Chiang Mai Calling (Part One)

Lake - Chiang Mai

Knowing that we’d be jetting off to Thailand in a matter of months really concentrated my mind; so I took to the web to do some research. My first port of call was the Chiang Mai Expats Club and it was while browsing their Facebook page that I discovered my first “must do” engagement.

“Sri Sangwan” is a school in the North of Thailand for children with disabilities. As soon as I saw the photos from the Expats Club’s previous visit, I knew I wanted to go myself. I’ve been lucky enough to visit and speak at many similar schools in the UK and I wanted to meet the young people and find out more about what life was like for people with disabilities in Thailand.

I quickly realised that speaking at a Thai school was going to present its own challenges. I’d need to convince the school to allow me to visit in the first place before working out how to get myself there. Most importantly, I’d need someone to translate for me.

Luckily, the most difficult problem was the easiest to solve. Within a few days, a representative from the expats club had introduced me to Dr Wilaiwan Quinn (Ying), owner of the EFL Language School, who very kindly offered to accompany me to Sri Sangwan. We set a date and agreed to sort out the details nearer the time… And just like that, I had my first engagement in Chiang Mai!

A Timely Intervention

The next couple of months passed slowly with my UK work taking priority. Our return to Thailand was still some way off. I had the visit to Sri Sangwan and our week at Shrewsbury International School in the diary, but it was time to add to that.

Around eight weeks before our scheduled departure, I’d planned to touch base with Ying and the Expats. I then received a message out of the blue. A lady named Jen Croyston emailed to say she’d been handed my details and that she wanted to help me meet a few people during my time in Chiang Mai. Jen was an Australian who had lived in Thailand for a while and had involvement with several different charitable organisations.

We’d find out later what a wonderful person Jen was, but for now. All I knew was that she was incredibly well connected. Within a few days, she’d scheduled a date for me to speak at the Expats Club, introduced me to SKAL – an international travel professionals association – and sorted out the final details for the Sri Sangwan visit. (Jen obviously knew Ying!) Things were moving again and all of a sudden, our trip didn’t seem that far away.

Chiang Mai Airport

A wonderful welcome at Chiang Mai airport!

The Final Countdown

Our last few weeks before the trip were taken up with mundane tasks. We checked bookings, picked up supplies and made sure all our work in the UK was complete. We’d finalised our arrangements with our contacts in Chiang Mai and Bangkok and gathered all the necessary supporting documents for our last piece of admin: obtaining our work visas.

I could write an entire blog post on this single experience, but it would just be too painful to re-live. All I’ll say is that we left the house at around 6am and returned 12 hours later, exhausted, traumatised and minus our dignity. But crucially, with our work visas. (This is obviously a dramatic exaggeration. Obtaining visas at many embassies is going to be a pain. But it’s also a massive first-world problem considering why you’re there in the first place!)

Finally, the big day came and we boarded the plane for the long journey to Thailand. The next morning we arrived in Bangkok and took the short hop up to Chiang Mai. Jen and her colleague Ron greeted us, who had kindly agreed to take us to the guesthouse that we were staying in. Our big adventure had begun!

Chiang Mai Calling: Tips

Are you reading this and thinking of planning similar? Here’s my blog with top tips on making connections internationally and to find out what I got up to after arriving in Chiang Mai.

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