After visiting Northern Thailand last year, we decided to hold off on moving to Canada and instead move to Chiang Mai. We actually prefer Chiang Rai ( a wee bit quieter and more laid back) but have so far loved living in Chiang Mai.
Or Hang Dong, rather, which is just outside the city.
Hang Dong is quiet and not touristy, and yet also has many of the amenities that Phuket had, from Makro ( similar to Cosco), Big C, wet markets, Central, and Rimping ( an upscale market similar to Villa in Phuket). In addition, you can find an array of restaurants and street food. Everything from good pizza to curries and vegan restaurants are easy to find in Chiang Mai and Hang Dong.
We chose to move to Hang Dong for several reasons, one of which is that we have friends here. We stayed at their hotel and had time to explore the area while plotting our move. Initially we thought we’d end up in the city, but instead found an affordable 13K Baht per month semi furnished 3 bedroom house with an attached office in the front. Our townhouse in Phuket Town was 15K per month fyi, so we’re actually saving money and have a bigger place!
Our area is beautiful, surrounded by rice paddies. And a bunch of little sois with cement walls. Yeah, the last part is kind of creepy when you’re driving or walking at night! But it’s super safe and the people here are wonderful.
We live near Kad Farang, a popular market that includes several restaurants and a Rimping shopping mall. The best part of Kad Farang are the two days when there is a huge market. Filled with food stalls and super cheap clothing and toys, you can basically spend your entire evening having dinner and shopping.
Some of our favorite farang restaurants in the area include Viva Pizza and California Wraps, the latter of which is in the Hang Dong Makro.
Living in the city
While many of my classmates from Chiang Mai University live out here by us, several live on campus or in the city center. It’s important to note that like Phuket or any other place in Thailand, each soi or road ( or neighborhood) is going to have something different to offer, and it’s best you spend time investigating each neighborhood to find what place is best for you.
With that being said, I’m going to tell you about my favorite haunts in Chiang Mai that may be draws for you, and give some tips to find an affordable house, apartment, or condo.
Let’s start with househunting. After living in Thailand for 5 years, I can confidently say the best way to find an affordable place that meets your requirements is to look when you get here and ask around. Don’t spend hours househunting online from afar. You’ll probably get ripped off.
There are however some Facebook groups for Chiang Maiers that may offer you some leads.
We found our current house from our friends, who are Thai and can therefore read the signs better than I can ( although I’m slowly progressing). They drove nearby ( literally 2 minutes from their place) and saw ours, then called the number and found out that the person who takes care of the house also runs a small cafe they go to.
We settled on the house then and there!
Our friend Jay found his furnished apartment on CMU campus by walking around. This is the best way to find a place if you don’t know anyone in Chiang Mai, and it was how we found our town house in Phuket Town.
Another option is to ask the reception desk at your hotel or wherever you plan on staying until you find a place. Ask if they know of anyone renting a place or had seen a sign advertising a rental.
Or conversely, you could do what we first did when we moved to Phuket and find a place online. As I mentioned, chances are high it will cost you more than if you walk around and find a place on your own. It’s up to you!
We know several people who have lived at some point near Maya shopping mall. If you don’t mind the traffic and tourists and plan on going to Nimmanhemin Road and have a love of ramen, you may like that area.
Again, it all boils down to what you’re looking for in a neighborhood. We prefer a quieter area with amenities, and therefore like Hang Dong.
Where To Shop
We do most of our shopping at the markets in our area, one of which is at Kad Farang on Mondays and Wednesdays. Everything from organic vegetables to 100 baht dresses ( that I LOVE) can be found there. But the trendy ( and somewhat pricey) Rimping next to it is a great place to pick up imported items like cheese and beer. Because we all like cheese and beer, right?
Makro is another place to find imported and bulk items, and is popular with both Thais and farang. On Sunday you can get some mean street food from the Sunday Market starting at Taphae Gate down Ratchadamnoen Road. This is a major tourist attraction and gets mobbed, especially during high season. It’s still pretty awesome, and isn’t as crazy as say Patong, and you can pick up everything from home items to street food and juice.
Then there is my favorite janky-yet-epic mall, Kad Suan Kaew. While the Thais tend to find this mall pretty low on there favorite places to hang out in the city, I find Kad Suan Kaew to be pretty darn awesome. It’s design is Lanna style and has an old school movie theater on the top floor that has hand-painted designs of movie posters from the 90s. You can get a tattoo, see a movie, and grab some coffee at this mall. And get lost in its semi-abandoned back area.
But back to shopping..
At the bottom of Kad Suan Gaew you’ll find a Tops Supermarket at the bottom to get groceries. And on maybe the second or third floor you’ll find a Central to pick up makeup, Christmas decorations, and even a lazy boy recliner if you so choose.
There are many other places to shop, including the Night Bazaar on Thanon Chang Khlan and Central Airport.
