What it is like Living in Chiang Mai – 18 month recap

living in Chiang Mai

Having spent the last 18 months+ Living In Chiang Mai we decided to reveal some of the realities on becoming young(ish) long term Expats here in north Thailand. Some good, some bad, but all essential to know before you make the big decision to move your life to Asia.

Living in Chiang MaiThe harsh reality of our working life Living in Chiang Mai 🙂

The facebook messenger was blinking on the top left tab of my internet browser. ‘Christopher has messaged you’ it said.  I decided to let it blink a little longer while I dealt with the 6 other internet distractions that were laid out over the 17 inches of LCD screen on my Laptop.

I had several important videos to edit, thousands of photos to look through and countless words to write for our blog.  An endless supply of work with an uncertain prospect of direct payment for the hours invested.  And this was the life we had chosen? Becoming an Expat in Chiang Mai was not everything we had imagined it to be. So why are we still doing it?

Giving up the 9 to 5 for a 7.30 to ‘unspecified’

If, like us you are moving to Chiang Mai without employment or retirement on the cards. Things will be a little more complicated than you may originally realize. If you look you will find and read countless blogs and articles from fellow travel bloggers around the world stating how they escaped their 9 to 5 to live a life of freedom from their old work, have achieved location independence and are happier than they have ever been. A notably smaller number will explain that giving up that 9 to 5 will almost definitely set you up for much, much longer hours. Trying to make money via your own means is far from a stress free experience.

So what is life like for us now, 18 months in and living in Chiang Mai?

make shift audio studioWorking late in our make shift audio studio, complete with wind sock!

In our ‘6 months in Thailand’ Summary post we spoke of our unrealistic ideas of a life in Thailand. In our ‘12 month round up’ we explained some of the tough times we experienced and how despite them our quality of life has still improved greatly. Now over 18 months in, there have been some very interesting developments and also some harsh realizations about ourselves and our expectations from life.

samoeng loopUs – (Kind of) Still working even on our 2 year anniversary

Here is where the most important factors weigh in. You simply can’t plan exactly how you want your life to be. The world will shut you down faster than you can ever aim to fight against it. If you think your website or youtube channel is going to explode into this wondrous revenue stream without hard work. You might as well not bother. This 18 month milestone has been a wake-up call to get serious about what we want from life and how valuable our skills are. Time moves so quickly. Those iced coffees, perfectly dusted lattes and hours spent on the internet telling your families how great life is will eat away at the time you have bought yourself by moving to Asia. So you need to ask yourself if you are being honest, with yourself and with the people you talk to. Are you really happy in Chiang Mai? Have you achieved what you set out to when your mind was brimming with dreams of what could be?

If somebody asked me those questions my answer would be no. I’m not happy with everything, not all the time anyway, that’s impossible (and a little weird). What you see of our lives here in Thailand is a cinematic exaggeration of the small moments between work where we actually get to leave the house and explore. 90% of our time is spent maintaining this well oiled business machine that we are trying to develop. However, despite the much longer working hours, the work itself is what brings us inspiration and happiness.  But it is still work. We still run a business, have clients, maintain image and video libraries and deal with hundreds of email exchanges. All of this takes a lot of time.

Time… The most important realization

time passes byWe are now much more aware of the time we have

Time… It’s running out all the time. The 18 months we have spent living and working here have disappeared into an unfathomable void. When people ask what our plans are for next year, we have learnt to be honest and say that we don’t really know anymore. Our plans are changing every week, depending on opportunities that arise or places to explore before we inevitably leave Thailand for new adventures. Work wise, things have moved slower than we wanted them to. Everything that we do now is working and we have several new online income streams that we didn’t have before we left the UK. But financially, it’s not enough.

What we have worked out, is that there is time for almost everything. But often you have to make that time. As a couple we are sometimes dangerously flawed by excuses. Recently we have started taking weekly trips to local cafes where we sit down and prioritize our individual tasks for the following week. It really works and has increased our productivity by a lot. The most important part of this was the realisation that we were making excuses. Hoping that the work we had already done would get found and go viral because we’d worked enough. It was laziness talking, and damaging to our self esteem in the long run. Coming to this new organisational revolution has reignited our passion to be successful, and we will be producing more awesome and visually stunning projects because of it.

