Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand: A Guide (For Digital Nomads)
I am currently living in Chiang Mai during these especially weird times, but to be honest…it’s always my favourite place in the whole world to live; regardless of whatever is going on in the world.
It’s (sadly) hard to keep up with which companies and points of interest are still open for business around the planet. But as this is “my” city, I have a better chance of staying up to date with the current affairs of Chiang Mai.
In this post, I’ll try my best to fly the flag for my adopted hometown, which is a fantastic choice for someone like myself who works online and is looking for a place to call “home.”
I’m not unbiased, and I’m definitely not sorry.
On top of that, I’ll get my teeth into the nitty-gritty of living in Chiang Mai, how to set up here long term and how to make life easier for you if you choose to do so.
Living in Chiang Mai: Why I Chose it
Something was telling me that this wasn’t right, so I listened to my gut. However, I ignored my desire to rest and hopped around the Middle East for a bit until I had the light bulb moment of visiting my old haunts in Southeast Asia (cities that I have lived in long-term), with the exception of Phnom Penh.
It was love at second sight as soon as I got to Chiang Mai.
I felt safe, the locals were lovely and that sweeping sense of nostalgia swept over me. If “where is home” was the question; living in Chiang Mai was the answer
Visa Situation For Living in Chiang Mai
Getting your head around the visa situation when it comes to living in Chiang Mai really depends on your own plans. If you’re only staying for a few months, you can get away with a tourist or non-immigrant visa. Otherwise, you might have to look at the option of a Thai elite visa. Here’s what each can get you.
If you have a passport from one of the lucky 64 countries that get a visa waiver on arrival, you won’t need to organise a visa before you visit. Instead, on arrival, you’ll get a stamp in your passport that will let you stay for a certain period of time.
Alternatively, if you’re from one of the following countries, you’ll get an official visa on arrival, which will allow you to stay in Thailand for 60 days.
- Papua New Guinea
- Saudi Arabia
Both groups can also extend their visa by another 30 days but you’ll have to visit the Thai Immigration Office, which is about 5 minutes drive from the airport. Here you’ll just need to fill in a quick form and pay ฿1,900 and voila you’ll be good to go for another month.
You can get a 90-day multiple-entry tourist visa before you fly out to Thailand, provided that you visit your local Thai embassy to get that organised.
If you’re after a little more time, and a little more security, you can go for one of the many non-immigrant visa options. This will give you permission to stay in the country for three months, 6 months or a year.
A few common visas to choose from:
- Education Visa – Simply sign up for a local school and prove you’ll be studying there. Popular options for expats living in Chiang Mai are; cooking, Thai language and Muay Thai kickboxing camps. (Some schools are more lax than others in mandatory attendance). Fees vary based upon institution and length of stay.
- Volunteer Visa – Rumour has it that the money goes to a local temple on the volunteer visa. I paid roughly $1800 USD to an American lawyer for 12 months. Turns out I overpaid by a couple of hundred when comparing with others. Mine is set to renew soon, I’ll edit accordingly.
- Marriage Visa – Not too much to explain with this one. Marry a Thai local and you’ll be set. Just make sure you don’t become one of those bitter divorcee losers who chat sh*t about Thailand, because they didn’t do their due diligence in a clear honey trap.
- Retirement Visa – Another one that doesn’t need much explanation. Just watch out for that Leo Beer belly in your twilight years.
Regardless of the visa you are on, you will still have to do a 90-day reporting, where you show up to immigration to check-in. I personally pay a trusted business to do this for me for 500 Thai Baht (about $15 USD).
As it stands at the moment, Thai authorities aren’t super on-it when it comes to checking whether you’ve been attending classes or volunteering at your local temple. But, you’ll definitely want to stick to the 90-day visa limit because there’s no budging on that one.
Thai Elite Visa
The Thai Elite Visa is the only viable option for those who see themselves living in Thailand forever. Visas can be granted for five, ten or fifteen years, but it’ll cost you a fair amount of baht. To be given a five-year visa, you’ll need to pay around ฿500,000 (around $16,000 USD) and for 20 years, it’ll set you back ฿1 million (around $32,000 USD).
Weather in Chiang Mai
Weather in Chiang Mai can be broken down into three different seasons; the cool season, the hot season and the rainy season.
The cool season in Chiang Mai starts in November and lasts until about mid-February. During this time, you’ll see temperatures hover around 28°C in the day and around 10°C at night.
