Chiang Mai is often referred to as the Rose of the North. It is touted as being Thailand’s cultural hub, filled with history and a more sedate way of life than the more touristy areas of the South.
These descriptions and the photos on the net however paint a far more picturesque and refined image than the reality of the place. It is a hectic city, grappling with a population explosion, where a concrete jungle and smog dominate any natural beauty, but it is safe, cheap and friendly.
- The official population (2017) is 131, 091, but it feels a lot more. There are hordes of tourists, expat retirees, and digital nomads that may have not been included in the count.
- It is rich in culture, with more than 300 temples throughout the city.
- Air pollution is an ongoing issue, a major cause is farmers burning rice fields in a similar way sugar cane is burned in Australia.
- The city is also renowned for hosting many Thai festivals. Hardly a month goes by without some celebration or other.
- It is and education hub, with several international schools and a large university, as well as many other tertiary institutions.
|Overall Experience||Chiang Mai can be a rich, exciting place to live. There’s always something happening, there is a welcoming expat community and it is very safe and cheap. However, after a few months the traffic and poor air can get to you.||15/20|
|Accommodation||There are apartment blocks mushrooming everywhere, so there’s no shortage. Massive condo complexes are popular as they’re cheap for long term residents and usually include a pool, a shop and are near amenities. Many even have a gym and a bar.
The old city is cheaper than the Nimman area, but further out of the city, in the burbs, is even cheaper. You can pay anywhere from 4000THB – 20000THB. The longer you stay, the cheaper your monthly rent.
It’s worth looking at the apartment before you sign. Often there is no doo on the bedroom, even if they’re describes as 1 b/r apartments, rather than studio.
This condo, Huay Kaew Residence is a great spot to try. It’s not luxury, but it’s central, cheap and has a/c, a pool and shops. You can see other options here. It is a real estate agency which will give you much cheaper rentals than Airbnb.
|Food – DIY and Dining out||Food is truly international. Every cuisine in the world is represented in Chiang Mai’s restaurants. Eating at Thai restaurants and eateries will only set you back a few dollars. Eating at the French, Italian or Indian will be pretty cheap, but add in wine and you’re paying the same price as you would back home. See here for best value restaurants.
DIY food can be an adventure if you go to the 24-hour open air market. This article will help you navigate the supermarket experience. There is some western food available, but it is limited, as are kitchen facilities. You have to be a bit clever with your dishes, here are some recipes that work well in Thailand apartments.
|Ease of getting around||Chiang Mai is not pedestrian friendly and crossing the road can be daunting at first. See what I mean here. On the upside the traffic speed is quite slow, it’s just relentless and you need to have a lot of trust in others around you. Most travellers buy or hire a scooter.
The cheapest and safest method of transport is Grab, the SE Asian version of Uber. Personally, the traffic got to me in the end.
For detailed information, see this article.
|Interest level||There’s a lot to do and see in Chiang Mai if you like temples, restaurants, markets, shopping and bars. Here are a few examples.
But the city lacks natural beauty, an oasis away from the concrete jungle and non-stop traffic.
You need to travel at least 40 minutes out of Chiang Mai to get to nature. Even a decent sized park would be nice. So, while there are many attractions that would sustain a trip of a few weeks, beyond a stay of a few months they lack variety unless you can get out of the city proper.
|Safety||Personal safety is not an issue in Chiang Mai. The points are lost in this category due to road safety, water safety and air quality issues. Of course, you can avoid the tap water and catch Grab rides, but you have to breathe. Authorities have a few avenues of spin including blaming China for burning and a natural valley for trapping the smoke. However, a lot comes from petrol fumes, not just smoke. Being trapped in a tuk tuk or red truck in a 20-minute traffic jam can severely shorten your life expectancy.||17/20|
For more insights into life in Chaing Mai, check out the Cool Footing Instagram or the You Tube accounts, just click on the icon in the banner of the home page.
Have you got any tips about getting the most out of living in Chiang Mai? I’d love to hear about them.