Chiang Mai is the capital of the northern province of Thailand. For years, it’s been a digital nomad hub and for good reason. Here are my top reasons for choosing Chiang Mai as my winter home base.
1) Chiang Mai is cheap.
Thailand, in general, is quite cheap by Western standards. True, you can easily go broke in Thailand if you don’t manage your budget. In Chiang Mai, I can rent a nice condo for a month, eat out for all my meals, enjoy a couple nice excursions on the weekends, spend my days in cozy internet cafes and my nights at the movies, all for under $400 a month.
2) The food is delicious.
When my brother came to see me in Thailand a couple years ago saying that pad thai was his favorite food, I told him he’d never had real pad thai before. After his first meal from the first cheap street food cart I found, he fully agreed with me. Real Thai food is simply amazing, and Chiang Mai has its own cuisine with special spices and dishes found nowhere else. I’m especially fond of khao soi gai, a curried chicken noodle soup.
3) Internet cafes are everywhere.
As mentioned, I spend most of my days working in an Internet cafe. Some of them cost about $2-3 a day and come with free drinks, while others require that you purchase a drink for $1-2. My favorite one gives you two free hours of Internet for every $1.50 you spend on food or drinks, but you can also use the Internet there for free if you have an AIS SIM card. A bonus is that many of the cafes are open 24 hours.
4) The Internet is fast and cheap.
I’ve used AIS all three times I’ve been in Thailand, and each time the deals have been better and cheaper. This time, my plan cost just under $20 for unlimited internet. The upload and download speeds are capped at 6 Mbps, but you can use the AIS hotspots which are literally everywhere. Some of the hotspots have speeds over 100 Mbps!
5) There are plenty of activities in town.
Chiang Mai isn’t a huge city, but there are plenty of things to do. There is a huge nightlife scene (if that’s your thing). One of my favorite spots is a jazz bar which has live bands every night. Anytime I want to get into nature, the Huay Kaew Waterfall in the jungle is only a 20-minute walk up the street from my usual cafe. At least once a week, I enjoy visiting the cinema where movies are as little as $3 (on Wednesdays). Besides these, there are plenty of temples, night markets, museums and malls to explore.
6) There are even more excursions nearby.
If you have a full day to explore, there are plenty more adventures available. Some of my favorites are the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon Waterpark, the San Khamphaeng Hot Springs and the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, all located less than an hour away from town. A little bit further are amazing towns such as Chiang Rai, Pai and Mae Salong.
7) There’s great sushi.
Yep, I have to go back to the food. Aside from amazing Thai food, Chiang Mai has restaurants for nearly every cuisine, not the least of which is Japanese. There are several sushi restaurants in town which serve surprisingly good sashimi and rolls (my favorite food). A full meal of five courses usually costs me about $10 (going out of the usual budget, but so worth it). If I want something a bit cheaper, I can get a dozen salmon and avocado rolls at a night market for about $4.
8) Most parts of town are within walking distance.
Although Chiang Mai is the fourth largest city in Thailand (a country with nearly 70 million citizens), there are only 130,000 living in the city proper. The old town is exactly one square mile, and the popular Nimman district is less than a mile away. Even the airport, bus and train stations are all within two miles from the old town.
9) Chiang Mai is (usually) warm, but not too hot.
Especially coming from a country like Scotland, Thailand is pleasantly warm. Then again, Thailand is massive and measures 1000 miles from top to bottom. As such, temperatures are very different between the north and south. While it’s not uncommon for the islands in southern Thailand to get into the 100’s °F, Chiang Mai usually stays comfortably in the 70’s through the winter months, although it can even get colder than that at night. Pai, up in the mountains, is even colder. If you’re coming from a state or country which is just too cold during the winter, Chiang Mai just couldn’t be better (except perhaps for the lack of beaches).
10) Chiang Mai is perfectly located for international travel.
Bangkok is the most visited city in the world and therefore is one of the cheapest cities in SE Asia to fly into from many parts of the world. Similarly, flights out of the country are very cheap, especially to nearby countries on budget airlines. My flight last week to Vietnam was under $40! I can take the luxury NCA night bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (with seats that rotate down into beds) for $17. On the other hand, Chiang Mai also has an international airport with very cheap flights.
Bonus) Visas are easy.
Americans get a 30-day visa-less entry into Thailand or can get a three-month visitor visa for only $40. It’s also fairly simple to get an education or work visa for the country. You can visit nearby Malaysia without a visa, but don’t forget that most of the other countries around Thailand will cost $30-40 for each visa.
I’ll be in Chiang Mai until April 2019. If anyone wants to come join me, I’d be happy to show you around!