Without a doubt, Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is one of the most popular cities for expats who are looking for low prices and a high standard of living. However, because of the low prices locally, the local wages tend to be very low as well, so Chiang Mai is not a good spot to move to find a job unless you’ve got connections.
The city is also very popular among the so-called digital nomads who make their living on or through the internet, and only need a decent connection in order to make a living wage. It’s most popular, it seems, among retired people with a pension who want a good climate and nice housing on a modest budget. With this in mind, we’ll discuss five of the best reasons you might want to live in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
1 – It’s one of the cheapest modern cities in the world
In Chiang Mai you can’t rent a reasonably nice and modern apartment starting at under US$300 per month, and an actual house just a bit out into the suburbs can start at around US$400 per month. Obviously if you pay more you get an even nicer place, but the bottom line is that you won’t find a cheaper city that offers this quality.
And it’s not just cheap, there are all the modern conveniences like shopping malls and movie theaters and international restaurants, plus many modern hospitals and other important services.
2 – The climate is much nicer than most of Southeast Asia
Bangkok is a huge city that is also popular with expats, and there are many other cities in southern Thailand that are also quite popular including Hua Hin and of course Phuket. But what you may not know is that they are all blazing hot pretty much every minute of the year. Bangkok is actually the hottest capital city in the world based on average year-round temperature, and the others are similar.
So except for evenings during December and January, you can count on sweating while being outdoors in southern Thailand. Chiang Mai is well to the north and has a bit of elevation, so winters are actually quite mild and even a bit cool, with summers generally being sunny and warm (hot). Having at least a few nice months of weather to look forward to each year can make a big difference for many people.
3 – It’s well connected with cheap flights
Thanks to its popularity with tourists as well as expats, Chiang Mai is well served by a nice airport just on the edge of the city center. Air Asia has frequent flights to Bangkok, which will connect you to almost anywhere in Asia for a cheap fare as long as you buy well in advance. There are other airlines and destinations as well, which isn’t true in Luang Prabang, Laos, for example, where air travel is difficult and expensive.
4 – There is a big and growing expat community
Not long ago I wrote about the importance of moving into an expat neighborhood, at least at first, and it was about my experience moving to Chiang Mai. Learn from my mistake and as long as you choose one of the areas popular with other expats you’ll always have help nearby.
With many thousands of expats in Chiang Mai of all ages, it shouldn’t take long to find a group of people with similar interests to you. Once that is done, you’ll learn the ropes and all the cool places very quickly. Moving to a city with very few expats is far more challenging and frustrating if you don’t know the language.
5 – It’s calm, but with big-city conveniences
Again, comparing Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Bangkok is a fantastic city but it’s complete madness 24 hours a day. That is fine for many people, especially younger people, but it can really get old fast for many of us. The same can be said of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, all with massive populations and little space to breathe.
Chiang Mai, on the other hand, has only a few hundred thousand people, and it actually feels like fewer. It’s a low-density city without even the need for a public transportation system beyond the shared minibuses you’ll see everywhere, and even the car traffic in the center isn’t too bad. If you live in a house you’ll have parking out front, and a short ride to a hypermarket or shopping mall to get whatever you need with ease.
Chiang Mai may not be too beautiful, but it’s a pretty cheap and easy place to live.