Chiang Mai is a wonderful, beautiful and vibrant city, which has grown in popularity among digital nomads, Expats, and tourists from other Asian countries. Gone are the days when you could just turn up and hope to wander around and have everything fall into place for you. The most important take away point from this article is ….
The reality is (especially during peak travel season) Chiang Mai has become a popular choice for many Chinese tourists after the hit movie Lost in Thailand. In addition, it is now the world’s number one Digital Nomad destination with popular Nomading Facebook groups exceeding 3500 members most of them local and growing by 100 new people each month planning on coming here.
1) Know your preferred Location
If you plan to stay here (Digital Nomad, Teachers or Expats) know what area you want to stay in. Far too many people find a place that looks nice online or go where the taxi suggests. Then they discover (after getting long term accommodation) that they are miles from everyone else, and the locals grasp of English is limited.
Backpackers and tourists: Anywhere in the Old City will be fine
Digital Nomads: Nimman and Santitham area
Expats: Nimman, Hang Dong, Chang Klan Rd
2) Increase daily Credit Card withdrawal limits
Unless you are staying at high end places, almost everything is done with cash in Thailand. Booking long term accommodation is cheap but will require deposits and payment in advance. Any emergencies that require hospital visits or payment for damaged motorcycles will require cash. You do not want to find yourself waiting until the next day to withdraw funds.
3) Book in advance in High Season
Chiang Mai is now busy, If you are moving here and are reluctant to make a long term commitment without first seeing a complex in person, book somewhere for a week. During high season you may not be able to book the place you want. Now even during what used to be low season it is getting more difficult with many places booked well in advanced..
High Season: October to February
This is our Winter time, which means temps of 25-30C and beautiful clear days. This is the best time to come for a holiday and the worst time to come if planning on staying a while.
Smokey: February to 1st rain in March
The local Farmers are burning rice fields and Chiang Mai gets a little haze. Most of the wealthier locals and Digital Nomads leave during this time. Those that stay (depending on how bad the smoke gets) can develop a cough or barely notice any difference except for visibility.
Hot Season: March, April and May
Temps range from 25 at night to 35-40 during the day. Arriving during these months and attempting to walk around looking for long term accommodation in the heat is a tiring and draining experience. If staying, you want to get a place (or join a gym) with a swimming pool.
Rainy Season, from May to September
It does not rain everyday, and when it does there is cloud buildup and wind that gives you 30 minutes notice and then anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour of rain. And it is wonderful! The temps drop to a comfortable range, the countryside becomes vibrant and a $3 raincoat from 7/11 is all you need to protect yourself.
4) Mosquito Spray and Sunscreen
Dengue fever is a concern all over Thailand, and mosquito spray is an essential always-carry item. The cost of sunscreen and mosquito spray in Thailand is probably more expensive than back home. Buy some and pack it in your bags to bring with you. Use your insect repellant! There is no vaccine for Dengue and 400 million people infected each year will attest to what a horrible, painful and annoying problem it can be.
5) Learn to Count in Thai
Chiang Mai is a shoppers paradise, but many of the best bargains are from places that do not serve tourists and where no English is spoken. Often you will be able to get better prices by knowing the numbers. It is not too much of an issue if you do not learn these numbers as every seller will have a calculator and will show you. If you’re here for a week or two you can get by without knowing numbers. If you are planning on staying, these are very helpful to know.
Learn to count from 1 to 100 in Thai from the Learn Thai Podcast
Chiang Mai is unlike any other tourist destination in Thailand. While there is supposed to be a public bus system, you will never see it, nor are there motorcycle taxi’s. Here the red truck and tuk tuk drivers have the area under their control. Chiang Mai does have Taxi’s but they are not allowed to drive around the streets looking for customers – they will have to be booked in advanced. The Taxi’s residing and waiting area is at the Airport.
The great thing about Chiang Mai public transport is that the level of harassment and badgering for a ride is almost non existent. Other cities in Thailand you might be followed as you walk, or refused a ride if you do not pay an over inflated price. Here the drivers are more civilized.
Having said that, the drivers will attempt to charge more if they see you as a tourist. knowing what the going rates are will allow you to negotiate a more fair price.
