Living the Oh-So-Affordable High Life

It doesn’t take much to make me happy.  An apartment with a view, strong wifi, a kitchen and a king sized bed — and I’m blissed out.  In the lap of luxury.  After years of traveling, living in hotels, hostels and guesthouses or tiny studio apartments, I’m a little shocked at just how used to living out of a suitcase I’ve become.  So much so that our recent splurge feels like decadence: a one bedroom apartment, overlooking Chiang Mai, close to the markets, walking distance from the Saturday night walking street, and quiet, oh so very quiet.

When I saw the place, we were told that it was the last suite available.  Everything else was booked up for the season.  The price was 17,000 baht, which is way more than we’d ever normally pay, but after three months of travel, lots of work, and cheap living, we decided to treat ourselves.  I walked in and I was like, “Yes, this.”  There’s a living room and a small kitchen table.  A little kitchen area with a stove top (!), microwave and fridge.  A separate bedroom (imagine the novelty of not working where you sleep) and two baths.  There’s enough room for Cole to take out all of his toys and still be able to run around.

So yes, after a year and a half of travel, we’re taking three months off in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  It’s strange saying that, when three months in Chiang Mai is travel to some people, but for us, at the moment, it feels like being expats.  We’ve unpacked our suitcases and hidden them away.  We bought things we can’t travel with like a rice cooker, a sandwich press, big colorful plastic toys for Cole, and inflatable swimming tubes.  Yesterday, I bought flowers.  I put them in a vase.  We’re definitely not travelers right now.

It’s funny that I bought my Macbook Pro here in Thailand this time last year, and here we are, back in Thailand again.  We love it here!  We keep coming back.  Even my keyboard has the Thai alphabet on it:

Our place has decorative touches that aren’t purely functional!  There are like little statues, paintings, vases and pots in our room, just to look nice.  Oh right, people live places.  They like to make those places more pleasant.  Not everyone is wandering around the world as a nomad under strict orders to only own what they can literally carry.  Right.  Got it.

Okay and now I’m just bragging.  My room comes with cleaning service that includes twice weekly cleaned linens, towels and oh my god, white cotton robes.  (Did I mention my bar for luxury is pretty low?)  We don’t even know what to do with them.  Sometimes we’ll just wear them while we work, like, “look at me dahling, I’m working in my robe.”  Yes, we’re very fancy.

The single best part of all of this?  Having a kitchen.  I can not stress enough what it is like, for me, someone who absolutely loves to cook, to finally have a kitchen again.  I could probably fill this blog with all of the food we’ve made so far (don’t worry I won’t!) but I will share one dish I just made.

Crispy Thai Style Fish with Eggplant Basil Stir Fry and Jasmine Rice

This dish is so easy, it’s insane.  It’s also extremely cheap to make in Thailand.  We picked up everything, the fish, the veggies and the herbs for about 100 baht at the market.  That’s a little more than $3 for a huge meal for two people, plus leftovers.  If you’re not in Thailand, you can still make this dish, it’ll just cost you about $56 at Whole Foods.  (Actually you can swap out any local veggies that are cheap for the Thai versions and it’ll be just as good.  The secret?  Garlic, Basil, Lime and Spicy Chili Peppers).

This is what we started with for veggies.  Everything is cheap here, so we went overboard, big time.  But the basics: cilantro, bean sprouts, thai eggplant (those white bulbs), red and green chili peppers, carrots, bell peppers (red, green and yellow), onion, garlic, green onions, thai string beans, lime and Thai basil (it’s the same as regular basil, but has a unique flavor and the stems are purple — but regular basil will work too).

Now if you’re like me, you take all your produce and lay it out nicely on your kitchen table and take a bunch of photos while your husband sighs.

And don’t forget to do some super up close macro shots for good measure:

That’ll last only as long as your child can resist stealing things blindly from the table top. Which is to say, not long.

To make the Crispy Thai Style Fish you’ll also need a whole fish.  A smallish one like the one below.

At the market they gutted and descaled the fish and when we got home we rinsed it out with tap water.  Then we coated in salt and let it rest for five minutes (this absorbs the fishy-taste) and then rinsed it again.  The we dried it off again, because any moisture will splatter when you drop it in the oil later.

Salt, pepper the fish.  Make three slices on it’s side with a knife.  Rub smushed or chopped garlic all over it.  Heat up about an inch or two of oil (test it to make sure it’s hot by throwing in a small piece of garlic and if it bubbles up like mad, you’re in good shape), throw in the fish and let it cook 10-15 minutes total, flipping it half way through.  As the garlic cooks, browns and rises to the surface, remove it.  Otherwise you’ll have yucky charred garlic in there. That’s it.  Crispy Thai Style Fish.  Next…

For the stir fry, we just chopped a bunch of vegetables up (any of these can be substituted) we ended up using:

  • one large carrot
  • a handful of green beans
  • one white onion
  • a whole clove of garlic
  • three whole Thai chili peppers (we like it medium hot)
  • three bell peppers
  • six thai eggplants

The Thai Eggplant reacts to the air and turns brown when you slice it open (that’s normal). We put some oil in the wok, threw in the vegetables in order of time to cook (carrots, eggplant first) and kept stirring it over heat until done.  Near the end we added a bunch of basil.  A little soy sauce for salt.

Plate it with steamed jasmine rice, chopped spring onions, cilantro, bean sprouts and lime:

It was insanely good.  The fish is not overcooked but light and falls apart at the touch.  The skin is crispy and delicious.  The aromatic basil gives the stir fry that distinctive Thai flavor. The chili peppers give a warm heat.  Yum!

