I’m currently living and working online from Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. The lifestyle is great so far, and long may it continue. This wasn’t a sudden move, in fact the inception of the idea began in 2013 when I came across some blog posts on levels.io:
- What I learnt from bootstrapping my startup from Thailand in six months
- Moving to Chiang Mai
- Finding an apartment in Chiang Mai
- Living in a Hotel
- The Story of my Visa Run to Tachileik in Myanmar
I didn’t realise it at the time, but the allure of living so cheaply, in such an interesting part of the world, really appealed. Subconsciously I began to devise a plan to follow in his footsteps and head out Thailand. It fitted perfectly with some of the ideas that came out of Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Workweek book. I wanted to be able to build a passive income. Now I could do this from home (England), but the problem there is the lack of time. With my previous job I’d wake to go to work at 6am and not arrive home from work until 7pm. Doing this 5 days a week was enough, without burning the candle at both ends trying to build an online business.
Moving to somewhere like Chiang Mai dramatically cuts your expenditure down. Here is a rough breakdown of potential monthly costs:
- Studio apartment with AC – $150 (5000 baht) (Example View Doi)
- Scooter rental – $75 (2,500 baht)
- 3G SIM with 1GB data – $12 (400 baht)
- Gym membership – $50 (1700 baht) (Example Thailand Fitness, although there are cheaper options)
- Street food meals cost around $1-$2 per meal. Restaurants around $2-$5 + drinks
You can imagine how liberating that is compared to living in a big city. I could live for a month in Chiang Mai, comfortably, for what it would cost me just rent a place in London ($1000+). Nevermind the cost of transport, eating out etc. Thus giving me, or anyone, the time to focus on the projects that matter to them.
That said, it’s not super difficult to find somewhere cheap in Asia. So what makes Chiang Mai appealing? The answer is all the other like minded people out here and the quality of living. Here there’s a large community of ‘digital nomads’, each using the internet to start or run different types of businesses. Some are just passing through, but many intend to stay for months at a time.
There’s a few ways to connect with them. Firstly there’s a Facebook group called Chiang Mai Digital Nomads. Secondly, if you search Chiang Mai on meetup.com there’s a few monthly meetups. Once you’re here, the trick is just to turn up at one of the main co-working spaces, and get chatting to people. Probably the most popular ones are Punspace and Coffee Monster. Punspace is first and foremost a co-working space, with a very focused crowd (shhh! no talking). Coffee Monster is a coffee shop with a separate (large ish) room for co-working. It’s a little more social, and has a nice area outside (with a table tennis table).
Chiang Mai as a tourist destination probably isn’t the most overwhelming place in terms of things to do. However once you settle down here the cities secrets begin to unravel themselves. There’s never ending lists of restaurants and street food to try (join the Chiang Mai Eats Facebook group for the insiders scoop). A whole olympic type park nearby (700 stadium) complete with everything from outdoor 50m pool to archery range. Some of it is free to use (such as the running track) whereas other stuff charges nominal fees ($2 to swim). Great local markets dotted all over the city (yes, more food!). Beautiful, yet affordable, golf courses. Great thai cooking courses, good muay thai gyms, cheap thai massages ($5-$7)… the list goes on!
I’ll finish this post with some information on Visas. There’s two main types. The first is visa on arrival. This is between 15 and 30 days, depending on which country you’re from (G8 countries get 30 days with both land and air crossings). Most people start off in Thailand using one of these, and then either choose to extend it with a ‘visa run’, where they obtain another visa on arrival. Or they visit a Thai embassy and purchase a single or double entry visa (60 days per entry).
The typical route for expats in Chiang Mai is to visit the embassy in Vientiane and apply for a double entry visa. This costs 2000 baht ($60), and gives you two lots of 60 days in the country. The first is activated on crossing from Laos into Thailand. Once that first 60 days is up people typically buy another 30 days from the Chiang Mai Immigration agency in town for $58 (1900baht). Then they have to do a ‘visa run’ to activate the second entry visa. After that they can top things up with another 30 days for $58. So for a total of approximately $185 they’ve 180 days in the country.
I’m currently on a 30 day visa on arrival, so don’t have to worry about visas for a while, but it’s certainly interesting understanding the visa landscape. It may come in handy in the future. For those types of questions a great resource is the Thai Visa Forum.