October and November in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad

If you’re a digital nomad, you know that Chiang Mai is one of the most popular destinations for nomads to work and live. A very low cost of living, combined with modern amenities and tasty Thai food are some of the reasons digital nomads come here. And because it’s so popular, many groups have formed for socializing and networking.

Before I came, I read many interesting and helpful blog posts by other nomads, and also got advice from a friend who spent time here last year. All of that made it pretty easy to get set up and start living and working.

Looking for a place to live

Britannia guest house
Britannia Guest House

As I do in most new locations, I reserved a guest house online for the first five nights (The Britannia), relying on Agoda reviews to make my choice. Once I arrived, I spent time looking in person for an apartment to rent for my two months here.

There are two areas I considered. The “old city” — inside the moat that surrounds the city center, and Nimman, just west of the old city and known as an area of hip, trendy cafes and shops.

The old city would have been my first choice (that’s where my guest house was for the first week), but I wasn’t able to find anything in my price range that would rent by the month and that wasn’t already booked.

A quiet street in the old city.
A quiet street in the old city.


Eating out as a vegetarian

Most restaurants have both English and Thai, and many feature a vegetarian section. This is a Zood Zood.
Most menus have English translations, and many have a page or two of vegetarian choices. This  one is from Zood Zood.

At first I thought I would try for a place with a kitchen, but that is rare here. Most visitors and some locals eat every meal out, since it’s so cheap and tasty, and food carts are everywhere. I was a bit worried about finding enough vegetarian food (I’ve been a vegetarian since 1990), and I also have a life-long problem with migraines (often triggered by MSG, soy sauce, or balsamic vinegar). So I’m very selective about what I eat. I figured that eating most meals at home would make sense.

But it turns out that it’s very easy to be vegetarian here. There are many vegetarian cafes, and many other places that have a vegetarian section on their menu. So I realized that I could get by without a kitchen, which made my search easier. As I’ve done in other places without full kitchens, I bought a small rice cooker/veggie steamer so that I could cook veggies and rice or potatoes at home from time to time.

Fresh vegetarian spring rolls
Fresh vegetarian spring rolls at Dada Kafe.

My apartment 

After reading many reviews online, and visiting a couple of places that looked promising but were completely booked, I decided to check Airbnb. It’s usually not a cost-effective choice for Chiang Mai, where the best and cheapest places can be found in person. Many sites on Airbnb are overpriced for the market here. But I got lucky. I found a place that looked good, contacted the host, and he invited me to come see the place.

My studio apartment at P.T. Residence.
My studio apartment at P.T. Residence.

It’s called P.T. Residence. I ended up renting a small studio with a little balcony, on the 3rd floor of a modern building. The wi-fi worked well, and so did the air conditioning. There was a long counter, the length of the room, a king-sized bed, a refrigerator, a small love-seat, and a nice bathroom. A flat-screen TV with cable channels was included (not something I care about).

It was about 8,000 baht, the equivalent of about $220 per month, a great deal! There were extra charges for electricity and water, but that didn’t amount to a lot. It was hot while I was here, so I used the AC every night and some during the day. Mostly I was out during the day working in coffee shops. The electricity for the first month added up to about $75, and that was worth it to me. The water charge was only a few dollars.

Long counter in my studio apartment.
The long counter in my studio apartment was handy.

The owner gave me a discount because there was some noise caused by a project to install new built-in furniture on the floor above. The noise was only during the day, and since I’m rarely home then, I decided to take it. The project lasted for about five weeks and I sometimes heard pounding upstairs when I slept late, but mostly it didn’t bother me. They had already updated the third floor where I was staying with modern furniture,  so I guess they were finishing the rest of the building during October.

We ended up doing the payment transaction outside of Airbnb, to keep the price down for both the landlord and for me. I was able to pay by credit card, which I like, because I get points for frequent flyer miles when I use my card (Barclay Arrival World MasterCard, with no international transaction fees). The apartment was quiet and comfortable, though the mattress was a bit on the hard side (as is common in Thailand).