Right after this, the hot season sets in at the end of Feb and lasts until May. Temperatures can get pretty unbearable for anyone not used to it, with an average of 32°C on most days with highs of 40°C. Without the rains, the city and surrounding area can become dry and dusty, and pretty uncomfortable.
The rainy season in northern Thailand starts around June and will go on until the end of October. The temperature in Chiang Mai may fall slightly, but the humidity levels rise to between 30 and 65%. Rainy season doesn’t necessarily mean constant downpour all day every day, it’s most tropical with short heavy showers.
Very important note for those with children, sensitive lungs, or just a general concern for their health…
Northern Thailand, and Chiang Mai especially, have what is known as a ‘burning season’. It begins in January and lasts until April and is mainly caused by farmers burning their fields in preparation for the new growing season.
While authorities have banned the practice, it continues to happen and clouds Chiang Mai in a thick haze for a good few months. With Chaing Mai being surrounded by a range of mountains and hills, this smog is trapped and lingers within the city.
I left for a month last year, I will be leaving for longer next year when the burning season shows up again. This is admittedly a major negative when living in Chiang Mai.
Important Thai Phrases For Living in Chiang Mai
Although Chaing Mai and wider Thailand are considered international hotspots, with many locals speaking conversational English, if you are living there as a digital nomad, it’s worth learning a few key Thai phrases.
It’ll make your life a whole lot easier, and show a level of respect to the people whose country you’ll be living in.
- Sawatdii [sa-wad-ee] – Hello
- Chai [ch-eye] – Yes
- Mai [my] – No
- Khop Khun [kop kun] – Thank you
- Khor thoad [ko tod] – Sorry/Excuse me
- Kun puut paa-saa ang-grit daai mai – Do you speak English?
*Bear in mind that Thai phrases end with a different suffix depending on whether the speaker is male or female. Khrup is added to the end of male-spoken phrases and ka to female-spoken phrases.
National Holidays in Chiang Mai
When you’re living in Chiang Mai you’ll notice a fair few festivals are celebrated throughout the year, some with more significance than others.
- 1st New Years Day – Generally, Thailand follows the Buddhist calendar, but internationalism and exposure to the west mean you’ll still find New Year’s day celebrations in the city.
- 12th Chinese New Year – Thailand is home to a huge population of ethnic Chinese and Thai-Chinese people and Chinese New Year is widely celebrated. Head to Chai Mai’s Chinatown on Chang Moi Rd to really soak up the celebrations.
- 26th Makha Bucha – Makha Bucha is the second holiest day in the Buddhist calendar. The date on which it is celebrated changes every year, depending on the lunar calendar. To celebrate, Thai people enjoy a candle holding ritual around the many temples in Chiang Mai, including Wat Umong, Wat Jed Yod and Wat Chedi Luan.
- 6th Chakri Day – Chakri Day celebrates Thailand’s royal family, who are part of the Chakri dynasty that is Thailand’s. Most government offices are closed on this day, but shops and businesses tend to stay open.
- 12th-15th Songkran Holiday – Thai new year, known as the Songkran Holiday is one of Thailand’s most important public holidays. Chiang Mai celebrates Songkran with a huge water fight in the street, and is definitely one to get involved in if you can!
- 3rd Labour Day – A celebration of the workforce, labour day is celebrated in the city with a parade through the streets and many other public celebrations
- 4th H.M. King’s Coronation – This holiday celebrates the coronation of Thailand’s current king, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, also known by the title King Rama X.
- 10th Royal Ploughing Ceremony – This is a governmental holiday that marks the first day of the rice-growing season that is observed in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand.
- 16th Visakha Bucha Day – Marking the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha, Visakha Bucha Day is the most sacred day in the entire Buddhist calendar. You won’t be able to buy alcohol for 24 hours during the celebrations, and many shops, bars and restaurants will be closed too.
- 3rd HM Queen’s Birthday – This holiday celebrates the birthday of Thailand’s queen, Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya.
- 27th Buddhist Lent – A fairly low-key holiday, Buddhist Lent marks the beginning of the three-lunar-month period.
- 28th HM King’s Birthday – Otherwise known as Rama X, King Vajiralongkorn’s birthday is recognised as a government holiday, but everyday businesses will stay open.
- 12th H.M Queen Mother’s Birthday – Birthday of Queen Siriki, the mother of King Vajiralongkorn, Thai people will wear blue ribbons as a sign of homage to the King’s mother.
- 24th Prince Mahidol Day – Prince Mahidol is considered to be the father of modern medicine and public health in Thailand. While this day is used to remember him, you probably won’t see too many celebrations around Chiang Mai.
