18 Reasons Why Chiang Mai makes a Perfect Digital Nomad Headquarters
Read this full article on Thrilling Heroics here: 18 Reasons Why Chiang Mai makes a Perfect Digital Nomad Headquarters
Today’s guest post is a thorough and insightful city report that comes from Erin at Never Ending Voyage.
A digital nomad has the freedom to live and work wherever they choose. We make the most of this freedom by living out of a carry-on size backpack and travelling all over the world. A life of constant travel can make getting work done difficult though, and there are times when we need to settle down for a few months, rent an apartment and enjoy some home comforts and a solid internet connection.
We are always on the lookout for the perfect place to stop and work. We’ve tried Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Medellin, Colombia, but recently we have settled in a city that eclipses them all—Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The number of other digital nomads who have made this city in northern Thailand their temporary base is a testament to its appeal, and we’ve found that it has lived up to the hype. Here’s why…
Low Cost of Living
One of Chiang Mai’s biggest attractions is the high quality of life that’s possible for very little. With apartments starting from $160 a month, a delicious meal at the market for $1, a fresh fruit shake for $0.50, monthly motorbike rental for $60, laundry for $1 a kilo, and a large beer for $2, it is possible to live comfortably for well under $1000 a month, or even just $500.
Good internet is essential for a digital nomad, and it’s one of the reasons they flock to Chiang Mai. Most cafés and restaurants have free WiFi and the speed is good. It’s also very affordable to buy a local SIM card with a data plan.
Availability of Accommodation
There’s plenty of accommodation available to suit all budgets. The best thing to do is stay in a guesthouse for a few days and look around. Studio apartments without a kitchen (because eating out is so cheap) cost from $160-300 a month and WiFi and A/C is standard. A luxurious 1-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, pool, and gym costs $650 a month, although you’ll get far cheaper rates if you rent for 6 or 12 months. Electricity and water, and sometimes internet, is extra. We pay about $50 a month for electricity (using the A/C quite a lot), $9 for water, and $15 for internet (per computer).
From November to February the weather is perfect—clear blue skies with 30°C temperatures and low humidity during the day and lower temperatures at night. Things start to heat up in March, and the rainy season lasts from May to October—it doesn’t rain all the time though, and everything becomes lush and green.
There’s a good mix of Thais, expats, and tourists in Chiang Mai. It’s a university city, so there’s a youthful vibe and the education level is high with English spoken by many people. Unlike some more touristy parts of Thailand, the locals aren’t resentful of foreigners, there are no scams, and people are very friendly and helpful. We have had a flat tire on our moped twice and both times locals went out of their way to help us.
Thai food is delicious, fresh and wonderfully affordable. Food stalls and markets are found all over the city where you can sample local dishes for $1 a meal. Thai favourites like pad thai and green curry are readily available, or try the tasty local speciality Khao Soi—egg noodles in a coconut curry soup topped with crunchy fried noodles [ed: this is perhaps the most delicious Thai dish of all! –Cody]. For vegetarians it’s heaven, with dozens of meat-free restaurants and even vegetarian stalls at some of the markets. If you get tired of Thai food you’ll find Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Japanese, Indian, American, and more to satisfy your cravings. International food is more expensive, but even a splurge meal at one of the city’s best Italian restaurants cost us less than $10 a person.
If you choose to cook for yourself the markets are wonderful with a diverse range of high-quality, cheap fresh produce including plenty of tropical fruit. Chiang Mai is ideally located with access to produce from both a tropical climate and the cooler mountains, so you’ll find more diversity here than in southern Thailand.
Digital Nomad Hub
Chiang Mai has attracted many digital nomads so there is a ready-made community to offer support and advice to help you settle in, and perhaps even work together on projects.
The old city is compact and walkable, so if you stay there you won’t need your own transport. Renting a moped is cheap and fun though, and we love the freedom it gives us. If not, rides in shared pickup trucks (or songthaew) cost from $0.65.
Chiang Mai has a beautiful setting surrounded by hills and you’ll find shimmering golden wats (temples) on almost every street.
Lots To Do
There’s plenty to do in your downtime. You could visit one of the many wats; learn a new skill: cooking, massage, Thai language, or yoga; go rock climbing, white water rafting, zip-lining, or trekking to hill tribe villages; relax with a $5 massage; and even get up close with tigers or elephants. It only takes 20 minutes to leave the city behind and explore the waterfalls and mountains of the surrounding countryside. Further afield there are plenty of interesting places to visit in northern Thailand for weekends away.
It’s a one hour, $60 flight from Bangkok, an international hub with cheap flights available all over the world. Chiang Mai is also only six hours away from both Myanmar [Burma] and Laos which makes border runs possible as a day trip.
Visas Are Easy To Get
Many people manage to stay in Thailand indefinitely by doing visa runs, or leaving the country to renew their visa every few months. It’s a great excuse to explore neighbouring countries like Laos or Malaysia. Most nationalities get a 30-day visa exemption when they arrive by plane, but if you want to stay long-term it’s best to get a 60-day tourist visa available from many neighbouring countries—the nearest is Vientiane in Laos. A double-entry 60-day tourist visa will allow you to stay for six months by getting a 30-day extension at the immigration office, and then doing a border run after three months.
Chiang Mai has a relaxed atmosphere in stark contrast to hectic Bangkok. It’s very walkable, the traffic isn’t too crazy and it’s family-friendly—there are plenty of expats and travellers with young children here.
Everything You Need
Although it’s not a huge city (around 150,000 people), it has all the facilities you need including lots of good cafés (and yes, there’s Starbucks), shopping centers, cinemas, cheap markets, and (important for digital nomads) Apple Mac stores.
Healthcare is of a high standard with many doctors trained in the US, but prices are very affordable. A visit to the doctor including a blood test cost me $22.
While life in Chiang Mai is easy and comfortable, it is still culturally rich and glimpses of the quirkiness of Thai life keep things interesting—teenage monks in saffron robes texting on their mobile phones, entire families (including dog) whizzing past you on a moped, and standing up for the national anthem before films are shown at the cinema.
Great Local Festivals
The local festivals add to the city’s cultural richness. It seems like there is always something going on—the Yee Peng floating lantern festival and the mass water fight Songkran are just two of the highlights.
Are there any downsides to life in Chiang Mai? Well, it’s not by the sea, so it may not live up to everyone’s image of Thailand, although there are cheap direct flights to the islands, and I find my apartment pool helps keep the tropical vibe alive. If you love huge bustling cities, then Bangkok might be better for you, and although there is plenty of nightlife, it’s more relaxed than Bangkok or the party islands in the south.
For us, we’ve found the perfect base to take a break from travel and focus on business projects. It may well be hard to leave.
Erin McNeaney and her partner Simon sold everything they owned and left the UK in March 2010 to travel the world forever. They run a WordPress web design business on the road and have travelled to Latin America, North America and are currently in Asia. You can follow their adventures at Never Ending Voyage.
Read the original article on Thrilling Heroics here: 18 Reasons Why Chiang Mai makes a Perfect Digital Nomad Headquarters
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