This year Chiang Mai is ranked 3rd in the top 15 most popular cities according to travelandleisure.com. Note that Hoï An holds the first place! But back to Chiang Mai. If this 3rd position is justified from the angle “tourism and leisure”, is it for an expatriation in the short or medium term, that is to say for a life of digital nomad?
The answer is yes, and if there is a specific world ranking for the digital nomadic sector, Chiang Mai actually holds a place of choice. The city is indeed a favorite destination for nomads, a kind of Mecca of nomadism. This is partly why I chose early May to settle there some time.
What makes Chiang Mai such a popular city for digital nomads?
Basically it is in my opinion largely the common core that makes it a popular place for tourism as well as for an expatriation of more or less long duration.
The city itself, its architecture and its environment
New arrival in Chiang Mai you will go directly to the old city. This part of the city which, as the name suggests, is ancient, is surrounded by a moat, once intended to protect it from the invaders. They are lined with the ruins of a brick rampart that bears witness to a period in Thailand’s history that invariably ends with “… and then the Burmese arrived and destroyed everything. ”
In the interior of the old city and on its periphery, the buildings are low. Trees, temples and surrounding greenery provide a pleasant atmosphere for the city. The interior of the old town, whose square shape strongly resembles a PacMan plateau, can be traced on foot. At each cardinal point a door. To the west on the horizon, mountains.
I settled north of the moat, just outside the old town. The moats are each lined with a triple ways making a total of 6 ways to cross to reach the edge of the old town. This course is short but stressful.
For a little over 600 monthly baths I have my own internet box. It costs me less than what I paid for Orange in France and for a much higher ascending and descending speed.
For computer equipment I provided myself in my neighborhood. A mechanical keyboard Steelseries for about 80 € (CDR Highend Club) and a second-hand 22-inch Samsung with HDMI slot for about 70 € (Computer City). For 20 € more I bought a pretty powerful bluetooth speaker (Computer Plaza), which screams an alert every time it connect in and out of Bluetooth. I completed all with a folding camping table at just over € 30. It was available at € 20 online but I was in a hurry.
The Thai standard of an office in a condo or a Thai hotel is what is called in France a hairdresser. A perfect piece of furniture to put down a small cosmetic bag. Mine is also, as often, equipped with mirror. It fits exactly my laptop and the secondary screen.
I do not have any big hardware needs but it is possible to get absolutely everything you need at a reasonable price in Chiang Mai. However for large investments, it may be interesting to look at flight prices for nearby countries such as Korea, Taiwan or China. In any case, the digital nomad will not be lost and without solution to find hardware in Chiang Mai.
Coworking spaces are usefull for most digital nomads. I’m a bit of an exception, coworking is not for me. I need a lot of comfort when I work and maximum concentration. However, I understand that one can appreciate these places when one has limited objectives in terms of productivity, to socialize or network. Not really looking for customers, I would have more pleasure to meet my colleagues for the human experience, share a little time with people who made life choices similar to mine at least on two points, their professional speciality and their current place of residence.
For the first time in my life, however, I experienced a coworking experience. The day I moved my condo, a power cut quickly made the apartment unlivable, it was over 35 °. So I went to the nearest coworking, where for an iced tea at 80 baths I got a quick wifi code. There were few people, the setting is nice, the place I had chosen comfortable and I could work quietly.
For a day if you think you drink two teas, that’s 160 baht. If it’s the only office and you go there every day. 160 x 30 = 4800 baths/month. I pay my condo 4000 baths. The price I got is a “local price”. The “normal price” is around double for an equivalent condo: a room with kitchenette in the entrance, a bed, a “desk”, a balcony, a bathroom with shower. Air conditioning, fridge, built-in plates. Electricity, charges and water are extra. All this to say that for me, I prefer to invest 4800 baths more in my home to get a higher degree of comfort than spending my time in a coworking. Moreover in coworking I can not smoke, nor listen to music, nor work in shorts, nor make snap-rest that make me so productive!
Anyway, if you look for a coworking space, there is a big choice, especially in Niman, the district of expats who like to show that they have money.
It is easy, very easy to settle in Chiang Mai. The standard accommodation for a European is the condo. A concrete cube, functional., everything I needed to be able to be productive quickly. Target achieved, however I know that this type of housing does not suit me in the long run. There are condos at about all prices. The cheapest are not necessarily the easiest to find but the first offers start around 5K baht per month. Basically the range is 5K / 15K. In the 15K budget you’ll find pool condos or traditional lanna houses made of teak wood. The second option is of course very pleasant.
The food is good and varied. I eat mainly in street stalls. The prices of a dish are generally between 40 and 60 baths. There is absolutely everything. Among the specialties that I particularly like, the crispy pork. Coconut chicken and spices with egg pasta are also among the specialties to be tested. Chiang Mai is also a perfect city for vegans. There are many affordable vegan restaurants and cooking quality ingredients. If you like junkfood, Chiang Mai also has everything you need. In my neighborhood: a KFC and a Pizza Hut.
Chiang Mai by night
In Chiang Mai curfew is at midnight. At midnight all the bars are closing, with the exception of a few who have a different status certainly.
I discovered them in this order:
Babylon Bar. This is a techno bar located in an area where there are other bars including a reggae bar and the Zoe in yellow, a special Anglo-Saxon EDM bar on the run. People have a little fun but not so much, except at Zoe’s where some come out either by vomiting, or all proud to have meet such a nice fiancee.
At midnight closing and it remains then the Las Vegas or the Spicy. Two “night clubs”, I tested one. We stayed about 10 minutes, the time to drink a beer (100 baths) in the din of a really unpleasant EDM. Some Thai girls were waiting for their charming prince by scrutinizing their smartphone. The charming princes disembark in clusters, all bellowing, and with the happy smile of the simple-minded who discovers Disney Land.
There is a jazz bar at the North Door. The public, wisely aligned on stools, dodeline the head as it is appropriate to do on this type of music. The specialists will appreciate. Update: In passing again in front of this bar, I was surprised to see people standing and dancing! In fact it was fire! Certainly because the band was playing something other than jazz. So it’s a good place to listen to live music.
For farangs a little less refined, there is music from home at Boy Blues Bar: blues, rock, blues-rock … may be sometimes some Country music ? I won’t check.
My bars tour of Chiang Mai ends at the Warm Up café. A big bar in the chic district, for the the golden youth of the area. The drinks are expensive and you can also eat equally expensive dishes. Well-dressed young people are feeded by a giant screen that distributes ads of luxury goods and cars. I could see that the phenomenon is universal, the bourgeois is bored. I had already seen the same thing in Rhodes, where a whole square is home to the “party people” who are well-off and sip expensive cocktails. They are bored, nothing happens. It is for this reason that we find some of these, the most adventurous ones, in these bars that close after midnight but whose name or address can not be mentioned publicly.
Other assets for optimal living comfort
Among the advantages of the city we must also mention:
- The massages. An hour about 10 € it’s nice
- The swimming pool. Most hotel pools are open to the public. I go to that of the Orchid. It’s salt water and the pond is big enough to swim a few laps. The entrance is 200 baht, about 7 €
- Sauna, hammam, spa € 10 also in hotels
- If you want to do yoga, tai chi or other internal or external martial arts you have the choice
- Cycling and hiking are also easily accessible activities
- Care, doctors and hospitals are numerous and the quality of care there is at least equivalent to what you might find in the West. It is a reassuring and practical factor in case of health concerns
By and large Chiang Mai offers just about everything you may need for a price that varies from reasonable if you are willing to adapt, to a European budget if you want to preserve a certain westerner lifestyle.