In our Digital Nomad Girls Ultimate Guide series, we introduce cities from around the world that are great places for location independent ladies. From Chiang Mai to Medellin, we’ve got you covered. The first edition is Chiang Mai for Digital Nomad Girls.
Chiang Mai for Digital Nomad Girls
It feels almost like a cliche to write about Chiang Mai as a nomad hotspot. After all, the Thai mountain town has become digital nomad central in recent years. But that’s for good reason. Affordability, warm weather year-round, delicious and varied food, friendly locals and a great community make Chiang Mai the perfect spot to settle down for a while and get some work done.
Whether you’re starting out or already a seasoned remote worker, Chiang Mai is not to be missed.
Where is it?
Chiang Mai is the capital city of a Northern Thai province of the same name. It’s located in the mountains, only a few hours from Laotian and Burmese borders.
Currency: Thai Baht (ca. 35 baht to $1, 50 baht to £1, 39 baht to €1)
What is it known for?
Known for its great and varied food, cheap living costs, friendly people and fast wifi. That’s why it’s become a nomad hotspot year-round.
When to go?
The most popular time to visit Chiang Mai is from around October to late January, when the weather is more mild and dry.
The worst time to go to Chiang Mai is during burning season, which lasts from February to April every year. Farmers around the city burn off their fields and the resulting air pollution becomes almost unbearable. Most expats, nomads and many locals leave during this period, moving to the Southern islands for a few months instead.
Although a little cooler than its bigger brother, Bangkok, Chiang Mai can still get very hot year round with its tropical wet and dry climate.
The coolest time is October to mid-February, although it never really feels cool unless you’re riding on a scooter at night. (lows around 15 C, highs around 30 C).
The hottest season, coinciding with burning season, is mid-February to June, when humidity is high and temperatures reach lows of 24 C and highs of 36 C.
June to October is wet season, when the old town has been known to flood.
Safety for women?
In general, safety is not a big issue in Chiang Mai, but travellers should always use common sense that you would at home.
Many Thai women dress in a very modern style, often wearing shorts and summer dresses. However, make sure you dress respectfully, especially when visiting temples.
When driving on a scooter make sure you always wear a helmet, preferably a proper motorbike helmet. Random police checks of scooter drivers are quite common, with the policemen often giving out fines of 400-500 baht. In general, you should always go to the police station to pay the fine, but it’s usually less hassle to just pay the policeman there and then (albeit, not strictly legal).
Public drinking is not allowed in Thailand.
For minor issues or check-ups, Chiang Mai’s hospitals are very well equipped. In case of emergency, you might have to be transferred to Bangkok, which has some of the best hospitals in South East Asia.
Chiang Mai Ram Hospital is located in the North-West of the old town, near Nimman and offers some of the best services. It is, however, a private hospital, and not all insurance will cover your treatment if you could have visited a public hospital instead. So, you should check with your insurance first to find out if they’ll cover your treatment there.
Dental care and other check-ups can be very affordable in Thailand, and many foreigners visit doctors there beacuse it’s cheaper than at home. You can find an overview of healthcare in Chiang Mai here.
The Bangkok hospital (in Chiang Mai) offers a Women’s Health Clinic.
Visas are one of the hottest topics when it comes to Chiang Mai. The paperwork you require absolutely depends on your nationality and how long you want to stay for. Please check your country’s visa regulations for Thailand before making any travel arrangements.
In general, most nationalities (with exceptions) can enter Thailand with a visa exemption. This is not technically the same as a visa-on-arrival, but works much the same way. The exemption allows you to stay for 30 days, after which many nationalities can apply for a 30-day extension. Last time we checked, the extension cost 1900 baht (around $53) and can be applied for at any immigration office in Thailand.
If you want to stay longer you can apply for a tourist visa in your home country or in a few other countries in Southeast Asia. The visa situation is constantly changing, that’s why we urge you to always contact your consulate or embassy for up-to-date information.
At the time of writing, there were two types of tourist visa available: the single-entry 90-day visa (which lasts 2 months but can be extended for an extra month, see above) and the 6-month multiple-entry visa, which you must apply for in your home country. While the 6-month multiple-entry visa sounds great in theory, you may have to prove that you have at least $7000 in your bank account, which may not be possible for every aspiring digital nomad.
How much does it cost?
