Here are 55 Reasons to Live in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We asked 2980 of our newsletter subscribers and here’s what they told us:
Chiang Mai is third among the world’s top 15 cities by readers of the influential travel magazine Travel + Leisure, “Chiang Mai, with its lovely Lanna temples, charming traditions, unique food, family-friendly attractions and stunning setting is a gem in Thailand’s northern hills. There’s so much for tourists to do here, from cultural exploration to adventurous treks and food tours,” said Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Chiang Mai scored 91.40 out of 100. Bangkok came in eighth.
The score is based on a survey of over 300,000 international T+L readers who were asked to rate the “best of the best” in international travel experiences and destinations and contribute to the globally respected, Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards.
Let’s first see what other expats – who’ve already made the move – think of expat life here. Are they happy in their new homes? The Best Places in the World to Retire polled 389 expats from the United States and Canada. Their findings?
- Most thought they’d achieve a lower cost of living (87%), a simpler, less stressful life (82%) and better weather (74%). Those were the top three hopes.
- They realized two out of three: 84% said they achieved a lower cost of living and 74% got better weather.
- The “simpler, less stressful” life didn’t always materialize: 71% are living simpler, less stressful lives compared to 82% who were hoping for it.
- 56% thought they’d achieve “a less materialistic, or more meaningful life” (the #4 reason), 61% of the expats say they’ve found more meaning. 66% of women said they achieved this, 56% of men did.
- 85% are happier living abroad than they were before, 56% said they’re much happier and 28% said ‘somewhat happier’. Only 5% are less happy now and 11% said they’re about as happy as before they moved.
- 64% said they enjoy life abroad much more than their former lives.
- What Americans miss most? 20% missed ‘first-world goods and shopping’ and 16% ‘Access to high-quality health care.
- 42% plan to never go back to the U.S. and 37% aren’t sure; 16% expect to return to America when they’re old or sick, 4% said “as soon as possible” and 3% anticipating moving back within five years.
- If they had to do it all over again 79% of former Americans said they would and 12% said ’probably’; 3% either wouldn’t or probably wouldn’t.
So Expat Life can be Fine, but Why Live in Chiang Mai, Thailand?
I found that it really is possible to live comfortably in Thailand on $1,500 a month – that seemed impossible when I was expelled from the middle-class five years ago. Here are a few more reasons to consider a new life in Thailand:
- Culture: Thais have spent 2,000 years creating a culture devoted to happiness, tolerance, and beauty. And that stuff about older people being respected? It’s true. They really do!
- Climate: Some like it hot, and Thai summers oblige. Some like it warm, and Thai winters are exhilarating.
- Beaches: You can vacation on exotic beaches for pennies. (And explore exotic jungles for even less).
- Nine Hots Springs: All with professional masseuses giving you a post-soaking, two-hour massage and stretch…for $10. Talk about champagne living on a beer budget.!
- Beer and Great Places to Drink It: $2 for a large, chilled bottle served at your table, fabulous places to sit and drink it. (Whisky’s cheap, too).
- Flowers: Orchids grow profusely along busy streets. And orchids are just the beginning of Thailand’s floral glory. Thais adore flowers. So will you.
- Smiles: Every meeting – even buying a carton of milk – begins with a smile, a bow, and a blessing. (The smiles came 1,000 years before the tourist slogan).
- Shopping: From banana leaves on the pavement at dawn to gigantic European hypermarkets, Thailand offers unparalleled, inexpensive shopping.
- Night Life: If you like your fireworks at 2 a.m., dancing, singing, music cold beer and cheap whisky, Thailand is heaven.
- Safety: Women and children can walk the streets more safely here, day or night, than almost any place on earth. Chiang Mai is one of the safest cities in the world.
- History: Thailand was never colonized, so no ‘attitude’ towards foreigners. A unique and wildly divergent amalgam of myth, legend, and cultures, Thai history offers lifetimes of study.
- Festivals: Like dressing up? Blowing things up? Setting things on fire? Singing? Dancing? Rowing? Looking at flowers? Dousing people with water? Thailand has a festival just for you.
- Restaurants: From French haute cuisine to dives with plastic chairs: vegan gourmet, Indian curry, Indian, Mexican, Greek, Chinese, Halal…you name it we got it.
- Takeout: Nobody cooks at home because in Chiang Mai is 20% of the price you would pay back home. Food stalls and markets are found all over the city sell you local dishes for $1 a meal.
- Cooking schools: Start at $30 for full day, are lots of fun, and…vegetarians are well catered for vein that Thais are Buddhists.
