Nomad Guide: Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai...beautiful, unique and wonderfully suited to the remote working lifestyle. We've just come back from living there and there's no doubt that it took our breath away. Today's post is all about making sure you guys have the latest info on this part of the world, so keep reading if you want all the details you need to get the best out of this magical city.

Chiang Mai is wildly popular amongst remote workers for a reason; established infrastructure, natural beauty, and vibrant city life are just a few among a long list of this location’s attractive qualities. Many experienced digital nomads also cite the relaxed lifestyle, great weather, and affordability as reasons to love Chiang Mai. Casey Hynes, a Forbes contributor, recently wrote that, “Chiang Mai offers a mix of affordability, infrastructure, and quality of life that’s difficult to find elsewhere.”, and mentioned that Travel + Leisure named Chiang Mai the number one city in Asia, and number two in the entire world, for these reasons. As you can see, it’s hard to resist such an exquisite all rounder of a city; it’s great for both new nomads who need community and reliable internet access, and also experienced travellers who seek opportunities for exciting adventures from their chosen destination. 

So without further ado, let's get straight into it!

GENERAL INFO...

Chiang Mai is the capital of a northern Thai province, located in the mountains just a few hours away from the Laos and Burma borders. The currency is the Thai Baht (though for the purposes of this guide, we’ve listed costs in USD), which, in November, 2017 had an exchange rate of 100 Baht to $3.05. The locals are known to be very friendly, and the climate ranges from tropical to comfortable. It’s widely known that the farmers burn off their crops between February and April, so the air gets quite polluted and is, thus, the only time of year to avoid a trip to Chiang Mai if possible.

BEST AREAS FOR NOMADS

Chiang Mai Old Town

Chiang Mai Old Town is mile-wide square with gates on each side and is a very popular and tourist-friendly area. There is a huge variety of cheap food, and this is a great place to find decent foreign foods as well. The nightlife is vibrant and there’s even an easily accessible tourist office where you can set up excursions!

The only downsides are that, due to the area’s popularity and convenience, the prices tend to be a little higher and long-term housing isn’t as common as short-stay and hotel-type accommodation.

Chang Khlan

This area is a 15-minute walk from Old Town. It’s a little more run down, but still a safe place to hang out. The accommodation is cheap, the food is cheap, and it’s close enough to Old Town to still be quite convenient.

Nimmanhaeman Road

This is the digital nomad hotspot! The majority of the best co-working spaces are located here. With Chiang Mai University nearby, it’s also a popular spot for students. The general vibe is fun, lively, and trendy with great Thai and western restaurants, coffee shops, two shopping malls, cinemas, and designer shopping. It’s easy to meet expats, but the locals who live in this area are mostly the Thai upper class. A variety of lease options exist in this area, though expect a higher price tag.

Chang Puak

Chang Puak is north of Old Town. It’s close to a university and mostly populated by students, so accommodation is cheaper. Street food and cheap restaurants abound! Nearby you can find Muang Chiang Mai Stadium, and it’s only a 25-minute walk to the city center.

HOUSING AND ACCOMMODATION

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From budget-friendly, to gorgeous properties, Chiang Mai offers a wide variety of affordable living options, and, for the most part, the set-up is quite easy. Things to consider are: quality of life, how much time you’ll likely spend at home, your budget, and whether or not you’re planning to work from home.

Daily Lease

Pros:- Cleaning services are often included. Utilities are also often included in the rate. Most are fully furnished. Flexibility to move and try new areas.

Cons:-No long-term discounts. On average, these are smaller rooms.

Cost:- Average room in a normal area is $12-$13 a night.

Additional info:- Plan for a security deposits, cleaning fees, and exit fees. Some (like Palace 1) are serviced apartments and hotels in one.

Short-term Lease

Pros:- Can be more cost effective with lower deposits. 3-month, 6-month, and 1-year leases are usually available. Many short-term lease apartments also come furnished.

Cons:- Locked into a lease.

Cost:- An average room in an average area will cost between $400-$500 a month. Very basic rooms are available for $200 a month, and over-the-top rooms are available for much more.

Additional info:- Condos, houses, and serviced apartments are generally what to look for when renting.

AirBnB and Guest Houses

Pros:- Flexibility, varying utilities and accommodation types, and generally still affordable.

Cons:- Prices range depending on the building and area and are overall higher than short- and long-term leases.

