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A Quick Start Guide to Digital Nomad Life In Chiang Mai

After the luxury and isolation of Cempedak Island, I wondered how I would cope with the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai Old Town. I had been reliably informed that Chiang Mai is a premier Digital Nomad destination. That title, along with the hearty recommendations of my fellow wandering minstrel Lucy put the old city top of the list for my first visit to Thailand.

Arriving in Chiang Mai

Lucy and I would be travelling together. We decided to suck it up and smash out the journey from Singapore to Chiang Mai airport in one hit. Our original plan was to head First Class from Bangkok by train. We abandoned this idea as it would wipe two days out of Lucy’s 6 days off. Travelling by train through Thailand sounded like a romantic idea. In practice, the best tickets were overnight tickets, which negates any panoramic views. These tickets were also for bunks as opposed to seating, so working was out of the question too. I would like to travel through Thailand by train in daylight at some point, but the train was not right for this trip.

One thing I am learning very quickly is that the most stress-free way of living here is to be prepared to adapt your plans with minimal notice. With the decision made, we booked one-way tickets from Singapore to Bangkok, with an internal connection to Chiang Mai airport.

Note: There are direct flights from Singapore to Chiang Mai. Our decision was based on the fact that we were to travel at night. Bangkok airport has lots of facilities and Wi-Fi. It worked out better for us to spend 5 hours there napping, with access to food and amenities. We would then arrive in Chiang Mai early the following day. This we duly did, and our first stop when we arrived was the Kiriya Spa for a well-deserved oil massage! Total bliss, and highly recommended.

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Chiang Mai Old Town

The old town is set within a perimeter wall of approximately 1.5 square KM. The old town is packed full of culture and is home to some of the coolest venues and restaurants. It is easy to find accommodation, and if you like being in the centre of it all, then you should head here.

 

Digital Nomad Hot Spots-Chiang Mai

There are many co-working spaces in Chiang Mai. They are available every day, and payment is by the half-day or full-day.

Co-working spaces are ideal if you want to meet other creatives. They also guarantee a conducive working environment, and you will be surrounded by people who get what you are doing. There is sometimes a pay-off with the quality of coffee and food, which means you may find yourself nipping back and forth. This is not a bad thing, as it forces breaks from the screen. I want to drill down into more detailed reviews of co-working spaces in Chiang Mai in a separate article.

For the purpose of this quick start guide, you could try the following co-working spaces and see what works for you:

Starwork – Corporate feel space. Excellent coffee and a mean smoothie

M-A-N-A

Punspace – Three handy locations, excellent facilities including meeting rooms

I read a great blog at Digital Tourist, which pointed out the popular spots. They have written an in-depth article on co-working, so click and read here to find out more. 

Joined Up Think Recommendation-My Secret Cafe In Town

Although co-work spaces have their pluses, you can’t beat a friendly cafe space. My Secret Cafe In Town ticks all of the boxes.

Owners Ja and Paul are lovely hosts. They understand the Digital Nomad culture, and Lucy and I were made to feel very welcome. We visited the cafe twice as a couple, and I continued to work there in the days following Lucy’s return to Indonesia.

The food is fantastic at ‘Secret Cafe’. The varied menu will satisfy even the most demanding of cafe addicts, and the coffee delivers too. The staff were all accommodating, and for the first few days after Lucy left, I felt totally at home working here. As well as the beautiful food, and welcoming staff, the ambience is just right too. The cafe is well fitted out, and there is a covered area outside for smokers, or for those all-important screen breaks. As with any self-respecting cafe, it is not just about the day time. Tuesday nights are music nights, with various local artists performing. The cafe is also home to the Words Will Win spoken word & storytelling night.

If you want a slightly less corporate feel to your workspace, My Secret Cafe In Town is highly recommended. I will be returning, both to perform at the spoken word night, and to enjoy some writing time.

