about the same but I had more lab tests done.  The final bill was 1337 baht or $50.96.  In total I paid about $112 to the Rajavej Chiang Mai Hospital.

Recovery

It took a few days to get my energy back.  As my appetite returned, I felt better.  The rash lasted about a week, but it was only itchy the first couple of days.  By the time we returned from Cambodia about 3 weeks after the first fever, I was ready to get back to the gym and find my lost fitness level.  I am also much more vigilant in using the DEET every day.  My Thailand hospital experience was very positive, but I’m in no rush to experience it again anytime soon.

Chiang Mai in 10 days…a visit with my sister

If you plan to visit Chiang Mai for a week or two, or like us, have visitors coming, don’t worry about having enough to do.  This city is full of surprises if you just start walking.  I have included a few comments and observations made by my sister as well as my own thoughts.

My sister from Calgary came for a visit and I had a chance to see Chiang Mai through new eyes.  It is surprising how quickly we have become used to scooters carrying 4 people with no helmets, sidewalks that are impossible to walk 2 abreast and markets that appear at a moment’s notice. Living in Thailand is complex but if you can learn to go with the flow, it is a pretty easy place to live.  I will do a bit more reading up on Buddhism, monks and wats because I knew so few answers to those questions asked as we walked through the city.

Nancy has 2 teenagers still at home so only had about 10 days to spend with us.  I wanted her to get a sense of our life here, but also a little time to herself so we arranged for her to stay in Smith Residence which is only a block or so away.  It is the sister building to ours and a regular hotel room with a bed, couch, fridge and decent bathroom in a secure building was 7950 baht for 11 nights.  When converted, $295 seems pretty reasonable.

Chinese New Year’s

My sister, Nancy, arrived on Chinese New Year’s weekend.  After realizing that crossing the street means breaking all the rules we learned as children, we found our way to Chinatown.  We didn’t see much as far as dragons and drums during our walk, but the streets were closed to traffic and decorated with red lanterns.  There was an outside market with many foods that I didn’t recognize.  The rotating, flapping quail were quite memorable as were the piles of bugs and beetles offered for sale.  It’s a good thing I wasn’t hungry at the time.

Thamel Coffee

We did stop for a visit in the Thamel Coffee which is a little place up above a clothing store.  You have to walk all the way through the tightly packed shelves until you come to a little stairway hidden along one aisle.  When you arrive upstairs, you think you have just arrived in Nepal.  There are statues and sparkly fabrics on some regular tables and chairs, and also some tables set up on cushion covered platforms where you sit cross-legged on a cushion with your feet under the table.  We had cool drinks as coffee was too hot for the afternoon.

Gluten-free Eating

Nancy is celiac but she brought a page written in Thai that explained her inability to eat gluten, including soya sauce.  Another resident in our building with the same issue had shared some restaurant names with us and Trip Advisor had a list of top 10 gluten-free restaurants in Chiang Mai.  Between these 2 sources, finding places or dishes that she could safely eat was not nearly as difficult as I expected.

We finished our first day of touring with a walk down the Sunday Walking Street.  It is an area of about 8 blocks that close to traffic every Sunday night and open as a market for souvenirs and street food. There were less people than usual with New Year’s events going on as well.  It was a good start to Nancy’s shopping list for gifts to take back to family and friends.

shopping at the market

Wat Chedi Luang

Considering the 14 hour time change, Nancy did really well at keeping up.  We started the next day a little more slowly and wandered over to Wat Chedi Luang.  It is the largest wat in the city with a chedi that makes me think of Egyptian pyramids, although I haven’t seen one of them in person yet.  We put on wrap around skirts to be respectful and spent some time inside the wat.

Since it was just after Chinese New Years, there were strips of paper with the twelve Chinese animals representing each year.  People could buy them and write messages on them and hang them from a wire just overhead.  It seemed like a mixed metaphor to have Chinese animal symbols used to fund raise and make merit in a Buddhist temple but they were a colorful addition to the wat.  We also saw many people being blessed by a monk who said some prayers and splashed water over them with a rice straw brush.

