Chiang Mai was the first destination of my nomadic journey, but in order to get to Chiang Mai I first had to go to Bangkok. I was planning on staying in Bangkok for a few days to both get over the jet lag and also to begin searching for freelance work online. I had a two-hour layover in India on my way to Bangkok, and whilst there I sleepily booked a hostel for when I arrived Bangkok. Later that day, when I arrived at the hostel, I quickly realised that it was actually a party hostel. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just eat dinner, have a beer, then go to bed.” Oh how wrong I was…
Whilst I was eating dinner, my roommates came down to the bar and I had a drink with them. Then they started playing flip cup, but were short one player and asked if I’d play a game or two. Ten beers and ten shots of tequila later, I woke up full of regret but, miraculously, without a hangover. I immediately got out my laptop and, fueled by drunken shame, began looking for freelance work on Upwork.
Surprisingly, I received a response to one of my proposals just fifteen minutes into the endeavour. A French entrepreneur urgently needed help building an email alert system on Amazon Web Services (AWS), and he wanted to talk to me me via Skype immediately. “Sure!”, I said, “Just let me grab my headphones.” It was at that moment I remembered that I was in a party hostel. The internet was not fantastic, the walls were covered in trippy UV art, and there was a constant “wub wub” coming from the speakers in the other room. I got as far away from the noise as possible, but then I couldn’t find any table space to do a Skype call from. There was only one table, but it had been turned into a makeshift tattoo station by an entrepreneurial guest. In the end, I moved all of the tattoo equipment out of the way and started the call.
The guy on the other end of the call was a smart, lovely guy, but his thick French accent combined with the poor WiFi quality and party music made him nearly impossible to understand. During our call, a guest began watching Star Wars on a nearby TV and our fellow business-minded traveler interrupted the call the inquire about our use of his tattoo station. It was at that moment I decided to adopt a tactic I’d learned from Antonio Banderes a few years before: I intermittently said “yes” when the French guy stopped talking, and occassionally threw in an, “I can do that.” Remarkably, the strategy worked and I got the contract. I was to start the next day.
Due to the recent developments, I immediately checked out of the hostel, headed to the airport, and flew to Chiang Mai. I didn’t know where I was going to live, but I had a good idea from other blogs about where I wanted to work: Punspace. I booked the closest hostel to Punspace that I could find (Rimnim) and used that as a base whilst I worked and searched for an apartment. There are a lot of nice, cheap apartments in Chiang Mai, but ultimately I decided to stay at View Doi Mansion for 5,000 baht/month ($150.20). Water and electricity were another 1,000 baht/month ($30.04), and although View Doi has free WiFi, I opted to pay 1,000 baht/month ($30.04) to Sinet for a 100Mb/s fiber line to my room.
With work and accommodation sorted out, I then moved on to Stage 2: dating. Enter Tinder. I’d used Tinder before in the UK and expected it to be the same in Thailand: match a few people before running out of swipes for the day, message most of them, then go on a date with one or two. Holy fuck was I wrong in the best way possible. I looked at the first profile and swiped right (to “like” the person): Match! Woohoo, good luck for my first Thai swipe! Next girl, swipe right, match, next, swipe, match… match, match, match. Oh. My. God. On average I matched about 80% of the girls I swiped right on. Chiang Mai was going to be fun.
I have a few guesses about why the match rate for Western guys is so high in Thailand. First, much like many Westerners seem to think, “All Asians look the same,” maybe many Asians can’t easily differentiate between Western guys. Next, it’s immediately obvious to Thai girls that I’m a foreigner, which means maybe I’ll be more unique and interesting than the Thai guys they’re used to. Third, I’ve heard from a lot of Thai girls that they only date foreigners due to bad experiences dating Thai guys in the past - usually related to infidelity, the guy just not caring about them enough, or the guy trying to mooch off of the girl’s money. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Thai girls say, “Thai guy no good,” although maybe that’s from selection bias because a certain type of Thai girl goes after Westerners. Finally, I think a huge factor is the sex trade. If a guy strikes out in Thailand, he can just go pay $20 to fuck a freelance prostitute. Since it’s so easy for any guy to get sex in Thailand, they don’t really have to play the game anymore; they have the confidence of a guaranteed fallback.
