A former high school classmate and cherished old friend when reconnecting with Roger through Facebook quoted the old saying: "When God closes a door, he opens a window." The years have seen a number of life changes for us that make that adage ring true. After being blessed with good fortune, a wonderful son and great experiences, we decided to look out that window and prepare for more of what this wonderful life has to offer. We hope through our blog to share our journey from this point forward with family, with friends and with many others. Hopefully we'll make some new friends along the way. We hope you find our tales of some interest, even amusement and perhaps an inspiration for you to treat each and every day as an opportunity and an adventure to share with those who are an important part of your life.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cuenca and Chiang Mai: Two Cities We Love!

Chiang Mai, Thailand competes with Cuenca, Ecuador in various listings for the best spot in the world to retire to. It currently ranks number two in most listings and has been in the top five spots for a number of years.

There are a number of similarities between the two cities:

Both have a rich and colorful history that is appreciated and admired by foreigners and locals alike. Both Cuenca and Chiang Mai were capitals of important indigenous civilizations. In Chiang Mai's case, it became the headquarters of the Lanna Kingdom in the early 1200's.

Both have a central core area which they are trying to preserve. In Chiang Mai, this area is well defined by a surrounding moat along which are portions of the old original city wall and city gates. As a whole, however, Cuenca has done a better job of preserving its architectural cultural heritage. Differences in historic construction and climate (wood doesn't last long periods in tropical rains) may be a contributing factor here.

Both cities can be cited for their abundance of beautiful houses of worship. In Chiang Mai, there are over 300 wats (temple complexes) one of which contains a chedi (religious memorial) that dates back to the 1200's.

Both cities offer excellent and affordable medical and, especially in Chiang Mai's case, dental care.

Outside of the core, both cities have ample modern growth, development and amenities. Chiang Mai has more modern shopping centers...Cuenca has more Mercados (called bazaars here)but Chiang Mai has them as well. It even has one that only opens at night. Also on each Saturday and Sunday evening, a long city street is closed and designated as a "walking market". Vendors set up beginning at 4:00pm and you can shop and snack until you drop or at 10:30pm, whichever occurs first.

Both cities have well rated universities which attract their country's brighest young people.

Both cities celebrate their cultural heritage. Chiang Mai's indigenous population includes hill tribes that were refugees from Burma, Laos and even China in the area's early history. Indigeneous people do enjoy more social respect, however, in Ecuador.

Transportation is cheap in both cities. Chiang Mai has wider streets but no public bus system. They do, however, have four forms of taxis: regular automobiles (more expensive than Cuenca), Song Traew, a covered pickup truck with benches. In these vehicles, the price is fixed at 20 baht (about 60 cents) anywhere. However, you will have to negotiate with the driver to find out if he wants to go there based on where the rest of his passengers are going. There is also the infamous motortrike called tuk-tuk and you might even find a rickshaw although those, we are told, are dying out as the drivers retire.

Arts and crafts are in abundance in both cities and each has its specialities. Weaving is common to both areas. Chiang Mai abounds in affordable, very high quality silk.

A fairly high widespread usage of English is common to both cities although it is spoken less in Chiang Mai. However, the usage of bi-lingual signage is more common here. All official signs (highway markers, etc) are bilingual and you have to be in the most rural of areas to see a road sign in Thai only.

Both cities are having an extraordinary amount of rain this year! We thought we would throw that in for all our friends back in Cuenca who seem to be whining just a bit about the weather. Trust me, This area has you beat for rain.....we went to an Isan style Thai
restuarant just before a rain hit the other night and a full inch and a quarter fell before we
finished our meal! (This restaurant was roofed but open sided which is common in this climate).

Both cities are served by a major connecting airport with service to nearby countries.

Both cities are home to growing expat populations. The percentage is relatively small in both cases but Chiang Mai "extrajaneros" are more diverse and include Japanese, Australians, New Zealanders, (affectionately called Kiwis), British, German and, of course, Americans. Collectively (except for the Japanese), we are referred to as falang, the Thai name for guava, whose color our skin resembles. In both countries, the ex-pat population is welcomed and treated well, but we would have to give the nod to Ecuador for both populations doing a much better job of integrating with and accepting each other.

With so many positive and wonderful things in common, it's no wonder both cities are atrracting ex-pat retirees. Each also has some unique advantages and, as with every place you chose to live, some disavantages to deal with.

We've fallen in love with the beauty and wonder of Chiang Mai but the Yazells have missed Cuenca, Ecuador. We look forward to our return home in January but until then we are fortunately blessed to be "juntos en el camino de la vida"!


  1. How about the weather? I understand that Chiang Mai is hot and humid, which would be a deal breaker for me. I like the cool Spring like weather in Cuenca.

  2. Yes, it is more humid and warmer than Cuenca, although not as bad as Bangkok. The mountain region north of here toward Chaing Rai is cooler but still has fairly high humidity especially during the raint season which oddly enough is lasting longer this year just like it is in Cuenca!