This is a short guide to living in Chiang Mai, Thailand with some quick tips about a variety of topics.
Reasons to Live in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is an amazing city with plenty to do and here are some reasons why Chiang Mai should be on your list of places to visit.
- Affordable – It’s very doable to live in Chiang Mai on 10000 – 15000 Baht a month without feeling like you are doing with out.
- Modern – Chiang Mai is affordable but also modern and you have access to trendy malls, coffee shops, and restaurants. Some of the best food I’ve ever had has been in Chiang Mai and there is always a new place to discover.
- Outdoors – The Doi Suthep National Park is a 10 minute motorbike ride away and there are plenty of outdoor options like mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, and cycling.
- Safe – Chiang Mai is safe with very little crime, see the stats. Not to say that it doesn’t exist but there are many tourist police and safety precautions here with apartments usually having security guards and cctv’s.
- Internet – It’s easy to stay connected in Chiang Mai with 4G cellular providers, wifi, fiber internet, coworking spaces, and coffee shops with free wifi.
- Things to Do – Chiang Mai is a popular tourist destination in Asia. You can find anything and everything to do from ziplining, elephant parks, bungee jumping, cooking schools, waterfalls, and jazz clubs to name a few.
- Networking – There are many ways to connect in Chiang Mai through meetups, facebook events, and coworking events. This is a popular place for expats, digital nomads, and backpackers.
When you arrive at the airport pick up a sim card and some cash on the way out. Aside from the major retail areas/franchises, most places in Chiang Mai only take cash. You can find 7-day tourist sim cards that will get you going till you get situated.
There are a couple of taxi boothes in the airport. Show them the address of your hotel and they will call up a taxi. You can also walk to the very end of the airport to get an airport taxi. These are larger suv’s or van’s for carrying more people.
AIS & True MOVE are popular options for sim cards.
- AIS has a fast 4G Advanced network (pay extra) that is found in popular places like coffee shops, tourist areas, and malls.AIS Super Wifi reaches speeds up to 650 mbps and can be added to your cell phone package for an extra fee. It is really worth the extra money if you plan on working at coffee shops and the MAYA C.A.M.P coworking place. When you have the AIS super wifi you can work at C.A.M.P. for free vs. having to bay 50 Baht for 2 hours of internet.There top up package lets you pay month-to-month. Click here for the rates. You can go to the shopping malls to top your sim card every month or through there website.
- True MOVE has more wifi spots and you can usually pick up a signal just walking around but the internet might be slower.
You have to show your passport when you pay for some monthly services/rentals. Here are a few:
- Sim Cards
- Home Internet
You might have to try a few different ATM’s before one will work with your card. Try ATM’s that are affiliated with local banks, these seem to work better.
There are many places that offer month-to-month housing in Chiang Mai and minimum stays can be anywhere from 1-3 month rates. Typically the longer you stay the lower your rate will be.
Electricity and water usually aren’t covered in your monthly rate and can change your monthly budget if you aren’t careful. It’s normal to be charged between 7-9 baht per Kw and this can add up quickly during the summer months when the AC is running constantly. When factoring in your monthly cost, consider adding an extra 1500 – 3000 baht for your electricity/water bill.
You usually have to pay a deposit that can range from 5000 – 15000 baht depending on your place.
You might be able to negotiate your monthly rate.
If you need home furnishings for your new place you can go to the mall or Tesco Lotus.
Most places will have a laundry facility in the building or you can find some public machines near by. One load will cost between 20-40 baht.
There are many places that will do your laundry for you. This can range from 30 – 150 baht per load.
Where to Live
Nimman – This is the trendiest part of Chiang Mai with many boutique hotels, restaurants, and shops. It is very close to Chiang Mai University so it is popular with college students as well as tourist. This is a popular area for digital nomads but pricier than other areas of Chiang Mai. It’s harder to find a place under 10000 baht. Find monthly rentals for Nimman here.
Santiham – Just north of Nimman is Santiham where you can find more affordable housing, food, and coffee. This area is also a little quieter and away from the tourism and crowds on Nimman. Find monthly rentals for in Santiham here.
Maya Mall – A modern expansive mall that has many of the things you need and there are many places to live that are conveniently located near the mall. MAYA mall has a coworking space called CAMP with free internet (If you have and AIS 4G Sim), an organic super market called Rim Ping, restaurants, electronics, clothes, pharmacies, a movie theater, roof top bars, and more. Find monthly rentals for near Maya Mall here.
Old City – Many tourist and backpackers stay in Old City. You can find many hostels and hotels in Old City. There are a few places to rent monthly in Old city but it’s more geared for tourist. Find monthly rentals for in Old City here.
