It’s been nearly two months since I set up a home base in Chiang Mai. Believe it or not, this is the first time in my life I have my own solo residence! But living here is more than just having my own condo. Here are some reasons why I chose Chiang Mai to settle.
Reasons for a Home Base in Chiang Mai
- Chiang Mai is a modern city. As one of the largest cities in Thailand, there is an enormous amount of development. Most modern facilities are available, including supermarkets, malls, an international airport. etc.
- Internet is great. While the connection at some locations and residences can be spotty, for the most part you can get a good, fast connection. There are three mobile providers (True, AIS and DTAC), all with WiFi hotspots around town. DTAC is the fastest, while AIS will give you the best coverage across Thailand.
- As a digital nomad hub, the city has dozens of co-working spaces, many of which are open 24 hours. My personal favorite is CAMP (Creative And Meeting Place), located on the fifth floor of the Maya Shopping Center across from the cinema. They provide two hours of high-speed internet for every 50 baht ($1.50) you spend on food, or you can use the internet for free if you have AIS.
- Because of the plethora of tourists, Chiang Mai has a truly international cuisine. In addition to delicious Thai food, you can also find Italian pizzas, juicy burgers, sushi and more. Read about my favorite Thai and Western restaurants in Chiang Mai.
- The city has a bustling nightlife. Thai law dictates that alcohol not be served after midnight, but the it’s still possible to find places where the music and partying continues late into the night (morning). Modern and hipster pubs and beer gardens abound. Just avoid the Chang beer. Worst hangover ever, but I wouldn’t know.
- It’s possible to live on a very tight budget, but you still have to know how not to go broke.
- Average temperature year-round is 25°-37°C (77°-98.6°F). Obviously there are highs and lows outside the average. But the average is cooler than Bangkok. Sometimes I prefer a bit cooler, but it’s still comfortable.
- Chiang Mai is located in a beautiful part of Thailand. Many other attractions are nearby, including the hippie village of Pai, hot springs, waterfalls, elephant sanctuaries, the grand canyon waterpark, zip lining, etc.
- While Chiang Mai is big, it’s still possible to walk to most parts of the city. If it’s too far to walk, you can find a local bus for only a few cents per ride. Additionally, there is the NCA bus running daily to Bangkok for $15. The bus travels overnight and includes dinner, movies and chairs that rotate down into a bed while massaging you! And since January, Uber operates in Chiang Mai, although I don’t know if it’s fully legal yet.
- There are festivals all the time in Chiang Mai. Sometimes you have to ask a local where and when they are, but hardly a week goes by without some festivities going on. Some of the more famous festivals include the lantern festival in November and Thai New Year in April.
- Locals are really friendly. It’s easy to get help and people on the street are apt to smile at you. That’s more than I can say for a lot of the countries I’ve been to.
My Journey Back to Chiang Mai
I first came to Chiang Mai in November 2015 after attending TBEX travel blogger convention in Bangkok. Many other bloggers had made their way up to the blogger haven. I quickly found CAMP, one of the digital co-working locations in town, and everyday I would find other bloggers and friends working there as well. Not only was it easy to network and get advice from fellow bloggers, I also had a friend base I could spend time with.
After Thailand, I circumnavigated the globe once again, spending seven months with a home base in Scotland while I got my British citizenship. But I always dreamed of returning to Chiang Mai.
Toward the end of 2016, I received a text from my brother that he had booked his flight to Thailand in December. It was his first overseas adventure! It was also the perfect opportunity for me to return to SE Asia.
With the help of a friend who works at Etihad, I purchased a ticket from Edinburgh to Bangkok for $280, with a two-week layover in the UAE. I arrived in Bangkok one day before my brother.
In the month he stayed, we had a whirlwind tour of Thailand, visiting Chiang Mai, Pai, Koh Chang and Bangkok. At the end, my brother went home and I flew to Malaysia to get a Thai Visa to stay longer in the country.
Once back in Bangkok, I met up with Juliano Cottitto for the fourth time in my travels! Talk about a small world. We went to the airplane graveyard along with Sheila Dee of The Opportunistic Travelers, and then took the overnight bus together to Chiang Mai.
From there, I hit the ground running! We arrived Monday morning at 7 am, and by 9 I was teaching English to my first student. I taught for several hours, and then began my search for a condo.
For the next two days, I went door-to-door down dozens of streets looking for the right place to stay. I needed somewhere cozy, but also within my budget.
Eventually I was about get a map of Chiang Mai and highlight every road I had walked down. After nearly 80 condos, only three were within my budget. One was $184 a month and looked like a fancy motel room, but they didn’t have any facilities like gym, pool, etc, and internet was another $30 each month, plus utilities, plus… Another option was $156 a month and had a modern pool, gym, etc, but the room smelled horrible, and the bathroom was even worse. My third option was a place several of my friends had stayed at in 2015. It was about as bare-bones as it gets – no facilities, internet, security or anything else, but it was only $80 with a fan or $94 with AC.
A Condo of My Own
I was on my way back to my hostel at the end of the second day when I happened upon the Phinyoping Condo, nestled just off Huay Kaew road. Almost immediately, I knew I had found my condo.
Before you enter the building, a smiling security guard is there to greet you. He doesn’t just sit in his shack, but is constantly cleaning, pruning and improving the grounds of the condo. To get to the elevator, you need to pass through a door with thumb-print security.
My room is on the sixth floor. I could have paid an extra $28 a month for a view of the Doi Suthep mountains, but I was happy with a view of Chiang Mai (and a bunch of trees). I did pay the extra $28 for a fridge and TV – I use the fridge everyday; the latter never, but it was a package deal. Altogether my rent is $199 a month plus utilities, which this month came out to about $60.
While the condo doesn’t have facilities such as a pool, gym, etc., I’m very happy with what it does have. A huge room with a king-size bed, a bathroom with a separate stall for showering (uncommon in Thailand), a good air conditioner and great WiFi. It’s clean, modern and has enough furniture for my meager possessions.
My first purchases included a portable stove for cooking, a Thai massage mat for guests to sleep on (and for massages and yoga) and sheets for my bed. Would you believe top sheets are almost unheard of in Thailand, and crazy expensive! They only have fitted sheets and blankets, yet I can’t use more than a sheet in this heat!
Best of all, the location couldn’t be better. It’s located a mere three-minute walk from CAMP where I write (since I can’t spend all my time in the condo). It’s also just up the street from Nimman – the modern, hipster district of Chiang Mai.
The only disadvantage to the room, as pointed out by the landlady, is the bar on the street plays loud music until after midnight. While I don’t really mind, during my first couple weeks I thought the windows weren’t even there, considering how loud the music was. Then I realized that a window behind the curtain was open! That was easy to fix, and now the music is comfortably muted.
I initially rented for three months, but now I’m looking to extend my stay. There are a lot of activities and opportunities in Chiang Mai I want to partake in, and I can also leave my stuff in the condo while traveling around some more countries in SE Asia.
Whether or not I stay for the summer, I plan to come back to my home base in Chiang Mai each winter. It is [can be] a cheap location, and at the least I can relax and catch up on my writing. There aren’t as many friends here as I had in 2015 (most of my fellow bloggers seem to have ended up in Mexico), but my schedule has been busy enough to keep me from socializing a lot. Luckily I always have you, my readers, to talk with.
So what do you you think about my choice for a home base in SE Asia? Interested in visiting someday?
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