P.T. Residence
The outside of P.T. Residence

My neighborhood

The Nimman neighborhood is the area around Nimmanhaemin Road, known for coffeeshops, art galleries, cafes, bars, massage studios, and gift shops. I would have preferred staying in the old city, with its winding little streets, and beautiful wats (temples) around every corner, but this neighborhood also has advantages.

I could care less about night life, since I don’t drink or go to bars. That’s the reason many people want to be in this neighborhood. I do like having so many good coffee shops to work in and places to eat a cheap vegetarian lunch. This neighborhood was great for that.

I also like going to the movies often, and there was a mall nearby with a large cinema complex showing quite a few movies in English with Thai subtitles (I saw The Martian, The Walk, The Intern, Spectre, and The Little Prince). It’s a modern mall with a very nice theater complex, as you would find in any big city. Good seating, good sound system, etc.

One interesting thing that happens after all the previews and before the movie starts, is that they play a short movie about the king of Thailand, which everyone stands up for. That led me to read more about respect (and reverence) for the king, which is an interesting topic. They also play the national anthem every day at 8am and 6pm in public places over loudspeakers. People stop what they are doing and stand still for that. Because I was curious, I read the free Kindle sample of this book: The King Never Smiles: a Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej. It’s worth a read if you are curious about Thai culture and why he is seen as almost Buddha-like.

SFX Cinema in the Maya Mall
SFX Cinema in the Maya Mall

Places to work: coffee shops and co-working

Kaweh Cafe
Kaweh Cafe is open 24 hours and has lots of big tables with outlets everywhere.

I ended up finding a few favorite coffee shops to work in, very close to my apartment — Kaweh Cafe, Healthy B Cafe, Chuen Juice Bar, and N.Kee37.5. I like to work in coffee shops because it gets me out of the house every day, and because being around other people who are working puts me in the mood to work.


inside a sunny coffee shop
N.Kee 37.5 was a great place to work, with 2 floors, outlets everywhere, good wi-fi, and friendly owner from Korea. It gets busy in the afternoons – this is the 2nd floor before it got crowded.

I also found a few favorite lunch spots — Zood Zood, Healthy B, Rustic & Blue, The Larder Cafe, and The Salad Concept.

inside Zood Zood Cafe
I had many tasty vegetarian lunches at Zood Zood. Lots of locals eat here, the wall is covered with Instagram photos.

About once a week I took either a songthaew (red trucks that serve as shared taxis) or a tuk-tuk over to the old city and went to a few favorite vegetarian or mostly vegetarian cafes there: Dada Kafe, Taste from Heaven, and Bubbles Live.


Dada Kafe menu board
So many good juices and smoothies at Dada Kafe!

My favorite place to work in the old city is Punspace, an excellent co-working space. I considered buying one of their ongoing plans, but since I only used it about once a week, I just paid the daily rate (229 baht, about $6.40). Punspace (the Thae Pae Gate location), is great because of the following: good air conditioning (many cafes near there don’t have AC, and it was hot while I was there), good wi-fi, large tables with comfortable, ergonomic chairs, a very quiet atmosphere, a fridge for storing your takeout food, a supply of beverages in the fridge that you can buy, a good coffee shop downstairs, and occasional events (though I didn’t go to any). I never got around to trying their Nimman location, since there were so many good coffee shops with AC and wi-fi in that neighborhood.

Punspace coworking space near Thae Pae Gate.
Punspace coworking space near Thae Pae Gate.
Rate card at Sunspace coworking.
Rate card at Punspace coworking.

During my two months in Chiang Mai I began and finished a 20,000 word technical report for the American Library Association. It will be published sometime in 2016 and is called, Trends in Mobile Learning: Accessibility, Ecosystems, Content Creation. Learn more in my blog post: Advancing Accessibility with Mobile. It felt good to have a project that I could start and finish during those two months.

Getting around by tuk-tuk and songthaew

Songthaew in Chiang Mai
Songthaews are everywhere in Chiang Mai. Best cheap way to get around.

