Being a digital nomad allows the total freedom pack your belongings get in a plane and work wherever you want. Why then are so many (possibly over 3000) digital nomads choosing to live and work for extended periods in Chiang Mai City Thailand?
I myself, have done the working online and traveling since 2002, long before Tim Ferris and the 4 Hour Work Week, gave me a job title, I could use to explain myself to others. Back in the early days, I traveled the United States in an RV, paying US$500 a month just for satellite dial-up internet connection. In 2 years of RV’ing I only ever meet one other person you could call a digital nomad. Twelve years later, after many countries and scores of cities, I found myself returning to Chiang Mai so often, I decided there was no longer any point going anywhere else. In Chiang Mai hardly an hour goes by without meeting another nomad sitting in a cafe, a coworking place, a meetup and even just walking down the street.
So what makes Chiang Mai so appealing to the Digital Nomad?
I am going to bet, this is not the first blog post you have read about Chiang Mai right? It seems that now, there is not a travel blogger worth their salt who has not been or lived here and written about this beautiful Northern Thailand city. In fact there are social groups here in Chiang Mai just for travel bloggers to get together and hang out. Chiang Mai is home to thousands of Nomads, from all categories of online business. Already Digital Nomads know that Chiang Mai is the number one city, and there are hundreds of reasons we keep coming and returning.
Chiang Mai Buddy was created and set up due to the increasing number of digital nomads who began discovering what Expats knew years ago; That Chiang Mai ROCKS! Our focus is of course to help prepare you to make coming to Chiang Mai a stress free and as inexpensive as you can. Because despite all the amazing benefits of this city, packing up and moving to a new country is a huge life decision. Having a friend already in the city helps makes the transition easier. But enough of the sales talk. lets look at why you should make the decision to put Chiang Mai at the top of your list.
Chiang Mai has an incredible amount of open social network groups that are constantly providing training seminars, dinners, social outings, meetups and networking opportunities. Gone are the day’s where networking in Chiang Mai required joining private membership clubs such as the Tropical MBA Podcasts ‘Dynamite Circle. ($588 per year) or the more recent Nomads List (one off $49). In fact the free and open social networking groups in Chiang Mai, Thailand have memberships that exceeds these world-wide communities several times over.
The social communities in Chiang Mai, provide information on “how to…”, “where to…” and “when to…”; along with opportunities for hiring and selling the services of each other within the local environment. Least not, the constant social events, training seminars by visiting experts and free workshops put on by locals wanting to network and promote their services. – And that is just the Nomad Groups!
Long before discovered by Digital Nomads, Chiang Mai was (and still is) a retirement haven for many Expats from around the world. They have over years built social and entertainment networks that exceed many times over the specialty digital nomad communities. Lana Cricket have used the Gymkhana sports grounds for over 50 years, ranging a wide variety of tennis, golf, cricket and other sporting and social events.
“Wait a Minute”, I hear some of the readers say, “This is about Digital Nomads, why are you telling me about the other stuff”?. Here’s the bottom line …. So many Nomads who make Chiang Mai their home, never extend their social networks outside of the digital community. BIG MISTAKE!. The stories you will hear from retired English MI6, as they argue with retired American Intelligence agents over a beer are far more interesting than Joe Nomads latest SEO budget expenditure and the results. The amount of information you will gleam at the Chiang Mai Expats club breakfast or one of their scheduled events, is an incredible wealth of information and resources. If you are going to live in Chiang Mai for an extended period of time – do not make the mistake of burying your head in the silicon sand of exclusively Nomad world..
Some of the Many Social Networks available in Chiang Mai
For more check out our Resources
I Love Chiang Mai – We all love Chiang Mai – there is a great files section with loads of information. This is a secret group, you will need a friend who is a member add you
Chiang Mai Events – it’s usually here if it is happening in Chiang Mai.
Couch surfing in Chiang Mai – Couch surfing in the international free accommodation and travel group.
Whats Happening Chang Mai – The primary focus of ‘What’s happening in Chiang Mai’ is to provide to voice to those connected to Burma and social justice issues generally. We welcome posts that are of value to the audience advertising events, and important news affecting our community.
What, Where, When Chiang Mai – A page for people, event organizers, promoters, bar owners, club owners to let everyone know what’s happening in Chiang Mai. Feel free to add people to the group, the more people on here the more we’ll know what’s happening in and around Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai – For people wanting to come to or already living or just interested in Chiang Mai
Digital Nomads in Chiang Mai – Over 3000 digital nomads make Chiang Mai their home. Most of them share ideas and events in this group
Chiang Mai Happy Hour Nomads – Looking for a new place to get together with friends? New in town and looking for a group to join n for drinks? Keep an eye on our group for our weekly meetups… We will explore new bars, return to old favorites and share our experiences along the way.