- 13th Passing of King Bhumibol – King Bhumibol was one of the most loved kinds in Thailand and sadly passed away in 2016. The day of his death is not recognised as a public holiday.
- 23rd Chulalongkorn Day – This is another national holiday that recognises the passing of one of Thailand’s former monarchs, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who passed away on October 23rd 1910.
- 10th Constitution Day – A day celebrating Thailand’s constitution; all government offices and schools in Chiang Mai will be closed.
Honourable Mention: Nine Emperor Gods Festival – More commonly referred to as “The Vegetarian Festival.” It follows the Chinese lunar calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian one. It’s usually around September/October. Self-mutilation, delicious plant-based grub and so much more. NOT for the faint-hearted. Read more about the festival here.
Wifi and Data For Digital Nomads Living in Chiang Mai
When it comes to finding Wi-Fi and data in Chiang Mai, you have a few different choices. An advanced and modernized country, Thailand’s Wi-Fi has high-quality speeds across the board, especially in built-up cities like Chiang Mai.
This means that most cafes, restaurants and apartments within the city will have excellent internet connections, way better than more developed nations like the UK and Australia.
For when you’re on the go, it’s worth getting yourself a sim card with data from one of Thailand’s major internet providers. The three main providers are True, AIS and Dtac. Each company has a great English version of their website, and stores across the city, so it’s easy enough to set up.
You can also get Wi-Fi in your apartment with one of these providers. However, the choice of which company to go with might be out of your hands.
Certain neighbourhoods and apartments are only covered by certain companies, so it’s best to contact the internet provider beforehand and check if you are in an AIS or True-connected neighbourhood.
I use True and I have no issues with them, however, I asked my Thai friends over lunch the other day who the best is. It was a unanimous decision; thumbs up for AIS from the locals.
Food in Chiang Mai
Thai cuisine and the country’s street food scene is one of the biggest draws for both tourists and expats moving to Thailand. The nation’s rich culinary diversity is one of the most exciting the globe over, and being in one of the nation’s top five biggest cities, the choice is just as diverse.
As a northern city, Chiang Mai has regional dishes of its own, most famous of all, Khao Soi – a creamy coconut curry noodle soup. Being so close to the Myanmar border, you’ll also find a selection of Burmese food here too including the famous tea-leaf salad, peanut and carrot salad with a tangy lemon dressing, and plenty of rice to go with.
Within the city itself, there are a large number of restaurants, cafes and eateries selling everything from Thai classics, international dishes and a wide range of vegetarian food (both local and western).
Chiang Mai, like much of the rest of Thailand, has a bustling street food scene. This can provide a wide range of food at a low cost, especially if you choose to eat at one of the night markets. Chiang Mai’s famous Chiang Mai Gate Night Market is an excellent place to try the range of street food on offer.
Currency in Chiang Mai
In Thailand, you’ll pay for everything in Thai Baht, which comes in a selection of notes and coins. Thai Baht notes are divided between 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 notes. Coins come in 10 baht, 5 baht, 2 baht, 1 baht, with one baht broken into 25 and 50 satang coins.
Unlike much of the rest of SouthEast Asia, the Thai Baht isn’t an overly inflated currency, and one US dollar is worth around 33 Thai Baht (at the time of writing).
If you’re withdrawing money from an ATM in Chiang Mai and you’re using an international bank account, you’ll be charged around 220 Thai baht per withdrawal. To avoid this charge every time you want a bit of cash, I’d recommend opening a Thai Bank account with either Bangkok Bank, SCB, or Kasikorn Bank.
I am with Bangkok Bank, simply because it’s the easiest, but it’s certainly not one of the best. Most people living in Chiang Mai who are happy with their bank seem to be with Kasikorn (note to self; stop being lazy and sort that out already).
Cost of Living in Chiang Mai (For Digital Nomads)
Balancing the cost of rent, food, travel and enjoying yourself is a must when you’re living in Chiang Mai. Saying that, the city can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be, depending on your own lifestyle and how much cash you’ve got to splash.
Food and other groceries
How much you spend on food and groceries will all depend on what you’ve got to spend each month. If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll find street food for under a dollar on every corner.
If you’re willing to pay a little more, grocery stores and corner shops are abundant, and hey, if that cash is really flowing in, why not just treat yourself to dining out at one of Chiang Mai’s many up-market restaurants?