Clay Studio

Chiang Mai is full of surprises.  The Thamel Coffee House is one and so is the Clay Studio.  We were there in November and made Krathong to release in the river. Nancy and I sat in the cool, shady jungle among the clay sculptures and drank Thai Tea.  It’s an iced drink made with instant tea, powdered milk, evaporated milk, and frothed milk on top.  It is usually very sweet  with added palm syrup, but it’s not a mix so I can get it made with only a little sugar.  It is very orange but it’s kind of like an ice capp with tea.

Thai Farm Cooking School

Market and Farm

Nancy and I spent a day back at the Thai Farm Cooking School because I knew they could adapt their recipes to celiac versions.  Nancy also brought her own gluten free soya sauce from home so was able to make everything.  We started with a tour of a market, including the butcher shop where they have fans with plastic strips keeping the flies away.  There are fish and eels still flapping in their buckets as well as chicken feet and chunks of meat being chopped up with a cleaver on a wooden block.  We also saw all the varieties of rice for sale as well as the countless fruits available in Thailand.

I like this cooking school because they are out in the country so you can see rice fields and morning-glory growing in the fields.  The morning-glory stems and leaves are used in stir fries.  Once at the farm you can taste the different kinds of basil and peppers right off the plants.  You get to see turmeric roots and galangal, lemongrass and Pandan leaves as they grow.

Cook like a Thai

After pounding our own curry in a stone mortar and pestle we made soup, curried shrimp, chicken and basil stir fry, pad thai, papaya salad and bananas cooked in coconut milk with palm sugar. We also learned a much easier way to make rice.  Put the rice in the cooker, then fill it with water up to the depth of one knuckle above the rice.  We ate and ate and then ate some more.  We were so stuffed from all the great food we had made that we took some home for later.

Take out containers in Thailand are a little different than home.  No matter what the food is (including soup) it’s put into a plastic bag.  You fill it with air and then close it with a small elastic band.  Lots of low volume plastic bags but no styrofoam containers in the landfills here.

The cookbook that you get to keep has really clear recipes with pictures of all the ingredients.  The last time I was there, I tasted a chili jam sauce but I didn’t know which one it was in the store.  I emailed them and they sent me a picture and told me I could buy it at 7-11.  This book will be one of my treasured souvenirs.  It was a great day for Nancy to know what ingredients were in the restaurant dishes she wanted to try.  She has put her lessons to good use at home, making numerous Thai inspired dishes for her family.

Jewellery

One of the popular souvenir items in Thailand are gems and jewellery. There are rubies from Myanmar and star sapphires found locally.  There is a large gem market in Bangkok.  The biggest reason for buying these items in Thailand is primarily the quality and low-cost of the stone cutting as well as the creativity of the jewellery makers.

There is a little jewellery shop just across our street.  Several people in our building had rings made there and were very pleased with the results. The husband and wife work in a tiny store front with limited counter space and poor lighting.  They have a few samples made up and a binder of ideas for rings, pendants and earrings.  Where they excel is in taking an idea and designing it into a beautiful original piece using whatever stones you choose.

Stones are sorted by color and quality and carefully matched. Suggestions were considered and expanded.  All this while their little daughter is sitting on the floor listening to “The Wheels on the Bus” in English on a phone, or pulling out containers of gems from the open shelving and popping them in her mouth or tipping them onto the cement floor.  Their marketing was strictly in the quality of their work. There was no money spent on decor.

What to Buy?

It took most of a morning for Nancy to decide, but she selected a sapphire ring and earrings, an opal pendant and a blue topaz one too.  She ordered a set of cuff links for her husband that each conained a square Myanmar ruby.  Everything is made of silver, then dipped in white gold.  He had brushed the gold in the background layer around the stones.  They are gorgeous.  The 2 cuff links were the most expensive at $120.

By the time she picked them up, she ordered another ring for Kevin and another hand designed pendant for herself.  After getting home, she decided on another pendant for a gift as well as having another identical ring made for her daughter.  The first one was too big and it was almost as expensive to have it resized as replaced.  Anyone need a beautiful sapphire ring?

I waited until hers were done and went back on Valentines Day to order my own souvenir.  I have a wide band ring in the works with a Myanmar ruby in the center with a sapphire on each side.  It is about $120.  Pictures will follow.  The biggest lesson I learned is not to judge a book (storefront) by its cover, even you even noticed that it was there. Artists can work from anywhere.

