Digital Nomad’s Guide to Living in Chiang Mai Thailand
It’s no secret: Chiang Mai is one of the best cities for Digital Nomads to call home.
People flock from all over the world for the cheap cost of living, fast Internet speeds, world-class food, interesting culture, and active community of people who work online.
In total we’ve spent just about a year living in Chiang Mai*, and we have come to think of this city as a second home.
We’ve lived in 2 different apartments in Chiang Mai, ate at too many restaurants to count, adventured around northern Thailand, and made friends with other digital nomads. Oh, and we’ve spent countless hours in coworking spaces, coffee shops, and at home in our apartment, working hard on this blog.
We can say with certainty, that moving to Chiang Mai was the catalyst that took Two Wandering Soles from a hobby blog to a blog that earns us a full income.
If you’re thinking of moving to Chiang Mai to start your journey as a digital nomad, we think it’ll be an absolute game-changer. It was for us. This city seems to open doors and lead to serendipitous connections, luring many long-time digital nomads to return year after year. So even if you’ve been working remotely for years, we think you’ll find reasons to love Chiang Mai.
Moving to Chiang Mai is very easy, as there is a well-established community and it’s easy to find short-term rentals. However, there are some important things you should know before you start packing your bags; like which neighborhoods are the best for digital nomads and what time of year you should definitely not move to Chiang Mai.
And you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ve rounded up our top tips and advice we wish we would have known before we made the move.
*We moved to Chiang Mai for the first time in the fall of 2017 and stayed for 6 months. And we returned a year later in January 2019 and stayed 5 months.
In this information-packed guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about moving to Chiang Mai. We’ve made the move twice, and we’re here to share our experience with you so you are prepared and know what to expect.
We'll walk you through everything from how to find an apartment, to what types of visas are available, to items you'll want to pack for your move, to best coworking spaces, how to meet other digital nomads, to some cool day trips to take in the area.
We’re even sharing a custom-built map of some of our favorite spots in Chiang Mai so you can have them all in one handy place!
Clocking in at more than 15,000 words, this is literally the most comprehensive guide for moving to Chiang Mai you’ll find online. We’re sharing tons of tips and tricks, our personal favorites, exact prices, and things you won’t find anywhere else.
If you know exactly what you’re looking for, click one of the links below to be brought to that section. Otherwise, keep scrolling and you’ll find everything you need to know about making Chiang Mai your new home!
Whew! That’s a lot of information. Like we said, this is a super packed guide that’ll answer just about any question you could have about moving to Thailand. Use the navigation above to jump to the sections that interest you, or continue reading for everything you need to know.
Alright, let’s get started with the basics. So why should you consider moving to Chiang Mai in the first place? We’ll explain…
Why move to Chiang Mai, Thailand?
Life in Chiang Mai is good. Really good, actually. And we’re not the only ones who think so.
Chiang Mai has a lively and diverse community of expats from around the world. In fact, I recently read that 40,000 foreigners call this city home.
It's funny because many family members and friends at home in Minnesota had no idea why in the world we would move to Thailand in order to work. But when we told other people who work online, they totally understood.
Chiang Mai is THE place to move if you want to pursue work online. But "digital nomads" aren't the only ones flocking to this city in northern Thailand. Most of the expats we’ve met living here fall into 3 categories:
Digital Nomads: This is a large category and we’ll dive into further detail later on in this guide; but this category refers to anyone working online.
Teachers: This includes both those teaching English at Thai schools and those teaching at international schools (as well as those teaching online with programs like VIPKid — though they are technically “digital nomads” if they work online).
Retirees: With its pleasant climate and low cost of living, Chiang Mai is a popular place for people to retire.
There are others still who are in Chiang Mai volunteering, those who are yoga instructors, or those who have opened restaurants, bars, hotels or startups.
What makes Chiang Mai a great place for Digital Nomads?
There are several reasons Chiang Mai is such an attractive place to live for Digital Nomads.
Here are just a handful of reasons we love Chiang Mai:
inexpensive cost of living
high-speed Internet is plentiful!
tons of stuff to do in the city
beautiful countryside to explore not far from the city center
very safe (in fact, many solo female nomads call Chiang Mai home for that reason)
interesting blend of old and new (ancient temples, next to modern air-conditioned cafes means the best of both worlds!)
vibrant and interesting culture
huge community of expats/digital nomads provide a wealth of networking opportunities & the chance to make new friends
events going on all the time (it is almost to the point of too many things to do, that it can get in the way of getting work done!)
great climate for much of the year
good hub for exploring other parts of Thailand and Asia
great places to work (coffeeshops and co-working spaces)
short term apartment rentals are easy to find
amazing Thai food as well as wonderful international options too
easy place to be healthy (vegan/vegetarian restaurants are abundant as are yoga studios and wellness meetups)
All of these things combined make Chiang Mai a great “starter city” for your first stint as a digital nomad. And they are also reasons even the most seasoned nomads love returning to this city year after year.
The not-so-great parts of living in Chiang Mai
Living in Chiang Mai can be amazing, but it is not without its downfalls... Here are some things to consider before jumping on a plane:
Lots of expats: Depending on how you look at it, this can either be seen as a benefit to living in this city or a negative. But no matter your view, it has to be said that there is quite a divide between Thai people and foreigners who live here. If you want to interact with locals, you have to make an extra effort, and it can be quite easy to slip into the habit of only hanging out with other foreigners.
The “Digital Nomad Bro” Scene: I’m only going to touch on this briefly because I think you can find this in every Digital Nomad hub, but lemme just say this: The Digital Nomad community can be supportive and uplifting, but it can also be the opposite. There are some people out there who’ve been in the scene for years, and they can be condescending to those who are just starting out. We’ve run into this a bit, and have just learned to brush it off and spend our time with people who don’t bring us down.
Getting more expensive: Also, with the rise of foreigners calling Chiang Mai home, prices are rising to match the demand. Some people get upset by this, but this unavoidable as any place grows. And overall, Chiang Mai is still very affordable. Just know that the cost of living is going to be different than it was 5 years ago.
Burning Season: From March - April, Chiang Mai experiences what is known as “Burning Season” or “Smoky Season”. This is the driest time of the year, and farmers burning their crops paired with wildfires means the air quality can reach dangerous levels. Each year is a bit different than the last, and people are affected differently. But we can tell you after staying through part of a burning season in 2018 and basically the whole burning season in 2019, it is not enjoyable or recommended if you can avoid it.
Transient: Just as you’d find in any city popular with Digital Nomads, the community of foreigners can be quite transient. It can be difficult making new friends only to have to say goodbye to them in a couple weeks. But such is the life of being a Digital Nomad.
What type of visa do I need to live in Thailand?
This is a pretty important topic to understand before booking your flight, as you can’t just arrive in Thailand and stay as long as you’d wish.
We are going to walk you through the basics, but we’d encourage you to do some research of your own through your home country’s Embassy website since visa rules can vary depending on your nationality.
Also, the immigration system in Thailand is notoriously inconsistent and rules have changed in recent years.
Here are the basic visas you should know about as a Digital Nomad:
Visa Exemption or Visa on Arrival
Gives you 30 days
Your nationality determines which you qualify for
If you want to stay in the country longer, you must do a Border Run or a Visa Run (explained below).
Tourist Visa: Single Entry or Multiple Entry
Single Entry gives you 60 days and can be extended ONCE for 30 more days (90 days total)
Multiple Entry gives you 6 months, and can be extended ONCE for 60 days
You cannot apply for a tourist visa in Thailand.
Gives you 1 year
You must study something (like Thai language or Muay Thai) from an accredited school
You must go into the immigration office every 90 days to receive your extension.
Visa Exemption OR Visa On Arrival
Planning to stay 30 days or less?
Depending on what country you’re from, there is a good chance you qualify for either a Visa Exemption or a Visa on Arrival.
64 countries qualify, including the US, UK, Canada, and many more
Visa Exemption is Free
You can enter Thailand on a Visa Exemption 2 times per year if you are crossing by land or sea (see “Border Run” below). But there is no limit to how many times you enter Thailand on a Visa Exemption if you arrive by air.
19 countries qualify
Visa on Arrival costs 2,000 baht ($63 USD)
For both a Visa Exemption and a Visa on Arrival, you technically need to have a flight out of Thailand and be able to prove you have the equivalent of 10,000 baht ($315 USD) in your bank account. However, we have entered Thailand several times and have never been asked for this. Read more here.
Tourist Visa: Single Entry or Multiple Entry
Single Entry: For some nationalities, you can apply for an 60-day tourist visa in your home country (or another country outside of Thailand). When you enter Thailand, your 60 days begin and you cannot leave and come back without getting another visa.
You must send or bring in your passport, application, and fee to a consulate. In our experience (we have US passports) we’ve sent in our passports to the US Thai Consulate in Chicago and the process takes up to 15 days and costs $40 USD.
When your passport and visa gets returned to you, you’ll have 3 months to enter Thailand and once you enter you can stay up to 60-days (day 1 counting when you arrive).
Multiple Entry: This is a confusing visa and honestly we recommend the more straightforward single entry visa.
Some nationalities can apply for a multiple entry visa where every 60 days you must leave and come back to Thailand for a period of up to 6 month. This visa costs $200 USD and once you receive your visa your 6 months begins, unlike the single entry when it starts when you enter Thailand.
This visa might seem nice because you can come and go, but if you factor in all the extra costs for traveling every two months, you’ll might be better off just doing the single entry tourist visa.
Extending a Tourist Visa
But if you would like to stay longer on your Tourist Visa, you may apply for an extension. In order to do this, you will need to go to the immigration office, fill out the application, submit passport sized photos, and pay a fee of 1,900 baht (around $60 USD). *This is the price as of May 2019, though it may increase in time.
You may do an extension one-time on a tourist visa. So in total, you can stay 90 days.
Want more info? Here’s a great guide to getting your Thai visa extended.
When your visa runs out, many people make "visa run". This means you enter a nearby country, like Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, or Malaysia (to name a few). You will need to go through the Visa Run process (below) and when you reenter Thailand, you will be granted a new tourist visa.
It’s a good excuse to go on some mini vacations during your time in Thailand, but it can be inconvenient and the costs can add up. It's not a great solution for long term stays.
Extend your stay with a Visa Run or Border Run
You may extend your stay in Thailand an additional 30 days by doing a Border Run, or you can extend it longer by doing a Visa Run.
Visa Run vs. Border Run
While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are in fact different:
Visa Run: You will go to another country and apply for a Single Entry Tourist Visa or Multiple Entry Tourist Visa at the Thai Embassy or Consulate in that country. This process usually takes 2 days, and you must stay in that country until your application has been approved. This is a more expensive option, but can be a good excuse for a little getaway to explore another country.
