About Us

We are a married couple who retired and moved to Thailand in 2014. You are welcome to join us and our travel monkeys Sun Wukong and Malcolm Jr. on our adventures! We hope you enjoy the trip as much as we do.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Food Is Art ..... Art Is Food

Before we moved I was hoping to meet some Thai people to become friends with and eventually...maybe...feel a closeness almost like family. So, lets start with the meeting people part. We have a darling woman from the Philippines living down the hall from us. She has been here for over a year teaching English to Kindergarten children. I was so happy when we met in the elevator and in the hall a few times and was hoping to connect with her without coming across as a weird old lady. “Hi, Would you like to go for lunch someday?” That was Chissy asking! “YES, we would love to!”

We went to her favorite cafe called The Meeting Room / Art Cafe. It is in the lower part of a very old, traditional Thai teak house located on Charoen Rat Rd across the street from Wat Kate. The courtyard has a large metal tin man sculpture to greet you, complete with birds nesting in his stomach and perched on his shoulder. At night he will light your path to the door.

Photo by Chissy

I had a sense something very special was about to happen when I placed my shoes with all the others. Since arriving, I have only had the opportunity to take off my shoes when entering temples and in doing so brings feelings of respect, affinity, acceptance and appreciation. I felt the same way here. Stepping over the threshold I was immediately welcomed by the owner, Jo. His genuine caring that we were there was overwhelming and his eyes conveyed, “Where have you been , I missed you!” The smell of coffee and warm weathered teak wood surrounded me like an antique blanket ready to whisper stories from the past.

Photo by Chissy

Photo by Chissy

Photo by Chissy

My heart was skipping a beat as I took a seat at the large community table. Against one wall from floor to ceiling were shelves of books to read, behind me was a table with a display of fanciful metal sculptures, and more shelves of beautiful free form designs. Hanging on the walls and leaning everywhere else are paintings done using various media. There are several glass cases with hand made jewelry, small statues, note cards and so much more. I could easily spend hours here feeling the creativity of the artist that built the house to the young up and coming artist’s who display their work here. The best thing of all......there is not a sign anywhere that says, “Do Not Touch.” I will also add that his food is delicious and the smoothies are truly amazing!

Photo by Chissy

Photo by Chissy

Jo has created a separate special art gallery space at the other end of the room for featured artists to display or perform their art. When we attended the current show the next evening we met Jo's wife Fon. She catered the evening with home made finger foods including small delicate heart shaped scones. I found out that Fon owns her own bakery!

Off to Melt Away Bakery we went for lunch the next day. It is located directly across from Chiang Mai Gate Hotel on Suriwong Rd. Like The Meeting Room, Fon has a beautiful courtyard with hanging plants and cloth table coverings with little plants on each table. I took my time to look around before I noticed......The Shoes! Oh, this was going to be another great experience!

Chissy, Vince and I said hello to Fon and she was smiling from ear to ear and so very happy to see us. We took a seat and chatted while Fon scurried around from her back cook room to the front baking room. She explained that she remodeled the space from the floor up and it is truly lovely. The colors are happy and calming and the little touches are very nice indeed. Small glass jars of loose tea and a beautiful large glass jar and drink glasses to help yourself to fresh water.

Wine and Chocolate!

The cold case had the biggest apple pie I have ever seen along with brownies, REAL cheesecake, and many other mouth watering delights just waiting to be gobbled! But we were there for lunch! She was making Green Curry Pot Pies. Chissy and I had the vegetarian and Vince had the chicken. We watched her roll out the dough, fill the pans with curry goodness and place the top crust on, all the while humming along to some great music from the sound system and smiling like a woman in love.

Soon the smell was making me dizzy with anticipation. She gave us our pies and like little children were told, “Be careful, it's hot!” We couldn't wait and were quickly waving our hands in front of our mouths while trying to get out a Mmmmm sound at the same time.

