Travel Guide: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sawadee Khrap! Chiang Mai was a great place to live. We have some wonderful memories there and we will definitely return before our tours around the planet are done… God willing 🙂 Chiang Mai was soooo chill because it was:

  • easy to communicate with the locals
  • easy to find a place to live that had high standards and low rent
  • easy to tap into the expat community
  • easy and stright forward to extend our visa -we had to go to another country to renew it but that was cheap, fun and easy too.
  • live off of the American Dollar -the USD went a looong way in Thailand

Those are our top 5 reasons for moving to Chiang Mai, Thailand. There are many more reasons than that though. The weather in Thailand is awesome year round, it never dips below 60º f and that is only in the “coldest” month – January. The scenery is gorgeous. Did I mention that it was cheaper than any city we have traveled to so far. The two of us lived very well off of $800/ month that includes rent, utilities, meals and transportation around town. We would highly recommend this city to anyone aspiring to live abroad. Getting your “international bearings” is easy to do there and you are still a foreigner learning to get around in a foreign culture…. for anyone trying to wet their feet and give living abroad a try, Chiang Mai is defintely the place to be.

After being on the road for awhile and hitting up a few different countries we’ve learned what to look for to help us settle into our new home. We ‘slow travel’ spending a few months at a time in a single location, embracing the culture and our surroundings. Learning from locals or more experienced expats about where to find the best restaurants, local markets, sim cards, apartments, transportation, etc…Here is our rundown on how to get by in Chiang Mai:

HABITATION

Who are the well known real estate companies?Since we reside in a spot for 3-6 months at a time we opt to rent/lease a furnished apartment. Anything under 3 months is best suited for Airbnb or Agoda in Southeast Asia. A lot of our friends used realtors associated with – Perfect Homes Chiang Mai. In Chiang Mai we used a real-estate company called H T Property Management. We ran across them on a humble and they did us right after they understood our needs. Both companies have comprehensive websites with listings in various Chiang Mai neighborhoods fitting a wide range of budgets.It was also very effective to hit the pavement and walk the neighborhoods that you are interested in living in. We walked into every apartment building that appealed to us and saw units on the spot or scheduled appointments to return at a later time. We were there in the off-season but we had a beavy of apartments to choose from.

COMMUNICATION

The best way to stay connected is to find the best phone companies (SIM cards) and/or apps that locals use. If you do not own an unlocked phone that accepts SIM cards you are not ready to hit the road. Most destinatons offer some form of over-priced SIM cards right in the airport and Chiang Mai was no different. There are cheaper SIM cards offered all over Thialand (Malls, 7-11s, back alleyways…. they are everywhere in and around Chiang Mai.LINE is the most widely used communication app in Thailand with businesses and locals alike. It works similarly to Whatsapp, providing instant or audio messaging and phone/video calls.DTAC, AIS, TRUEMove are the top carriers for SIM cards for Thailand, plus they’re affordable. Tom, over at Traveltomtom has a great post packed with data package and coverage information for each carrier. We used DTAC and got on a cheap monthly plan ($20/ mo) for unlimited data and minutes.

TRANSPORTATION

There are several transportation options in Thailand. If you have an international driver’s license, it’s super affordable to rent a motorbike for around $5 USD a day. The longer the rental, the cheaper the rates. Check out TielandtoThailand for a rundown on renting motorbikes in Thailand. A word to the wise. Chiang Mai enforces traffic laws! They make buku cash from ticketing tourists that don’t carry an internatinal drivers licese and/ or aren’t wearing a helmet. There are always random traffic checks going down on the streets of Chiang Mai… exercise caution if you’re going to ride dirty.If you like UBER, Grab is the Southeast Asian equivalent (and one we used all the time).We paid anywhere from 56 baht ($1.76USD) to 120 baht ($3.77USD) traversing different sides of Chiang Mai.Hail a songthaew, aka: red truck. Songthaews are red trucks with two rows in the back that fit about 8 people. You’ll be able to find a songthaew near most temples, malls, tourist areas (like Nimman and the Old City). Flag one down, tell the driver where you want to go and hop on. If the songthaew isn’t already in route, you will probably end up waiting 10-15min for a full truck before heading to your destination. Songthaews are easily accessible and about 20-40baht one way ($0.63-$1.26USD).A popular mode of transportation for first timers are the tuk-tuks. A tuk-tuk is a 3 wheeled motorized taxi. As soon as you see one, you want to try it at least once. They are fun to ride in but also more expensive than your typical grab car.Chiang Mai Travel Hack: when catching a Grab to the visa office a.k.a the Royal Thai Embassy schedule yourself to get dropped off across the street at the Amazon Coffee and save your self 200 baht.

FOOD RECOMMENDATIONS

Although Thai food is extremely cheap, we enjoy cooking local dishes at home so finding the produce market that the locals go to was a must AND a huge money saver!Mueang Mai Market is a huge local market with a variety of vendors and stalls selling fruits, vegetables, and meats. This market is bustling at dawn with area restaurants buying in bulk and local markets filling up to resale in their perspective areas. Its also the cheapest and freshest produce we’ve seen throughout our time in Chiang Mai. We made a special trip to the Mueang Mai Market every week.The local supermarkets are Big C and Tesco Lotus (think Super-Walmart). A step up from there with more international offerings and where we did most of our shopping are Rimping and Tops Supermarket.Panda Panda Panda Panda! Food delivery in Chiang Mai is often free or dirt cheap. We only used an app called Food Panda and it worked just fine for us but there are many more MOW (Meals on Wheels), Yum Yum, Grab, Chiangmai Delivery…. They all work and they all get your food to you for cheap! Of course, check out Tripadvisor for patron recommendations. Tripadvisor was mostly a miss for us in Asia but we did find a few favorites that we returned to time and again when we were craving something different from the typical local dishes.

  • Sarah’s House – Thai fusion cuisine garden restaurant and cafe. Our favorite dishes were the chicken wings and pork ribs in peanut sauce
  • The Duke’s – For large western tastes and plates. Known for their ridiculously delicious pizza and comfort food.
  • Salsa Kitchen – If Mexican food is calling you, head to Salsa Kitchen. Be sure to enjoy a pitcher of margaritas or mojitos.
  • Why Ribs & Rumps– Good ribs and a cool ambiance. There are also plenty of restaurants to explore in that area.
  • Acrobaleno – Italian with big flavor and big portions. We really enjoyed this place. It is a bit on the expensive side (by Chiang Mai standards) but well worth it. Excellent service and excellent ambiance or a romantic evening.
  • Smoothie Blues – Affordable. Awesome American style breakfast. You can also dine on smoothies, wraps, omelets, pancakes, french toast….mouth waters….

This city is full to the brim with cheap eats so explore and enjoy.

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