Singapore & KL, Malaysia are good options because flights are cheap. (We did a visa run in Kuala Lumpur.)
The Single Entry and Multiple Entry Tourist Visas give you 60 days. You may then go into the immigration office in Thailand and extend it for an additional 30 days (for a 1,900 baht fee).
Border Run: You can take a bus to a neighboring country. You cross the border, get a stamp, then immediately turn around and return to Thailand with a new stamp in your passport. In this case, you will get a Visa Exemption entry stamp or a Thai Visa on Arrival (depending on your nationality). This gives you 30 more days. This can be done in one day and is the cheapest option.
Myanmar is a popular spot for border runs for those living in Chiang Mai, as it is very easy to get transportation to the border town of Mae Sai, Thailand. You will then cross the border on foot to Tachileik, Myanmar, before crossing back into Thailand and getting a bus back to Chiang Mai. This journey takes about 5 hours each way, and an hour for the border crossing. You can book your bus ticket in advance on the Green Bus website, and you will leave from the Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal.
This will only give you 30 more days in Thailand.
IMPORTANT: You can only do border runs 2 times per year.
More information on making a border run to Myanmar from Chiang Mai.
If you’d like to stay in Chiang Mai for one year, you might want to consider applying for an educational visa. You can choose to take classes, like Thai language or Muay Thai lessons, from an accredited school. In exchange, you will be eligible for a year-long visa.
It’s important to note that you must report to the immigration office every 90 days to receive your extension.
Want more info? Here’s a good resource for Educational Visas.
What happens if you overstay your visa?
Overstaying your visa is never something you should aim to do, but sometimes it happens. If you overstay your visa, you will be charged a fine of 500 baht per day.
Weather in Chiang Mai
Situated in the mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai experiences different weather than you’ll find in Bangkok or the Thai Islands.
While Chiang Mai doesn’t have seasons in the traditional sense (summer, fall, winter, spring), the climate does vary significantly throughout the year.
Some months are very rainy, others are hot and humid, and others have clear skies during the day and cool temperatures at night.
Dry (& Cool!) Season: mid-October - February
This is the best time of year to be in Chiang Mai. Temperatures are comfortable, with daytime highs in the mid-80’s F (28-30°C), and sometimes cooling down to a brisk yet comfortable 60°F (15°C) after sunset.
You will have little chance of experiencing rain during this time frame. That said, it is the busiest time in Chiang Mai, and affordable apartments may be slightly more difficult to find (though still manageable).
Hot (& Burning) Season: March - May
During these months, the temperatures in northern Thailand reach uncomfortable heights. Temperatures hitting 105°F (40°C) is not uncommon, and trust me when I say all you’ll wanna do is sit inside underneath an aircon unit.
But the worst part of these months isn’t even the heat… it’s the air quality. Enter: Burning Season.
Just check out the picture below to see the difference in air quality one month apart. The air was so bad, the mountain is not even visible!
The so-called “Burning Season” varies a bit each year, but generally, the air quality reaches a dangerous level and stays there from the beginning of March through mid-April.
In 2019, Chiang Mai experienced the worst Burning Season in recent history, with poor air quality remaining until the beginning of May.
Our Advice: We would avoid moving to Chiang Mai during this season if possible.
Tip: If you can’t avoid Burning Season, download the AirVisual app to your phone so you can track the AQI (air quality index). Also, wear an N95 mask (pictured) when you walk outside and avoid being outdoors for too long. (N95 masks have a special filter and supposedly block 95% of particles.)
(The 3M brand is good. There is a 3M store in town, but we found ours at a pharmacy in Maya Mall. You can also order them online through Lazada.)
Rainy Season: June - October
Rain is actually a welcomed relief after a couple months of blistering temperatures and smoky air. The rain returns the jungle foliage to a lush green and waterfalls to their rushing state.
While the rainstorms typically don’t last too long, the rain sure does come down hard, so be prepared! Also, we’ve heard that ground floor apartments or houses in particular can accumulate mold during this season, since temperatures still hover in the low 90’s F (33°C).
Best time of of year to live in Chiang Mai
This will be somewhat dependent on personal opinion, but there’s no arguing you’ll find the best weather from mid-October through mid-February.
This is also going to be the most popular time for other nomads, so there will be many networking events and meetups taking place. This makes the community feel much more active than other parts of the year. One downside during this time is apartments can be slightly more difficult to find.
Cost of living in Chiang Mai
A low cost of living is one of the major reasons many expats call this Thai city home while getting their online businesses up and running.
The increasing popularity of living in Chiang Mai has made the crazy cheap prices people used to brag about a thing of the past (if you base yourself in the popular neighborhoods).
But we’ve still found Chiang Mai is still far less expensive than living in the United States.
Average Costs in Chiang Mai
These are examples of average prices we have found for some common things in Chiang Mai:
Local Meal: 45 bowl of Khao Soi at a local restaurant
Western Meal: 180 baht large salad packed with veggies from a healthy restaurant
Beer: 55 baht for large Chang beer at 7-eleven; 110 baht for same beer at a bar
Cocktail: 80 baht for mixed drink with local liquor at low-key bar; 160 baht for proper cocktail at a “nicer” bar"
1 hour Thai massage: 250 baht
Movie Ticket: 150 baht on a normal day (100 baht on Wednesdays at the theater in Maya Mall)
Americano Coffee: 50 baht
How much money should I budget for one month in Chiang Mai?
This is going to vary greatly on your lifestyle, and how well you are able to stick to a budget.
Budgeting $600 USD per month will be a comfortable place to start. You will still have to watch your spending a bit and will have to choose an apartment that fits well with this amount.
However, if you want to eat healthy meals on the regular (aka not only street food), have nights out, go to co-working spaces, and have some money to spend on entertainment and traveling around the region, you might want to budget a bit more money.
How much do we spend each month in Chiang Mai?
We spend between $1,400 - $1,500 USD per month total (between 2 people), or $750 each*.
Our lifestyle: We don’t budget very strictly, we spoil ourselves with weekly massages, healthy meals out, movie dates, and occasional beers and cocktails. We buy the occasional clothing item or “souvenir”, we go to events and do some exploring in the area around Chiang Mai. We also live in a “nicer” apartment in a great location. So we definitely spend more than you’d need to.
*It’s important to note that sharing an apartment helps keep our costs a bit lower than if we were renting individually.
Note on Budgeting: Cost of living is a topic people love to debate, especially in Southeast Asia, it seems. For some reason, people love to brag about how little money they can spend in this part of the world. I’m sure we’ll get comments on this article from people saying it’s possible to live on far less than $600 USD per month.
And while that may be true, it isn’t realistic for an average person who doesn’t want to watch every baht they spend. We’d rather give advice that leaves you overestimating your costs than the other way around.
Money-Saving Tips for Living in Chiang Mai
If you’re moving to Chiang Mai and are hoping to stick to a tight budget, these tips will help keep your costs down.
Limit your Western Food intake: We love Thai food, but trust us, it can get old after a while. There are days you just don’t want rice, noodles, fried dishes, or heavy curries. That said, Western food is going to cost you (a lot!) more than Thai dishes, so strike a balance that works with your budget and cravings.
Cook: Eating out in Chiang Mai can be ridiculously cheap. You could honestly eat out for every meal and stick to a super tight budget. But if you want to eat healthy, cooking is going to help keep your budget under control. These are some useful items to pick up.
Blender: We love making protein shakes and hummus. You can search the Chiang Mai Facebook groups to see if anyone is selling (that’s where we bought ours for 200 baht), or you can look on Lazada (Thailand’s version of Amazon) for an inexpensive one.
Cutting board and knife: For chopping fresh veggies! We got both at Daiso (in Maya Mall).
Skillet and pot: Cooking eggs, stirfrys, rice, etc. (We found an inexpensive pot in a local market, and our apartment came with a nice skillet from Tesco.)
Shop for produce at local markets: Find a market in your neighborhood, and aim to get the majority of your weekly groceries there. They will be cheaper than the ones you find in the big super markets, and you’ll support local farmers in a more impactful way.
Brew your own coffee: If you are a big coffee drinker like we are, daily americanos can start to add up. Brewing your own will save some money! You can buy super inexpensive pour over coffee makers with filters from Daiso (60 THB for the device and 60 THB per pack of 70 filters). You can also find inexpensive French presses at a little shop outside of Warrorot Market.
When we first arrived in Chiang Mai, we looked everywhere for a French press and were surprised to find how expensive they were at some stores (around $60 USD!). We wish we would have known where to find one that wasn't crazy expensive! (Or you can pack your favorite coffee maker from home!)
Work out for free: Our apartment has a gym which means we don’t have to pay for an additional membership. But if yours doesn’t have a workout facility, here are some free workout options:
Free yoga sessions:
Hiking club: This group meets weekly (except during Burning Season). Join the Facebook group here.
Running: This can be a bit tricky, since sidewalks are uneven and sometimes non-existent in certain areas. Running around the moat is a good route; otherwise, check out some other Chiang Mai running routes here.
Countdown Workout: A personal favorite of ours when we have little space and no equipment: 50 squats, 40 lunges, 30 crunches, 20 mountain climbers, 10 pushups (then repeat, starting from 10 and going up).
Set a budget and track it: We are huge believers that you will only stick to a budget if you keep track of it. We use TrailWallet to track our expenses (but there are lots of other apps out there too). We can look at our spending periodically, and readjust. For instance: “Ouch, we spent a ton of money on drinks last week! Let’s (try to!) give up alcohol this week.” (True story.)
Be cautious of nights out: As alluded to in the point above, drinks are the category that we find ourselves “going over” what we’d like to spend. And most often, the culprit is drinks from bars. If you’re really watching your budget, have a couple drinks at home first, and only have one at the bar. (7-eleven is much cheaper!) Also, the cheapest drink you’ll find is the local beer and Thai whisky. Craft beer and clear liquors tend to be on the more expensive side.
Transportation: Driving your own motorbike is typically the most affordable method of transportation. If you don’t drive a motorbike, use these types of transportation to save money: the local bus, songtheaws, and Grab.
Watch your air-con usage: Be very mindful of turning your air-con off when you leave the room. Not only does it waste energy, but it can add up very quickly and you might be surprised by your bill at the end of the month!
Use a card that reimburses your ATM fees: If you’re from the US and you don’t already have a Charles Schwab account, go get one ASAP! It’s free to set up, and you’ll get a debit card that reimburses ALL ATM FEES! Did you hear that?! It will save you so much money, because for each withdrawal here in Thailand, you will be charged 220 baht. And that’s gonna add up over time.