The owners also have an out of town guest house; The Ruang Tawan Hideaway. More on this in a separate article.

While we are talking about accommodation, here is a quick guide to a few great options on offer in Chiang Mai Old Town. You can find cheaper accommodation in the districts surrounding the old town. We wanted easy access to everything. For variety, we opted to try accommodation at three distinct price points.

Read on to find out more:

Cheap accommodation-The Cozy Inn-Chiang Mai Old Town

If you are looking for comfortable, clean basic accommodation then the Cozy Inn is top of the list in that category. Situated amongst a cluster of street food barrows, massage, bars and restaurants, the Cozy Inn is accessible, yet quiet. Chiang Mai was always going to be a culture shift after the extreme luxury of Cempedak, but the Cozy Inn did not disappoint.

The staff were super friendly and welcoming, looking after our bags until check-in, which was offered earlier than stated. The team arranged laundry for 80 Baht per kilo, (a little pricey, best to cross the street and drop it off yourself), and mopeds were delivered to the hotel for 200 Baht a day from DJ bike hire. You will need a 3000 baht deposit per bike, or you can leave your passport. We had no issues at all with the company, and the bikes were great fun. You can read my review here.

Pros:

Great Wi-Fi

Warm and friendly staff

Excellent value for money at just 350 baht per night!

Rooms are clean, comfortable and have a modern apartment feel to them despite their size.

Cons: 

Breakfast:

Breakfast was included and was available 7:00 AM until 10:00 AM daily. The terrace was functional, and the food was OK. In all honesty, there are so many cool little restaurants and café’s, you are better to skip breakfast and buy nearby.

Solution: Go and see Andreas and his staff at the Drop Inn two minutes walk from the Cozy Inn. The breakfast is excellent, and the coffee too. Friendly and affordable.

Room Size:

The rooms at Cozy Inn are small. If you plan on spending a lot of time in your room then maybe the Cozy Inn isn’t for you. If like us, you intend to be out and about, returning only to sleep, it is the perfect budget stop.

We would definitely use this accommodation again as a budget crash pad.

Accessibility:

There are no lifts at the Cozy Inn. If you have specific access requirements, then you will need to specify ground floor accommodation. There is ramp access to the ground floor rooms, so you will be fine, just make sure you let them know in advance as the upper floors will be inaccessible. This will mean no access to the cafe on level 2, but as mentioned, this should not be an issue if you plan to eat out.

Facilities:

Comfortable double bed

En suite Wet room

Air Conditioning

Mid-range Accommodation: Jaidee Bamboo Huts-Chiang Mai Old Town

I booked this accommodation as a solo traveller as Lucy had to return to work.

A step up from the Cozy Inn in terms of size, Jaidee Bamboo Huts is near the East Gate and also in one of the most relaxed little areas of town. Anything you could possibly want is within a few minutes walk, including a handy travel agent (hut). The accommodation is a choice between recently refurbished double rooms with wet rooms, and the older bamboo huts a the rear. When I read the reviews, there were some pretty scathing ones on Google. Still, I liked the manager’s friendly manner and decided to try them anyway. Besides’ the bamboo huts are totally personal space, set in a cute little garden area.

I have to say, I disagree entirely with all of the negative reviews on Google. It strikes me that some people just love to bitch. I understand that people are on holiday and that the time they spend in a hotel is precious. Reading through the negative reviews, I get the sense that some people book these places and expect to be treated the same way as they would in a 5-star hotel! If you want to be pandered and pampered, eat Michelin star food, and have staff at your beck and call, then pay the money and go to a 5-star hotel!

The staff at Jaidee Bamboo Huts were all lovely. Yes, occasionally one of them was on their phone, but, Context! The team are working extremely long hours, dealing with some very unreasonable people every single day. Have a heart! 