- Speakeasies: They’re in carports, under houses, on vacant lots, in alleys, streets, on rivers, mountains. Want to sell whisky by the roadside? Go ahead! No permit needed. No zoning, either.
- Activities: From hot springs to transvestite night clubs, Thais find room in their hearts, minds, wallets, and schedules for just about every form of human diversion.
- Religion: Animism + Hinduism + Buddhism + Christianity + Confucianism? Thais don’t discard old religions. They add new religions to their existing ones. And there’s room for all of them.
- Tolerance: You’re welcome in Chiang Mai regardless of your color, wallet, gender, clothing or religion. There’s room for everyone.
- Weather: T-shirt, shorts, flip-flops all year round. When the temperature drops below 70F Thais bundle up and enjoy shivering.
- Tipping: Taxi drivers are ecstatically happy with a 30 cent tip. When I tip my breakfast server 15¢ she smiles delightedly and bows (the wei) deeply.
- Coffee shops: Riverside? Mountain top? Local coffee? Transvestite coffee shops serving imported organic coffee? We’ve got you covered.
- Service: 7-11 clerks wei you for buying a carton of milk: Transactions begin and end with a bow and a blessing. What’s not to like about that?
- Noodle carts: They’re part of the traffic flow: Five lanes of rush hour traffic + one guy pushing a noodle cart, at night, without lights? No problem!
- Entertainment: Cable TV has 6 English-language channels, plus German, French, Vietnamese and Chinese. Movieplexes, festivals, and holidays.
- “Traffic” is an excuse for anything: Thais’ politeness is matched only by their lack of punctuality. That’s why “traffic” is so handy.
- You’re a Novelty: Children will literally topple over as they watch you go by – while ignoring an elephant.
- The Language: Written Thai is not an alphabet and spoken Thai depends on tones as much as on syllables. Learning it opens a new window on the world – and parts of your brain.
- Fresh Mango with Sticky Rice: Thailand’s gift to civilization. Fall in love with food all over again…for 60¢.
- Thai Women: They really forgive and forget. Heartbreak? Disappointment? Betrayal? Thai women can (after the initial knife-wielding onslaught) just drop it completely and move on. So that’s Thirty Reasons to Live in Chiang Mai Thailand, with more to come:
- Transportation: Limo? Air train? Taxi? Pedicab? Tuktuk? Songtaew? Canoe? Bus? Plane? Train? Scooter? You name it, it’s affordable and it’s waiting for you.
- Fighting: Cock-fights, cricket fights, kite fights, guy-fights, gal-fights, mud-fights and the foreigners’ favorite: bar-fights. Yep, we’ve got you covered.
- Freedom: Seriously, you’re free to do almost anything you can think of so long as you don’t harm anyone else. In Thailand, you’ll discover what “unregulated” really means!
- Happy Drunks: Fights are rare and usually confined to foreigners. Laughs are plentiful. Most nights, people sit around outdoors drinking beer but, apart from a lot of giggling and singing, that’s about it.
- Wonderful, crazy drivers: Regardless of freaked-out foreigners’ opinions, you’ll find that Thais are extremely considerate, patient, and skilled. Except when they’re not!
- Therapy: Thailand is so exotic, different and beautiful it re-sets our minds, bodies, and hearts, takes us out of ourselves and our concerns and allows us “time out” to reconsider life.
- Alzheimer’s Prevention: Living in Thailand makes you use your mind every day and builds your memory. You’ll have to remember places and landmarks (maps and addresses are not very useful), new words, a new alphabet, and new meanings, customs, customs, money, and faces, foods…
- A Great Expats’ Club: It’s big and well-run with lots of special interest groups, including Bridge, Badminton, Lawn Bowl, LGBT Group, Hiking, Photographic Group, Travel Club, Computer Club, Democrats Abroad, Dining Out Group, Expat Ladies Lunch Group, Health as a Hobby, Landscape Gardening, Lannacapella, Overeaters Anonymous, Pickle Ball Group, Reading Group, Scrabble Club, Writers Aloud,Writers Without Borders!!