Caprice Cafe Chiang MaiSach at Caprice Cafe during our first weekly business meeting

We have found a way to minimize any waste footage and photos that don’t get used by selling them to stock libraries. When we go out to eat and happen to photograph beautiful food, we can sell those too and also blog about the place that made it. For us it is all about working smarter so that our enjoyment time can be both work and pleasure simultaneously. It helps if you love what you do, in fact that is the most important career decision to make. Time is your most valuable asset, you get more of it when you lower your expenses and move to Asia. So make sure you use all of it.

Getting a dream job in Chiang Mai… Then quitting

Hill Tribe Fishing Chiang RaiFilming a Hill Tribe Fishing Process for a tourism company

You may recall in our 12 month round up that we were employed by a tourism company here in Chiang Mai to make videos for them. While that was an amazing development that we couldn’t have predicted, we also couldn’t have explained how after 3 months working with them we would decide to leave their employment and go it alone once again. Why? The answer was simpler than we imagined when we took the opportunity. We came to Thailand to develop our own incomes, to create a location independent and somewhat passive revenue stream that could be maintained mostly online. Working for the tourism company was destroying that, and the time that we had made for ourselves by moving to Chiang Mai. We respectfully declined the offer of permanent employment and a decent regular salary in exchange for the dangerous ever evolving pit of self employment. Explaining this to our families was once again a difficult task. But over the years our loved ones have gotten to know the reasons for the strange decisions that we make. We continue to have their unwavering support, even if it seems a little difficult to comprehend at first.

photographing a hiking tripSach on assignment photographing a hiking trip

Looking back at that decision it was the right one to make. Since then we have had a nice stream of offers for private work and sponsored experiences that have made up for the financial loss we made. Plus we have spent the time we gained expanding our personal video library further and pursuing trips of our own choosing. We have even won $3000 in prize money for some of our cinematic video episodes on the website CitizenTV.com. In the future we would certainly still consider the prospect of freelancing for tourism companies. In fact that is a big part of our future plans and finding a way to bring our creativity to the table for the benefit of others and ourselves is a concept that excites us too.

The cool things that happened since moving to Chiang Mai

The Viral Video

One night I was working late replying to emails. Suddenly our inbox began to get flooded with notifications from youtube saying that people were subscribing to our channel. After investigation I noticed that our facebook fans were also increasing at an exponential rate. It wasn’t long after that I discovered that our video Chiang Mai Local Gems had gone viral on the Thai Forums. Our audience grew by thousands in just a few days and whereas before we were only followed by fellow expats, now we had a huge Thai audience that loved our romantic cinematic style. Since then we have Thai people stop us in the street to take our picture so they can share on facebook that they met ‘8 miles from home’. It still happens now sometimes and we always find it a little strange. But it is an amazing experience that we could never have predicted would happen and was only possible because we explored our creativity and put our best out there onto the internet.

The Live TV Interview

Not long after our viral video we were invited to be interviewed on Thai TV5 Morning news. I was absolutely blown away by the request and almost turned it down out of disbelief. But after some encouragement from our friends we hid all our fears and jumped in the car, drove down to the Bangkok studios and sat in front the bright lights while Khun Tip and Dr Wit asked questions about our work. They wanted to know all about us and thank us for promoting Thailand in such a unique way. We were on Live TV for a full 13 minutes and it turned out to be a highlight moment of our lives. The funny thing was they even let our puppy Eden join us on TV and she sat at the table like a princess with her paws on the table. My parents were so thrilled that they braved the 6 hour time difference and stayed up until 1am to watch the interview live on TV back in England. It was an unforgettable experience.

Becoming Big Competition Winners

Not only did we win $3000 dollars in prize money for our travel videos on Citizen TV. We were also chosen to sail around the Unseen Mergui Islands with Burma Boating on a 1 million dollar Yacht. In the competition application we were up against dozens of professional videographers from around Asia and the organizers chose us to be the people to document the trip. They said that despite the others claims, our talent shone through as the best by far from the entire pool of applicants. We received a $1000 Prize fund and all our expenses paid trip around the Islands of the Andaman Sea on the amazing vessel META IV.

