Chiang Mai is the perfect base for digital nomads

Chiang Mai is the perfect base for digital nomads

Chiang Mai is the perfect base for digital nomads, expats and other travelers
Chiang Mai is the perfect base for digital nomads, expats and other travelers

As I peered outside of the balcony of our Thai apartment – far off in the distance – I spotted a plane ascending. As the plane suddenly disappeared into the clouds it hit me I’d soon be leaving Chiang Mai, Thailand in a couple of days. Pensive, I wondered where the time had gone?

For the past several months Chiang Mai has been our home. While traveling in Vietnam, we felt burnt out. We craved a base, a routine and a sense of familiarity. After months of backpacking continuously we hit a point where travel had become tedious. It was a chore. It was no longer fun.

Trying to juggle the demands of working online while backpacking is a balancing act we’ve yet to master; however, we knew one thing with absolute certainty: we needed to slow down.

In hindsight, I realized I was living a fantasy believing I could keep up the pace of my backpacking adventures from years past with the added commitments of working remotely. Overly ambitious, we continued on until we finally reached a point where our both our mental and physical health started to deteriorate.

Chiang Mai was our saviour.

Some plants and sculpture in our Thai neighborhood in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Some plants and sculpture in our Thai neighborhood in Chiang Mai, Thailand

On the first day we arrived it already felt like home. We purchased bicycles. We quickly discovered restaurants we both loved. Instead of feeling a sense of pressure to see and do as much as we possibly could before moving on to the next destination, we felt content wandering around in our neighbourhood.

After months of hearing stories of fellow digital drifters making Chiang Mai their home I was naturally sceptical. It must be over-rated. How can one want to give up the excitement and stimulation of constantly moving from one place to another to hunker down in just one location?

Well, as I’ve come to realize over the past several months there are many reasons that Chiang Mai is the perfect base for digital nomads.

Khao Soi - Northern Thai noodle dish in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Khao Soi – Northern Thai noodle dish in Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

Food

Some people eat to live. I live to eat. I couldn’t image myself staying somewhere were I would not be able to indulge my taste buds. Chiang Mai offers a wonderful spread of cuisine ranging from familiar Thai favourites, tantalizing Northern Thai Khantoke cuisine and top notch International food. Whether we were craving a savoury Panang curry or a Mexican burrito, we had options galore at our disposal. Street food stalls offered tasty treats and small meals for mere dollars whereas sit down International restaurants rarely left us with a bill of over 300 Baht (roughly $10 USD).

These are some of our favourite eateries:

Chang Chalaad: For the best Pad Thai you can’t go wrong visiting this tiny little hole in the wall restaurant located near the northeastern section of the walled city. For dessert indulge in the mango sticky rice. If you’re heading there with a group consider the Khantoke set dinner – a feast you won’t soon forget.

Dada Cafe: This popular cafe was our go-to-place for breakfast and lunch. With options such as curry fried rice, towering sandwiches and rich creamy fruit smoothies, we came back time and again. Our favourite item on the menu was a concoction called Energy Me – a smoothie with copious amounts of fresh coconut, mango and banana.

El Diablo: For quesadillas oozing with cheese, crispy nachos and stuffed – beyond saturation point – burritos, El Diablo was my favourite spot for a Mexican spread.

 

Internet

 

As a digital nomad internet is your lifeline; your river; your bloodstream. Without it (or with a weak connection) your business operations are literally shut down. In our residence apartment we had a reliable connection and when we wanted a change of scenery we could easily find cafes offering free Wi-fi.

Thai street food nearby our Thai apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thai street food nearby our Thai apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Apartment

 

Aside from food, having a comfortable/affordable place to hang my hat is absolutely paramount when I’m considering a base. Chiang Mai did not disappoint. Our residence apartment was a spacious studio equipped with a queen sized bed, television, fridge, desk space and air conditioning; moreover, our balcony offered stunning views of the city framed by a mountainous backdrop. A rooftop pool and gym was the cherry on top. A place like this must cost a fortune? We ended up spending under $10 a night for our room along with $2-3 a day on utilities. Definitely, value for money.

Chiang Mai is home to plenty of other expats - shot from Saturday Night Market
Chiang Mai is home to plenty of other expats – shot from Saturday Night Market

Community

 

An important factor in choosing a place to base yourself is a sense of community and belonging. In Chiang Mai you’ll find yourself surrounded by like minded individuals working remotely, teaching and/or starting up businesses. With such an entrepreneurial spirit it’s inspiring to meet up with other expats pursuing a location independent lifestyle. Having the opportunity to bounce ideas off of one another certainly kept me on track with my goals and overall focus.

Smiling Thai lady vendor in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Smiling Thai lady vendor in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Charm Factor

 

Streching Thai cat in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Streching Thai cat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai will charm your pants off. With its laid back pace of life you’ll find yourself rubbing elbows with robed monks as you meander down serpentine side streets in search of a quaint little cafes. For the culture vulture, weekend markets and a regular stream of festivals and events will tickle your every fancy. For the party animal, pulsating nightlife is available where an endless flow of Chang beer is on tap.