SS Modern Art Jewellery artists

Samoeng Loop

Mae Sa Waterfalls

It was nice to get out of the city in a rented car and share the beautiful countryside with a visitor.  Although we had taken this trip quite recently, we found a few new places to visit.  The Mae Sa waterfalls were quiet and a place to just sit and take in nature.

 

Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park

Next we backtracked to the Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park which was so much fun.  It is owned by a Canadian and they use the fibre left in Elephant poo to make paper. We had a tour guide who talked about the history of paper making back to the Egyptians. He explained how the poo is left in the sun to dry and lose any smell, then it’s mixed with water and natural dyes.  A screen lifts the fibre out of the water in a big sheet where it is left to dry.  They press some of the paper mechanically to make smooth writing paper.

When we finished the tour, we had a chance to purchase a  paper item and decorate it with shapes and letters cut out of colored hand-made paper.  I bought a little journal to record photo and camera info then decorated it with an elephant and the year.  It was a fun and interesting stop and cost about $4 each.

Elephant Camp

Although we had mixed feelings about elephant camps and the treatment these animals receive, the Mae Sa Elephant Camp was recommended by a neighbor.  We only visited the nursery portion of the camp where they keep the mothers and their babies.  There are other areas where you can ride the animals or see them paint pictures, but the treatment we witnessed was respectful of the animals.

We first saw the elephants being bathed in the river, with and without help from the mahouts, and mahouts in training.  They obviously enjoyed the cooling water and in a natural setting like the river, I could imagine elephants in the wild.  The mahouts controlled them with a tug on their ear and hand gestures.  They did not use the sharp sticks or yell at them.

Next we walked to the compound area where most of the large elephants were controlled with a rope loop that they raised one foot to have put in place.  We bought bananas and sugar cane to feed to them, which they would take right out of our hands.  One was too smart though, knowing we had more behind our backs. He would signal by hooting through his truck for more.  They also had large piles of bamboo leaves to eat.

One of the smallest babies was in a fenced area with its mother.  Others were with their mahouts, drinking from a hose or throwing trunkfuls of dirt over their backs.  Overall, I felt the animals were quite content, even in this setting.  I was happy, though, not to see them painting or playing soccer.

Market in the Hills

We decided to skip the botanical garden this time since we spent time making paper and carried on north through the agricultural areas and ended up high on a ridge where we could see far across the fields.  These hills were terraced since the hill was too steep for regular planting.  It was surprising how narrow each tier was, just deep enough to drive a tractor or water buffalo along. There were a couple of women selling handmade purses and the other selling fruit.  They were dressed in traditional black velvet and sequins jackets.  The sewing lady was stitching a lovely design in bright pink onto a black background.  She had obviously been doing this for decades as she was very quick at it and so accurate.  They both agreed to let me take their pictures, although I bought some small purses and a basket of fresh strawberries.

We had a wonderful lunch at the same little place as last time, up in the hills.  The cook didn’t speak much English, but she was able to read Nancy’s celiac restrictions and made us a delicious lunch.  When were finished, she brought us a bowl of fresh picked strawberries that were so delicious!  We finished the trip with a short backtrack to the Samoeng Forest viewpoint.

Pickle ball

I wanted to share more than just the interesting places a tourist can visit in Chiang Mai.  I wanted Nancy to see what it is like for us to live in this city so we took her to Pickle ball with us.  She had brought us some real paddles from home so we were anxious to try them out.  Except for one little tumble, with a fantastic tuck and roll, she did great for her first time.  We played a few games and chatted with people from around the world about why they came here and also their perspective on politics in the USA.

We stopped for a coffee break then walked over to the local grocery store so she could see it wasn’t too hard to find most of what we might crave.  She even found some gluten-free oyster sauce and some crackers and snacks.  We stopped to visit my favorite wat, Muen San on the way back.  It is a relatively new one made of silver and is filled with images that depicts scenes from the past.