Riverplace – Also popular for long term stays as it’s further away from the tourist crowds of Old City, yet conveniently located near the Thae Pae Gate area. Find monthly rentals for near Riverplace here.
Here is map of popular areas to live in Chiang Mai.
Pick up a local tourist map while at your hotel or around tourist spots. These work great to show songtaew and tuk-tuk drivers where you need to go.
Songtaew (Red Trucks)
Flag down a red truck and for 20 baht they will take you to most places around town. It’s kind of like a bus, in that they don’t really go to specific spots but mostly stay on the main streets or popular tourist destinations. Don’t be surprised if they reject your location, it might be out of their way or too hard to find for 20 baht. Sometimes you can hire them like taxi drivers to take you to specific places but they will charge extra for this service.
These are three wheeled motorbikes that can get you to specific locations. They are basically like motorbike taxis and are a really popular transportation option. At nights when there is more demand you can pay 150 baht and during the day it can be more like 60 baht if you negotiate. It depends on how much you want to haggle to get a good price.
It is harder to find taxi drivers in Chiang Mai compared to tuk-tuks and songtaews.
Grab Taxi App – This is a good app for booking taxi’s that is similar to Uber. You put in your location, destination and a taxi cab will claim your booking to pick you up.
Motorbikes are a very popular transportation opiton in Chiang Mai and there are plenty of places to rent them. The cost to rent a scooter monthly ranges from 2500 – 3500 Baht a month.
Chiang Mai has random driver’s license checkpoints and you might get a ticket if you don’t have an international driver’s license. They could give you two options of paying the ticket at the police station or paying the police officer right there. The fee for paying the ticket at the police station will be 100-200 Baht. The second option of paying the police officer directly will vary from checkpoint to checkpoint and can range from 300-1000 Baht but you might be able to talk the price down. With this option, you pay the police officer and go on your way and you won’t have any documentation you actually received a ticket so if you get stopped again, you might get another “ticket”.
Thailand has the second deadliest roads in the world, you can read more about the reasons here.
- Thailand drives on the opposite side of the road (left side).
- There are very few stop signs in Chiang Mai. You will see crossroads with yellow grids painted in the intersections. These are yield areas where everyone slows down but you don’t have to stop.
- Street lines are more like guidelines and drivers aren’t really strict about staying in their lanes. You can drive down the middle of lanes, or in side lanes, or the sidewalks.
- It’s best to stay near the inside of lanes as the outside lanes typically have stopped cars and motorbikes. The highways though have special bike lanes on the outside.
- Watch out for pedestrians while driving. J walking is normal and people can/will walk in front of you while driving.
Motorbike rental places provide insurance for the bike only. That doesn’t cover harm to you or other people riding the bike. You need to check with your health insurance provider to see if you are covered.
If your aren’t certified to ride motorbikes in your home country than you might be disqualified from receiving health insurance if there is an accident. Check with your health insurance provider for more details.
You will never have to look very hard to find a coffee shop, thai massage place, or 7-11 in Chiang Mai.
Thailand has the 2nd largest number of 7-11’s in the world after Japan.
7-11’s have all your basic necessities like toiletries, snacks, drinks, home items, etc…
Thailand is one of the top coffee producers in the world and there are so many great coffee places in Chiang Mai to discover.
“Thai Coffee” is a local favorite and consist of condensed milk, sugar, and coffee served on ice. Sometimes it can be tad sugary so you might want to request “not sweet” or “mai waan” in Thai.
Along with coffee shops, you can usually find a Thai massage place nearby. The typical cost for a 1 hour massage is between 150 – 300 baht.
Watson’s and Boot’s are both popular pharmacy franchises in Chiang Mai but there are also many local pharmacies scattered around.
You can find most name brand items like Colgate, Dove, Pantene, and L’oreal at pharmacies. Most of the woman’s skin care products have whitening cream in them.
There are a few popular supermarket chains in Chiang Mai.
- Tops – Food supermarket
- Tesco Lotus – Food and home goods
- Rim Ping – Organic food market
You can find many popular clothing franchises in Chiang Mai. H&M, American Eagle, Guess and more. Central is a local department store that is like the Macy’s or JC Penny chains in America. Chiang Mai has a variety of modern malls to find mostly everything you need.
The clothes are generally Asian sizes and smaller than American sizes.
Shorts, shoes, bathing suits, and ladies undergarments are some things that seem a little more difficult to find than in the states.
When you come to Chiang Mai you will see these pants everywhere. It’s a real tourist thing to do but you never see locals wearing these.
Food and Drinks
Khao Soi, Green Curry, Som Tum (Papaya Salad), and Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup) are local favorites. Pad Thai is more of a western favorite in Thailand. It’s served everywhere but not as popular.
