Of the many benefits of constant internet access, there are none truly as exciting as being able to live and work anywhere.
As the age of ‘digital nomad’ becomes more commonplace, a small town in the north of Thailand has become a hub of choice for hundreds of remote-work professionals
The town, or rather, small city is Chiang Mai, the ‘gateway’ to northern Thailand, or as some like to romantically term it, ‘the rose of the north’.
Having lived here for the last four years, I am no longer a nomad but I can see the many reasons why the working traveller likes to call this place home, if only temporarily.
Many reasons why Chiang Mai works…
Chiang Mai is a far cry from the tourist-heavy southern islands and towns where the partying and revelry are globally infamous. Chiang Mai is not that, nor does it ever want to be. Having its cultural roots in the Lanna Kingdom of ancient Thailand and Burma and being peopled by not only Thais but also many ethnic Chinese clans, Chiang Mai – and the north of Thailand, remains charmingly different to the rest.
It is precisely this charm which has warmed the hearts of the many foreigners who visit here. There is a certain something; a relaxed vibe, the easy-going smiles, the myriad shades of green around the many scattered mountains, the inexpensive, spicy, northern dishes which can be had just about anywhere and of course, the Chiang Mai people themselves who are always too willing to smile and help a stranger on his way. Couple this with a fairly solid internet infrastructure, and you can readily see the appeal.
Yes, the internet here is good. In a recent report by Akamai Technologies, Thailand currently has an average broadband speed of 9.3 Mbps – which according to this data is better than Australia and about equal with New Zealand. Even here where I write, by the foot of the Chiang Mai mountains, half an hour out of town, I have a fibre-optic connection with a very acceptable 30Mbps download speed, allowing me to boast to my family members back home in Oz as they ponder what it truly means to live in a “first-world” country. (Update as of last night: one of the internet providers here, AIS, is now serving up to 100Mbps download speed for a very reasonable rate.)
The Café Culture
Chiang Mai has a lot of cafés, possibly more than people – and more seem to be springing up every day with comfy environs and speedy internet access. But if you are the type that likes to work and network with other people, then Chiang Mai also has a few co-working spots that may interest you:
- Punspace has opened two co-working places popular with the nomad crowd; one at the trendy Nimmanhemin area, and the other by the centrally located Tha Pae Gate. With all the amenities you will ever need to run your online business, you won’t need to do it alone.
- Mana Co-working & Reading Space is a newer place to get your work done. You can sit all day there with a single coffee for as little as 120 baht for under five Australian dollars. Yes, you might as well have some more coffee!
- CAMP – The suitably acronymed ‘Creative and Meeting Place’ is a huge space situated on the top floor of the Al Maya Mall, again in the Nimman area. Popular with uni students and school kids, you may even make some Thai acquaintances here!
- Iglu – An interesting addition to the above list, Iglu is a little bit different. Iglu is not only a place to work, but they also offer a working visa and permit allowing you to stay completely legally in Thailand. In under five years they have garnered up four locations around the country for you to work and enjoy Thailand’s breathtaking scenery, with Chiang Mai being its first and most popular.
The Cost of Living
To be concise, yes it is cheap, and yes it can be expensive if you eat and drink out a lot. For the travelling worker, or wannabe entrepreneur, it is very hard to beat Chiang Mai as a comfortable place to live whether you’re working remotely, bootstrapping your next endeavour or trying to finish that novel.
Condo living is the mode of choice for many of the nomads here but if space is more your thing, then houses can be easily found around Chiang Mai where a 2-3 bedroom dwelling shouldn’t see you spend more than $300-$400 per month. If serenity is what you’re after, you’ll find it a little way out of town in the surrounding countryside. If you love a little madness, the heart of Chiang Mai has enough to keep all your senses entertained.
The ‘Thai Smile’ is famous around the world, but lesser known is the relaxed, easy-going nature of the Thai people, especially in Chiang Mai. After being here for a while, it is increasingly harder to contemplate living life back in the hectic West.
But be warned: the easy-going nature combined with the cheap cost of living can be bad for your work if you are not a self-starting go-getter. If your motto is ‘work hard, play hard’ then keep to that healthy balance and Chiang Mai should be just about perfect for you in every way.
Thai people love to laugh, smile and be happy. Learn some Thai while you are here and try and make some Thai friends. You will find they are always willing to help you find and learn your way around town – with a smile, of course.
These are just some of the reasons Chiang Mai is a great place to live and work remotely. But if you are also into cooking, yoga, Buddhism, massages, trekking, music, motorbike riding, cycling, and more – not to mention good weather most of the year – life doesn’t get much better for the remote worker than living and working in Chiang Mai.
About the Author
Lawrence Nievaart is an Australian expat, and freelance Web & Graphic Designer who lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Lawrence works with clients around the world from his home and co-working spaces in Chiang Mai. Find out more about Lawrence and his work through his website Newstream Design.