Some Notes on Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Several people have asked me about living in Thailand. After spending a year in Chiang Mai, here are a few suggestions, recommendations and things I wished I knew ahead of time.

  • Learn to speak Thai, at least a little bit. We took classes over Skype video for 2 months from Brett Whiteside and it really helped. I can speak and understand enough basics for cordial and respectful interactions with people, and to eat wherever I want :). If you’re going to be there for a while learn to read Thai. It’s seriously worth it, if only for reading menus and signs.
  • Always print a detailed map of wherever you’re going. Anywhere. All the time. Really.
  • Make a custom Google map with the locations of: post office, utility offices (power, water), telco, police station, etc. Just in case.
  • Banking: ATMs cost US$5 per transaction, and result in currency conversion fees. Instead, open a Bangkok Bank account and get a debit card. Getting a bank account took some paperwork, about an hour of waiting in the bank, and I think you have to pay a small fee. Bangkok Bank is the only Thai bank with a US branch (in NY). This means that you can make direct transfers from US banks to your Bangkok Bank account, allowing for money access with a minimum of delay and fees.
  • 3G: I used AIS, which has unlimited (5GB IIRC) 3G monthly pre-paid option. Absolutely recommended for access to Google Maps while lost ;).
  • Thai street food is often safer than food from “western” places. The food at the carts is usually bought fresh that day, and is cooked in front of you. The food at “western” hotels and restaurants is cooked out of sight, and they try to store food, which is risky since there’s not really health department inspections like in the states, to ensure the storage is properly done. You’ll find infinite opinions about this – this is my personal experience. There’s no magic solution. You will have some intestinal discomfort at some point.
  • Western toilets are everywhere. At some point however, you’ll need to use a squat toilet. Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures has humorous yet informative instructions for properly using a squat toilet.
  • Use Foursquare or some other check-in service. I often couldn’t find a place that I wanted to return to, or had forgotten the street, etc.
  • 7-11. Is awesome. In Thailand you will pay your utility bills, refill your phone minutes, purchase concert tickets, and many other things there.
  • Temples: Wear long pants and shirts with sleeves. Be quiet and respectful. Donate money to them.

Most importantly: Go anywhere and everywhere. Always take a different route. Pull over often. Walk down unfamiliar streets. See every temple. Explore every market. And always carry your camera.


Barcamp Chiang Mai (or: Communicating Mozilla)

Barcamp Chiang Mai was last Saturday. Registration was double what we expected, and actual turnout was fantastic. There were great sessions on HTML5, building the Chiang Mai tech community, web platform toolkits for building mobile apps, and many others. I gave a general talk, covering Mozilla as an organization, Firefox 4, and then a quick overview of a bunch of various projects in the Mozilla world. Slides and links here. Some of the feedback I got from people after this talk:

  1. how little they knew about Mozilla before the talk
  2. how they were going to upgrade to Firefox 4 immediately
  3. or had already upgraded but didn’t know about any of the features I covered
  4. had no idea that Mozilla had any projects outside of Firefox
  5. didn’t know we had a mobile browser (and were subsequently bummed because it didn’t run on their phone)

The geeks didn’t know about the Web Console, and knew little or hadn’t heard about most of the Mozilla Labs projects I mentioned. And most developers that I talk to *still* don’t know that Firefox add-ons are written in JavaScript, let alone Firefox itself.

A large number of both geeks and non-geeks were using Firefox 4 but hadn’t heard about App Tabs or Panorama or Switch-to-Tab. If we don’t already, we should probably do user testing to see if pages like this are actually effective. Or maybe we just need to push them more?

Compared to Apple (46,000 employees), Google (26,000 employees) and Microsoft (89,000 employees), we’re a tiny penniless rag-tag group. I think we broke 400 employees this year! So slathering whole countries in advertising isn’t really an option, and isn’t our style anyway. For a long time we’ve talked about using Firefox itself as a vector for this type of communication, with things like built-in tutorials and introductory wizards for major upgrades. Now that we have about:home, that might be a good place to communicate news about Mozilla the organization, highlighting specific people in the project and important milestones (“500th employee hired!”, “One million bugs filed!”). I’m sure the Engagement group is thinking about these things already (RIGHT?!).

Every time I talk about Mozilla publicly, whether at a technology event or to a random person in line at an airport (I always wear a Firefox shirt when traveling!), I meet people that know very little about this piece of software they use every day and the organization behind it. This experience has been the same at US events, everywhere that I’ve been in SE Asia in the last year, and in Kenya last month as well. We might be a household name, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do on communicating effectively to both geeks and non-geeks alike.