Colorful Chiang Mai Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms in Thailand

Cherry blossom seasons are famous around the world in places like Japan and Washington D.C. Here in Northern Thailand, there is an all too brief blooming season in the mountains north of Chiang Mai in December and January.

We were told the best time to view will occur during about a single week sometime in January. Mother Nature doesn’t work by our calendar, so the exactly best time to go varies each year.

Cherry Blossoms in full bloom at Khun Chang Khian.

Cherry Blossoms in full bloom at Khun Chang Khian.

A few fellow bloggers were trying to keep an ear out for the peak viewing time, so we could all take a trip up to the mountains and see these gorgeous flowered trees. Once I saw locals posting about their own trips, I knew we had to act fast to see them ourselves.

Northern Thailand’s Sakura Season

The short-lived pink and white flowers are called Sakura in Japan, but the variety here in Thailand is the Wild Himalayan Cherry (Prunus Cerasoides for my ancient Roman readers) and locally known as “Tiger Queen” flowers (นางพญาเสือโคร่ง naang phá-yaa sǔea-khrông in Thai).

White Cherry Blossoms.

White Cherry Blossoms.

Pink Cherry Blossoms dominate the region.

Pink Cherry Blossoms dominate the region.

The closest place to Chiang Mai to see them is to go to Khun Chang Khian. About an hour drive up the mountain.

How to Get There

You’ll just take Huay Kaew Road as though going to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, and keep going. You’ll go past the temple as well as the Phuping Palace further up Doi Suthep mountain.

When you reach the arch over the road off to the left to go to the Hmong Village of Doi Pui, you’ll take the single lane road to the right to go about another 3kms and end up at Khun Chang Khian.

My regular Taxi Driver didn’t want to take us there, as he said “the road is very small.” And it is. Once past the Hmong Village, it turns to a single lane, and traffic was very heavy. Low-profile vehicles were getting stuck, but since it’s Thailand, everyone helped to get them going again. I was glad we went with a group and didn’t ride the scooter up, as the road was steep most of the way.

Cherry Blossoms in Northern Thailand

We just grabbed a Songtaew (the ubiquitous red taxi trucks of Chiang Mai) headed in that direction. Once I found a driver willing to take the five of us all the way up there and back, we ended up paying ฿1,500 total (about $45US). I’ve seen rates anywhere between ฿1200-2000 for the day, which isn’t too bad. Our driver of course stayed up there with us all day, and we were glad to leave the driving to someone else on that road.

Cherry Blossoms in Northern Thailand

When to Go

We were there in the middle of the week, and there were hundreds of people up there. Locals said it is insane on weekends in January.

Mid-week Crowds at Cherry Blossoms in Northern Thailand

Crowded roads to Cherry Blossoms in Northern Thailand

It wasn’t too much cooler up there than in town, but you might want a way to keep warm if you have a jacket or scarf handy.

Crowds at Cherry Blossoms in Northern Thailand

Khun Chang Khian also has a coffee plantation and you can see coffee in the numerous stages of preparation and growing when you aren’t looking at all the pretty cherry blossoms. There’s a small cafe up there (I presume serving locally-grown coffee), as well as numerous hilltribe locals selling food. We had some fantastic sai-ua (Northern Thai Sausage) and dark purple sweet potatoes from a vendor a few bends before the parking area, and there were buckets of strawberries for sale from many vendors, and even an ice-cream sidecar guy.

Coffee Plantation at Khun Chang Khian

Other Resources

You can get more information on Maria’s trip report here on her FieryTree.com blog, and I’ll update this post with the other travel blogger’s posts about it when they are ready.

If you’re in town now, you’d better hurry if you want to see this! They will be gone very soon, and you’ll have to wait until next year to see it!