Chiang Mai’s affordability is one of the main reasons it has become the most popular nomad destination in the world.
Depending on your standards, you will be able to live comfortably for around $600 a month. This would include a simple studio apartment, access to a coworking space, scooter rental, eating mainly cheap street food or in food courts, and the occasional night out.
A street food or local market meal will set you back 30-50 baht, local meals in little cafes or shacks will cost 40-100 baht. Western meals can have Western prices, with a nice brunch costing around 120-300 baht.
In general, food is fresh, delicious, and very cheap, and if you’re on a strict budget you can easily eat well for 100 baht a day.
Room and apartment prices are changing rapidly, but a basic studio apartment with aircon, pool access and a balcony can be found for as little as $150 per month (without bills).
Some of the flashier, luxury condos can go for almost Western prices, that’s why we’d suggest talking to people when you arrive to find out where to get a good deal. Most places make you sign a one-month contract and pay a 1-month deposit that you get back at the end.
Many Asian budget airlines like Air Asia fly directly to Chiang Mai airport, which is located only 3 km south west of the city.
Most people arrive in Bangkok and either take a short 1-hour flight or the cheaper overnight train to Chiang Mai.
When you arrive at the airport you can either take a taxi, songtheaw or tuk-tuk. Taxis are surprisingly affordable and usually cheaper than tuk-tuks. A taxi to the Nimman area will cost anywhere from 100 to 200 baht, depending on your haggling skills.
Songtheaws (or red trucks) are the cheapest option to get around town and usually cost 20 baht per ride within the city. From the airport they might charge around 40-50 baht, which is still a steal.
The trick to riding in red trucks without being ripped off is not to ask about the price when you get in. As soon as you ask how much the ride costs, the driver knows you’re new to Chiang Mai and might try to charge you an inflated price. If you just get in, they will know that you’ve taken a truck before and know that the standard price for a ride in the city is 20 baht. Obviously, this price doesn’t apply late at night, when fares often double, or if taking a longer trip.
Renting a scooter is also very popular and gives you total flexibility. Scooters can be rented for around $60-100 per month. You will need to pay a deposit, but avoid leaving your passport as a deposit, even if they insist on it, a cash deposit is always best. ALWAYS wear a helmet (a proper helmet is best, unlike the little “soup bowls” most people in Thailand seem to wear) and we wouldn’t recommend driving a scooter if you don’t have any experience.
Renting a bicycle can also be a great way to explore Chiang Mai, but be sure to ride carefully on the main roads. Most guesthouses and many other shops rent out bicycles per day, week or month. You can try to haggle, but most pay around 60-100 baht per day, or around 300-500 baht per week for a simple push bike. Bicycle helmets are virtually impossible to find to rent, but you can buy a cheap helmet at one of the many helmet shops along the moat.
Where to stay?
Chiang Mai has a whole range of options for digital nomad girls who’d like to stay for a while. The easiest and most flexible way to find a place is to just show up. Book 3 nights in a hostel, hotel or AirBnB (or couch surf) and then walk around different neighbourhoods to get a feel for the town. You can walk into any of the apartment building and ask if they have availability. It’s always worth haggling, especially in low season.
The Old Town
Chiang Mai’s old town is basically a mile-wide square surrounded by a moat and some partially intact old town walls. Mountains lie to the west and the trendy Nimmanhaemin (or Nimman) area lies to the northwest of town. Each side of the square has a gate, which provide popular meeting places and host food markets in the evenings.
Most tourists stay inside the old town, but most of the apartment buildings for longer stays lie in the outer areas, mainly along Nimmanhaemin Road or East of the old town.
Around Nimmanhaemin Road
Nimman is by far the most popular area for digital nomads. Many coworking spaces and cafes can be found here, making it a popular area with local students as well. Staying in Nimman can be a lot of fun as there’s always something going on. There’s an incredible selection of restaurants and street food, and even two full-sized shopping malls with food courts, cinemas and shops.
If you’re looking for a place to base yourself in the Nimman area for a few days while looking for an apartment, Sakulchai Place is a nice, clean and affordable option (it even has a pool!)
If you’re planning on staying more than 6 months you can also find long-term homes through perfect homes.