There is something called being in the Zone. Where you are memorized, hypnotized, and bewitched by a moment in time. We have been fortunate enough to taste some amazing food by some well known chefs with Michelin stars to their credit and ate plates of Northern Thai food made specifically for us by two Grandmothers in their 70's when we stayed with them in Den Chai. We know when magic happens! If I had to choose, I would re-live the experience in Den Chai over the Michelin Stars any day! Fon's Green Curry Pie crust was buttery, flaky and melt in your mouth delicious and the curry was over the top amazing with the perfect amount of heat....not too much, not too little. With every bite the flavors hit different parts of my mouth, lingered and when I was bursting full, temped me to take just one more bite. Oh.....did I say I loved it? She was making Red Curry with potatoes the next day so we ordered three to have for dinner with Chissy before we leave for Japan.

Jo's passion is art and if you ever want to find out the pulse of the scene in Chiang Mai, have a great coffee or smoothie and feel like you are in your own museum where you can touch all the things please stop by. The Meeting Room

Fon's passion is art. She is brilliantly gifted at her craft and it shows in the meticulous way she goes about her work. She told me she dreams about her next creation and is not happy until it is exactly as she envisioned. She truly is a woman in love! Stop by to taste some perfect cheesecake, gooey brownies, savory pies which can be vegetarian or not, and she is working to include some gluten free and vegan goodies also. Plain and simple........Fon Makes Magic! Please stop by.  Melt Away Bakery

We were meeting Ursula for dinner at Kao Kab Kang on Chang Klang Rd. This is our second time here. Both times we were treated as if we were special guests and all of the food is delicious. 

After dinner we walked to her apartment and stopped at a small market just down the street from the restaurant. I wanted a flashlight because we would be walking in the dark back to the main road. The woman showed me what she had and handed it to her husband who opened it for me and put the batteries in to make sure it would work. As he was doing that, his wife handed me a bunch of Lychees from her garden....”Organic”, she said. There was no hidden addenda or was she trying to sell them to me. They were a gift!

It was then that I noticed they both spoke fluent English so I chatted with the man for a few minutes. They moved from Bangkok two years ago because they love Chiang Mai. I told him we love Chiang Mai and also live here now. I was surprised how happy he was to hear that. I thanked them for the fruit and left. How many times in one day can you be treated so special? I am humbled.

The past couple of days have not been all about discovering delicious food. We met new people and were exposed to the generous heart that is Thailand. Laughing, having fun and creating lasting memories in special places with special people is a dream come true.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

CONSULATE AND IMMIGRATION DAYS– Visa and Extensions to Stay in the Kingdom

I get asked a lot about how we managed all the minefield of paperwork and regulations to move to Thailand? We moved to Thailand on Single Entry Non-Immigrant O Visas with plans to get one year Extensions To Stay In The Kingdom based on Retirement at Chiang Mai Immigration during the last 30 days of the validity of the Single Entry Non-Immigrant O Visa. This is the O Visa, not the O-A Retirement Visa.

One of the questions we have been asked is how we filled out the Visa Application so that it would be approved.

Another of the most confusing and asked about questions I get are from people who want to know the In's and Out's of the Extension To Stay In The Kingdom based on Retirement. This is something that I have researched intensively for the last few years and now that we have gone through the process I am able to report it to you from a practical, operational standpoint.

There are a lot of misconceptions about getting a “Retirement Visa” in Thailand. First of all, you cannot get a retirement visa in Thailand. Retirement Visas (Non-Immigrant O-A visas) are only available from the Thai Embassy in your home country and the requirements to get it is more involved than if you come to Thailand on a Non-Immigrant O Visa and then get an “Extension To Stay In The Kingdom based on Retirement” in Thailand.

We came to Thailand on Single Entry Non-Immigration O visas with the reason being “research retirement options”.

Below is a sample of how to fill out the Visa Application. We filled ours out, went to the Portland Thai Consulate with our Passports, turned in our application and $80 fee, and walked out the door 15 minutes later with our visas. You can do this by mail if you aren't able to go to a consulate. Just allow a little more time to have it processed and returned to you. It was really that simple. Be sure to check your consulate's website to find out if they require anything else to process the application.

If you don't know what your arrival date, departure date, your proposed address in Thailand, or a Thai phone number you can leave those fields blank and it won't be held against you.

In the last 30 days of the validity (permitted to stay date) of the Non-Immigrant O Visa you can apply for the One Year Extension To Stay In The Kingdom based on Retirement. To do this you need to go to the Immigration Office and submit the required paperwork and pay 1900 Baht fee. It is recommended to fill in and sign all the paperwork that needs to be submitted BEFORE you go. It will save you a lot of time and possible headaches.

