I spent 2 months in Chiang Mai this year, making this city the most I’ve ever spent time in during my round-the-world trip. I wanted to stay put in one place for a while and get some work done and Chiang Mai seemed like a great place to do it.
It’s a very popular place for digital nomads working on projects for the following reasons:
- low cost of living
- more relaxed atmosphere compared to Bangkok (less distractions)
- tons of cafes to work in with free Wi-Fi (a few have a 20Mpbs download speed)
- great food and plenty of options
- cooler climate (except March-April when it gets very hot during the day, but usually much cooler at night)
I usually only work about 3-4 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. What I consider work is producing something: whether updating my website, writing, or coding.
1. Wake up between 12-2pm (yes, I know it’s very late but it’s what works best for me).
2. Take a shower and have a quick breakfast/lunch at 7-Eleven, I usually just get a sandwich.
3. Go to one of the many cafes and work for 3-4 hours.
4. Head back to my apartment, read the news on my computer or anything that I find interesting.
5. Go to the market across the street and buy some cheap food from the food stalls and go back to my apartment again to eat.
6. Take a walk as it’s much cooler at night. On Fridays I usually go to a CouchSurfing event to meet other travelers and have a few drinks. Might go to a club afterwards.
7. If I go out I usually come back very late, like 3 or 4am. If not, I may watch some TV or do some more reading on the computer.
8. Sleep for 8-10 hours.
For most digital nomads, a decent Internet connection is a must as many of us rely on it to do our work. Wi-Fi can be found in many places but it’s also nice to get a 3G/EDGE data connection for your mobile device as a backup (no extra charge to use tethering).
For me, I subscribed to AIS unlimited Wi-Fi for 100 baht/month. This allows me to use 3BB and AIS Wi-Fi hotspots which can be picked up in many places. I was able to pick up the signal from my apartment, so it saved me the extra 500 baht/month Wi-Fi fee that my apartment offers.
I subscribed for 100 hours of 3G/EDGE data for 300 baht/month (which I later reduced to just 20 hours for 100 baht).
Where to Work
When I arrived in Chiang Mai in March, there was a co-working space about 15-20 minute walk from my apartment called PunSpace that just opened up. It’s owned by a nice Thai couple and it was free for the entire month. I would normally go there 2-3 times a week as they have a really nice, modern setup. They have a 20Mbps connection, free water, microwave, toilet with showers, lockers, and a coffee machine. They also have offices and a meeting room and I believe if you subscribe monthly you can get 24/7 access to the facility.
It’s a good place to meet other digital nomads as well, mostly westerners. Tech meetups are also sometimes held here.
I stopped going, however, after the free month. The main reason was the price, which at the time was around 180 baht ($6). To me it’s worth the price if I work there all day, but since I only work 3-4 hours a day working at a café was the better option for me. A coffee/tea would normally run between 50-70 baht and sometimes I would go to 2 cafes and it still turns out to be cheaper.
I stayed near the Nimman area where a lot of different coffee shops can be found. My favorite ones wereMarble Arch (very fast Internet, around 20Mbps downstream, popular with university students), Wawee Coffee at the Nimman Promenade (only 1-hour free Wi-Fi for every drink purchased but since I can pick up a 3BB Wi-Fi signal here I didn’t have to keep buying a drink every hour), and Doi Tung III (much smaller but comfy seats and friendly staff). I usually try to avoid Starbucks as their prices are much higher and they don’t offer free Wi-Fi, but the one in the Nimman area has a nice setup and I’ve worked there a few times.
Most of the cafes also play some nice, relaxing music in the background which I really liked.
In My Apartment
During my apartment search, one of my criteria is an apartment that I could work in. I sometimes do some extra work at night before I go to bed, so I made sure the apartment I picked at least has a chair and a work desk.
I actually got quite a bit done during those 2 months. I really got back into programming mode, helping a friend of mine with a web application. It actually felt great building stuff again.
Lots of construction going on when I was there, mostly condominiums/apartments, so it looks like a lot of people are moving here. Hopefully, the cost of living doesn’t go up too much because of this as I plan to return here in the future to do some more work.