Chiang Mai Flower Festival

There are so many random events that take place in Chiang Mai.  The Flower Festival is an annual event that occurs the first weekend in February.  It is a celebration of all things that grow and overnight, a park transforms into a magical garden that had me thinking of the greenhouse at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.  A street surrounding the park is set up with stalls for the display of fantastic orchids and Bonsai trees and forests for judging.  All the bridges in town are covered with blooming plants and one of the bridges over the moat was covered in and archway of lights as well.  There is a Miss Chiang Mai Flower Festival crowned and a parade that would rival the Parade of Roses in Pasedena, except for the interruption of the parade because of the scooters and cars that suddenly burst into any little gap between the floats.  Even the marching bands were impressive.

The blooming beds of tulips in the park were special.  I never thought of the tropics as a place for my favorite “welcome to spring” plant.  Archways built over the sidewalks  were covered with blooming orchids inside, petunias outside and way too many people trying to take selfies halfway through the arch.

The girls vying for the crown must have been recruited from several of the backpacker hostels as they were from around the world.  Their talents, or definite lack of talent were very entertaining. The Asian girls often had traditional dances to share.  The American girl who got down on the floor to demonstrate “the worm” had everyone worrying she was going to lose the top of her elegant costume. We spent Friday evening at the park and Saturday morning at the parade.

Saturday Walking Street

I needed a nap after the parade, but we got out ahead of the crowds to the Saturday Walking Street, which just means they close the streets and open a market.  At 6 pm, everyone stops and stands at attention while they play the National Anthem of Thailand over the loudspeakers.  Nancy found some traditional long skirts that we saw worn by many women in the parade and I found a dress and money clip for Pete. The market is along Wua Lai Street which is known as the silver district.  Near the end of the shopping area we ended up at Wat Sri Suphan, which is another silver wat, although women are not allowed to enter.

I hadn’t been there at night before and we discovered another surprise in Chiang Mai.  Red and green and blue lights that changed light up the silver.  There were also a group of young men being put through their paces in drumming and fighting with sticks.  They weren’t dressed as monks but there was an older man coaching them through the steps.  We also had a chance to see a few monks working on some silver scenes in the workshop.

3D Museum-Art in Paradise

This is another example of a huge surprise, finding a world class interactive art display in a developing country.  The art was all done by South Korean artists.  It was great fun to take pictures of each other that looked like we were in the movies. There was a group of teenage school children there as well.  They were so creative and gave us lots of ideas for photo shots.  Be sure to go with a friend and a camera.

After a couple of hours of giggles, we had lunch at Butter is Better.  It’s an American Diner kind or restaurant, but they also understand gluten-free food.  After lunch we picked up the 3 shirts that Peter had made just the way he wanted.  The salesman was also a designer and matched some nice trim fabric to the basic shirt material. We looked at gems, learned more about the industry from a salesman who just wanted to share knowledge about his passion then finished the night walking through the Sunday market.  It was pretty crowded but an interesting experience.

Wat Doi Suthep

Our big day of adventure was a trip up the mountain to visit Wat Doi Suthep.  We took the Songthaew from our neighborhood to the zoo, (35 baht each) then transferred at the zoo to another one travelling up the mountain (40 baht each).  We brought our masks this time because the exhaust blowing in the back as the engine struggled to climb the mountain on our last trip was nauseating.  The masks helped, although this vehicle was in better driving condition.

It was more subdued this time. Although still busy, the people were quieter.  It was too hazy to see the city unfortunately.  Nancy got a couple of good pictures of an older monk.  She wanted to participate in one of the blessing ceremonies, but he took a break just as we arrived. She wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to seek a blessing for someone who doesn’t practice Buddhism. It wasn’t long before the crowds were overwhelming to the people trying to pray or just trying to sit quietly.  There were so many people trying to take group photos and selfies, they were pushing others out of the way. There was nowhere to go to get out of their way.  It was time to leave.

Photo Club Exhibit

We took another songthaew down (60 baht each) to Maya Mall to view the local Photographers Club exhibit.  I belong to this group, but the photos were selected before I arrived.  It was a great exhibit of local scenes as well as some shot in member’s home countries.  A quick lunch, a walk around a Thai food court (another experience I wanted to see through new eyes) and a quick stop for a few groceries and we were ready to call Uber to take us home. (75 baht for 3)  There are about $0.38 to 10 Thai Baht so it was about $2.80 for the 3 of us to get home.

