To date I have lived in Thailand for around 7 years, where my experiences have ranged from buying property in Bangkok, to writing a 150,000-word novel on living in the rural rice fields of Isaan (Northeast Thailand). But Chiang Mai has always been the medium of these two lifestyles for me, between the big city life of Bangkok, and the simple rural living in Thailand’s rice fields. So the more we consider our future in Thailand, along with the potential for settling with a family, we find the only viable long-term option is living in Chiang Mai. So through the past years we have been spending more time in Chiang Mai, sussing out the city, yet we are still far from experts. So to broaden our own knowledge we collaborated with various digital nomads, bloggers and expats living Chiang Mai. To share a better range of interests, circumstance, and lifestyles when living in Chiang Mai.
Why Chiang Mai?
Most importantly, at least for us, Chiang Mai is a very easy destination to access these days, offering cheap flights throughout Thailand and Asia from their convenient local airport. Of course the cost of living in Chiang Mai is also relatively cheap, at least compared to our life in Bangkok, where it is comparable to many of the lesser-known towns and cities of Thailand, as the north is cheap. At the same time, Chiang Mai shares all the conveniences of modern living, with shopping malls, international food, and varied local expat communities. But the real drive for me comes with the diverse cultures in the north (check our guide to the 9 provinces of the north), and just the overall feel of ‘Ta Ton Yon!’, which means ‘Chilled!’ in the north of Thailand. Not to forget the local Lanna food, as the food in Chiang Mai is no short of incredible.
Life on Nimmanhaem Road (Nimman)
While we have visited Chiang Mai loads of times, we never did the short-term apartment and daily life routine until last year (in 2017). Which followed a relatively simple integration (partly because Fanfan is Thai and we have local Thai friends). But it no doubt helps to know where you plan on living in Chiang Mai in advance to narrow down the search. So we chose the Nimman area for many reasons, including its mixed expat and Asian cultures, the relatively low-rise sois, and the mountain backdrop of Doi Suthep. Although the food again drives us, where there is a fantastic and quirky local café culture to keep Fanfan busy (her coffee shop guide here), as well as lots of eateries and street food for myself (our Nimman Food Guide here). And just knowing where we planned to stay made the move much easier, so after a day calling at various apartments in the Nimman sub-sois, we had a rental apartment/condo in and were relatively settled in around a weekend.
A Long-Term Outlook
By Alan and Ros of Frequent Traveller
We have been living like a local in Chiang Mai Thailand for almost three years and in that time, we have learnt a lot about this incredible city. Chiang Mai is in Northern Thailand, it is a large city with a laid-back vibe that captures the heart of all who visit. The locals are what make this city so special, their warmth and generous nature make Chiang Mai one of the friendliest cities in Thailand. Meeting new friends in Chiang Mai is easy through the Chiang Mai Expats Club. They have a wide range of club activities on offer and they are the perfect place to make new friends. They also give advice to newcomers on how to settle in Chiang Mai. When people first arrive in Chiang Mai, they often opt to rent a condo (apartment). There are many different real estates to choose from, and you can rent a studio apartment in an older building for as little as $200 a month. A one-bedroom condo in a modern apartment building with gym and pool can cost around $800 a month.
Popular areas for renting condos are the trendy Nimmanhaemin area and Night Market area. The Nimmanhaemin is a lively area full of coffee shops, restaurants, bars and close to the Maya shopping mall. Nimman is a fun area to live in and the hang out of many digital nomads. Drawbacks are that it’s under the flight path and the bars can get loud at night. The Night Market area hosts nightly street markets which are full of restaurants, bars and shops. It is within easy walking distance to the Old City and is close to Chiang Mai Gate and Warorot markets for fresh fruit, vegetables and local Thai delicacies. Both Nimmanhaemin and the Night Market areas have everything on their doorstep, so you don’t need transport. If you need to go further afield, shared bench seat buses called songthaew will take you around the city for as little as $1 and Grab taxi is readily available if you need to get somewhere in a hurry. Chiang Mai is a fantastic place to live, it has all the modern amenities with a traditional Thai heart.
