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  • Living in Chiang Mai, An Affordable And Relaxed Lifestyle

    Living in Chiang Mai, An Affordable And Relaxed Lifestyle

    Founded by Lanna’s King Mengrai in 1296, Chiang Mai is steeped in history and was the capital of this independent Kingdom until 1558. One of the endearing features is the “Old City” with surrounding moat and city wall remnants encapsulating historic temples, museums, quaint shops, traditional Thai houses. With its budget to luxe hotels, ‘cheap eats’ to upmarket restaurants and bars, it is a remarkable area to explore.

    Located 700 kilometres north of Bangkok, in the Ping River basin, it is the capital of Chiang Mai Province and the principal city of northern Thailand. Surrounded by mountains, the city has grown rapidly yet retains a delightful and friendly charm and offers plenty for residents and holidaymakers. With nearly 1.8 million people in the province, it is the north’s economic, communications, cultural, and tourism centre.


    Chiang Mai is an easy and relaxed place to live. The climate is tropical, with three seasons; Dry from February to April, Rainy from May to October, and Winter from November to January. Although it may be cool in the evenings in Winter, most daytimes’ shorts and t-shirts’ and smart casual for evenings is all that is needed.

    It offers the benefits of living in a thriving city, but still with relative ease of getting around and the ability to escape to fresh, natural environments. Another advantage is the low cost of living. Eating out is inexpensive, as is fresh produce at the local markets. Medical care is top-notch, and it is a safe environment to live. Plus, there is so much to do. Retirees, digital nomads, educators, and working professionals migrate here for a more laid-back lifestyle from all corners of the world.

    Where to live

    Although travelling around Chiang Mai is much easier than Bangkok, it can get congested, so living near where you want to ‘play’ makes the most sense. A great benefit of the city is that shopping malls, markets, schools, entertainment venues, restaurants and bars, recreational facilities are spread all around. And of course, your budget will play a part; however, you will most likely find real estate in Chiang Mai less than in many other cities.

    Nimmanhaemin Road area is particularly popular, with co-working spaces it draws many digital nomads and those just wanting to be in action. Many new condos have appeared in recent years. It is close to Chiang Mai University and has a hip, upbeat vibe. It is easy enough to walk to most places you want to go, songtaews (public buses) ply the area, and is an inexpensive way to get about. Nearby Santitham Road is also popular for similar reasons.

    Few people live inside the Old City; available properties are very limited, smaller, more Thai style, and expensive. Although people can walk around easily within the ‘city walls’, shopping malls, recreation facilities, international schools are situated outside and require travel.

    Route 11, the ‘ring road’, partly circles the Old City about 8 kilometres out and has plenty of accommodation choices. Further out, you will find properties generally cheaper, quieter and more spacious. The downside is you need your own transport, and your access to restaurants and amenities may be more limited. Mae Rim and Nam Phrae in Hong Dong District are popular outlying areas.

    Another factor to consider is what type of property you are looking for. Properties in Chiang Mai range from modern condos, many boasting beautiful city and mountain views, range from studios to much more extensive and are situated in most city areas. Villas and detached houses are also available, some within gated communities. As foreigners cannot own land outright, consideration needs to be given to leased property. Our current property listing has houses listed from as little as 60,000 USD or 2 million baht.

    Most retirees moving to Chiang Mai seek independent living; however, having quality aged care facilities is highly appealing for future needs. These resort-style developments offer up to full care facilities, with friendly and hospitable service, excellent medical care and low costs, especially compared to western countries. Ban Sabai Village, Care Resort Chiang Mai and Baanlalisa Nursing Home are three examples of independent to fully assisted aged care facilities in Chiang Mai.

    Ease of Living in Chiang Mai
    With an estimated 30,000 expats living in Chiang Mai, it is relatively easy to find most things you need. Several modern air-conditioned shopping malls are dotted around, plus large grocery stores like Makro, Big C and Lotus. Rimping and Tops Supermarkets carry many imported lines, expect to pay more for imported items. Fortunately, products made or grown in Thailand, like vegetables, fruit, seafood, meats and grocery lines, are pretty inexpensive. Also, fresh markets are conveniently located around the city.