If the weather had not been so hot (low 90s almost every day, with high humidity), I would have walked more. It would probably take about 45 minutes to walk briskly from where I lived to the part of the old city I liked, but it was just too hot to be fun. So I used the shared red trucks called songthaews, and sometimes a private tuk-tuk. They were both good options and kind of fun, too. The songthaew cost about 20 baht (55 cents), and a tuk-tuk usually ranged from 100 -140 baht ($3-4 dollars). With a songthaeow you tell them where you want to go and if they are going that way (with the other people already inside, they will say yes, and if not you can wait for the next one. They are all over, so you never have to wait long. Just hop in the back, sit on one of the two benches facing the middle, and when you get out, pay 20 baht (about $.55).  With a tuk-tuk you tell the driver where you want to go and they will suggest a price, which you can usually negotiate down a bit. Regular taxi service is usually only used for longer trips, such as from the airport into the city — you rarely see them around, because everyone uses songthaews instead.

I enjoyed getting around by tuk-tuk from time to time.

The only thing that was sometimes difficult, was that you need to tell the driver where you want to go, and most of them don’t speak English. So you need to be able to say the name of a place they recognize. Sometimes it worked to show them a Google map, but usually they didn’t quite get that, for some reason. My apartment building was not something they recognized, so I learned to say the name of the street and tell them which cross street it was near: Siri Mangkalajarn, near Soi 9. To go to the old city, I always just said I wanted to go to “Thae Pae Gate,” which is a landmark everyone knows and near the places I wanted to hang out.


Inside a songthaew
Inside a songthaew, the red trucks that serve as shared transportation all over Chiang Mai.

Scooters and bicycles

Many people rent motor scooters when they come here. It’s cheap and there are rental places everywhere. I used to own a little Suzuki scooter in Boston back in the 80s and it was great fun and easy to get around the crazy traffic of Boston by taking side streets. But the traffic is even crazier here and I didn’t trust myself to navigate unfamiliar streets, and deal with other drivers (cars and scooters). I’m not the only person who feels this way, see “Why I am NOT renting a scooter or a motorbike in Southeast Asia.”

Scooters, bicycles, and cars.
At every red light a large group of scooters would end up at the front of all the cars. Usually many more than in this photo.

I thought about renting a bicycle, but again, the traffic is crazy and I decided not to. It’s fine for leisurely riding on little streets inside the old city, but for going back and forth between my neighborhood and the old city on very busy streets, it didn’t seem like it would be fun.


motor scooters
Scooters are parked outside of every single place of business, since so many people ride them here.

The weather in October/November

According to many blogs and websites, November is the start of the cool season in Chiang Mai, with highs in the 70s F. I’m writing this on November 15 (and finishing on Nov. 26), and so far every day it has been in the 80s and often low 90s, and humid. I would have preferred to be here when it’s cooler, but my schedule didn’t work out that way. If I come again, I’ll wait until at least mid-November, in the hope of cooler weather.

weather in Chiang Mai via Living Earth app
Typical weather while I was there. (Living Earth iPhone app)

It rained every once in a while, but not frequently, mostly in October. One day it rained so much that when I was walking home from a movie at the mall (a 10-minute walk), the roads were flooded near my apartment, so that to cross the street anywhere would mean over-the-ankle water (which looked quite dirty, slippery, and fast-moving). I somehow managed to pick my way around broken sidewalks that tend to peter out (it’s not pedestrian friendly here, often you need to walk in the busy street), and then hop on a songthaew for the last few blocks, which kept me out of the deep water (that was actually kind of fun).

Flooded roads
Flooded roads after heavy rain.

If I was a morning person, I would have spent more time walking around in the early morning, when it was still a reasonable temperature. But I’m not, and by mid-morning, it was always hot. Going out after dark was much nicer, but still humid. I tend to mostly go out during the day and have dinner at home in the evening, then relax and chat online with friends, read, or watch movies on Netflix.