GettingStamped and FieryTree

GettingStamped and FieryTree

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Work From Anywhere with this Digital Nomad Hardware

Digital Nomad sounds so cryptic and technical. But it’s not. It’s a term used a bunch lately, though it’s been around for decades. People have used the term to mean many things, as it really can be many things. Any kind of remote work that makes your location irrelevant could be lumped together as a Digital Nomad. Location irrelevant work does not need to be some kind of programming or even computer-related work at all, though it often gets mis-categorized that way.

Gone are the days of piles of bricks and sticks for many businesses. You don’t need a massive facility or even an office park for so many industries now. Obviously, if you need a warehouse to store your stuff, a place to build your stuff, or whatever: yeah, you will need a set of map coördinates to come to most days if you don’t hire it out.

Finished up an article in this office: a cafe swing at 11pm.

Finished up an article in this office: a two-story swing in a cafe at 11pm.

This is the information age. Think about the job that you do: if you sit at a desk all day at a computer or on a phone (90% of office jobs…an actual figure I just made up) then you can likely be doing that same job from home or wherever else.

I don’t know more than a few lines of BASIC as far as any kind of programming goes, but I’ve been a Digital Nomad for years. My location was still irrelevant, though I rarely worked outside my dining room office. When I wanted to put on pants, I’d go work somewhere else.

You can use your computer and the internet as a tool that supports your business, or as the business itself, and in far more ways than I’ll cover here. Now we can call anyone anywhere, we can email and send docs instantly, and have thousands of tools to share our work or art with the entire world, not just the neighborhood with a sign in the window, a yellow-pages listing to reach the whole town, and if you had a serious business: an ad in the local paper.

But since another of the most asked question I get, and one of the biggest self-imposed barriers I hear every day is “but I don’t know insert something about how computers, the internet, or other tech-sounding thing works here,” I’ll give a generic overview below.

This won’t teach you how to do literally everything there is to do, but it’s my hope that if you are someone who is intrigued by the thought of going where you want to go without being limited by your work requiring your physical presence at a particular set of GPS coordinates each day, that this will at least start to open your mind to possibilities and how you can apply things to your own life if it is something you want to change.

You don’t have to travel the world, live on a boat, or in an RV. You can stay wherever home is and in your hometown if that’s what works for you. But if you are having trouble understanding what Digital Nomads do and how they do it, this should help.

Computer Hardware Needed to be a Digital Nomad

Last week, I went over some of the tons of largely free Digital Nomad software tools used to run businesses from coffee shops and anywhere else they want. This week, I wanted to give some examples of the physical tools people use to do this location irrelevant work.

I intended to list a bunch of physical tools and gadgets that people use regularly to do work online or on the road, but I realized that just like I used to tell people back when I sold computers in 1989: unless you’re doing something that requires a ton of computing power, almost any modern computer will do anything there is to do today.

I pointed out that even $250 Chromebooks are capable of running several kinds of businesses these days, and in fact some people run several businesses from them at once. They aren’t even proper laptops! They’re basically just a web browser with a keyboard.

With so many services online and “in the cloud” these days, you don’t need massive hard drives, optical drives, and other tech from years past. If you can get on the internet, you can keep most of that stuff online somewhere. So any kind of computer will do unless you are doing heavy graphics-intensive work, video production, or other video-heavy rendering.

Digital Nomad Home Office

The work I do involves words, photos, and some simple graphical stuff when dealing with simple web designs. I have a bottom of the line Samsung laptop I got for about $500 brand new in Bangkok. It struggles to render video, but it does everything else just as well as the latest and greatest will do, if just slightly slower.

I also carry around an older Wacom graphics tablet for photo editing and other graphics work in Photoshop. I don’t draw or make amazing artwork like you can with one of these, but it’s fun and more of a hobby and learning tool for me. If it wasn’t so thin and light, I might ditch it, but it still fits in my carry-on only packing style.

I just got a new set of Photive X-Bass BTX-6 Bluetooth Headphones after dealing with too many failing earbuds that I find annoying to use anyway. Hannah from the travel blog Getting Stamped recommended them and let me try hers before I ordered and had a friend bring them to Thailand this weekend. As my friend Zachary calls them, my “Fuck off Headphones” so people have no doubt I am busy doing something with these things on my head, and I don’t get bothered as much by conversation in coffee shops or coworking spaces.

