Reflecting on Two Months in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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I’m currently en route from Thailand to Da Nang / Hoi An, Vietnam where I’ll spend the next two weeks before going to Hong Kong for three days, Seoul, South Korea for 11 days, and then Taipei, Taiwan for a month or more.

I spent the last two months living in Chiang Mai, Thailand before spending a few days in Bangkok. Chiang Mai is a fantastic city in Northern Thailand that is a popular tourist destination and is known as the adventure capital of Thailand. It’s also one of the biggest world hubs for “digital nomads” (people traveling while working online).

Some of the city’s highlights:

  • Cost of Living (USD): Very affordable ($700-900/month) – see NomadList for a more detailed breakdown
    • About 15-20% cheaper than Canggu, Bali (see my cost of living comparison for the U.S. vs. Bali)
    • Housing: I lived in a phenomenal apartment with a pool and mountain view for $300/month
      • Tons of 1-3 month lease options and can find as cheap as $80-100/month
    • Food is fantastic and only costs ~$1 per meal on the street or in a food court
    • Healthcare – seems to be about 4-10% of cost compared to the U.S. (Why Dental Tourism and Health Tourism are real industries)
      • Got my teeth cleaned at the nicest dentist office I’ve ever been to and it cost $15
      • Had an injured shoulder checked out by one of the best orthopedic surgeons in Chiang Mai and the consultation cost $9. X-rays cost $9. MRI would’ve cost $250 (compared to $2,500+ in USA).
  • Activities: Tons of activities and excursion opportunities
    • Elephants, temples, waterfalls, ATVs, bungee jumping, fishing, etc.
    • Lots of weekly rec sports that are easy to get involved in (basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer, floor hockey, pickleball, etc.)
    • 3 hour drive from Pai which is a great weekend getaway and a popular, small, hippy touristy town
  • Wifi: Blazing fast wifi (frequently 100mbps which is much faster than what my wifi was in San Francisco)
  • Nightlife: Great and diverse – something for everyone
    • Touristy/backpackers options, long-term expat bars, local bars with lots of college students
    • Large (double) beers usually only cost $3
  • Smallish: but has everything you could ever need
    • 1M people
    • Everything is within a 15-20 minute moped ride
    • Massive mall complexes throughout the city
  • Amazing Night Markets: everywhere and every night (best in the world that I’ve seen besides Morocco)
  • Large Community: of tourists, digital nomads and long-term expats – and in separate areas
    • I lived in Santitham which is ~96% Thai locals and college students
    • Most expats and digital nomads live in the Nimman area
      • Large retirement community from U.S. and other parts of the world
      • Lots of digital nomad events and meetups
      • Most tourists stay in the Old City which is about 5-10 minutes away – nice to be detached from this and not get hassled by tuk tuk and taxi drivers
  • Extremely Safe: crime seems virtually non-existent from what I saw and heard – very different from Bangkok and other parts of Thailand and feels much safer than San Francisco, Los Angeles or other major U.S. cities
    • A friend left her iPhone in the back of a tuk tuk and the driver helped her retrieve it and didn’t even want to be tipped!
    • Plenty of stories of people leaving their computer in a coffee shop, leaving for lunch and then coming back later to keep working – it is shockingly safe
    • Bribery is alive and well if you ever get pulled over by police though…

Check out the video below for more information on Chiang Mai:


Other Thoughts: My Changed Perspective On Money

One of the biggest takeaways so far in my travels is how far money goes when you’re in a developing country. I was a cheap person before embarking on this journey and this has only deepened my value of money. My new favorite shirt cost $4, sunglasses $10 and you can buy amazing food on the street for under $1.

My brother and I visited SE Asia about two years ago and spent $80-120 per night on five star hotels. This is something that I’ll likely never do again after understanding how much you can do with that amount of money and the peace of mind that comes with being permanently financially independent.

$120 can comfortably cover all living expenses for about five days in most areas of SE Asia. My switch to a more minimalistic lifestyle means my required comfort level has now been reduced to a private room, mattress (or air bed), air conditioning and a roof. Beyond that (within reason) now feels like a waste.

Excited to see Hoi An / Da Nang next (its supposed to be 10-20% cheaper than Chiang Mai).

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.