If you’re not from the US, do a little research because there is likely a similar bank/card where you will not have to pay ATM fees, which is a huge benefit as a traveler or digital nomad.
Digital Nomad Jobs in Chiang Mai
There are an endless amount of Digital Nomad jobs that allow you to work from anywhere in the world. Here are some of the more popular jobs we've encountered in Chiang Mai:
Coaching (lifestyle, business, daily practice, health, etc.)
Teaching with VIPKID (yes, it's even possible to do this full time!)
Drop shipping & Amazon FBA
Developers of all kinds (website, software, app, etc.)
Social Media Manager
Are you interested in becoming a Digital Nomad?
If you’ve ever wondered what types of jobs allow you to make money from anywhere in the world, you’re going to love this article:
We interviewed several female digital nomads and asked them to share what they do for work as well as tips for how people can get started.
Best Co-working Spaces & Coffee Shops in Chiang Mai
One of the many reasons Chiang Mai is such a popular place for digital nomads is for its abundance of coffeeshops and coworking spaces. There are SO. MANY.
It took us a while to hop on the coworking bandwagon. When we first arrived, and honestly, we go in spurts where we go to co-working spaces all the time, and other times where we mostly work from home or coffee shops.
Note: Most of the workspaces we are listing are in the Nimman and Santitham neighborhoods. You can find more workspaces throughout the city.
Coworking spaces typically have a price to work there for the day, as well as a range of package options (like a 5-day pass or unlimited monthly access).
Coworking spaces have great internet, lots of outlets, air-conditioned spaces, comfortable chairs, and a quiet environment. The facilities range from very basic to quite nice, and the price typically reflects this.
There are plenty more coworking places in Chiang Mai (and more popping up all the time), but here are some to get you started on your search. We’d recommend trying a few out and finding which vibe, community, and facilities you prefer. You can typically purchase a pass to save a bit of money if you plan to go frequently.
M-A-N-A: This is a very small space, and accommodates around 10 people, so get there when they open if you want a spot. While it isn’t the prettiest co-working space out there, it is affordable (150 baht per day) and the price includes a crafted coffee drink. The owners are super sweet and they come around keep your glasses full of ice water and hot tea all day. Hydration, baby!
Price 150 baht per day, includes coffee drink
Punspace: THE original co-working space in Chiang Mai. There are 3 locations: Nimman, near the North Gate and near the East Gate. They are all well-equipped with real office chairs. They also have frequent events and are open 24/7 for members. That said, it is one of the more expensive co-working places in the city, and during the days we went, it was mostly dominated by men.
Price: Day pass is 289 baht, but there are lots of membership options available.
Buri Siri: This is a boutique hotel in Nimman, but their attached restaurant offers a co-working deal. For 200 baht for the day, you get your choice of beverage (coffee drink or smoothie) high-speed Internet and pool access. Your office for the day is pretty damn nice, and it’s rarely busy! We like to come here for “business retreat” style work days. It feels like a more special work space because you can use the pool, but I’m not sure I would be productive enough here to come on a super regular basis.
Price: 200 baht per day, includes one drink and pool access
CAMP at Maya: Located on the 5th floor of Maya Mall (near the movie theater), this place is always packed, no matter the time of day! It is very popular with Thai students, and can be difficult to find a good seat if you arrive later than 10am (there are only a handful of seating options that are actually comfortable!). While the mall doesn’t open until 11am, you can use the door near the parking garage and you can take the elevator up to CAMP, which is open 24 hours a day!
Price: you *should* purchase a drink, and then you can sign into the AIS network for free.
KitnCaboodle (KNC): This space, located in Santitham is quite small and kind of feels like you’re working in a friend’s apartment. Everyone seemed friendly and down-to-earth, which isn’t always the case in co-working spaces. Our friends go here frequently and have said the community vibe is really good if you’re a regular.
Price: suggested donation of 150 baht per day (includes self service tea or coffee)
Addicted to Work: This space is laidback, and affordable. That said, the chairs aren’t super comfortable, but the good coffee, strong Internet, and friendly owner make up for it.
Price: 20 baht per hour or 120 baht for the day
Heartwork the Sharing Space: I’ve heard good things about this space, but have never been myself, as it is located quite far from where we live (southeast of the Old City). It is beautifully decorated and affordable, but there are only a few comfortable-looking chairs.
Price: 90 baht for a day, or 50 baht + purchase a coffee, or buy a coffee and get 3 hours of free Wifi access
The Brick Startup Space: Another one we haven’t had the chance to visit, but it looks like it could be a good place to try out.
Price: 250 baht per day
Coffee Shops (for working) in Chiang Mai
There are some places around town that serve fantastic coffee, that just aren’t suited for working.
The most important factors for us when it comes to choosing a coffee shop to work at include:
outlets to charge our laptops
good drinks and food (reasonably priced)
air-conditioning (we don’t wanna sweat all over our laptops!)
comfortable chairs are a bonus, too
they welcome laptops (some cafes don’t want people working there)
There are great coffee shops all over town, so take some time to try them out and find your favorite. But if you’re in a bind and need a good coffeeshop to work from, here are some ideas:
Passion Project: Located on a quiet street in Santhitham, you’ll find coffee, smoothie and food options in the upstairs cafe, and a quiet, air-conditioned (and nicely decorated) workspace on the ground floor. Bonus points for clean bathrooms too! (pictured above)
Ember Coffee & Eatery: Centrally-located on Nimmanhaemin Road, this coffee shop is a good choice for working, as there are ample outlets, air conditioning, comfortable chairs, and it is usually quiet. There are food options (we haven’t tried them) and the coffee is good, but it’s on the more expensive side. Also, there is no bathroom attached, so you have to walk a little ways to the public restroom.
Area53: This is kind of a fusion of co-working / coffeeshop. There’s no daily rate — you just order a drink at the counter downstairs. Then go up to the third level where you’ll find a small, but air-conditioned space that is quiet for working and has strong Wifi. Chairs aren’t the most comfortable, and the space can be a bit dark.
MDL Bistro & Coffee Shop: This spot in Santitham is a large space and has lots of seating options. Coffee is good and cheap!
.fresh Cafe: Small spot in the Nimman neighborhood with good (and reasonably priced) smoothies. It’s quiet and has good Wifi, making it a decent place to get work done. Chairs weren’t the most comfortable for working, in my opinion though.
Maya Bed and Food: This place is good if you need a projector screen for a meeting. They have a small air-conditioned room you can rent out (for FREE!), and we’ve used it for a couple Mastermind meetings which worked really well. Other than the working room though, this place is not all that well suited to working as the Internet can sometimes be glitchy and the rest of the space isn’t as comfortable. Tip: Their homemade passion fruit soda is yummy!
Best Chiang Mai neighborhoods for Digital Nomads
This is purely a question of personal preference. It depends on what type of experience you're looking for, how you plan on spending most of your days, what your budget is, and whether or not you plan to have a motorbike.
If you’re wondering where to live in Chiang Mai, this is a good place to start. Below, you'll find descriptions of some of the most popular neighborhoods for digital nomads, along with the pros and cons of living in each.
Nimman: convenient but expensive
Nimmanhaemin Road is a hotspot for restaurants, stores, coffee shops and apartment buildings. The trendy neighborhood branching out around this road is usually called “Nimman” and is arguably the most in demand neighborhood for expats moving to Chiang Mai in pursuit of the "digital nomad" lifestyle.
Tons of cute coffee shops, restaurants and coworking spaces
The convenient location means you don't need a motorbike to get around
Many modern and upscale apartment options
Very close to Maya Mall, which has a cinema, a supermarket, a food court, and just about any store you could need.
The smaller roads (soi in Thai) that run perpendicular to Nimmanhaemin Road are cute and quieter
Many foreigners living here, so it doesn't have the same "Thai" feel as some of the other neighborhoods
Many meetups and events take place in this neighborhood
It is more expensive than many other neighborhoods
The lowdown: Nimman is a super convenient location since you're near many places to work and eat. Many expat meet-up groups take place in this area, and you're also near Maya Mall where you can get basically anything you might need. That said, it is heavily foreigner concentrated and is on the more expensive side.
Good to know: Nimman is right beneath the flight path, so you’ll hear planes pass over your apartment. This can be tough for light sleepers, though we haven’t had too much of an issue with it.
Santitham: cheaper alternative
Santitham is good compromise if you’re looking to be well-located but are looking for a cheaper rent than you’ll find in Nimman.
more affordable than Nimman
in between Nimman and Old City (about a 20 minute walk to each, depending on where exactly you’re coming from)
has more of a “Thai feel”
you might need a bicycle or motorbike to get around
The lowdown: As more and more digital nomads have flocked to Chiang Mai, Santitham has become more and more popular with digital nomads looking to find affordable housing.
Good to know: Santitham is also near the flight path, so depending on where exactly your apartment is, it might be bothersome.
Other neighborhoods in Chiang Mai
We’ve met many other people living in different neighborhoods who are very happy with their location. It all depends on what exactly you’re looking for. Here are a few more neighborhoods to consider.
Old City: This area is more popular with tourists than digital nomads, and a lot of the accommodation you’ll find is “serviced apartments” (pretty much a hotel room with a fridge). That said, it can be a good base if you are only in the city a short time and want to be sure to see all the major sites.
Suthep: Close to hiking trails of Doi Suthep, Huaykeaw Waterfall, and the Arboretum, there is lots of green space in this neighborhood. Plus, it’s pretty affordable in general. Since Chiang Mai University is at the border of this area, you’ll see lots of university students. The location isn’t too far from Nimman, but you’ll likely want a motorbike to get around.
There are certainly many more neighborhoods in Chiang Mai. However, for the purpose of this article, we’re going over the best places for digital nomads to find housing, work spaces, community, and convenience.
Want to know more? Here’s a great breakdown of more Chiang Mai neighborhoods.
Chiang Mai Digital Nomad Map
We love pinning places we want to go on our Google Maps. So we thought it might be helpful if we created a map of some of our favorite spots in Chiang Mai specifically for Digital Nomads.
Most of the spots on this map are in and around the Nimman neighborhood because that’s the area we know best.
Take a look and see which places are of interest to you. We truly hope this is helpful!
Also, just a note on the restaurant icons (fork and knife):
Green = Vegetarian / Vegan
Blue = Several Vegetarian / Vegan options (but still serves meat)
Red = Not many Vegetarian options
How much does an apartment cost in Chiang Mai?
The answer to this question is going to vary drastically based on the following criteria:
a) What neighborhood do you want to live in?
b) What is your expectation for comfort?
c) How long do you plan to stay?
Let’s go over each in detail…
a) What area do you want to live in? (descriptions above)
This is the main factor that will affect the price of your rent. The cost of an apartment in Nimman will be higher than an apartment in Suthep, for example.