And the second best part of our place?  Taking a nap after lunch.

33 Comments

  1. Meilissa

    That’s incredibly awesome!! And Cole looks incredibly cute!!

  2. Dang, that is some gourmet cooking! I have never in my life even *considered* cooking an entire fish before. We’re heading to Chiang Mai in December, though, so maybe we’ll have to give this recipe a try.

  3. I wonder if Cole will inherit the “love to cook” gene?

    My 10 year old was really upset after fighting with his sister the other evening. He came in, all worked up, and said to me, “Mum! I just have to cook dinner tonight, I have to. I’m so upset, and I just need to calm down. I must cook tonight.”

    He followed that up a few nights later when his 8 year old sister was cooking with a very sulky, “It should be the law that all 10 year old boys should cook for their families.”

  4. The Thai Fish dish (haha, I just rhymed) sounds absolutely amazing! I just stuffed myself with homemade Mac n’ Cheese and now I’m hungry again!

    PS I think I need to see this apartment of yours when I get to Chiang Mai, it sounds incredible!

  5. Enjoy your “expat” time! 🙂 The food looks amazing, I actually wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of it on the site…

  6. I don’t like my food to stare at me, but other than that, can I invite us over for dinner:) Will pass the recipe on to the hubby. He loves to cook. Sounds like you have found a slice of heaven on earth … First, i want my European tour. Then, Thailand, here we come!

  7. I can SO understand the nesting instinct, even if it’s for a short time. And we’ve only been on the road for 10 months compared to your time travelling!

    The food looks lovely and you sound oh-so-relaxed. Enjoy every minute of it!

    • That’s funny that you mention being relaxed. I hadn’t thought about it until I read your comment, but you’re right!

  8. What is it about Chiang Mai, that everybody ends up coming here and then taking a break from their travels? I just got here a week ago, and decided also to do exactly the same thing. Probably stay another two weeks or so. While I actually like hostels, it is nice for a change, not having to sleep in a dorm 😉 Btw. the fish looks amazing, made me hungry alright, time to go get some food 🙂

  9. That fish dish with the fresh vegetables looks SO delicious! It really seems like a luxury to relax and start accumulating things again that you don’t have to carry on your back with you. Maybe Cole will learn to speak Thai while you’re living there!

  10. I completely understand the wonderful pleasure of having a kitchen and a separate bedroom. And robes?! That’s my definition of luxury =)

    We are arriving in Chiang Mai tomorrow and hoping to find our own retreat for 3 months. Sometimes you need the break from travel. Looking forward to meeting you guys.

  11. Oh, yes please… A kitchen. And flowers in a vase. And robes. And dear ones at your dinner table. Enjoy. xx

  12. This sounds wonderful! For the uninformed (like me) could you clarify the price. Is that per month or for your entire 3 months stay? Thanks!

    • That’s per month. Gulp. My other place in Chiang Mai was 4,000 baht/mo so this is a big jump up for us. It’s just under $600/mo USD.

  13. I am so jealous as I want to live in Chiang Mai too and buy, fresh, cheap vegies

  14. Like that you value quality over quantity. The new digs sound amazing without being stuffed to the brim w/”stuff”

    Seems you found a great balance and Cole sure looks happy.

    Btw, great night shot of the view.

  15. I’ve definitely been thinking about moving to Thailand after Australia…and I think after hopping on XE.com and seeing that what you pay for a fabulous apartment with LINEN SERVICE is less than what I pay for my (admittedly, I do have a view of the beach) apartment in St Kilda…well, let’s just say I’m pretty much convinced.

  16. Wow, very jealous!

    You mentioned you bought your macbook in Thailand. I’m curious, did you save any money buying one in Thailand or was it the same price you would have paid back home? I’ve been saving up to buy myself a macbook but since I live in Korea they are very expensive and the only way to do it is order it and have it shipped from home. However I will probably take a vacation to South East Asia sometime soon and it be nice if I could get one there for cheaper!

    • Yeah it’s more expensive. Computers, cameras, electronics etc are all cheaper in the US. You end up paying the retail price plus about $250 for import taxes. I even had a Kindle shipped here and paid $50 above the retail rate. It’s crazy. The best solution is to get someone who is flying over from the US to bring stuff to you. But of course that’s not always an option. I’ve always said we need a US->Asia travelers tech mule… if you got enough orders together you could pay someone to fly out for less than the import tax!

      The only nice part is that my computer has Thai plugs, so I never have to use an adapter here. 🙂

  17. Kierston

    This looks so delicious! Thanks for sharing your world with us. It looks like you a truly enjoying your time there 🙂

  18. Susan Lanier-Graham

    Loved this! I’m so jealous. I visited Chiang Mai earlier this year and fell in love. With so many places to travel, I don’t often find places I want to return to when they are such long treks from home, but I can’t wait to go back. I was captivated by the place, the people, the culture, the food. Enjoy and thanks for sharing the recipe.

  19. Hey great dish!
    I know that apartment! 😉 We lived in the same apartment building for two months (may & june) this year! We were in 803 I think. We spent hours sitting on the kitchen bench outside watching the lightning and rain over the city. We’re in Hanoi now and I miss Rimping supermarket and the Central Airport Plaza Mall thing….oh the luxuries…

  20. Just looking at that view makes me want to travel back to Thailand. And that dish looks SOOO GOOD. I think I’m going to go cook now. bye

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