With a one-way ticket and just a few days of accommodation booked, it was time to let the Chiang Mai digital nomad experiment began!
Chiang Mai has become a hub of remote workers, freelancers and online entrepreneurs over the past couple of years. With the super low cost of living, amazing wifi everywhere and the beautiful Thai culture, why wouldn’t you want to spend time here!
At the end of December last year my flight touched down in the beautiful northern Thai city. This was the start of my digital nomad journey and naturally, I was a little nervous.
Having now extended the trip to nearly 2 months, it’s safe to say that I LOVE CHIANG MAI!
Despite having such a different culture to the UK, I really felt at home in the city.
It makes a great destination for new nomads looking to ease into the remote lifestyle, or as a relaxed place to make home base if you’re at old hat at location independence.
This post is a reflection of my (nearly) 2 months in this incredible city and I hope it helps you in choosing your next travel destination. Or, if you’re contemplating the location independent lifestyle, this post may give you a raw insight into nomad life.
From where to stay, to visas and daily life…here we go!
Where To Stay?
When finding a place to stay in Chiang Mai you have sooo much choice! There are guesthouses and hostels on every street, and if you know you’re staying for a while, it can be even more cost-effective to rent an apartment month by month.
You can book online before you arrive but if you’re more of a free-spirit you can show up anywhere and ask if they have a room.
The other option is a co-living co-working space!
This really appealed to me as the company I work for is based in Canada. The time difference means sometimes I need to be on a skype call at midnight or 6 am!
Having a 24hr coworking space in the same building made life easier and I felt safer not wandering the streets late at night (although Thailand is so safe you’d probably never have an issue).
Last year I read an article about co-living spaces around the world for professionals and was intrigued. They’re all a little different. Some have dorms, others are all private rooms, and they offer varying perks and lengths of stay.
(A great website I recommend checking if you’re interested in co-living is https://www.coliving.com)
I came across In the City on my search for these magical co-working/co-living spaces and it became my home for 7 whole weeks.
In The City is on the edge of the old city square, close to the north gate. If you’ve not been to Chiang Mai before, it has a moat that runs around the old part of the city. It’s pretty useful for navigating and figuring out where you are most of the time!
When booking I decided a private room would be best. I’m a young professional and need my own place, right?
And don’t get me wrong, it was nice to have my own space. However, one of the best things about travel is meeting people and I ended up spending most of my spare time in the common spaces anyway….
…So I moved to the dorms and it was the best decision! Not only was I only spending £7.50 a day for accommodation, laundry, lunch, unlimited tea coffee and fruit, and 24h coworking, I was making new friends all the time.
And unlike a traditional hostel, spaces like In The City attract other location independents who are also working. So, for the most part, you avoid the partyers who come in at 3 am!
I couldn’t write about the Chiang Mai nomad scene without mentioning Nimman.
This is an area slightly west of the old city. It’s super modern and definitely has more of a western feel to it, with a large mall, and stylish coffee shops and apartment buildings.
I didn’t spend much time in this area. It’s really popular with digital nomads and has great spaces to work like Hub53 and Punspace. There are also regular meet-ups and events for ex-pats in the area.
And there’s nothing wrong with staying there, it just wasn’t for me. I loved the more authentic feel the old city had and it was nice to be in walking distance of everything.
The Visa Situation
Will you need a visa to live and work in Thailand? This is honestly dependant on which country you’re from and so don’t take my word as gospel.
If you’re from the UK you can enter Thailand for 30 days without any visa. If you want to stay longer, you have a couple of options:
- Head to the immigration office over by the airport. You can fill out the forms and pay 1900 Baht (around £50) to extend your stay for another 30 days.
- You can also do a visa run, heading north to Laos or Cambodia a (and sometimes returning on the same day!). Honestly, I don’t know much about the visa run process but if you’ve already extended once or want to get another 60 days in the country, you should do a bit of research on how best to do this.
I only needed the extra month so went to the immigration office. It was quite a painless process and I only had to sit and wait about half an hour. I recommend this article from Tieland To Thailand which goes into the specifics!
Daily Life of a Chiang Mai Digital Nomad
Before travelling halfway across the world I’d been fully remote for a couple of months already. I was used to a degree of time difference and the unconventional life us nomads lead!
I was a little apprehensive of course. What if the wifi isn’t good? What if I’m super distracted by all the sightseeing?
And I’m going to lay it on the table—Working online and travelling isn’t always easy. It’s not laptops on the beach every day like Instagram may lead you to believe.
So why do we do it?
Every time I’m exploring a new temple with friends I’ve made from around the world, or drinking coffee and working by a pool in the sunshine. These moments make the late nights, early mornings and occasional wifi crisis totally worth it.