It is generally cheaper to eat out (or get takeaway) than cooking at home. At least when it comes to local food. As there are shophouse restaurants and street food found at almost every corner, where Khao Soi Curry Noodles and Khanom Jeen Nam Ngiao set you back around 30 Baht a bowl. Then there are the local Lanna snacks of Sai Oua sausage, and northern Nam Prik chillies dips, which are found at the local food markets (just like here). And you’re eating fantastic food for 100-200 Baht a day (our Lanna food guide here). But you will also find the usual Thai staples as well as the typical street food at similar prices, and eating in Chiang Mai can be very cheap and amazing. Otherwise most international foods are easy to find, so one of the first things I did on my last visit was tracked down the best restaurants for my favourite international foods (best eating in Nimman). And of course, when desperate, there will always be the local 7-11 snacks (our 7-11 snack guide here).
By Sarah Rothrie of Trip Gourmets.
If you want to get some work done when living in Chiang Mai, then you will be spoilt for choice with all the great co-working spaces and cafes in the city. The original coworking space (and most expensive) is PunSpace with three branches across the city. You can expect to pay 289 baht (around $9) for a daily pass. However, there are far better deals to be had. Mana and Addicted to Work are both smaller co-working spaces that offer daily passes for around 100-120 baht ($3-4). Whilst many of the co-working spaces are only open during normal office hours, Chiang Mai also has a large number of hybrid co-working spaces/cafes, some of which are open 24/7. CAMP is on the 4th floor of the MAYA mall, and is always open. Buying a coffee will get you 2 hours of WiFi. Our personal favourite is WakeUp, which is also open 24/7 and offers 4 hours WiFi for any purchase of at least 50 baht ($1.50). WakeUp have multiple branches across the city.
Transport is cheap, where the most expensive costs in Chiang Mai would be to-and-from the airport, where taxis generally charge a fixed price of 150 Baht (although the odd Songtaew taxi would go for around 40 Baht per person there). But for baggage and comfort it’s often best to pay the fixed 150 Baht. Or try your luck with GRAB (Southeast Asia’s equivalent to Uber). The air-conditioned ‘taxi meter’ will also be similarly priced to tuk-tuks, and they very rarely use their taxi meters. Between the old city (Tha Pae Gate) taxis rarely go over 100 Baht for outside areas. Otherwise the cheapest mode of public transport would be the Songtaew taxis (below right), which are a bit weird in Chiang Mai, where instead of following a fixed route, they go pretty much anywhere you ask them. Just pull them over, tell them your destination, hope you get a good price, and then jump into the back. So to the old city from outside areas it will normally be around 20 Baht to 30 Baht (if lucky). Unfortunately prices are rarely set, so these days we find ourselves using the GRAB App (Grab bought Uber’s SE Asia operations in 2018). Also, if planning to move around a bit, motorbike rental may set you back around 3,000 Baht per month.
By Lisa of The Hot Flash Packer.
Chiang Mai is arguably the best place in Thailand for medical and dental tourism. The city has several ISO-9001 quality hospitals and multiple clinics and dental offices. I had both an elective medical procedure and dental work done at a fraction of the prices for similar services in the US. If you do decide to get medical treatment in Thailand, make sure you do your research first. Check references and consult with your potential doctor. Check out the clinic or hospital for cleanliness before committing to your procedure. If completing a procedure that requires recovery time, consider renting an apartment. It’s wise to rent the place and get your belongings set up so you can concentrate on recovery when you are discharged from the hospital. If you need assistance, hire a nurse or assistant. As you recover, make the most of your time in Thailand – visit night markets, take classes, and do day trips or hikes out of the city as your recovery allows. Overall, I had a good experience with my procedures. The biggest lesson I learned with the apartment is to get a fan – at the end of the month, my electricity bill from using the air conditioning was more than my rent!
The Chiang Mai University Area
By Natalie Deduck of Love and Road
Chiang Mai doesn’t have many green spaces for exercise or to relax in city centre. There is a small park in Old town and other a few places scattered around the city. What many travellers and expats don’t know is that the Chiang Mai University located at Huaykaew Road (the road that leads to Doi Suthep) is an amazing spot for running, practising yoga and exercise. We lived in Chiang three times, from 1 up to 3 months, and the university was our favourite place for work out. The gates are open from early morning until late, so doesn’t matter if you go for a 6 am run or a some stretching by 10 pm, the place is super safe, lively and packed with green areas.
