Chiang Mai for Digital Nomads (Cost of Living, WiFi, & Overall Guide)

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In this clip from Episode 2 of the WeNomad podcastNeel Parekh and I discuss our experiences living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

For more, watch the full 45-minute episode here. Aside from the cost of living in Chiang Mai, we also talk about digital nomading, travel styles, and scaling your business.

Key Takeaways:

  • Chiang Mai is a great place to live for its low cost of living and quality of life.
  • It’s easy to find short or long-term housing in the city.
  • There are many places to work in Chiang Mai and many social opportunities for digital nomads.
  • The food in Chiang Mai is incredible and affordable.
  • Scooters are a cheap and great way to get around the city.

Video Transcript:

Cam:

So it’s going to be totally different with COVID, but we’ll talk pre-COVID Chiang Mai. Give me your general thoughts and pros and cons on Chiang Mai.

Neel:

Chiang Mai is kinda like the Nomad Mecca. Right? You have to make your pilgrimage to Chiang Mai at some point.

Cam:

Pilgrimage, for sure!

Neel:

So I went there because I went to a conference called the Dynamite Circle, which is an entrepreneur group. I went to a conference in Bangkok and everyone after the conference in October migrates over to Chiang Mai, and everyone’s kind of posted up there.

My take on Chiang Mai is it’s great for a good chunk of the year when there’s great weather. But in Chiang Mai, starting February they have the burning season where the farmers around burn crops and it becomes cancer. You can’t really stay there.

So, I don’t think the whole year it’s great. But the times it’s great, it’s next-level great because of the community. People gravitate towards Chiang Mai normally for a couple of reasons.

Number one: Cost of living.

I have a studio there — 400 bucks a month, great location, own spot, and super cheap. I know people who have 200 bucks a month. I know people who have 700 bucks a month. But for under $1,000 a month, you’re getting a nice place in Chiang Mai.

And all Thailand — the food’s fantastic and incredibly cheap. The people are extremely friendly as well. So those are all the pros and why a lot of people go to Chiang Mai.

Another thing I like about it, specifically Thailand and Chiang Mai, is because of the reason I mentioned — it attracts a lot of nomads. I couldn’t go to a coffee shop, when I was there, where I didn’t know someone. I didn’t know that many people, but everyone seemed to be there and you’re always going to run into other people who are like-minded because everyone’s a nomad.

So it ends up being just a really cool community and you feel like it’s college all over again. Like you’re walking around campus and you see people you know. That’s kind of how Chiang Mai felt because it’s pretty small as well.

Cam:

Yeah, I spent two months there right at the beginning of my nomad trip or my nomad journey, and I can definitely attest that it’s a great spot and it’s a hub.

I think there’s a big advantage, especially when you’re starting out nomading, to being in places where there are lots of other nomads. And it’s just really easy to be a nomad because it’s a great way to break in.

I think for people that go to places that aren’t as popular, it’s harder to meet people. It’s harder to get oriented.

WiFi there, obviously, is great. It’s one of the big draws. Very stable. And my apartment there was 300 bucks a month. It’s tough to beat.

And on the nightlife, I feel like I’d describe the nightlife in Chiang Mai as, I don’t know if it’s world-class, but it’s very fun with a lot going on. A lot of backpackers and a lot of ex-pats. It’s pretty vibrant. Maybe seven nights a week, I feel like I remember it being pretty poppin’.

Neel:

That’d be the one downside I’d personally say about Chiang Mai is I don’t think the nightlife is that great if you’re not a backpacker.

Like, I have a great time there. You have friends around. You meet friends who go out for drinks and stuff like that. But there’s just one spot in Old City where there’s Zoe and all these different bars. It’s just kind of one main drag where you could go out at nighttime and things shut down around midnight, maybe one at the latest. And it’s going to be mostly backpackers who are around there as well.

So nightlife — probably not that great. I’d say that’s the one biggest downside, in my opinion, about Chiang Mai.

Cam:

Got it. For someone who’s thinking about Chiang Mai, what would you recommend on the neighborhood side? Did you live in the Nimman area which seems to be the most popular hub area?

