When we decided to leave our routine behind to roam around the world, we gave ourselves 3 months to prepare, before heading off to our first destination. During those 3 months, we put most of our belongings on sale, met our friends for a final goodbye and started exploring our options.
In a way, our journey started on Google.
I’d go through endless blog posts to learn about others’ experiences. Our regular movie nights were replaced with back-to-back short YouTube videos that gave us a glimpse of a simpler yet more adventurous life.
Although we knew we would stay no longer than a month in any given place, it felt important for us to pick a first destination that would ease us into the nomadic lifestyle.
As many first-timers, we believed Southeast Asia would be the perfect spot for us to stretch our runway while working on building a sustainable income.
The one place that consistently came up as a “digital nomad hub/hotspot” was Chiang Mai in Thailand.
Thousands of online entrepreneurs had been flocking in to leverage the low cost of living while benefiting from the entrepreneurial communities that were present.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if raving comments were signs of a hype.
I didn’t want to be disappointed so I kept a healthy dose of skepticism before heading to the city.
Yet just a week after settling in, I knew the city deserved all the props it was so passionately given.
A month later, when it was time for us to pack for our next stop, I was already making plans to come back here to do more of everything that made the place so great.
Without further ado, let’s explore what makes this city in northern Thailand the optimal place for those who seek a temporary base.
Low cost of living
One of Chiang Mai’s main asset is the high quality of life that can be achieved with very little money.
If you’re not making enough money to support yourself and only have few savings, here’s the good news:
It’s definitely possible for you to live on an extreme budget!
But even a modest income stream will let you enjoy life to a much larger extent than you would at home.
Let’s break it down;
You can rent a basic studio apartment for as low as 170$/month (6,000 Baht).
These will look more like hotel rooms with a private bathroom but won’t be equipped with a kitchen. The cheaper options will have “Thai-style bathrooms”. Picture a bathroom where nothing separates the shower from the toilet. Prepare to get your feet wet if that’s what you are going for!
If you can afford to spend a little more, I’d advise renting a modern one-bedroom apartment. These are usually serviced apartments with a living room, kitchen, gym and a shared swimming pool.
It will cost anywhere between 370$ to 570$ (13,000 to 20,000 Baht). The price will depend on the novelty, location, and amenities provided by the apartment.
If you decide to stay for a longer period of time, you’ll be able to lease a condo which will let you save even more.
Besides being delicious and abundant, food in Chiang Mai is also cheap. A Thai meal served in a food stall or in a local restaurant starts at 0.85$ (30 Baht) and hardly goes past 2.85$ (100 Baht).
Western food served in high-end restaurants can double or triple in price. It will nonetheless remain a bargain compared to what you are used to in your home country.
In general, you’ll find that eating out is cheaper than cooking at home.
Overall, being frugal, you should be able to live in Chiang Mai for 600$/month (21,000 Baht). For 1,000$ you can expect a higher level of comfort. 1,500$ will let you live very well, enjoying a standard of life that would take thousands of dollars to achieve in your home country.
As a rule of thumb, if you travel with a partner, you should consider adding 500$ to your monthly budget.
Active entrepreneurial community
A vast community of online entrepreneurs, freelancers, remote workers, developers, and bloggers base themselves in Chiang Mai.For most, Bangkok is an entry point to Southeast Asia, and Chiang Mai is the place to settle and hustle. Click To Tweet
Chiang Mai Digital Nomads, Nomad Coffee Club, and The Break Room Facebook groups gather thousands of young nomads affiliated with the community.
These platforms allow like-minded people to regularly organize meetups, events and social gatherings around their work and passion.
Nomad Summit, a digital nomad conference organized every year in Chiang Mai, is yet another example of the growing community and its positive influence.
Vast co-working and cafe culture
Walking around the Nimman district, you’ll see tens of nomads sitting in cafes. They’ll be sipping on fruit shakes while typing away on their laptops.
The cafe scene has blown up in recent years and is very much on par with hip and trendy coffee shops found in Europe and in the US.
Some co-working spaces such as Kaweh and CAMP (in Maya mall) are open 24/7. Offering reliable internet and a good workspace, these places almost only cater to students and digital nomads.
Those who settle down for a longer period of time, usually seek more comfort and amenities. Most of them will become members of Punspace.
Punspace offers 24/7 access to its co-working space and is one of the best ways to meet and network with fellow digital nomads.
Good internet speed
Most cafes and restaurant have free WIFI and the speed is decent enough (5 Mbps +). It can be unreliable and slower at times but generally speaking, internet connection speeds will never be a debilitating issue.
Some cafes and co-working spaces will have 35 Mbps+ speed which will easily allow you to carry out any kind of work.
Getting on a prepaid cell phone plan is easy too.
Companies like Dtac, AIS and True will offer very competitive 3G data packs that can be topped up in any 7/11 store around the country. 3G coverage is widely available throughout the city and works very well too.