    Many people living in Thailand regularly eat out, as it is affordable. A plate of rice and protein with some vegetable can cost as little as 1.20 USD or 40 THB. Locally made clothes, shoes, and apparel may be found in markets and shops, and many well known international brands are in the shopping malls. Pharmaceuticals are often inexpensive, except when imported. White goods, cars, bicycles, kids toys are all available.

    With at least 15 international schools in Chiang Mai catering from ages 2 to 18, you will possibly find it difficult to whittle down. Higher education is easily accessible too, with nine universities, perhaps the most renowned is Chiang Mai University, with 17 faculties on an extensive footprint at the foot of Doi Suthep.

    With several public hospitals and at least ten private hospitals, many of which are internationally accredited, access to a full range of health care services is easy. Dental, physio, optical and alternate medicines and treatments are also readily available.

    Getting there and around
    Chiang Mai Airport receives international and domestic flights around 15 minutes from the ‘old city’. The train from Bangkok is another option, although not the fastest, it is inexpensive and a good experience. Overnighting on the sleeper service will see you leaving Bangkok in the afternoon and arriving in Chiang Mai for breakfast. Car travel north via double-lane highways makes the journey relatively easy. The recently completed highway to Chiang Rai, the northernmost province of Thailand, has reduced the travel to just three hours.

    Most expats living in Chiang Mai have their own vehicle, whether a car or motorcycle. Route 11 ‘ring road’ is convenient, with spur roads leading off. Most streets within the old city are narrow, and although cars of all sorts traverse the area, it can be slow at times.

    Recreation and Sporting Facilities
    Chiang Mai Expats Club provides a wealth of information, networking and support, and many special interest groups have formed under their umbrella. Bridge playing, photography, hiking, bowls, health support groups, and many more are available. Plus, all manner of sports, including anything from football, golf, pickleball, outdoor aerobics, yoga, Muay Thai to darts, are accessible.

    Of particular note is the 700 Stadium, a multi-purpose facility built-in 1995 for the Southeast Asian Games and boasts an impressive array of facilities including three indoor stadiums, a massive outdoor stadium accommodating 4,500 spectators, various playing fields, a velodrome, an Olympic sized swimming pool and diving pool, basketball, tennis and badminton, volleyball courts, a fitness centre, shooting range, aerobics area, running track and shower, toilet facilities. Behind the complex is a large reservoir with hiking and mountain biking trails. Another popular spot for hikers and bikers is Huay Tueng Thao Reservoir Park, about 3 km north with a designated running and cycling track.

    Advantages & Considerations
    Whether you are considering retirement in Chiang Mai or are a working person or family, Chiang Mai offers something for everyone. The airport gives easy access to Asian regional hubs and on worldwide. The rest of Thailand is less than a one to two-hour flight away. The city has been plagued by Burning Season from January to March in recent years. In this dry season, farmers burn their fields to prepare their land for the following year and get rid of biowastes like corn that can’t be sold in the market. Also, the city is surrounded by mountains like Doi Saket, Doi Suthep, Doi Khun Tan, and Doi Inthanon, which traps the smog and smoky air over Chiang Mai. For health reasons, people with breathing issues tend to leave Chiang Mai during these months.

    Having noted that, there remains so much to admire about the Chiang Mai lifestyle. It is considered by many, as one of the most affordable cities in Thailand to live in for expats. With an excellent range of real estate in Chiang Mai to buy or rent, a huge variety of sporting and recreational facilities, wonderful historical and cultural aspects, delicious food, and so much to explore and learn, it is little wonder it is so popular with expats. Education and health care choices are outstanding.

    Chiang Mai offers all the facilities plus provides an affordable, relaxed lifestyle.
    Discover more about northern Thailand: Chiang Rai – A Green And Quiet Life Without Compromise

    Thailand Blog Neighbourhood Guides Living in Chiang Mai, An Affordable And Relaxed Lifestyle