Chiang Mai is at the #1 spot on the NomadList leaderboard right now, but does it really deserve the hype?
When I see so many digital nomads singing the praises of Chiang Mai and so many lists stating it is the number one place to live, I wonder if there is a case of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” happening?
It’s the cool thing to say that you love Chiang Mai, but is it really THAT great?
Is everyone just in love with Chiang Mai because it has such a reputation as a “Digital Nomad” city? Do aspiring remote workers automatically head here because it’s the most well known spot — without considering some of the other cool places where they could live?
Chiang Mai Gets a Lot of Hype — But Why?
As a whole, Thailand is known as a fantastic destination for digital nomads and world travelers.
After all, it’s delightfully cheap to live there, you can walk around in flip flops all year round, the food is fresh and delicious and the WiFi is pretty good and fast and there are plenty of co-working spaces (if you like that kind of thing… I think they are a bit overrated.).
Plus, you’re never far from one of those stunning turquoise-water beaches, emerald rice paddies or crystal clear waterfalls in the jungle that make everyone sick with envy when they look at your Instagram feed.
But the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai specifically has become somewhat of a Digital Nomad Promised Land over the years. It’s a legendary destination where all remote online workers eventually end up, seeking fast WiFi, cheap coffee and connections with other entrepreneurs.
This image as a “perfect digital nomad destination” can make some travel bloggers, digital nomads and online influencers hesitant to share anything but positive feedback on the city. Even mega-blogger Adventurous Kate says she was afraid to voice her criticisms of Chiang Mai back in 2010 as she didn’t want to lose the support of other bloggers who loved the city.
But these days, more digital nomads are pulling back the curtain and sharing their honest opinion of why Chiang Mai isn’t all that great. (I’m glad to see that it’s not just me!)
When you learn a bit more about this supposed tropical paradise, you might find that it’s really not for you.
As Todd Dosenberry writes in his article 7 Reasons I’m Stoked to Leave Chiang Mai, Thailand, there’s a number of downsides including the loud, annoying motorbikes, the sweltering heat and the pollution. He also notes that being 12 hours ahead of EST is frustrating when you are an entrepreneur working with US based clients.
Luciano from NomadNotMad.com mentions many other downsides of the city — such as the visa runs and the unpleasant smell in the streets.
He also explains that although on the surface the city seems like it would be a great place for networking with other digital nomads, there’s a negative side to this:
“You will find a lot of digital nomads and tons of people to connect with, that’s true, but many are only there to play the game and they’ll have a product to sell.. Have you join their retreat. A mastermind group with a monthly fee. A course of sorts.
And those who don’t try to get some profits off your skin… well, chances are that they won’t stay here for long. So even though you can easily make connections and have a beautiful, active social life, it’s unlikely that you will have a solid circle of friends that are always around.”
Also, as Rashad from Banker in the Sun writes, you get lazy. He explains that the slow, laid back pace of Chiang Mai will encourage you to sleep in later and later each day and can make you feel complacent — which is not great if you want to focus on really working hard and building a business. (He also says that the dating and club scene in Chiang Mai is pretty lame.)
Pros and Cons of Chiang Mai
Let’s look at a few of the ups and downs of this destination.
Conclusion? Perhaps Chiang Mai isn’t the perfect city for digital nomads. It has its perks and downfalls just like anywhere else, but it’s not special. In fact, it might actually be a place that gets on your nerves after a while.
The good news is, that you can be a successful digital nomad even if you have never set foot in Chiang Mai at all! (I know, hard to believe, right?) The truth is that there are many other great cities around the world that are just as great for remote workers.
Awesome Alternative Digital Nomad Destinations
Ok, so if not Chiang Mai then where? Here are some alternative ideas for where you can base yourself if you are a digital nomad:
Plovdiv is becoming known as the “Chiang Mai of Europe”, because it’s so popular with online entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of perks to living here, including the warm weather, great food, fast WiFi and beautiful nature. It’s super cheap too — you can rent a one bedroom studio in the center of the city for approximately $240 USD per month. (Also, when you live in Europe you can explore other countries easily, rather than being stuck in the middle of nowhere.)
Plus, it’s a pretty cool city to explore. It is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe and it dates back 8,000 years. As you wander through the town, you might feel like you have stepped into an episode of Game of Thrones.
Sick of border runs to keep your visa current and avoid overstaying? Estonia actually plans to welcome digital nomads with an “e-Residency” visa that will allow them to legally reside in Estonia for 365 days.
Plus, Tallinn has some of the best internet in Europe, a high quality of living and is very safe. The price for a one bedroom studio in the center of the city is approximately $470 US per month. The digital infrastructure here is excellent and can be used to run a business online easily and securely with very minimal bureaucracy. Oh, and it’s a totally gorgeous city with stunning architecture and so much to see and do.
This city is one of the most popular for digital nomads in South America — and for good reason. It’s in a gorgeous mountainous location, it has a great cost of living and a vibrant community with a lot of culture, music, great food and nightlife.
Plus, the weather is great and you’ll be on a much closer time zone if you work with businesses in North America. The rent for a one bedroom studio apartment in the centre is only around $480 US per month.
Seoul, South Korea
Ok, living in Seoul will be more expensive than living in Chiang Mai, for sure. But think about the value you get for your money. You’re in a huge capital city that is one of the most important in Asia and the networking and business opportunities, as well as the attractions, nightlife, dining and things to do, will reflect that. (In fact, compared to other major cities like London or New York, rent in Seoul is much cheaper.)
You can enjoy mind-blowing food on every corner, fast internet speeds, 24 hour cafes — as well as cheap flights to many other Asian destinations when you want to go somewhere different for a while. It’s a really exciting place to be a digital nomad.
Remember: You Don’t Have to Choose One Place
These are just a few ideas to get you thinking outside of the Chiang Mai bubble when looking for somewhere to live. There are thousands more possibilities around the world — so find the place that works for YOU!
Whenever digital nomads complain to me that they don’t like the place they are living in, I always look at them with utter confusion.
You work online. It doesn’t matter where you live. If you aren’t happy, leave.
That’s the beauty of this lifestyle, it allows you to live anywhere you please and pick up and move at the drop of a hat. If you don’t like somewhere, don’t stay there and make yourself miserable — try somewhere else!
What are your thoughts on Chiang Mai?
Do you love it or hate it? Tell me what you think!
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