TEDx Chiang Mai – Chiang Mai’s affiliated TEDx talks
Farang Community Chiang Mai – An ask and you shall receive group for foreign nations in Chiang Mai.
Teachers of Chiang Mai – If you have questions about teaching vacancies, necessary teaching credentials, professional development ideas or just need some ideas for teaching activities post your comments here!
Teachers in Thailand: Agarn – The Ajarn school forum and Facebook page
Thailand Foreign English Teachers Network – Support group for Foreign Teachers in Thailand.
Job postings, visa issues, agents issues, Classified advertising, Group trips and more
One of the biggest attractions of Chiang Mai, Thailand is the cost of living. The Nomad List website, which compares the cost of living in cities around the world, rank Chiang Mai as one of the cheapest places to live. This is supported by the Digital Nomad Community forum and website, as well as International Living, a subscription based retirement community.
You can live here on an extreme budget, choosing accommodation like Siriruk Apartment for less than $100 a month. Or for $500 stay in a fully serviced Hotel like the Victoria. If you are staying here longer, you are able to lease a condo (usually 6 months minimum but can sometimes you can find one for 3 months) and save even more.
A Motorbike rental can start as low as $60 a month, but beware, this will be a low quality bike. Most likely older, 100 cc manual motorcycle. You are much better off spending $90-100 and get a newer 125cc bike large enough and with enough power for the western frame. Newer motorbikes not only pack more power and acceleration (which might save your life) they are easier on the fuel as well. Better bikes will end up alost as cheap to run as the cheaper older ones.
Food in a Thai Thai (the word to explain a typical local place) restaurant starts at 25 baht and seldom goes past 40 (US 75 cents to $1.20). Most people tend to go to the local places in more urban areas where you are looking at US$1-2 for a meal. Western food usually cost more, but still much cheaper than is typical in your home country. Although you will generally find eating out is cheaper than cooking food yourself at home.
You can live in Chiang Mai for about $500 a month. You will live very well for $1000
Chiang Mai city is growing. From almost any view in any Condo or monthly rental accommodation you will see new accommodation buildings going up. Long term condo leasing (6-12 months) is easily found, shorter term (3 months) more difficult but not impossible. Monthly accommodation is readily available in the low seasons, but during high seasons you should book ahead of time.
Chiang Mai is not just a popular destination for online entrepreneurs, it is popular with tourists from all around Asia and Thais from other parts of the country. The city is taking advantage of the increased tourist and short term visitors and building accommodation to satisfy the need. This means that rental prices are going to remain low for years to come. There are buildings that are popular with the Chinese, with Japanese, with western Expats and some even fill of digital nomads. So while accommodation is available – knowing where to live so that you are with people like you, is the biggest consideration
N.B. On many websites and blogs people will say “Accommodation is easy, just turn up and look around”. This used to be the case. Since we founded Chiang Mai Buddy, 80% of our customers have come from street walk-in’s after they found that finding accommodation was much more difficult than they read online. I strongly suggest you do not take the risk during peak season of hoping for the best. Book a place and then look around.
Now the most popular location in the world, Chiang Mai is full of digital nomads. If you are starting out on your nomadic adventure, you will meet more of your future companions, friends, competitors and collaborators in Chiang Mai than anywhere else in the world. You can find people who are here for a short time and want to travel, making it the best destination to find new friends to plan your future adventures with.
For those who want to stay longer, making Chiang Mai their hub for slow travel, there are many ex nomads (or nomads on a break) who have made this city their home. In addition there are people who make their money online who do not consider themselves part of the digital nomad community.
Whatever your purpose for coming, be it short-term stay to start your career, bootstrapping, or because you have found yourself getting tired of living out of a suitcase. Chiang Mai has experienced and successful online entrepreneurial and newbies bootstrapping their dreams. And the community shares information and helps each other with an openness and willingness to share.
I am not going to lie, in your accommodation if you are sharing the internet it can be slow (2-10 mbps down and .5-2 mbps up). But getting your own internet is easy and cheap. Unlimited 10 Down and one up plans start at 550 baht per month. At Chiang Mai Buddy office we have 30 Down and 10 up, 112 TV Stations and a cell phone with more data than we need for a grand total of 799 Baht (Less tan $30 a month).
