I’m delighted to be featuring an interview with Erin and Simon of the popular travel blog Never Ending Voyage. They’re two digital nomads with extensive backpacking experiences all over the world. They’re currently based in Chiang Mai, Thailand which happens to be a hotbed for digital nomads. In this interview they discuss an assortment of different topics related to Chiang Mai with an emphasis on very useful facts and details for potential foreigner short-term residents.
Q1) As long-term travellers what made Chiang Mai, Thailand appealing as a temporary base?
We work as we travel, running a web design business and travel blog. Sometimes we need a place to stop for a while, to take a break from travel and focus on work. We had heard good things about Chiang Mai from other travel bloggers so it seemed like a good option. We were attracted by the low cost of living, great weather, delicious food, decent internet, and the fact we knew quite a few people who would be in town too.
It’s a very easy place to live, with a compact size (we can get anywhere on our scooter in 10 minutes), friendly people and no scams or hassle. It’s also culturally interesting with many beautiful temples and interesting festivals like the Yee Peng floating lantern festival.
Q2) I’ve been hearing one of the most attractive features of Chiang Mai is just how affordable it is. Are these rumours true? What kind of monthly budget would you suggest for a budget traveller or digital nomad?
The rumours are true although it depends on the type of accommodation you are looking for. We had heard it’s possible to find apartments for $150-300 a month but this is for a studio apartment without a kitchen. We wanted a one bedroom place with a kitchen so for that ended up paying $630 a month. Our apartment is quite luxurious though with a gorgeous pool and gym.
I would suggest a monthly budget of $500 -1000 per person. If you get a basic apartment/room and eat meals at markets for $1 then you can live very cheaply. We have a fancy apartment, motorbike rental ($77 a month) and although we eat at markets we also eat at more expensive western restaurants sometimes (a pizza is about $5). But even with this comfortable lifestyle we only spend about $1500 a month for two people.
Q3) What are some activities or hobbies one could consider pursuing in Chiang Mai?
There’s lots to do in Chiang Mai. You could visit one of the many wats (temples); learn a new skill such as cooking, massage, Thai language, or yoga; go rock climbing, white water rafting, zip-lining, or trekking to hill tribe villages; relax with a $5 massage; and even get up close with tigers or elephants at one of the sanctuaries in the area.
It only takes 20 minutes to leave the city behind and explore the waterfalls and mountains of the surrounding countryside. Further afield there are plenty of interesting places to visit in northern Thailand for weekends away. We recommend Chiang Rai to visit the incredible White Temple and the gothic Black House; and Chiang Dao to relax with mountain views and visit caves and a mountain-side monastery.
Q4) Thailand is a country with a host of different Visa regulations dependent on a variety of different factors. What in your opinion is the best way to stay in Chiang Mai without having to constantly be doing Visa runs?
It’s best to get a double entry (or even triple entry if it’s available) tourist visa before you arrive in Thailand. We got ours in England but Vientiane, Laos is the nearest, easiest place to get one. This will give you two months per entry which you can extend at the immigration office in Chiang Mai for an extra month. This gives you three months before you need to leave the country and return to start the second entry on your visa (which will give you another three months).
The closest place to do a visa run is Mae Sai, 5-6 hours from Chiang Mai. You can get there by bus, tourist minibus or motorbike (like we did), cross the Burmese border and then come straight back to Thailand to activate the second entry on your visa. It can be done on a daytrip.
Q5) Northern Thai food is known for being delicious. Are there any particular regional delicacies or restaurants you’d like to recommend?
The local speciality Khao Soi is delicious – egg noodles in a coconut curry soup topped with crunchy fried noodles. We are vegetarian and Chiang Mai is heaven for us – there are at least 20 vegetarian restaurants. Pun Pun is one of our favourites – it’s within the grounds of Wat Suan Dok and you eat in the shade of a giant Bodhi tree.
Q6) Is there anything you can think of in terms of services that could make Chiang Mai even more attractive for digital nomads?
WiFi is found in every cafe in Chiang Mai and is a decent speed, but we find our internet gets slow in the evenings so would love it to be a bit faster.
Q7) You’ve both had a lot of travel experience around the world. Have you seen any other particular city or town during your travels that has the potential to be the ‘next’ Chiang Mai, in terms of being a popular place for backpackers and digital nomads to settle for extended periods?
We haven’t found anywhere that has all of the advantages of Chiang Mai, especially the low cost of living. Medellin in Colombia is very popular with digital nomads and we spent a few months there about a year ago. Many people rave about it (mostly single guys because of the lively nightlife and attractive women) but it is definitely more expensive than Chiang Mai, it’s a much bigger city, and the food isn’t great. In South America we prefer Buenos Aires, Argentina and Sucre, Bolivia as places to settle for a while.
Q8) I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts about your travels in Asia and South America. How do they compare? For somebody travelling for the first time who could only pick one of the two regions, which one would you suggest?
We loved South America for the mountains, incredible diverse scenery, beautiful colonial cities and the opportunity to learn Spanish, but we do prefer Asia. It’s cheaper, more culturally diverse, has better food and hotter weather (but I do like the heat). Southeast Asia is probably the easiest place for a first time traveller, and their budget will definitely go further.
Q9) Finally, what kind of travel plans do you have for 2012. Do you have any particular places you’d like or are planning to visit?
We have no definite plans for this year. We’ll be in Chiang Mai until mid February and then will likely stay in Asia for quite a while. Burma is top of our list and we’d also like to visit Cambodia, the Thai islands, the Philippines, and return to two of our favourite countries: India and Sri Lanka.
Erin McNeaney and Simon Fairbairn sold everything they owned and left the UK in March 2010 to travel the world forever. They run a WordPress web design business on the road and have travelled to Latin America, North America and are currently in Asia. You can follow their adventures at Never Ending Voyage, on Twitter and on Facebook. They have just released a free ebook South America Highlights featuring their favourite places on the continent.