It’s been a while since I’ve been back to Thailand, which is making me miss it a lot. Thailand is a country I love and it’s one of my favorite destinations, ever. I lived in Chiang Mai, the biggest city in the north, for four months. It’s a city I never envisioned myself to live in since it goes against all my “living standards” of what I like in a city, yet, somehow it captured my attention, and not just my attention, but my heart.
Below are a few of the reasons why Chiang Mai became my temporary home during my round the world travels. Also, while Chiang Mai was my base (and my experience there was different from the typical luxury Thailand vacation), this love is not exclusive to it, as you’ll see. All Thailand deserves some love, in my opinion.
When it comes to cheap, Chiang Mai is king. I could live normally there with a budget of $25 or less, and that included everything: accommodation, food, transportation, and miscellaneous. Before Chiang Mai, I had never lived anywhere for that cheap. But, don’t think I’m cutting corners or struggling to have that cheap budget. I actually had a decent lifestyle and loved it! Just so you have an idea, the image below is the apartment building I used to live in. My friend and I shared a small apartment there and both paid $59 a month! And, even if you wanted to have an apartment for yourself, you could find some for $75+ or even slightly cheaper.
Another favorite thing was the fact that I could eat out for barely anything. In fact, it is cheaper to eat out than to buy groceries and cook for yourself. My lunch usually cost around $1.30 and dinner, not more than $3.00.
Transportation with the songthaews was usually $0.65, but the best thing is that you could walk to almost any place in the city center if you wanted to.
It’s easy to “escape” to anywhere in the country
Given how Chiang Mai is a big hub in the north, you can easily fly to pretty much anywhere in Thailand and outside Thailand for quite cheap. In fact, considering how cheap life is in Chiang Mai when you head south to places like Koh Samui and Phuket and stay in the resorts and guesthouses, you feel like you’re giving yourself a nice treat for almost no money.
Lots of expats
Cheap prices will draw in lots of expats. When you have expats in a city, you don’t feel so “alienated or different” from everyone else. You get to meet people who have common interests and even create expat groups to share your experiences in the city or simply to hang out. It’s an easy way to make new friends.
Tons of activities
The city might look peaceful and tame on its center, but there are tons of activities to be done all around Chiang Mai. From hiking to hill tribes, to whitewater rafting, to elephant camps, and zip lining, among others, Chiang Mai is like the “outdoors sports” capital of Thailand.
Very good nightlife
While its nightlife does not compare Bangkok’s (think of Khao San Road), it is good enough to satisfy your partying cravings. There’s everything from jazz bars, straight and gay nightclubs, Muay Thai fight bars, reggae bars, and if all fails, there’s Zoe in Yellow (the bar where every single backpacker meets!)
I’m not a mall rat, but for some reason, I loved going to the mall in Chiang Mai. I didn’t buy stuff but loved to go dine there. It’s just a gateway to lots of restaurants that are not necessarily available in the city center. Of all malls there, my favorite one was Maya Mall.
Anywhere in or near the city center is walkable. While I can be lazy and tuk tuk or songthaew my way around the city, if I needed and wanted, I could walk from the apartment to virtually anywhere in the city. I love that independence.
Chiang Mai is surrounded by hundreds of mountains, and it is not just mountains, but lots of beautiful rivers and smaller cities like Pai, Chiang Rai, and a few other. They are worth visiting to have a taste of the northern life at a different pace.
In Pai, make sure you go river tubing and spend a few nights there to enjoy the hippy vibe the small town has. It’s one of the best places in northern Thailand to enjoy nature. In Chiang Rai, do not miss the White Temple, which is one of the architectural jewels in Thailand.
Everyone is so friendly
Thais are friendly by nature, but in Chiang Mai, they are even friendlier. Can I ask for more?! And, if you happen to be there during Songkran, you’ll see how everyone is even happier. They will all throw buckets of water to you, shoot you with super soakers, offer water to recharge your own super soaker, and even join you on your “water war.” It is a new year’s celebration (in April), so naturally, everyone is at their happiest as they welcome the new year with a clena mind and clean spirit… a symbolic wash of their problems and demons.