Thailand has a few beer choices. Leo and Chang are the cheapest beer and popular options everywhere in Chiang Mai. Tiger Beer and Singah are a little more expensive but also abundant.
You can find Starbucks, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Burger King, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, and Pizza Hut in Chiang Mai.
Thai food can be spicier than western food. Ask for “Not Spicy” or “Mai Phet” in Thai.
If you want to get something “To Go” it’s called “Takeaway” in Thailand. Most takeaway comes in plastic bags. You might want to get some cups or bowls when you arrive in Chiang Mai.
Durian fruit is usually banned in hotel rooms and apartments because it smells bad, specially if its been sitting out.
Fruit Stands/Shakes – You can find a variety places to get fruit shakes and whole freshly cut fruit.
Street Kabobs – Chicken and Pork meatballs among other meats on sticks.
Mango Sticky Rice – Cut up Mangos with rice and a sweetened condensed milk.
Roast Meat – Roast chicken, duck, and fish.
Noodle Dishes/Fried Rice/Noodle Soups – This is pretty broad but varies from stand to stand. All kinds of popular dishes can be ordered and made right in front of you.
Most people do not drink the tap water in Chiang Mai. When you go to restaurants you are offered bottled water. It seems to be ok to brush your teeth with tap water.
There are water dispensing locations where you can fill up water bottles but it’s hard to tell if the water dispensing booth is properly maintained. See this article about Bangkok. Over half of water vending machines in Bangkok are unsafe to drink
You can also opt for water delivery services. They will deliver fresh water bottles to your door for a monthly fee.
One Month Extensions
There are a few different visa options for Thailand. The most popular visas are good in Thailand between 30 – 60 days but you can go to the customs office in Promenade mall to get a one month extension.
To keep your visa valid you need to exit the country before the day your visa expires. If you are found to have an expired visa you can be detained by police. If you get to the airport with an expired visa you will have to pay a fine before leaving the country.
There are a few different options for visa runs.
- Buses to the Border – There are a few services that offer a bus trip to Mae Sai. The trip takes about 4 hours each way. You can leave in the morning and make it back to Chiang Mai in one day if you want. If you do the bus run make sure to take toilet paper and dramamine (for car sickness) with you.
- Leaving the Country – Air Asia offers some direct flights to Malaysia and China that are very affordable. You can see all the direct flightshere.
Most hotels and apartments offer some kind of wifi service with your room but the quality varies depending on where you stay.
You can sign up for a local internet service provider to get a LAN line. Sinet is a popular choice and you can go to the local malls to register. Once you register it will take a couple days for a technician to come out and install your modem.
You can get SIM cards with 4G access and wifi hotspots.
Most coffee shops in Chiang Mai have wifi access and there are many coworking spaces in Chiang Mai as well. Find coworking spaces here.
95% of Thais are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition making it the largest population of Buddhism in the world.
- Women need to avoid touching a monk. Thai monks are forbidden from physical contact with women.
- Women cannot become monks, they can live similar lives as nuns.
- It’s common to see Monks around Chiang Mai living their normal day-to-day lives at the airports, in 7-11’s, or at the malls.
- Many monks start their journey as temple boys where they get a basic education, free room and board, and receive religious and moral instruction.
- You don’t have to start as a boy though, anyone can become a monk if they are committed to being Buddhist.
- There are different levels of being a monk with the first level being Novice. Anyone under the age of 20 are novice monks and are held to a less strict life than ordained monks.
- You do not have to be a monk for life and can leave and come back at anytime. Sometimes people will be a monk for a week or come back during the summer months.
- Every Thai male aged 20 and up from a Buddhist family is expected to be ordained as a monk for a period of time sooner or later.
There are tens of thousands of buddhist temples (called “Wats”) in Thailand and a popular tourist destination in Chiang Mai. When visiting a temple be sure to do these things:
- Always take off your shoes before entering a temple.
- Women should cover their shoulders and wear knee length shorts. Sometimes you can rent sarongs that can cover your shoulders or knees.
- Avoid showing or pointing your feet towards from statues and images of buddha.
This is the traditional Thai greeting done by slightly bowing while raising your hands together in a prayer like position.
- How far you bow and how high your hands are raised will show how respectful your wai is.
- The wai can be used when formally entering or leaving a house or when apologizing. You can sometimes receive a wai when entering businesses and restaurants as well.
- If someone does a wai it is generally expected to return the gesture by doing a similar wai.
Displays of anger and conflict are always avoided, even if there is a disagreement, this is handled with a smile and politeness. Self control is important in Buddhist culture and very much respected in Thailand.
