Chiang Mai: A Beginners Guide To Digital Nomad Life

If you look at any YouTube video, blog article or social news post out there about being a Digital Nomad, you’ll more likely than not see a mention of Chiang Mai, Thailand in there.  There are some pretty interesting claims out there.  Some about living off of $300 a month while building a business online (google it, there are literally tons of these).  Others go as far as to call Chiang Mai a pyramid scheme.  It seems when making a decision to visit this city, the results are a bit polarized.  Given this fact, I’d like to shed some light now that I’ve explored and worked in about a half dozen other cities and have something to compare it to.

Chiang Mai & Digital Nomad Life:

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As I mentioned, Chiang Mai has a bit of a polarizing effect.  There are those who complain how everyone is just trying to make money off of the newcomers which is true to an extent.  Then there are others who claim to be living this amazing lifestyle working on the beach sipping margaritas all day.  Before I dive into this topic further, let’s discuss the different facets of being a digital nomad in Chiang Mai as well associated costs.

Where to Work:

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It’s extremely important to source a place to work as a Digital Nomad since creating a consistent and reliable income is paramount to continue living the lifestyle.  There are 3 options for this:

1. Coworking Spaces

There are a few choices for coworking spaces in Chiang Mai,  but I’ll share the 3 I’ve worked at:

Punspace

This is a very comfortable place to work with stable internet, 24-hour access for members and two locations to choose from.  The cost is 3500 Baht ($100 USD) per month for membership including coffee and snacks. You can pay daily or weekly as well but it ends up being more expensive. This is great to meet people since they host social events on a weekly basis.

Camp

Camp is another nice coworking space on the top floor of the Maya Mall in the Nimman area of Chiang Mai.  It’s a great place to work at times, but can also get very loud and crowded.  It’s worth checking out since there is no membership fee, however you do need to buy 50 baht ($1.40 USD) worth of food & beverage items from the cafe in order to get a coupon for every 2 hours of internet.

Addicted to Work

I discovered this place shortly before I left and wish I had found it sooner.  It’s a small place with great internet where everybody knows each other.  The people were very friendly and it was still easy to get work done.  The downside is that it’s only open 8 hours a day.  It’s either 20 Baht an hour, 120 baht a day, or 3000 baht ($88 USD) for a monthly membership.

2. Cafes & coffee shops

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You can seriously kick a rock and hit a dozen coffee shops in Chiang Mai. There are so many! This obviously varies from place to place, but your only expense to use the internet is food & drink.  Depending on where you go, it can be a similar structure to working at Camp.  One place I went to called Wake Up was 4 hours of internet for every 50 Baht spent and it was a nice place to work.

My favorite cafes & coffee shops:

3. Your Residence (Home)

If you can ensure that the place you’re staying at has great internet before committing and settling in, you can save time and money.  There are a few places in Chiang Mai that have business centers or meeting rooms with good internet included.  They are a little more, but it may be a better and more convenient option than going to a coworking space every day.  

Finding a place to live

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View from my condo in Chiang Mai- The Unique Condo 2 @ Nimman

There are quite a few options as far as where to lay your head at night.  Which one you choose will depend on your budget, the quality of life you desire, and honestly how much time you will spend there.  If you will be working from home most of the time like I tend to do, it might make sense to make yourself comfortable and ensure that you have good internet.  It seems as though how much you spend on your cost of living is a hot topic of debate amongst digital nomads so let’s address that here.

There are all different levels of housing for every budget. You can live somewhere that’s comfortable with all kinds of luxury amenities.  You can also choose to forego all of it in exchange for a better price.  If you spend more, it doesn’t mean that you are feeling “privileged” or “entitled” nor does it mean you’re better than anyone else. Just because the locals live for cheaper doesn’t make you obligated to do the same.

By the same token, if you are on a budget and can’t afford a nice place, you can seek out a place for cheaper.  They are tons of so-called “experts” out there claiming you can live off of $300 USD per month in total. Although it is possible to live for cheap by western standards, this doesn’t even cover the cost of your visa, rent, and food.  This video by Brett Dev is a good realistic breakdown of the cost of living in Chiang Mai. He also shares my sentiments about misleading those wanting to become a Digital Nomad. You can also check Expatistan, a cost comparison site that’s used by expats and digital nomads worldwide.  If you are going to jump into this lifestyle, you should probably be adequately prepared to become location independent.  So make sure to do your own research.

Social life

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One of the best parts about Chiang Mai are the many things you can do to meet and socialize with other people.  There are tons of events happening all the time for every interest at any time of day or night.  You can check to see if there are any events being run by your coworking space. I know Punspace runs weekly social meetups.  