As an aside, I thought that money would be a big factor, but generally girls around my age (I’m 26) refused to let me buy them a meal, and always alternated whose round it was at the bar. Thais in general are incredibly hard workers, and take pride in being able to provide for themselves and their families. I’m not going to say money isn’t a factor, but for mid-20’s guys dating mid-20s girls, it’s generally a negligible one. For older men looking for younger women, then it definitely becomes a factor.
I’m going to skip forward now to my first date, because it’s also how I met my core friend group. It was a Friday night and I was playing pool with a half-English, half-Thai girl at Small House Kafe. She mentioned that she liked to dance, and right across the road was a bar called Corner Bistro, where they have hip hop nights every Friday, so we headed over. We started dancing and I saw this Russian guy called Alex that I’ve seen around at Punspace. I say hi and keep dancing. Then I see Martine, a Dutch girl that loves to dance who I’ve also seen at Punspace. Then I see Sunit, Peter, and Johann, and quickly realize that, coincidentally, the majority of Punspace is at Corner Bistro. My date and I take a break from dancing and Martine invites us over to sit at the Punspace table. She asks for my number and adds me to a WhatsApp group called “Partying Fucking Harder”. The members of this group would, over the next few months, become my good friends.
A few weeks after the night at Corner Bistro, I was sitting in the garden at Punspace when I met a Chinese-Scotsman called Louis (pronounced Loo-ee). Louis is one of those people that you meet and immediately realize is awesome. He’s smart, funny, kind, creative, and genuine. I told a girl I was dating about him and she started jokingly referring to him as my “man crush”. This girl later met Louis and said afterwards, “Holy shit Sterlz, you weren’t exaggerating - Louis is awesome!” Now, a lot of people I met in Chiang Mai are awesome, but I singled out Louis because he’s not only a good friend, but he’s also heavily involved in crypto (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, etc.). Thanks to Louis, crypto would soon play a major role in my life.
I had recently finished the project for the French client, gotten through Toptal’s screening process, and lined up another contract that would start in a week’s time. It was a Thursday, the night of Chiang Mai’s Bitcoin meetup, and Louis dragged me along to it. I’d been before, and agreed to go again so I could get some food and start drinking before we went to a more party-centric area. Now, I have this thing when I’m having fun where I get super social and start inviting everyone to have fun with me. Soon Louis and Jon’s night out became Louis, David, Paul, Joe, Raphael, and Jon’s night out. Then one night became two, then three, then four. On the fourth night, a Sunday, we went out again and the “Sunday Night Gang” WhatsApp group was born. As we continued going out the next week, this soon became the “Every Night Gang”. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth night, I asked one of the guys what he did for a living and he told me he was the CEO of a company that does market making for cryptocurrencies. He asked me what I did, I told him I was a programmer, and he replied, “Great, I need eight! Can you come interview with my lead developer tomorrow?” And that’s how I got into the crazy world that is crypto. Thanks Louis!
I’m very much in the camp of “Work hard, play hard”, so my responsibilities at Paul’s company quickly grew over the next two months, and eventually equity came up. I met with the company’s owners, and we decided the best course of action would be to setup another company that they invest in and I do the programming for. “What will I program?”, I asked. Their response: “Whatever you want. We’re not investing in a specific product, we’re investing in you.” And that’s how 26 in 52 was born. A project where I launch 26 products in 52 weeks. I’m 2 weeks in so far, and have just left Chiang Mai, after being there for 5 months, to stay in Budapest and Prague for a bit. Soon I’ll be going to Bali to live for a month or two, and then who knows after that.
Hopefully this explains to my family and friends what I’ve been up to for the past 5 or so months. There are a bunch of funny stories about my time in Chiang Mai, but this post is just a few highlights about the things that impacted my life significantly whilst I was there. I’ll post some of the other stories at a later date. Thanks for reading!