Friday, March 21, 2014

Living the Dream in Thailand

In this new series for TTT, Kristie Kellahan speaks to ex-pats 'living the dream' in Thailand. First up, Chiang Mai's 'Burger King'!

Who: James Choi, 31

Where: Chiang Mai

Why: To realise his dream of owning a restaurant, James moved to Chiang Mai. He opened The White Plate Cafe in the JJ Market area, currently ranked number 1 on Tripadvisor’s list of Chiang Mai restaurants.

When: James first came to Thailand on holiday at the end of 2011. He said he felt an instant pull to the lovely northern city of Chiang Mai, no doubt influenced by a blossoming romance with his now-partner, Pye. In March 2013 he made the permanent move, and two months later The White Plate Cafe opened its doors. It was an instant success, serving the best burgers in town, according to many. Popular burgers include the Sweet Mango & Beef, the Thai Chicken Satay, and the Beef burger, made with NZ ribeye beef and NZ cheddar.

Life Before Thailand: James, a Korean-Kiwi, lived in Auckland where he was a highly-driven consultant for companies including Deloitte and Ernst & Young. He had worked part-time in Auckland restaurants while at university and knew his way around a kitchen. “I’d always dreamed of having my own restaurant one day and Thailand is the perfect place to test it out,” he says. “It’s fun, we’re learning and if we make a bit of money as well, that’s even better.”

Biggest culture shock: “The work ethics here are a bit different so I had to adjust because I am someone who can’t sit still, whereas Thais take a more relaxed approach,” he says.

Biggest challenge: James says it was no easy task navigating the bureaucracy to arrange visas, work permits and business licences. “I’d say just be patient and persevere until you get the right answers,” he says. “I had to do about five or six trips to Immigration before we sorted it out but we got there in the end. Just find solutions and make it work.”

Favourite Chiang Mai hangouts: James and Pye live in the trendy Nimmanhaemin area, chock-full of bars, cafes and restaurants. He rates The Larder, a new cafe opened by a Thai couple who had worked in Sydney restaurants for years. For cocktails and live music, James gives the thumbs-up to Warm Up Cafe.

Best thing about living in Thailand: “I like everything here and it’s been a lot of fun getting to know Chiang Mai,” James says. “There is a great expat community of creative types who have chosen to live here and who enjoy good food.” 
Chiang Mai’s central position in Asia and its international airport has also made it a handy base from which to explore the region: already James has visited Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, and will soon travel to Japan.

Plans for the future: With burger lovers begging James to open an outpost of The White Plate in the Nimman area, expect to see big things from this enterprising foodie.

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