To give you an idea of prices, here’s the cost of a few common items:
- Rice per KG: ฿37
- (I don’t eat meat but everyone here says chicken is cheaper than beef in stores).
- Water (1.5-litre bottle): ฿17
- Domestic Beer (0.5-litre bottle): ฿50
- Loaf of Fresh White Bread (500g): ฿45
While Chiang Mai doesn’t have a Mass Transit System like Bangkok, getting around the city is still pretty easy. Those who are watching their budget can opt for a trip on one of the Songthaews in the city.
This pickup truck-like-taxis with two benches are only likely to set you back around 30 or 40 Baht for a trip ranging from 5 to 10kmm, although it can be difficult being dropped off right to your door.
If you’re ok spending a little extra, ‘Grab’ operates in Chiang Mai and is easy to use with the mobile app. You will be paying a bit more for the privilege, but it has the advantage of dropping you exactly where you need to be.
The city isn’t that big, if you don’t venture too far out you can almost always order a Grab within minutes.
If you’re willing to part with ฿15,000 – ฿20,000, you can pick yourself up a second-hand moped, which will give you the freedom to travel when and where you’d like.
I’m saving up for a sexy Vespa, will let you know how much and what documentation is needed when I do.
Fuel for your bike is an absolute bargain at around ฿38 per litre, I am constantly filling up an empty tank for ฿100 (around $3USD! You may not be able to “Live Like a King in Bangkok” so easily, but you can certainly get more bang for your buck up north.
Luxuries and nightlife
While living in Chiang Mai falls way behind Bangkok for entertainment due to the difference in size, nightlife in Chiang Mai nightlife comes in a couple of different forms, from local bars and clubs to live music venues.
Pubs and clubs are scattered around in concentrated areas, however, most places close around midnight. Looking for live music, then Boy Blues Bar and North Gate Jazz Bars are the places to go.
For an idea of costs:
- Lunch at a local restaurant: ฿50 for a cheap and cheerful meal. Somewhere swanky like the Riverside might set you back ฿5000 with a glass of wine or two.
- A night out (with alcohol) at local clubs: ฿500-3,000! (From Old Town to cocktail bars, budget-dependent).
- Cinema, International Release, 1 Seat: ฿200-1000 (VIP Sofa for the win).
Safety in Chiang Mai
Generally speaking, living in Chiang Mai is pretty safe; there are low to no risks of violent crime, and petty crime risk is pretty low too. This isn’t to say that crime doesn’t take place, but it’s generally not something that you should fear if you’re choosing to settle here as a digital nomad.
Avoiding being a victim of a crime while living in Chiang Mai largely relies on making the right decisions. Chiang Mai is THE safest city that I have ever lived in and it was an important factor in me buying a place here.
If you choose to drive here you should be aware of another slight thumbs down for living in Chiang Mai; we have a drink and drive culture here with both Thais and Farang. Stay safe, don’t add to this problem and make sure you have digital nomads insurance before you arrive.
What Are Chiang Mai Locals Like?
Thailand is nicknamed the ‘Land of Smiles’, and Chiang Mai is the perfect place to display this famous cultural tagline. Unlike the heady streets of Bangkok, Chiang Mai still has enough of that small city feel to foster a sense of community spirit between its residents, be they locals or expats.
In my experience, the further north you venture in Thailand – the friendlier Thai people are.
I’ve always felt welcome living in Chiang Mai as a “farang,” and I’ve asked my Thai friends to spare my feelings when I’ve prompted them about the foreign invasion of Thailand. They say it depends on what type of expat you are; Thais are generally polite and calm people, so they don’t appreciate the ugly types of tourists/expats that can frequent here.
A simple solution to this; don’t be one of them. 🙂
Best Neighbourhoods in Chiang Mai For Digital Nomads
Living in Chiang Mai may feel like living in a tiny town compared to Bangkok, or if you’re from a large city yourself. It still has a plethora of neighbourhoods to choose from. Some are well-trodden paths by digital nomads, while others are just emerging as great places to call home in Thailand’s second city.
Living in Nimmanhaemin as a Digital Nomad
The neighbourhood of Nimmanhaemin is located northwest of the city’s old town. Surrounding Nimmanhaemin Road, this is one of the more fashionable areas of the city, with many top restaurants, cafes, boutique hotels and shops calling Nimmanhaemin home.
This is where I chose to buy my little apartment. I personally don’t complain that it’s “too touristy” as it has everything that I need at a stone’s throw and I can visit elsewhere whenever I like with a hop, skip and a jump.