You can also find social meetups on Meetup.com, Couchsurfing, and some of the Facebook groups for Digital Nomads run events as well (do a search).  Some are social, some are more entrepreneurial and others are a mix.  With all of the cafe’s, coffee shops, and bars a stone’s throw away it is easily one of the best places to build a nice social life. 

Food

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French Toast from The Larder Cafe

Thai food is easily one of my favorite types of cuisine in all of Asia.  You can get really amazing street food for cheap prices and the food is delicious.  There are also a number of excellent restaurants with quality food that I consistently visited.  You can find meals anywhere from 40 baht ($1.16 USD) all the way up to 500 baht ($14.50 USD).  If you budget for 150-300 baht a meal, you can’t go wrong (you should spend much less).  You do need to be a little cautious with the street food.  I did get food poisoning once which I talked about in another article.  Try not to eat chicken or pork in the last few hours that the vendor is open and you should be okay.

A few of my favorite restaurants:

Networking & Learning

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YouTube Meeting-Camp Coworking Space, December 2016

There are so many events in Chiang Mai.  The professional networking here does have different levels of quality on both ends of the spectrum. There are plenty of opportunities to learn and acquire skills in all different types of fields.  Some events are quality information that can really decrease your learning curve and set you up for success.  Others are full of misinformation, myths, and are run by people who are not actively engaged in their “field of expertise.”

It’s also very easy to get sucked into these events and become an event or meetup junkie.  I try and stay away from people that are talking more about the work they do than actually doing it.  It can be poisonous to your success.  That being said, I have met really amazing people and made some lasting relationships, personal and professional, from the people I’ve met in Chiang Mai.      

Internet

As far as internet speed goes, it’s an important factor when building a business from a remote location.  Thailand has one of the fastest internet speeds in Asia.  Only behind South Korea, Japan, and Singapore.  Although this is true, it can be quite unstable in some places.  So whether you’re looking to frequent a cafe, coffee shop, coworking space or just work from home, ensure that the internet speed is up to par before locking yourself into any kind of commitment.

What to do in Chiang Mai

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Contrary to popular belief, there is plenty to do in Chiang Mai outside of the Digital Nomad community.  So many people get locked in and never get away as though it’s some kind of cult.  Meet people outside the DN community, explore the city, and get to know the culture.  Doing these things will give you a sense of balance.  I met a few local friends and that really helped to enrich my experience there.  There are many different activities you can do in the city as well.  Here are a few I’ve done:

Watch an MMA Event

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This was cool to do but there are 12 fights and it’s an all night event so be prepared to be there until around midnight.

Go to an Elephant Sanctuary

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This is one of my favorite events I did here, it’s a unique experience.  If you do go to an elephant sanctuary, make sure to choose one that doesn’t allow you to ride them as it’s cruel to the animals.

Check out the Temples

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There are a lot of temples in Chiang Mai, but these are the three I recommend:

Visit the Grand Canyon

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This place has a waterpark and a spot where you can jump into the canyon. It was a lot of fun!

Get a Thai Massage

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There are so many massage parlors, but if you find a quality one, it’s very relaxing (and sometimes a little painful).  They range anywhere from 200-700 baht depending on where you go.

My favorite Massage Parlor: 

Enjoy the Nightlife

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Considering it’s a relatively small city compared to most other international cities, there are lots of cool bars, clubs, and lounges in Chiang Mai.

My favorite Nightlife spots:

Go Zip-lining

chiang-mai-jungle-flight-zipline

I love adventure travel and going zip-lining at Jungle Flight Chiang Mai was such an awesome experience.  They have over 20 zip lines including a zip line roller coaster that requires two hands and is over 1100 meters (3,609 Feet). I highly recommend this one.

Go on a Weekend Getaway

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Consider taking a mini vacation. Try visiting one of the neighboring cities like Pai or Chiang Rai.  It will only take you 3 to 5 hours to get there and there will be lots to do.  You can also fly somewhere close by.

Other fun things to do:

Seasonal Events:

Final Thoughts

There are pros and cons to living in every city and country in the world.  There are a lot of complainers that will bitch and moan about how bad Chiang Mai is, yet they continue on living there for months on end.  In my opinion, despite a few negatives, there is so much that this amazing city has going for it.  Not just for Digital Nomads, but for anyone wanting to visit.

So is it really worth all the hype and attention it gets? Let’s see, an amazing quality of life for a fraction of the price, an active social life, and being surrounded with positivity and inspiration to keep you productive and focused on building your online business.  I don’t know, what do you think?  Leave a comment below!

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