Touching someone’s head is disrespectful or showing the bottom of your feet to someone. This is because the feet are the dirtiest and lowliest part of the human body while the head is the highest. This can influence how you are sitting on the ground as you should always try to point your feet away from others and to avoid touching others with your feet.
Not removing your shoes before entering someone’s private household and sometimes businesses.
This is Thai word meaning to have a “good time” or to “have fun”. It is an important part of Thai culture in that you should enjoy whatever you are doing, whether at work, or at home, it is best to be smiling and having fun.
Thailand is hierarchical society where great importance and respect is shown towards elders, parents, teachers, and caretakers.
Pictures of the Thai King
Stepping on currency is disrespectful as it has a picture of the Thai King. The Thai King and Princess can be seen everywhere in Thailand, it’s best to speak of them in utmost regard and treat pictures of them with great respect.
The Thai Anthem is played twice a day and before events like movies in the theaters. It’s customary to stand in silence till the anthem is finished.
Family is central in Thai culture, more so than in western culture. It is common for extended families to live under one roof.
Thai women dress more conservatively compared to westerners. Wearing bikinis, clothing that shows your midriff, or going ‘braless’ is also not done.
There are no leash laws in Chiang Mai and dogs can roam free. There are many stray dogs and cats in Chiang Mai. Here are two places that offer help for dogs and cats.
Euthanasia of animals is rare in Thailand due to Buddhist beliefs and the value placed on every life.
From January to April is burning season in Northern Thailand. Local farmers are burning their fields and brush to prepare for new crops, it’s also dry during this season with very little rain to wash away the dust. The mountains also trap the smoke and smog from cars and city life. This can cause Chiang Mai to be hazy and smoky out with some days being worse than others. On the worse days, it’s hard to see the sun out or the mountains. The AQI can reach hazardous health conditions and even if you don’t have allergies or health conditions you can still feel the effects of smoke. Here are some options to help get through burning season:
- Staying inside – Keeping windows closed and the air conditioning can help.
- Face Mask – You can see locals wearing surgical face mask all year long. There is no stigma about wearing a face mask in Thailand and it’s really common to see people in shopping areas or on their motorbikes with face mask.
- Leave Chiang Mai – It might be better to just avoid Chiang Mai during this time. During burning season it’s still a popular time for tourism so it can be a bit crowded, it’s pretty hot out, and with the smoke, you can’t enjoy the outdoors as much.
After burning season comes the rainy season. You can usually expect cloudy weather or short spouts of rain off and on during the day. The rain really cools down everything making it pretty pleasant but you might also have to plan around the rain especially when riding a motorbike. The mosquitos are worse during this time too. It’s good to invest in some inspect repellant, an umbrella, and/or a rain coat for driving on your motorbike. Rainy season can last from May to October.
Generally October, November, and December are the best times to visit Chiang Mai. The weather is nice and cool and there aren’t as many rainy days.
Thailand is a constitutional Monarchy and has a King and Prime Minister. King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit and Princess Royal Maha Chakri Sirindhorn are highly revered in Thailand but have little power over running the country.
The Thai New Year starts on April 13th. Songkran means transformation or change and the water represents the washing away of sins and bad luck to start the new year fresh. From April 13 to the 15th you will see everyone in Thailand roaming the streets, driving scooters, or riding in the back of trucks armed with water guns, buckets, and hoses. Everyone will get wet, no one is safe and it’s a really good time by all. Be very careful on the streets during this time, there are many more vehicle/motorbike accidents happening.
Thai Buddhist Calendar
Thailand uses a different calendar year system. Thailand uses the year Buddha passed away instead of Jesus which was 543 years before Jesus. So when you see dates written down in Thailand the year 2016 will be 2559.
2016 = 2559
2017 = 2560
2018 = 2561
Chiang Mai has both private and government run hospitals and the price can vary depending on the hospital you are staying at with the private hospitals being more expensive.
Hospitals in Chiang Mai are modern and the doctors are experienced in western medicine with many having degrees from reputable universities.
Most staff at the hospital can speak English and if not they will have a translator their to assist. It’s also a good idea to have the google translate app on your phone just in case some key specifics are lost in translation.
Hospitals take cash at checkout and are affordable compared to U.S. hospitals. There is less emphasis though on bed side manner and doctors can be more blunt and to the point.
Dental work in Thailand is also very affordable compared to the U.S. or Europe and it’s really common for westerners to travel to Thailand for dental work. There are many reputable dentist in Chiang Mai that work with the latest in modern dental technology.
Guides to Living in Chiang Mai
Cost of Living in Chiang Mai
Places to Eat
Thai Culture – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Thailand
Coffee – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_production_in_Thailand
Religion in Thailand – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Thailand
7-11 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7-Eleven
Photos – https://commons.wikimedia.org