Beautiful sites

One of the best things about Chiang Mai, especially the old city, is all the wats (temples) everywhere. Each is beautiful in its own way, and it’s fun to happen upon one around a corner, behind a wall, tucked away. Once you enter the grounds, there are usually several buildings, and you can usually go inside during the day and see beautiful Buddha statues. Be sure to take off your shoes, as they do everywhere in Thailand when entering houses or temples. For women there are many signs warning you to not wear shorts and sleepless tops. You are always supposed to cover your shoulders and wear long pants or skirts, out of respect.

beautiful wat in Chiang Mai
One of many beautiful wats in Chiang Mai. 
Beautiful temples at Wat Doi Suthep
Beautiful temples at Wat Doi Suthep, up on a mountain overlooking the city.

Many of the wats have what are called “monk chats,” where you can chat with the monks and ask questions. It’s an interesting way to learn about their culture and beliefs, and the monks like it as a way to practice their English. I did this one evening, and since I was the only person who came, I ended up chatting for over an hour with a 24-year-old monk named ChertChai. It was fun and interesting! I asked him many questions about his life.

I will write more about the monk chat in another post.

Chert Chai, also known as "monk Tony"
I enjoyed chatting with Chert Chai, also known as “monk Tony.” He said it would be fine to use his picture in my blog post.
sign: The Buddha said: do good, avoid bad, purify one's own mind.
Sign for monk chat.

Another highlight of my time in Chiang Mai was a visit to Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary where they bring elephants who have been abused, so they can recover from injuries and have a good life. It’s a fun and interesting day trip, totally worth going. See my photos of the trip on Flickr.


Bathing the elephants at Elephant Nature Park.
Bathing the elephants at Elephant Nature Park. Super-fun!
Nicole with elephant
Here I am with one of the elderly elephants. She is 80 years old. They usually live to be about 65, because they lose their teeth and can no longer chew food, but here they give them sticky rice and mashed watermelon, so they live longer.

If you want a peaceful oasis from the bustle of the city, visit Clay Studio Coffee in the Garden, a wonderful outdoor cafe and place to buy beautiful terra-cotta buddhas. See more of my photos on Flickr: Clay Studio Coffee in the Garden.

terra cotta art
This outdoor cafe is a fun place to wander and look at many beautiful terra cotta images.

The old and the new side-by-side

One of the most striking things from my point of view is the combination of old (ancient) and new things, all in one city. You can visit a wat damaged from an earthquake in 1545, and then go to a current movie in an upscale mall. It’s all there, in one interesting city.

Dragons guarding the temple
The old: dragons guarding a temple.
Maya Mall at night
The new: Maya Mall

Traffic and pollution

When the weather is very hot and humid, traffic and pollution feels even worse. As all over Southeast Asia, there is a lot of traffic and pollution from fumes. On many busy streets, which you need to cross on foot, usually without the help of traffic lights, there is a constant rush of motor scooters, cars, songthaews, and tuk-tuks, with a few bicycles thrown in.

sidewalk ends, walk in the street
This sidewalk gets narrower until it ends and you need to walk in the street. Happens everywhere in my neighborhood. I have a new appreciation for good sidewalks.

Since they drive on the opposite side of the road from the U.S., you need to remember to look to the right first, when crossing. That is hard to remember! It’s so automatic for me to look left first. At many times of day there is no letup in traffic, so you have to slowly start to walk out when there is the slightest gap, go halfway until another slight gap and then slowly make your way across. Drivers are used to this, so if you don’t run, just slowly keep a steady pace, they will adjust to avoid you. I’m finally used to it, I think! There was a very busy road in front of my apartment complex, that I need to cross every day to get to all the coffee shops and cafes. So I got a lot of practice.

Not everything is beautiful

If you only looked at the pretty pictures that everyone posts, you wouldn’t have a full view of what it’s like here. Of course, that’s true for any city. I wanted to show you a few of the less-pretty scenes, so you can get a feel for what it’s like.

Something I noticed everywhere is the large number of wires on poles and hanging down into the street. I read somewhere that in Thai cities, often they leave all the wires for old telephone lines after they are shut off, and just keep adding new ones as needed. Every so often I would have to duck to avoid getting hit on the head by a hanging wire. This was disconcerting, especially when it rained. They are probably dead lines, but who knows?