The rent will completely depend on how much you are willing or able to spend. A nice 1-bedroom AirBnB apartment can cost $500 a month. A cheap local studio without aircon can be found for $100 a month. Most expats stay in condos and studios. Baan Thai is very popular and costs around $150 per month, although wifi and electricity bills are extra, which can easily double the price per month.
Many places also rent scooters and often provide competitive deals if you’re staying there.
Are there any coliving places yet?
Many nomads share houses as it’s affordable and a fun way to meet people. The first coliving space in Chiang Mai, Power Coliving, has just opened. For $999 per month you get a room, scooter, cleaner, snacks, events and more. Although definitely not the cheapest option, its an easy way to settle in if money is not an issue.
Where to work?
Chiang Mai certainly doesn’t have a shortage of coworking spaces and cafes.
Most cafes are equipped with wifi and don’t usually mind you working there for hours on end as long as you buy at least a drink. Students often work in cafes, so it is not unusual to see whole groups of young students revising until late at night.
There are so many cafes with wifi in Chiang Mai, you could work at a different one every day and not repeat yourself for months. You can find a great overview at Chiang Mai Coffee Culture.
Wawee Coffee is a chain with many branches in Chiang Mai. Their iced chocolate is great and costs around 75 baht. Their wifi is fast and AIS Super wifi is available. Socket availability depends on the branch, but is not usually a problem.
Into the Woods is a fairytale themed cafe near the North Gate that’s surprisingly affordable and definitely worth a visit. Wifi can be a little hit and miss sometimes.
Wake-Up Cafe on Nimman is open 24 hours and has great coffee and cocoa. The also have cute seating pods and swing chairs.
Punspace Nimman is one of the most popular spaces and can get quite busy at times. Their wifi is great, and they are open 24 hour, offering free coffee, water and biscuits.
Punspace Tha Pae Gate is a second Punspace location providing much the same service at a bigger location east of town.
CAMP is a huge working space/cafe on top of Maya Mall in Nimman. It is very popular with students and remote workers, so make sure you get there early to get a spot. The wifi is very fast if you have access to the AIS super wifi (free when buying a compatible AIS sim card and topping up with a few dollars).
Addicted to Work is located near Maya mall and is a cosy space with flexible payment options.
Mana is tucked away on a little side street in Nimman and has reasonable daily and weekly passes that include drinks.
Starwork is relatively new and is located in the Northeast of the city, near Central Festival Mall.
If you want more in-depth info, here’s a great guide.
What and where to eat in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is every foodie’s dream. Local markets, cheap street food, Western restaurants, hipster cafes – there’s something for everyone.
The South Gate and North Gate markets are open daily from around 4 pm and have a great selection of food and drinks. Fresh fruit shakes start at 25 baht – they are so good you sometimes need two. The best shakes in town can be found at Ms, Pa’s stand at the South Gate market, she is almost a celebrity in Chiang Mai.
The most famous Northern Thai dish is Khao Soi, a thick, yellow curry noodle soup with fried egg noodles on top. It usually contains chicken, but most places also have a veggie version. It’s always served with lime, onions and pickles, and can be pretty hot, but it is so verrrrrrry tasty.
For fruit lovers, Chiang Mai is like heaven. You can find an array of tropical fruits for just a few dollars per kilo. Try mangosteen, rambutan, lychee, mangoes, papayas, snake fruit and, well, everything else really.
Also, don’t forget to try mango sticky rice! You’ll know why once you’ve tried it.
Thai food is diverse, flavourful and fresh. You can find excellent food on literally every corner. Don’t be afraid to try the street food, just make sure you order from a popular place. The markets are perfect for trying out different dishes, but many of the street shacks dotted around town are worth a look.
Here are just a few of our favourite restaurants:
The Burmese Place located near Anchan is very popular, incredibly cheap and offers Thai food as well as Burmese fare.
The food court in the basement of Maya mall has a great selection of different food stands.
Ongtong Noodle: located just down the road from Punspace Nimman, this is a great lunch option. Their Khao Soi is amazing, as is the butterfly pea flower juice.
There is a huge amount of excellent western food to be found in Chiang Mai. Some of our favourite places are:
Dukes: a proper American restaurant with a huge menu and huge portions. It can be a fun place to celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving. They have multiple branches around town.
Butter is Better: a diner in the south of the city, known for its delicious breakfasts and great mac and cheese.
