Living in Chiang Mai as a Digital Nomad: What's it Like?
In the fourth of our interviews with digital nomads who have experienced living in different countries around the world, we talk to Jarryd and Alesha from travel blog NOMADasaurus. Full-time travellers and digital nomads, Jarryd and Alesha have been travelling for many years and have developed their blog to be one of the most popular in the adventure travel niche. They have inspired thousands and thousands of like-minded adventure travellers to travel to off the beaten path destinations.
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They spent a couple of months living in Chiang Mai while working from their laptops, exploring the landscapes, culture and getting to know the people. We ask them 10 questions to hopefully help you decide if a move to Chiang Mai is right for you.
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An Interview With NOMADasaurus
What are the locals like?
The locals in Chiang Mai are extremely friendly, always smiling and willing to help tourists out. Unfortunately, most expats here don’t seem to make many local friends, mainly due to the digital nomad ‘bubble’ that is quite prominent in the city. But by learning the language, staying out of the expat areas and making an effort to integrate it’s possible to make great local friends while living in Chiang Mai.
How much does long-term accommodation cost? What options are there….apartments, villas, guesthouses?
Long-term accommodation in Chiang Mai is plentiful, cheap and of high quality. You can get a nice studio apartment for between US$200-$300 a month, or easily spend US$1500 a month on a fully-serviced condo. Guesthouses can be quite cheap for long-term stays as well, although we would recommend getting your own apartment.
What’s the average cost of food and drink? What’s the food like?
The food in Chiang Mai is simply incredible! Local dishes are some of the best you will find anywhere in the world, and you can get street food for as cheap as $1 a dish. If you’re after Western meals as well there are a tonne of (over-priced) options, ranging from excellent quality to barely edible. Do yourself a favour and stick to Thai food.
What options are there for working online? Is the Wi-Fi good? Is there co-working spaces/cafes etc
The wi-fi is some of the best in Southeast Asia, super cheap and available everywhere. You can get high-speed internet hooked up in your apartment within 24 hours, or buy a sim card with a huge amount of 4G data for just a few dollars. There are dozens of co-working spaces and cafes that you can work in as well. The great options for getting online make living in Chiang Mai a popular choice for digital nomads.
What’s the visa situation like for living in Chiang Mai?
The visa situation is tricky, and most digital nomads tend to just enter on visa-on-arrivals and leave the country every 30 days. The next best option is to get a 60-day tourist visa and extend it for 30 days at immigration. However, if you are living in Chiang Mai and working online, you are technically there illegally if you don’t have a work visa and you can get deported. Keep this in mind and don’t go telling every person you meet that you are ‘working’ in Chiang Mai.
Is there an expat/DN community?
Chiang Mai is probably the biggest digital nomad hub on the planet, which is both good or bad. This does allow for excellent networking, but in our personal opinion we found it all to be a bit over the top, and at times like a pyramid scheme.
This may come across as cynical, but through our eyes, it seemed like a lot of people there are just trying to sell everyone else the ‘digital nomad dream’. The amount of people sitting in Starbucks paying $5 for mediocre coffee but justifying it by claiming to be entrepreneurs was quite funny. A lot of digital ‘nomads’ also move to Chiang Mai and never leave the expat neighbourhood of Nimman except to do visa extensions or fly off somewhere for a visa run.
The community seems to be completely focused on going to meet-ups and eating Western food with other foreigners, rather than integrating themselves into the beautiful Thai culture.
We may be a bit harsh of the community there, and to be honest if you just want somewhere that’s cheap with good internet to go and figure out how to start working online then it’s great. If you’re happy being in the bubble, go for it (and in terms of cost of living with Western comforts, it’s hard to beat). Plus, if you put some effort in there’s an abundance of amazing places to visit around the city. You really get out what you put in here.
How did you spend your free time while living in Chiang Mai?
When we did have free time we used to take our scooter and go find some cool Buddhist temples, head off to Pai, catch up with friends, visit the Elephant Nature Park, or even get a Sak Yant tattoo from a Buddhist monk.
What are your three favourite things about living in Chiang Mai?
Cheap cost of high-quality living, culture and food.
Is there anything you don’t like about living in Chiang Mai?
The traffic, noise and pollution can be really bad in the cities.
What one thing from home do you wish you could have with you in Chiang Mai?
You can get just about anything you want in Thailand.
Have you experienced life in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad or expat? Did you like it? Do you have any advice for digital nomads thinking of living there? Please share your experiences while living in Chiang Mai by commenting below.