Friends and family ask us all the time why are you living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. So, we thought we’d further explain why we like this place enough to call it home for a few months this year.
It’s Thailand, but it’s not Thailand
It may seem like a strange thing to hear, but once you have been here you’ll know what it means. There is a higher standard of living in Chiang Mai, there are lots of wealthy and highly educated Thai people that live here. There is just about any modern convenience you could need here. However, if you want the real Thailand just go a few blocks and you can find yourself in a bustling night market like anywhere else in Thailand.
Related Article: Getting A Sak Yant Tattoo in Chiang Mai
Living in Chiang Mai is so Easy
You can easily feel like you are at home here in Chiang Mai. We have everything that we are used to and at a very low cost of living. Without trying too hard we spend about 75% less than we would in the US. Chiang Mai is big enough to have everything you need but small enough to walk everywhere. On average, we budget ourselves $1,100 per month. This covers our rent, utilities, food, too many beers with friends, some regional travel, and everything else. We live comfortably for that amount and we could easily make some cutbacks to save more money, but that’s not really why we come here. We come here to live well for little money, the cost of living in Thailand is affordable all over Thailand.
Chiang Mai Internet Speeds
There’s a reason why a ton of ‘Digital Nomads’ call Chiang Mai home, the internet is very fast. We pay 899 Baht ($30) per month to have a dedicated Fiber Optic line that is 200mbps download, and 50 Mbps upload. There are lots of free wifi spots across the city and cafes with speeds around 2mbps and higher. It may not be important to some, but we rely on the internet quite a bit and it’s a big deal to us and anyone that works online. Of all the 75 countries we visited on this trip only two places have had better internet. Strangely, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, and Riga, Latvia have had better internet speeds. Also, cell phone service is very cheap and fast data, for 399 Baht ($12) we have unlimited data at fast speeds.
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Is Chiang Mai Safe?
Of all the places we have traveled, Chiang Mai just feels incredibly safe in every sense. I don’t feel like I am going to get hit by a motorbike crossing the street like most of SE Asia. I have no problem with Hannah going across town by herself, even after bar close there just nothing bad going on. This surely can’t be said for most of the rest of the world. We often work on our computers at the coffee shops around town and people will just leave their computers at a table while they go across the street. No one even thinks twice about it, and nothing happens, no one steals the computers. Maybe traveling has made us too paranoid, but Chiang Mai is just different. Feeling safe is key, it lets us spend some much needed time not right next to each other like we have for the last 500 or so days straight.
Chiang Mai Expat Community
There are people from everywhere in the world and everybody is here for the same reasons, and most people are very like-minded. There are so many interesting and creative people that make Chiang Mai their second home that it makes it a very diverse city. In the few months we have been here we have had beers with people from 30 different countries or more.
Many people get sucked into Chiang Mai and stay for a lot longer than they planned for all the reasons above. Time passes strangely fast here. It often comes up while talking to other people staying in Chiang Mai long term how easy it is to live here and how fast the time goes.
Chiang Mai is good, but it’s not perfect.
Some of the same things that make it so good also take away from the experience too. Sometimes it’s too easy, too much like home (a warmer home). A few other low spots for Chiang Mai is the pollution. Still light years better than Bangkok, but the emissions regulations in Thailand are very low and even the moderate amount of traffic that Chiang Mai sees makes hard to breathe near traffic. There is always a construction project and businesses are quickly whipping up condos, bars, and restaurants that all kinda look-a-like and very cheaply made. Most places in the city are very new and lack character.
When you weigh it out, the positive far outweighs the bad, and that’s what makes Chiang Mai a great place to base ourselves. So, that’s why we are back in Chiang Mai until the end of April before heading back to Africa in May.
We just wrapped up our second 6-month stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We have been to countless restaurants, cafes, and bars. We searched high and low for the best hair salon, gym, massage, and much more. Now that our time is up we have narrowed down the best of Chiang Mai. We’re sad to leave, but looking forward to coming back to visit the best of Chiang Mai again in the future.
Best Co-Working Space in Chiang Mai: C.A.M.P.