- Cost of living: If you live on a fixed income you can double it just by moving to Thailand. Don’t believe me? Look at Thailand’s rank on the Digital Nomads’ site:
- Accommodation: Modern Thai houses are cool, sturdy, and airy. Traditional ones are beautiful and built of rosewood and teak. And cheap. You can start with a Chiang Mai sublet, or rent a studio near the airport for $100/month. Get a serviced apartment from around $500/mo. or rent a 3-bedroom house like mine, five miles from town, for $300/month. You can buy a condo starting around $15,000 – though you’ll spend three times that on a 100 sq. m. place with two bedrooms and a real kitchen. Used condos are very cheap because Thais overwhelmingly prefer new units (no spirits (phi) to hassle you). Unless you’re a must-own person, renting is far cheaper than buying, even after 30 years. You cannot own land but you can rent it for up to 30 years. The best deals available come from local people whose command of English is not great so we can arrange to visit and look around properties, negotiate the price and contract details with your landlord.
- Medical, Nursing and Dental Care: Many people live in Thailand primarily because of the quality and affordability of its medical care. Dental cleaning runs 500 baht, x-rays 750 ($20), a medical checkup and medical certificates are 200 baht ($6). A private hospital ward starts at 2,000 baht/day. Along with famous brands, most medicines are available in generic form – much cheaper. An in-house nurse or caregiver starts at 15,000 baht per month. Several local retirement communities even provide accommodation, meals, doctors, nurses, social outings and in patient facilities for less than US$2000/month. We can arrange the most complete medical and dental checkups you’ve ever had, too.
- Northern Thais: Chiang Mai’s culture is deeply influenced by the Lanna and ‘Hill Tribe’ people. You hear and see the influence all over town, in language, clothing, art, architecture, music, food, and general laid-back vibe. If you appreciate arts and crafts, Chiang Mai is for you. No city in SE Asia has so many factories – even entire villages – dedicated to crafts . You can watch silk being woven and silver beaten and, of course, buy them.
Walking: Visitors come from around the world for Hill tribe trekking, river rafting and elephant riding.
- Smiles. Lanna Thai people are friendly, helpful and remarkably honest. They’re not always looking for a way to get something from you and locals will always help you if you’re in a jam (even with the police!).
- No Sex Tourists: Northern Thailand is much more family-oriented than the South. More traditional and less ‘pliable’ than their Southern cousins.
- Wonderful Partners: Thai women are widely considered un-marriageable after age 25, which works to the advantage of foreign men. Local women are traditional and will take care of the house, cook and clean and dote on you in ways that western women won’t. Men are expected to protect and provide and the women to take care of her family – and you will be included with her family but not instead of it. Local Thai women put their parents and the Royal Family above husbands. You marry the family when you marry her and you will be expected to help the family out financially. If you are a good-hearted person who shows respect and kindness then, if your health turns bad you will be repaid back with love and care beyond your imagining.
- Weather: From November to February the weather in Chiang Mai is clear blue skies, 30°C and low humidity during the day and often-chilly nights. March – June is summer heat but, because Chiang Mai is in the mountains it’s always cooler than anywhere else in Thailand and most places in SE Asia. The rainy season (monsoon) runs from June–October, with 30-60 minute showers once or twice a day. Rapidly-building clouds give you 30 minutes warning, then the wind kicks up. The daily hour of rain turns Chiang Mai’s foliage deep green and the summer flowers make their appearance: it’s beautiful.
- Cheap, Fresh Produce: Mt neighbors bring me fruits and veggies from their gardens every week. Or just walk to the little produce stall up the street – the local markets are a busy and popular with the locals. The Kings projects helped farmers give up growing drugs and switch to growing food: the result? Abundant tropical and native fruits (and veggies you are used at home).
- Scenery and Landscapes: hot springs, lush forests, mountains, old villages, rice fields, elephants, gardens, lakes, caves, temples, national parks and much, much more.
- Temples: Chiang Mai has 300 of them, all exotic, all different and all eager to tell you their history. In the early hours you see saffron-robed monks collecting alms on the roadsides. They’re everywhere and the people of Chiang Mai treat them with great reverence.
- Coffee: Many of Chiang Mai’s hundreds of cafes have their own coffee farms, to supply them with their house coffee: 100% organic, grown under natural shade at high attitudes and hand picked. Sip it in lovely surroundings and take advantage of their fast, free WiFi.
- No Sirens, Horns, Hustlers, Beggars or Ripoff Merchants: Tired of being a target? You’ll love quiet, easygoing Chiang Mai. If you don’t want something, a simple “no” and a smile is all it takes!
- Connectivity. You can fly direct from Chiang Mai’s sleepy midtown airport to anywhere in Asia, including Beijing and Delhi, and to the Middle East. Direct!!!
So there are your 55 Reasons to Live in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Let me know if you find more!!
And this is what it’s like to drive in Chiang Mai..