Being an Expat in Chiang Mai is Easier than you Think

I think it’s time I set the record straight about just how “different” life is living in Thailand as an expat. Some friends have shared with me their notions that I live in a bamboo hut near the sea with no electricity. While secretly I like the romance of this idea (and I’ve met a few unique westerners who do), it couldn’t be farther from reality for most foreigners living in Thailand. So I have a confession to make: I am your average expat living in Chiang Mai. One of 40,000 apparently! Let me give you an idea of what that means…

Living Space

My condo has 14 floors, a large parking garage, a security guard and an office manager. There is a restaurant and laundry service downstairs. I have air-conditioning, hot water, and high speed Internet. I pay $205 a month for my studio. (Add $50 for electricity and $20 for Internet.) I have only one complaint, though I don’t expect your sympathies — the water pressure in my shower stinks! There are many condos just like mine (some with swimming pools and fitness centers) here in Chiang Mai. Mine is one of the cheaper ones.

Health Care

Right now I am sitting in my living room eating Fruit Loops straight from the box, drinking tea, and writing this post on my laptop. I’ve been sick all week. Which kind of blows, except for there is a hospital just around the corner from me (literally, a 5 min walk), that is nicer than many hospitals I’ve been to in the United States.

I’m going to divulge a bit of personal information, for the sake of painting a clearer picture to

Chiang Mai Ram Hospital
Chiang Mai Ram Hospital

you about health care in urban Thailand… Having had some female pain for the last few weeks, I was worried that I had gotten a cyst. Any woman who has had this problem back in the US knows that it requires a sonogram to find out — a pricey procedure even with insurance. Today I paid $9. Did I mention I don’t have insurance? In fact, I didn’t even have an appointment and I still saw a doctor after less than 20 minutes of waiting. A doctor who spoken fluent English.

Access to Goods

Just in front of my apartment is a shopping mall, Kad Suan Kaew. It’s the oldest one in town so it

Tops Grocery Store
Tops Grocery Store

doesn’t have brand names you might recognize, like H&M and Zara, which can be found in the Central Festival Mall in Chiang Mai. It does, however, have a grocery store where I can buy pretty much all of my comfort foods… Nutella, Lindt Chocolate bars, and these Kellogg’s Fruit Loops I’m eating, to name a few. It also has an amazing cafeteria where I can order a plate of delicious Thai food and a fresh fruit shake for under $2. (Subway, KFC and Pizza Hut can also be found here, should I ever miss bad American food :)). There are at least 5 pharmacies in this mall, including Boots from England. And I can ask for any medication I want without a prescription. The same antibiotics you get in the US for a $10 – $30 copay are about $5 here. No insurance required.

Night Market
Night Market

For the best (and cheapest) fruits and vegetables it is better to go to one of the farmer’s markets, however. And there are many within a short bike ride from me. On both Saturday and Sunday evening there is a large street market, running across a large stretch of the old town. (Locals call it “the walking street,” presumably because it’s about a mile long!) It’s one of the most glorious things I’ve ever seen– filled with inexpensive handmade clothing, home goods, crafts, delicious food, and street performers. In a way it reminds me of a county fair without the rides… except we have it every weekend ☺.


Well, entertainment is a broad net, but I can tell you a little about the going out scene here in Chiang Mai. There are a few bars I’ve frequented with other foreign friends. One is called Small House and the other is The North Gate Jazz Club. The clientele at Small House is predominantly expat, as it’s a little off the beaten path. The owner is a friendly Thai woman who is married to a laid back, full-bearded guy from California. Along with their 2 little dogs, they make the place feel cozy. And the North Gate Jazz Club has live music most nights with an open mic night on Tuesdays. It attracts a lot of tourists as well as expats. So for nights when you are feeling homesick, these are good places to go. Full of Brits, Americans, sprinklings of Aussies, and various Europeans.

Of course, it would be a pity to spend all your time with other westerners when you’re living in Thailand. There are a host of activities for mingling with Thais and foreigners alike – from Salsa dance classes to language exchange meetings, which I find to be the best ways to meet Thai people who are enthusiastic about having foreign friends. Recently my new Thai friend, Joy, took me to The Warm up Cafe (which is not a cafe at all but a huge night club) and we had fun listening to live music and dancing. Thai people really dress up when they go out, so it has a more big city vibe than the casual expat bars.

If you’re into sports, don’t fret that becoming an expat would mean giving up your favorite leisurely activities. Everything from softball to bridge to ultimate Frisbee is at your disposable. (I’ve heard there’s even an ice hockey league.) To see a list of the groups and activities you can join here in Chiang Mai, check out the activities board here. If you don’t see what you like on here, you can probably form your own group should you relocate to Chiang Mai!

Maya Mall Chiang Mai

Some nights, you just want to relax and sit in a coffee shop reading or go see a movie. And that must be why the Maya Mall was created! It hosts an incredible work space/ restaurant called CAMP, which is a large open space with desks, library-style tables, meeting rooms and lounge areas for you to chose from. It’s open 24 hours. The perfect space for working on your latest project or writing your novel. Just next to CAMP inside the Maya Mall is SFX Theater. It puts AMC theaters to shame and only costs $5 a movie. You can see English movies with Thai subtitles there and visa versa.

The Top of the List

Chiang Mai has been ranked by Nomad List as the #1 city to live and work abroad in. (Gee, I can’t imagine why!) No, we don’t all live on the beach and lay in hammocks all day, but those places are a short flight away. The truth is that living here, you don’t have to sacrifice much of what you’re use to. And while living with less is a beautiful thing while you’re backpacking, when you are living abroad long-term in a place, especially if you have a family or you are working, most of us want these modern comforts (secretly or otherwise!). I didn’t even touch on the nature activities surrounding this beautiful area or the plethora of cultural festivals in this post, but more to come…

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