The ability to focus, whether you prefer music, podcasts, or some kind of subliminal noise is important if you are easily distracted by the hustle and flow of your surroundings. Depending on what kind of work I’m doing, I change it up: Writing, I can’t have talking in my ears, so I listen to video game soundtracks or something mindless to drown out ambient noise. When editing photos or similar, I can bounce around to Die Antwoord and get edits done just fine.

As far as physical “work” electronics, these are all I use or need. Sure, I have a tablet/phone that acts as a remote tool and book reader, but that’s more for getting around in a new place (maps and apps), and a communication tool for friends and others when not at the computer. I don’t even use it for many phone calls, as I use Skype or Google Voice on the computer for most client calls.

I use the hell out of paper notebooks though. So much of my thought process happens better on paper when I’m struggling to get ideas and concepts organized. I end up scanning them into Evernote or just shredding them when they’re full, but pen to paper helps me get organized into something I can turn into an article, a client’s sales copy, or a blog post.

I like Moleskine notebooks, like so many others. They really are good quality compared to some of the cheaper imitations I’ve also tried.

I found a different company I do like over here called Zequenz notebooks which I am trying out now. The paper quality is scrumptious, and it seems pretty durable as I thrash it about in my bag and on tables around town. I’ve only just started filling it up with brain spew, so we’ll see how it holds up in the next few months. And they do have them on Amazon, as I just checked.

Digital Nomad Special Needs Tools

Since there are all kind of jobs out there, you may need special tools.

Podcasters and voice artists are going to want a better microphone and maybe even some sort of small or even portable sound studio. I’ve seen everything from a USB mic and a pop filter to all kinds of sound boxes and portable tools to keep the quality high for voiceovers and echoing.

Obviously photographers and videographers are going to need more than a laptop and a mobile phone, and there is no shortage of gadgets and kit you can use for those fields, depending on your level of involvement.

I’ve seen day traders with six monitors at a time, but they tend to be more stationary with that kind of setup, or buy and re-sell them in towns they stay in for a few months at a time.

Like I said earlier, the physical tools you need to work from anywhere becomes largely a matter of preference and portability (if that’s even a need for you), with a bit of special tasks thrown in for those who need them.

Point is you can adjust your equipment needs to location irrelevant work if that’s a priority for you. If you want to have an office: have one! You want to have a warehouse art gallery/studio/school space: have one! Want to have a car dealership? Nothing wrong with that. Just different tools

Of course this won’t take into account laws with regards to people’s nationalities and such. But where there’s a will, there’s an angry family fighting over it. (I may have that saying wrong…)

Types of Digital Nomad Work

What this post really evolved into was what working remotely or online really means.

There are really three general areas that I see, regardless of the type of work. They all fall into one of these three, with few exceptions.

Remote Work

You can work remotely, but must be logged in to the system during certain times, or at very least be available to deal with issues during certain times.

Whether you have to log into a company’s internal server, be in the system to help customers online or by phone, or otherwise be there, this type is most like a standard 9 to 5 job, and one that many people transition to most easily.

If you can work from home, you can work from Starbucks. If you can work from Starbucks, you can work from Starbucks in Thailand.

As technology has improved, prices have dropped. Remote work used to be expensive to do because long-distance phone calls were expensive, and so was internet connectivity at home. Now that you can sit in any McDonald’s and use their internet for free, that barrier no longer exists.

Now that most people have internet at home, long distance calling is included in any phone plan, and the tools for calling free or near free to anywhere in the world are everywhere, all those barriers have fallen away.

It’s not total freedom and can be a pain in the ass when you need to be on someone else’s schedule and requires the most time on the internet as well as the best connection possible. This limits you somewhat to the anchor of staying in nicer (more expensive) places with better wi-fi if you travel. It also means some entire countries with sketchy internet may be off limits for you.

