If cleanliness is next to Godliness then the Thai are surely divine. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a more fastidious people anywhere on the planet. Among the locals, standards of personal hygiene are taken very seriously indeed and integral to their routine sanitation rituals is dressing in scrupulously clean outfits at all times. By virtue of such highly conscientious habits, laundering facilities, laundry care products and associated paraphernalia exist in no short supply throughout Chiang Mai, are readily accessible and eminently inexpensive. So, in the interests of avoiding being labelled as a dirty ‘farang’ [the Thai word for any foreigner of Caucasian descent], what types of laundering solution exist in the city, how much do they cost and exactly what preparation is needed?
HOUSEHOLD WASHING MACHINES
Despite the obvious convenience and so easily taken for granted by those living in the developed world, you might be somewhat taken aback to learn that an in-home fitted washing machine (or combination washer dryer) is actually something of a rarity in Thailand. Even in the more upscale properties equipped with such an appliance, running your own washing machine in Chiang Mai will in practice cost you more in electricity and water (to varying degrees) than exploiting certain other publically available laundry facilities.
SERVICED WASH SHOPS
Particularly common in and immediately around the ‘Old City’ of Chiang Mai as well as on the grounds of some apartment blocks, condominium buildings and moo baan [Thai housing estates] elsewhere in the city, you can often sense when a serviced wash shop is near by the heady aroma of freshly laundered washing that fills the air! By and large open Monday to Saturday or indeed seven days a week from early morning (typically 8AM) until at least 5 or 6PM (or, in some cases, as late as 8 or 9PM), laundry is usually priced by weight with ironing, a hot wash or same day provision incurring additional charges. The rate for washing and drying with next working day return ranges from 25 to 50 baht per kilogram; ironing generally costs an extra 10 or 20 baht per kilogram while the price for an express service (a 2 to 3 hour turnaround being the norm) can be as much as double that of the standard next day service.
At your chosen serviced wash shop, simply hand over your bagged laundry items at which point they will be weighed and you’ll be informed of the total amount due which will need to be settled upfront. In exchange, you’ll be given a receipt (which should be retained) and advised of the earliest time (that day or the next) your clothing will be ready for collection. On returning to the serviced wash shop to retrieve your washed, dried -and optionally ironed- clothing, you’ll need to show your receipt before your garments will be given back to you neatly folded and stacked inside a sealed polythene bag.
Seldom, if ever, though, will local serviced wash shops issue you a fully itemised inventory of the clothes you give in to be laundered and only rarely accept footwear of any description to be machine-cleaned. Likewise, serviced wash shops will, as a rule, absolve themselves of all responsibility in the event of any loss, shrinkage, discolouration (bleeding) or damage to your clothing that occurs whilst in their keeping. Although such instances are scarce, you should certainly think twice before surrendering any articles of clothing which are expensive, new and darkly coloured, have sentimental value or those which require a particular wash cycle (silk, woollens or other delicates).
For those short on time or who lack the inclination to visit a serviced wash shop in person, there exists a growing number of outlets in Chiang Mai that offer the same laundering services but with the added benefit of free pick-up and drop-off (subject to your living within the coverage area stated and a minimum order otherwise a nominal surcharge will apply). The pioneer and overwhelmingly the most popular of such local enterprises is ‘Em’s Laundry’; with premises on Chang Klan Road, ‘Punna Place @ Nimman’ lifestyle shopping plaza (on Nimmanhaemin Road Soi 6) and, opening in the very near future, a commercial unit within dcondo campus resort condominium, Em’s has been operating professionally in Chiang Mai for more than two years and has become a trusted name among foreign visitors to the city on account of its meticulous fabric care, competitive pricing, genuine commitment to its customers and punctual collections/deliveries.
SELF-SERVICE WASHING MACHINES
Though more labour intensive and time-consuming, by far the most financially economical means of laundering clothes and household linens (such as bedding and towels), are the countless self-service, coin-operated, top-loading communal washing machines found throughout Chiang Mai. Normally present as a cluster of at least four appliances comprising two or three different capacities, self-service washing machines feature on the grounds of many of the city’s apartment blocks, condominium buildings and moo baan, in open units or partially enclosed bays along roads in residential areas and, on occasion, within a commercial launderette (laundromat) like ‘Coin Laundry’ on Chaiyapoom Road. Accessible every day of the year and round-the-clock (except for staffed facilities with opening hours limited from early morning to as late as 1AM), using a self-service washing machine simply involves having the correct money (since none return change) in addition to laundry detergent and, if required, fabric softener (conditioner).
Although laundry care products are readily available in individual sachets and smaller handy-sized packs from 7-Eleven as well as the ubiquitous mom and pop general purpose shops around the city, the vast majority of Thais purchase their laundry detergent, fabric softener and related sundries from the local hypermarkets and with good reason. Visit the likes of Tesco Lotus, Big C and wholesaler Makro in particular and you’ll be confronted with aisle upon aisle of an almost dizzying selection of brands, formulations, content types, fragrances, container sizes, built-in technologies, intended usages and of course prices.