Availability of accommodation
Chiang Mai’s popularity is growing fast not only with nomads but also with Asian tourists. So you will see many condos rising from all around the city. The good thing is that there are a plethora of accommodation alternatives that suit all budgets.
You can easily find short term rentals (1 to 3 months) to which you can settle in instantly by paying up front and giving a security deposit.
The number of available options will widen as you’ll look for longer term rentals while significantly reducing in price.
Regardless of the season, the best advice would be to book a hotel room for 3 nights, to begin with. Then, once there, get acclimated with the surrounding neighborhoods. Check-out the apartments first-hand and only then make a decision.
Also, you’ll have more bargaining power once you are in town and have a better understanding of the market.
Tip: If you plan on settling in Chiang Mai, book a hotel room at a place like S17 in Nimmanhaemin using Agoda; which is my go-to site for booking rooms in Southeast Asia. Once you are there, visit the neighborhood and explore your options.
If you are staying for 6 months or longer rent a condo through Perfect Homes or Chiang Mai Properties. Facebook groups such as Real Estate Chiang Mai and House for rent in Chiang Mai are good sources for long term rentals as well.
Trouble free transportation
Transportation is quite affordable too.
You can rent a relatively new, automatic scooter (125 CC) for 85$/month (3,000 Baht).Mountain bikes go for the same price as well. If you prefer using public transportation, hop on a Songthaew. These “shared taxis” which look more like hybrids between buses and a pickup trucks operate on fixed routes and will let hop off at any point. A single ride within the city center will only cost you 0.5$ (20 Baht)
Chiang Mai is foodie heaven. Period.
Thai food is delicious, has many varieties and is remarkably affordable. Food stalls and markets are found all around the city and are usually open until late at night. A local dish served in a market or at a food stall will be around 1$ (35 Baht).
Thai favorites are pad thai, green curry and Chiang Mai’s tasty specialty Khao Soi (egg noodles in a coconut curry soup topped with crunchy fried noodles).
You’ll also see many nomads gathering for early breakfasts and brunches in Nimmanhaemin’s hip cafes. Some of the smoothies, pancakes, and breakfast menus will make you rave about it long after you are gone.
When you get tired of Thai food, you’ll find hundreds of restaurants catering for international tastes that will satisfy your cravings.
From November to February the weather is fantastic. Clear blue skies, 30ºC temperature on average throughout the day, and cooler temperatures at night. Although the weather gets hotter in March; Chiang Mai being in the mountains, the weather remains more bearable than places like Bangkok.
The rainy season starts in May and lasts until October. Even then, it doesn’t rain more than two hours a day. The rain also cools down the air and brings a welcoming fresh breeze.
Abundance of outdoor activities
There’s a lot do and see!
So much actually, that you’ll be tempted to skip working for a day and go for an adventure around the city.
If you are the adventurous type you can go rock climbing in the mountains, trekking in hill-tribe villages, zip-lining in the jungle and white water rafting in Siam river.
If you’d rather take it easy, you can go visit one of many wats (temples), get a full-body massage for 10$ (350 Baht), cuddle with elephants at one of many sanctuaries, learn how to meditate in a yoga studio, feed giraffes in the zoo or even swim around beautiful waterfalls in the countryside.
Vibrant culture and spirituality
Chiang Mai is known for its rich and vibrant culture. The city is home to local festivals such as Loy Krathong and Yee Pang where thousands release floating lanterns in the sky. According to Thai belief, the celebration is meant to take away your sorrows and anxieties.
Also, many people choose to come to Chiang Mai, leaving their hectic life behind to find inner peace. There’s an abundant number of yoga centers and meditation retreats welcoming both beginners and masters in the field.
People and safety
Thailand promotes itself as the “land of smiles” but it seems people in northern Thailand are even more welcoming and hospitable than in some other areas. People are generally very friendly and helpful.
Because Chiang Mai is not a typical tourist destination and definitely not a sex tourism destination, it doesn’t attract the wrong crowd. In that sense, it is very easy and pleasant to engage with locals. As a farang (foreigner) you won’t have to keep an eye on your wallet to make sure you are not getting scammed. On the contrary, you’ll encounter locals offering to share their food & drinks, or chasing you down the street to hand you the sunglasses you left behind.
Chiang Mai, to me, felt like a large entrepreneurial resort. A calm place, filled with enthusiastic and free-spirited entrepreneurs & creatives who gather to make the best out of their lives.
The tight-knit “location independent” community makes you feel at home and encourages you to pursue your goals.
Surrounding yourself with people who’ve adopted a similar lifestyle and have become successful doing so, inspires you to keep working and hustling until you get what you set out to achieve.
What was your Chiang Mai experience like?
Can you think of another place where you found a comfortable environment to work from?
– Crafted in Amsterdam, The Netherlands