We headed to Chiangmai Immigration office early since we weren't able to sign up online for an appointment. They have an online system that you can sign up 100 days in advance for an appointment. Unfortunately, we weren't able to sign up as all the appointments were already taken so we had to join the masses in arriving early to get a number and wait our turn.

We arrived at 6:15 am and the lineup was already out into the parking lot. At 6:45 they started handing out Queue Number Cards. We were numbers 46 and 47. This first card is the card you get to go inside, wait for your number to be called, show them your passport and paperwork you need to process, and then are given another number (depending on what you're there for) for the queue for that service.

We got 226 and 227 and were told to come back at 1:00 pm. Of the 45 people in front of us 25 of them were needing to go to the same window as us. So we had the rest of the morning to take it easy and do something else. It was very nice of them to let us know what time they expect us to be called. We planned that this might end up being an all day event so “mai bpen rai”. Next year we will be able to use the online appointment website and schedule our appointment and avoid having to show up so early to get a number.

We returned just before 1:00 pm. They started the afternoon with number 218 and it took them about an hour to get to us. Each extension to stay was taking about 15 minutes to be processed and then about 45 minutes to get the passport back from the back office.

We had all our paperwork in order and ours went quickly and we had our passports back by 2:30. While waiting for our passports I got a couple numbers so that we could try and get our Re-entry permits done today. It took about 2 hours to get that completed because that window was also processing Tourist Visa extensions. With the crackdown on In/Out visa runs there were a lot of folks trying to get things legal. But we got our Re-entry permits also.

The following supporting documents will be needed for all extension to stay requests made at Immigration:
1. Application for Extension of Temporary Stay in the Kingdom, TM.7 – one original. If you print out the application be sure to print it double sided. On the back page include your phone number under your signature. It doesn't say so anywhere but they will ask you for it if it's not there.
2. One color photograph less than 6 months old– 4cm x 6 cm
3. Your Passport with at least 6 months remaining validity
4. One Photocopy of the following passport pages:
Identity page showing the passport holder’s picture, name, and date issued, etc.
Page showing the Non-Immigrant Visa
Page(s) showing each subsequent one year extension, if applicable
Page showing the last entry stamp into Thailand
Photocopy of Departure Card, TM.6 (this card is usually stapled in your passport upon arrival)
Each photocopy needs to have your original signature on it – in Thailand, this is deemed
to be your certification that it is a true copy of the original.

You will also need to prove, with documentation, that you have enough income to meet the requirements to be granted an Extension to Stay. There are three ways to qualify financially.
  1. Verifiable income of 65,000 Baht per month from sources outside of Thailand. (You are forbidden to work here if you are on a retirement visa or a retirement based extension to stay.)

  1. 800,000 Baht in a Thai bank account, in your name only. It must be seasoned (no less than 2 months on the first application and no less than 3 months on subsequent applications) You need a letter of deposit from the bank (that day, if possible) and a copy of your bank book with the balance matching the balance in the letter from the bank. By seasoning they mean that the balance in the Thai bank account cannot go below 800,000 Baht during the seasoning period.

  1. A combination of monthly income plus Thai Baht in a Thai bank account totaling 800,000 Baht per year. The actual regulations do not require the Thai Baht to be seasoned for any amount of time using this option. However, some Immigration Offices require it to be seasoned the same as in the second option. Call your Immigration Office to make sure what their requirements are. You don't want any surprises when you apply for your extension to stay.

As Americans, our income is verified by a notarized sworn affidavit from the US Consulate in Chiang Mai. Since we are both qualifying for our extensions to stay using the income only option we went to the Consulate about a week before we went to Immigration to apply for the extension to stay. You have to make an appointment online for your visit to the US Consulate to process the paperwork. It took us 13 minutes from the time we entered the building until we left. The cost for the notarized document was 1650 baht each. Approximately $50 USD.

Other documents you might be asked for and would be wise to have with you just in case. Do not offer them but have them available if the immigration officer asks for them.