But also be sure to factor in the cost of transportation if you plan to commute every day. Sometimes a more convenient location will cost more up front, but will be evened out at the end of the month.
b) What is your expectation when it comes to comfort?
Are you comfortable staying in a shared living space?
Do you want a full kitchen? (FYI Thai kitchens are quite different from what you may be used to in your home country, so you may have to make some compromises.)
Do you want a swimming pool and a gym?
If your apartment doesn’t have a pool, there are several in town you can get day passes to. Green Hill Apartment is one option — they have a non-chlorine pool and it costs 80 baht for a day pass. (pictured above)
Are you looking for a furnished apartment? (Or do you prefer to buy your own bedding, etc.)
Does the décor matter to you?
Do you need air-conditioning?
If you're willing to sacrifice privacy and comfort, you can find some ridiculously cheap shared living spaces. We met a couple paying just over $100 USD total for one month for a shared living space. (Definitely not the norm!)
You can also pay upwards of $800 USD per month for modern and luxurious digs.
Or, like us, you might be somewhere in the middle. It's totally personal preference.
Here are some examples of prices:
In 2019, we paid $570 USD (18,000 THB) per month for a nicer, fully furnished apartment in the Nimman neighborhood. We had a 3-month lease that we extended.
We toured another unit in our same building that included a washer and Internet, and it was $530 USD (17,000 THB) per month. However, it didn’t have an area where we could work, and it faced a busy road.
We know someone who stayed in a unit in our same building for one month. They found the listing on Airbnb and paid $750 USD (24,000 THB) for the month.
In 2017/2018, we paid around $400 USD (13,000 THB) per month in the Nimman neighborhood for a 6-month lease of a furnished apartment.
In 2017, friends of ours signed a 1-year lease, and paid around $250 USD (8,000 THB) per month for a nice apartment in Santitham.
In 2019, a friend of ours paid around $315 USD (10,000 THB) for a studio “serviced apartment” in Santitham neighborhood. It didn’t come with a stove, so she bought a 1-burner induction cooker and pot in order to be able to cook.
We heard of someone renting a Western-style house with their own private pool for $1,700 USD (55,000 THB) per month.
We know someone who had a big house with a huge kitchen (and oven!), a yard, and home office space. Rent was $1,000 USD (32,000 THB) per month, and they split the cost between 3 roommates.
c) How long do you plan to stay?
If you plan to stay for one month, you will likely be looking at a might higher cost per month than if you're able to sign a 1-year lease. We noticed there are cost breaks at 3 months, 6 months and 1 year.
For example: We signed a 3-month lease. If we had signed on for a whole year, we would be paying about half the price we currently pay. The longer you stay, the less you'll pay each month.
How to find an apartment in Chiang Mai
Now that you have an idea of which area you’d like to live in as well as how much you are expecting to pay each month, you’re probably wondering how you can find an apartment, especially if you want to nail something down while you’re overseas.
There are a few different ways to go about finding a home in Chiang Mai, and we’ll walk you through them.
If you’re only staying in Chiang Mai for a short time, you might be able to score a great deal by browsing the Facebook groups (Chiang Mai Digital Nomad Girls is my favorite!). A lot of times people try to sublet their place while they are out of town, or they want to pass their awesome lease onto someone who could use it.
Pros: You could get a fully-furnished (and decorated!) place for a great deal
Cons: You might not have much choice of location, and you’ll have to be lucky on dates for them to work out exactly.
If you’re only staying in Chiang Mai for a month, Airbnb can be an alright option. Some hosts have monthly prices on their listing. And it can even work for those looking for longer stays. One of our friends found THE BEST place ever on Airbnb — a cute little “tiny home” with a yard and everything. They stayed a month and asked if they could negotiate a monthly rent, and the owner was up for it and they’ve been there more than a year now. That said, they were super lucky, and this doesn’t always happen.
Pros: Good for short term stays, easy to arrange from overseas
Cons: It is rare (but possible) for this to be a good option for longer stays, and typically the prices are going to be on the higher side compared to what you’ll get if you sign a lease.
Hot Tip: Get $40 off your first stay on Airbnb by using our link here!
Perfect Homes is a realty company, and it is a totally free service! You can email them – firstname.lastname@example.org – even before you leave your home country to set up an appointment. They don’t need much warning — we emailed them a few months in advance, and they replied saying “let us know closer to your arrival”.
You will need to tell them your budget, preferred neighborhood, and other things you are looking for (aka do you want a pool or gym?).
During you appointment, they will bring you to a few different properties. And if you’re ready, you can be signing your lease the next day. They are very professional, and make sure you and the owner have a fair contract without any hassles. If you ever have any issues, you can rest assured knowing there is a 3rd party, and you don’t have to worry about getting into a bad situation.
We’ve actually used Perfect Homes to find our apartment both times we lived in Chiang Mai, and we had a good experience both times.
Pros: You have the chance to walk through the apartments before choosing one. Also, having a realtor that speaks Thai & English allows you to understand what’s going on. You know that things aren’t going to get sketchy or deposits withheld since they are a 3rd party that works on behalf of both the owner and renter.
Cons: They only work with people doing 3-month leases or more.
Nomad Rental (with a warning)
So in theory, this website is pretty cool. It lists serviced apartments, long-stay hotels, and other accommodation options in popular Digital Nomad cities around the world.
Before moving to Chiang Mai in 2019, we found a listing on Nomad Rental we liked, set our dates, and “made a reservation”. All looked good and we thought we had a place to stay until a few days later when we received an email saying our reservation had been cancelled. I reached out to Nomad Rental to ask some questions, and never received a reply.
While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend booking with them, you could search through their listings and contact the properties directly. Many of the properties listed are “serviced apartments”, and it is possible to arrange a longer stay with the front desk.
Pros: This could be a good way to sort through apartment options and see what’s available.
Cons: In our experience the website was unreliable, so we would not recommend actually booking through them, but instead contacting the properties directly.
Chiang Mai Apartment Tour Video
Take a quick tour of our one-bedroom apartment and building. We’ll tell some more info about living in Thailand.
Tips for getting an apartment in Chiang Mai
Be sure you understand how much money you are required to pay up front. Typically if you’re signing a lease, you’ll need to pay first month, last month, and a security deposit. It can be a pretty large sum to hand over right away, so it’s good to be prepared with some savings. However, if you go with a “serviced apartment”, you might only have to pay a deposit.
Understand how you should pay rent each month. If you’re living in a serviced apartment, you might simply pay at your front desk. However, if you have a lease through a landlord, it might be a bit more complicated.
For instance, both times we have lived in Chiang Mai, we need to withdraw cash from a specific ATM (the bank our apartment owner uses) and then insert it back into the ATM (or bring it to the bank teller). This way, we transfer the cash directly to our owner’s bank account. We take a photo of the transaction and sent it to the owner and keep it on file as proof of payment. Other owners might have a different preferred method, so be sure you understand how to pay each month.
Internet in Chiang Mai
One of the reasons Chiang Mai is such an appealing place for digital nomads is the access to high-speed Internet. Getting a good connection in your apartment is likely at the top of your to-do list when moving to Chiang Mai.
It really depends on your apartment situation. Some landlords will include Internet in your monthly rent. And other times, you will be in charge of getting it set up yourself.
Also, some apartment buildings have internet for the entire complex, in which case, you can’t install your own. Typically, this creates a bit of an issue, as everyone is using the same line. We’ve heard mostly negative accounts of buildings with a shared network.
Good to know: If your apartment doesn’t come with Internet already installed, you will need to set up a consultation appointment (usually the day after you move in), and typically 2 days later, they will come to install. This means you may not have Internet your first few days in your new place. We learned the hard way! Additionally, some buildings have contracts with a specific provider, so you cannot shop around. In this case, your realtor can usually help you with setting up an appointment.
How much does Internet cost?
It can vary based on the situations described above, but as an example, we have High Speed service (100+ upload / 70 download speeds) and we pay 590 baht ($19 USD) per month.
Utilities in Chiang Mai
Depending on the agreement you have with your landlord, there is a good chance you will have to pay utilities each month. We’re breaking down what to expect as far as typical cost as well as where you will pay your bills — some of them you can even pay at 7-eleven (gasp!).
This is typically a small bill, and can usually be paid at the front desk of your building. Our monthly water bill is around 100 - 150 baht ($3 - 5 USD).
Your electricity usage is typically not included in your monthly rent. You will get a bill each month which will include all electricity usage. The biggest chunk of this will likely come from your air-conditioning, so if you’re on a tight budget, pay careful attention to how often you use your AC unit.
Pay at a 7-11 store. Yep, that’s right — just hand the cashier your bill and take care of your payment on the spot!
How much does electricity cost?
Again, this will vary based on your building, as the rates and efficiency levels can be different. We sleep with our AC on and work from home often , during which we have the air running. Our monthly bill has ranged between 700 and 1,200 baht.
Good to know: The expensive months are typically when we have worked from home often and keep the electricity running all day.
Laundry in Chiang Mai
Some apartments come with a washer and dryer unit, which is a huge convenience! Our first apartment in Chiang Mai had a washer on the balcony as well as a drying rack. Our second apartment, however, did not have a washing machine.
If your apartment doesn’t have a washing machine, there are a few options for laundry.
Self-service machines: There are laundromats in most neighborhoods, where you can operate the machines yourself and wait for your loads to finish. Some laundromats are nice, and have Wi-Fi so you can work while your clothes are cleaned. This is the cheapest option, and you can choose what type of detergent your clothing is washed with.
Drop-off service: You can bring your dirty laundry to one of the many shops you’ll find around town. Simply type “laundry” into Google Maps and you should find several in your area. They typically charge by weight.
Laundry Delivery Service: If you can’t be bothered to wait for your clothes to be washed, and the though of lugging your laundry bag down the block sounds like a bore, you can actually have it picked up and dropped off at your building. While they often claim to have “free pick-up and delivery”, the service in general is just more expensive than the ones that don’t include delivery.
Drinking Water in Chiang Mai
Most Thai people don’t even drink the tap water here. Instead, filter machines are quite common around certain parts of the city. Also, most apartment buildings can arrange for a crate of bottled water to be delivered to your room (just inquire at your front desk). Don't worry, the bottles are reused – which means you don't want to drink directly from them. Instead, pour them into your own bottle or a glass.
Having water delivered is a much better option than continually buying bottles… yay for saving plastic! Plus, it’s super convenient. And while we love using our Steripen while traveling, it gets to be a bit much when we are living somewhere.
How much does water cost? This may vary a bit, but in our building, we had to pay a 200 baht deposit. Each crate of water contains 20 1-liter bottles and costs 50 baht ($1.50 USD). We usually order 3 crates a week for the two of us (we drink a ton of water, so others may not go through it as quickly as we do).
