Chiang Mai: send your friends!

Chiang Mai is great', says Derek Smith we need to tell more people about it.

By | Tue 27 Aug 2019

My journey began like so many others. I was travelling through Chiang Mai, focused on Muay Thai Boxing for only a few short weeks, unaware our city had so much more in store. I was a weary traveller, seeking peace and purpose.

Then it happened; the snowball effect. A farang fever dream.

Within a matter of weeks, I had almost effortlessly been swept up by the diverse and supremely talented farang arts community outside the secret (whoops) networking event at North Gate Jazz Co-op’s Tuesday night open mic. A gathering of international locals, each exploring their own paths and sharpening their saws among a wave of soulful sounds and affordable suds.

Was I an artist? I didn’t quite know yet. So, I buttoned up the top button on my shirt to appear artistically cooler and played along to see where it would take me.

Suddenly, every day became better than the last.

I was handed a microphone and encouraged to make people laugh. It didn’t just work, I became one of the city’s token farang stand-up comedians. Was I funny? It didn’t matter, my shirt was buttoned to the top.

Much to my surprise, I was embraced both literally and figuratively by the city’s most talented foreign musicians, poets, entertainers, storytellers, healers and gurus. All I had to do was show up.

Soon, I was introduced to the owner of Thailand’s largest group of remote workers, Iglu. Perhaps it was my naïveté of the world around me, or it was my new found energy and optimism, but the next thing I knew, I had the hottest job at the coolest company in Chiang Mai.

I was suddenly living, working and thriving in the natural incubator of this city. I was growing skills and experiencing tremendous joy with hundreds of like-minded individuals from all walks of life.

And, I was only scratching the surface. Chiang Mai had more. As time passed at a rapid pace, opportunities and connections (both professionally and personally) presented themselves in abundance.

I found myself performing multiple times weekly, hosting charity events, making public appearances, mentoring performers, rubbing shoulders with international business owners, auctioneering, building festivals, working as a disc jockey on Happy Radio 98.5 FM, exercising and living outdoors, exploring Asia, eating healthy cuisine and experiencing true love for myself and those around me. And, I was making lifelong friends and professional connections at a dizzying rate.

Not bad for someone just travelling through.

The snowball just kept getting bigger and better. I was the nucleus of a community I had created for myself. Yet, I’m not special.

Tap into Chiang Mai’s pool of talented people and find yourself at the centre of your own growing community.

This includes Chiang Mai’s two-time elected, 15-year old farang Mayor. Yes, it’s a preposterous idea anywhere else in the world, yet it’s status quo for those in our world.

Her role, as faux-Mayor, possesses absolutely no true power or influence other than keeping our misfit group of 100+ performers and artists connected throughout the seasons – dry, wet, and festival season.

It’s a sweet gig for a 15-year old, despite it being only a joke in her weekly Friday night performances. She gets it.

She encourages those in our transient farang community to ‘send your friends’.

“We don’t mind if you’re just visiting – in fact, we expect nothing less,” explains WizKid15. “Just remember what makes Chiang Mai special and share your experience with the world – we’ll await your fun friends with open arms!”

It’s this kind of mature, adult-like leadership that prompts the following recruitment message:

Send Your Friends!

Welcome to Chiang Mai City, where anything is possible when you take a leap of faith in yourself. Since 2016, I’ve been living, breathing and thriving in Thailand’s most inspiring and accessible tropical city. And, your friends should be too.

Our delightful culinary city is experiencing a significant dip in its 2019 tourism numbers. Recent reports suggests tourism bookings are down 40% when compared to the same time last year.

So, where are the people? In my experience, Chiang Mai remains the top international haven for digital nomads, professional expats and travellers. It’s home to an affordable cost-of-living, beautiful weather, friendly people, deep culture and nightly entertainment for foreigners of all kinds.

I drive around this fresh mountainous valley worry-free, tasting from local coffee shops and bakeries, basking in the 125cc freedom of sweet, sweet scooter life.

I swim in waterfalls and I hike in nature. And almost daily, I throw myself into the nearest massage chair for an hour-long foot rub. Magic hands are everywhere!

My point is, it’s just another day in paradise. We choose to tap into it or not, no matter where we are in the world. Perhaps you forget what exists within your everyday reach.

Thankfully, I’m here to remind you.

Chiang Mai gives me the opportunity to showcase my talents. In this city, you can be anything or anyone you want to be. You can reinvent yourself; you can reach your full potential in an environment ripe with support and like-minded individuals from around the world.

Take my friend Mo, for instance. One night two years ago, he got hit by a scooter because he was black.

Please let me clarify. He still is black and it wasn’t a race thing. Rather, Mo was dressed entirely in black, head to toe. Additionally, he’s from Somalia.

We were walking around our relatively dark city streets, probably discussing innovation, philanthropy or our upcoming charity work – all things we work tirelessly to convince people we do regularly.

As always, I was wearing my bright and flowery kimono (don’t ask). I was easily visible from a great distance, Mo was not.

Suddenly a scooter with no lights struck my shadowy friend full-force in the back and he launched five feet into the air. His hat popped off and his flip flops flipped flopped everywhere.

It looked really bad.

Yet, much to our gleeful surprise, he stood up immediately and he was perfectly fine. No injuries. No explanation. No worries.

I joked with him that perhaps he did die that night when he got hit by that scooter. The reality is, would he know the difference between heaven and Chiang Mai?

It’s that kind of thinking that led Mo to live every remaining day to the fullest – and boy, did he ever! Coupled with his newfound enthusiasm for life and the city’s limitless potential, Mo has since created a prosperous reality – which includes producing some of the city’s hottest arts & culture events, including January’s 3rd annual Woke Folks Festival.

He created his community. He gets it.

So, what makes me, Derek Smith (“Local Celebrity”), a credible voice for recruiting foreigners to join us in our great, adoptive city?

With tourism numbers dropping significantly in 2019, it’s time we remind dope folks from around the world of what truly makes Chiang Mai a worthy place to visit and to share our gifts.

Yes, everything within my community is a little wacky and definitively silly. Yet, it’s mine. And, I love it.

If you’re elsewhere in the world looking to find your place, your people, your purpose – perhaps you can stop looking for it…

…and come to Chiang Mai to create it for yourself.

Fa-rang {noun} – Thai word for Westerners, generically referring to non-asians. Generally used without derogatory connotation, derived from the Thai word “farangsayt” for French.

Contact Derek Smith at