If you need to be available for customer service calls in the U.S. daylight hours, you’ll need reliable internet and need to be able to speak in a quiet, private place while you work in the middle of the night.

This kind of thing requires the most consideration and has the most limitation.

Internet Only

The next level you can try for is doing work when hours become irrelevant as well as your location.

You can work whenever you like. There may be a ton of work ahead of you, particularly if you’re building something new and developing a platform of some sort. But you can essentially work whenever you like. So long as you can access the internet, you can do your work on your websites, for your clients, or whatever it is you need to work on.

You may have deadlines, but you aren’t punching a time clock anymore. You can work late and sleep in, or get up early and bust out work when you’re fresh and feeling most creative. You can take the afternoons off, or get everything done by four and enjoy the evening. Whatever works best for you.

Trust the Admiral.

Trust the Admiral.

More Digital Nomads stay in this category when they really don’t need to. So this is kind of a middle ground where a bunch of people stay longer than required. A lot of excess wasting time happens here in unnecessary places doing unnecessary busywork that isn’t really work.

What I mean by this is that this is the area where many of us first break away from “having a job” and start freelancing or building sites and businesses on our own. We don’t need to report to anyone necessarily, but there is always a ton of things to do. The big catch is that part above where we think so long as we have internet access, we can work.

This can hold you back considerably. And I see it a lot.

There are businesses that require being online that aren’t like the previous category of logged in to the server or available during “work hours” like a job, but there are a lot fewer of them than many Digital Nomads think.

Sure, you may have conference calls, need to research online for articles or to solve a problem of some sort. You may have to troubleshoot something on a live website, or handle customer issues. But if you aren’t careful, you can find yourself doing a lot of nonsense that isn’t really working at all, but a distraction.

Consumption sites where you just read other people’s stuff instead of making your own can eat up your life if you’re not careful. Working on your own is not for everyone, and especially when you’re new, if you aren’t used to having the freedom to do whatever you want, you can easily do whatever you want. That won’t get the work done.

There are a bunch of sites and tools that can be used to leverage your business and get your message to more people (customers) in easy and free-ish ways. I didn’t even get into these in my software tools post since each platform can be a whole usage book in itself.

Yes, you can use Facebook for your business and to get customers and sales. But you can also use it for mindless FOMO nonsense that isn’t paying the bills and is in no danger of doing so. Sure, scroll through and see what your friends around the world are up to, but do it when you aren’t supposed to be busting your ass to build your thing. Or a client’s thing.

Don’t be like the average office drone pretending to work for 8 hours a day and only doing about 3 hours of work. This is your business now. And your business means your life. Act accordingly.

Twitter is a great tool to get things done and find new clients. Search it up and answer questions in your field. Help people, be of use. But don’t spend your entire work day twatting back and forth with people thinking it’s a networking tool when you’re only avoiding actual work.

Doing Real Work

The next category of work is fantastic once you find it because you realize you don’t fall under that false dichotomy of internet worker who needs to be on the internet all day. You don’t in most cases.

This article is being written (the 2nd time now) on the screen. I wrote it the first time in my notebook, and fully 95% of this unnecessarily massive post was written without the internet. I just use the tools I have with me all the time, and I don’t need to worry about being tethered to the internet. I could be anywhere typing this, so long as the laptop has power. And I’m not connected as I type this.

My first draft of this post.

My first draft of this post.

I’ll only log into the web when I need to get it shared online. I’ll finish my draft as best I can, before logging in to put it online in WordPress and doing all the final layout things I need to do like uploading the photos and such.

This one of the many reasons I use Scrivener as a writing tool instead of just typing into WordPress over the internet: I don’t need the added excuse of no internet to be able to work. I can work any time. I can be somewhere with craptastic dial-up speed internet, and spend minutes to cut and paste text that I may have spent days writing.

