Expat Magazine

Why I Would Never Live in Chiang Mai (As a Digital Nomad)

By Harvie

I recently spent some time in Chiang Mai and below is a report of my findings and insights as of January 2019.

Chiang Mai is great for a holiday

Chiang Mai is a great place for a holiday, and I will for sure be going again.

I enjoyed that it didn't have so many people compared to Bangkok, traffic wasn't so bad and everything was pretty cheap in terms of hotels and transport.

The food in the north differs from central Thailand and it was nice to try new dishes I've not seen before.

There are many tourist things to do in the city, and when you get outside the city the landscape and mountains are mind blowing.

It's when you get out the city that Chiang Mai shows you how beautiful it really is.

I stayed in tree-house hotel for part of my trip. It was made from wood and had some crazy view of a mountain for 750b per night per person including breakfast and dinner.

Why I Would Never Live in Chiang Mai (As a Digital Nomad)Fire each evening as it gets cold in the night.

I went on some hill walks though rivers and up the mountain with no gear, nobody in sight:

Why I Would Never Live in Chiang Mai (As a Digital Nomad)Girlfriend trying not to snap her ankles
Why I Would Never Live in Chiang Mai (As a Digital Nomad)The walk up a mountain
    Why I Would Never Live in Chiang Mai (As a Digital Nomad)
    As I sat down on the opposite side was a village with wild pigs running about

I would go back in a heartbeat, they even had thermal pools that you could rent for 150b per hour:

If you're the type of person who enjoys exploring nature, Chiang Mai is freaking great for a holiday and I advise to visit.

However to live there as a digital nomad, I don't recommend that and here's why.

Why Chiang Mai sucks to live as a nomad

This is an opinion piece, just because I would never live in Chiang Mai doesn't mean it's a bad place to live, it just doesn't meet my needs.

I'm not a baller, I've lived in Bangkok from as little as $770 and I think as of 2019 I spend no more than $1,500 per month on living costs in Bangkok, quite modest for someone in their 30s.

As I wondered around the city there's very few nice apartments, the new builds are mostly shoe boxes.

Related: read my guide on finding the right Bangkok apartment

Bangkok has its fair share of shoe box apartments, but it has more than enough rooms that are 70sq+ with modern fittings to pick from.

I'm sure someone is going to tell be that Chaing Mai has bigger apartments and I'm sure they have, but they are so few and far between compared to Bangkok, and many have older fittings and features which aren't for me.

I work from home and I need a space that looks nice and motivates me, old condos feel very stagnant and dark to me, especially the ones in Thailand.

Rental options appear to be quite limited, which is understandably because it's such a small city.

Call me a spoilt snob but I want to be next a Villa Market (a western supermarket which is not in Chiang Mai), I want to be close to my gym, the local park, a bunch of great restaurants.

I can't do that in Chiang Mai because half these places don't exist, or are so far from each other.

Nimmanhemin Road was a let down

Nimmanhemin Road (Nimman Road) is the new and upcoming area of Chiang Mai.

I was excited to see it, I was expecting to see good restaurants, nice bars, and a good selection of western and Thai cuisine.

Why I Would Never Live in Chiang Mai (As a Digital Nomad)khao soi cost about $1.20

The Thai food there is great, but Thai food anywhere in Thailand is tasty AF.

All the international options on Nimman Road looked terrible, and by terrible I actually mean extremely mediocre.

In Bangkok you have a range of price points for food, for example if you want GOOD sushi you're going to spend at least 3,000b or ($95), if you want something mediocre you can get full for 1,000b ($31).

You can say paying $95 for sushi is silly and I won't disagree with you, but for that money you're getting something much better than the $31 option.

It's good to have more than mediocre to choose from.

Why I Would Never Live in Chiang Mai (As a Digital Nomad)One of the few nicer massages I visited

Maybe I was naive but I was expecting Nimman Road to have a similar range of quality for restaurants, massages shops, bars and desert shops as Bangkok, sadly that was not the case.

Everything was cheap and it felt like most restaurants are trying to be cheaper than the next to get people through the door.

That's good if you just want to save money, but if you want to eat GOOD western food, you're shit outta luck.

My girlfriend wanted some Japanese food as we had enough of Thai food that day so we visited a place I won't name on Nimman Road. She ordered Soba noodles which cost 95b and they worse than mediocre.

The place I tried had good reviews on Google too, I think that's because people are basing it on the price ($3), my guess is half the nomads who left a review have never been to Japan and or know Japanese food is meant to taste like.

Why I Would Never Live in Chiang Mai (As a Digital Nomad)Not sure what this is called but was tasty!

Overall I was disappointed at the lack of quality options, cheap options are everywhere, but quality is hard to find.

Nimman Road is just above the airport, perhaps I just ran bad but each time I ate there I was hearing planes every 20-30 minutes it was very annoying, not sure how people stay there.

Then there's Maya Mall, I've seen cinema complexes in Bangkok bigger than that place.

I believe Nimman Road is a reflection of the current state of the Chiang Mai digital nomad scene.

Most place are cheap and mediocre, catering to a certain demographic (low income spenders).

There's certainly some nomads in Chiang Mai doing well and crushing like JohnnyFD who has a cool blog, but 90%+ are trying to find their feet, which can be seen at whats on offer at Nimman Road.

Expats are less classy

Chiang Mai locals are very friendly and happy people.

When they smile at me, they charge me up with their positive energy.

Many were talking to me - that's not something you get in Bangkok. When I left the main city I felt like a mini celebrity because they were so friendly and keen to learn more about me.

But the expats and tourists, that's another story.

Within 15 seconds of getting into my tuk tuk on the first day, I saw a guy wearing with an unbuttoned shirt showing his hairy chest and abs to everyone.

Why I Would Never Live in Chiang Mai (As a Digital Nomad)

My girlfriend turned around ask me what the fuck is he doing, I gave her the following expression:

I don't think I've seen anyone do that in Bangkok outside Koh San Road.

There's also a huge influx of Chinese tourists, I have nothing against the Chinese but it's been said over and over again that they are the worst tourists in the world:

A quick Google will return you many more articles saying the same.

Why I Would Never Live in Chiang Mai (As a Digital Nomad)Hipster barber

Bangkok has its share of Chinese tourists but because the city is so vast and has many malls, you don't seem them, and you almost never seem them in the expat areas.

Chaing Mai is too small and they were everywhere, causing a fuss, being loud, rude and just lowering my overall chi.

Summary

Chaing Mai has better air, less traffic and without question has a better landscape and mountains than Bangkok.

It's a wonderful city, but it's not for me.

If you want to enjoy the finer things in life and want convenience over saving money, Chaing Mai doesn't deliver.

I can see why people live there though, it's cheap and very easy to get around.

Navigating Bangkok is no cake walk if you've never been there before, there's so many streets and roads that you can get lost pretty fast.

I enjoy the vastness of the city and what I can find, it's endless.

Days can go by where I don't see a western person, that's just not possible in Chaing Mai, nomads are plaguing the city.

That's not something I want to see each day, part of my reason for moving to Thailand was to get away from western culture and to experience something new.

Chaing Mai is a very easy city to navigate and newbie friendly, I think that and the super cheap cost of living is what brings many nomads there.

That's my $0.02 on why I would never live in Chaing Mai, your thoughts?


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