Wat Chiang Man

I wanted to share the first wat that we visited when we arrived in Chiang Mai the beginning of November to see if it was still special because of its own qualities, or special because I saw it first and decided that it was special of its own accord.  I still love the chedi with the elephants walking out of it on all 4 sides and Wat Chiang Man is the oldest wat in Chiang Mai.  Since I hadn’t been inside the other buildings, we spent some time looking around.  There were only a few people wandering around, with a minimum of selfie takers.  The garden area is so serene which makes it a very meditative place.

We noticed that even the monks need to do their chores  One was gardening while another was taking in his laundry.

We had travelled by rental car, Uber, songthaew and of foot, but we hadn’t taken a tuk-tuk yet so we went from the wat to the gem store in our last means of conveyance.  What a ride!  They weave in and out of traffic at a breakneck speed. They are loud and the drivers so daring.  I was relieved when we arrived in one piece. When we got out she said, “That was fun but once was enough.” Nancy had a list from home of some uncut gems to pick up so we did a little more shopping then went home to rest.

Final Day

It was our last day together.  Nancy picked up her jewellery and ordered a couple more items.  I didn’t feel well but we went to choir. Pete and Nancy went out for dinner and I had a nap.  We arrived at the airport just a the tour group heading back to Beijing on the same flight showed up.  It was a long line, but it moved along.  We waited until she went through security then headed back home, one family member short.

You can ask her how her flight went.  Her advice was to wear all your clothes in Beijing.  This big international city doesn’t have any heat in their airport, even when you have a 10 hour layover.  I haven’t seen the coat that she had to buy there yet.  The flowers her husband brought to the airport helped to make up for it.

This is a very long post but it should give you the idea that if you want to come for a visit, there is more than enough to keep you busy for a couple of weeks, even with a few hours to rest here and there.  I am so glad I had a chance to share our winter home with my sister.

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If you just read the blog on email, be sure to check out the web page retiredtraveller.com for more pictures found under the Travel tab at the top.

 

 

Travel Documents for Thailand-Lots of Options

Wat Chedi Lueng, Chiang Mai

Travel Document Requirements

This post is not so much of a story as a lesson on how to obtain travel documents. My examples are specifically for Thailand, although you would probably have to follow most of the same steps to travel to another country for an extended time.  I’ve included a few pictures for those of you who are not needing all this information at this time.

Ebb and flow of traffic in Chiang Mai

For those of us who travel to the United States, Mexico or even Europe, a passport is all you need to enter the country as a tourist, even if you are planning to stay for an extended time.  If you plan to stay as a student or to work in another country, then you are no longer a tourist and will usually need some kind of visa.  Our children had student visas when they attended university in Pennsylvania and Mississippi.  Melissa has a special kind of work visa now to enable her to stay in California to teach, but only at the school that hired her.  Owen married an American so he has a “green card”. This is a visa that allows him to live in and work at any job in the United States.

The purpose of the visa is a way to keep track of who is visiting and to ensure that tourists are not taking jobs away from the residents. Immigration also wants to make sure that visitors have enough money or a ticket to leave the country. Hotels have to register our passport/visa number with the police who come by several times a week to check on the location of the tourists. Although the economy here is dependent on traveller’s dollars, they also don’t want their culture disappearing by being overrun by outsiders.  Northern Thailand was never captured and they don’t want to start now.

Visa Waiver Stamp

If we were visiting Thailand for less than a month, we would only need our passport and an ongoing ticket showing that we were not going to remain in the country for more than 30 days.  We would receive a visa waiver stamp.  Everyone entering Thailand also completes an arrival/departure card.  The departure card is stapled into your passport until you leave so they can check that you haven’t over stayed. The same is true for citizens of 51 other countries.  Some countries can stay 15 days or 90 days and others need a visa to enter for any length of time.

For people staying longer than 30 days as a tourist, there are options.  I will share what I have learned, but the rules are changing quite frequently and I am definitely not an immigration lawyer.  I will put some links to websites in the blog that I used for information.  Blogs are useful on the “how to” part of the paperwork, as long as they are relatively current.  We have also gained information from talking with other people who have visas that are different from ours.

