Book Review: A Year in Chiang Mai by Alexander Gunn

 | Mon 16 Dec 2013 11:41 ICT

A Year in Chiang Mai by Alexander Gunn is an easily accessible, humorous and often embarrassingly honest account of a family’s decision to move from rural England to Chiang Mai, a place where they had no contacts, no connections and no job, and the consequences of that decision.

The book begins with a description of life for the family before they moved, where Gunn was teaching at a university, his wife was running a large charity  and a busy psychotherapy practice and his two sons were happily attending the local school.  They spent their spare time working on their picturesque small holding in Devon and life sounds quite idyllic, however, as Gunn explains:


I’d always wanted to be one of those people you hear about that suddenly ups sticks and makes a life for themselves somewhere else… For years… I had been secretly observing expats at foreign airports smugly waving off friends and relatives back to cold, grey northern climates… They were going to stay on holiday… I wanted that as well.  We often sat up late after the children had gone to bed, talking through plans over the kitchen table.  I was thinking Spain and my wife was thinking… Chiang Mai, Thailand.  So Thailand it was!


After trying and failing to sell their house, the proceeds of which was to fund their new life, the decision is made to rent out the house and carry on with their plans regardless.  The family pack up their belongings, say their goodbyes, get on a plane and this is where the adventures start.  I particularly like the author’s advice to anyone who is thinking of moving to Thailand, or any other new place:


Let me pass on a few things, that I realize only now, a year later, with the benefit of hind sight, are not so cool when you arrive in your new adopted country; announcing how cheap everything is, comparing everything to something back home and with much unconcealed amusement from your wife, appearing at breakfast dressed up like a yoga teacher.

I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point, haven’t we?!  The rest of the book is filled with tales of life in Chiang Mai; from the surreal experience of trying to join the clubhouse, to the downright hilarious episode of driving through town in the rush hour with the horn blaring uncontrollably, reading this book for the second time, I found myself laughing out loud in public places.


Although this is obviously one man’s personal story of moving to Thailand and trying to set up a business, anyone who lives in Chiang Mai will find things they can relate to. Gunn is very good at slipping in wry little asides about the peculiarities of his new life, such as the mountains of photocopying that are required on a regular basis, the seeming lack of a highway code and, of course, cultural differences:  “In England we would have had an argument… In Chiang Mai we just smiled at each other.  Was I beginning to settle in?”


There are even handy tick-lists throughout the book for those who want to know what to pack in a suitcase to create an instant “pop-up home”; what to remember when braving Thai traffic for the first time; and hints and tips before setting up your own business: “during the time that the Work Permit Inspectors visit your business, get dressed before you meet them.”


I think anyone with some local knowledge or experience will enjoy this book, but it is also a great gift for friends and relatives “back home”, as it gives a great flavour of life in Thailand.  I gave the book to my father as a birthday present, and for the next two weeks he kept quoting some funny line, paragraph or chapter to the rest of my family.  He also commented that the author had a slight obsession with the Hang Dong Road, but as Gunn himself says “I do drive along other roads in Chiang Mai but this is the main one that leads from our house to the city centre, and it has got a great name!”

Review by Joanna Whitehouse