Location: 5th floor of Maya Shopping Center on Nimman
Prices: 30baht soda, 65 baht coffee, meals 65-95 baht
Hours: Open 24 hours day/7 days a week
Why I love it: The best Wi-Fi in Chiang Mai. CAMP gives 2 hours vouchers for free Wi-Fi with every 50 baht purchase. Other option to purchase AIS Wi-Fi hotspot, go to the 3rd floor in the mall to purchase or add it to your current data package. For only 19 baht week or 69 baht month, you get unlimited access to all of AIS hotspots around Thailand. There conveniently is one at CAMP, several days a week we will go to CAMP and just purchase a soda or two and work for 8-10 hours a day. Since it is located in the mail you have a food court in the basement, KFC on the 4th floor, and many more food options.
TIP: Get there before noon or after 7 pm it gets really packed, sometimes hard to find a seat. It is huge, with many outlets, but it can be difficult to find a seat with enough elbow room and working outlet. Best things on the menu pad see ew with pork and 2 extra fried eggs which will set you back 95 baht ($3).
Best Grocery Store in Chiang Mai: Rimping
Location: Basement floor of Maya Shopping Center on Nimman
Hours: Open 6am-12am/7 days a week
Why I love it: Rimping has everything you could ask for in a grocery store. If you’re a western expat you will be able to get almost all the brands you are missing from home. For me, that was: JIF peanut butter, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Goldfish crackers, Kraft Mac & Cheese, and much more. We purchased most of our groceries at Rimping. Here are a few prices:
- 139 baht ($4.25) 1 kg of chicken breast tenderloins
- 250 baht 500 grams of cheddar cheese
- 38 baht Sour cream
- 70 baht ($2) baht box of Kraft Mac & Cheese
- 52 baht ($1.75) Jar of spaghetti sauce
- 55 baht ($1.75) Package of spaghetti noodles
- 29 baht ($0.90) Bag of organic lettuce for salads
TIP: If you go after 6 pm they reduce prices on produce, ready to eat food, dairy, and meats. You will notice they place bright orange stickers on the package, it may appear it this is the sale price, BUT this is the discount amount. So if the orange sticker says 10 baht then it is 10 baht off the original price. Best items are veggies and fruit.
Best Hair Salon in Chiang Mai: New York New York
Location: 13/2 Soi 13 Nimmanhaeiman Rd
Hours: Open Monday- Thursday 10a.m.- 8p.m. and Friday- Sunday 10a.m.-9p.m
Prices: Haircut 550+baht, highlights 3,000+ baht,
Why I love it: I have been going to the same hairdresser named Milk at New York New York for over a year now. I have had my highlights touched up three times now, it’s always exactly what I want. It’s hard to find a good western hair stylist in Asia. The prices may seem high for Asia, but New York New York is an Aveda salon and I believe you get what you pay for. Click here to see more on my visit to New York New York.
TIP: Email to make an appointment in advance, the email address is [email protected] I have been going to the stylist Milk for over a year, and my friends go to Vera (owner) highly recommend both.
Best Gym in Chiang Mai: Best’s Fitness
Location: Right by the Malin Plaza 99/30 Moo 1 Huaykaew Rd
Hours: Open daily 8am-11pm
Prices: Depends on promotion, we paid 5,000 baht ($153) for 5-month membership
Why I love it: We basically have the gym to ourselves 8am-11am, all equipment is new, free Wi-Fi that we are able to stream TV shows while working out. Best’s is the cleanest gym ever been to, the cleaning lady is on top of everything. There is equipment for both of us and more than enough free weights for Adam.
TIP: Avoid working out after 4 pm, that is when all the college kids come. Bring your own lock for lockers.
UPDATE: When living in Chiang Mai in 2016-2017 we joined Maxx Fitness in the Maya Shopping Mall on the 5th floor. It’s brand new, has an awesome location, great machines, not busy at all during the day BUT it’s expensive. We paid 2,700 baht ($75) a month…try and negotiate a good deal with them. Next time we return to Chiang Mai we probably will be going back to Maxx Fitness.
Best Place for a Cheap Beer in Chiang Mai: The Liquor Store on Nimman – UPDATE this has been closed and now is a McDonald’s
Location: On Nimmanhaemin Rd between right before Soi 6 on the same side as 7-Eleven
Hours: Open daily 5pm-12am
Prices: Chang beer 53 baht, Leo 55 baht, also have wine and spirits
Why I love it: The best prices in town, just go inside the liquor store and grab your beverage of choice. Sit down on one of the many plastic chairs & tables they set up nightly out front. It’s always crowded with expats and travelers in town, and usually a good time.
TIP: Grab some street food from the vendors and bring it back to your table. I recommend the kebab guy for 50 baht right around the corner.
