The first thing I did was go looking for the spots I remember from five years ago. Walking along the moat, finding Hopf coffee and eurobar. Many memories and feelings came back as I stood in the same spots six years later. Things looked largely the same, though Hopf was not a cafe anymore. Its hard to tell what it was as it only sold smoothies at odd hours.
I got a room on the moat for a couple days to look for a more permanent place to stay. I was so excited to be back in Thailand. I kept ending up near Nimman so I got a room near there for a couple nights. It was a good location and quiet and went I looked at two weeks, it was just a bit more to rent for a month. So I signed the monthly rental contract and found myself with an apartment in a foreign country. It cost less than I was paying in Oregon and had more room and a nice view. It felt like a life-checkbox to do that. I found a routine more or less at a huge cafe (CAMP) in a mall for the mornings and found a gym that helped fill the afternoons.
Thanks to meetup, I had a couple events a week to attend - bitcoin and mundo lingo. That helped a lot with keeping some level of social interaction. I felt alone at times, mostly during meals. I enjoyed the food and differences in culture and put a fair amount of effort into learning the thai alphabet and some vocabulary. Being surrounded by thai writing on every walk was ready made entertainment by trying to decode signs. Then the exhaust started to set in. I lived on a main road leading from the moat to Nimman. There were a couple evening walks where the exaust in the air could be cut with a knife. It was like nothing I'd seen before. About a month in I started coughing. Every day I was caughing and knew I had to get away from the pollution.
I started taking back roads to get places and by month two I started to wear a face mask when I was on a main road. The coughing persisted. My tourist visa was about up and I had to do a visa run. tielandtothailand.com has some really detailed posts on how visa renewals work and I settled on a bus ride to Laos with the help of 12go.asia. The seat-of-the-pants coordination of the dozen small steps to actually get from the bus to the border led to some travelers grouping up for the navigation/logistical benefits. Not too surprisingly we were all going to the in-town immigration office and had to spend the night so we stayed grouped up more or less for the social benefits.
Being in Laos even for a short while felt a lot like my first visit to Thailand. Compared to Chiang Mai things are a bit more messy, dirty, and random. After some serious herding and line waiting and anxiety over the correct way to fill out the form, we had our new visas and returned to Thailand.