Cafes and Coworking spaces offer much faster internet speeds, and with a phone plan of $10 a month or more you have access the the massive amount of Phone provider WiFi hotspots all around the city. Free WiFi is everywhere, paid internet is extremely cheap. In my early days living here I visited so many cafes and eateries (each with free WiFi) that I could walk around and almost always be connected automatically on my phone. But then I discovered how to get prepaid phone services and never had to worry about looking for free wIFi again.
In Chiang Mai you can not throw a stone without hitting 1) a Temple, 2) a 7/11 and 3) a place for the digital nomad to work from. There are now 5 or 6 major coworking spaces, several smaller ones and new places opening all the time. Every cafe offers free WiFi and has no problems with customers spending hours at a time sitting and working from within. It is good manners to make a purchase every hour or so, but you are seldom approached or requested to.
You can be assured that at almost every cafe in town (and there are 1000’s of them) your fellow Nomad will be there working away, and often eager to spend some time chatting and making new friends. You can check out the most popular coworking spaces in this article
When you think of how the Digital Nomad lifestyle is presented to people before they start what do you think? It’s the laptop at the beach right? Drinking coconuts! This is in reality – marketing bullshit. Unless you have incredible time management and conditioned yourself with a disciplined work effort – if you are at a beach you are much more likely to be unproductive.
In Chiang Mai there is amazing support networks and social outlets, mastermind groups and more important you are surrounded by people being productive. You are much more likely to get inspired here to work (and make money), if you are the some result of the 5 people you hang out with most – Chiang Mai is the place to find those type of people and mentors.
Do you like Coffee? People in Chiang Mai do!. Here many of the thousands of cafes will have their own coffee farms and provide coffee that is some of the highest quality in the world. The coffee here is what is known as the top 1% by those who spend time slurping and spitting it out. The Chiang Mai region grows Coffee – It is 100% organic, grown under natural shade at high attitudes and hand picked, wet processed and dried in the sun, and packaged with single source beans.
If you compare this with the media attention grabbing Colombian coffee, which is often grown in fields, harvested with tractors and mixed with beans from other locations – Chiang Mai coffee ROCKS!
For the beginner starting to travel around Asia, something they do not tell you in the guide books, or often mention online .. is the Bustle. In many parts of Asia (Philippines, Saigon, Cambodia, South Thailand) the poverty is overwhelming. You are confronted by beggars on the streets consistently asking for money. For the new Nomad, trying to enjoy a beer at 3 am in a nice (or not so nice) bar to be interrupted by a naked 3 year old child with their hands out, is heart breaking (and then often gets annoying).
Touts, Salespeople, Tuk Tuk drivers, Prostitutes, consistently and persistently harass you. In the Philippines along some of the most happening beaches, you will say no to someone trying to sell you fake sunglasses, and the next walking sales person will hear you say “No” but still approach you. This type of constant harassment gets old really fast. In Cambodia you will be offered a ride, then weed, and then a lady, and then 2 minutes later the cycle is repeated.
Horns are used in Asia, to let someone know they are 100 meters from them and approaching, that they are behind them, passing them, have past them, are in front of them, and just because they have not used the horn in the last 30 seconds. The noise pollution is incredible. Now some people find this last point “vibrant’ and actually enjoy the massive speed at which the world passes by them and the noise it makes. In Saigon, you are constantly being abused with this type of noise pollution.
This stuff does not happen in Chiang Mai
Yes a Tuk Tuk driver will slow down and ask you if you want a ride, a wave “No” of the hand and they move on. You are not followed and repeatedly asked to buy things from touts on the streets. Chiang Mai is a relaxed and layed back city that does not harass the tourists or westerners who live here. So if you need to work, if you need to focus, and you prefer an environment that is not consistently bombarding you with noise and harassment – Chiang Mai is your city.
From November to February the weather in Chiang Mai is perfect. Clear blue skies with 30°C temperatures and low humidity during the day and lower temperatures at night. Around March the temperature starts to get hotter, but Chiang Mai being located in the mountains is always a few degrees C lower than anywhere else in Thailand and most places in Asia.
The rainy season starts around May and sometimes goes until October. The rain usually happens once or twice a day for 30-60 minutes. And it is a downpour!. You will have about 30 minutes warning as the dark clouds roll in and 10 minutes before it starts the wind picks up. If you are under cover the refreshing breeze and cooler temps are a welcome visitor.