Single Entry Visa

Most visas are applied for from your country of residence.  You can either visit a consulate office in person, or send your documents and forms to a consulate and have them sent back to you with your visa.  Fortunately for us there is a Royal Thai Consulate in Edmonton, Alberta.  It has limited hours, but was able to process our visa the same day.  We needed our passport to have at least 6 months before expiration.  There also have to be enough blank pages remaining for the visa and the stamps when you arrive.  The new Canadian 10 year passport made that part easy. We needed to complete an application form found on-line and provide 2 pictures that are 4X6 cm. This is different from Canadian passport pictures (5X7 cm).  You also have to pay cash for the fee.

We chose a single entry visa.  This means that we entered Thailand and stayed as a tourist for 60 days.  At the end of that time, we visited the immigration office in Chiang Mai and extended it for 30 more days.  It cost us $40 CAD for the visa and about $70 to extend it.  If we had left Thailand before the 60 days were up, we could have paid for a re-entry permit at the immigration office, or at the airport the day of the flight.  They cost about $40 and are necessary if you will still be covered by your original visa days when you return.   I only just found this existed while doing some research for this post. The answer was on a blog, not an official government page.

How it works for us

This visa works just fine for us as we want to get to know Thailand first anyways. Once our 90 days are up, then we can leave the country and come back in as new tourists with the 30 day visa waiver stamp.  It can also be extended for 30 days and $70 if needed.  We are travelling to Laos on January 22 for 5 days.  We leave for Cambodia on February 16 before the 30 days are up.  After a trip to Krabi in the south with Melissa in March, we will travel to Nepal for 10 days before returning to Chiang Mai to fly home on April 1.  This will ensure that we are not in Thailand more than 30 days at a time after our visa runs out.  The number of times you can come and go is officially unlimited. Those who are in and out the country more often are likely to be scrutinized more carefully at immigration and can be denied entry.  They really want you to apply for a proper visa from outside the country.

Visas for other countries nearby

The countries that we are visiting require visas but these are purchased at the border/airport when you arrive.  They also require forms, cash and a different size picture.  We paid about $15 each at home for the wrong size pictures.  A local photo place here did 6 pictures each for about $4 and they are correct.  Laos charges $35 USD for Americans and $42USD for Canadians.  They also expect you to pay in USD. The Thai bhat price converts to a much higher amount. It can be very confusing, even with the advantage of Internet searches.

Multi Entry Visa

Canadians, and many others can also enter Thailand on a multi-entry visa.  It costs $200 and requires a copy of your bank statement to show that you can afford to stay in the country for up to 6 months. ($7500 in the bank for 6 months prior to applying) This visa allows you to come and go from the country without a re-entry permit.  When re-entering the country it gives you 60 more days to remain in Thailand, instead of the 30 days for the single entry.  It can also be extended at the end for another 30 days at the immigration office.

I have learned most of this from people who have this type of visa. It has been in effect for about a year yet it was difficult to find anything official on this visa, except that it exists and how much it costs.   Blogs and in person seem to be the best way to understand how these work.  I think it is a better choice for those that want to use Thailand as a home base and travel to other countries throughout their visit here.

Retirement Visa

People who choose to live her full-time or longer than 6 months can apply for a retirement visa.  You have to be 50 years old, have a pension and/or savings in the bank, a medical check, a criminal record check, and a lease agreement.  This visa also requires you to check in with immigration every 90 days.  It is a more complicated process as you need re-entry permits each time you leave the country and have lots of paperwork to complete in the beginning.  There are some changes that may require you to have Thai health insurance which you can only obtain if you are under the age of 70.  Many retirees here have international health coverage or their own emergency account.  The advantage, though, once you have this visa is that you can just apply to have it renewed each year.  I have met many people who are on this visa, but I don’t know as much about it yet.

I was intending to share our experience with getting our extension at the Immigration office in Chiang Mai, but I didn’t realize how much I had learned about visas.  That discussion will continue in another post.

Student monks

Elephant Parade

There are no exciting pictures for this topic, but being in Thailand wouldn’t be possible without a visa so I will share a few of my favorites.  I have also added some pictures from the Parade of Elephants art exhibit in the city.  It raises awareness for elephant care after a young elephant stepped on a land mine and received a prosthetic leg.  These can be found in the menu under travel.

Wat Muen San-made of silver