Photos and video are going to need a decent-ish connection, but even in Southeast Asia, the internet is usually at least up and running (or at least jogging).

This is only one example. Many kind of artists or creatives can do almost all of their work offline. You don’t need the internet to do most kinds of work, even various forms of client work. You can do large swaths of web design, programming of various kinds, any writing or editing, and all kind of content creation while not connected to the internet at all. No social media and YouTube videos to distract you from doing your work.

Obviously there are many exceptions and examples. I am putting together a series of interviews with people all doing the same thing, but all done differently. I’ll have the first part out this month, and you’ll have even more examples of people breaking down the barriers to lives they want in ways you can’t even imagine.

Use the internet to share your work. Communicate on your time. To sell your art or thing, whatever it is. Don’t let the internet use you or distract you with it’s myriad shiny things. This is where you start to realize being a Digital Nomad doesn’t need to be very digital at all.

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Elephant Nature Park Sanctuary in Northern Thailand

Elephant Nature Park is an amazing rescue facility in Northern Thailand for many types of animals. The name might give away the fact that elephants are the primary focus of this sanctuary, but there are hundreds of rescued dogs and cats, as well as other animals.

Founded by Lek Chailert as a way to try to save these magnificent animals from various abuses suffered at the hands of people in Thailand and Myanmar, it has become a very popular place to visit on tours, as well as as a volunteering experience in Northern Thailand.

The elephant is a revered animal to the Thai people, yet it’s use as both a beast of burden in the logging industry (now banned in Thailand, but still very active in neighboring Myanmar), as well as in different areas as tourist attractions. While elephant street begging has been largely banned in recent years in parts of the region, the trekking companies still thrive with a seemingly endless supply of tourists who’ve dreamed of riding atop an elephant like Mowgli, or who come to watch them perform circus tricks and let out their creative side by painting pictures for them with their nimble trunks.

Elephant Nature Park

Of course elephants don’t do any of these things in the wild, so they have to get broken in a brutal process known as the crush, as their spirits must be crushed to get them to do any of these unnatural acts. They are painting the pictures so they don’t get beaten with a bull hook.

Bull Hook Scars

Once rescued from often solitary lives around humans who’ve both watched them perform and those who’ve forced them to for so long, these highly-intelligent animals seem to thrive at Elephant Nature Park, where there are no sharp bull hooks to be found. The Mahouts at the park don’t offer rides, force the elephants to do anything other than to hang out and be elephants, and never with the feared bull hooks and threat of violence. They are not burdened with painful chains, and are only penned in large enclosures at night for their safety, but otherwise roam the huge open area of the park during the day.

I’ve always loved animals in general, but as I’ve gotten older, I have become less a fan of animals in captivity at all. As amazing as it is to be able to experience petting a tiger or riding an elephant as I’ve done as a kid thirty years ago, I just can’t imagine putting a park bench across an elephant’s back to ride on for my own amusement now.

Elephant Feet

There are no shortage of places to still go ride elephants and otherwise interact with them in Thailand and elsewhere, but I think the reason Lek’s sanctuary has become so popular is because anyone who has experienced these animals will tell you they are amazing, intelligent, and gentle creatures.

Of course the other side of the coin is that somebody’s got to feed them now that they’ve been rescued, and they eat for 18 hours a day for about 10% of their body weight in food. That ain’t cheap. So some might argue that they are still being exploited just like every other animal attraction (including zoos). But it remains that there is a line somewhere between using the animals as tools for making money, and providing a way toprovide for the animals without abusing them or exploiting them just for the sake of money.

This one threw her watermelon back at me. Probably to tell me the GoPro on my head looks silly.

This one threw her watermelon back at me. Probably to tell me the GoPro on my head looks silly.

