Chiang Mai, Thailand
A new beginning
I’d been to Thailand many times but visited Chiang Mai only once before, back at the dawn of the millennium in 2000. Back then I stayed outside of the city at the exclusive Four Seasons Resort at Mae Rim, around 30 minutes drive from town, and only ventured inside the city for a bit of sightseeing and dinner. It was a bit of a ‘blinkered’ introduction. But now I was going to make this place my new home, for a while at least.
Why choose Chiang Mai when I’d only visited once and hadn’t been there for almost 20 years? Well, there are a number of reasons…
Chiang Mai lies in the North of Thailand, making it an ideal base to explore the neighbouring Southeast Asian countries of Myanmar and Laos. Myanmar had been on my travel wishlist for many years. And Laos, having only visited there once in 2001, is a country that I’m keen to explore further. And with Bangkok just an hours flight away, it’s pretty convenient for the rest of the region too.
In recent years Chiang Mai has become a hub for ‘digital nomads’… location independent individuals who can work from anywhere. As Citylife Chiang Mai puts it, throw a stone in Chiang Mai and you’ll likely hit a digital nomad! Since I guess I can loosely be classed as one of them, it makes sense to make a base amongst these like-minded people.
One of the reasons for the digital nomad influx is the cost of living in Chiang Mai. Ranked by Nomad List in 2017 as one of the cheapest places to live. And with a great selection of coworking spaces, good wi-fi, cool coffee shops and great food available from street food vendors to high-class restaurants, it’s easy to see why it has become so popular.
Being located in a mountainous region with some of Thailand’s highest mountains, Chiang Mai province is also an area of great beauty. With jungle, hill tribes, rice fields, elephant sanctuaries, lakes, caves and national parks just a short drive from the city.
Chiang Mai is also a former Lanna kingdom, with over 300 temples dating back to the city’s founding in 1296. The largest and historically and culturally most significant city of the North, it is fondly known as the “Rose of the North”. It’s a place where past and present appear to merge flawlessly.
So with all the above going for it, Chiang Mai seemed like a good candidate for my new beginning. It will be interesting to see how the reality compares after a few months of living here…
Arriving in Chiang Mai in mid-October I had a week or so to orient myself and get reacquainted with the place, as well as sort out some practical matters, before heading off to Burma for three weeks. Top of my list of things to do were;
- Investigate a long-term visa and;
- Organise accommodation for when I returned from Burma at the end of the three weeks.
So how long can I stay??…
Before I left the UK I’d researched the various options for a long-term stay in Thailand. My best bet it seemed was a one-year retirement visa (renewable annually). Now, before looking into this I’d never considered myself as ‘retired’! – sure, I didn’t have a regular income, but the idea was to earn a little here and there online as I travelled (i.e. in true digital nomad style). But it turns out that to get the retirement visa you just need to be over 50 (check ✓) and deposit 800,000 baht (around 18,000 GBP) in a Thai bank (or have the equivalent income). Not a problem. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, I hadn’t been able to obtain the visa before arriving in Thailand. And once in Thailand the procedure to obtain one was different, and to me not at all clear.
Chiang Mai Buddy
Enter Chiang Mai Buddy – a support service for Chiang Mai newbies like me who don’t know what they’re doing. Chiang Mai Buddy provide a range of services for foreign visitors and those new to the city as well as those wanting to make it their home. And they do it very well. Within minutes of meeting with them for the first time, they explained what I needed to do upon my return to Chiang Mai next month…
- Arrive back in Thailand on a 30-day visa exemption
- Get a 30-day visa extension
- Get a 90-day Non-Immigrant Type ‘O’ visa
- Wait 45 days
- Apply for the 1 Year Non-Immigrant Type ‘O-A’ (Retirement) visa
Well, to me it still didn’t seem that simple. But I felt like I was in good hands. They’re not cheap but I felt worth the money to avoid the hassle and stress of doing it myself. I would get the ball rolling in November when I returned from Burma.