Co-working spaces are easy to come by here, and with Nimmanhaemin being home to Chiang Mai’s university, these are always state of the art. A large bubble of digital nomads have created a community in the Nimmanhaemin, and it appears to be the very heart of digital nomad culture in Chiang Mai.
Pros of living in Nimmanhaemin
- Large digital nomad community.
- Numerous co-working spaces.
- A variety of cafes, restaurants and shops in the neighbourhood.
- Everything you need is within walking distance.
Cons of living in Nimmanhaemin
- Accommodation can be slightly more expensive.
- May get less of an authentic Thai experience with so many tourists in the area.
The neighbourhood of Nimmanhaemin is a fantastic neighbourhood to settle in as a digital nomad, with plenty of resources and a large community of expats and other digital nomads to get pally with.
Living in Santitham as a Digital Nomad
If you imagine Nimmanhaemin before the invasion of us digital nomads, then you’ll get something that looks a little like Santitham.
Sat between Nimmanhaemin and the Old Town, living in Santitham gives you the best of both worlds; convenience and culture. This great locality comes without the higher rent prices you tend to pay in Nimmanhaemin and a much more Thai atmosphere.
Santitham is also home to the fantastic Siri Wattana Market, where you can choose from a mixture of fresh food and local produce – perfectly situated on your doorstep.
Pros of living in Santitham
- A more authentic Thai neighbourhood, giving you a genuine experience while living in Chiang Mai.
- Rent prices are reasonable while still being close to the Old Town.
- Close to the Siri Wattana Market for all your fresh food needs.
- Still home to many digital nomads without being swapped by the ‘scene’.
Cons of living in Santitham
- A little more run down compared to other neighbourhoods in Chiang Mai.
- Can be susceptible to more flight noise, as the flight paths often cross over the Santitham neighbourhood.
Overall, Santitham is a great place to settle if you want to be close to the large expat community in Nimmanhaemin but don’t want to pay for the higher rent prices. It also gives you a more authentic Thai experience.
Living in Old City as a Digital Nomad
The walled and moted area of Chiang Mai’s Old City is the very heart of the city and is usually where tourists and backpackers headfirst when they’re visiting Chiang Mai.
I lived on street noodles in a studio apartment for around $100 USD per month while building my business there.
It’s a terrific place if you want to mix with the many expats and tourists that frequent this area of the city in their thousands every year. When it comes to accommodation and actually calling the Old City home, it’s better suited to those who won’t be in Chiang Mai long term.
There are plenty of Airbnbs, hostels, hotels and other accommodation to settle in throughout the Old City, even if it is a little difficult to navigate. One of the best things about living in Chiang Mai Old City, everything is right there on your doorstep, whether that be entertainment, shopping or places to eat.
Pros of living in Old City
- Living in the very centre of the city.
- Home to thousands of other backpackers, tourists and digital nomads.
- There is everything you could need all within a small area of the Old City.
- Accommodation is easy to find, even if this means hotels, hostels or Airbnbs
- Cheap and cheerful (and delicious) street food
Cons of living in Old City
- It can be a bit of a maze to navigate around.
- Can feel a little closed in being confined to the centre of the Old City.
Living in the Old City is great for mixing with the many expats and tourists that flock to Chiang Mai. It’s also a fantastic place for being a stone’s throw away from restaurants, bars, shops and an array of places to stay.
However, being in the heart of Chiang Mai’s touristy district may not be for everyone.
Living in Chang Phueak as a Digital Nomad
Although I’ve covered the neighbourhood of Santitham above, it’s only one small part of the wider Chang Phueak district.
Chang Phueak takes up the northern districts, from the northern gate of the Old City right up to Sukhito Village. Chang Phueak also extends westerly, covering the outer reach and suburban areas of western Chiang Mai.
This neighbourhood has a far more homely feel to it, taken up by Thai families, far from the hectic touristy centre of the city. Aside from this suburban feel, there are also a number of sports facilities, including the huge Lanna Golf Course.
Pros of living in Chang Phueak
- Living amongst the homely suburbs of Chiang Mai.
- Much of the neighbourhood is open and more green, helping to escape the inner city.
- It doesn’t take too long to get from Chang Phueak to the open countryside.
- Chang Phueak is home to numerous sports venues.
Cons of living in Chang Phueak
- Northern areas of the neighbourhood can be quite far from the centre of the city.
- Trying to find apartments in Chang Phueak is quite competitive.