Cell Service in Thailand
Cell service is cheap and good throughout Thailand. Just be sure your phone is unlocked so it can take an international SIM.
Buying a Thai SIM card will only cost about 50 baht ($1.60 USD), and the service plans are very affordable, no matter which provider you choose.
Here are the 3 cell phone networks in Thailand:
best overall coverage (covers rural areas better than the other providers)
slower download speeds
fastest Internet speeds
poor coverage in some rural areas (they have improved significantly in recent years and we personally haven’t had many issues)
decent coverage and decent Internet speed (supposedly “in between” AIS and True for both categories)
How much do phone plans cost in Thailand?
The cost is going to be relatively similar between all providers. It may vary a bit, but not enough to make too much of a difference.
The cost will depend on the package you choose, but as an example, we pay 600 THB per month ($19 USD) for unlimited data (6GB of data at 4G speeds and then reduced speeds after that).
Good to know: If you purchase your SIM card at the airport, you will have access to the “tourist plans”. If you want different package options, you’ll need to buy it outside of the airport.
Which cell phone service do we use? Personally, we use TrueMove and have had a great experience. We know people who use both other networks and have had favorable experiences as well. In the past, they varied with coverage, speeds, and pricing, but they are getting more and more competitive, and they are all fine options.
Honestly, we’d just recommend choosing the provider that has a package (and price point) you like. They are all good and have great coverage in Chiang Mai. (Of the 3 networks, most people we know have True or AIS.)
Transportation in Chiang Mai
With tons of transportation options, it is super easy to get around the city.
Songthaew (Red Trucks): These red trucks have benches in the back and act as a “shared taxi”. Flag down the driver, and tell them where you’d like to go (sometimes it’s best to use a general landmark instead of an exact address). If they say yes, you can get in the back, and you’ll be dropped off in the order that works best with the other customers in the truck. In general, a ride within the city limits should cost 30 baht per person, but it can increase the further your ride.
Motorbike: You can buy or rent a motorbike for a low price while living in Chiang Mai. This gives you the freedom to get around the city whenever you want. ***Please read the section below for some things to consider before you get a motorbike!
Grab: This is Thailand’s version of Uber, and it works really well. The prices are very fair, and if you have more than one person, it usually makes sense to take a Grab rather than a red truck. Outside of their peak hours when prices surge a bit (usually 7:30am to 9:30am and 3:30pm to 6:30pm), it is usually pretty cheap. Plus, they do promotions and discounts every once in a while.
Grab discount code: GRAB172ZXIYY
Note: Currently there is a bit of controversy around Grab, as taxi and songthaew drivers say it has affected their business. The situation is similar to what’s happening in some places around the world with Uber. There haven’t really been many restrictions imposed (yet), but that could change. (This information is current as of May 2019.)
Bus: There are a couple bus routes through town, and the ticket costs just 20 baht. The air-conditioned bus runs to the airport, to some of the city malls, and near the immigration office. You can find the bus routes here.
MoBike Rental: This bike-sharing program is relatively new to Chiang Mai. But you’ll be able to spot these orange bicycles (and some e-scooters too) around the city. Download the app, and you’ll be able to see the bikes free near you as well as rent them in 30-minute intervals ($1 USD for 30 minutes).
Tuk Tuk: You can flag down a tuk tuk and negotiate the price. We’ve found these to be more expensive (and slower) than taking a Grab, so we wouldn’t necessarily recommend taking them regularly.
Tip on transportation from the Chiang Mai Airport: When you arrive at the airport in Chiang Mai, there is a taxi queue, but it is overpriced. Instead, order a Grab, or wait in front of the departure doors for a songthaew to come by. From the airport to the city, it should cost around 50 baht per person.
Motorbikes in Chiang Mai
“Should I buy or rent a motorbike in Chiang Mai?”
This is a super common question for many people moving to Chiang Mai, and it seems everyone has their own opinion on the matter. Whether you buy a motorbike is a totally personal decision, but we'll walk you through some points to consider.
If you live in a well-located apartment, it isn't necessary to have a scooter. That said, if you live further from the main part of the city, it will really help you be able to see more and feel more independent. Plus, it is one of the more affordable transportation options in the city.
There are three main things to consider before buying/renting a motorbike in Chiang Mai.
Driving a motorbike in Chiang Mai (and Thailand in general) is not all that safe. Accidents are not uncommon, and deaths are unfortunately not unheard of.
While we were living in Chiang Mai in 2018, an expat that was well-known in the digital nomad community died as the result of a motorbike accident. We don't tell you this lightly, and we don't like scare tactics. But it is important to fully understand the risks involved with motorbikes.
It’s also important to know that your travel insurance likely does NOT cover any injuries from motorbike accidents.
2. Police checkpoints
Unless you go through the process to get a Thai motorcycle license (which takes a bit of time), you will technically be driving illegally. Yes, even if you have an international drivers license; and ye, even if you have a motorcycle license in your home country.
There are police checkpoints set up randomly all around Chiang Mai to catch people driving without a license.
If you get pulled over at one of the checkpoints, the fine is 500 baht (around $15 USD). While this is technically a bribe, there's not much you as a foreigner can do about it. You should also get a receipt so that if you get pulled over within 3 days after the ticket you don’t have to repay it.
There are certain places around the city where they always have checkpoints, but others are random. They can sometimes be avoided by taking backroad routes if you know the city pretty well.
Good to know: It is unlikely that you’ll get pulled over by police outside of traffic stops.
3. Your comfort level
I’m typically all for getting out of your comfort zone, and driving a motorbike can be empowering. That said, I’ve seen too many people injured to comfortably encourage everyone to try it. You know yourself… so listen to how you feel.
If you’re excited to learn how to drive a motorbike and you’ve got some time, it can be a great experience. However, if you are very nervous and aren’t very fond of driving (especially in heavy traffic), don’t force yourself.
Choose an apartment that is well-located so you don’t feel pressured, and take it from there. Maybe after getting a feel for he city, you’ll want to try it out. But don’t put yourself in a situation where you feel it’s a necessity to get around.
Our thoughts about motorbikes in Chiang Mai
We have driven motorbikes in Chiang Mai and other parts of Southeast Asia, but we choose not permanently have one while living in Chiang Mai.
We chose our apartment specifically for its convenient location, knowing we wouldn't always have a motorbike. Grab and Songathews are super easy and affordable, and in our experience we haven't been limited with what we do because we don't have a motorbike.
When we do need a motorbike… When we plan a weekend adventure or want a motorbike for a few days, we walk to the rental shop around the corner and pick one up. The shop we rent from (Bikky) costs 250 baht ($7.85 USD) per day for the motorbike we like.
How much does a motorbike cost to buy in Chiang Mai?
You can either buy or rent a motorbike. Prices vary based on the location of the shop and the quality and type of the bike. Here are some prices to give you an idea:
Rental price per day: 250 - 300 baht ($8 - $9.50 USD)
Rental price per month: 2,500 - 3,000 baht ($80 - $95 USD)
If you plan to rent for multiple months, you can possibly negotiate a better deal.
Cost to purchase a used motorbike: 15,000 - 25,000 baht ($475 - $790 USD)
Tip: If you go into more “local” neighborhoods, you can find slightly cheaper prices than in Nimman and Old City. If you’re just renting for a day or two, the convenience of being able to walk to the bike shop might be work the extra 50 baht you’ll pay. But if you’re renting longterm or buying a used motorbike, getting out of the popular neighborhoods will give you the best chance of scoring a good deal.
Tips for motorbike driving in Chiang Mai
If you do decide to get a motorbike in Chiang Mai, here are some tips to consider:
Be sure to get a good helmet. Many of the ones that come with rental bikes are rubbish and wouldn't protect your head in an accident.
Understand whether or not your travel insurance will cover motorbike injuries. Unless you have a motorbike license in your home country, your insurance will likely be voided if you get injured while driving.
Be especially careful when driving at night – sadly, seeing drunk drivers is not uncommon.
Watch out for parked cars, so you don’t accidentally hit them as they open the car door.
Final thoughts: Many people say it's essential to buy a motorbike when you move to Chiang Mai. We believe it is convenient, we don't think it is always as necessary as people make it out to be.
There's no reason to feel pressured into getting a motorbike right away. See how you get on without one first and then decide if you feel comfortable.
Alternative to a Motorbike – Buy a Bicycle: If you prefer a non-motorized vehicle but would like some freedom, you might want to buy your own bicycle. You can find used bikes for sale on Chiang Mai Facebook groups or in bike shops. Prices vary from 1,500 baht to 2,500 baht in shops.
Our friend bought a used bike for 1,500 baht from this shop (they rent and sell) and had a good experience. She has been able to take it there for reasonably-priced tune-ups.
What to pack when moving to Chiang Mai
Honestly, you don't need much. One of the wonderful things about Chiang Mai is that you can find most everything you could want in this city. There are modern malls and big box stores, like Tesco, that carry most things you will need.
There are a few things, however, that might be helpful to pack from home if you’d like:
Insulated water bottle: I lost a water bottle while in Chiang Mai, and it took me months to find a new one that wasn’t a crappy plastic version. And the one I did find wasn’t all that great. We’re pretty particular about our water bottles (Hydro Flask all the way!), so if you’re like us and prefer insulated bottles to keep you water cold, bring it from home!
Candles: I love burning candles. And we’ve found that they are super hard to find in Thailand (and other parts of Asia too). When you do find them, they are typically low quality (which isn’t healthy to breathe) or very expensive. So I like to pack a couple if I’m coming from the US.
Brand name toiletries: You’ll be able to find tons of beauty products and toiletry items in Thailand, and for most people the selection in Thailand will be just fine. However, if you have any specific products you just don’t like going without, pack them from home.
For example, I pack Lush shampoo bars with me, because I like them more than other bars I’ve tried. There is a Lush store in Bangkok, but I prefer to pack it with.
Name brand medications: You’ll find lots of generic meds and you can get lots of medication from pharmacies that you’d need a prescription for in many other countries. However, if you take a certain medication and prefer the name brand to generic, pack it from home. Or do some research to see what the options will be for you in Thailand.
Your favorite snacks: This probably won’t last you very long, but each time we come to Chiang Mai, I like to pack some protein bars, energy balls, dried mango (they have lots of the stuff in Thailand, but it’s all coated in sugar!), etc. My “stockpile” usually only lasts a few weeks, but it’s nice to have for the plane and right when we arrive.
