So many people have covered the topic of Chiang Mai digital nomadic life, but I’m going to provide my take regardless (after a month of having stayed here).
As you all may know, Chiang Mai is the digital nomad hot spot, or capital, if you will, because of the present community in this area. You can do your research, but I feel like you won’t really know what Chiang Mai (or Thailand) is like until you get here. At least I didn’t. Regardless, I’m going to try and paint a picture of this place for you all.
Chiang Mai First Impressions
I actually expected Chiang Mai to be more run down and I guess unclean, in ways. With the knowledge that friends had been struck by bad food poisoning and that the water can make you sick in Thailand, I kept expecting the worst. I also thought I would get massacred by mosquitos (I’m suuuuper prone to mosquito bites).
But when I arrived, I was surprised to find the area nicer than expected. Transportation-wise, I thought there would only be scooters and tuk tuks, but there were many cars (with some nice BMWs and Porsches if you will).
In my $1 shuttle to my hotel
JFYI – crossing the road can be quite difficult. There aren’t many good sidewalks or pedestrian walk lights, and the scooter drivers are pretty crazy. Be careful when crossing the street!
In terms of cleanliness and mosquitoes, you can totally find nice places around the city. I didn’t get stung too many times by mosquitos, and I even stopped putting on bug repellent towards the end of the trip.
What Chiang Mai Looks Like…
Chiang Mai is quite small. There’s a square moat that surrounds the old city with its Sunday night markets and daily night bazaar.
What the moat looks like
It can be pretty nice…
Chiang Mai is nicer than I thought it would be. If you want, you can find more “upscale” places and eat at nicer restaurants without breaking the bank.
Le Meridien Hotel
$4 meals at Salad Concept
Nice design at Zood Zood restaurant
Pho restaurant…Another restaurant…lol
I stayed at an AirBnB for 2 nights, and on the 2nd day I looked for a place to stay on a monthly basis. Every digital nomad recommended booking in-person for long term stay, and they’re right – they don’t list a lot of the places online. It was quite easy to book in-person, but around January the places get full so it’s a bit harder around busy season.
I booked in Nimman area, which is where most digital nomads stay at. However, things can be a bit more expensive in this area over other regions in the city. I wanted to stay here because I wanted to be near the community.
But, crazy, this room in HimNimman Residence was only $200 for 32 days of stay (including utilities, Wi-Fi and cleaning):
It was in a great location around Nimman, as there were many restaurants, cafes, and places to go to. I think staying in Nimman is great for productivity as you’ll be near near cafes, coworking spaces, and more digital nomads.
There are about 4 main modes of transportation:
The red truck costs about 20-50 baht a ride ($.50-1.50). There are no seatbelts and no back door on the car! A bit safety no-no, but apparently all good when you’re in Thailand. For some reason I’m always offered the 40-50 baht rate though…I guess I give off the foreigner vibe.
Advice: Apparently you’re not supposed to ask about the price when you go in the truck. Just tell them where you’re going and hop on.
Uber is quite cheap, close to the red truck rate ($1-2). If you’re splitting with 2 or more people you’ll most likely score a better price than if you hopped on the red truck. Grab the app!
The tuk tuk costs about triple the red truck rate, priced around 100-150 baht ($2.85-$4.30), but it is quite fun to ride.
Scooters cost about 100-150 baht/day to rent ($2.85-$4.30). If you rent for a month or longer it’ll be cheaper. I believe all you really need is your driver’s license. Just be careful when you’re riding in a foreign country!
My favorite cafes were: Bull & Bear (open until midnight), Wake Up! (open 24 hours), and Jangkub Coffee. You can pick up coffee for about $2 at all these different spots.
Other digital nomads didn’t really know of this place, but Bull & Bear was my favorite…Good internet + a couch I could chill on :P.
I would also get work done at Salad Concept, Zood Zood, and Musashi. These are restaurants, but I liked to work while I ate.
A lot of people co-work at Punspace and CAMP in MAYA Mall (all located in Nimman area). I didn’t end up working at these spots as I prefer cafes. My purpose for going to co-working spaces would be to network, but at these spots, people are normally quiet with their heads down. If you want to meet other digital nomads – find meetups, use Facebook groups, and utilize Nomadlist.com.
Alcohol costs around $1-4 depending on if you’re purchasing beer vs. cocktails. Zoe in Yellow is a common go-to for expats, especially if you want to dance. There were some “after hours” parties, with Spicy supposedly being a hot spot for that.
With Adrian from DrivenLiving and Victor from Remote Lifestyle
There is a Sunday night market and a daily night market at the Night Bazaar. I think the Sunday night market had more food stands than the Night Bazaar. You can purchase goods for about the same price at each market (I’ll demonstrate pricing in the next section).
Oh man. It is kind of crazy checking out Thailand and realizing how little you can spend. When just examining Chiang Mai (I also went to Krabi and Malaysia in between my month stay), I found that I had only spent about $700 total over 26 nights. This cost included my rent, food, transportation, entertainment, etc. as well as participation in things like the Nomad Summit event ($100) and Wat Rong Khun (white temple) day trip in Chiang Rai. Without these extra events, I would have spent about $500 for 26 nights. Pretty crazy…I ate out every day, and bought things when I felt like it. I didn’t really drink much, so if you’re a heavy drinker/partier you may end up spending more than this. With my spending report analysis, I’ve found that you can totally live well on $600/month.
Here are some examples of food prices. It can definitely be even cheaper ($1-2) depending on where you go. Nimman has a higher cost of living over other parts of Chiang Mai, but it is still extremely affordable:
All-you-can-eat Korean buffet for $5:
You can get clothes and other gifts for $3 each. Here are some examples:
If you’re bootstrapping your startup/business or looking for a place with a good quality of life at a lower cost, this is the place for you. Lowered expenses is an obvious advantage to staying in the city, but the best part is you don’t have to reduce the amount of fun/happiness when staying in Chiang Mai. There are nice places, lots of things to do, delicious food, etc. so you can’t really go wrong.
I think a lot of people struggle with the digital nomad life because they get hit with loneliness or homesickness throughout the journey. Starting at Chiang Mai can be great because there is a huge DN community that exists. I have already met tons of people from a few days of networking. The place is what you make of it, and you can meet many like-minded people if you wanted to.
However – as a warning, your productivity all comes down to you. I may explore this topic in another post, but when it is so easy to survive/live well in Chiang Mai you’ll find many people just “cruising”. To stay productive, you need to make sure you’re surrounding yourself with motivated, hardworking people and pushing yourself as well. There are tons of people who arrive at the city planning to work, but end up chillin’, having fun, and blowing all their savings only to return home with nothing substantial gained. Don’t be one of those people!
For me, another big reason why Chiang Mai is appealing as a home base is that the city is close to the beach life down south. I can easily book a vacation to Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, or any Thai island when I’m stressed, and I can even hop back to Hong Kong (my 2nd home base) if I need to as it’s merely 1-2 hours away flying. Flights from Thailand to countries in Southeast Asia are cheap, around $50 one-way.
I’m definitely coming back here cause it is freakin’ awesome. I can honestly see this as another home base (which I haven’t been able to find in all the other countries I’ve visited so far). Let me know if you have any other additions to this post in the comments below!