There is one big green field right on the left side of the main gate, and if you walk further you can turn right and run around the lake. The Ang Kaew Reservoir is a small lake, but perfect for jogging, playing with kids and watch the sunset. Ask for directions and you will find the university running track, it’s a proper stadium that you can use during the evening. It’s totally free to exercise around the university or running on the track. Bring your water, towel and have fun. The Chiang Mai University is not only a good place to work out, it’s an amazing spot to meet locals, from students to teachers. To visit some expositions and be part of the activities that happen all year long. Inside the campus you will find cafes, restaurants, shops, banks… It’s really local and gives you a different and unique perspective of the city.
Thai Visa Runs
Many expats arrive to Thailand on tourist Visas, which not only complicates long-term living in Chiang Mai, but beefs out the budget. And there are unfortunately few realistic options for long-term stays. So this means Visa runs will become a regular task to renew tourist visas through the year. It is possible to do a quick crossing at nearby borders, if planning shorter stays, giving a 30-day Visa Exempt visit (Mae Sai in Myanmar a common but risky option). Or maybe an extension to the current visa which gives 30-days as well. But if planning on living in Chiang Mai longer, it is best, less risky, and overall cheaper to travel for tourist visa applications at outside embassies. Which will potentially give 90 days in Thailand (60-day tourist visa + an extension in Chiang Mai). And while many do this by bus, to neighbouring Laos, I find it is cheaper to just fly these days, and cut costs on entrance visas to other countries (e.g. it is around $35 to enter Laos). So flights to visa-exempt countries, like Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore, can make it cheaper and easier (although this will depend on nationality). Anyway, I shared a list of Visa runs here in more detail).
Travel with Toddlers
By Natasha Haley of Meldrums on the Move
We spent 6 weeks living in Chiang Mai in late 2017. We got to know the place really well and started to learn how we could get around most effectively as a family of three. At first we did a lot of walking because we lived really close to the Old City walls, you can get around pretty much anywhere inside by walking, even with a toddler. We soon learnt there was a lot to do further afield in Chiang Mai and we started to jump in Songthaews, but they would always try to rip us off. It was near the end of our trip we discovered GRAB. This app is great and you can hail a ride any time of day or night and track the driver on your phone. Not only that but you earn rewards which you can spend on more rides in the future!
Chiang Mai with Kids
By Tina Louise of Single Mum Travels
I lived in Thailand for 8 Weeks and found Chiang Mai the best location for living with my kids, in terms of accommodation, friendliness of locals and other tourists, what to do, getting around, shopping, night markets and zoos to keep me and the kids entertained day or night, I loved it. I rented a 2-bedroom house from Airbnb for around $200 per week with my two children Josh 9 and baby Rosa 6 months, we had our own private gated driveway and lots of space. Our apartment was close to Wat Ched Yot Temple which was a nice and quiet residential area in Chiang Mai not far from the Old Town and only a 10-minute walk to Maya shopping mall and a 10 min drive to Festival mall. I was able to do my grocery shopping with ease by downloading the Tesco Lotus app on my smartphone where I was able to order all my shopping online and book a delivery slot for the next day. Tesco and other supermarkets were great and offered lots of baby diaper and food choices, more than what I get back home in the UK.
To get around I always used GRAB taxi so make sure you download the app as it makes life so much easier and cheaper to get around Chiang Mai, we even took a trip to Toys R Us to buy baby toys! We found there was a lot to do in Chiang Mai with both my children, baby Rosa like playing at the kids soft play area in Maya mall where she had free roam to learn to crawl. Joshua loved to visit the Chiang Mai Zoo and the Night Safari. I loved the weather and the ease of getting around and just doing things. Our favourite memory was visiting the Elephant Nature Park for the day, Chiang Mai has so much to offer a family of varying ages. Hospital visits and trips to the dentist were great, I had my best dental experience of my life and the professionalism is next to none. I loved that Chiang Mai is easily accessible to many other South East Asian Countries so I could continue our world adventure with my kids.