Top sheet: Top sheets aren’t really a thing in Asia. We found this out when we lived in South Korea, and it took us a while to get used to. Either your apartment will come furnished with bedding or you you’ll have to pick some up. But either way, it will likely come with just a fitted sheet and a duvet/comforter. Truthfully, I’d recommend getting used to not having a top sheet, but if you think you just can’t deal with it, pack an old one from home.
Coffee Maker: If you’re a coffee snob, you might want to consider bringing the type of coffee maker you like from home. We found an inexpensive pour-over style maker here (at Daiso) that works fine for us. However, if you’re a die-hard Aeropress fan or you only drink French Press, pack this from home. These can be a bit tricky to find in Thailand, and when you do find them, they tend to be more expensive.
Tea: Yes, you’ll be able to find tea in Thailand, but it can be difficult to find tea that doesn’t come in bleached bags. If you’re picky about your tea and want it to be organic or high quality loose leaf (right there with ya!) you might want to pack some from home. There are certainly places you can find it in Chiang Mai, but if you have a favorite from home, it’s a good thing to pack (especially since it’s not very heavy).
Protein powder: Another thing that we like to purchase at home because we we’re pretty picky about it and don’t like the stuff with artificial sweeteners or a bunch of additives.
Shoes: If you have large feet (I’m raising my hand!), be sure to bring shoes from home. While it is becoming a bit easier to find “Western sizes”, you won’t have a ton to choose from.
Tide Pen: I like bringing a Tide Pen (or 2!) with on our travels and when we’re living somewhere.
Chromecast/Roku or HDMI cable: You can find these in Thailand, but if you have one at home, why not pack it?! (We bought an HDMI cable in Thailand and actually paid double what we have found available on Amazon.) Most apartments will come with a television, and you can pop your Netflix up on the screen instead of having to watch it from your laptop.
Board Games: We are huge fans of board games, and while there are a couple board game meet ups and a board game cafe or two, you’ll have to pack your own games if you want to play them at home. This might not be something you’ll want to pack if you plan to travel around a bit, but if you’re staying in Chiang Mai for a while, it can be fun to bring some games.
We were looking to buy Code Names (so fun!) for a friend’s birthday, and searched high and low for stores selling board games. Just not really a thing here apparently. We ended up ordering it on Amazon, and paying a ridiculous price for shipping (so that’s always an option too).
Helpful info: If you like board games but don’t want to pack them, Time to Table Board Game Cafe is a fun place to try out a bunch of games! (And affordable too — we paid 45 baht each for 1.5 hours of playing a game.)
Stores to know in Chiang Mai
When you first move to Chiang Mai, you’ll likely need to pick up a few essentials for your apartment and some items that make it feel like home.
Here are some helpful stores to know as you get settled:
Tesco Lotus Superstore: This Superstore is located on the Super highway, and makes for a Super shopping experience! In all seriousness, this is a great “one-stop-shop” to get food and home appliances and other necessities. Note: There are small Tesco Express stores all over town, but honestly don’t bother with these unless you’re desperate. They are basically a glorified 7-eleven. There is only one Tesco Superstore within the city (here are the coordinates).
Big C Supercenter: Located on the east side of the river, this one is a bit far away from where most expats choose to live. However, it is another good one-stop-shop where you can get just about everything you could need when you first move to Chiang Mai.
Warorot Market: This local market has a covered central area where you’ll find food items and clothing. However, if you wander the streets surrounding this main building, you’ll find everything from bulk fabric to souvenirs, to dishware and home goods. This is where locals shop, so the prices are all super cheap. Even if you don’t go here right away when you move in, we’d recommend checking it out during your time in Chiang Mai for an interesting experience.
20 Baht Store: You can find these around the city if you type “20 baht store” into Google Maps, but a good (and centrally-located one) is on the second floor of Central Kad Suan Kaew mall.
Rimping: This high-end supermarket in Maya Mall has a large selection of international staples, like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, brand name peanut butter, coffee, and pretty much all the spices you could need. They also have a selection of organic produce. Prices tend to be on the higher end.
Makro: This supermarket has a big selection of well-priced produce (not organic). They have other staple items, sometimes in bigger bulk.
Daiso & Moshi Moshi: These Japanese chain stores are both on the 3rd floor of Maya Mall and have a selection of inexpensive home goods. Moshi Moshi tends to be on the cuter side whereas Daiso is more “functional”.
Best Life CMX: Attached to Free Bird Cafe, we love this small shop, which sells a ton of eco products — from reusable shopping bags and straws to bulk toiletries that you can fill in your own containers (shampoo, castille soap, etc.). We also found the best deal on Himalayan salt here (much better priced than at Rimping), and a nice selection of looseleaf teas.
University Market: This night market is right by Chiang Mai University and is packed with young Thai students. In fact, you might not see any other foreigners while you wander around. In this market you’ll find cheap and trendy clothing, jewelry, electronic accessories, and a massive food court style area. Exploring this market is a fun experience, and you might come away with a few treasures for your home.
Maya Mall in general: You’ll be able to find most everything you could want here.
Post Office: There is a post office in the ground level of Maya Mall (right by Rimping). You can ship things to the US here.
Insider Tip: Just can’t find what you’re looking for? Or can’t be bothered to go to the opposite side of the city for errands? You can try searching on Lazada, Thailand’s version of Amazon. There are certain products that Amazon will deliver to Thailand, but expect to pay a pretty steep shipping fee.
Need Western-sized clothing?
Sometimes it can feel harder than you’d like to admit to find clothing that’ll fit over the hips you never knew were wide until you moved to Thailand. I’ve definitely been there…
Here are a few stores where you’ll have a good chance of finding clothing in your size.
H&M: Located in Maya Mall and CentralFestival, this chain has sizes similar to what you’re used to at home.
UNIQLO: Located in both CentralPlaza and CentralFestival Mall, this Japanese clothing retailer has a good selection of staple items for men and women, and even has some clothing suitable for winter weather.
Free Bird Cafe Charity Shop: Trying to shop more ethically? Buy “pre-loved” clothing (instead of new!) from the charity shop attached to Free Bird Cafe. Prices are super reasonable (100 baht for a dress, as an example), and proceeds go refugees from Myanmar. Most of the clothes have been donated by other expats, so you have a decent chance of finding something in your size.
Tip: It’s also good to note that you can donate gently-used items here when you move or when they no longer serve you.
Medical and Dental Care in Chiang Mai
Pharmacy: The pharmacies in Thailand are great. The pharmacists usually speak a little English, and you can tell them your symptoms. They’ll be able to tell you which medication to take. Often, you can find medication over the counter that you’d need a prescription for. So be sure to do a little research of your own!
RAM Hospital: Known for the best medical care in Chiang Mai. For a regular check-up, you don’t need to make an appointment. Simply show up. We’re read online that the checkups take around 3 hours (not including waiting time), and they cost around $300 USD.
On a budget? We’ve had a friend who got his general check up at Ratchavej Hospital and had a good experience. He paid only about $70 USD
Dental: There are tons of dentist offices around Chiang Mai, and most are high quality. Ben has had lots of (complicated) dental work in Chiang Mai, and his dentists were all trained in the US. I have even gotten a few (excellent!) cleanings here in Chiang Mai and only had to pay $45 USD.
Chiropractor: After throwing out his back (poor Ben!), he did some research on Google and found Narat, whose office (House of Body Narat) is located near the south gate of Old City. While he speaks minimal English, they were able to communicate with Google Translate, and Ben’s back was exponentially better after 2 adjustments (800 baht/$25 USD for the first one and 600/$19 USD for the second time).
Dermatologist: While we’ve never been, we have 2 friends who recommend Dr. Vachiraporn from Ram Hospital. You can make an appointment online here.
Personal Care in Chiang Mai
Living in Chiang Mai means you’ll have access to lots of pampering if you so choose. But where to start?
Let’s go over some things you should know about getting massages, pedicures and haircuts in Chiang Mai…
Massages in Chiang Mai
Massage parlors are as ubiquitous as Pad Thai in this country. You will find them on every block. Sometimes multiple in a row. And massages are cheap! So if you enjoy a relaxing rubdown, getting a weekly massage can be a reality while living in Chiang Mai.
Thai massages are the signature choice here, but we enjoy Head, Back and Shoulder massages too. Foot massages are also nice after a long day of walking. Prices start around 150 baht for an hour in some of the more “local neighborhoods” and increase as you get into some of the more popular neighborhoods. We find massages in the Nimman neighborhood are typically between 200-300 baht for an hour long Thai massage or Head, Neck and Shoulder.
Our advice is to try out a few different massage places, then selecting your favorite as your go-to. Lets just say, not all massages are equal in Thailand. We’ve had some of the best massages of our lives here, as well as the worst.
Our recommendation: A friend recommended Nimman House, so we decided to try it out. We both got 1-hour oil massages, and they were some of the best we’ve had in a while. They have a long list of options, and special deals for couples. We also enjoyed The Miracle Spa (in Nimman), though there aren’t a ton of massage options on the menu.
Pedicures in Chiang Mai
Like massages, nail salons are plentiful around Chiang Mai. And like the massage parlors, they vary quite a bit in quality.
It’s helpful to know that the super cheap pedicure prices typically only include removing your current nail color, clipping and filing your nails and a fresh polish. If you’re craving full on foot soak and scrubbing those calluses off (get it, girl!), you’ll need to clarify that it’s included in the price. Often, there are 2 types of packages — the full pedicure experience being called something along the lines of “foot spa pedicure”.
Katie’s recommendation: I’ve been to quite a few nail places around Chiang Mai (can’t beat $10 pedicures!). The place that has become my favorite is Narin Nails on Huay Keaw road. They have big massage chairs, and they do the full “spa” experience. A “foot spa” pedicure costs 350 baht and a mani/pedi combo is 500 baht.
Haircuts in Chiang Mai
While living in Chiang Mai, there’s a good chance you’ll need a haircut (or two!).
For men: There are many barber shops around town that do a great job for a super cheap price (between 200 and 300 baht). Ben has tried a few, and they’ve all been really good. Skill Barber on Huay Kaew is good, and just around the corner from that is Nine Kim Barbershop, which is good too (but much smaller).
For ladies: It gets a bit more complicated (and expensive). Unless you are of Asian descent, you’ll want to choose a foreigner friendly hair salon.
What exactly do I mean by “foreigner friendly" salon?” When I first moved to Korea in 2015, I didn’t realize that there was a difference between local and “Western” salons... One very unflattering haircut later, and I learned my lesson. The same is true in Thailand.
You’ll want to choose a hair salon that is familiar with layering and the cutting techniques that work well on European and Black hair. And this is especially true if you want to color your hair. I’ve heard some hair color horror stories in Asia.