Telephone polls with lots of wires.
Lots of wires everywhere.


Lots of telephone wires.
So many wires, so many signs.
wires hanging down
Watch out for wires hanging down over the sidewalk.

Another thing I noticed was many construction sites, rarely roped off or anything, you just had to pick your way around them, with pipes or wires laying across the sidewalk. I noticed workers on these sites every day of the week, including weekends, and sometimes with their small children playing in the construction site.

construction site
Watch your step. Wires can be anywhere.

Taking care of everyday life tasks

When you are living nomadically, you need to find places to take care of routine tasks like getting your hair cut and your teeth cleaned. Chiang Mai is a good place to do both, because the prices are so low (compared to the U.S.). I had a good experience getting a filling at Grace Dental Clinic, a very modern facility that came highly recommended. I got my hair color touched up and bangs cut at New York New York Salon, and was very happy with it. It was right next door to one of my favorite coffee shops for working, so that was a plus as well. It’s not the cheapest place for a haircut in Chiang Mai, but they do excellent work, so it’s worth it to me. And it’s still much cheaper than what I would pay anywhere in the U.S.

Newyork Newyork Hair Studio
This is a good place to get your hair cut. I had a trim and a color touch-up, and often two people will work on you at once — adding color, doing the blow-dry. One person for each side of your head.
inside the nail salon, cute little girl
Got a pedicure here. They sit on a cushion on the floor to do it. They did a great job.

Meeting other digital nomads

Chiang Mai is a great place to meet other digital nomads of all kinds, freelancers, entrepreneurs, remote workers and so on. There are meetup groups, Facebook groups, coffee clubs, coworking events and more. I got together with some fellow nomads who I met when I was in Budapest (via nomad meetups there) — it seems everyone comes to Chiang Mai eventually! I also met up with someone who I met several years ago at a conference in the U.S. — because of Facebook it’s easy to see who is currently in the same city as you are.

Nomad coffee club group photo
Nomad Coffee Club meets on Fridays at 4pm at Healthy B Cafe.

You can meet for learning and networking, and also for socializing. I enjoyed the Nomad Coffee Club and went twice, and also enjoyed a few small outings with my nomadic friends.

Digital nomad friends
Hanging out with nomad friends at Mango Tango.

Summing up

Here’s my list of what I liked best and least about my time in Chiang Mai.


  • low prices, especially for housing
  • good food, including many vegetarian options
  • lots of coffee shops everywhere with free wi-fi
  • good co-working spaces
  • beautiful Buddhist wats and interesting history
  • beautiful surrounding area with many places to visit for enjoying nature and outdoor activities
  • ease of meeting other nomads, lots of social groups and activities, good networking activities for entrepreneurs and freelancers.


  • hot, humid weather
  • mosquito bites (mine swelled up with an allergic reaction)
  • traffic and fumes
  • getting around without a scooter
  • figuring out how to communicate with drivers who don’t speak English (I really should have learned more words in Thai, like go straight, turn left).

I’m really glad that I came to Chiang Mai for two months. It saved me money, I enjoyed hanging out with fellow nomads, and I loved seeing some of sights of Thailand. The only thing that I would do over when living here again would be to aim for a slightly cooler time of year (probably December/January). I might also try to find a place in the old city, near my favorite coworking space and get a monthly plan for working there.

A few more photos

bicycle tuk-tuk
A friend asked me about bicycle tuk-tuks, and yes they have them, but I mostly saw them in the old city being used by locals to bring their wares to sell in the market, not for transporting people.
2 boys enjoying their tablet
Tablets and smartphones are everywhere!
monk shopping for smartphone at the mall
Yes, monks also use smartphones and visit the mall for upgrades.
Lacquer bowls at the market.
The Sunday walking market is a fun place to browse local crafts, like these lacquered bowls.
street art - elephant mural
There is some interesting street art in Chiang Mai.
fountain in the moat that surrounds the old city
There are fountains in the moat that surrounds the old city. Here’s a view from inside of a tuk-tuk.
mountains around Chiang Mai
View of the mountains from inside of the Maya Mall.