Best Burger in Chiang Mai: Beast Burger Truck on Nimman- UPDATE no longer a food truck
Location: Nimmanhemin Soi 17
Hours: Open Monday-Saturday 630pm – until sold out
Prices: 190baht Beast Burger, 250baht Double Beast Burger
Why I love it: Best burger in Chiang Mai, hands down! Real quality meat topped off with bacon, caramelized onions, and cheese! I suggest you get a double-double and thank me later. The guys that run the beast truck know what they are doing, if the quality of buns/meat is not up to par, they will not open for the day. They have high standards and their product is top notch.
Best Organic Healthy Restaurant in Chiang Mai: Food 4 Thought
Location: Sudjai Alley, Chang Phueak – Just off of Canal around the corner from the V Residence
Hours: Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:30am-830pm
Prices: Salads 120+ baht, Wraps & Sandwichs 120+ baht, Avocado Fries/Chips & Salsa
Why I love it: Our go-to restaurant in Chiang Mai, it was less than 5 min walk from our condo and revisited weekly. It’s nice to find a healthy organic restaurant in Asia. If you are a vegetarian in Chiang Mai you must come to Food 4 Thought.
TIP: I would always order the Chicken Caesar salad which had real bacon, parmesan cheese, croutons, sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and Caesar dressing. Adam went for the wasabi chickpea wrap with chicken. They have tons of salads, wraps, bagels, sandwich options on the menu. Never had anything we didn’t like. Say hi to Charles, Bay, Foxy the cat, and the kittens.
Best Restaurant In Chiang Mai Around The Moat: The Cat House
Location: 25 Chaiyapoom Rd, Lane 1 just outside the moat click here for google map
Hours: Open daily 7am-10pm
Prices: Burritos/Quesadillas/Curry/Sandwichs 90 baht ($3), Smoothies 45 ($1.30) baht, Fries 45 baht
Why I love it: Best food in Chiang Mai for the price hands down. Huge portions, cheap prices, and tasty! If you are in the moat check out The Cat House, you won’t be disappointed.
TIP: Get the burrito with chicken, loaded with chicken and comes with a side salad with the best passion fruit dressing!
Check out these Chiang Mai food options in the Old City.
Best Massage in Chiang Mai: Sala Massage
Location: right next to PT Residence in that parking lot, click here for map
Hours: Open daily 10am-9pm
Prices: 180 baht ($6) One-hour Thai massage
Why I love it: I have nicknamed the owner Ninja. She has some of the sharpest elbows known to man, but she knows what to do with them. If you are looking for a good Thai massage, Sala massage is the best in the Nimman area and at only 180 baht an hour.
TIP: Splurge and get an hour Thai and hour foot massage, totally worth it.
Best Chiang Mai Festivals
There are several festivals and public holidays celebrated in Chiang Mai. The best one is the Songkran festival celebrated every year April 13-15th where the world’s largest squirt fight helps wash away people sins. This way they start the Thai New Year pure and fresh.
The Yi Peng lantern festival happens in October/November every year. This is where thousands of floating lanterns are set to the sky as people celebrate the Yi Peng festival.
Our 5 months in Chiang Mai has come to an end. Seems like just yesterday we signed the lease to our apartment. We used Chiang Mai as a base to catch up on the website, and still be able to travel affordably. Over the 5 months, we have met so many amazing travel bloggers and even made a few good friends. We ended up getting a Sak Yant tattoo so that we will always remember our time in Chiang Mai. Until next time Chiang Mai.
Have you visited or live in Chiang Mai and have some recommendations that should be included in the “Best of Chiang Mai”, if so just leave them in the comments below.
Typical Day as Travel Blogger in Chiang Mai
7:15 a.m. Wake Up!
Sometimes we set an alarm clock, but we’d rather leave the shades open and let the sun shake us from our sleep. We typically get up between 7-8 a.m. every day even on weekends. Adam makes himself coffee, has some oatmeal, and we check our emails before we out the door.
8 a.m. -10 a.m. The Gym
We try to get out the door by 8:15 a.m. our gym is a short walk away (1km). Many people in Chiang Mai have a motorbike, but we’d rather walk everywhere. It’s our time to talk about what we are doing today, and it gets our bodies warmed up for the gym. Every morning we stop at 7-11 where Adam gets a red bull, at $0.30 a pop. We like to get the gym bright and early as the temperature outside is pleasant under 75, if we waited until after lunch we would be looking at 90+ and into 100+ come March.