Cost:- For average accommodation with a good location like Maya Mall and Nimman, the cost per night can range between $20 a night and $100 a night.

Additional info:- Guest houses like Baan Say La ($20 a night) are recommended.

Utilities:- Included utilities depend on the property. Some newer and nicer accommodations include gyms and pools, but even the most basic accommodation includes an air conditioner and washer.

Average monthly cost for gas, heating, and electricity is about $30 a month for a one-person studio apartment. Internet costs hover around $17 a month.

Extra thoughts...

The most common thing to do is to book yourself into a hostel for 2-3 nights upon arrival. Use this time to tour the areas you’d like to live in and knock on doors of different apartment or condo buildings and just ask them for a room. You can save a lot of money by getting a local price.

If you don’t have time, book in advance. Some recommended real estate agencies are Perfect Homes, Chiang Mai Properties, Open Realty, Chiang Mai Houses.

James and Sarah, travel bloggers of Goats on the Road, also recommend getting a hotel for a few days while you get set up, though they also proponents of using real estate agencies. They write, “Your best option then is to set up some viewings with a few of the estate agencies in Chiang Mai. There are plenty that are very reputable, straightforward and free for the renter. You just simply send them a brief email of what you are after and they will arrange the viewings, ferry you around by car and sort out all the paperwork.”

INTERNET ACCESS

Average home internet speeds are a modest 20mbps and are known for being reliable and stable. Internet usually comes with most types of accommodation, but the cost may or may not be included in your bill.

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IF YOUR APARTMENT DOES NOT COME WITH INTERNET, don’t freak out! First, consult your landlord or estate agent—they may have information on which companies service the property. Then, go to a local shop, or even the airport, and ask for wireless internet. Up-front costs include the router and 6+ months of service. It may take a day or two to get it set up, so be patient. Someone from the company will come to your apartment and install it, so make sure you bring your address and passport with you to the shop. Router and set-up costs are reported at, or around, $118.

It’s best to consult your landlord or estate agent to narrow down your internet provider choices. Sinet is a popular company with good coverage, and average monthly costs for 15mbps range between $16 and $20.

SIM CARDS

SIM card setup in Chiang Mai is incredibly easy! Airport setup is reliable and easy, but if you’d prefer to take care of this later, it’s also possible to get a SIM card at one of the shops, or even 7-11 stores for the confident nomad who just needs a basic SIM plan. Average costs range between $15 a month and $20 a month for 5GB of data. A wide variety of plans are available: pay-as-you-go, daily, and 3-months to a year. Topping off a SIM is also easy—it can be done online, at one of the shops, or even at the convenience store.

The three main cell companies in Thailand are AIS, DTAC, and TrueMove.

Longer-term plans vary by company, but, generally speaking, can be broken up into two main categories: 1-3 month plans, and 3-month to yearly plans. 1-3 month plans can be broken up into three sub-categories: pre-pay talk, pre-pay data, and pre-pay smart (even amounts of talk and data). The 3-month to yearly plans are a bit trickier to set up but are, predictably, most cost-effective.

Chiang Mai Buddy has a very in-depth cellphone/SIM guide that can be found here.

The Tribe’s recommendation is to get “TrueMoveH”. There are TrueMove wi-fi networks all over the city and each SIM card comes with a login to it. This means you can walk through the city and your phone connects to the wi-fi networks automatically that you don’t have to use all your data.

Detailed information about TrueMoveH plans can be found here at Thai Prepaid Card.

COWORKING SPACES

This is where Chiang Mai really shines! With an established remote worker community comes a wide variety of workspace choice. The coffee shop scene in Chiang Mai is especially great, so we definitely recommend spending some time exploring the options.

In addition to this, there are world-renowned designated coworking spaces available, which we’ve broken down here...

PunSpace

Located in Nimman and Tha Pae Gate. The two locations only have very slight differences, which are noted below. The general vibe is quiet, with a lot of regulars. The Nimman location is the smaller of the two. The Tha Phae Gate location has better internet speeds and more space. Without a membership, only one device can be used per person, and the hours are limited to 9am-6pm Monday through Saturday. The daily rate is about $9.

With a membership, you get access to the site 24/7. Weekly membership is about $52, and a monthly membership is about $120 for a hot desk (aka shared desks). Cool desks (single desks), available only at the Tha Phae Gate location, are a little more expensive at $168 for the month.

