Pros & Cons of the lifestyle in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Even in 2016 many will share my opinion that Chiang Mai, Thailand is still one of the top destinations to live as a digital nomad or even retire as long as you can support yourself. I spent 6 months there from May to Dec 2016. I returned to Vancouver for the holidays and I’ve had time to reflect on the lifestyle on what Chiang Mai offers and the drawbacks. I will preface this post by saying I'm not a backpacker type looking to find the cheapest accommodation. I appreciate a little comfort on my travels and prefer slower travel. As a Video creator I travel with a bit more gear than a digital nomad just traveling with the bare essentials and a laptop. Okay let's get started
Entrepreneurial community and like-minded people
It took me almost a month to start networking and making friends with the Digital nomad community. Johnny FD helped the community by organizing a regular Facebook meeting every Friday at 4:30pm at Healthy B café Soi 5 in Nimmanhamen (Nimman). Johnny deserves a lot of credit for getting the ball rolling and making this a self-sustaining forum for new and existing nomads to get away from their laptops to meet new friends and learn some business. I met some friends from this group and also co-hosted a Video summit. In my apartment at the PT residence literally my whole wing were digital nomads. You will also meet people at the co-work spaces that you can exchange knowledge with and make friends. I learned a lot about on-line marketing and other business models like Amazon FBA by living here. Nimmanhamen is still the area that the Digital nomads choose to live in and offers a unique community for working and socializing. Some nomads are starting to settle just north of Nimman in the area of Santitham. I’ve travelled to many places and the benefit of the international community and meeting like-minded people makes this one of the top draws of Chiang Mai.
Ease and low cost of finding accomodation & your essentials
In Vancouver and most countries you need to commit from 6 months to a year long contract to find a good apartment at cheaper prices. In Chiang Mai you can walk to an apartment residence and see a room. No interview or reference checks are required and you can rent month to month with a fully furnished modern clean apartment with Wifi and AC. My first apartment I was paying $415 Us and another $60 US in electricity. I got a one bedroom, living room with kitchen, modern marble flooring, flat panel tv, and balcony overlooking the mountain. Later on I downsized to a fully furnished studio with balcony minus the kitchen and living room for $235 US and $27US electricity bill. With an unlocked smartphone you can get a 1gb data plan for $5.53 US. When you’re able to cover your essentials (room, food, water, laundry) you’re free to focus on other things like your business and having fun with friends. If you're living in an expensive city in Vancouver you're spinning your wheels just trying to keep your head above water.
Ease of getting around
If you live in the Nimman area you can easily get around on foot to everything you need from workspaces, restaurants, parks, malls, and gyms. Nimman is a small area, but most locals get a bit lazy and ride their scooters instead of a 3-minute walk.
I do recommend getting out of the Nimman bubble. One option is you can take the Red Trucks or Tuk Tuks, which are the public transport options within the city. They will end up costing more and I find it annoying negotiating with the red truck drivers. If you are planning to live here for a month or longer you are better off getting a scooter. With a scooter you’ll have plenty of freedom to zip around Chiang Mai quickly between the old city and Nimman. You can take a trip up to the mountains for fresh air, visit the night-life of zoey yellow, or try one of the best burgers (Rock me burger) on Loi Kroh road.
Good friendships and relationships
Chiang Mai has a close-knit community of like-minded English speakers (Digital nomads) making it easy to make new friends. I was fortunate to meet a group of solid friends and Thai girlfriend while in Chiang Mai. Generally the environment is slow paced and easy going. It’s awesome to meet friends you can work with, check out restaurants, go out for trips, or drink with. The local people are friendly and respectful of foreigners.
safety and honesty
The local Thai's are generally trustworthy and honest. I don't worry too much when taking a taxi or getting a quote on an apartment. You can walk around the city and not worry about getting mugged or pickpocketed. If you're working from a cafe you don't have to worry too much about someone taking your laptop. If you're alone at night it's safe to walk the streets and soi's. However, you do have to be careful with traffic if you're driving or as a pedestrian.
so many spaces you can work
Chiang Mai is one of the mecca’s for café’s and coffee shops to work at. Its an accepted part of the culture that you can bring your laptop to most café’s and camp for the day. Everyone has different preferences and you it’s common for friends to discuss their favorite spaces comparing the availability of power, wi-fi speed, toilets, water, coffee strength, nearby food, level tables, and sturdy chairs. Many of the spaces blogged about in the past were closed. Some of my favorites included Kaweh, Nkee 93.5, Addicted to work and Mana.
cheap and plentiful travel opportunities
I blogged before about Chiang Mai's many travel opportunities in South East Asia. Destinations like Siem Riep, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Taipei are very close. The Chiang Mai airport is very close to Nimman and taxi’s are cheap and trustworthy making Chiang Mai a nomad paradise.
Drawbacks of Chiang Mai
lack of resources for digital nomad creators
Okay this is specific to Video creators, but this is what this site is about. The majority of nomads just require a desk and wifi. Digital nomad creators have additional needs if they want to take their game to the next level. The next step would be to offer soundproofed rooms with microphones and lighting. Digital nomads should be able to have a space to record podcasts and create videos for courses. At the moment most nomads are just recording from their apartments, but it would be great to have a public resource similar to the inspiration labs in Vancouver
When you go out you have to constantly worry about mosqito’s. It’s easy enough to just spray yourself with repellent and wear long pants at night. This is far from being a dealbreaker
pavement and sidewalks
In Nimman there are not that many areas for pedestrians to walk . They often have to share the small roads (soi’s) with cars and scooters. I’m surprised that the main roads like Huay Kaew, Siri Mangkalajarn, and Nimmanhamen road don’t have proper crosswalk lights. I see buildings going up quickly so I’m sure the city is capable of fixing this quickly too. This is one of the things that can Nimman can do to bring it close to developed city status.
short and annoying visa's
Thailand's visa offerings in general have been a bit more confusing and shorter in comparison to other Asia countries like Taiwan or Japan. Visa runs are part of the common conversation with digital nomads. Thailand has recently introduced a 6 month tourist visa multiple entry visa introduced in November 2015. Even with this visa you cannot just stay 6 month consecutively. You will need to extend it every 60 days locally. After 90 days you will need to do another Visa run. If only they could make a simpler visa process. On the positive side there are great travel opportunities near Chiang Mai