Market-dominant among the brands of laundry detergent is ‘Breeze‘ (indicated on the packaging by Thai script that resembles the letters “usa”) closely followed by ‘Attack‘; other popular brands include ‘Essence‘, ‘Omo‘, ‘Pao‘ and ‘Pro‘ with each of Tops Market, Tesco Lotus, Big C and Makro all offering their own –comparatively cheaper- range. Detergent itself is available in either powder or, infinitely more preferred by Thai folk for its superior cleaning power, liquid form with each variety clearly marked for handwash only, handwash or top-loading washing machines, or for use just in front-loaded machines. Good for a single wash of light to medium soiled clothing, individual 30/35ml sachets of liquid detergent cost a mere 5 baht at any 7-Eleven, for example; for 10 baht at the renowned convenience store, a 90 to 120g bag of washing powder can be obtained while twice the price will buy you a 225/230g pack of the same. Almost without exception, though, the greater the volume of laundry detergent you purchase, the better the value with prices at the city’s super-/hypermarkets for the standard sized 800/900g bags of washing powder starting at 39 baht for the budget ‘All Cool Blue’ to between 105 and 115 baht for the premium ‘Breeze Excel Gold’; the corresponding volume and brand of liquid detergent, on the other hand, is on average 35 to 40% more expensive and sold in either plastic bottles or, the marginally less costly, refill pouches (though neither should be confused with the very similarly packaged fabric softeners!). For those seeking the very biggest bang for their baht, mind, 8/9kg bags as well as 8 to 10kg tubs of washing powder can be yours for between 279 and 440 baht.
Equally as mind-boggling a choice is that for liquid fabric softeners. The market leading brands among Thai consumers are the assorted varieties of ‘Comfort’ and ‘Downy’ while much less favoured, ‘Fineline’, ‘Essence’, ‘Hygiene’ and ‘Hi Class’. Most commonly available in standard sized 600/700ml refill pouches either sold separately (starting from 10 baht for Big C’s own ‘Happy Baht’ brand of fabric softener to 79 baht for ‘Comfort Luxury Nature’) or, for slightly improved value, in bundles of two or three (costing from 32 baht for a three-pack of Tesco Lotus’s own ‘Everyday Value’ brand of conditioner to 136 baht for a twin pack from the ‘Downy Parfum’ collection). Fabric softeners here are often heavily perfumed with distinctly floral notes; for those with a sensitive nose, scent testers for many varieties are provided in the hypermarkets.
Self-service washing machines come in a broad array of capacities from 5 kg to a cavernous 16 kg. Those with the standard 8 kg drum vary in price from 10 to 30 baht, machines with a 10 kg drum cost from 15 to 40 baht and those accommodating 12 or 16 kg of laundry are charged between 20 to 50 baht; the fixed price is always displayed prominently on either the appliance itself or on the attached electronic coin-drop box with the bulk of machines accepting only 10 baht coins (except where otherwise indicated that 5 baht denominations are required). Although communal washing machines differ by manufacturer, they’re all operated in precisely the same way:
- Check that the machine is plugged in; if powered, the LED display on the attached coin-drop box should be illuminated.
- Open the top lid and load evenly –but avoid overfilling- the machine with your clothes and any household linens.
- Add washing detergent and, if required, fabric softener noting that the pull-out dispenser tray on some machines has divided compartments for detergent and conditioner whereas on other machines, the dispenser tray accepts only detergent and the fabric softener goes into a separate removable box positioned above the top edge of the drum.
- Close the top lid then insert the correct money into the upper slot of the attached coin-drop box after which the machine will start automatically indicating the time remaining (from approximately 50 to 75 minutes depending on the weight of the load) on the LED display of the attached coin-drop box.
As a rule, self-service washing machines in Thailand use only cold water and are preset to a regular wash/rinse/spin programme so, besides the water level, no other settings can be manually adjusted. Again, any garments which are expensive, new and darkly coloured, have sentimental value or need a specific wash cycle are best hand-washed or tended to professionally. Once the timer has reached zero, it’s prudent to remove your wet clothes promptly not only as a courtesy to others but also because, in unventilated conditions and especially on hot, humid days, your clothes will very quickly begin to reek!
While some of the city’s self-service laundry facilities do additionally provide a number of coin-operated, front- or top-loading tumble drying machines, they’re not especially cheap costing 10 baht for 10 or 15 minutes usage. Instead, go native and air-dry your clothes in a sheltered outdoor space (except, that is, during Chiang Mai’s annual crop burning season –ordinarily between the end of February and early April- when clothing and household linens are best left indoors to dry). Those living in a condo who consider adorning their private balcony with wet clothes are advised to check first with the resident juristic person as many such local buildings actually prohibit doing so. Aside from the textile itself, drying time is influenced by the ambient temperature and humidity with a spread from as little as an hour or two on a west-facing balcony during Chiang Mai’s dry and hot season to two or three days in cool and humid conditions indoors. Before bringing clean washing indoors (or, in fact, any wearables that have been left outside for any length of time), it’s good practice to shake out the various articles –particularly if you live in the more rural parts of Chiang Mai- lest you unwittingly admit one or more unwelcome creatures into your home or, worse, onto your person!
DRY CLEANING SERVICES
Chiang Mai isn’t exactly blessed with commercial dry cleaning businesses. Still, should the need arise to purge that red wine stain from your beloved sheepskin rug, revitalise your curtains (drapes) or restore your favourite tailored suit to its former glory, most highly commended among the local expat population is ‘Perfect Dry Cleaning’; without question, the largest professional dry cleaning outfit in the city and based in the Chiang Mai Business Park (CBP). Alternately, the ever-reliable Em’s Laundry also offers dry cleaning with the service priced according to item.
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