For more photos, see my albums on Flickr:

So if you’re thinking of spending time in Chiang Mai — do it! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

8 thoughts on “October and November in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad

  1. jennysmith9711

    What a great review of Chiang Mai! I’ve been many times over the years and it’s so lovely to see some familiar sights, as well as so many new ones! It’s such an entrepreneurial city, everything changes so quickly! We’re back there in the new year, so I will be returning to this post to check out the Airbnb room and the links to some of the digital nomad stuff – the Coffee Club certainly wasn’t around the last time we were there in June 2014. Thanks for the useful content!

  2. tedderp

    I went in Nov/Dec because of the weather. Seems it’s the only optimal time of the year there- though Chiang Mai is easier than Bangkok, weather-wise. I wouldn’t have wanted to rent a bicycle in the heat! I did see cyclists on the mountain roads outside of Chiang Mai though. I did an offroad motorcycle expedition for a week up there, I only forgot the correct side of the road a few times :)

    Chiang Mai.. I couldn’t figure out the hours of things. Seemed like most stuff was closed. Maybe it’s because I’m a party pooper and wasn’t really out after 9pm. Tuk-tuks to the airport were great. In fact, generally speaking, tuk-tuks were awesome. But you’re right, nobody really seems to understand maps. I don’t know why that is.

    I got a minor dental repair done in Chiang Mai, it was 200 baht. Heh.

  3. Thanks Nicki. You pretty well covered one of my favorite cities. It’s just so easy to be there. Easier than back home to be honest. And, I do rent out a motor scooter (it costs me about $21/week) and so all of my transpo is taken care of. I don’t know when I’ll be back but am sure that it will happen sooner than later. Cheers from one digital nomad to another.


    1. You are lucky to be an experienced motorcycle rider at home, I’m sure that helps! True about how easy it is. I’m experiencing sticker shock at the prices of things in California right now (before Chiang Mai I took these high prices for granted). Chiang Mai spoils us for the expensive U.S.

      It’s nice to get comments from people I know in “real life” in addition to all my virtual acquaintances!

  4. Nicole,

    Thanks for the awesome breakdown on Chiang Mai. I’ve had a crush on that city for years; hope to make it out there sooner rather than later.

    You’ve been to a lot of cities that I’d love to see – Portland, Chiang Mai, and Budapest all seem amazing (for different reasons). Does any city stand head and shoulders above the rest for you? Any city that just “wows” you? You seem pretty keen on Seattle, from what I remember.

    Thanks so much!


    1. Yes, Seattle does “wow” me — the Pacific Northwest is so beautiful and there is so much to see and do. It’s very walkable in certain neighborhoods. I wouldn’t want to live there in the rainy, cloudy winter, but the summer is great. However, the prices are a bit high and they seem to be going up. If money was no object, I would live there every summer.

      Chiang Mai is fun, but it’s so far away in time zones from the U.S. and takes a major trip to get there. If it was in North America (like down in Mexico), I would be going back frequently. I noticed that many Australians were there — for them it’s a lot closer. I like to be near my community of loved ones in Vermont every Christmas, so I wouldn’t stay there throughout December.

      Budapest is lovely and beautiful and with reasonable prices. It’s a great spot if you want to be in Europe. I love their public transportation system, and all the beautiful architecture. The summers can be a bit too hot, though. It would be great in Spring or Fall, I think.

      Another place that hits a sweet spot for me is Tucson in winter. The weather is great between November and April, it’s got walkable neighborhoods near downtown and the university, and the prices are a bit lower than other major U.S. cities. I plan to live there this upcoming January through May. I was there at the beginning of this year and loved it. People are friendly, the Mexican food is good, there is a lot of arts and culture, and it’s just very convenient. The whole time I was there I kept thinking… this is life on “easy street.”

      I still want to see more of the world, but perhaps I’ll keep going back to Tucson for winters, we’ll see. Thanks for asking!

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