1) Normal Price for Taxi, Tuk Tuk and Red Trucks (Song Thaew)
Taxi Ride from Airport, Bus and Train Stations: 150-160 baht
Chiang Mai Airport is pretty small and contains two Taxi services. Each has a stand where you pre-book your taxi giving the staff your destination. Fares are standardized ranging from 150-160 baht depending on what area you are going. You will be given a ticket, and shown to the waiting line for the next available ride. The Taxi’s are honest and the prices are set. You will pay your driver when you arrive.
The Taxi’s are stationed at the airport and fares are charged from there starting point. Getting a ride back to the Airport is 200-250 baht. Booking a Taxi for longer travel and periods are around 250 baht per hour. Taxi’s are not stationed at the Bus and Train Stations but you maybe able to flag one down who has just dropped off a customer (rarely).
Tuk Tuk Prices in Chiang Mai: 60-150 baht
The Tuk Tuk driver is more likely to ask for a higher price, and then negotiate. Price depends on distance, time and time of day, so you will want to know your destination. They will generally start at 100 baht around town, but will come down to 80 Baht. If you speak Thai you can get one for 60 baht for a trip of 4 kilometers or less. Over that distance and late at night price will be around 150 baht for a single trip. You can hire by the hour for around 250-300 baht. Tuk Tuk drivers usually have an excellent command of English.
In Chiang Mai you will not be offered the 20 baht ride tour (if you just stop off at some jewelry stores) scam that is popular in Bangkok. You might however be taken on the odd occasion to a Karaoke Bar or “abc No2” if you look a little drunk and it is late at night.
Song Thaew Prices in Chiang Mai: 20 Baht (all to yourself or group 100 baht)
By far the most popular choice for locals, the Songthaew (meaning two rows) is a red truck with two rows of seats that fits 10-12 people and usually has a set route. The Songthaews are 20 baht per person from destination A to B and anywhere along the route. Drivers will often take an indirect journey hoping to pick up additional customers.
Hailing a SongThaew (also known as Rot Dang or red car) is as easy as putting your hand up (for one passing) and telling the driver where you are going. Often an English speaking wife or girlfriend will be in the passenger set, but often English is not spoken. Finding out your destination in Thai is an advantage but not always needed.
If you are alone or want to take a group of people you can usually get one around town or within 5-6 kilometers for about 100 baht. A driver will be making 220 baht per trip with a full vehicle, so the starting price will be 200, and then you negotiate.
2) Hold Off getting a Tourist SIM at the Airport
Tourist SIM cards while handy are only a good idea if you are here for a week or so. By going to one of the major dealers in town and getting a pre-paid phone account you will end up saving a bundle. Tourists SIMs can be topped up, but your paying more for each service, the bundled accounts on the other hand provide discounts for prepaying and end up saving you hundreds of Baht a month.
For more details about Getting a phone plan in Thailand
1) Learn to Ride a Motorbike
Getting around and having freedom to visit places and friends is essential. BUT driving in Thailand is different to where you have come from. There is a different mental attitude towards riding a motorcycle and a different set of safety considerations. Do not for a moment explore your freedom to not wear a helmet – this is just asking for trouble. Almost everyone will get into an accident when riding a motorcycle here. Whether you require a band-aid, hospital visit or a body bag depends on how well you prepare yourself for riding a motorbike for Thailand’s conditions. For more detailed assistance read :How to ride (and survive) a Motorbike in Thailand
2) Dress Modestly: Look at how Thai people Dress.
You will not see a Thai man walking down the street without a shirt on, nor will the women (unless of extreme low class – meaning a working girl) have a wife beater or other revealing clothes. It does not matter how buff you are or how hard you have worked on your body, displaying bare skin is more or less yelling out “F@ck you and your culture’
This is especially true when visiting temples or religious sites. In fact at many Wats (Temples) on the tourist map, provide long pants and tops for hire. At the smaller ones, and smaller cities will not. Don’t be a twat, you are in another country and being aware of the Cultural differences will greatly increase the ease at which you are able to enjoy yourself
3) Work your way into Thai Food (esp Street Food)
Without a doubt the food in Thailand is amazing, and cheap! It also comes with (and requires) different bacteria to process in your gut. Going all out on Thai food when you first arrive will overwhelm your stomach and it is not uncommon for you to get “Thai Tummy”. Luckily almost every drug store knows this and will sell you charcoal pills and Antibiotics. To explain to the clerk what you have you say :”tong see-ah”.
Much safer idea (rather than having diarrhea for 4-5 days) is to mix a combination of both Thai and Farang food. Stick to what your stomach knows, and gradually add in a Thai meal. After about a week of one or two Thai meals a day you should be fine. Bear in mind you are likely to pay 4-5 times as much for a western style meal over a Thai meal.
