A Resource Guide to Getting Started in Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you’re anything like us, you love looking up information on new places you’re visiting, moving to, or even just fantasizing about. The more information you can get your hands on the better. Such was the case for Alexis and I when we moved to Chiang Mai. We wanted to know what life here was going to be like, what the job prospects where like, what the weather was going to be like, what kind of people lived here, and what activities we’d be able to do.

From all that research, and even in the months since we’ve been here, we have accumulated a lot of useful information about Chiang Mai — information that we’d like to share with you, our dear readers. The resources, links, and information below will help any traveler who is planning on moving to Chiang Mai or just passing through.

10590673_10153069728038508_7674665148177846593_n

Join Facebook Groups

There are a number of extremely useful Facebook groups that are focused on Chiang Mai. Join, lurk, contribute, get answers, anything you want.

This is by no means all the groups, but these are the ones I joined and they’ve been very helpful for the most part. Be warned, there are some annoying members in these groups who feel it’s their life calling to “educate” people who clearly don’t know anything about life. Just ignore them. They’re the worst.

There are a couple of handy documents that have come out those Facebook groups as well:

  • Chiang Mai Resources, A Wiki by Chiang Mai Digital Nomads. There are recommendations in this Google Doc for all sorts of stuff like general Chiang Mai info, apartments, communal work spaces, bike rentals, recreational activities and facilities, restaurants, grocery stores, and computer supply stores. Really, really helpful information compiled by fellow travelers who know what visitors to Chiang Mai are looking for.
  • Apartment Recommendations, assembled by the members of I ♥ Chiang Mai. We used this list while apartment hunting by first filtering out all the ones that were out of our budget, then ones that were too far out of the city, and then spent a day checking out the remaining ones on the list. We didn’t end up living in any of them though, either because they didn’t have any open units or we just didn’t like the units they did have open. Speaking of apartment hunting…

Find a Place to Stay

Airbnb is my favorite site to find accommodation anywhere in the world. It’s the site we used to find this place, where we stayed for a week when we first moved to Chiang Mai. Stephen and Ketsuda, the owners, are awesome. I could not recommend staying with them any higher.

The second best option for finding short term accommodation in Southeast Asia is Agoda. Use either of these sites to find accommodation during your stay in Chiang Mai, or as a place to stay while you search for long term accommodation like we did.

When looking for long term accommodation in Chiang Mai, you basically have two options:

  1. Go door to door. Ok, not quite that extreme, but almost. There aren’t really any classifieds like Craigslist in Thailand, so looking for apartments ahead of time is almost impossible. What we did, and what you will probably have to do as well, is book a short term apartment rental, explore the city, find the neighborhood you want to live in, and then walk around that neighborhood looking for buildings that appear to be apartment rentals. Some will have signs out front, some won’t. Simply ask the first person you see who looks like they work there if they have any available units. Almost every single apartment building in Chiang Mai will have available units.
  2. Contact a real estate agent, we suggest Roberta Thitathan (email: robertametta@gmail.com). The good: You don’t pay anything. The agent will drive you around the city showing you apartments but it’s all free. Agents get paid by taking in a percentage of the rent you pay if and only if you agree to rent one of the places they show you. The bad: Agents just show you a few places they have connections with, not all the options available. For example, the perfect apartment for you might be just down the street from your short term rental but if it’s just some random building the agent isn’t connected with, they won’t show it to you. This is what happened with us. Roberta was super nice and helpful and drove us around one day, but we didn’t end up going with any of the apartments she showed us.

Subscribe to Thaivisa.com

Thaivisa.com isn’t specific to Chiang Mai, but some of the most useful information you’ll find on this site are people talking about visa situations in the forums. Regardless of your reason for coming to Chiang Mai, you’re going to have to deal with visa issues. The rules are often ambiguous, inconsistent, and change all the time, so being able to get up to date information is vital and Thaivisa is the best place for that.

Besides the forums, Thaivisa will help you stay abreast to news in Thailand as a whole. This is especially important for current travelers to Thailand as the military coup is still in effect for the foreseeable future, and while there haven’t been any day to day changes because of it, it’s still important to know if and when something does happen.

Check with the CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel website is always a good place to check when traveling to a new country. You can find out what vaccinations are recommended, what potential bacteria, viruses, or other illnesses you could encounter, and what the currently safety level of the country is. Here’s Thailand’s page.

Register with the State Department (for Americans)

The State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a good thing to enroll in just in case something extreme happens like civil war. The government will know you’re in Thailand and try to get you out of there. At least that’s our hope.