During the rainy seasons (really it should be referred to as the daily hour of rain) the surrounding area of Chiang Mai is beautiful. Day trips, and rides to see the tourists spots or just to go on an adventure, will offer some of the best photos you will ever have the privileged of taking. Worse case (because you do not want to ride in the rain) is that for 30-60 minutes you will have to stop off and sit back and relax at a cafe along your trip.
Thai food is amazing, and here in Chiang Mai it is at least 1/10th of the price you would pay back home. Food stalls and markets are found all over the city where you can sample local dishes for $1 a meal.
Well known Thai favorites like pad Thai and green curry are readily available, and Chiang Mai is famous for its local specialty Khao Soi. If you decide to attend a cooking school (around $30 for a half to full day) you will discover the secret to Khao Soi (OK, OK it is a Thai red curry with Indian curry powder mixed in)
Vegetarians and Paleo are extremely well catered for (Thais often go meatless in their meals for special Buddha events). When you tire of Thai food, there are hundreds of restaurants that cater for every other taste. Indian, Mexican, Greek – you name it, Chiang Mai has an expat who has decided to open it. For more details Where to find Western Food in Chiang Mai
If you decide you want to cook for yourself (and most people give up on this idea after a week or two of living here because it IS cheaper to eat out) then the local markets in Chiang Mai are for you. Lower prices than the supermarkets and full of local and imported from other regions of Thailand – the local markets are a busy and popular place with the locals.
The Markets can be slightly overwhelming for the new arrival, (we offer a quick lesson on how to go and purchase produce included with the Digital Nomad Start Up Tour) – but you will soon get the hang of it.
One of the Kings projects was to help the farmers convert from growing drugs to growing food. Farmers where taught how to grow particular crops and shown how to do it well. If you are American – forget asking for organic, This is Thailand, almost all the food here is organic.
Chiang Mai is a traditional city, populated with many migrants from the rural areas of Thailand. These people have traditional and high values, and Chiang Mai is NOT what you might expect about Thailand from watching movies. Here (unlike other parts of Thailand and Asia) you will not see the 90 year old man holding hands with his young beautiful play thing. Yes this is Thailand, and there are parts of the city you can visit if you are feeling ‘lonely’ – but for the most part the people that stay here in Thailand have higher morals and codes of behaviors from the usual tourist.
Chiang Mai is also a relaxed city. Things happen here at a slower pace, and no one is really in a hurry. The city is big enough and caters for most people and most tastes, but lacks the zoom zoom speed of other Asian cities. Some people find this slower pace is not for them
Thailand is promoted as the land of smiles, and never more than in Chiang Mai. The people are friendly and helpful and honest! The locals here are not (unlike other parts of Asia) always looking for a way to get something from the tourist. Locals will help you in times of need, and some of the sweetest natures in the world are possessed by the women here.
Because Chiang Mai is a relaxed and non sex tourist destination, many of the local expats are pleasant to know and engage with. As well Chiang Mai has 3 major Universities so the locals are youthful and educated. One of the greatest things about being in Chiang Mai is that you do not have to always be on guard that your wallet is about to be taken advantage of.
Chiang Mai is rated as one of the safest cities in the world. Crime against foreigners is extremely rare, and apart from riding a motorcycle, you will never feel intimidated or afraid for your safety. You can freely and comfortably walk around either during the day or the small hours of the night and feel totally safe even if you are a single women alone.
The scams that fill the headlines in western media about Thailand and Asia just do not happen here in Chiang Mai – or at least are very very rare. The one exception to this is the Mob run Karaoke Bars along Chang Klan road. Here you can go in for an hour, have a few drinks with a few ladies and come out with a 30,000 baht bill. Many (often drunk and loud) westerners do not understand how a few drinks and a couple of ladies flirting with them can cost $1000. The answer is simple – it is a scam – just don’t go there!
Chiang Mai has Temples! If taking photos of golden laced statues surrounded by orange and red clothed monks of all ages is your thing – you could spend months and months going to different places everyday. If you are up in the early hours you will frequently see monks collecting elms along the side of the roads, monks traveling in public transport … monks monk monks!
Thai culture is valued very highly here in Chiang Mai, with a mixture of both rural and urban important events and traditions being celebrated. Thailand and indeed Chiang Mai is relatively free from western religion, instead the vast majority of people (99%) are Buddhist and this culture is loudly and proudly displayed during the day to day activities of the people. A few weeks before I wrote this post, myself and a friend where walking at night, and he collapsed and went unconscious. Luckily we were outside of a medical clinic and the Doctor and nurses came to his aid, but the staff also immediately lite incense to appeal to the house spirit that controlled the area as well.
