By Stephen Bugno
There is a reason so many travel bloggers are stopping and staying in Chiang Mai, Thailand for so long: it’s inexpensive, pleasant, culturally interesting, and has most of the amenities you could need.
This post is part of a series that I am beginning to show how I am transitioning into a digital nomad; that is, trying to earn a living from anywhere and everywhere I go. My way in particular is by blogging, web publishing, and freelance writing. I stayed in Chiang Mai for almost a week, spending not even $10 per day, everything included. I plan on returning to Chiang Mai to stay longer when I need another break from traveling.
One of my mentors in the is process is Christine Gilbert from almostfearless.com. If you’re not following her blog, you should be if you have any interest in creating this lifestyle. This post of hers helps explain options of working remotely from anywhere.
Almost any coffee shop or café in Chiang Mai has free WiFi, and there are a lot of them. If you feel like staying back at the hostel or guesthouse you can just use the WiFi there. Feel like going to a bar. They’ll most likely have a connection to the internet as well. Chiang Mai is well-wired.
City with a small town feel
Chiang Mai is a great example of a city that has the amenities of a big city but is quiet enough to feel like a small town. It’s Thailand’s fifth biggest city with a metro population of nearly one million. But inside the old city walls it’s a maze of shady side streets with little traffic. It’s amazing how tranquil it can be. Plenty quiet to get some work done.
There are sufficient amenities like banks, ATMs, internet cafés, post offices and enough entertainment for your liking: restaurants, bars, live music, Muay Thai fights, etc.
If you feel like taking a day or two off, there are plenty of things to occupy your time. A lot of trekking groups leave from town almost any day of the week and there are other more touristy activities like the zoo, Tiger Kingdom, Elephant Nature Park, etc. There are also Thai cooking and language classes as well as group meditation.
Chiang Mai is a city of temples. To break up my day, I took walks and visited temples. A few of the temples are open to visitors who want learn more. The Wat Chedi Luang even has what’s called monk chat, a program that allows visitors to ask questions to monks and vice versa so that foreigners and monks can better understand one another. My travel mate’s monk chat partner suggested he visit an exhibition outside of the old city about the remains of monks that had turned to precious gems after cremation. It turned out to be my best experience in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is cheap. The least expensive dorm beds in Chiang Mai go for about 80 baht ($2.65 US). Private rooms start at about 200. Renting by the week or month would be even less expensive. Coffee is usually 30-40 baht ($1-1.35) and a beer at a bar is slightly more. Almost every coffee shop and most bars have free wireless internet. Basic meals at local place cost about 30-40 baht, but if you want a western style meal, you’ll pay more. And if you want to indulge in an hour-long Thai massage, plan to fork over 150 baht.
Alternatives to Chiang Mai
If you choose another, even smaller town as your base for working remotely, it gets even cheaper and quieter. Head out to Mae Hong Son, Pai, or Tha Ton, for smaller towns, cheaper living and fewer amenities. But important services you’re likely to need, like wireless internet, become less reliable. But the tradeoff for even more peace and quiet might be worth it. For a happy medium, try Chiang Rai, a city about four hours northeast of Chiang Mai.