4) Don’t Bring, Buy or Do Drugs
In Thailand a positive drug test is equivalent to possession. There is no right to trial by jury. We are under martial law implemented by a military dictatorship, accordingly you can be arrested and held without charge for 7 days. In the past it was simple and easy to buy and smoke pot. Police are starting to raid venues where this happened and doing blood tests.
Anyone who has seen the news, knows that no Embassy has any influence over any trial for drug possession here. It can take years to get to court even if you are able to get released (highly unlikely). It is just not worth it, if you ‘need’ your drugs, don’t come here.
5) Know When to do a Wai
The Thai Wai (pronounced ‘why’) is a greeting, apology, and sign of respect. For more specific details go here. In essence there are 3 types of Wai’s which are generally done, and one for tourist friendliness
1) Older People
2) People of higher social Status including government officials
3) Family, Monks and Religious sites & icons
4) Staff greeting customers
It is the responsibility of the lower ranked person to do the Wai first to the more senior. Many tourist hink they need to show respect to everyone, but Thailand has a social structure, and you do not want to place yourself at the bottom of it. Do NOT Wai a waitress or clerk at the 7/11 first. When they give you a Wai you can then reply with one yourself, or nod your head and say thank you ‘Sawadee Khrap/Ka’. If you are approaching immigration or pulled over by a policeman – better to start the conversation with a healthy show of respect.
6) Never Yell, Accuse or get into an Argument
In Thailand much of the politeness and smiles is done to avoid the worse sin of all. Losing Face. Never make an accusation of a Thai person being dishonest (even when they take you to a lady bar and you said McDonald’s). Your best approach is to say, oh we have a mistake, ‘Mai Ben Rai’ (No worries, not a problem – forget about it – it is OK). And calmly and quietly (without anyone hearing) explain how you want the situation fixed.
The moment you are loud and the Thai person has lost face, nothing will go in your favor. Acting with consideration and meekness to the point of accepting responsibility will get you much better results. Thai people come first in the eyes of Thais, Police and Courts. There is no dishonor in a Thai person getting 10 of their friends to pay you a visit and show you the price of them losing face. Always be polite, calm and respectful to everyone (even bar girls) every where.
7) Staying awhile? Get a Bank Account
The overseas transaction costs here are horrific. The basic credit-card merchant processing for international funds are a minimum of 3.6% per transaction. When paying with an overseas credit card you will usually be asked to pay an additional 3%. Not to mention the fees your bank charges to withdrawal money from an ATM here. Having a local account is easy enough to arrange providing you are meeting a few simple requirements.
8) Make an Effort to Speak Thai
This is difficult because lets face it, learning to speak the Thai Language is difficult. But you can get by remarkably well using some free phone App’s and Google Translate. When you make an effort to speak Thai, it shows the locals that you respect them (even if they do not understand a word of what you are saying).
By learning to speak a little Thai Language, it allows you to ask prices for goods and services in Thai – which indicates that you are living here and not a tourist. Just yesterday I heard two Japanese tourists ask a red truck how much for a ride and they where told 50 baht each. I said to the driver in Thai “50 Baht huh? I give you 20 baht because I am a Thai person” He laughed and said OK. (I am a white guy)
9) Use the Toilet Bum Spray not Toilet Paper
Apart from it being far more hygienic to spray yourself after ‘completing the job’, the plumbing pipe thickness in Thailand is small. Toilets will get clogged up very easily. You will see signs in almost all public restrooms reminding you to use the bucket provided for your waste paper, etc and not the toilet. Do it! But more importantly try to get over your fears about spraying a little water around your ‘nether-region’ It is something that you very quickly get used too, and even begin to enjoy.
The following brief list comes from the blog post of a traveler with much experience in other cultures and countries. I thought it was worth adding because of the light hearted nature of some of the suggestions.
Eat street food.
Learn to ride a motorbike.
Make an effort to speak the language.
Go to a local football match.
Beware of salty toothpaste.
The words, “Mai bpen rai” (no worries/no problem) will get you far.
Coconut ice cream is always the best.
Always get a fried egg with your gra pao muu (Friend basil and pork).
Chicken (gai), pork (moo), beef (neua), fish (blaa), prawn (gung).
If you are long sighted, get your contacts out of Thailand.
Choose your opticians wisely.