Part of the experience here is to try out new places. Turning up at your digs and using their restaurant as the only source of food, and then moaning about it is really pointless. If you don’t like it, try walking 100 yards instead of berating the poor staff. Just an idea. The 500-850 baht a night price tag would barely get you two Gin and tonics in London, so I think it is important to have perspective.

Rant over.

Accommodation:

The bamboo huts are obviously not new, but they were really cool! They are a little tired, but certainly not tatty. I really enjoyed my two nights here. The bed was very comfortable. I liked having my own personal space within the cluster of huts. The garden area is quiet and having an outside veranda with a little table made evening writing sessions very pleasant. One of the newly refurbished rooms in the main building has a balcony, so if you like al fresco seating, and can live with a little hustle and bustle from the street, go for that. At night, there is a charming ambience. The lanterns in the trees make for a more rural feel, which considering you are in the heart of the old town, is actually very pleasant.

Pros:

Good value for money

Great location

Friendly staff

Clean and comfortable room

Air conditioning

Security Safe

Very spacious for the money

Cons:

Access is not suitable for those who have specific access requirements

The rooms a the front may have a little noise bleed at night, but earplugs work wonders.

I would definitely book here again, especially the huts, which gave a sense of personal space that is hard to find in a hostel or hotel complex.

As for the food, I didn’t partake. It all looked delicious to me. I took my breakfast in The Nice Kitchen, which is a 30-second walk away. Evening meals were enjoyed in the incredibly peaceful Peppermint Guest House Vegan Cafe. Owners Mai and Pepe are the perfect hosts. The Peppermint cafe and their food were a real highlight for me, and I look forward to returning. This is a little corner of the Old Town. Hanging out in this corner of town is recommended.

Higher-end accommodation: The 20 Lodge-Old Chiang Mai Town

We found the 20 lodge on Agoda and booked two nights at 1000 baht per night. It is much easier to find stunning accommodation at affordable prices when you are travelling with a partner. Our reason for choosing the 20 Lodge was initially based upon the fact it had a swimming pool. The rooms looked great in the gallery shots, and so we went for it. We are happy we did! This place is absolutely heavenly. The tropical gardens and general quirkiness make 20 lodge a definite must for those with the budget.

Again, perspective. 1000 baht is only £25.00 a night and includes breakfast. We ate breakfast every day here as the food was lovely, and the ambience perfect. The owners have it just right. There is a spa-style playlist all day, playing chilled out vibes. The staff were absolutely fantastic, and the rooms were superb!

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and were it not for Lucy having to return to work, we would have stayed longer. You can get a massage if you want one. The laundry service is next door at a very reasonable 30 baht per kilo, and the surrounding area is also classic Chiang Mai.

I have to be honest and say we were so enchanted with this fantastic find, we did not make a note of the access. Apologies, if you have access requirements. I will go and visit and update this on my return to Chiang Mai.

Not much to say other than put this on your extremely shortlist. In fact, just book it and thank us later.

Pros

This extraordinary place has it just right. A rare find.

Cons

We can’t think of any!

What to do in Chiang Mai

What to do in Chiang Mai is a whole series of blogs, some of which I hope to write in the future. For now, you can find out more by reading these handy articles.

Flight Of The Gibbon

Two Wandering Souls

Nomadasaurus

Conclusion:

Chiang Mai lures you in. She is a charmer that really comes alive at night. The streets are a sprawling maze of glorious finds. You will have hours of fun exploring the little back alleys and streets. There is something to see at every turn, and friends to make in every quarter.

The Saturday night Walking Market is incredible. Thousands of people milling around hundreds of stalls, each offering all manner of treasure and trinkets. There is so much to do in Chiang Mai old town that it is impossible to cover it all in a day or two. Set your sights on a week here, and discover a place that will live in your heart for years to come.

Depending on how long I stay on my return to Chiang Mai, I hope to add some more detailed content about the old town. I hope you have benefited from this quick start guide to Digital Nomad life Chiang Mai. If you have, please share, and sign up for our newsletter here.

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