I was fortunate enough to make Chiang Mai my home for several months. I’m eager to return next year for another stint with my parents. During my time in Chiang Mai I was able to stay on top of work online, feast on an incredible spread of food, live in comfortable apartment and connect with new friends. I ended up spending a mere faction of what it cost – on a monthly basis – compared to backpacking. For less than $1000 a month we lived in Chiang Mai experiencing a high quality of life. For the digital nomad, backpacker, retiree, traveller or aspiring entrepreneur I can’t think of a better place to be.

Chiang Mai rickshaw driver on the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai rickshaw driver on the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand

Have you visited and/or lived in Chiang Mai?  Is it a destination that interests you from a travel perspective and/or as a potential place to settle down?

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  1. says: Perla

    Hello!!

    YOur blog is very interesting, I read the lines about you your accomodation, I like the fact that is quite and with mountain views, I was wondering how good your internet connection was there, if you don’t mind, could you provide please the name of this place? Was this good to work there (internet conection and quiet) Did you hire an internet plan or everything was provided by the place??

    Greetings 🙂

  2. Romance is tricky when living internationally to work. Thailand is talked about as a place where the guy has the money and the woman has the younger age or is more attractive.

    What about people that want to date educated woman (or vise versa if you like) is that realistic?

  3. says: Amy

    Hello, could you share which apartment complex you found, neighborhood it is in, and how you learned about it? Did you use an agent, etc. also what lease lengths were available? Thanks so much.

      1. says: Amy

        That was my blunder, sorry. I didn’t look over the last comments before asking a redundant question. But you still answered. Thanks for being nice 🙂

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  5. says: Ryan

    Nice quick overview of my favorite city. Chiang Mai is the best.
    It’s a little funny to hear about Pad Thai because it’s one of the most dull Thai dishes. Most Thai people I know hardly ever order it.
    But my favorite are the cheap vegetarian restaurants.

  6. says: Stephen Kennedy

    I’ve only been away from home for a few weeks but I’m already agreeing with you about the difficulty if not impossibility of combining backpacking with working. I’m in Chiang Mai now and the place is really growing on me – its definitely very liveable. I’m just still a bit reluctant to commit to one place when there are so many interesting places to visit and so little time 🙁

    Could I asked which apartment block you chose and how you went about meeting people? Not sure I can work in a backpackers long term but I spent a few days in a dorm here and I’m really missing the social contact.

    1. Hey Stephen,

      We lived nearby the South Gate which is a great location and also an area where you can find many serviced residence apartments.

      There is a vibrant expat scene here with lots of weekly meetups (documentaries, pub quizzes, clubs, etc). You can definitely settle down here and feel like it is home.

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  8. says: Rashad Pharaon

    Wonderful, wonderful, totally agree! The WiFi thing was such a shock to me – it’s very strange coming from the States and not having reliable WiFi. Sure, every once in a while you have to call Time Warner cable or something, but that’s like one every few months. Major issues with electricity (Nepal! India!) and WiFi (Saudi!) have made work a struggle and pain. Glad you revealed the reliability in Chiang Mai!

  9. says: Perfect Homes

    Lovely post and it real does sum up Chiang Mai. It has changed a lot since I arrived 13 years ago, but I personally do not feel that it has not it charm. Chiang Mai is still a great place to live!

  10. says: Walker Traylor

    What was the name of the apartment you described? I’m here in a guesthouse and looking for a good long stay place. A lot is booked up because of the high season, and then there are a lot to explore but I don’t have a lead. Glad you had a good time, and thanks for sharing your experiences!

  11. Glad you enjoy CM! The wifi speeds there are good considering how you can run into issues around the region. Have you been to Davao? I find the culture, pollution, and general day-to-day life there a bit more enjoyable if you prefer small cities (I prefer Manila to Bangkok, too, which puts me in the minority).

    Curious that you didn’t feel at home in Vietnam. I hear that a lot, although I think HCMC is a relatively livable city with some nice green areas.

  12. says: Victoria

    Hi Samuel, Chiang Mai looks fab. I can’t wait to get there next year. I’ve been to Thailand a few times but I never managed to venture “up North” but we’re doing so on this trip.
    Can you get the Khantoke set dinner everywhere or just at particular restaurants?

  13. says: analice

    Hello. Congratulations on the article. I am planing to go to Chiang Mai next year and spend at least 3 months. Do you have any website to suggest about houses and apartments for rent over there? I would really appreciate it.

  14. says: Anna McPherson

    Really enjoyed reading this post – it took me back to our visit there a couple of years ago – I have recommended Chiang Mai as a must visit to anyone who wants to listen to me babble on about it. I remember wandering around on our first evening and feeling a complete sense of calm. And, for those of you reading this, please try the banana crepes with chocolate sauce and condensed milk, which you’ll find at many street vendors – they are oh so wrong, but delicious. Thanks for taking me back once again 🙂

  15. Having travelled in South America the last few months I’ve come to realise how overlooked language is as a factor for travel destinations and expat bases.
    Spanish is essential here is as its the only continent I imagine where English isn’t the first bridge language.
    Asia in a way has the benefit of being a popular, exotic travel destination where travelers aren’t obliged to learn the language. Though it does create some distance when getting to know the culture.