Chang Phueak is the ideal combination of Chiang Mai suburban living with a foothold in the inner city. Open spaces and being a stone’s throw away from the open country makes Chang Phueak a great place to settle if you don’t want to be confined to the cramped conditions of city life.
Living in Hang Dong as a Digital Nomad
Just under ten miles southwest of the city, the neighbourhood of Hang Dong is quickly becoming a great choice for Digital nomads to settle. Being quite far out of the city, Hang Dong has a village-like feel while still being connected to the city.
A short distance from Ob Khan National Park, living in Hang Dong neighbourhoods provides stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the stunning Chiang Mai nature.
Many businesses are moving away from the hustle and bustle of the inner city and its high rent prices and to the outskirts of Hang Dong. This popularity is only going to increase, and it’s easy to see Hang Dong neighbourhood becoming the next best place to live in Chiang Mai.
Pros of living in Hang Dong
- Away from the hecticness of the inner city.
- Being out of the city, rent prices are considered more competitive and affordable in the Hang Dong neighbourhood.
- Seen as an up-and-coming neighbourhood, there is an untouched feel to Hang Dong that makes it popular with newly settled digital nomads.
- Hang Dong is close to much of Chiang Mai’s famous idyllic nature spots, including Ob Khan National Park.
Cons of living in Hang Dong
- Being ten miles out of the city, Hang Dong is a little cut off from the rest of Chiang Mai.
- Getting back and forth into the city and back to Hang Dong neighbourhood can be costly in transport.
- Not as many coworking spaces are close to the city.
Choosing to settle in Hang Dong is a perfect choice if you want a little less city life. Ten miles away from the centre of Chiang Mai you’ll get that authentic Thai living. This being said, it can feel like you’re a little more cut off from the rest of the expat and digital nomad community when your day to day musings are in Hang Dong.
Living in Chang Moi as a Digital Nomad
Taking up the eastern side of the city, the neighbourhood of Chang Moi incorporates everything east of the Tha Pae Gate. This gate is one of the best-preserved in the Old City and is representative of the many great landmarks in the Chang Moi neighbourhood.
Alongside the ancient landmarks, there are also fantastic modern ones in Chang Moi too. Premier of these has to be the Warorot Market – one of the largest and well-known markets in all of northern Thailand. All of this is made even more picturesque by living right along the banks of the Ping River, a natural feature that bisects the neighbourhood of Chang Moi.
Pros of living in Chang Moi
- Beautiful riverside views of River Ping.
- Close to the Warorot market, a huge market that can provide all of your fresh food needs.
- A perfect balance of inner and outer city life.
Cons of living in Chang Moi
- Rent prices can be a little higher on this side of the city.
- Streets are often frequented by tourist crowds of tourists.
Living in the Chan Moi neighbourhood gives a little sense of style and history. With the riverside views to enjoy, it’s totally idyllic – even being so close to the centre of the city. Having the famous Warorot Market right on your doorstep is also a handy thing to have – never being short of clothing or digital devices again!
Living in Chang Klan as a Digital Nomad
The Chang Klan neighbourhood covers the southeast portion of inner Chiang Mai, just outside of the southeastern walls of the Old City. This neighbourhood is a bustling, energetic part of the city well-known for its Night Bazaar.
Numerous open-air stalls convene every night selling a huge variety of goods, from trainers to watches and everything in between. This is a massive draw for tourists but is also a great thing to have on your doorstep when living here if you don’t mind the noise. Along with the Night Bazaar, Chang Klan neighbourhood is also known for Loi Kroh Road, one of the city’s most popular walking streets and nighttime hotspots.
Pros of living in Chang Klan
- A lively neighbourhood where there is always something happening.
- You’re a stone’s throw away from the famous night bazaar, home to all the goods you could need.
- Loi Kroh Road walking street is only a stumbling distance away.
Cons of living in Chang Klan
- Can be a real touristy hotspot, which can get old fast if you’re living in Chiang Mai over a long period of time.
- A lively nighttime hub can mean high noise volumes during the evenings.
Depending on what you want out of your Chiang Mai neighbourhood, Chang Klan can be a fun and exciting place to live. If you’re looking for a quieter and less touristy district, Chang Klan may not be for you.
Living in Wat Ket as a Digital Nomad
Even further to the east of Chiang Mai’s city centre is the neighbourhood of Wat Ket. Although quite far out from the city centre, access to the neighbourhood is streamlined and easy.
This is a real laid back part of the city and is defined by its lowkey suburban feel. You can get far more for your money in the Wat Ket neighbourhood, making it popular with those digital nomads who are trying to save a few Baht.