We work out 5-6 days a week, working out was one of the biggest things we and our bodies missed. Being on the road nonstop we never got a proper workout. I love being able to wear all my fun prAna workout clothes, I think when you have cute stylish workout clothes you workout harder and are more likely to get to the gym The gym is also nice and dead right away in the morning. This is also my time to catch up on my trashy reality TV. On our way back home to our apartment and maybe pick up some bananas or papaya at the small market we walk past.
10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Shower, lunch, and get ready for work
Most days we get back to shower up, blend up a protein shake for Adam and passion fruit smoothie for me, maybe throw in some laundry, check emails again & plan out what needs to get done today and make salads for lunch. Having a kitchen was a must for us, we are happy not to have to eat out 3x a day 7 days a week. We typically have lunch or dinner at home every day. Some days we will head down to the pool or up to the roof and layout in the sun for an hour after the gym, trying to keep our tan from Koh Lipe.
12:30 p.m. until 10/11 p.m. Work at a Cafe
On average we are at the cafe 8-10 hours a day. Typically we go to the mall Maya that is less than a 5-minute walk from our apartment. There is a cafe called Camp that is open 24 hours a day, has great wifi, cheap drinks & food, outlets everywhere, cold A/C, outdoor seating, huge, and a great place to meet other travel bloggers in Chiang Mai & other nomads.
Here we can buy a coke for $0.60, onion rings $1.75, Pad See Eww with pork $2, and they have a full menu of other drinks & food. We typically spend $7 a day here for dinner and sodas for a 9-10 hour shift. There is also a KFC one floor down where they have chocolate dipped ice cream cones for $0.50 which we frequent daily.
We like to both be at Camp but not have to be sitting on top of each other, we need our time apart. We spend our time writing blog posts, editing photos, writing freelance assignments, responding to comments on the blog, planning our upcoming trips, updating the website, and so much more that goes on with running a website.
11 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. Unpack, watch TV
We too often come home and reset up our computers. As it is 10 a.m. at home we probably got an email or something we need to deal with before bed. We try to have our Facebook post ready for morning and night, but often we don’t so we are scrambling last minute for a status update. We try to unwind and turn our brains off while watching a TV show on Hulu/Netflix. We just finished Breaking Bad, looking for a new series to start. Then it’s off to bed, we turn on the white noise app as the bar next door is usually still going and we can’t fail asleep without the app.
1-2 Days a Week
A few days a week we try and leave the cafe by 6 p.m. and go out for dinner & drinks with friends. We have made several friends here, it’s not too hard to talk someone into meeting you at the liquor store for a beer. Yes, we drink at the liquor store, there are chairs & tables set out in front of the liquor store. It’s the cheapest place in town for a drink.
We have our handful of favorite restaurants in town, and thankfully our friends love them too. We end out at dinner with Brittany & Charlie from The Trading Travelers at least 1-2 times a week. Usually one beer at the liquor store, and then to a real bar for a few more. If we have had too much to drink there is no drunk pizza shops for a slice, we usually end up at 7-11 for a toasty sandwich or one of the tasty street vendors for a tasty bowl of khao soi or maybe a chicken kebab.
Once a Month
I get my nails done every 3-4 weeks, I decided to get gel nails back on. I think my fingers type fast when they are pretty. Also talked my friend Brittany into getting a pedicure once a month with me, but for only $10 we get a full spa pedicure, it’s a great deal if you ask me. Adam and I only get one maybe two massages a month, and we should get more. An hourThaii or foot massage is only $4, we should really take advantage of this while we are here.
We have also taken off a few days from working completely. When we heard there were cherry blossoms in the Hmong village just up the mountain we got a few other friends to come with and split the taxi cost with us. We couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was when we were up there. I couldn’t have planned a better day or a better outfit.
On Christmas, we went up to Doi Suthep with a few other travel bloggers to catch the sunrise. Great Christmas morning! We beat the crowds of tourist, got the perfect stairway shot. Unfortunately, on this day we did end up going “to work” aka the cafe in the afternoon.
…At the end of our day
So there you have a typical day as a travel blogger in Chiang Mai. We do not sleep all day…happy hour is not a daily occurrence…and we don’t party all night every night! If you ask me we kind of have a normal life, it’s just that we are living in Thailand and we are working 2nd shift.
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