Essential Guide for Chiang Mai: Planning Your Perfect Stay (2023)
Chiang Mai, Thailand is an ideal destination for digital nomads looking for a change of pace. With its stunning natural beauty and diverse culture, Chiang Mai is the perfect place in Thailand to kickstart your digital nomad lifestyle. In this article, we will provide an overview of what life is like in Chiang Mai for digital nomads.
I’m a part-time digital nomad who travels a quarter of the year to see and explore places to trek, climb, and visit all while I work in my full-time job. I’ve visited Chiang Mai and other areas in Thailand, and hopefully, I can provide some answers to questions people have when considering Chiang Mai as a digital nomad destination.
What is Chiang Mai known for?
Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, and the largest in Northern Thailand. Its name means “new city” and it’s among the most popular destinations for digital nomads.
What is the atmosphere in Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai has the big city feel without being too overwhelming. It also has its own charm because of the old moat surrounding the city. It’s close enough to quieter towns like Pai or Chiang Rai that it’s easy to do a quick getaway.
Is Chiang Mai a safe destination?
Indeed, it is. We’ve never felt unsafe in our week-long stay despite walking a lot in the evenings.
How long to stay in Chiang Mai?
I’d recommend at least a week to see the highlights and activities within the city. If you’re traveling and working at the same time, give yourself two weeks to get to know the city. There is much to do within and outside the city.
What is weather like in Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is in the northern mountainous region of Thailand, making it naturally cooler than cities south of it. During an overnight trip in the northern communities, we even found ourselves wearing jackets in February.
- Rainy season. Rainfall starts from June and ends around October. Rains in Chiang Mai are short-lived though so travelling in this season will just give you a different feel and view of the city.
- Dry season. Weather in Chiang Mai during dry season—from November to February—means cool temperatures peaking at only 30 degrees C with less humidity than that of Bangkok. This is also the peak season for tourism.
- Hot and humid season. In the three months of the year from March to May, Chiang Mai feels exactly like Bangkok with both humidity and temperatures rising to 40 degrees C.
How to you get to Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is a popular destination for both tourists and locals alike, so there are plenty of options to get to this northern hub.
Getting to Chiang Mai with trains may be the most popular option because it’s economical and comfortable even if it’s a 10 hour ride. You’ll notice that local businessmen occupy the first class seats since they make regular trips to and from Bangkok. When we tried booking for train seats, they were sold out two days before our departure date so I would recommend to book them early—around a week in advance—because they sell out fast. We found trains to be a good way to also see the country side without the need to stay in them.
Train #7 is the train heading to Chiang Mai. A seat can be a quarter of the price of flight for the second class seat with fan, if booked at the station. They charge an extra 250 baht when booking online.
Buses are the second best option and there’s at least 10 bus companies to choose from. It’s a slightly shorter trip compared to that of a train, and we found trains to be a bit more comfortable because trains have actual beds while buses offer reclining seats. Depending on which company you go with, your bus may leave from Khao San Road, Mo Chit Bus Terminal, or it can even pick you up from your hotel.
A bus seat will also be a bit pricier compared to a train, starting at around 660 baht.
The fastest and most expensive way to get to Chiang Mai would be to catch a flight. I would recommend this if you’re on a time crunch or you’re on a three week vacation or less. It can go as low as 680 baht all the way to over 2,000 baht depending on when you book it.
There’s also a variety of airlines to choose from:
- Thai AirAsia
- Nok Air
- Thai Lion Air
- Thai Smile
- EVA Air
- Singapore Airlines
- Bangkok Airways
Can you drink tap water in Chiang Mai?
No, you cannot drink tap water in Chiang Mai.
It is recommended to buy filtered water, or stay in accommodations that offer filtered water. We tried bringing a Lifestraw bottle thinking that we can get away with it but it does not filter out viruses from water.
Transportation from Chiang Mai Airport?
Multiple options are available for tourists arriving at the Chiang Mai Airport.
- Airport taxis charge around 200 baht for a trip
- Private shuttle from your hotel
- Songthaew are the red trucks whose routes you can see on the truck’s body. While they are cheap at 50 baht, these trucks will wait until it’s full so reconsider this option if you arrive late in the evening.
- Tuk-tuks is a less common option from the Chiang Mai airport but if you find one, expect to get charged around 80 baht
- Use Bolt and Grab to get a ride. We found Bolt to be a cheaper alternative to Grab in Thailand.
Getting around Chiang Mai
If you’re just staying within the old city where the highlights are at, we found Chiang Mai to be walkable although drivers can be a bit aggressive. The only time we found ourselves riding public transportation was after we finished a hike to Doi Suthep.
Aside from the mentioned transportation options above, you can also get rental scooters or motorbikes starting at 250 baht. These are quite popular so book earlier to get a cheaper price. While there will always be a place to book from, we found that better prices are available when book earlier. Big motorbikes that are great for uphill trips, and they are available for around 500 to 600 baht.
Cost of living in Chiang Mai
60 – 120 baht
Add 20 baht for rice
Private rooms with air-conditioning starts at 800 baht. Any private room below that only has fan
Depends on what transportation you choose Songthaews are the most popular option. If you’re heading to the outside loop of the old city, they charge 50 baht. If you prefer to be dropped off in the inner city, it’s 100 baht per person.
30 – 60 baht per kilogram
A cheaper option would be to just use a self-service washer and dryer that are usually open 24/7. They charge 30 baht per kg.
1.5L of water is from 20 baht. A 6L jug of water is 45 baht
A 1.5L jug can last two days for one person
Getting Internet Access in Chiang Mai
Hotels and hostels usually offer their own internet, which average around 36 Mbps. There are also certain restaurants that offer wi-fi access as well. How you get internet access will determine the internet speed you’ll get.
If you want to get your own internet, you can choose from these options:
- get a SIM card and use it on an unlocked phone.
- get an eSIM
- stay in a place with good wifi. Among the options, this is the trickiest. You can contact your accommodation in advance about this but I found that most of them end up not responding with their internet speed.
Things to do in Chiang Mai
- Visit the night market
- Do a two or thee day hike to the Karen villages
- Get a Thai Tok Sen Massage, which is a Northern specialty because it makes use of wooden Tamarind hammer to tap certain places in the body
- Visit the Hmong market
- Visit an elephant sanctuary
- Watch Thai boxing. It’s on every Friday, 9pm at the Kalare Boxing Stadium across the night bazaar
- Hike and visit Doi Suthep and its temple
- Rent a motorbike and do a day trip outside of the city trip
- Climb up the sticky waterfalls
- Visit the Chiang Mai Zoo
- Hike at the Doi Inthanon National Park