Wat Ket is well known for its hip cafes and Thai bistros, offering a little slice of cafe culture to your Thai experience.
With a local train station, being so far out from the action doesn’t really matter when living in Wat Ket and even provides a far more relaxing place to settle in the city.
Pros of living in Wat Ket
- You will get far more for your money in the Wat Ket neighbourhood.
- Wat Ket has a more laid back and quiet suburban feel to it.
- The neighbourhood is home to some great shopping malls.
Cons of living in Wat Ket
- Can seem a little too laidback for expats who are seeking a little bit more life from their Chiang Mai experience.
- Being quite far out to the east of the city means it can take a while to get to and from the city centre and back to Wat Kat.
Living in Wat Ket isn’t for everyone, but if you’re looking to get far more for your money when it comes to accommodation, this may be the place for you. Having a quieter and more laid back feel allows you to settle into the city without getting caught up in the touristy backpacking wave that may befall those living in the city centre.
Getting Around Chiang Mai
While Chiang Mai doesn’t have a Mass Transit System like its big brother Bangkok, there are still a number of ways you can get around the city. Which mode of transport you use will highly depend on where you live in the city.
Living in the Old City might mean you rarely opt to pay to get anywhere and trust your ‘feet as your only carriage’. If you have decided to settle in Wat Ket, Hang Dong or a similar out-of-the-city sort of neighbourhood, transport may be at the forefront of your mind.
These red taxis, or more like red trucks, are converted pick-up trucks that act as low key communal taxis. They are dotted all around the city and are some of the cheapest modes of transport.
Simply tell the driver where you’re going within the city and hop on the back to join your fellow passengers. The best thing about using the Songthaew taxi is its price, often only charging around ฿30 to get across the city.
The worst part about using this to get around Chiang Mai, however, is having to wait for your turn. An empty Songthaew won’t leave before it’s full, and when it is, each passenger will be dropped off in order of what’s most convenient for the driver.
Although a rare sight in the city centre of Chiang Mai a city taxi is a great way of getting directly to your destination, albeit being a dying trade (most foreigners out here use apps).
They don’t cruise the streets looking for customers, and it’s more likely that you will only come across these blue and yellow life-savers around the airport, railway station, bus station, malls, and hotels.
These taxi’s run off the metre, usually around ฿200-฿300 for an average ride into the city. Ensure the metre starts when you get into the taxi, as it’s not unheard of for the odd driver to try and pull a fast one, but not as bad as in Bangkok.
UBER and GRAB
A far more efficient way of getting a taxi across Chiang Mai is to download the Grab app – a good idea for any major city in Thailand for that matter.
Unlike the city taxis, this mobile phone app taxi service will give you a quote before the taxi arrives – often with a small booking fee on top of the fare. It’s also an alternative way of communicating the destination to the driver if you can’t explain it in Thai (although for some reason they often struggle to use GPS).
Grab also gives you a choice of vehicles, whether this is a standard car, hatchback, or even a moped – the latter being far cheaper.
The quintessential Southeast Asian mode of transport, the tuk-tuk, is an efficient way of getting somewhere in a hurry, and it isn’t just reserved for tourists. The advantage of using these is that you can usually find them on every street corner in the city, or very early hours of the morning.
A little more expensive than a songthaew taxi, tuk-tuks drivers charge around ฿60 for a short trip and ฿100- ฿150 for much longer ones. Another difference between tuk-tuks and taxis is that a tuk-tuk driver is likely to charge for the passengers, not the journey – meaning you will pay far more if there are two of you in the back compared to just you alone.
For the more fitness conscious among you, a bicycle is an option for getting around the city of Chiang Mai. The city is full of bicycle rental shops if you don’t want to buy your own, and they usually charge around ฿50 a day – which is classed as a full 24 hours.
You can also purchase a bicycle easily in the city, so you always have a mode of transport to hand. Being relatively flat in the city centre, cycling around the city isn’t the arduous chore that it could be in those hillier cities.
Decathlon is a famous sports store if you’re a bike snob living in Chiang Mai and want only the best.
If you’re settling in the city for the long hall, it can be a good idea to buy yourself a moped. Buying a second-hand moped is likely to set you back between ฿15,000 – ฿20,000 or even cheaper if your haggling and research skills are spot on.
Nightlife and Entertainment in Chiang Mai
A major Thai city, there is no shortage of nightlife and entertainment in the city of Chiang Mai. Whether you want a quiet night listening to some jazz music or a full blow rave in a nightclub to the early hours, Chiang Mai is sure to deliver.
