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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?