October 3rd, 2015. This is the day we decided we wanted to do it. We wanted to do it for real.
We wanted to become digital nomads.
In other words – we wanted to travel the world and work online at the same time.
We gave ourselves 3 months to prepare, before heading off to Bangkok. During these months, we sold all our belongings. We gave up our apartment in Istanbul and prepared, researched and strategized.
Our journey started on Google. Instead of reading books, we read countless of blogs. Instead of watching series, we watched Youtube videos about digital nomads. And then there was this one city that lots of people were raving about – Chiang Mai.
I had never heard of Chiang Mai before. We were going to Thailand – why would we go to a city in the middle of the jungle? I wanted to go to an island and sip coconuts and work from a hammock (that doesn’t work by the way – I’ve tried).
Yet, after careful consideration, we decided to start off in Chiang Mai anyways. We landed in Bangkok and stayed there 3 days, before coming to Chiang Mai to live there for a month. It was the best decision we ever made.
Here are 7 reasons why Chiang Mai is the go-to destination for digital nomads.
1. Low cost of living
Chiang Mai’s main advantage is the high quality of life that costs little money. One word: geoarbitrage.
It is possible to live here on an extreme budget during your start-up phase of your business.
But even when you have a good income stream, you will enjoy life to a much larger extent than you would at home. It will remain a bargain compared to what you’re used to in your home country.
You can rent a basic studio for as low as 135$/month (5,000 Baht).
A good serviced apartment will cost between 375$ to 670$ (14,000 to 25,000 Baht). Here you will get a living room, equipped kitchen, gym and swimming pool. The price depends on the location, facilities, and novelty of the complex.
Food in Chiang Mai is also cheap. A Thai meal served in a food stall or in a local restaurant starts at 1$ (35 Baht) and hardly goes past 4.20$ (150 Baht).
Western food served in high-end restaurants will double or triple in price.
2. Entrepreneurial community
Online entrepreneurs, freelancers, remote workers, developers, and bloggers base themselves in Chiang Mai. It is inspiring to be around people who live a similar lifestyle. This will motivate you to keep going until you reach your goal.
Nomad Summit is a digital nomad conference organized every year in Chiang Mai. It is yet another example of the growing community and its positive influence.
I attended Nomad Summit 2017 – it actually was the reason for us flying into Chiang Mai. To me, the talks mainly targeted new digital nomads with little experience. Even so, it was still a great day to network and connect with like-minded people.
3. Co-working and cafe culture
Walking around the Nimman district, you’ll see nomads everywhere. Hidden behind their computer screens in hip coffee bars or organic juice bars.
The cafe scene in Chiang Mai is very much on par with hip and trendy coffee shops found in Europe and in the US.
Some co-working spaces such as CAMP (Maya mall) are open 24/7.
Those who settle down for a longer period of time, usually seek more comfort and amenities. Most of them will become members of Punspace. Punspace co-working space offers 24/7 access and is one of the best ways to meet/network with other nomads.
Most cafes and restaurant have free WIFI and the speed is decent enough (5 Mbps +). It can be unreliable at times but generally, internet speed will never be an issue.
Some cafes and co-working spaces will have 35 Mbps+ speed which will allow you to carry out any kind of work.
4. Trouble free transportation
Transportation is quite affordable too.
You can rent a new, automatic scooter (125 CC) for 85$/month (3,000 Baht). Mountain bikes go for the same price.
If you prefer using public transportation, hop on a Songthaew (Red Bus). These “shared taxis” operate on fixed routes and will let hop off at any point. A single ride within the city center will only cost you 0.5$ (20 Baht).
Uber is by far my favorite mode of transportation in Chiang Mai. No more haggling over fares, or scary motorbike rides during peak traffic. Fares are super affordable and start from 1$ (35 baht). Bonus: airconditioning!
5. Delicious food
Thai food is delicious, has many varieties and is affordable. Food stalls and markets are everywhere and are usually open until late at night. A local dish served in a market or at a food stall will be around 1$ (35 Baht).
You’ll also see many nomads gathering for breakfast and brunch in Nimmanhaemin’s cafes. Some of the smoothies, pancakes, and breakfast menus will make you rave about it long after you are gone.
6. Outdoor activities
Chiang Mai is a great place to cross of many bucket list activities. There is so much to see and do! You might want to skip work for a day and instead go for an adventure around the city.
If you are adventurous; you can go zip-lining, rock climbing, and white water rafting.
For a relaxing day, you can visit one of the many temples, get a full body massage for 10$ (350 baht) or learn how to meditate. Or, you could also feed giraffes in the zoo, practice yoga, or visit an elephant sanctuary.
7. Vibrant culture, people, and spirituality
Chiang Mai is famous for its rich and vibrant culture. Festivals such as Loy Krathong and Yee Pang really bring the city to live.
Thailand promotes itself as the “land of smiles”. It seems people in northern Thailand are even more welcoming and hospitable.
Also, many people choose to come to Chiang Mai, leaving their hectic life behind to find inner peace. There are tens of yoga- and meditation retreats welcoming beginners and pros.
Where we stayed
Last year we lived one month in Chiang Mai and rented a serviced apartment in Nimmanhaemin Soi 9. This year, we only flew into the city for a few days to attend Nomad Summit.
We stayed in a beautiful Junior suite at the Lotus hotel; a lovely Lanna style hotel between Nimman and the Moat. At 80m it is one of the biggest hotel ‘rooms’ I have stayed in so far.
Waking up to the beautiful panoramic view of Doi Suthep was definitely one of the highlights of my stay.
Have you ever been to Chiang Mai? Do you think it is a go-to destination for digital nomads?