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?
Thanks for a great description of Chiang Mai Mary. I love this place and i am glad to join the club of Digital Nomad.
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??
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?
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.
We stayed at the Smith Residence near the South Gate 🙂
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 🙂
No worries! Best wishes moving there soon!
Can I ask which apartments you rented? I am about to move there and the one you picked sounds perfect!
We stayed at the Smith Residence 🙂
Thanks, Samuel! I’ll check it out….
Awesome! I definitely recommend it 🙂
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.
That’s a good point about Pad Thai, Ryan. The more I think about it, I didn’t notice many Thais eating it.
The best thing in this article is the stretching cat photo. You gave me a good laugh 🙂
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.
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.
Great post Samuel. All the reasons why we love to be here and why we started from here our life as digital nomads. Plus, for vegetarians like we are, Chiang Mai offers plenty of choices. 🙂
It’s a wonderful place to be based and I agree with you about the vegetarian food and options!
And that, my friends, is an awesome summary of the myriad of reasons that Chiang Mai is the best palace to be! I came here for 2 weeks so my wife could do a Thai massage course. Nearly 18 months later, we’re finally leaving.
We’ll be back again I’m sure. I’d say in 30 years from now we’ll be like like those expats who just sit outside at the corner shop drinking beer all day 😉
See you there buddy!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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?
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.
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 🙂
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.
I love reading about Chiang Mai, I recently had the chance to visit and so many elements of your blog reminded me – Khao Soi!! Yum. It’s hard to capture all of the emotions and sensations, it’s such an invigorating place. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my Chiang Mai story…
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.
You guys aren’t in Chiang Mai these days, are you?
We just got here and will be around for a month.. I think it’ll be a nice place to call home, even if for a little while.
Soon… soon I will be joining the bloggers and expats in Chiang Mai… I’ve been fantasizing about it for ages!
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!
If you don’t mind me asking where abouts did you stay? $10 a night with pool and gym sounds great.
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.
I must have just missed you Abby 🙁 Hope we can meet up soon somewhere!
I just arrived in Thailand and was debating heading to Chiang Mai to catch up on projects. It is a must now! Thanks for the info.
That’s awesome Stephen!
I think you’ll enjoy the laid back pace of life, great food and low cost of living. Great place to catch up on work.
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 😉
Dean, glad to hear about your experience. We enjoyed it so much we’re thinking of heading back for a couple more months next year.
Wow! I was quite skeptical at first, but this sounds like a really lovely place to recharge your batteries. It’s no fun getting old, eh.
We really loved it Natalia! No, it isn’t very fun 😉
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 🙂
I hope you’ll get a chance to visit soon. We have plenty of more food videos coming soon 🙂
I would’ve like to visit Chiang Mai. We were only in Bangkok for a short time. But, hopefully one of these days.
Hopefully you can visit soon Nicole. It’s a great reason to head back to Thailand.
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!
That’s great Ryan! I’m sure you’ll love Thailand. Chiang Mai would be the perfect place to do that 🙂
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.
It’s amazing how much you appreciate a decent internet connection when you’ve been deprived of it for a period of time.
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
Best wishes in Korea! I think if you check out Chiang Mai you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the quality of International food 🙂
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.
We really loved the food there as well – both local and international.
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!
Thanks John, I agree with you about the charming aspects of the nearby countryside. It’s such a nice alternative to expensive/bustling/chaotic Bangkok 🙂
Great post. I like the lay out. As someone who knows how that burn out can drain you this post sounds so lovely. Thanks.
Thanks Tiffany, it’s really tricky dealing with burnout. I always have to fight urges to keep moving on versus the sensible idea of staying put for a while.
Great info. I liked the videos. Ive never actually had real Thai food after watching them 🙂 They are all too americanized or even Guatemalaized, since they try to make their own versions here
Sometimes authentic can be over-rated. The best Thai food I ever had was in Canada of all places…LOL
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?
Beyang, best wishes with your upcoming trip. One of the nicest features of being based in CM is that you can easily explore the surrounding areas – Pai, Chiang Rai, etc.
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).
Yeah Jeff, because I totally meant that in a literal sense as opposed to figurative.
Awesome reply! LOL
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!
We really miss the food these days – especially the fresh fruit smoothies 🙂
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.
That’s cool Josh! I feel the same way about Pad Thai.
I am really curious to try this place out. It’s really hard to find a place to call home, even when it is only for a month or a few. I love that kind of food there and I’m sure to be happy. How long can you stay in that country?
Visa lengths vary. In general, most expats would obtain a 2-3 month Visa in a neighboring country. Georgetown, Penang is a popular destination to get it done.
That sounds pretty good. I’d love to just hang out for 3 months in one spot. That would be pretty nice
Really lovely. Chiang Mai is definitely at the top of places I want to visit for the long term.
Hopefully you’ll get a chance to visit soon.
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!
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 🙂
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?
I agree with you. I think Chiang Mai definitely still has retained some original charms.
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!
It really does have it all in many ways 🙂 We’re really looking forward to returning again next year.
That is a great article. It really makes me want to visit.
Thanks Jen, I hope you can visit soon.
Chiang Mai is an amazing place, i have great memories :)) congrats for the article, ciao Andrea
Thanks Andrea, I agree with you – it’s an amazing place.