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.
Great article. In My opinion, Chiang Mai is really one of the best cities for foreigners in the world. Not long ago it was chosen as the second best city to live in the world.The cost of living is very low, you get the best possible value for your money. When I was staying there, I used to rent a room inside the square moat (Old City), and at the north-eastern point there are many local Thai restaurants that offer full meal in 50-60 THB! This city is the ideal combination between night life (ZOE IN YELLOW, Spicy, Loi Kroh Rd.) to the tours and attractions at the surrounding amazing landscape. In Chiang Mai, Old City it is easy to find a budget room for daily or monthly rentals.
Chiang Mai definitely is a great place to live in for a while as a digital nomad, I stayed there for a while but did not like it that much. However it is a great place to meet and work with other digital nomads, But I would prefer to be near a beach. Thanks for the interesting blog.
I have been living in Chiang Mai for 4 months now and it is low cost and easy but there are a few things that should be mentioned as well. The traffic continues to get more clogged every day so motorbiking is an option but not many people observe rules – be forewarned. Many people get in accidents as I did but came out of it with only stitches, sprains and black and blues.
The food here is delicious and easy to get items to cook if you like that better.
A caveat: if you are hard core working on projects digitally it is not that easy. Uploading half gig to 1 gig files is difficult. I’m a pro-photographer, author, and educator so am constantly trying to get things delivered. That said I did finish my online course here in Chiang Mai, Amazing Photography Secrets – will include a discount offer for anyone who is interested in my website link above.
Here’s my review of Chiang Mai from a digital nomad’s perspective, it really is a great place to work from.
I’ve lived in Chiang Mai for 4 years, it’s a great place to live it’s affordable but at the same time people need to realise this is a very relaxed place some people are too used to big cities to really live here long term. I’m glad you mentioned Buenos Aires in Argentina I’d really love to go there, great interview btw.
Chiang Mai was my favorite place in Thailand. Absolutely loved it. If you go there, definitely check out going to the tiger camps. You can actually get into the tiger cages and touch them. It sounds crazy but it’s awesome. Maybe a little scary at times though 🙂 Although no one has ever gotten hurt apparently, I would still use caution.
Chiang Mai is a great place to be and most of the people from travel blog community had being there. But as Cheryl say’s more information better it is.
Great interview and some really useful Chiang Mai tips. I arrived in Thailand about a month ago, and am currently based in Bangkok, but I’ve heard so many good things about Chiang Mai that I am going to have to pop up for a visit. Sounds like it will make for a couple of great posts for my soon-to-be-launched blog!
Great interview … always fun to learn more about the pros who are doing it right. 🙂
Thanks Cheryl, they sure do seem to have it down pat 🙂
Nice interview! Been reading a lot of blog entries about Chiang Mai now and I know some who are currently there now. I am here in Siem Reap and planning to go back to Bangkok on the 12th so I can catch my flight back to Manila on the 13th. I’m soooo tempted to extend my stay and travel to Chiang Mai even just for a few days! 😀
And yes, I push you all to visit the Philippines! 😀
There are so many travel bloggers in Chiang Mai right now! You should come up!
We really want to visit the Philippines – the biggest issue is whether we’ll be able to get there before rainy season starts. And with all those amazing beaches it seems a shame to visit at that time.
That comparison between South America and Asia is really interesting – and I tend to agree. Personally I find life much more comfortable in SE Asia. And it’s so different to the western lives we’re used to… I find there are too many similarities in S America.
We really enjoy the more “exotic” feel in Asia too – there is definitely more culture shock here than in South America and I enjoy that!
What a great interview. I love the information provided and the photos. We plan to go to Thailand one day, because my husband was born there, and of course, for the culture and food!
Hey Amberr, maybe I’ll see you there! I’m planning to base myself in CM as well 🙂
I keep hearing so much about CM. It sounds great, though one wonders if there will be a tipping point at some point. Where the number of foreigners raise the prices in general. I really like the idea of spending a month somewhere else and CM is definitely on our list. Though I like having a place to call “real home” as well.
That’s an interesting point Andrew and I think prices are probably higher than they were a few years ago. But I think Chiang Mai is always going to be cheaper than the islands as the lack of a beach keeps some people away.
Chiang Mai definitely is a great place to live in for a while, I stayed there a bit over a month last year; and can definitely recommend it. And like mentioned. it has the added benefit of having loads of other bloggers around 🙂
Jarmo, it just seems like the perfect place to base yourself for the community, affordability and potential to work on projects. I’m certainly planning on doing that myself 🙂
Nice interview. Full of info. I’ve always been holding back on my plan to go to Chiang Mai because there are so many other places to go in SEA. Reading this makes me wanna go there now.
Hey Jipp, I hear ya! There are a LOT of great places to visit in SE Asia. I’m thoroughly addicted to travel in the region 😛
Good solid information – and good to know about the double entry (or even triple entry if it’s available) tourist visa.
Could you describe a ‘basic’ and ‘fancy’ apartment – what would you get, and how much does ‘fancy’ run to?
Hey David, that’s a good question. I imagine if one is willing to pay $1000 or more a month, their apartment would be quite luxurious. I thought Erin & Simon’s looked fabulous and excellent value for the money spent.
Internet and A/C are standard in all apartments. A basic place will be a one room studio with a bathroom and probably a fridge and microwave. For $300 there are places like this that also have a basic pool and gym. A “fancy” place like ours costs $630 a month and we have a bright, modern apartment with one separate bedroom, western kitchen, balcony and a very nice pool and gym. If you stay for 12 months these prices will definitely come down.
Chiang Mai certainly seems to have some pull, the majority of my friends in Pattaya have upped sticks and moved to Chaing Mai.
Despite popular opinion I believe Pattaya is a good place to bring up kids, they don’t have to see the darker side of Pattaya, and there some nice beaches and heaps of other activities to keep them amused. So I’ll be staying put for now.
Bodlagz, I’m very interested in visiting Pattaya the next time I visit Thailand. Although I’ve been in Thailand many times, I’ve yet to check it out. I realize it’s reputation is of a certain standard. I’m glad to hear that there is another side as well 🙂
I’ve heard so much about Chiang Mai on blogs lately and this interview is great. They don’t try to oversell it, and I like that they provide a budget of a really comfortable living there, even with some luxury (pizza:). It’s great to know just how very cheap you can get by in a place like Chiang Mai, but it’s also nice to know what it would cost if you’d want to live with a little more. It sounds so appealing… I would love to live in a place where I could take my kids to see elephants in our free time:)
I really liked that they painted a realistic picture and didn’t give an unrealistic budget for the likes of somebody who wants to poke around in substandard housing conditions, slurping on package noodles 3 times a day 😛
Great interview! I love the idea of selling everything and traveling the world forever. 🙂 Their apartment looks beautiful too. A place like that would be (bare minimum) $2K/month in Los Angeles.
Michael, I clicked over to check out the apartment as well. Definitely a bare minimum of 2K in any major city in NA. I’m planning on basing myself in CM for periods of time at some point in the future.