Over the years, many people have asked me why I chose Chiang Mai and what it is like to have children in an international school here. Well, my decision to choose Chiang Mai was both coincidental and intentional. In the late 1990s, I used to pass through Chiang Mai frequently and fell in love with its mountains, teak forests, and the pleasant weather with cool mornings and warmer days.
During the cool months from late November until early March, Chiang Mai reminded me of good summer days in Sweden. It was in my mind as close to Sweden as I could get being in Thailand.
Then the city had most things that Bangkok had, just not as many options.
Why Chiang Mai and not Bangkok
I also appreciated the warmth of the people and the fact that, at least at the time, it was not “just” a tourist town by the sea. Chiang Mai had a pride of being a capital in a kingdom that was older than Bangkok, and its people loved culture, beauty, and festivals. Whenever I returned from assignments and business trips abroad, I felt relaxed in Chiang Mai.
Moreover, it was a lot cheaper to live here compared to Bangkok, and driving out from the city to a waterfall or a natural spot took just 15 minutes.
All of these things came together for my wife and me after we got married. She is originally from Bangkok, and has always loved spending time in Chiang Mai. We had fond memories of our time spent in Chiang Mai, and realized that if we were going to build a house and have children, we didn’t want to be in a satellite town of Bangkok because we would spend most of our time commuting. Downtown Bangkok would have also been unaffordable for us. In addition we did not want any of our future children to grow up with shopping malls as the only source of entertainment on Sundays.
After conducting some research on various web pages, I recalled my encounters with numerous foreigners and expats who resided in Hang Dong during my early years in Chiang Mai. When we finally found a place to build our home, it was the back roads of Hang Dong. Hang Dong offers picturesque mountain views with spectacular cloud formations during the rainy season. Additionally, the house was reasonably priced. This fact made our decision even easier. Since then, we never looked back.
We still love Hang Dong
Chiang Mai and Hang Dong remain a great place to call home, and despite the worsening traffic situation, the infrastructure has improved. The places to explore in the area has always been numerous and keep growing year by year. Local markets have certainly progressed and expanded since we first moved, with numerous international food options now available. In 2006, it was mainly Chan and Pauline’s restaurant, with a touch of Sweden. Today, there are plenty of first-class Italian restaurants, Rim Ping international food market, Mexican cuisine, and much more to choose from.
Picking the school, recommendations from friends
In 2007, our first child was born, and we enrolled him in a very caring Thai nursery called Ban Khun Mae. As a mixed-origin child, he faced some difficulties initially. He was everywhere, running around while the thai kids followed the teacher wherever she directed them. When we transitioned to Hanna International Kindergarten it all became easier. Hanna kindergarten seemed suited for children with mixed origins.
The kindergarten offered an excellent menu of food, and although the Christian approach was not something we were familiar with, it did not pose a problem. Our son enjoyed his time at Hanna Kindergarten. His teachers recognized his strong academic abilities and curiosity towards knowledge. They suggested that we consider an international school once he completed kindergarten as his questioning nature and demand for qualified answers could pose challenges in a Thai school with more of hierachal structure.
Just a school near the house
Initially, we thought of enrolling him at a school close to our residence. However, the teachers at Hannah highly recommended Lanna International School, stating that it was the best option for him to make significant progress. My Swedish friend in Chiang Mai also spoke highly of Lanna, stating that it had high standards and wouldn’t break the bank. Furthermore, a neighbor from a nearby soi informed us that his two children attended Lanna International School. He said he was impressed by the schools focus on writing and mathematics . Then it followed the Cambridge curriculum. I wasn’t very aware of what that meant at the time. Furthermore, he mentioned that his children’s English and math skills were exceptional, which ultimately helped them in their transition to school life in NZ. In fact, they were so advanced that they found themselves bored during their first year in New Zealand. They were about one year ahead of the other kids he said.
Now, 16 years later, we have two children enrolled at Lanna International School. The school has recently built a modern primary school area with top-notch facilities. Our son has been studying at the old campus near the airport for all these years, but he will finally have the opportunity to move to the new secondary school campus. This new campus is just adjacent to the primary school.
The old school was not about its facilities
The strength of the old Lanna campus was never its facilities, apart from the pool, but rather the close relationship between teachers and students, the sense of community, and the active interest the teachers took in guiding the students towards personal growth. Our son, who has always excelled academically, was also encouraged by his teachers to become involved in the student council and drama school, regardless of his abilities in sports.
Lanna’s way of building teams is based on assigning each student to a “house” or color, where they can contribute to the team with their strengths in academics, sports, and games. This inclusive approach ensures that everyone feels like part of the team, and there is no need to be the best at any one thing to feel valued. The school also offers “Twilight shows” for music bands, providing another outlet for creative expression.
Based on the feedback I’ve received from various friends around Thailand, it appears that Chiang Mai boasts some of the most affordable and high-quality schools in the country. While I cannot speak for the other schools in Chiang Mai, I can wholeheartedly endorse Lanna based on our own experiences.
One of the most significant reasons we have stayed with Lanna is due to the exceptional rapport we share with the administration and teachers. Any issues that arise are always resolved amicably, and we have seen an extraordinary level of growth and development in both of our children thanks to the school’s programs and activities. Furthermore, the sense of community at Lanna is remarkable, and we often get to socialize with other parents during events organized by the PTO, such as fantastic barbecues.
When we first visited Lanna
I recall one particular memory of the first time we visited Lanna, where the then-principal, Mr. Hugh, thanked us for taking the time to come to the school, despite its rather unimpressive compound. However, we quickly learned that Lanna’s strengths lay elsewhere. While it may not have the most state-of-the-art facilities, such as the best football field or tennis court, the school has an irrefutable soul that exudes warmth, care, and attentiveness to each student’s growth and well-being.
Of course, no school is perfect, and we did encounter some difficulties when Lanna had to pivot to online learning during the pandemic. Nonetheless, the school remained supportive throughout the process. We have received the assistance we needed to help our daughter catch up with studies, especially with mathematics. The current teacher is really attentive.
With Lanna International since nursery
Our daughter has been with Lanna since nursery. We have witnessed firsthand how the school has grown to accommodate more students while still maintaining how they care. We appreciate that the school listen to us when we have concerns and take it seriously. Even during the most challenging economic times, Lanna remained understanding and flexible. We did have a great record of our early payments before the pandemic that might have helped, but nonetheless, we appreciate that the school was understanding when we struggled financially.
All in all, we have had a great journey with Lanna. The school worked well for us and our kids. A general advice when you decide what school to pick for your child is to try ask as many parents you can about their experiences for International schools. But this is a very honest assessment of our experience.