Mana Coworking

This is a small, bright space located on Nimmanhaeimin Road. It only seats about 14 people, so the atmosphere is pretty peaceful. Printing, scanning, and copies are available for a small fee. Rates are hourly or daily and can be discounted with a drink or dessert purchase.

The hourly rate is $.50 and the daily rate is $3. 1 person meeting room access costs $.50 for 1 hour, and 4-5 person meeting room access costs $3 per hour.

Hours are 9:30am-9pm M-F and 9:30am-7pm Sundays.

Overstand

A quiet coworking space located in the Nimman area. It’s known for fast wi-fi, but the hours are a bit odd being M-F 8am-3pm.

C.A.M.P.

C.A.M.P. stands for Creative and Meeting Place. This coworking space operates on a unique system; it’s technically free to work here, but it’s the wi-fi access that costs money. You can get a voucher for 2 hours of wi-fi time for a $1.50 order of food or drink. There are 5 meeting rooms, which each seat 6-10 people, available for 3-hour use with a $15 purchase.

This coworking space is open 24/7, boasts fast wi-fi speeds, and is generally a quiet place to work or enjoy a snack and a tasty beverage.

COMMUNITY

Chiang Mai is known for its well-established and friendly expat and remote working community. The community is accepting, helpful, and very active! There are a large number of one-time and routine meetups, which can be found on meetup.com.

Nomad Coffee Club (can be found on Facebook) was created by Johnny FD, known for his blog (can be found here), is a weekly meetup “featuring guest speakers, live Q&As, and networking”.

There are a huge number of Facebook groups for Chiang Mai expats and nomads, too. Some of the best include:

  • I Love Chiang Mai (discussion, meetups, helpful starter documents available)

  • Chiang Mai Events

  • What, When, Where Chiang Mai (page for people, event organizers, promoters, bar and club owners to advertise events)

  • Digital Nomads in Chiang Mai

TRANSPORTATION

Airport

There are two popular options for getting to Chiang Mai. The first is to take an Air Asia flight directly into Chiang Mai Airport, which is about 2 miles from the city center. The second option is to fly into Bangkok and take a 1-hour flight or an overnight train to Chiang Mai.

Walkability

Chiang Mai is rated by nomadlist as one of the most walkable cities!

Public Transportation

When you don’t feel like walking, there are plenty of affordable and reliable public transportation systems available.

Taxi services range between $3 and $6 within the city center. Songheaw (also known as Red Trucks) are about $.60 within the city or $1.50 to or from the airport, and tuk-tuks are about the same. One tip from Digital Nomad Girls is to, “… not ask about the price when you get in. As soon as you ask how much the ride costs, the driver knows you’re new to Chiang Mai and might try to charge you an inflated price. If you just get in, they will know that you’ve taken a truck before and know that the standard price for a ride in the city is 20 baht. Obviously, this price doesn’t apply late at night, when fares often double, or if taking a longer trip.”

Bike and Motorbike Rental

A simple bike rental costs about $2-$3 a day, or $10-$15 a week. Some apartments or hotels offer rentals.

Scooter rental ranges between, $5 for 24 hours (with insurance), or between $60 and $100 a month. Helmets are required by law and you are likely to get pulled over by the police for not wearing one.

It may be most cost effective to buy a scooter. Mr. Mechanic is a reputable source. There are also many second-hand groups on Facebook where you can both buy and sell scooters.

A note of caution:- Chiang Mai is a dangerous place to drive. Insurance, helmet wear, and particular caution are all recommended.

As Kevin, blogger from “Postcards from my Yonder” writes, “When you are renting your bike, make sure you get a legit helmet. It should cover the back of your head at a minimum.” He also recommends other proper riding gear (like glasses and gloves), watching out for things like gravel, oil slicks, and opening car doors, and carry your license with you at all times (don’t give it up as collateral at the rental shop!).

FOOD AND DRINK

Chiang Mai is a food and coffee paradise! Known for being cheap and absolutely delicious, it would be a total miss not to experience all the culinary delight this city has to offer. Common traditional flavors include lemongrass, chili, turmeric, and coconut.

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Must tries include:-

  • Khao Soi- a yellow curry and coconut milk broth soup with noodles

  • Khao Kha Moo- stewed pork legs over rice with sides like pickles and other traditional foods. A popular spot to get Khao Kha Moo is from the “Cowboy hat lady” at the Chang Phuak night market.