How To Get Around
The most popular modes of transport for Thais and farang is either a motorbike or songtaew ( open bus slash truck type of thing). There are two types of songtaew, yellow and red. The latter you can pay to take you anywhere, but it costs more. The yellow is affordable and takes you into town essentially. Because we typically rent a car, I’ve only taken songtaews here a few times but love them!
Car rentals, while we’re on that topic, are way overpriced here, just as they are overpriced in Phuket. Think about 500USD per month, unless you have a friend that has a friend that will rent one to you for a good price. We currently aren’t renting a car because our rental company decided to break our contract and rent to short term tourists, as they thought they could make more dinero. And chances are they’re right as it’s high season. But since we live near several markets and restaurants and I had to put a pause on my Thai Studies at CMU ( to my dismay) we don’t really need a car. We can walk or cycle up the road and get everything we need.
I want to say one thing about renting a motorcycle: we’ve seen many farang friends get into accidents. Only rent a motorcycle if you are confident driving here, and of course please don’t get wasted and drive. Yes, they are affordable. And yes, the Thais drive them. But they also know how to drive here ( in general) and so many farang don’t. And since many people probably do have a few Hong Tongs and drive- despite it being illegal- you want to make sure you’re a confident driver that can act fast when you have cyclists, songtaews, trucks, cars, tuk tuks, and even random tourists walking in the middle of the road. As well as the odd soi dog.
With that rant now over, you can easily find motorcycle and bicycle rentals throughout the city for a good rate.
Questions I’m Often Asked
Is it safe?
Yes, very. Crime happens everywhere but Thailand is in general a very safe country.
Are the hospitals OK? Clean? etc?
Yep. Because I’ve only been in Chiang Mai for about 6 months, I know Phuket’s hospitals better but they have Bangkok Hospital here, and we’ve been to one of the local ones in Hang Dong. We are more into natural healthcare so I’ve only been once ( to drive someone who needed stitches) but the facilities of most hospitals are that of any Western one.
Some are better than others though. I would ask around when you get here for a good, affordable hospital in your area.
Are there too many foreigners in Chiang Mai?
I got asked this question regarding Phuket so often it made me mad as the people who asked it had no idea about the various parts of Phuket and would think Phuket equals Patong.
Look, Chiang Mai draws many tourists, especially young backpackers. And expats. But just like in Phuket or any other popular part of the country, it depends on where you go.
Here in Hang Dong, it’s nice and quiet
What about food poisoning?
in the late 80s, I was hospitalized in Bangkok after coming down with a fever. That is the last time I was really sick in this country. I’ve had minor upset tummy but I eat mostly spicy Thai food, so it happens mate.
I have had friends get sick ( one of which had a son hospitalized) after eating chicken or ofal. This includes Thai friends who eat chicken often, so I’m guessing it may be because of bacteria at the open markets and how the chef cooks the food.
Most of my Thai and farang friends have never had food poisoning, even if they eat street food 24/7.
If you do get food poisoning, you can get both natural remedies and drugs at the pharmacy. Look for the sign that says ‘ya’, which means drugs. I would write it in Thai but I’m not sure how to with my English keyboard…
How can I get a long-term visa?
This is always changing, but in the 5 years I’ve lived in Thailand I have had almost every type of visa possible. You can get a 90 day visa ( 60 days which you can renew for another 30 days) at a Thai embassy in say Penang, or you can just stick with the 1 month visa on arrival.
I currently have an educational visa which is 3 months, 3 months, then 6 months. Aka, a year. You get it renewed at immigration here in Thailand.
Is Chiang Mai a good place for homeschooling and unschooling families?
YES! This is one of the main reasons we finally left Phuket. I could go on a rant about the social issues of the island, but I’ll save you my thoughts on that subject! Phuket is a wonderful, beautiful place and really felt like home to me, but I’m glad we made the move up here.
There are a number of homeschooling families as well as unschoolers like us. We have personally met a family of 4 who homeschools, as well as several others here in Hang Dong. Both Thai and farang families, I should add.
Finding extracurricular activities for kids can be a bit of a pain as the majority of places offering say art classes and such aren’t advertised online, or maybe they are but are just in Thai. Or are simply word of mouth. For example, I had someone ask me where her daughter can take singing classes here and I googled for a while and found nothing. That’s not to say there aren’t singing lessons, I just will have to ask around and do some research.
I’m a digital nomad and work online. Are there many meet ups or like minded entrepreneurs and bloggers there?
You probably already know my answer to this if you’re a travel blogger. Yep, there are! In fact the travel blogging community kind of looks at Chiang Mai as a hub. You can find a plethora of Facebook groups for entrepreneurs based here.
I hope this short guide helps you get settled here in Chiang Mai! I promise to add to it in the weeks to come, as I get to know the area even more and get additional suggestions for housing, hospitals, and more.
I don’t speak Thai. Is that going to be a problem?
Nope! While I suggest learning Thai to deepen your understanding of the culture and to also learn about what to order at restaurants ( and how to make substitutions and such), most signs are in English. And most Thais speak English, to a degree.