Digital Nomad guide to Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a relaxed city in the north of Thailand with lots of trees and nature, beautiful temples and relaxded, friendly people. An ideal place to work digitally as a freelancer. And so I packed my laptop and travelled east.

After a few weeks in the laid back city of Chiang Mai i can only say: all the stories are true. Chiang Mai is a great city to live and work for a while. I’m having a great time. And – not to mention important – I get quite a bit of work done. I have some writing jobs to do, but mainly advertising sales for a tourist magazine I produce for the city of Rotterdam, my birth place. Acquisition is not my most favoured activity, but it has to be done and it is certainly a lot more fun doing it from Thailand!

Living and working somewhere other than the Netherlands for a while has all kinds of advantages. It is adventurous, it provides a breath of fresh air, it is inspiring and above all it is wonderful to be in Thailand! I have been coming to Thailand for years and I feel completely at home here. It is one of my favorite countries. Yet I had never stayed in Chiang Mai for more than one or two nights. The winter before corona I worked for a while from Koh Pha Ngan and that was great too. But the hammock beach vibe is not the best if you need to get work done…

That’s why this time I chose Chiang Mai for my advertisement- sales-period. The city is teeming with expats working online from all over the world and that gives the place a energetic, lively work vibe. Chiang Mai also has the infrastructure and amenities to meet the needs of a diverse group of international digital nomads. There are countless cafes, convenient coworking spaces, hostels and apartments in every price range to accommodate everyone.

Chiang Mai is a small, relatively quiet city compared to Bangkok. It has just under 130,000 inhabitants and was built from an old center surrounded by a number of neighborhoods. The old center is a square area surrounded by a canal, beautiful trees and here and left over parts of the four-hundred-year-old city wall. You can cross the old town on foot in about half an hour, an eclectic mix of traditional wooden houses, modern villas and many Buddhist monasteries, temples and stupas.

The old town is nice but very touristy. The restaurants cater almost exclusively to tourists or men with a Thai wife, whether purchased or not. The food in the restaurants is usually a bit bland (suited to tourists who do not like spicy) and in front of the massage parlors there are groups of women trying to recruit customers. There are nice shops – I bought a nice dress there yesterday – and there are good silver and jewelry shops. In my opinion the old town is okay to spend a few days in transit, but for living and working Nimman is the place to be!

The Nimman district, northwest of the old city is the area surroundnig Nimmanhaemin Road. Here you will find many international restaurants, shops and cafes. Also many foreigners, but most of them live and work here for a shorter or longer period of time. They are not the usual package tour tourists. That gives a different atmosphere. You don’t see women on the sidewalk at the massage parlors here. In the restaurants, Thais and foreigners sit together to eat. We do our shopping in the same supermarket. The local and temporary population mix here into a colorful international community. In Nimman you have the feeling of being part of the local life in Chiang Mai.

An apartment in Nimman does not have to be expensive. You can get a nice Thai style apartment from 12 to 15 euros per night. No luxury, but everything you need: bed, workplace, kitchenette… For 25 to 30 euros you have a new building, for 50 euros you have a swimming pool on the roof. These prices are per night and become cheaper the longer you rent. All in all, you can get by in Chiang Mai for about 1000 euros per month. But then you live a frugal life. If you like massages, cocktails and extensive dining, then of course it will cost you. Thailand can be very cheap, but it is also easy to spend money.

There is no typical digital nomad in Chiang Mai. They come from all parts of the world: business types, creatives, idealists, adventurers, students, seniors, rich, poor, male, female and other… Most of them are self-employed, they write, blog, sell online or teach. But there are also people who work for a boss and are given the freedom to do so from abroad. For example, I met two Dutch technicians who work from Thailand for a few weeks every year. They check in online every afternoon with the business home front, but are otherwise free to spend their day as they wish. As long as the work gets done…

Of course you also meet perculiar types. In my previous apartment I lived next to a somewhat unworldly American boy. Every afternoon he taught English to Chinese people online and his teaching method was special to say the least. Like an army general, he shouted out the words for his students to repeat. And if the pronunciation was not to his liking, he shouted even louder. ME, MINE, MYSELF! Again: ME, MINE, MYSELF! Etc. When I met him in the hallway and asked if he was that loud teacher, he blushed. He hadn’t realized how thin the walls were…

My own daily routine was quite relaxed. Mornings for work, afternoon for relaxing – usually by the pool. Then work some more. In the evening I go out for dinner, have a massage or watch a movie. I have a nice, strutured work rhythm and get more done than at home.