  16. says: Sebastian

    I love Thailand and till now Bangkok is my favorite city to live in. The street food, the atmosphere, the beautiful girls. This city is just perfect for me.

    When I read your enthusiasm about Chiang Mai it really makes me want to travel to this city. Maybe I like it even more than Bangkok. But I think it’s totally different and you can’t compare it. The next time I travel to Thailand I will definitely visit Chiang Mai.

    cheers,
    Sebastian

  17. says: Rebecca

    I have certainly heard this is teh place to be in the digital nomad world! Well if only it was easy to keep backpacking and working!

  18. says: Abby

    I am glad you felt at home there (not just because I am headed there in a few weeks lol). Even when I was young and traveling full-time, I always enjoyed the longer periods of staying put, for all of the reasons you mention here.

  19. says: Dean

    We just spent two months living in Chiang Mai. I agree that it’s the perfect place to base yourself as a digital nomad. It was great to just slow down after months of constant travel, and that internet connection? It was like love at first sight 😉

  20. says: Sherry

    Well you certainly sold me on Chiang Mai. It’s sounds like a fantastic place. For years I have avoided Thailand for many reasons. But here everything I feared about this country is laid to rest. It sounds more like a laid back and liveable kind of town, where the locals are happy to mix with the non locals. I love the food videos best; I too live to eat 🙂

  21. says: Ryan Brown

    Gah! You have me so excited for Thailand, and it’s only 42 days away! I’ll be looking for a base to yeah English and soak in the culture for a bit so I may be choosing Chiang Mai!

  22. says: Shubhajit

    I agree with you when you are writing and traveling simultaneously, internet is the stream, river and the basic thing. I find it sometimes difficult in certain parts of India, especially in mountains where either you get slow or no internet.

    Pictures are wonderful and writing as usual personalized and simple. After a long time I again visit your blog and I like it.

  23. Awesome post. Chiang Mai is one of those backpacker meccas slash on-the-move-entrepreneurs.

    I guess for me, the food is the one thing that may send me packing home. I love experiencing new food and all but sometimes, you just want some comfort food that is on the level of that not-really-authentic chinese food stall in your town or say, pizza done NY style or a nice american-style burger.

    havent been but looking forward to.

    oh and im still currently stalking your korea posts. going in a few weeks

    1. OMG, I’m in my 40s, have traveled around the world, and this is the first time I heard someone complain about Chaing Mai food. I think I’d rate it #1-2 of the 30 countries, and more cities, I’ve beemn.

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  25. Loved this little write up on Chiang Mai. That city completely destroys any less-informed stereotype of Thailand. Everything you say makes it a great counter-point to the chaos that is Bangkok and I’m so jealous you had a chance to live there! Did you get the opportunity to get out into the nearby countryside? It’s one of the best parts of being in the North. Cheers!

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  30. says: Beyang

    I love reading this post about Chiang Mai. It sounds like you guys have really gotten to know the area by spending a solid amount of time there. I’m traveling to Thailand this winter and this area is at the top of my list. What were your favorite experiences? Did you explore the surrounding areas as well?

  31. says: Jeff McNeill

    I really wish these kinds of articles didn’t exist. We don’t need more clueless “digital nomads” trying to “rub elbows with robed monks” (which is not only rude for men to do but is a grave offense for women to do).

  32. says: Emily McIntyre

    This was a wonderful post and has me itching to visit Chiang Mai! Descriptions of the food made my mouth water, especially at Dada Cafe. Descriptions of the expat culture had me yearning to visit and stay for a while, and will put it on my list of places for us to investigate living in in the future.

    Thanks so much!

    EWM

  33. says: Josh @ I Ran So Far Away

    I’m planning to visit Chiang Mai for the first time in January and can’t wait. First stop will probably be Chang Chalaad. I’d search to the ends of the earth for the best Pad Thai.

  34. says: Sab

    I’ve been 5 years ago to Chiang Mai. Wonder if it’s still the same. I really loved that place and your article kinda encouraged me to think of a return there and stay a while…

    Thanks for the inspiration!
    Oh and the food just looks too delicious! By that point, you sold me!

    Cheers from Istanbul!

    1. Hey Sab,

      I first visited roughly five years ago. I don’t think too much has changed over the years. It’s just as inviting now as it was then. We miss the food the most! Have fun in Istanbul 🙂

  35. says: Mary @ Green Global travel

    What a amazing article on this beautiful town! It sounds blissful! Not only is it very affordable and incredibly well-equipped in regard to wifi, fabulous restos and cafes (as well as a pool and exercise equipment!), it has amazing locals and a brilliant expat community to boot! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences abroad!

  36. says: David

    Some places, maybe somewhere like Rishikesh in India or Torremolinos in Spain, have so many foreigners staying there that the places have become pastiches of life abroad.

    Is there a lot of the original Chang Mai to see and experience?