Burma Boating Yacht Meta IVSach swimming by the Yacht Meta IV

Watch Burma’s Hidden Paradise – Our Experience

Making the best version of ourselves

Despite having a new found desire to be as strong and fit as we can be since moving to Chiang Mai. Sacha also finally gathered the courage to undergo a cosmetic procedure at Yanhee hospital that she had been dreaming about for years. Having lost more weight than ever before, Sacha had reached and then crushed her fat loss goals. Past years of excess weight had stretched her skin in a way that couldn’t be rectified with exercise alone so she made a personal investment and had a breast lift procedure in Bangkok. Removing and reshaping the skin to create a profile that she is proud to look at.

sacha elhajHappy with actions taken and decisions made

Returning to our old homes in London

Turning an essential Visa Run into a chance to rediscover our home we took ‘8 miles from home’ back to the UK to reconnect with our old lives. We got to see what it would have been like if we never left and also what it would be like to try to continue our site from the UK. Our discovery was that there is a magic to living in Chiang Mai that becomes difficult to see when you have been here for too long a stretch. But you soon rediscover it when you leave.

jmayel kamal elhajReconnecting with my big brother

What happens next?

Who knows! Every day we are reminded of the beauty of Thailand. Chiang Mai and the North have been good to us but even after all this time there is still so much we haven’t done. We plan to maximise that exploration and create more blog posts and videos about the places we discover, promoting hidden cafes and guesthouses to fellow explorers and expats wishing to follow in our footsteps. When that is covered, we are looking southward toward the areas we have yet to explore so as not to get stuck in a rut and become too comfortable. We feel that if we don’t move around a little more then it will stump our creativity and potential to really make the most of our time in Thailand. We will share more on this as the plan develops.

jmayel elhajLooking Southward toward new adventures maybe?

Knowing what we do now. What would we change?

If we could go back to the start, before we left the UK. We would tell ourselves that it ‘IS’ all going to work out. Despite the hard times and moments with less than No money in our accounts. We arrived in Thailand with £3000 pounds in savings and on online income of $500 per month. We kind of needed an extra £2000 to take the edge off some of the more extreme cashless moments and it still wouldn’t have been enough. However if we came with 15-20k (which most bloggers we’ve met arrive with) we would never have felt the need to work as hard until the money inevitably ran out. Then the problems would begin. 

Everything that we have experienced and worked for here in Chiang Mai so far is the beginning of the revelation of a new way to live.

I was saying to another blogger friend of ours, that on the good days it feels like cracking the code of living. How living is supposed to feel. Even including the hard work and moments of discomfort, I would never trade what we have now started for a regular stereotypical life.

We have had more ‘life is good’ moments than I can count. Whereas in our old lives we struggled to remember the good times. Most of which happened when on holiday or out experiencing something new.

I would tell my former self to always stay creative, always fight to better yourself, don’t be afraid to admit that life isn’t as perfect as you thought it would be. Listen to Epic music, allow yourself to be inspired by others creativity, embrace your emotions and channel them into your work. And most of all, stop making excuses. Moving forward is the only thing that will stop you from standing still ;-).

It’s not easy and it never will be. And I’m ok with that. 🙂 …

Jmayel El-haj – 8 miles from home

Like the Summary posts prior to this one. We will share our growing website statistics:

8 Miles from Home in Numbers: 

– Total visits to the blog: 34,758
– No. of blog posts so far: 215 (inc this one)
– Twitter followers: 515
– No. of tweets so far: 1,529
– Facebook likes: 2,648
– Youtube subscribers: 2,957
– Youtube video views: 368,950
– Videos made: 16 cinematic episodes + 2 Bonus Episodes (No. 17 & 18 is currently in production)
 + 10 Snaps Travel Guide Videos
– No. of times we have been recognised in the street: ‘we lost count after the viral video :-)’ 

Pet Friendly Hotels in Chiang Mai

Dhara Dhevi Hotel Chiang Mai

Kodchasri Thani Hotel 

Studio 99 Serviced Apartment

3b Boutique Bed & Breakfast Hotel

Four Seasons Residence at Chiang Mai

Sep Chiang Mai

The Forest Resort

Vivacity Home

Misone Hotel

Baan Puang Petch

Viva Chiang Mai Nature Home Stay

Baan Kaew Mongkorn

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