Last summer I had finished university deep into my student overdraft and dreading the daily 9-5.
Now I’m so proud to say I’m travelling the world, working for an amazing company and living way more luxuriously than I could in the UK.
And a typical workday in Chiang Mai?
Most days I wake early to meditate and get a few hours of work in while my colleagues are still online. Then I’ll either head to a coffee shop for a few hours to carry on working or get a massage, go to yoga or explore a new area of the city. Then in the evenings, I’ll get back to work.
As Canada and the US are starting their day, mine is nearly over!
(A website my colleague recommended and has been a godsend is worldtimebuddy.com. It’s totally free and if you work across time zones, trust me you need this in your life.)
I think I’ve rambled a little in this post. Just so many thoughts on Chiang Mai and they kinda got blurted out onto the page.
Look out for some more specific posts coming on the best places to work and eat, as well as the attractions you should miss in the city!
I don’t want to end this post here though. I don’t think I’ve done Chiang Mai justice. To sum up, here are my top 6 reasons for loving Chiang Mai as a digital nomad!
(And why you should make it your next nomad destination!)
Top 6 Reasons For Loving Chiang Mai as a Digital Nomad
1. Wonderful Locals & Thai Culture
Before arriving in Thailand I had been told that Thai people were so kind and friendly. Getting to spend time in this wonderful country has really highlighted this.
From the complete lack of road rage to the gentle helpful nature of everyone you meet, Thailand just feels so happy!
2. Cost of Living
Whilst a few years ago visiting Thailand was much cheaper for Brits like me, It’s still incredible value for money. You can get dinner at a local market for £1.50 or at a cute cafe or restaurant for £2-4. Of course, this will vary on whether you’re eating traditional Thai food, or wanting something more western (and vegan in my case).
As I mentioned earlier accommodation is super affordable. Hostel dorms start at a few pounds a night and I’ve seen guest houses with single rooms for less than £10 a night.
And of course the wonderful songthaews! These red trucks that you’ll find all over the city are like a bus/ taxi hybrid. You hail it down and tell the driver where you want to go. If he’s headed in that direction you get in and only pay 30 Baht wherever you go! That’s less than £1!
One of the main reasons I chose Chiang Mai as a starting point for my travels was the big nomad community I knew it had. As an introvert sometimes I try to make it as easy as possible to meet new people by being in situations where it happens naturally.
Surrounded by like-minded individuals and the co-working environment has been incredible. I’ve made friends with people from around the world. Whilst people came and went during my time in Chiang Mai, it’s a place where everyone is so relaxed and friendly it’s not hard to strike up a conversation or head to a meet-up group.
4. Great Coffe Shops
I don’t drink alcohol much, except on occasion…but coffee? Coffee is life (Said by a true addict)
Chiang Mai has great coffee shops on pretty much every street. Whether you fancy a hippie-style sit on the floor coffee or a laptop-friendly space to power through your email inbox, you’ll find the perfect spot!
And if you don’t drink ‘normal’ milk, many places serve soy or coconut milk. This made me very happy 🙂
Most days I’d head to a coffee shop or cafe for a couple of hours. I find they’re great places to concentrate.
My favourite spot was actually Reform Cafe, attached to Green Tiger Guest House. I’d sit by the pool in the shade and drink coconut milk lattes…yum!
Plus, the main reason coffee makes it on this list is the price. For a quality brew and a relaxing place to spend a couple of hours you’ll only spend around £1.50!
5. Amazing Food
And what’s the one thing better than coffee? Food of course!
Thailand is known for its incredible food and it doesn’t disappoint. Somehow they can make dishes spicy, sweet, creamy, and fresh all at the same time. It’s magic!
Chiang Mai is in the north, where one of their specialities is a creamy noodle dish called Khao Soi. Being vegan and gluten intolerant I couldn’t try a truly authentic Khao Soi but managed to find it on the menu at Vegan Heaven. It was delicious.
From green and red curry to Pad Thai and spring rolls, Thai food is incredible.
And my favourite…mango sticky rice! If you have a sweet tooth you must try mango sticky rice. You can find it as a dessert on most menus, but my favourite is at the night markets. It’s quite simple- sweet sticky rice with freshly cut mango, topped with a creamy coconut sauce and sprinkled with fried mung beans. You’ll be addicted!
And whilst Thai food is so good, sometimes you just want something more western. Because of the large expat community in Chaing Mai, you can easily find American food, Italian pizza, and even a Sunday roast!
Honestly, these are just a few of the reasons Chiang Mai is such an awesome place to live or work, or even to visit on a vacation! Please reach out if you have any questions about being a Chiang Mai digital nomad, I’d be happy to help!