I USED to think the traffic lights in Las Vegas used to take an eternity to change. But I reckon Chiang Mai probably has the record for being the slowest.
Whenever you have an appointment in this town (especially during the busy hours) be sure to leave early or factor in some extra minutes for sitting at traffic lights.
On some days it can take me 30 minutes to complete a journey I'd usually make in 20 with green lights all the way.
The longest light change I have encountered is five minutes. But no-one seems to get overly frustrated. It just means the traffic piles up and you pull away from the lights with dozens of motorbikes around you instead of only a few.
Of course, there is a positive to having slow lights. You can be waiting in a long line of traffic and yet still make it through because the lights stay green so long. And it's useful, too, that you can turn left on a red light.
It's all just part of Chiang Mai life. While driving here seemed manic at first, now, after having cruised here a few months, I find it quite comfortable, having got used to the rhythm of the traffic. You have to keep your wits about you as bikes overtake on the inside and out. But, generally, I find that the traffic moves slower than, say, in London. Driving here seems therefore safer and far less aggressive. It's completely tame compared to somewhere like India.
The driving is selfish, though. No-one lets you out. You have to force your way on to the road. And, as a pedestrian crossing a main road, don't expect cars to slow down - even if you are carrying or walking with a young child. Pedestrian crossings don't seem to matter greatly where they are not at a set of traffic lights.
While almost anything goes in India, life on the road seems more orderly in Chiang Mai. You do see motorbikes driving the wrong way on freeways and main roads occasionally. Motorcyclists often ride without helmets and send text messages as they go. And the police don't seem bothered except on days when it's on their agenda.
Chiang Mai may be Thailand's second largest city, but it feels relatively small to other places we have stayed, like Kuala Lumpur or Buenos Aires. Getting to know the city is quick and easy. And if you get lost it doesn't take long to work out which direction to go.
The traffic bothered me when I first came here, mostly because we were here during the intense land-burning in March and the volume of cars on the road, particularly during rush-hour, added to the pollution, but now it's just an accepted part of the scenery and lifestyle.
When I look at the surrounding mountainscape from our apartment window each day I find it astonishing to believe that on our first visit here the trees and hills were practically invisible (see the contrasting photos above).
For one reason or another, we haven't yet fully explored the beautiful countryside - and there is a lot to see and do. I often wonder what it is that lures people to Chiang Mai and has them waxing lyrical about the place. Easy access to nature from the city is an often-given reason.
We are slowly growing fonder of the city, but so many people we meet who have relocated here describe it in almost-heavenly terms. We shall see if we feel the same in the months to come.