You can search time and time again, and it seems the highest recommended “foreigner friendly” salon in Chiang Mai is New York Hair Studio. And while I can’t personally attest (I rarely get hair cuts!), I’ve known many people who have raved about their services. I’ve also had a few friends go to New York salon to get their locks dyed blonde, and it was a success. (A difficult find in Asia!)
Where to eat in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is truly a gem when it comes to food, and living in this city will seriously spoil you. From an amazing street food scene with traditional Thai dishes, to an abundance of vegetarian and vegan places, to tons of international options, Chiang Mai is a food-lover's paradise.
Insider Tip: We love going into Google Maps and looking at the reviews for all the restaurants near our current location. Typically, you can’t go wrong when the reviews are 4.5 and up!
You could eat at a new restaurant every day of the year and still not visit all of Chiang Mai's restaurants and food stalls, so there’s absolutely no way we could make a comprehensive list.
Honestly, I’m hesitant to even list restaurants here, as you won’t have to look far to find great food… But here are a (big) handful of restaurants (mostly in the Nimman neighborhood) to get you started:
**= vegetarian / vegan restaurant
*= many vegetarian vegan options (but still serves meat)
Anchan**: One of our favorites! Vegetarian versions of Thai favorites. We especially love their massaman curry and stir fried mixed veggies. Yum!
Khao Soi Mae Sai: Our favorite Khao Soi place in the city! Local shop, and cheap prices.
Food 4 Thought*: Huge menu with Western options, and everything is made from scratch. We think the best thing on the menu are their (huge!) salads (Citrus Chicken, Zorba, and Cobb are some favorites). Oh, and try their carrot cake too!
Cherng Doi Roast Chicken: Famous for roast chicken and sticky rice (served with a yummy sauce!) as well as their papaya salads. Their mushroom tom yam soup is good too (and vegetarian).
Free Bird Cafe**: Non-profit vegan cafe with a zero waste and thrift shop inside.
Gallery Seescape*: Super tasty meals that are healthy and have lots of veggies. Our favorites are: chicken & roast veggie salad, veggie rice bowl, deconstructed massaman beef sandwich, and eggs Benedict. I ordered a smoothie bowl once and was disappointed, as it was really runny.
Chang Phueak Pork Leg (aka “Cowboy Lady”): We heard of this street food stand (located by the north gate of Old City) through one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows (R.I.P.) and it’s fun to pay a visit to this street food lady who famously wears a cowboy hat!
FYI: It is a very small menu with basically a few options for one dish — stewed pork leg and rice. I do not believe there are any veg options.
RAWtruckr: If you like Korean fried chicken, this foodtruck is a good choice. Sit in the courtyard, and enjoy.
Tip: In the same courtyard space is a wine shop (Wine Lover by Pao) that has lots of options (as well as a decently priced house wine available in carafes). Wine is not always easy to find in Asia, so if you like vino, keep this little shop in mind!
Salsa Kitchen*: Best Mexican food we’ve found in Chiang Mai. Good margs too, and lots of vegetarian and vegan options.
The Salad Concept*: If you’re craving a big (and cheap) salad, this is a good option. There are lots of menu items including breakfast, wraps, Thai dishes, and specialty salads, but we’d recommend the build your own salad. You get 5 toppings and a homemade dressing for 69 baht; most other places that serve fresh salads charge quite a bit more. They also have lots of smoothies and juices to choose from.
Tip: There are tons of topping and dressing options to choose from — some better than others — and it does take a little experimenting to come up with a good combo. (We like the creamy sesame and Japanese soy dressings.)
Manifreshto*: This tiny cafe is one of our favorite places for healthy smoothies (they’re amazing!) and decadent (Western) breakfasts. Many of the breakfast options include meat, but you can make substitutions (for mushrooms or egg).
Imm Aim Vegetarian and Bike Cafe**: Vegetarian restaurant with tons of Thai dishes.
Blue Diamond**: Located in a quiet part of Old City, has a big vegetarian menu and lots of yummy desserts.
Cat House*: Mix of Western and Thai food on the east side of Old City. Lots of veg options.
Beast Burger: If you’re craving a burger, this is one of the best you’ll find in all of Chiang Mai.
Adirak Pizza*: A bit out of the way, but this place has the best pizza we’ve had in Asia.
Healthy B Cafe*: Quiet cafe with nice breakfast options. Their Refreshing Salad is good as well.
Home J Vegan & Teaw J**: Super cheap Thai vegan place where you pick 3 dishes to be served over rice. The woman who owns this small restaurant is sweet and does a lot of “mock meats”.
Maya Mall food court: There are actually some pretty decent options (at great prices) on the basement floor of Maya Mall.
Our favorite is the vegetarian stand, Shan Tou Hao Chi**. If you like mushrooms, be sure to ask for a serving. The are amazing! The people who work at this stall are so sweet, and you’ll get a big portion for a small price (around 40 baht).
Wrap Master* is another good option in the food court. You’ll find burritos and creative wraps (with veg options).
Accha*: If you’re craving Indian food, this place will satisfy! It is on the more expensive side, but portions are big, and the food is delish! Namaste Indian Cuisine* is another good choice for Indian, and it’s cheaper, but not as nice of an atmosphere.
David’s Kitchen: Good for a super special occasion, this fancy restaurant ain’t cheap, but it sure is delicious!
Funky Grill: Always packed with young Thai couples and friend groups this joint serves skewers of grilled veggies and meat for a cheap price. Wash it down with a cold beer!
Tip: Order your skewers "less spicy" (you'll select your preference on a piece of paper where you place your order). We love spicy food, but this is next-level spicy! Oh, and if you eat pork, the bacon-wrapped mushrooms are super tasty!
Ninja Ramen: Big selection of many different types of ramen.
Street Food @ One Nimman*: Street Food Style Food Court area with lots of choices!
Rustic and Blue*: Prices are quite high for Thailand, but this farm-to-table restaurant has an inventive menu with all your favorite healthy Western favorites. The décor is Instagram-worthy, so it’s a pretty popular spot for Digital Nomads and travelers. I like it, but feel it’s a little overrated. In our personal experience, some dishes have been really good (one of the best smoothie bowls I’ve had in Chiang Mai), while others are have been mediocre and still expensive. Definitely worth a try to see what you think.
BEST COOKIE ALERT – The Duke’s: Not necessarily recommending the whole menu (though their takeaway pizza has satisfied our cravings a couple times)… BUT their chocolate chip cookies are fan-freaking-tastic. I was walking past this American restaurant (in Maya Mall) one day and their bakery case caught my eye. The chocolate chip cookies are as big as your face, thick, chewy, with huge chunks of chocolate, and seriously splurge-worthy. If you find yourself craving cookies, this is what you need. You’re welcome!
Feeling lazy? Order delivery on Food Panda! This app makes it dangerously easy to have just about any food delivered to your apartment.
Being a Vegetarian (or Vegan!) in Chiang Mai
Being a vegetarian is very easy in Chiang Mai. Honestly, I feel like the majority of foreigners we meet here are vegetarian (and somehow it always comes up within the first 5 minutes of meeting someone!).
There are tons of incredible vegetarian and vegan restaurants all around the city. Even though we do eat meat, many of our very favorite restaurants are vegetarian. (You can see the vegetarian restaurants marked with an asterisks in the list above.)
But even though finding veg restaurants in Chiang Mai is easy, it’s good to know that vegetarianism is not part of traditional Thai culture. Its popularity is based mostly on the number of foreigners seeking out these options.
If you go to a local Thai restaurant, know that there are few Thai dishes that are actually vegetarian. Many have small pieces of meat or are cooked with lard, fish sauce, eggs, or other animal products. Even som tum (papaya salad) is prepared with fish sauce and typically has tiny shrimps (that you can barely see) inside the salad. Same goes for Pad Thai (yes, even if you don’t order meat in it).
In order to get truly vegetarian food, you will want to say “jey” when you order, which means “no animal products”. And it is helpful to go to restaurants that are vegetarian and vegan friendly. Check Happy Cow for a comprehensive list of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai.
Also, you can search for a symbol that looks like the number “17”. This means that the restaurant or stand is vegan. (See the sign in the photo above to see what we’re talking about.)
More info: This is a very helpful breakdown of vegetarian vocab you can learn in Thai.
Nightlife in Chiang Mai
For as big of a city as it is, the nightlife scene isn't as poppin' as you may expect (not sorry for using that word!).
That said, there are plenty of bars in Chiang Mai, but they (officially) close at the ripe hour of midnight. If you noticed "officially" in parentheses, you may already be able to guess that some of the busier bars will close their doors (usually a large garage door) but continue serving drinks.
For us, this the midnight curfew is actually a good thing, as we can be better focused on work than nursing hangovers!
Most of the busy bars – think DJs and dancing – are in the Old City, which is also popular with tourists (cough, cough: Zoe in Yellow). You’ll also find some more low-key bars all around the city with live music on most nights (this is more our scene!).
Rooftop Bar: If you’re looking for a fancy rooftop cocktail, we’ve liked the bar at Hotel YaYee and Rise Rooftop Bar (located at Akyra Manor). Both venues offer happy hour deals. You can also go to the rooftop of Maya Mall (6th floor) for drinks with a view.
Craft Beer: One thing to know about craft beer is that is quite expensive in Thailand, as the law requires it to be brewed outside the country. So many Thai craft beers have ingredients sourced here, but then the brewing process is done in Cambodia (all that transportation and importing is reflected in the prices).
Monmek Nimman has the best (and cheapest) selection we’ve found in Chiang Mai. We especially liked the Eleventh Fort Brewing Beer, priced at 185 baht.
Parallel Universe of Lunar feels like a hidden gem, and the rooftop views are prime. Local and imported selections are available, but the prices hover at 200 baht and more for a small beer, so this is definitely a splurge.
My Beer Friend is a local brewery, and they have some excellent beers.
In the Think Park Market, there is a tiny craft beer shop (so small it’s not on Google Maps), called Stone Head. You can order beer from them and sit in the courtyard on bean bags and listen to live music. The beer is good for Thai craft beer, but not our favorite.
Honorable Mention: Beer Lab probably has the selection of craft beer in Chiang Mai (imports and some local beer too). However, the prices are so high, that we’ve only gone once and never returned. So we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
Fun things to do in and around Chiang Mai
There is so much to do in and around Chiang Mai that you could live in this city for years and still not do it all.
Lucky for you, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
Our advice is to make a “bucket list” of sorts as soon as you move, and start planning out your weekends. Trust us, the time can go by quickly, you might find yourself with just a few days left on your visa and still so much left on your “to do list”.
Weekend Getaways & Day Trips near Chiang Mai
Lampang White Temples: This is one of our very favorite off-the-beaten-path adventures in Thailand. Not many tourists visit these stunning white temples, perched in the mountains, so it is a truly special place to explore. (pictured above)
Want more info? We have a complete guide with how to get there and fun stops to make along the way!
