The Digital Nomad Life in Chiang Mai
As you know, I’ve been living quite the nomadic lifestyle for a while now.
Despite this, I still find myself daydreaming of going full digital nomad in a backpacker hotspot such as Ubud or Chiang Mai someday.
I’d heard a lot about Chiang Mai, and that it was like a spiritual meeting place for nomads like myself, so a couple of years ago I thought I’d take a look and see what all the fuss was about.
I even took a Thai cooking class!
I’d been thinking about doing a more expensive trip, but since it would require some additional resources I thought I’d save that for later in the year. Chiang Mai’s cheap as chips, so off I went.
Located 700km North of Bangkok among the highest mountains in the country, Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand. Based on the Ping River and close to many major trading routes, historically it was an important city. Now its population sits at around 200,000 residents which more than doubles during the peak tourist season.
It’s a long way from the sea in the south, so I knew it was the perfect contrast to my time in Phuket.
Arriving in Chiang Mai was easy
Traveling there was easy. I flew to Kuala Lumpur and took a 3-hour AirAsia flight to Chiang Mai airport.
At the airport, I got myself a 15-day tourist sim with TrueMove, one of the major local telcos, which for around $25 AUD gave me unlimited calls and 8GB of data.
I slipped the sim into my phone and ordered an Uber, which had recently arrived in Thailand itself. I headed off to my pre-booked AirBnB just out of the city centre. The trip cost me a few dollars and was just as good as taking an Uber in Australia, so I was pretty impressed.
The airport is only a 5-minute drive to the city. On the way, we passed the biggest, newest Starbucks I’ve ever seen. It even had a drive through. Yeah, I can see why the nomads might like it here. Not exactly roughing it, I see.
Airbnb accommodation in Chiang Mai
I stayed at a great little AirBnB place called Plern Plern which is just 5 minutes north of the main city area. I could have roughed it a little more, but I paid around $50/night and got a deluxe room with a king-sized bed and daily service, and it was fantastic.
The owner Add was a delight and she cooked me breakfast every morning, along with other guests from all corners of the globe. It was fun to sit around the breakfast table and chat with people visiting from France, and Germany and tons of other places. Some were in town for a few days, some for a few weeks.
The day after I arrived I headed over to Mango Bikes Rental and picked myself up a 125cc scooter for 7 days for 1,100 baht, or about $45.
I got pulled over by the local police 10 minutes after I picked it up, along with every other scooter rider on the main road. They were obviously out to raise some money for Friday night drinks. I whipped out my International Driver’s Licence, but they told me it was expired (it wasn’t) so I forked over the 500 baht fine ($20) and went on my way. Not worth arguing the point, I thought. For anyone familiar with South-East Asia, it’s a pretty common occurrence. Just a fact of life.
Nomad hot spots
Right. Time to check out all the local nomad hotspots. I thought I’d start with Punspace, one of the popular local nomad co-working spaces. Sure enough, plenty of Macbooks, USB microphones, and chargers filled the various desks. Nomads were wandering around discussing apps and websites and all the rest of it. The place looked pretty clean and tidy and I could definitely see myself setting up shop there if I was in town for a few months.
Next up I headed over to Camp, a huge coffee shop + restaurant + nomad-den located on the top floor of the new Maya shopping mall. This place was first class, like most of the mall actually. Everything was new and shiny and I loved that every table had a power point next to it. I bought a coffee for 100 baht, which gave me 4 hours of complimentary wifi.
After that, I checked out half a dozen more coffee shops and cafes and, yeah, nomads everywhere. I can see why too. It’s easy to get around, safe, pretty clean and tidy, easy to get set up in, and simple if you want to stay one night, one month or one year. The visa situation isn’t that bad, and you can get a 1-year Education Visa for around $1,200 to study Thai or Self-Defense, which includes class fees and visa fees. Good value.
The food and drink everywhere I went was ridiculously good. I ate most of my meals at cheap little corner restaurants, and I reckon I paid about $3/meal on average. My absolute favourite was the khao soi, a Thai coconut-curry with egg noodles, vegetables and optional chicken (yes please). If you get to Chiang Mai, you’ve gotta check out a restaurant called Khao Soi Mae Sai. Out of this world.
I could go on and on but seriously, I get it now. I’m keen to go back and stay longer. Definitely, recommend you get there and check it out for yourself.