  1. Rental contract for your place of residence.
  2. Rent receipts
  3. Google map with location marked of your place of residence
  4. Any supporting documentation of income and/or banking
  5. Marriage license

Here is a sample of how to fill out the TM7 form, Application For Extension Of Temporary Stay In The Kingdom.

Here is a sample of how to fill out the Income Verification form that you get from the US Consulate.

Would you like to know how Immigration calculates the exchange rate when determining how much your income is in Thai baht? It is based on the Bangkok Bank exchange rate on the day you apply at immigration. Use the “Notes” rate for USD50-100

Monday, July 14, 2014

Big Buddha Day

It is Asarnha Bucha or Big Buddha Day as one of our friends call it.

Celebrated in Thailand on the first full moon of the eighth lunar month, Asarnha Bucha Day also known as Dharma Day, is one of Theravada Buddhism's most important festivals and marks the first public sermon given by Buddha, which took place at Deer Park in Benares, India. This first pivotal sermon, often referred to as “setting into motion the wheel of dharma,” is the teaching which is encapsulated for Buddhists in the four noble truths: there is suffering (dukkha); suffering is caused by craving (tanha); there is a state (nirvana) beyond suffering and craving; and finally, the way to nirvana is via the eightfold path. This is also a popular time for men to enter the monk-hood.

The day also marks the beginning of Vassa, also known as the Rains Retreat. For the duration of Vassa which is three lunar months, Monks remain inside monasteries and temple grounds for intensive meditation. It has been a long standing tradition for Monks not to travel during the rainy season as they may unintentionally harm crops, insects or even themselves during their travels.

We were so happy our good friend Surasak (Sam) asked us if we would like to go to the ceremony. Not knowing what to expect, Vince took all his camera gear and I took my new video camera. When we arrived there were vendors lining both sides of the street outside the temple selling lotus flowers with incense sticks, candles and offerings for Buddha. Many people were dressed in white and when we found Sam I noticed he and Vince were wearing long sleeve white shirts....they both looked very handsome!

Knowing there is an appropriate way to dress when visiting a temple I wore long sleeves and leggings under my dress. I did see many younger Thai's wearing shorts and sleeveless tops along with the tourists doing the same. Times appear to be changing.

Wandering around the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang from daylight to dark with several hundred Monks, locals and tourists milling about while listening to bells ringing, chanting, laughter, children giggling and seeing everyone smiling was certainly a magical evening. You could feel the reverence being paid throughout the evening and the air was filled with love, forgiveness and hope.

Wat Chedi Luang was constructed in the 1300's and housed the original Emerald Buddha that now resides in Bangkok. For the 600 year anniversary in 1995 a copy of the Emerald Buddha was made from black jade and place in the same niche on the east side. 

It is the beginning of the rainy season and I found it very auspicious that it rained for a while during the ceremony. I was standing up on a covered area taking video when I saw a photographer look up, grab his camera and tripod and head for cover. Then other people were quickly getting up from their seats and streaming up the stairs to where I was standing taking video. I realized what was going on so I picked up my shoes and headed to the back of the Chedi to find Vince. I passed the table where women were selling lotus and watched them whip out their umbrellas all the while smiling and continuing on with business.

The raindrops were coming down a little faster, but I thought it was nothing to worry about as I walked to find Vince. Not even a minute later I was running for cover and found a small wooden thatched structure and ducked inside. I saw a woman next to me under a large white tent, she smiled at me and then reached her hands under the water pouring from the fabric to wash her hands, splash her face and wet her hair back. The thunder was loud and the rain was louder. The smell was refreshing and I looked around to see Vince facing me to take a picture of the rain. He was several tents away and we waved at each other.

People gathered under tents and as the rain eased the chanting began. Vince was now under the structure with me and we watched two little boys playing in large puddles. I managed to take some video as several other children ran through on their way around the Chedi. I felt their joy seep into my very soul!

The Monks were now gathered together to lead people walking three times around the Chedi while chanting prayers. As the ceremony finished people were taking selfies and gathering for family photos. It was an amazing couple of hours.

As we left the smell of food was calling and we walked a couple blocks and found a place to grab a bite. Coconut based soup, Panang Curry and Beef Salad were all delicious. Our ride home was quiet and the air refreshing.....we slept like babies!