Learn the City

This is really rough, but it will give you a general idea of how Chiang Mai is laid out. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

This is really rough, but it will give you a general idea of how Chiang Mai is laid out. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

I personally love maps, I look at them all the time. Google Maps is the greatest thing ever in my opinion. Unfortunately, Google Maps kinda sucks in Thailand. Learning where things are will take a combination of Google Maps, Tripadvisor maps (which are sometimes incorrect), asking people in the Facebook groups, and simply walking around.

Learn the Currency

Converting Thai baht to USD is easy — the number to remember is 30. $1 = 30 baht. Well, actually it’s like 32 baht, but do yourself a favor and stick with 30. Not only will this make math in your head so much easier, but you’ll constantly be spending slightly less than you think you are.

Other important numbers to have memorized are 1,000 baht = $30 and 10,000 baht = $300. Again, those numbers aren’t exact, but that’s what you should commit to memory.

For exact calculations, download the XE Currency App. It’s available for both iOS and Android, and it’s perfect for making conversions on-the-go as it works offline and uses the latest exchange rates. We use it all the time.

Lastly, I highly recommend figuring out a way to distinguish between 100 baht bills and 1,000 baht bills. They have pretty similar colorings and if you’re not focused or are in a dark restaurant or songthaew, it’s easy to get them mixed up. We don’t know for sure, but we worry we’ve accidentally given someone a 1,000 baht bill instead of a 100 baht bill on a couple of occasions. We now fold the 1,000 baht bills in our wallets to distinguish them. Start learning what they look like now:

A few tips: 1) A few restaurants won't accept 1,000 baht bills because they don't carry enough change. 2) Stockpile 20 baht bills for songthaew rides. 3) Same with 10 baht coins as you'll need them for laundry machines which cost between 20-40 baht.

Three tips: 1) A few restaurants won’t accept 1,000 baht bills because they don’t carry enough change. 2) Stockpile 20 baht bills for songthaew rides. 3) Same with 10 baht coins as you’ll need them for laundry machines which cost between 20-40 baht.

Learn the Language

Let me start by saying I don’t know Thai. I get by with a vocabulary of hello, thank you, expensive, chicken, and 20. I wish every day I was motivated enough to learn the language, but I get by just fine with these words. At the very least, you should know these words:

– Hello: sawatdee khrap/ka (male/female)
– Thank you: khap khun khrap/ka
– Expensive: paeng (say it to vendors at the night markets and they’ll laugh).
– Chicken: Gai (as in pad thai gai or pad see ew gai).
– 20: yee sib (all songthaew rides within the Old City should be yee sib baht. Clarify with the driver before you get in. They’ll appreciate you speaking Thai).

A few notes on khrap/ka: 1) I’ve noticed khrap isn’t said like it’s spelled, it’s much shorter — more like kop. 2) This addition at the end of words is used all the time to show politeness. For example, when ordering pad thai with chicken, simply say: pad thai gai khrap/ka. 3) Khrap/ka are also used as standalone words simply as a sign of acknowledgement. Like if a waiter refills your glass with water, you don’t need to say khap khun khrap every time, you could just say khrap.

Alexis knows more Thai than I do, mainly from a Mango Languages audiobook she listens to as she’s walking to and from work. She was able to rent it from the DC public library and download it before we left using OverDrive, but I’m not sure how else to access it. She also uses a Thai phrasebook app called “Learn Thai” a lot of time which has been useful. She likes it because you can change the dictionary between men and women, they have audio clips for words, and its available offline. You can download the here: iOS and Android.

Read our Posts

Some of the more useful ones in the beginning will be:

Or simply check out the Thailand category archives which will contain on-the-ground, daily life information about Chiang Mai and Thailand as a whole.

Read Other Blogs about Chiang Mai

These are all blogs that we read and like. We relied on these sites a lot before moving here.

  • Tieland to Thailand. Chris and Angela are a young married couple like us living and working in Thailand.
  • Nomadic Matt. Matt lived in Thailand for many years. His blog focuses on budget travel.
  • Ways of Wanderers. Jess lived and taught English in Chiang Mai.
  • Nomad Spirit. Dave and Erin are digital nomads who lived in Chiang Mai for a while. Their Cost of Living Chiang Mai post was especially helpful.
  • Life, the Universe and Lani. Lani is also from Hawaii, so naturally she’s awesome. She lived and taught English in Chiang Mai for a while, but now lives in Chiang Rai, a few hours north of Chang Mai.

This isn’t meant to be comprehensive as no one person can tell the truth about what an entire city is like. This is simply meant to be helpful. Let us know if you have any questions about Chiang Mai and we’ll do our best to answer them!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “A Resource Guide to Getting Started in Chiang Mai, Thailand

  1. Pingback: Updates to the Getting Started in Chiang Mai Resource Guide | Roses on the Road

Nice comments only, please :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s