We had been on the road in South East Asia for several weeks. Our travels had taken us through Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and we had just arrived in Thailand. Unemployed and without any desire to return home, we were trying our best to make our budget last as long as it could. We had heard that Thailand, especially Chiang Mai was easy on the budget. Hong Kong had been wonderful but expensive, and we were desperate to make our trip last as long as we could.
So when we found a listing for a guesthouse in Chiang Mai for $5, we realized it’d be the perfect spot to spend a few days.
It was a quick choice – and I had no idea of the impact this simple decision would have on my life.
When we got off the plane, we quickly grabbed our packs and waited in line for a tuk-tuk.
Have you ever ridden in one of these? They are very popular in Chiang Mai! These are open-air, three-wheeled carriages attached to a small motorcycle chassis. The drivers typically decorate their tuk-tuks in bright colors and hang trinkets all inside to help grab your attention. For those of you unfamiliar with this delightful mode of transportation, here are some quick facts:
- Open-air carriages mean you’ll sweat in the humidity any time the vehicle stops and suck in plenty of rush-hour exhaust. I recommend using a scarf to cover your nose and mouth.
- Thieves LOVE it when tourists ride in tuk-tuks – so make sure to keep your belonging close and don’t allow any straps to dangle. It’s common for a thief on a motorcycle to rush pass you and snatch the straps of your purse.
- Every seasoned traveler will agree – make sure you negotiate your final price BEFORE getting inside.
- Tuk-tuks don’t have seat belts, so ride at your own risk
All that aside, they really ARE fun to ride
We jumped into a tuk-tuk, headed toward the guest house and hung on for dear life!
Our guesthouse was in the “old city” district of Chiang Mai. When we got to the guest house, the driver honked his horn, and tiniest Thai grandma came rushing outside. She frantically motioned to the driver and spit out several sentences in Thai.
The driver turned to us and said – “Her daughter only speak English. She not home. No English today”
I looked at my husband, and he shrugged. He’s a man of few words.
I looked at the lady, who at this point was vigorously nodding her head and smiling at us.
How bad could it be?
We climbed out of the tuk-tuk, grabbed our bags and followed her in. She motioned for us to drop our bags, and we looked around to find a good spot to put them down. She opened her arms wide and spun around in a circle. We figured that meant “drop them anywhere!” so we did.
She walked over to the tv and flipped it on. She scrolled through a few channels until she found something in English. I think it was a British children’s show. She turned up the volume, LOUD, and again started vigorously shaking her head and smiling. Suddenly – she ran into the back room.
I looked at my husband and raised my eyebrow. He once again shrugged his shoulders.
When she returned, she was carrying a bottle of water and two glasses. Setting them on the reception counter, she poured us each a glass. Then she ushered us to the couch and tugged on our elbows, motioning for us to sit down. We sat down.
After she handed us our glasses of water, she walked over to a HUGE fan and clicked it on.
Then she positioned it right on our faces. My husband stood up and walked over to the reception desk and pulled out his wallet to pay for the room.
She ran back over to the fan, and repositioned it on him as he stood there. The phone rang, and the lady answered it, talking frantically into the phone. Then she handed it to my husband.
It was her daughter, and she apologized that she wasn’t there to greet us but that her mother would take good care of us. She confirmed that the price for the two of us for one night was $5, and that we could have our pick of any empty room in the house. So far so good.
My husband pulled out the equivalent amount of baht and placed it on the counter and handed the phone back to the lady.
As he walked over to admire the artwork on the wall, the lady rushed over to fan, and once again positioned it on my oblivious husband. He walked around the perimeter of the room, pausing at each piece, pointing out the framed, fraying city maps of Chiang Mai. The little old lady kept repositioning the fan.
It was one of the sweetest things I had ever seen
Once we had finished our glasses of water, she was ready to show us to our room.
This tiny, frail, 4ft 9 inch, 100 lb granny rushed to grab my husband’s bag.
Standing 6ft tall, my husband’s American sensibilities wouldn’t allow it.
And thus a tug of war ensued with his bag.
She kept insisting that she could carry it. Every chivalrous bone in his body prevented it. Finally, she gave up and showed us our room.
Cozy and clean, with a private ensuite bathroom, I couldn’t believe it was only $5.
As we unpacked our packs, the little old lady once again disappeared. 5 minutes later she knocked on our door and handed us a plate of prawn crackers and hot tea.
The next morning she greeted us with a homemade breakfast and handed us this map (which actually cost more than the nightly rate she charged us!)
She smiled and nodded vigorously as she circled spots on the map for us.
As seasoned travelers, we’d experienced all sorts of accommodations
We’ve stayed in resorts and high-end hotels. I’ve couch-surfed and stayed in hostels, chain hotels and Airbnbs. But I’ve never experienced such love from a host. Although it’s often called the “hospitality business” – the emphasis is always on business.
Hospitality is an afterthought.
I was amazed at how loved and taken care of I was.
This tiny woman, unable to communicate in words, had somehow imprinted her love onto my heart.
A $5 room is cheap even by Thai standards. It was clear that she was not in this to make money, but to share her light with the world.
I’ll never forget that sweet lady in Chiang Mai and what a $5 bill taught me about love.