But to work digitally in Thailand, there are a number of things that must be in order. Entering the country is easy up to 30 days. If you want to stay longer you get an extention on your visa for about 55 euro at any immigration office, or you get a two months visa before hand at the embassy or consulat. immigration office for about 55 euros. You can also take a trip to a neighboring country so that you can receive a new visa upon your return.

The first thing to arrange upon arrival is your own Internet source. You have good WiFi everywhere in Thailand and you can get online in most cafes and hotels, but public WiFi is not always safe and not always fast or reliable. It is also nice to be online while on the road so that you can use Google Maps everywhere, look up things and send and retrieve emails if necessary (on the train, for example).

I do it as follows. Because I don’t want to mess around with double SIM cards in my regular phone, I take an old phone with me especially for Thailand. In the 7-11, the all day and all night supermarket chain that can be found everywhere in Thailand, I buy a SIM card for Internet. So far I have always found super nice employees who put the card in my phone and activated it. It’s unbelievable, because my phone is set up in Dutch, but they always manage it.

In addition to my regular phone, which I mainly use to text with people at home, I also always have my Thai phone with me. This allows me to make local calls and use Google Maps to get from A to B without any problems. For example, in Bangkok I found a great vegetarian restaurant in a back alley near the train station and my phone call effortlessly led me to the start of a jungle hike on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. The nice thing is that I can hotspot my Thai phone call anywhere to my phone or laptop and voila: I’m online.

Another example. One afternoon the fuses blew in my apartment and the WiFi was also off. I didn’t have a phone number for my AirBnB host, but I was still able to go online and email him for help through my own wifi. Half an hour later someone was at the door to fix the problem. And when I recently traveled on the night train, I was able to chat with my daughter on WhatsApp along the way. In short, a telephone with Internet is indispensable and inexpensive. My subscription was just under 18 euros and valid for one month. You can top up day and night at the 7-11.

The next step is looking for the right place to stay. I prefer to work from home – just like at home. That’s why I like to have an apartment with all the trimmings: kitchen, workplace, WiFi. Because I didn’t know Chiang Mai that well yet, I chose to apartment hop. This way I could investigate the different neighborhoods and rental options. Each apartment had pros and cons. I haven’t found my ideal apartment yet. But what I do know: I will come again to work here! Especiaqlly during European winter warm, easy going Chiang Mai is so much better than the Netherlands!

A few tips for the digital noman in Chiang Mai:

– Supermarket Rimping is located underneath the MAYA shopping center. Here you can buy everything you want: filter coffee, organic vegetables and even Oatly oat milk (!)
– At the BuriSiri hotel on Siri Mangkalajarn Rd you can lie by the pool for 150 bath (4 euros) including a drink. Ideal if your apartment does not have its own swimming pool.
– Warorot market – a nice traditional Thai style market southeast of the old city. Ideal for buying nuts, tea, spices and souvenirs.
– I’M YOUR VEGAN at Nimmana Haeminda Rd Lane 17 – Nice restaurant owned by a Dutchman where you can eat vegan BetterBalls and Barbershop!
– Monks Trail to Wat Pha Lat – a beautiful hike (45 minutes) from the edge of the city through the jungle to an old Buddhist temple complex.
– Bring a padlock. Always good to hang an extra lock on the door of your apartment.

Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

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De artikelen van Anne verschenen eerder in tijdschriften en kranten waaronder Fabulous Mama, Viva, Margriet, Linda en NRC Next. Anne is cultureel antropoloog en eigenaar van Uitgeverij 11