The primary draw for Chiang Mai is how affordable it is to live here, although there is also a second, and that is the proliferation of digital nomads themselves.
This post will explain why Chiang Mai has been a popular starting point for a majority digital nomads just starting out over the past few years.
The Allure of Chiang Mai
It can get lonely nomading around the world.
Most people in my life back home still don’t understand the concept, so there is something sanity redeeming about surrounding yourself with people who get it and are doing the same thing. Especially if they’re at the same level you are with work and life.
Most of us are at some level of beginner. If we were all honest with ourselves, we’d see we’re always beginners –no one is born understanding the nuances of every culture they pass through, and it can lead to situations that are as humbling as they are hilarious.
A Petri Dish for Innovation
While of course there are probably nicer places to be, most digital nomads will agree that Chiang Mai has the highest concentration of location independent professionals, no contest. And this is why it is the best place to begin your journey.
That, and it’s cheap, hospitable, polite, endearing, and the locals make it so very welcoming. Amazing people, amazing scenery. If you ever start to feel different, it’s time to get a move on again. (Any “Littlest Hobo” fans out there?).
So if your idea of the Promised Land is a safe place to live in the tropics that’s teeming with helpful digital nomads, Chiang Mai is for you.
Why I Hope More People Go Nomad
Passports bleed life experience, and life experiences change votes in our home countries. Truth be told, that’s my main mission with this guide. Global empathy and awareness.
Related article: How to Quit Your Job and Become a Digital Nomad in 90 Days
You start to see patterns when you travel. But for the record, I don’t talk politics in the guide unless I’m talking about Thailand.
And of course, these are not the only reasons to live in Chiang Mai. Let’s elaborate on why Chiang Mai is the ideal starting point for an aspiring digital nomad, shall we?
Low Cost of Living, Cultural Vibrancy, and Quality of Life
Chiang Mai’s greatest attraction is the high quality of life that is possible with very little. Although there are many other qualities that make it great; it’s got festivals all year ’round, all the comforts of home, it’s safe, and the WIFI speeds are decent.
Internet Speeds in Chiang Mai
Ookla’s Net Index is a great place to find out the current average for broadband connections in Chiang Mai, Thailand. You can view Chiang Mai internet speed averages here.
The Value of Money
$1 USD is roughly the equivalent of 33+ Thai baht (on average). Let that soak in for a moment. So $33 USD is around 1000 Thai baht.
To live like a baller, you will need 1,000 baht per day including rent or guest house costs although you can get away with less. However, it is not reasonable to think you will be able to live on less than $20 per day in the beginning.
Eventually you will “think in baht”, but for now, let me break it down;
Apartments, Houses, or Condos (Monthly: $122 – $615)
The cost of lodging in Chiang Mai generally ranges from around 4,000 to 20,000 baht per month. That’s $122 USD to $615 USD. And if you’re paying the latter, you’re living large. In some cases, we’re talking full kitchen, swimming pool, gym, cleaning staff, WIFI, water delivery, and utilities included.
Air conditioning is standard and utilities will cost between 1,000 to 2,000 baht, worst case.
It is worth mentioning that many apartments in Thailand don’t come with a kitchen. Occasionally you’ll find a sink and food preparation counter on your balcony, but not always. A little strange, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Hot plates and propane stoves are common, and you can always find a new or a used microwave.
Food (Per Meal: $1 – $7, Organic Fruit Smoothies: $1)
For those on a budget, you will have no difficulty finding excellent Thai meals for 35 to 50 baht. Pad Thai, Khao Soy (my favorite Northern Thai food), Green Curry dishes and the like are all extremely affordable.
Fresh fruit smoothies and pressed juices can be purchased for 25 baht to 80 baht.
Moving up the food chain somewhat you can find Western meals starting around 80 baht. I’d say most traditional Western dishes are in the area of 100 baht to 200 baht. So you can eat real good for less than the price of a McDonald’s “trio” aka “value meal” (depending where you’re from). This pricing also includes Western style breakfast like ham and eggs, breakfast burritos, and so on.
Much of the exotic local produce is incredibly cheap, and imported produce can cost a pretty penny. I won’t elaborate too much on groceries because you likely won’t have a kitchen and the cost of eating out is almost the same as buying food at a grocery store and preparing it yourself.
I will elaborate on where you can buy your groceries later in the guide.
Alcohol (Large Beer: $1.50 – $3.00, Marlboro Cigarettes: $2.75)
Beer drinkers will be in paradise. Large bottle (500ml+) local brews like Singha, Chang, and Leo can be purchased for 55 baht at your local convenience store, or 80 to 120 baht when you’re on the town at a bar or restaurant.
Imported beers and wines cost a little closer to what you’re probably already accustomed to back home. A bottle of wine starts around 300 baht, and large imported beers start around 85 baht (Heineken) and upwards.
But I gotta’ say this from personal experience; if you’re a thirsty author, or just someone who likes to drink –look into probiotics (without sugar in them). Drink every day and you create vitamin B deficiencies and you get angry, even mad, with or without drinking.
Sounds silly now, but you’ll see. Thai beer, all beer, is full of preservatives and at that price, it’s a killer. Keep an eye out for a book I’ll publish later with the word “Belly” in the title. For now, I get into more detail about your health in “The Dark Parts”.
Motor Bikes and Bicycles (Monthly: start $50)
You can rent a moped-style motorbike for 1,500 to 2,500 baht per month, or 100 to 200 baht per day. Bicycles can be rented for 50 to 100 baht per day.
And if you’re planning on staying a year –buy your transportation, don’t rent it. Bikes retain their market value in Thailand. You can use your bike all year ’round and end up only paying for gas.
Motor bike prices will vary, but you can find one easily for less than 30,000 baht.
Mobile Phones and Plans (Monthly Unlimited Data, Unlimited Incoming, 200 Min: $12.25)
You can buy a simple prepaid mobile phone for 1,000 baht or less. A typical phone plan with data will range from 299 baht to 999 baht with AIS; Thailand’s best phone company to opt for if you intend on traveling to more isolated areas and islands at some point.
I will also elaborate in detail on how to activate prepaid phone plans later in the guide.
Taxis, Songthaews and Tuk Tuks (From $1)
In Chiang Mai metered taxi cabs are less common, but don’t worry. The options available around town are still incredibly affordable.
A red truck, aka “songthaew”, is the cheapest public transportation option around. Songthaew is Thai for “two rows”, referring to the two benches in the back.
You can take a ride across town for a dollar. If you prefer to take a Tuk Tuk, they cost a little more, and they’re sometimes a little shady. I suggest you learn the value of your trip with a few rides on a red truck before using a Tuk Tuk.
In short, the minimum for a songthaew in town is 20 baht, and tuk tuk’s start at 70 baht.
And beware of Tuk Tuk drivers at 2am, gents. They’ll take your ass to a go go bar where the price of a drink is 2,000 baht. If they take you anywhere, if they claim to know a good spot –run in, check the menu. Insist. After dark, Tuk Tuk drivers become real assholes, but they don’t get paid a commission unless you haplessly buy a drink. In other words, they wait to see if you do. Don’t, and you can at least get a ride home.
There are so many other reasons why Chiang Mai is incredibly special, and I elaborate on more of them in Digital Nomad Escape Plan.
This article is intended for beginners –those who are dipping their toe into the idea of becoming homeless location independent, and need to assert that Chiang Mai is still a reliable place to get things done.
Short answer: It certainly is.
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