Pai: This small town is a winding 3-hour drive from Chiang Mai, and is a popular place to chill out and explore the stunning countryside of northern Thailand.
Want more info? We have an article with the best things to do in Pai.
Doi Inthanon National Park: Great place to visit for hiking, waterfalls, and seeing the iconic pagodas for which the park is known. And even on the hottest days in Chiang Mai, this park enjoys much cooler temperatures, so be sure to pack an extra layer. (On the day we visited, it was 105°F (41°C) in the city, and only 70°F (21°C) in the park!)
Highlights of Doi Inthanon National Park include visiting the pagodas and hiking the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail (pictured), for which you need to hire a local guide. If you have time, make a detour to see Mae Ya Waterfall, which is in the general area, and is spectacular.
Meditation Retreat: If you need to clear your head a bit, consider doing a meditation retreat. There are plenty to choose from all over Thailand.
Want more info? This is the meditation retreat we recommend for beginners!
Chiang Dao: About an hour and a half away from Chiang Mai, this small town has laidback vibes and lots of hiking opportunities. We loved staying at the Chiang Dao Roundhouses!
Winery Day Trip: If you are confident on a motorbike, make your way on a beautiful countryside road to Neri Tenuta winery. Owned by an Italian man, the wine is all imported from his family’s vineyard in Tuscany, so you know it’s the good stuff. Bottles of wine cost around 1,000 baht, but they are so worth it if you’re craving vino. Plus, they serve incredible tapas with each bottle, like prosciutto, bruschetta, avocado toast, cheese and more! Just be sure you’re good to drive back to the city (roughly 1 hour).
Mork Fa Waterfall: Everyone knows the “Sticky Waterfalls” (also worth a visit!), but this place is truly magical. You’ll likely be totally by yourself if you get there early. It opens at 8am, and we were the only people until about 9:40am when a small tour group showed up.
Festivals in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has many small festivals all year long, but here are two of the most famous and most exciting celebrations in Chiang Mai:
Lantern Festival: Yi Peng and Loy Krathong are the famous lantern festivals that typically take place in November*. Planning to partake? We have a complete guide packed with everything you need to know about Chiang Mai’s Lantern Festival.
Songkran: Also known as “Thai New Year”, this festival takes places in April* and is celebrated with a massive water gun fight!
*Exact dates change each year, as they are based on the Lunar Calendar.
Facebook Groups, Meet-Ups & Events in Chiang Mai
There are tons of Facebook groups for the Chiang Mai community, and it's hard to know where to start. When we first moved to Chiang Mai, we joined a ton, but soon realized that many are not very active or helpful.
We’re sharing two general Chiang Mai FB groups, as well as more specific ones in the section below:
Chiang Mai Nomad Girls: If you are a woman, this is the only group you need to join (at least to begin with!). It is packed with helpful information and a very positive and supportive community of women. It’s such a good resource for asking questions and meeting friends.
Chiang Mai Digital Nomad Group: Honestly, this group can be downright depressing. It’s full of trolls and it can be disheartening to read comment threads where people bash the question-asker. Personally, I would never feel comfortable asking a question on this group after seeing how terribly others have been treated. In fact, it became such a negative place that I have unfollowed this group. All that said, it is one of the more active groups and you can find the answers to some of your questions by using the search function in this group.
Weekly/Monthly Events in Chiang Mai
Women’s Lunch: Held each Wednesday from 12pm - 2pm at Free Bird Cafe, this is a good way to meet other ladies when you first move to Chiang Mai. Find more info here.
Board Game Night: Held Monday nights at 7:30pm at Cube 7 Cafe, this is a time to gather with other board game lovers, let loose and make new friends. Join their Facebook group here. *Note: This group is located in Nimman, but I know there are other groups in different neighborhoods.
Digital Nomad Coffee Club: This weekly meetup group was really active when we first moved to Chiang Mai in late 2017/early 2018. Each week there was a lesson on a “digital nomad topic”, like SEO or affiliate marketing. We found it to be pretty useful and a good way to meet others. However, we’ve found it to be far less active in 2019. Hopefully that will change soon! You can find more info and join the Facebook group here.
Hiking Club: We loved doing hikes with this group, led by a guy who is very experienced hiking the trails around Chiang Mai. We met some of our best friends in Chiang Mai in the hiking group! There are weekly meetups during the seasons where weather is suitable for hiking. Join the Facebook group here.
Trivia Night: We’ve been to a few trivia nights around town, but our favorite is at Corner Bistro on Wednesdays at 8:30pm. It varies week to week, since the hosts change. Sometimes it’s great, and other times, it’s meh… It costs 50 baht per person to play. Find more info on Trivia Night as well as their other weekly events (like comedy night & hip hop night) on the Corner Bistro Facebook page.
Pool Parties: Le Méridien Hotel has pool parties every so often. There is an entrance fee, which usually includes a drink (and sometimes a “ladies hour”). There’s a DJ, dancing, and other travelers/digital nomads to mingle with. You can find their upcoming events on the Le Méridien CM Facebook page.
Jai Thep Music Festival: This only takes place one time a year (in February), but if you like live music and festival atmosphere, check it out! Here’s the Facebook page.
Want more? There are all sorts of other clubs and groups you can join — from volleyball to soccer to volunteer groups to yoga and meditation meetups to jam sessions for musicians.
We’d encourage you join lots of things right away, and see which groups you enjoy most.
Staying active in Chiang Mai
Yoga in Chiang Mai: There are many yoga studios in Chiang Mai. We go to Yoga Ananda in Nimman because it is conveniently located for us. The instructors are Thai and are very good (some of the best and most challenging yoga we’ve done!), but the space is a bit crammed and not the most pleasant.
Other yoga studios:
Hiking club: We have really enjoyed going on hikes with the Doi Suthep Walkers group. Join their Facebook page here to see upcoming events.
Join a Gym: If your apartment doesn’t have a gym, there are plenty around town you can join. Simply search in Google Maps around your neighborhood to find options:
Muay Thai gyms
Running: This can be a bit tricky in some parts of Chiang Mai, since sidewalks are uneven and sometimes non-existent in certain areas. But if you search, you’ll be able to find some decent routes. Also, keep an eye on Chiang Mai Facebook groups, as there are races every once in a while, usually around the Huay Tueng Thao Lake.
Helpful Thai Phrases
Whenever you’re in a new country, it’s good to learn a few helpful phrases which will make it easier to get around and will show locals that you are respectful of their language and culture.
These are some of the most helpful Thai phrases we’ve learned while living in Chiang Mai:
Hello: sawatdee ka/kap*
You’ll notice that some of the words or phrases have “ka/kap” at the end, which is the polite way to speak. Ka is used if you are a woman, and you will say kap if you are a man.
Thank you: khob khun ka/kap
No straw, please: mai ow lawd ka/kap
Delicious: aroy / Very delicious: aroy mak
Beautiful: suay (refers to a person, place or thing) / Very beautiful: suay mak
Foreigner: farang (you’ll see and hear this word a lot)
Spicy: phet / Very spicy: phet mak / Not spicy: mai phet / A Little spicy: pet nit noi or pet noi
Vegetarian: jey (technically, this means vegan, but if you use the word for vegetarian, your food may come with small bits of meat)
Count to 10: Check out this video, which walks you through how to say the numbers 1 - 10 in Thai. After you’ve mastered that, you can move onto the next video, which teaches you the numbers 11 - 100.
Insider Tip: Download Google Translate on your phone (if you haven’t already!). It is a lifesaver and can help you communicate with locals, as well as read menus and labels using the “photo to text” feature! It works even offline if you have the Thai language package downloaded (it’s free!).
Learning to speak Thai
To be honest, you can get away with just knowing these very basic phrases, and embarrassingly, we don’t personally know too much more.
If however, you would like to delve deeper into the language (here’s a virtual high five!), there are a few options to consider:
Hire a tutor: You could even do a language exchange, where you teach the tutor English or your native language.
Enroll in a Thai language course (which can make you eligible for the “education visa”)
Study on your own with help:
Helpful Tips for Living in Chiang Mai
The Thai King: You’ll see photos everywhere of the current king (King Vajiralongkorn), and you’ll likely even see photographs and paintings of his late (and super beloved!) father, King Bhumibol, who was a renowned saxophone player and was called “the coolest king in the land” by Elvis. While not as well-loved as his father, Thai people are still very respectful of the monarchy. In fact, it is forbidden to speak ill of the royal family.
Good to know: If you go to a movie in Thailand, there is a song/short video dedicated to the king, and everyone must stand up while it plays.
Alcohol Hours: Between the hours of 2pm - 5pm, it is illegal for stores or restaurants to sell alcohol. If you’re in a supermarket or 7-eleven, the alcohol sections will be roped off during this time, and liquor stores (besides the few hidden ones that break the rules) close during this time. Plan ahead if you are planning to buy drinks.
Tipping: Tipping is not part of Thai culture. However, in foreigner-heavy Chiang Mai, it is becoming more and more common to see tip jars at cafes. We sometimes throw in a little extra if we really like the service at a restaurant, or when getting a massage. And with Grabs, we usually round up. Say it is 97 baht for a ride, we tell them to keep the change. But it’s up to you, and definitely not expected.
Why don’t Thai people wear helmets? You might notice that many Thai people do not wear helmets when driving motorbikes. This is not because it’s super safe, but instead because in Thai culture there is a strong belief in fate. Aka “If it is your time to die, a helmet won’t help”. That way of thinking is being challenged and is changing, but you will still notice a lack of helmets being worn by many Thai people. Our advice is to not do as the Thais do in this case…
Watch your feet: In Thai culture, feet are considered dirty. And it is rude to put them up on chairs or point them at people. Also, if you’re in a temple, you never want your feet facing the Buddha.
Final Thoughts on Moving to Chiang Mai
Moving to another country can seem scary… terrifying, actually. But I swear, moving to Chiang Mai is one of the easiest transitions you’ll have moving abroad.
You’ll be able to have all the comforts you’re used to (air-con and high speed Wifi) as well as a different culture to experience, which creates a wonderful balance. Plus, there are many active and supportive communities out there with new friends to meet. If you are open, you’ll be able to find others you really connect with.
Chiang Mai really is a great “first move” if you are just starting your Digital Nomad journey. Plus, it is a city long-time DNs come back to year after year, because they find lots to love about it.
We want to hear from you!
We poured hours of time into creating this super comprehensive guide to moving to Chiang Mai, and genuinely hope it is helpful for you. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
And if you still have questions, comment below and we’ll do our best to answer (or find the answer for you!).