Neel:

Yeah. It’s funny, if look at the map, you wouldn’t think so. But if you look at the map, you’re going to see an outline of the Old City and there are lots of hostels and stuff there.

I wouldn’t recommend the Old City to stay in. Where you want to stay is a little bit to the west, in this one strip called Nimman and you’ll see that there’s a big Maya mall there. Just anywhere around there is the hub. That’s where all the coffee shops are and one of the nice food places.

That’s kind of the nicer part of Chiang Mai, which is still incredibly cheap. There’s the big Maya mall over there as well which is a really top-notch mall. There’s a big movie theater in there. There’s all the shopping in there. Everything.

So, I think that’s the most central spot to be posted up and it’s just kind of around that. I actually know people who have big houses a little bit further out, like in the mountains and stuff. And I’m like, “This is cool!”

It’s really cool because you could just get scooters and go into town whenever you want, and you get a really massive place for not that expensive. So yeah, I think there are lots of places to live but I’d recommend west of the Old City.

Cam:

I ended up staying in I think the area is called Santitham, which is like seven minutes northeast of the Nimman area. Like five to seven minutes northeast or east. It’s very local, but there was one apartment complex called Serene Teak where it was all ex-pats. And there’s a whole crew and we’d go to dinner every night and it’s been fantastic.

One other key thing, I think, for people to know about housing, specifically in Chiang Mai, is I think for the most part, rather than getting an Airbnb, you’re much better off getting a week or a few days in a hotel and then doing an apartment search in person and booking in person. Because essentially, there are a ton of apartment complexes that all do one-month rentals and really short-term rentals.

That was how I did. I don’t know if that’s what you’d recommend as well.

Neel:

Yeah 1000%

If you’re going to be there for a month, that’s the best way to do it because it’s literally going to be half, if not a third, of the price.

Because the only people posting on Airbnb over there aren’t the locals. They’re foreigners or maybe some locals who are really business savvy. So the rates are really jacked up on Airbnb and completely unnecessary.

And you’ll be surprised how easy it is to find spots when you’re there. Just go to Nimman, look around, you’ll see buildings where you see a bunch of ex-pats walking out of. Walk in there and you’re going to find a spot guaranteed, so it’s actually really easy.

Cam:

Yeah, agreed. And one other thing. I’m trying to think about what the mall is, but I had an unorthodox work session. It was one of my favorite work strategies.

There’s Maya Mall and then there’s a rundown mall down the street, which I don’t remember the name. But if you looked at a map, it’s right on the same road and there’s a bowling alley up on the top floor. I used to work out of a food court with a huge open ceiling with tons of natural light. So, I used to work there, and then I’d go eat lunch in the food court and I’d go in between, I think it was 12-1, it was $4 and you get to play, you get free shoes, and three games of bowling.

So I’d work in the morning. I’d go have lunch. I’d go up and I bowl, and then I’d go back down and keep working. It was great. I was loving it.

Neel:

I really miss Chiang Mai. And you can get scooters for super cheap over there. The food’s incredible. It’s incredibly cheap, man. Yeah, I really miss it.

Cam:

It’s a great quality of life at a really low cost of living. The only big con for me is not being near the ocean. I love being near the ocean. That’s the biggest knock.

Neel:

Exactly. For me, it was tough too because I was still working LA standard hours.

Luckily at the time, I didn’t leave Latin America until I could do this. I work from 11 pm to 2 am for mostly meetings with my team, and then I’ll let them take over and I’d go to sleep. So keep in mind the hours, it’s a lot different. I think it’s a 14 and a half-hour gap or something like that.

Cam:

Well, I appreciate your time. I think we’ll call it here. I appreciate the Chiang Mai breakdown and all of your insights.

Cam Woodsum
I've been building digital businesses, wandering the world, and writing about optimizing life for freedom since early 2017. My mission is to lower the barrier for people who want to live with more freedom: whether that be as an entrepreneur, a digital nomad, an early retiree, or just as someone who wants to live a happiness-driven life.