Asia is well known for its rich and vibrant culture, here in Chiang Mai you will be able to view massive amounts of it, each and everyday just walking around.
The culture in Chiang Mai is vibrant and often celebrated. Festivals and Public Holidays are times when the Locals, Expats and tourists alike relax, take time off and enjoy the many colorful and exotic experiences. In particular Songkran (April 13-16) and Loy Kratong (Nov 25) are two events that draw overseas tourists and Thai’s from other regions of the country. These are two events that should be on everyone bucket list!
Let’s get this out of the way from the get go. Chiang Mai is located in the North of Thailand, in the Mountains. There are no beaches here. But what is here is lush forests, mountains, old villages, rice fields, elephants, gardens, lakes, caves, temples, national parks and more. There is a world outside of Chiang Mai (although it is fair to say there are many worlds contained within it as well). that are absolutely spectacular. Many Expats regularly go on motorcycle tours around the top of Thailand, taking several days. More locally in just a few short hours you can go to many locations that will fill your camera memory card within hours.
There is more to life than just working, and in Chiang Mai there’s plenty to do in your downtime. You may have seen the Elephant Painting on Youtube – here in Chiang Mai you can go and see it for real. You could visit one of the many Wats (temples); learn to cook Thai food, or how to give a massage. Perhaps learn a new language or get qualified to Teach English and get a Visa and make money to live here long term.
Paintball, Salsa, Rock climbing, Trekking, Sports, all the usual things you would enjoy doing at home – PLUS the additional things you can only experience in Thailand. Get blessed by a Monk, attend a retreat, learn how to train Elephants, relax with a $5 massage. The choices are endless.
Here you can have breast implants for around US$1400, get braces for your teeth for half this amount. Dental treatment, Operations, Plastic Surgery – everything here is at almost a 1/3rd what you would pay in a socialist country with subsidized health care, and a fraction of what the typical American would would pay.
Health checks for $3, eye tests, medication the list goes on and on. Thailand is a medical holiday country and these savings and benefits extend to local services provided by the medical health professionals here in Chiang Mai
You can hire a motorbike for 3000 baht a month (sometimes less and sometimes more) – but if you want to use public transport it is easily affordable. Chiang Mai is supposed to have a public bus system but you will never see it. The reality is the Red Truck and Tuk Tuk mafia own this town. Taxi’s are not allowed to drive around looking for customers, and there are no Motorcycle Taxi’s. But! You can jump on the Red Trucks and travel for just 20 baht, a Tuk Tuk will cost you between 60-100 for a 5 kilometer trip (depending on the time of day and how well you haggle).
Hiring Cars for day trips is around 800-1200 baht. If you need to do a Visa run, or want to visit another city (or country) the Bus, Train, Tour Vans and Flights are incredibly cheap.
Starting late 2014, the government has started to tighten up the relaxed way they did the visa system here in Thailand. Gone are the days where you could come in for 30 days and do visa runs to the boarder and extend your stay for ever. Gone are the days where you would get an ED Visa and not actually attend your class. Now you must have a proper Visa – but they are easy to get.
Most nationalities get a 30-day visa exemption when they arrive by plane, but if you want to stay long-term it’s best to get a 60-day tourist visa available from many neighboring countries—the nearest is Vientiane in Laos. A double-entry 60-day tourist visa will allow you to stay for six months by getting a 30-day extension at the immigration office, and then doing a border run after three months to renew.
Many people choose to use Chiang Mai as a base, and then visit other countries for a period of time, knowing they can always get another Visa in the countries they are in return to Chiang Mai.
If fact you can get a work permit through Chiang Mai Buddy for 30,000 baht. Click here to find out how
Chiang Mai is small enough to easily learn your way around and become familiar with the city, and big enough to have something for everyone. There are may reasons that Chiang Mai is the Number one spot for Nomads – they can get and do anything they need to be successful.
Computer repairs, Internet, working spaces, recreational activities, women, friends, seminars, nature tours. This list is too long to even attempt to begin to describe.
Chiang Mai is the first (and only as far as we are aware) city that has a Concierge Service specific for digital nomads. We make coming and staying in Chiang Mai an easy and stress free experience. We find you the best accommodation at the same price as if you walked in off the street, knew how to negotiate and paid cash. We pick you up and take you to your new home, motorcycle ready and waiting for you and then show you the hotspots for working, shopping and playing.
Once you are here, our online service means that you can call or send a text to have us make doctors or dental appointments, arrange for bank accounts, find child care, arrange for internet and TV – and everything and anything you could ask for. How cool is that?
Find out what we can Do for You