Being a resident of the city, entertainment isn’t always about staying up until the early hours, and you also need to fit in your gym and exercise; living in Chiang Mai is much less hedonistic than living in Bangkok, so it’s easier to stay healthier due to fewer temptations.
Zoe in Yellow is a club that has long been at the top of party-goers lists when they’re living in Chiang Mai – a long-established favourite of backpackers located conveniently near Tha Pae Gate. When all else is closed, head to one of the last places to be open, the Spicy Nightclub, which is open until 3 am, but like most places at this time – they tend to be a bit of a dump.
Corner Bistro is better for a more chilled affair if you want to have a few beers with friends and be able to hear one another.
Live music venues
If you’re looking to catch the soothing sounds of live music, Chiang Mai is a fantastic place to do so. Head to the North Gate Jazz Co-Op for some soothing sounds of jazz – a venue so popular that the crowd often spills out onto the street to listen to that sexy sax.
Another longtime favourite is the Sudsanan. This laid back bar is a great place to sit back and enjoy the soothing sounds of acoustic music over a few beers. A little way out of the city, on its south-western side, you’ll have to grab some wheels to get there, but it’s worth it if relaxing acoustic music is your thing.
After all that boozing and partying, you’ll definitely need a little self-care, and what better place to do that than at the local gym. Chiang Mai has a number of gyms across the city, and finding the right one for you won’t be hard.
One of the more popular gyms is Max Fitness in Maya Mall and a handful of boutique gyms around the area, which are cheaper and have more personality, with my personal favourite being Playground Fitness.
If yoga is more your cup of cha, then good news…you have more than your fair share to choose from when living in Chiang Mai – one of the more unspoken yoga meccas around the world.
Medical Care in Chiang Mai
When you’re living in Chiang Mai, there’s more to think about than just food, socialising and what curry is next on your hit list. You’ll need to make sure you’re covered with your health care and not scrimping on hospitals (you really do get what you pay for with this subject).
Chiang Mai has a wide range of hospitals across the city, and some are more suited to expats’ needs than others. Chiang Mai Ram Hospital is one of the more popular private hospitals in the city and is conveniently located in the equally popular Nimmanhaemin district.
All staff speak a level of English and food, and accommodation facilities are similar to hotel levels. I have had semi-serious operations there and extensive health checkups at Bangkok Hospital and they were both fantastic, with Bangkok Hospital edging them to number one spot for expats living in Chiang Mai who wants the creme-de-la-creme of hospital service.
Grocery Shopping in Chiang Mai
In a bit of a contradiction to our Western sensibilities, it’s often cheaper and more economical to go out for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
But sometimes we can’t be bothered to make the journey, or we simply want to cook. Chaing Mai has a plethora of Asian markets, where fresh fruit, veg and protein options can be purchased for very little.
If you’re seeking out a typical supermarket, the city has its fair share of those too, with more western-style supermarkets such as Rimping, Tesco Lotus, and Big C to do your‘ big shop’.
Why I Am Still Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand (& How Long Will I Stay?)
Nostalgia is a seductive beast and a complex one. Sentimentality for the past can wreak havoc on us if we romanticise too much about a particularly colourful chapter in our lives.
Going back to Chiang Mai felt like going back to an ex. Chasing a ghost of former happy memories, in order to cover up whatever negative emotion was triggering something that I felt was lacking from my life.
A perpetual cycle that I often see in long-term travellers who are living in denial.
Those doubts were erased pretty much upon the plane touching Chiang Mai turf. The slower pace of life compared to my former home city of choice, Mexico City and the palpable smack in the face to what “safe” really meant in comparison was a thumbs up from me.
No “there is good and bad everywhere” idealistic nonsense here. Living in Chiang Mai is subjectively and objectively safe and that was huge to me (although I sometimes dream about having a second home in Mexico).
I’m no stranger to travelling in dangerous countries, but living in one as my main home? F**k that, I’m over it.
I didn’t want to half-commit, so I decided to burn all my bridges and buy an apartment in cash with pretty much all of my life savings.
I had 2 intense months of constantly house-hunting, before choosing one that ticked my most important boxes (location, sunset view and relatively quiet). I will be writing a full blog post about buying a place in Thailand at some point, however for now I’ll leave it at this.
Living in Chiang Mai was always meant to be for me, it is what I refer to as “home” and it would be an understatement to say I’m happy with my decision.