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.
Chiang Mai = The Perfect Base For Digital Nomads
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.
Amazing Thai and International Food In Chiang Mai
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.
Fast Internet In Chiang Mai
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.
Cheap Apartments In Chiang Mai
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.
Sense Of Community In Chiang Mai
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 Charm Factor
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.
Summary Of Why Chiang Mai Is The Best Place For Digital Nomads
Chiang Mai has become one of the top destinations for digital nomads due to a variety of factors that make it an ideal base for remote work. Here are some of the reasons why Chiang Mai is such a great choice for digital nomads:
- Affordable cost of living: Chiang Mai offers a high quality of life at a fraction of the cost of other popular digital nomad destinations like San Francisco or London. Accommodation, food, and transportation are all relatively inexpensive, making it easy to live comfortably on a budget.
- Reliable and fast internet: High-speed internet is essential for remote work, and Chiang Mai offers some of the best connectivity in Southeast Asia. There are numerous co-working spaces and cafes with reliable Wi-Fi, making it easy to stay connected while working.
- Vibrant digital nomad community: Chiang Mai is home to a large community of digital nomads from around the world, which creates a supportive and welcoming environment for newcomers. There are plenty of opportunities to network, attend meetups, and collaborate with other remote workers.
- Beautiful natural surroundings: Chiang Mai is surrounded by lush mountains and stunning scenery, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking, trekking, and exploring the region’s natural beauty on weekends or after work.
- Rich cultural heritage: Chiang Mai is known for its unique blend of Thai, Lanna, and Burmese cultures, which is reflected in its food, architecture, and local traditions. Exploring the city’s temples, markets, and cultural attractions is a great way to immerse oneself in the local culture and gain a deeper appreciation for the region’s history.
- Convenient location: Chiang Mai is located in the heart of Southeast Asia, making it easy to explore other countries in the region. There are numerous flights to nearby cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Ho Chi Minh City, making it easy to plan weekend trips or longer excursions.
- Access to healthcare: Chiang Mai has a well-developed healthcare system, with numerous hospitals and clinics offering high-quality medical care at affordable prices. This can be reassuring for digital nomads who want to have access to medical services while working remotely.
- Delicious food: Chiang Mai is famous for its delicious cuisine, which is a blend of Thai and Lanna flavors. There are numerous street food stalls, markets, and restaurants serving up a variety of dishes, from spicy curries to refreshing smoothies.
- Cultural events: Chiang Mai is known for its vibrant cultural scene, with numerous festivals and events happening throughout the year. The city’s annual Loy Krathong festival, for example, is a beautiful celebration of light and water that draws visitors from around the world.
- Relaxed pace of life: Compared to other major cities in Southeast Asia, Chiang Mai has a more relaxed and laid-back vibe. This can be a welcome change for digital nomads who want to escape the hustle and bustle of big cities and focus on their work while still enjoying a high quality of life.
- Variety of accommodation options: Chiang Mai offers a range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. From budget-friendly hostels to luxury serviced apartments, there is something for everyone in Chiang Mai.
- English-speaking population: Many people in Chiang Mai speak English, which can be helpful for digital nomads who may not speak Thai. This makes it easier to communicate with locals, navigate the city, and handle day-to-day tasks like shopping and banking.
- Safe and welcoming environment: Chiang Mai is known for being a safe and welcoming city, with low crime rates and friendly locals. This can be reassuring for digital nomads who may be traveling alone or in unfamiliar surroundings.
- Supportive business environment: Chiang Mai is home to a growing number of startups and entrepreneurs, which has created a supportive business environment. There are numerous resources available for digital nomads who want to launch a business or take their existing business to the next level.
- Access to outdoor activities: Chiang Mai is surrounded by natural beauty, with numerous opportunities for outdoor activities like rock climbing, mountain biking, and white-water rafting. This can be a great way for digital nomads to stay active and enjoy the outdoors while working remotely.
- Diverse range of co-working spaces: Chiang Mai has a diverse range of co-working spaces, from trendy cafes to modern office spaces. Many of these spaces offer high-speed internet, comfortable seating, and a variety of amenities, making it easy for digital nomads to find a workspace that suits their needs.
- Easy to get around: Chiang Mai is a compact city that is easy to navigate, whether by foot, bicycle, or scooter. There is also a well-developed public transportation system, with buses and songthaews (shared taxis) that run throughout the city.
- Opportunities for cultural immersion: Chiang Mai offers numerous opportunities for cultural immersion, from learning Thai language and cooking classes to volunteering at local charities. These activities can help digital nomads to gain a deeper understanding of the local culture and make meaningful connections with locals.
- Rich history and heritage: Chiang Mai has a rich history and heritage, dating back over 700 years. There are numerous historic temples and cultural landmarks in the city, including the ancient city walls and the iconic Doi Suthep temple.
- Opportunities for spiritual growth: Chiang Mai is known for its spiritual traditions, with numerous meditation centers, yoga studios, and Buddhist temples throughout the city. This can be a great opportunity for digital nomads to explore their spiritual side and deepen their practice while working remotely.
All of these factors combine to make Chiang Mai an ideal base for digital nomads who want to balance work with travel and exploration. Whether you’re looking for a supportive community, affordable living, or stunning natural surroundings, Chiang Mai has something to offer for everyone.
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?