Go to the dentist, it’s cheap and good.
Always wear a helmet on a motorbike and don’t drink and drive.
Check out the temples during festive times. They can be magical.
Go to Chiang Mai for Songkran (at least once).
Yee Peng, Mae Jo university. The best thing in in Thailand by far.
Learn to SCUBA dive. There’s a whole new world out there.
Learn about your VISA’s.
Ensure with every VISA run there’s an experience within it.
Accept that this isn’t your country and to roll with it.
If in the North, buy a face mask during the months of January to May.
Learn to love Thai food. It isn’t all rice and noodles.
Be open to yourself and others
Avoid Beer Chang and avoid buckets.
If it’s monsoon season, be prepared to get wet.
If alcohol is your thing, do it Thai style: whiskey and soda (healthier and cheaper).
Find a good pharmacy, they’ll be as good as a doctor (and cheaper).
Always carry charcoal in case you get a dodgy gut.
Buy Skype credit to call home. It’s cheap cheap.
Be wary of dogs, but understand most of the time its all bark.
Don’t get temple’d out; they are unique, beautiful and important to Thai culture.
Avoid confrontation and raising your voice.
Shoes off in temples.
If you see a pile of shoes, take yours off too.
Always point your feet away from statues of Buddha, especially when taking a photo.
Same goes for teachers.
Never touch a person’s head.
Go for a Thai massage, but be wary some are crappy crap crap.
Be an onion, be prepared; wear layers.
Don’t itch and don’t scratch mozzy bites. Get some Tiger Balm.
Cover up during dusk.
Ensure you have a visor on your helmet if riding a bike during dusk or at night.
If at night, make sure its clear for night driving.
Bungee cords are an invaluable accessory for bikes.
If riding, wear a full face helmet at all times.
If you’re head is worth 1200B then the REAL Helmets are safety tested to international standards.
Keep a close eye out for dogs, cats and elephants when riding.
Get used to the bum spray, you will never look back.
Get a portable Wifi device, it is everywhere.
If you want to guess a WiFi code try the username, 0-9, 9-0, A-J, or the telephone number.
If your Thai is lacking, gestures help a lot.
The Nancy Chandler Map is magical. Get it for Bangkok or Chiang Mai
Get to a rooftop bar in Bangkok for sunset at least once.
Visit Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai at least once.
Learn some local dialects, you will get some smiles.
Money belts and backpacks on your front are not necessary. Have trust.
If you have lost something, don’t panic. Just return and it will likely be there.
Look after your passport 🙂
If in Chiang Mai, eat Khao Soi.
Learn about Buddhism. It will help you in Thailand and help your inner-self.
If you have the opportunity, go on a 10 day Vipasanna meditation retreat.
Learn the culture, watch the movies. Shutter, Nang nak and Ong-Bak.
Go to the cinema.
Banana shakes are amazing.
Banana (gluay), coconut (ma praao), pineapple (sapparot), orange (som).
Noodle soup for a late night snack.
Bummii giaow moo daeng is the bestest.
Eat a cricket.
Go to the supermarkets and you can buy anything.
Go to the markets and you can buy cheap cheap cheap.
Second hand stores for clothes
Learn to drive a semi-automatic as it’s cheaper and more fun.
Thailand has tendencies to be unstable, learn about the politics.
Satisfy your curiosity and try something new
1669 is the emergency number
The water vending machines are the cheapest way to drink water
Real men don’t buy girls.
Respect women wherever they are from.
Respect Thai culture, especially in more conservative areas.
Start the day with an amazing sunrise, wherever you are.
Buses are cheap.
If you’re ill, eat Tom Yam Gung.
Eating frog is weird.
Western and tourist bars are expensive, go check out some local bars.
Relationships are good, but be aware living in a place like Thailand things can become complicated.
Cover up. STD’s are rife, condoms are cheap.
Drive with a reactive mind more than a proactive mind.
If a local isn’t doing it, maybe you shouldn’t.
Contact lens solution is good for the heat, even if you don’t wear contact lenses.
Be careful when you fart, it might be more.
Don’t be scared to chat about number 2’s, it’s generally accepted here.
Avoid the centipedes.
Always smile, a good heart goes along way.
Try hitching, its fun and doable.
Do good things, good things will happen. Be karmic.
Thailand is very different, accept it and concentrate on why you are living here.
If you never try something, you will never know.
Mango stick rice is hella good.
Have fun, be mindful, be respectful.