This is Part 4 of our Digital Nomad Guide to Southeast Asia. If you aren't caught up, check out our past posts:
You can follow our guide for Chiang Mai in this post or check out the full e-book linked at the end of this article.
Chiang Mai is one of the biggest hotspots for the Digital Nomad movement in Southeast Asia. It is beautiful, cheap, and has great internet speeds. The very well known coworking space there is called PunSpace. It is the oldest in Chiang Mai, so it has been the hub of many Digital Nomads across the years. They have two locations, one in the Nimman area, which is a relatively calm area with plenty of nice cafes, bars and restaurants. Then the second location is by Tha Phae Gate, inside the walls of the Old Town city center.
The Nimman location tends to be very busy since most of the Digital Nomads live in that area and the location is small in size. The Tha Phae Gate location is much larger and feels a lot more comfortable.
Another interesting place to work from is called Camp. This is a work/study space that is also a coffee shop. You do not need to have a membership, however you have to buy coffee or a snack to get connected to WiFi. It is big but always busy with mostly university students. I liked the fact that it is located in a shopping mall that has plenty of things to eat or do when you need a break.
There are other coworking spaces in Chiang Mai, but PunSpace and Camp are the only ones that has 24/7 access. Due to my needs, those were the only places I visited.
The two main areas in Chiang Mai are Nimman and the Old City. If you are staying in Chiang Mai for more than a week, I and everyone else will tell you to live in Nimman and not in the Old City. The Old City is, well, OLD and it is hard to find nice accommodations there. Most of the accommodations are hostels for travelers and if you are planning to live in Chiang Mai for a little while you might as well find something comfortable.
A lot of people have an issue against not living close to the city center, however Nimman has a city center feel to itself. There are plenty of nice places to eat and drink. Plus, it is much calmer since locals as well as Digital Nomads live in that area versus travelers in the Old City.
You will also be very close to both PunSpace and Camp and the most other coworking spaces in Chiang Mai if you live in Nimman.
What I really liked about Chiang Mai is the fact that you can always find available accommodations and the process is very easy. If you plan to live in Chiang Mai please do not book an apartment online. Book an AirBnb or a hostel for a couple of days and go in person to any building you see fit and they probably have some apartments ready, and in most cases you can move in the same hour. They usually require one month rent and one month deposit and once you pay you have a place to call home.
COST OF LIVING
When looking at the popular locations to live in in Thailand, Chiang Mai is definitely the cheapest. Apart from housing everything else is rather cheap. Here is a list of some the prices I saw:
Breakfast at a very nice cafe in Nimman: $3.43
Nice dinner: $6.29
Fresh Juice in a nice cafe: $1.72
One hour Thai massage: $5.72
Sim card with 300 minutes and 1.5Gbs: $8.58
Pad Thai at a local restaurant: $1.14
Street food: $.43-$1.15
You definitely don’t need a big budget to live well in Chiang Mai.
DIGITAL NOMAD COMMUNITY
There is no doubt that Chiang Mai is one of the hotspots for Digital Nomads and there are plenty of people that have called it home for months- some even for years! Just walking through Punspace I recognized a handful of the members from the various Digital Nomad vlogs and Youtube videos.
I did sense that Chiang Mai was more of a serious place for Digital Nomads. You will notice the coworking spaces are usually full but quiet since everyone is focused on getting shit done. Whereas in places like Canggu, Bali you will see a lot more dialogue and excitement in the coworking space.
Chiang Mai for me is the perfect balance between a new and exciting place, but still a place that you can have a routine in so you can actually be productive.
OUTDOORS AND THINGS TO DO
Chiang Mai is in the middle of the country surrounded by mountains which makes it very beautiful. If you like nature then you are in a perfect place. You can easily go hiking, water rafting, and even bathing elephants. There are also plenty of awesome adventures trips on ATVs and dirt bikes in the jungle.
There is always things to do at night as well. One of my favorites is the Sunday Market. It is by far the biggest night market I have seen so far. You will find everything from delicious street food to handmade leathers, to clothing, to wooden carved pieces, etc. The Sunday market is held in the Old City, so you will get to see many old temples while you are walking around like the one in the picture.
As for nightlife you have plenty of bars in the Nimman area, most tend to be more relaxed and are mixed between locals and foreigners.
However, if you are trying to feed your party animal and have a great night that you probably will not remember the next day, then head down to Zoe in Yellow in the Old City. This place gets full with tourists and some locals pretty much every night of the week. It is on a street full of bars and has a variety of inside and outside sections.