I’d heard a lot about Chiang Mai before I eventually came. It’s where many travel bloggers and start ups come to, start up. Cheap living, good internet, great weather and all the amenities you could ever want were apparently right on your doorstep. I’m not going to travel like I have forever, so I wanted to come and see this digital nomad haven for myself, with an eye on spending longer here at some point.
Looking back now I expected a small city – kind of like a beachy vibe, but I knew there wasn’t a beach for miles – I thought it would be a community, like in Tarifa, all hanging out in the legendary Wi-Fi cafes but enjoying the Thai lifestyle too.
Chiang Mai’s digital nomad scene
I was disappointed with this. It was one of the main reasons I changed my Thai paradise island plans to Chiang Mai. I loved hanging out with digital nomads in Berlin, Tarifa and Las Palmas, and made some good friends, but the vibe was different here. I came for the Digital Nomad Summit, a collection of around 150 of the estimated 10,000 digital nomads living here.
One speaker introduced himself as the original ‘slow traveller’ as he’d started 8 years ago. I mean, seriously? I don’t think anyone alive today could call themselves that.
– it irked me!
I analysed why I hadn’t enjoyed the conference, and the Chiang Mai digital nomad scene in general, as much after and realised that many of the people living Chiang Mai, are just that, living there. They’re not digital nomads, but ex pats. They have their cliques, as you would after living somewhere for a few years as most of them seemed to, and you’re not as open to meeting new people because you don’t need to be. Not like digital nomads who are constantly on the move and always looking to make new friends.
I went to three digital nomad meet ups in the first four days I was in Chiang Mai and it wasn’t that I didn’t feel welcome, it was more totally outcasted, so I didn’t bother with anymore and just spent time doing my work and enjoying the place. There was definitely a lot to do in Chiang Mai – here’s everything I got up to in that week.
Vibe in Chiang Mai
The people here are achingly cool, I’ve never used that word as an adjective, and never really understood it but it’s definitely apt here. I’d packed hippy trousers and tank tops, more appropriate for the beach, but the kind of cool of the yuppies here reminds me of the streets of Tokyo. I mean, look at this ice cream selection I got from a street food seller at the market. They were teeny tiny!
I loved the shops and galleries that lined Nimmanhaemin Road. There was so much imagination, design and thought that went into every one – I was thinking it would just be repetitive souvenir shop after souvenir shop. I didn’t drink that much while I was there, so didn’t really get in on the famous Nimmanhaemin Road nightlife. It looked fun though with all you can drink for an hour wine bars, bottle shops with tables outside, and al fresco bucket drinking as standard.
In the days there are the temples and countryside waiting to be explored by bike. Or the coffee shops, or swimming pools, or co working spaces. I explored them all.
After my week on the super cool and modern Nimmanhaemin Road I went and stayed in the Old Town in the centre for three days. I really liked it here with the food and gift markets within easy reach, and the buzz of so many temples, bars, restaurants and street food stalls in one small place, with a canal running through the middle. I also found my most favourite cafe I’ve ever been in: ‘My Secret Cafe In Town’ on Rachadamnoen Road. When I have a house, my conservatory office will be based on its design. Yes, I’ll definitely have a conservatory.
Living in Chang Mai
After 11 days in Chiang Mai I can totally see why people stay here. The longer I spent here, the more I liked it. Everything you could possibly need is within a few steps and a few bhat. After moving on to Hua Hin after, I realised with the benefit of hindsight just how Thai it was too. Hua Hin has more white faces than Thai and all the menus and foods were very Western, in Chiang Mai you knew you were in Thailand for sure.
What I didn’t like
– When I was there – in February – it’s ‘smoky season‘ which is when the farmers smoke their crops to make way for the new ones. It gets into full swing in March, but even in February the air quality was just wrong. It wasn’t too bad at first and I didn’t know what people were moaning about but I soon started coughing and sneezing, and the day I went out on the moped I just felt short of breath. The mountains were slowly disappearing behind the smog on the skyline. The day before I left for Hua Hin I had to stay in Secret Cafe (any excuse) and in the songtheaw on the way back from the afternoon tea had to cover my mouth with fabric. I know it’s part of a needed agricultural cycle, but it happens every year so is something to note.
– The amount of old white men with young pretty Thai women was grim. Eugh.
– It was more expensive than I thought, but I have a whole post coming up on that.
– Everything shut down so early! Twice we tried to find somewhere to go after midnightish, but with no luck.
– How modern it all is – the shops and galleries seemed more unique and forward-thinking than any I’ve seen before.
– That ladyboy who tried to dance seductively at me and put me off my mango sticky rice.
Chiang Mai is the kind of cool Shoreditch would love to be if it wasn’t for health and safety. I started writing this is a bar built into the trees hovering over a main road (and finished it in Hua Hin). The bars and restaurants here are falling apart, but in a shabby chic kind of way, a natural one. There’s loads to do within an easy moped ride away and Pai and Chiang Rai are nearby too.
You could spend days to months exploring the north of Thailand, and I’d recommend including Chiang Mai on the itinerary, but I just wouldn’t fancy living here.