The elephants rescued from street begging or the worst of scenarios (several of Lek’s elephants had stepped on land mines while logging in Burma for example) are not able to fend for themselves in the rapidly shrinking wilderness areas. So they can’t just be let out into the woods to find food. There just isn’t anywhere to go even if they knew how or weren’t so physically or mentally traumatized. And then there’s the poaching…

Not all elephant trekking companies are irresponsible or treat elephants so incredibly poorly. Some are doing responsible trekking and things on a healthier scale than from where some of the tortured elephants get rescued. Again, there’s always a line, and I’m not saying they are all necessarily bad. There are mahouts and tour companies who truly care and take good care of their animals.

With all the tons of food the park must buy from local farmers each day, the argument for using the elephants for tourist attraction jobs gets even weaker.

Just a small portion of the  food purchased daily from local farmers.

Just a small portion of the food purchased daily from local farmers.

At the sanctuary, the elephants quickly form into herds and groups as they would do in the wild, as they are very social creatures. Mothers who have lost babies through the elephant trade or just rotten conditions they’ve been kept in by their previous owners are often quick to become surrogate nannies for the younger elephants at the park.

This 80-year-old elephant was close with her Mahout.

This 80-year-old elephant was close with her Mahout.

Elephant and Mahout

 

About Elephant Nature Park

We took a day trip with a group of travel blogger friends, some who were leaving town shortly. We’d been trying to get there for years, but just kept “someday-ing” it until one of our friends picked a date they were going, and we knew we’d better go while we had a reason to stop being too busy.

A day trip starts with a pick up at your hotel or home in Chiang Mai about 8:00-8:30am, and you’ll end up back at 5:00-6:00pm.

We were picked up in a nice van and once everyone in our party was on board, we were shown an informational video (how not to get killed by an elephant), as well as an Animal Planet show about Thailand’s elephant trade, featuring Lek and Elephant Nature Park.

You’ll get to spend the day mostly observing the elephants in different groups, feeding them the tons of fruit they eat all day, and probably washing them in the river running through the property. And by washing them, I don’t mean scrub-a-dubbing them up, but splashing them with water. Elephants are enthusiastic about the water in sweltering Thailand, so I suspect they don’t need guests getting rolled over by the playful pachyderms.

Elephants cooling off in the river running through the park.

Elephants cooling off in the river running through the park.

Washing Elephants in the River

Elephant is all too happy to cool off while she eats.

Elephant is all too happy to cool off while she eats.

You’ll have plenty of time for photos, and plenty of interaction and observation of the elephants on even a day trip. No need to be in a big hurry, as you’ll have all day. Just let them be elephants, and you’ll have the experience of a lifetime even without a ride.

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Herd at Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Herd

Getting chased by one of his nannies.

Getting chased by one of his nannies.

Young elephant playing with his tire toy after escaping the nannies of the herd.

Young elephant playing with his tire toy after escaping the nannies of the herd.

We were fortunate enough to see an elephant arrive at the park while we were there, though we didn’t go up to the truck where she was brought in as we didn’t want to be in the way. A 50-year-old Sook Sai was brought in after a 1000km trip in the truck. She seemed happy to be free of her constant chain and the drunken mahout she was bought from, and I’m sure she’ll adjust quite well at the park once her massive facial abscess heals.

Elephant Sook Sai Arrives at ENP

Elephant Sook Sai Arrives at ENP

Our guide Koy was fantastic and helpful. She’d only worked there for a few weeks, but had lived at the park for a month to learn and train. She could have said she worked there for 10 years and I’d have believed her.

Our fantastic guide Koy loves animals, and it shows.

Our fantastic guide Koy loves animals, and it shows.

A lunch enough to feed an elephant is provided on day trips.

A lunch enough to feed an elephant is provided on day trips.

There are also volunteering options for the dog rescue part of the park, and other longer stays at the park. I encourage you to check out their website if you have more time on your trip to Chiang Mai.

Be sure to check out Maria’s post over on her blog about our trip to Elephant Nature Park here.

And cats. Lots of cats.

And cats. Lots of cats.

Elephant Nature Park is an experience you won’t ever forget.

18 hours a day: They eat.

18 hours a day: They eat.

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