Thinking about moving to Thailand but aren’t sure which city, town, or island to choose?
After living in this beautiful country for over 5 years, I’ve discovered that Chiang Mai-as busy and touristy as parts of it may be- is perhaps the best place for our family. We tried living in Bangkok for a month, and though there were wonderful networking opportunities and people we connected with, it was too busy for us. I practically had a panic attack everyday. It wasn’t the type of lifestyle we were used to, especially after having lived in Phuket for years.
And speaking of Phuket: as lovely as it is, it also wasn’t the best place for us. Since we homeschool, we need activities and a community of like-minded holistic families, and Phuket just doesn’t have it. That’s not to say there aren’t some like-minded young families there, but we personally haven’t met any! And we lived there for five years! The homeschool community was dispersed throughout the island, and there weren’t many of us. On top of that, island life was so laid-back that it was borderline impossible to get people to come over to our house or to even go out for lunch. We just didn’t make any close friends, until we met our two chef friends Than and Jack.
But Chiang Mai is a bit of both Bangkok and Phuket, mixed with its own unique Lanna culture. It’s a city, but it’s relaxed. And like in Phuket, the touristy parts are easy to avoid, if you know your way around the city and choose to perhaps live in Hang Dong, or Mae Rim.
The Plus Points of Living In Chiang Mai
There are numerous benefits to living in Chiang Mai. For starters, there are lots of schooling options for children, as well as other family-friendly activities. And if you also homeschool ( or unschool) your kids like we do, you’ll appreciate the fact that there are hundreds of homeschooling families up here.
If you’re looking to learn Thai or continue your education, you will probably love Chiang Mai University, which has a Thai studies department. I studied there for about three months and loved it!
Payap University offers undergraduate and graduate programs in English, and our friends that teach there ( or study there) really love it. It too offers Thai language classes, and I believe you can also get your TEFL cert there.
Because of the number of schools and universities in Chiang Mai, you can most probably easily find work as an ESL teacher. Billy taught English in Phuket, and found his job by applying to an ad in the local paper. We recommend you do the same, and also possibly research schools and actually visit them with your CV.
The more proactive you are, the better your chances will be to find work.
Chiang Mai has lots of health conscious farang and Thais too. Mostly the former, but a growing number of the latter are delving into juicing and healthy eating. To meet this demand, there are dozens of vegan, vegetarian, and organic restaurants, stores, and food stalls. This makes it relatively easy to get the vitamins and such that you may need. We live right next to a wonderful juice bar that serves up a mean smoothie!
And if you want a more hi-so ( upscale) grocery store option, you will probably love Rimping, which has a variety of beer and cheese and other imported items, when the craving arises. It also stocks lots of gluten free baking products, although they are extremely expensive. We instead order from iHerb, which is also where we get our vitamins and things we can’t find locally.
Living in Chiang Mai is relatively affordable too, especially if you are outside of the city center. My friend is renting a brand new condo for about 200 dollars a month, and my neighbor’s Bali-style two bedroom house is 8000 baht per month.
If you happen to be Christian, you’ll find that there are many denominations up here in Chiang Mai, especially in comparison to Phuket. I’ve even bumped into Mennonites here! There are of course thousands of Buddhist temples here too, and other religious centers ( inc hindu temples and mosques).
The Downside To Living In Chiang Mai
The stereotype of the drunk, obnoxious 20 year old backpacker that dons elephant pants everyday and wears a Chang beer tanktop exists for a reason. Granted, I have nothing against this type of person ( although I can’t stand the elephant pants uniform for tourists), but if they drive drunk or outnumber locals, it gets on my nerves.
If you are going to be working here, you may find the pay to be less than what you would get in Bangkok. My husband earned about 30K baht per month as an ESL teacher ( with years of experience) in Phuket, and I’m guessing the wage for teachers may be around that here in Chiang Mai. You can make more in BKK, or better yet, in Korea or Japan.
Immigration gets super busy, and depending on which visa you’re on and which immigration office you go to, you could end up waiting in line at 5AM so that you get your visa the same day. However, you can also now go to immigration at Promenada Mall to renew your tourist visa and several other types of visa. I go there to renew my ed visa from Hand to Hand Combat.
P.S. If you go to Hand to Hand Combat, tell them Elizabeth referred you! I don’t get a commission, I just told them I’d blog about their school. 😉
If you want to rent a car here, expect to pay 15000 to 20000 baht per month, unless you get a really good deal through a friend ( or just get lucky) and find a rental for 12K.
Another thing to consider ( that my friends have told me about) is you can get ‘faranged’ if you don’t speak Thai and are at a larger, more touristy market. Aka, you can end up paying more. Funny enough, I haven’t had this happen to me here because we live in Hang Dong and go to local markets, and I speak decent Thai.
The traffic into the city ( and within the city center around Maya) can get bad. Really bad. This is usually during the typical hours, aka when people are coming home from work or picking up their kids from school.
Pollution during the burning months is extremely bad, although I didn’t personally have much of a reaction to it and think the air quality was slightly better here in Hang Dong. Or at least, it was this past year. The pollution comes from a combination of farmers burning their old crops mixed with pollution from other parts of Asia. If you have asthma or a serious health condition, you should notify your doctor about it and get their opinion. Or, spend those months in a different part of the country.
Another potential downside is that while there are hundreds of homeschoolers here in Chiang Mai, I think you need to be pretty outgoing and determined to connect with them.
What do I mean by this? See, some come and go while others may be missionary kids who get together with other church members. While Kaya has many friends here ( her Bday party was off the hook!), the majority are not homeschoolers/unschoolers. They are Thais and expats who go to school locally.
We’ve bumped into many homeschooling kids but rarely see them, even after exchanging contact info.
Kaya and I are both outgoing, and it’s because of this that she and I have managed to make good friends here. I’ve met other people who haven’t had such luck, and if you are relying on meeting up with unschooling/home ed families on a regular basis, I would suggest being persistent on seeking them out and staying in touch. There is one meet up group in Chiang Mai that I know of, and it is religious but my friend inquired about sending his non-christian son there and apparently they were very open to it.
I would also suggest getting in touch with Grace School, which I’ve heard offers classes to homeschool kids. This school is also run by missionaries.
If you are feeling like Chiang Mai is the place for you and your family, read my free guide to living here for extra tips!
Do you live in Chiang Mai or are considering moving here? Let me know in the comments below!