2. Finding Accommodation
Where to lay my hat?…
I’d never rented abroad before and was a little apprehensive about the whole thing. But Chiang Mai Buddy were also able to help me with my accommodation. There was availability at a condo on the edge of the hip and trendy Nimman area… 15,000 baht a month (around 350 GBP) for a 45m² room. Pretty reasonable I thought. The only catch was I’d have to rent for 6 months in order for the condo management to raise the necessary residency documents for my visa. I hadn’t considered renting for that length of time. It scared me a little. But if it was necessary for my visa then it would have to be.
So after a quick viewing, I chose a room on the 6th floor overlooking the mountains and put down a deposit… on the understanding that I’d try it for a week before committing to the full 6 months. Well, that was my understanding anyway. I would later find out it wasn’t theirs! I would move in on the 12th November on my return from Burma.
Free to explore
So having got the ball rolling for my visa and accommodation I was free to explore and get to know the place I was soon to make my home before packing my bags again and heading off to Burma.
My first week back in Chiang Mai after 18 years, and the images from that time that were imprinted in my memory remain the same; the saffron robes of Buddhist monks, elaborate temple finials, the image of Buddha, and the Tuk Tuk – the infamous three-wheeled Thai taxi!
Chiang Mai Buddy were also able to help me with my luggage. I’d arrived into Thailand with 30kg of gear… all of which I didn’t want to lug around Burma for 3 weeks – so I offloaded over 10kg with CMB – they charge just 500 baht (around 11.50 GBP) a month to store a large suitcase (other options available). That’s really cheap compared with other luggage storage services.
Where to eat?
Chiang Mai’s full of great places to eat. But for now, just a couple of restaurants close to where I was staying that have since become favourites of mine…
Riverside Bar & Restaurant
The Riverside Bar & Restaurant is located on the east side of the Ping river just north of the Nawarat bridge. It’s become a bit of a Chiang Mai institution where you can enjoy live music until the early hours, or if you prefer, a romantic dinner by the river on the lower-level of this multi-level restaurant. The food is good and reasonably priced. Word of warning: it get’s busy!… especially on weekends… so best to reserve ahead, especially if you have a large party. And be prepared to push yourself through the crowd of Thai youngsters who tend to gather around the band and bar area at the entrance (there’s no other way in!).
The Service 1921 Restaurant & Bar
The Service 1921 Restaurant & Bar is located within the exclusive Anantara Chiang Mai Resort on the Ping river. Lovely pan-Asian food in a gorgeous teak villa that used to be the British Consulate, with wait staff in full 1920’s garb. “Your mission should you choose to accept it”, says the waiter as he passes you the ‘Top Secret’ drinks menu. With Thai red wine at around 8 GPB a glass (cheapest), it’s a mission that you need to think twice about taking. A great experience though if you’re prepared to splash out a bit. The resort also has a second restaurant, overlooking the river, which I’ve yet to try.
Where did I stay?
Not the cheapest of options, but below are where I stayed this time around, and on my first visit to Chiang Mai many moons ago!
Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel & Spa
I stayed at the Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel & Spa on the Ping river on Charoenprathet road, just a few minutes walk from the Night Bazaar. You can read what I thought of this stylish colonial hotel in my next blog post.
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
For an exclusive (but expensive!) stay outside of the city in a peaceful setting amidst rice fields, I’d recommend the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai at Mae Rim. It’s 18 years since I stayed there, but the reviews today speak for themselves.
How did I get here?
I flew Thai Airways from London Heathrow via Bangkok on an Airbus 380 & Boeing 777-300. Journey time was around 14hrs including a 2hr stopover at Bangkok.
Ageing Traveller Wisdom 🙂
It doesn’t hurt to ask for help from time to time (even if it costs you!)
Top image: Temple facade at Wat Chedi Luang