Rustic and Blue: cute hipster cafe in Nimman that has lovely breakfasts and lunches. Their coffees are also excellent.
Smoothie Blues: great western breakfasts and lovely smoothies. The bagel is a very affordable option.
Salad Concept: a popular place that offers (yes, you guessed right) salads and wraps. You can build your own or pick from the menu.
Croco Pizza: weird name, great pizza.
Other Asian Food:
Ninja Ramen: out of this world butter salt ramen and other Japanese dishes.
Taiwan Restaurant: a simple little place that makes incredible Chinese dumplings.
Hong Kong Lucky Cafe: excellent noodle and soup dishes.
Kabab House Indian Food: delicious Indian food and great lassis in the old town. Doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s friendly, tasty and affordable.
What not to miss
Chiang Mai is home to over 300 temples! They vary in size and style, but are all free to visit. Please dress appropriately by covering your legs and shoulder.
Traditional Thai massages are a definite must-try during any visit to Chiang Mai, you can find information on different types of spas here. The most famous massage can be found at Lila’s, and is performed by former female prisoners. It’s a great experience and you support a great cause.
One of our favourite things to do is watch a real Muay Thai fight in the Tha Phae Gate arena. Tickets start around 400 baht, and you get to see around 6 fights in different weight classes. It might sound weird, but it’s a really fun way to spend an evening with friends.
A visit to Doi Suthep temple on top of the mountain is a must. Please wear a helmet if you’re driving there on a scooter.
Sticky Waterfalls is a popular destination about one hour outside the city by Songtheaw. The rocks on the waterfall are very porous and so algae don’t stick to them, resulting in a very rough surface that isn’t slippery at all, meaning you can climb all the way to the top.
The Grand Canyon is another popular day trip and a great option if you want to go for a swim. Around half an hour from the city by red truck and entry is only around 30 baht.
The world famous Loi Krathong and Ye Ping festivals are celebrated on the last night of the twelfth full moon every year, usually in November. If you like colourful lanterns and fireworks you should make sure to visit before or during the festival.
Song Kran is the Thai New Year which is celebrated on the 13th-15th April. Prepare to get soaked as locals and tourist alike will pour buckets of water over each other and shoot you with water guns. A good way to cool off in the midst of hot season.
Chiang Mai has a whole bunch of exercise options, with gyms, Muay Thai schools and yoga schools proving very popular.
Yoga Tree, on the west side of the moat, is the most popular school, offering different types of yoga, meditation and dance classes. Follow them on Facebook to find out about their open days and events.
Many expats and travellers enjoy taking Muay Thai classes and some even dare to take part in fights. Find out more about Muay Thai schools and gyms is Chiang Mai here.
Often there are unofficial meetups in the park where people bring their juggling equipment, slack lines, hula hoops etc. Ask around as dates change or just show up regularly and see what’s going on.
You can find a list of gyms here, and many apartment buildings have their own gyms for residents.
Classes to take
Many long-term travellers and expats in Chiang Mai like to take language classes. There is a whole range of Thai schools and courses available.
Meeting people in Chiang Mai is really easy, and you can quickly build up a circle of good friends. Here are some meet-ups, events and Facebook groups to help you along.
Meet-ups & Events
Chiang Mai’s nomad and expat community is very active. If you want to, you can have a busy social life every single day. Find a list of the many meet-ups here.
Johnny FD organises a weekly Nomad Coffee meet-up on Fridays, which also has an active Facebook group.
Chiang Mai’s Couchsurfing scene is pretty large, and they hold regular meet-ups. Join their Facebook group for updates.
The Meridien Hotel in southeast Chiang Mai throws monthly pool parties, which are really popular and great fun.
The Chiang Mai Digital Nomads Facebook group is the biggest DN Facebook group out there, with over 10,000 members to date. Founder, Dan O’Donnell, also runs a group called Bored Breaker where you can find and share events around town.
Blogs to follow
Many travel bloggers and expats call Chiang Mai their home, so there is no shortage of information about Chiang Mai available.
A good starting point, especially if you’re not a frequent traveller, is 1 Stop Chiang Mai.
Johnny FD wrote a comprehensive guide on Chiang Mai and often writes about activities in the area.
Tieland to Thailand are an American couple who left their corporate lives behind and moved to Thailand.
Paperplanes is a great resource for Chiang Mai.