Our 5 week Thailand trip is starting to wind down and I left Chiang Mai a couple of days ago. I’m typing this post in a small hotel room in Phuket. It’s way too hot in the middle of the day to be at the beach so we usually hide out in the afternoon. We hit the beach in the morning, have lunch, hide out until it’s a bit cooler, and then head out again. It seems most tourists don’t mind the hot sun, though. Lots of them are out at the beach getting a nice sunburn.
Anyway, the beach is really nice, but I already miss Chiang Mai. I had a great time in Chiang Mai this trip. We were there for 20 days and I got to experience life as a digital nomad. It was not bad at all. There, I could work in a nice coffee shop and enjoy affordable food and drinks anywhere. Phuket is quite a bit more expensive. The food costs about twice as much as in Chiang Mai and tastes about half as good. I haven’t seen a nice café where a digital nomad can sit and work yet. Kata has more of a beach town feel.
Life of a digital nomad
Chiang Mai changed a lot over the last 10 years. Back then, it was a tourist town, but not really a digital nomad haven. Since then, many businesses were started to support the digital nomad lifestyle. I’m not really sure how this came about, but it’s quite different than other cities in Thailand.
This got me thinking – could I be a digital nomad in Chiang Mai? I think so. I have a special advantage because I speak Thai and I have family in town. But there are other things I need as a digital nomad. Let’s list them.
- A modern gym – I saw quite a few gyms when I was in CM. They look very similar to my gym in the US. I usually exercise in a gym so I need one to stay in shape. The other option is to go exercise in the park early in the morning. That’s a good option, but it never worked for me before.
- Internet and cell phone service – The other essential ingredient for the digital nomad is the internet. Luckily, we live in the age of smart phones. I could get unlimited data service for 299 baht/month (less than $10) and enable the wifi hotspot function. I think this is 512 mb/second which is perfectly fine for managing a blog. If you want higher speed, you can pay more. From my experience, the coverage is very solid in the city.
- Nice coffee shops – There are many nice coffee shops with wifi in the Nimman area. I worked at 3 different cafés and they were all perfectly fine. This is unusual in Thailand. I haven’t seen working coffee shops like this in other areas.
- Library – I love the library and I need one nearby. There are a few Thai libraries around CM, but I didn’t have a chance to check them out. I can read Thai so I think I’ll be happy with the books there.
- Universities – There are quite a few universities in Chiang Mai. You can go and take various classes there. They also have lessons for seniors like painting and dancing. My mom took some classes a while back.
- Affordable cost of living – The cost of living in Chiang Mai is much more affordable than in the US. I think we can live very comfortably on about $2,000/month. In Portland, we spend about $5,000/month.
- Walkability and public transportation – In general, Chiang Mai is pretty walkable. It’s a compact city and you rarely have to go far to find what you want. The public transportation is okay. There are red songtaew You can hop on and pay about a buck to go to the other side of the city. There are buses and ridesharing services, too.
- Activities – Chiang Mai is a tourist destination so there are lots of things to do. You can go to movies, listen to live music, hike, visit temples, attend a festival, and more. There are lots of stuff to do there.
Okay, that’s what I’d need as a digital nomad. Chiang Mai has them covered. It’s not bad at all. Did I miss anything?
I think you’re probably interested to hear more about the lower cost of living. Let me write a bit about that.
Lower cost of living
As expected, the cost of living in Chiang Mai is lower than in the US, but it really depends on your lifestyle. If you eat local food, take local public transportation, and keep the rent at a reasonable level, then it will be very affordable.
- Rent – You can rent a studio for $300 to $400 month in my dad’s building. A bigger place costs more. I think we should be able to find a comfortable 1 bedroom condo for $500 to $600. The price is all over the place so it really depends on the location and amenities.
- Local food – $1 to $2 per dish at the market, scrappy local restaurants, or food court.
- Restaurants – $5 to $10 per person at a modern restaurant, usually at the mall and in the touristy area. These restaurants usually serve international cuisine.
- Fancy restaurants – $20+? I don’t know. I didn’t make it to a fancy restaurant.
- Haircut – $2 for kid and $3 for men at the local beauty shop.
- Transportation – $1 to ride across town. I’m not sure how much ride sharing costs, but not much more.
- Grocery – This one really depends on what you buy. If you go to the fresh market to buy local fruits and vegetables, then it’s cheap. However, it is expensive if you go to the supermarket to buy cheese, orange juice, wine, potato chips, and other packaged food. I’m pretty sure we’d spend quite a bit less on groceries if we live in Chiang Mai.
- Cellphone – A sim card cost about $2. The cheapest unlimited data plan cost less than $10/month.
- Internet – I’d just enable the hot spot function on the cell phone. Alternatively, you could get wifi service from the phone companies for about $15 per month.
- Clothes – I got a few shirts and shorts for about $7 each. I think that’s midrange price. You can pay a lot more, but you can also go much cheaper.
- Gym? – Oops, I forgot to ask how much it cost. Sorry! I assume around $20-$30/month.
- Café – A cup of cappuccino cost $2-$3 in a nice café.
- Massage – It cost about $8 for a 60 minute Thai massage.
- Healthcare – I’m not sure about the cost of healthcare. From what I’ve heard, it is much less expensive than in the US. It seems like if you’re relatively healthy, you can pay as you go and it should be fine. Sorry, I don’t have a solid number here.
Okay, I hope these give you an idea about the cost of living in Chiang Mai. Let me know if you’re curious about how much something cost. I can ask my dad.
Are there any cons to living in Chiang Mai? I don’t think there are many. Here is my short list.
- Culture shock – It might be too difficult to live in a foreign country if you haven’t tried it before.
- Weather – The weather was pretty good when I was there in the middle of winter. It cooled down at night and didn’t get too hot in the day time. Summer will be a different story, though. It’ll be hot and humid.
- Crowd – It’s pretty busy in Chiang Mai now. There are a ton of tourists everywhere. The traffic is pretty bad too. If you like a dense city environment, then you’ll probably be able to handle it. If you need more personal space, it might be tough.
- Tiered pricing – Attractions charge foreigners more. Thai people don’t make as much income so they keep prices low for them. I think this is fine. I’ve seen tiered pricing in quite a few developing countries.
- School – I don’t like the schooling system in Thailand. The kids study way too much. I like our school in Portland so we’ll stick with that for now. The international schools in Chiang Mai are probably pretty good, but they’re quite expensive.
Ahh.. Here’s one from Mrs. RB40.
- Social* – Mrs. RB40 doesn’t speak Thai so she’s wondering if she’d be able to make friends in Chiang Mai. There are quite a few digital nomads in Chiang Mai, but they’re mostly in their 20s. We’re quite a bit older so I’m not sure if we’d share the same interest. The other common type of foreigners is the old retired guys. They’re living in Thailand to stretch their retirement savings. There must be some foreigners in their 40s working and living in Chiang Mai. I think we’ll have to settle down there first before we can search them out, though.
Moving to Chiang Mai?
So, am I moving to Chiang Mai? No, not right now. RB40Jr is still in school and I want him to have a stable environment. Once RB40Jr is done with high school, I’ll evaluate it again. I plan to live in Chiang Mai for a few years to help my parents out because by then, I’m pretty sure they will need more assistance. That’s 10 years out, though. Lots of things could change.
As for Mrs. RB40, I’m not sure if she’d want to live in Chiang Mai full time. Maybe she can split her time in Thailand and the US. That way she can keep an eye on her parents in California too. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
What about you? Have you thought about moving to another country? Where?
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Source: Retire By 40
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