There are many places in South East Asia that have become synonymous with the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle – ditching the regular nine-to-five to work remotely or bootstrap a new business from a warmer climate, with a much lower cost of living and even better quality of life. We visited Chiang Mai last year and loved the city for its culture and easy way of life, and it always stayed in the back of our minds that if there was one place in Asia we’d be happy to put down some roots and live, this was the it.
It’s safe to say there are probably as many reasons why Chiang Mai is the perfect place to settle down and work for a few months as there are blog posts written about it. The plentiful information we found online was a little scattered and not always up to date, so I thought I would share our experiences while taking the time to wax lyrical about one of our favourite Asian cities. Chiang Mai proved to be a much better fit for us than Ao Nang, and I was genuinely sad to leave after a six week stay that left me feeling as though we had found a home after so long on the road.
Taking the recommendation of countless others, we found temporary digs at 9 Hostel in the old city whilst spending a day or two scooting around town and scoping out the long term options. The ThaiApartments website coupled with a custom Google map made navigating the options a breeze. We looked at a lot of places in Chiang Mai – running the gamut from full on apartments with kitchen and living room, to a glorified hotel room, and everything in between. Further from the city there are some real bargains to be had, but sticking close to the trendy neighbourhoods surrounding the old town, it’s easily possible to find a serviced one bedroom for a bargain price. Of all the places we saw, Lanna Moon seemed like the best value for money. Compared to some of the stuffy, fan-less rooms we looked at, our airy third floor apartment at Lanna Moon was – literally – a breath of fresh air. We didn’t need to use the AC once, thanks to the natural breeze from the (admittedly tiny and covered in pigeon poop) balcony.
One feature that particularly enticed us was the shared kitchen downstairs – we usually had it all to ourselves, and despite not doing much cooking, the space and equipment made preparing our morning smoothies, fruits and salads so much easier. There’s also a pool down there – however it doesn’t get any sun, so it was simply too frigid for us to use in the winter – in the summer I’m sure it’s quite refreshing. It’s certainly kept very clean. For the price, our room was cleaned weekly, on a well-defined schedule – they weren’t super thorough but it was good enough – new towels, sheets, a clean bathroom and a swept floor.
Most importantly of all for us: the wifi is excellent, with a good connection and a router on every floor!
We also found the location to be very good – technically in the somewhat rambunctious Loi Kroh road area, the building itself is on a quiet side soi with a real local atmosphere and a short walk from the old city, markets, gyms, cafes and a good supermarket. Lanna Moon itself, however, is not the most atmospheric place and thankfully we were not here to socialize, since the neighbors were mainly older men, usually seen strutting around with their awkwardly young Thai girlfriends. It might not be so good if you are alone, but as a couple, it was perfect.
GROCERIES / MARKETS / FOOD
For organic veggies and herbs, we liked the Rimping Supermarket conveniently located on Lamphun road right by Loi Khro road, a 10 minute walk from our apartment. This is also a great place to get all your North American and European food cravings, but nothing here is cheap. For fruits, our absolute favorite place to go – not only in Chiang Mai, but possibly in all of Asia – was without a doubt Muang Mai: a wholesale wet market that’s open 24 hours, where we purchased bulk mangoes, passion fruits, coconuts, bananas, limes and durians at ridiculously low prices (except for the durian). For everything restaurant related, you can read my vegan guide to Chiang Mai here.
We got a one-month gym membership at the rather swanky Centara Duangtawan located a mere five minute walk from our place. There are cheaper gyms in town – at 2500 baht for the month, it wasn’t the most frugal choice, but the convenient location and facilities made this a great splurge. Going every day made for a reasonable daily rate, especially considering the gym includes a large pool, fitness, sauna, steam and jacuzzi, and affords a great view over the mountains.
PLACES TO WORK / CAFES
We eventually got bored of working from home and started visiting cafes a few afternoons a week for a change of scenery. Our favorite place quickly became Overstand, as much for the friendliness of the service as for the coffee, the ambiance, and the vegemite and avocado sourdough toasts. We also regularly visited Crema Café in our neighborhood, and Coffee Wish adjacent Yesterday Hotel on Nimmanhaemin. These places all have fast Wifi, comfy seating and accessible wall plugs. For a comprehensive list of all cafes in Chiang Mai with reviews, visit Chiang Mai Coffee Culture .
There’s an amazing scene of local artisans and designers to be discovered in Chiang Mai, and buying from them made me feel so much better than purchasing the usual mass produced stuff. I emailed several artists to try and put together an alternative shopping guide, but unfortunately most have not yet embraced the online world and I didn’t get much response. Here are a few pointers to go out and score yourself some unique locally made pieces:
SATURDAY FLEA AT THINK PARK
Think Park is a lovely little cluster of cafes, restaurants, clothes and crafts located at the far end of Nimmanheamin Road in front on Maya Mall. Every Saturday night, the number of local artisans multiplies and there is a nice outdoor Flea market where you can find anything from fashion to jewelry to music instruments. There is a lovely vibe to soak in at any time of the week.
N.A.P. AND POP MARKET AT THE CHIANG MAI DESIGN WEEK
If you are lucky enough to be visiting Chiang Mai in December, there are two events not to be missed, namely N.A.P (Nimmanhaemin Art and Design Promenade) and the Pop Market at the Chiang Mai Design Week. Both feature a confluence of several artisans, artists and designers from Chiang Mai and around, and are a great opportunity to sample delicious food and mingle with all the local cool cats. The highlight of my trip.
SUNDAY WALKING STREET
Most people seem to enjoy the Saturday walking street better, but I found the small artisans a lot easier to spot at the Sunday street. I wish I’d gathered more information, but I spotted a lady who made amazing indigo tie dye totes, another who hand cut little gemstone pendants and a small company by the name “InMind”, who designed a revamped version of the ubiquitous Thai fisherman pants.
I visited the New York New York salon on Nimman/Soi 13 and have only great things to say about them. I needed a major chop and decided to skip all the $2-$3 options and splash out (!) $15 for the senior cut. For that price, you get the same – if not better – level of service you would receive for $75 or $80 in a western salon. At one point there was three of them scrunching and blowdrying my hair, I felt like a princess. Real awesome.
We both had our teeth cleaned up at Payon Dental Clinic for under $30 by the dentist himself. I also had a new nightguard made for $60 (comparatively to over $500 back in Canada). Friendly, professional, no fuss service.
We visited several massage places in Chiang Mai, some cheap, some more expensive, and always returned to Pranom in the little inner courtyard at the intersection of Ratchadamnoen and Prapokloa (?) Roads. Professional service, intense massage, and some of the lowest prices in town.
We did a lot of research into this and both got tattooed by Mod at Modzilla studio. A Thai native who spent twenty years living and working in one of Portland’s most renowned shops, he’s now running his own business on Nimman/Soi 13, round the corner from New York New York. Best artist in Chiang Mai, period. Jimmy the schnoodle is also one of the cutest dogs around.
IN A NUTSHELL / FOR TWO PEOPLE
Electricity: 150฿ (7฿ per unit)
Water : 250฿
Gym: 2500฿ / pp
Food: 600฿ / day for two people
Scooter: 3000฿ (only rented when needed)