  • Food at the Sunday Night Market

  • Night Bazaar food

Noodles, roast chicken, various night market foods, and huge variety of food on a stick are all recommended as well so get to eatin'!

If you're into a bit of mixing and matching different styles of food, it’s fairly easy to find variations of foreign food or fusion cuisine, for a price, especially in the Nimmanhaeman Road area.

Cafes

Wifi Tribe loves a good cafe and we tested plenty during our stay here. The ones we enjoyed are below:-

Cafes Tested by the Tribe (Great Wifi + Coffee + Outlet Access)

  • Ristr8to Coffee

  • Rustic & Blue

  • Tom n Toms Coffee

  • The Larder Cafe & Bar

  • Saded Cafe

  • Ombra Caffe

  • The Barn Eatery & Design

Try out these places and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Average food costs (from nomadlist):

  • .3L coke: $.54

  • Cappuccino: $2.30

  • Basic restaurant meal: $1.95

  • Pint of beer in a bar: $2.04

CITY SAFETY

Chiang Mai is luckily a very safe place to be. OSAC (U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security) says that the biggest risks are pickpocketing and petty crime, especially at night or around night markets.

The U.S. Department of State website has up-to-date and reliable safety information.

One note of caution is that Chiang Mai’s traffic can be extremely dangerous. Accidents occur with high frequency. It is important to have insurance, wear a helmet, and be cautions at all times. See above Transportation section for more information about motorbike use.

THINGS TO DO

When you’re not hard at work, there’s plenty to do around Chiang Mai! From a laid-back nightlife scene, to nature parks and temples, to night markets and boxing, there’s truly something for everybody in this city.

Picture this: live music, riverside drinking, and a cold beer. Chiang Mai’s nightlife is relaxed and thrives on bands and local talent. Some great venues to check out are Inter, which has a beach vibe and live music, and Nabe, known for beer, snacks, and live bands.

Night markets are another great way to spend the evening in Chiang Mai. You can find anything from clothes, lacquerware, jewelry, soap, candles, to wood carvings and food.

Our recommendations:-

  • Ziplining

  • Golf

  • Muay Thai Boxing *Thursday nights and not for the faint of heart...

  • Massage and spa treatments

  • Festivals, like Thai New Year on April 13th.

  • Cruise on the Ping River

  • Elephant Nature Park Rehabilitation Center

  • Chiang Mai Night Safari

  • Temples

    • Wat Phra Singh

    • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

    • Wat Chedi Luang

 

PLACES TO GO

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  • The “Grand Canyon” (Hang Dong)

  • Chiang Rai (a city nearby)

  • Koh Phangan (located in the Gulf of Thailand)

  • Huay Tung Tao Lake

  • Sticky Waterfall

  • Mae Sa Waterfall and Botanic Gardens

  • Pai

  • Doi Inthanon National Park

  • White Water Rafting

VISA REQUIREMENTS

Visa requirements for Thailand depend on your nationality, so be sure to check for specific information.

For U.S. citizens, a 90-day tourist visa is given upon arrival and can be extended 1 month for $53 and a trip to the immigration office. If you apply ahead of time in your home country, it’s possible to get a 6-month multiple entry visa.

Most EU countries get 30 days, but some only get 15 days! It’s necessary to research this information long before departure.

RECOMMENDED HOME COMFORTS

Luckily most home comforts can be found in Chiang Mai. Some things may be more expensive than you are accustomed to, though. A few recommendations from remote workers in Chiang Mai include:

  • Neosporin (the Thai version just doesn’t work the same!)

  • Sunblock (expensive)

  • Deodorant (ditto)

  • Tampons (hard to find)

  • Shoes (especially if you wear a larger size!)

FINAL NOTES

We hope this guide was helpful in getting you ready to make the big leap into remote working life in Chiang Mai. It’s a wonderful place with so much to offer to both experienced and totally new digital nomads. Reading this guide is just the first step, though; take some time to research specific properties and realtors, plan a budget, find meetup groups relevant to your field, and buy those plane tickets!

If you have suggestions for the improvement of this guide, feel free to let us know! We are always looking for ways to grow. If there’s something you’d like to see in a future guide, wack it in the comments section! 

Happy Travels and a very merry Christmas to all,

Wifi Tribe xx