While I was researching new destinations for my digital nomad lifestyle, Chiang Mai kept coming up, and so in the end I decided that it fit the bill perfectly. I could escape Malta for the winter and continue living the summer lifestyle in Thailand. I had never been to Asia so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Me and Alyona flew from Malta to Bangkok via Cyprus and Dubai with Emirates Airways. We stayed in Bangkok for a few days as we got accustomed to the totally different culture. While I found Bangkok to be way too hectic for my tastes, I still enjoyed our days there and the hot weather was just what I needed.
A one hour plane trip with Bangkok Airways and we were in Chiang Mai. My first impression was that the weather was even better here, less humid and a few degrees less than in Bangkok. I immediately felt the laid-back atmosphere that pervades this Northern city. Good start.
Our first week was spent searching for a quality apartment with a reliable internet connection, which was not an easy task considering we landed bang right in the middle of the peak season.
Once we settled into our apartment however, I quickly realised that we had made a great choice in coming to Chiang Mai to get some work done and make the most of the location independent lifestyle. There’s so much to do here if you feel like doing something, while on the other hand it is a perfect place to work from if you just want to put your head down and concentrate on your projects.
Let’s take a look at some of the points that made me fall in love with Chiang Mai:
If you want a culture-filled experience, it doesn’t get much better than this. From the classic and daily ‘Only in Thailand’ scenes like dogs riding as pillion on motor bikes to the fried bugs available at the many street-side food stalls, just stepping out into the street will guarantee you an infusion of Asian culture at its best.
There are really a huge variety of things to do and experience here in Chiang Mai, and you’re not likely to get bored.
If you’re ok with giving up traveling in comfort, transportation around Chiang Mai is fairly easy. There are no public buses here, although they had been introduced for a short period around 2 years ago. I’m not sure why they didn’t last long.
Your main options as means of transportation will be the following:
- Tuk tuk
My favourite is the songthaew (pronounced songtiao), which is nothing more than a customised Isuzu pick up truck. They basically add two benches at the back of these trucks, and add a canopy. This is the most common means of ‘public transport’ here in Chiang Mai, and they can also be rented for private trips.
Trips within the city will cost 20 baht, with the cost rising for outer city trips. I usually just confirm the price with the driver before hopping in, to avoid any hassles when alighting and paying. It’s also a good idea to have the exact amount to avoid the ‘no change’ scam.
Songthaews are everywhere, and the ones you will see close to the old city are all red. You just wave your hand to stop them, ask if they are going to your destination, and if they accept you just hop in at the back. You can ring the bell when you are close to your stop to remind the driver, although he will usually remember without prompting.
Tuk tuks should be tried at least once for the experience factor while you’re here, although songthaews are cheaper and probably faster. You won’t have any trouble finding one of these either, as they are parked close to all markets and landmarks, as well as roaming the streets.
The price for a tuk will be in the 50-80 baht range for city trips, and they fit around 3 people. I’ve also seen a tuk tuk carrying four people plus luggage on a trip to the airport, but that was one of those ‘Only in Thailand’ moments and I definitely wouldn’t recommend that in terms of safety and comfort.
Renting a motorbike/scooter can be a very cost effective and fast method of transportation in Chiang Mai. Motorbikes are easily the most popular form of transport with the locals, and you will find a shop renting scooters on every corner of the street. Prices for scooters range from 150-250 baht, depending on the model and its age. I highly recommend having previous experience riding a motorbike back in your home country before attempting to ride one here, although the rental companies won’t ask you for your driving licence when you go to rent a scooter. My favorite scooter model in Chiang Mai is the Honda PCX.
Update 2020 regarding driving licenses: If your home licence is in English then technically you do not need an International Driving Permit (IDP) because all that does is translate your licence into other languages and the language that is required in Thailand is English. But if you want to spend half your holiday arguing the finer points of the law with policemen who will have a limited understanding of spoken English that is as the Thais say up to you. Personally I would rather pay the small fee (up to 60 euro) that an IDP costs in your country. Note that some travel insurance companies insist on having one in order to cover you in countries like Thailand, so it’s really a no-brainer to get one. Also beware of websites (like this one) offering quick IDP issuance, they are all scams. You need to get the IDP from your country’s official transport agency.
Bicycles are a great way of touring the Chiang Mai old city as there are no hills. A bicycle can be rented from 70-200 baht, you pay more for a decent mountain bike, but the city bikes are just as good since you won’t be using any gears. Bicycles were essential while we were looking for an apartment, as they allowed us to quickly dart from one place to another over town. You need to ride very carefully when in the main roads however, as you will be competing for road space with trucks and dozens of buzzing scooters.
With all these cheap transportation options, there’s something for everyone here in Chiang Mai.
Cafes and Internet Connections
There are many cafes here, since Thais have a culture of eating out instead of cooking inside their apartments/houses. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find out that many cafes have very fast internet connections, and this is not only limited to the fancy touristy ones. Even the eateries which are little more than a converted garage, often have excellent wifi connections in the range of 8-12 Mbps.
That’s a very good thing for digital nomads, if you don’t have internet at your apartment you can spend time in cafes. I always prefer having a good connection at my home base, but I still love to spend a few hours working at a different location just for variety and for socialising.
This is definitely the perfect time to visit Chiang Mai, as outlets are realising the potential in catering for digital nomads and bloggers. You can even find dedicated co-working spaces, where you can rent a desk per month (around 2,500 baht).
Digital Nomad Community
This is definitely one of the biggest pluses of spending time in Chiang Mai. You can easily meet some of the most famous bloggers here, especially those who love to travel and live the location independent lifestyle. Every digital nomad comes to Chiang Mai some time or another, so you’re always bound to meet someone here. Moreover there is an active barcamp meetup community, as well as co-working events which you can use to meet other like-minded people.
Chiang Mai is a good place to head out to if you want to keep your costs down. A great apartment will set you back $600-$800, but you can easily live in a studio flat for way less than that ($300-$500).
Street food is also extremely cheap, although you probably won’t want to eat fried Thai food every day in the long run. That’s why an apartment with a kitchen turns out to be very handy if you’re spending a few months here.
As I’ve already mentioned, transport is also cheap, and when it comes to entertainment, it’s easy to spend a night out without breaking the bank.
The weather here during the winter months is pretty much perfect, hot during the day (but not too much), and cool in the night. I’ve never had to use a jacket and I swim and train at the gym most days. When you’re coming here to escape a cold winter things are even sweeter, and you really appreciate the sunshine here.
All in all Chiang Mai lives up to its reputation as a digital nomad friendly location, and you would probably struggle to find another place that combines all the niceties of living in this city.
Have you been to Chiang Mai or are you planning to visit? Let us know in the comments section below!