When I first came to Chiang Mai in 2013, I was sitting at Wat Phra Singh temple during the evening chanting, I listened to the voices of the monks and warm heat was going through my body. “Chiang Mai is a home”, I thought back then. And in 2016 I moved here.
Chiang Mai is a sunny warm place connecting the paths of those who are searching, those who have found, the lost ones and the hippies, the digital nomads and the world travellers. What is it exactly that attracts people here? It is not easy to choose only one attractive thing about this city – great vegetarian food, rich cultural background, and the vibe that it gives – yes, it was the vibe that attracted me.
Chiang Mai is the capital of Lanna kingdom which in the past occupied North Thailand, and that is why everything here is different from Bangkok – traditional wooden houses, soft and slow Thai massage style, Lanna language, and mountains all around. People in Chiang Mai have seen enough tourists to start hating drunk westerners, yet they are much softer than those tired Thai islanders, and they seem to find joy in the lazy long afternoons in wooden houses of the old town. No matter how busy the city is, no one is in a rush – it is not allowed to be in a rush in Chiang Mai.
They say every place has its own mindset – it is accumulation of its geographical features, climate and the thoughts and actions that have been performed here over there years. They say in Chiang Mai the collective mindset has been cleaned by the chantings of the monks for centuries, and that is making it attractive to everyone. When you come here, you will know what I am talking about.
The digital nomad scene
Digital nomads are people who travel around the world, do not have a home in one particular place and work online. Chiang Mai is one of the most convenient places in the world for digital nomads – it has fast internet, cheap accommodation and delicious inexpensive food.
For many the digital nomads of Chiang Mai seem a little aggressive, and all about networking and selling their services to you. I have been to some meetings and cannot say I was in love with everyone, but it is definitely worth a visit if you are new to this lifestyle and want to get some tips, suggestions and inspiration.
A 15 minute scooter ride at 5 AM can take you up Doi Sutep mountain where you can greet the sun and watch the city wake up from the mist and start moving. Mountains are everywhere around Chiang Mai, so you can enjoy one day trips to a different place every weekend. Rice fields will attract you on the way with their lush green color and you will feel like drinking a cup of coffee and watching the rice grow in silence, at least for half an hour.
North Thailand is famous for producing coffee, tea and strawberries (strawberries are sour and not recommended, unless in jam or a shake). Here you can buy coffee beans, grind them and bring them home as a present (go to Akha Ama), or you can have a cup of espresso, americano or cream covered frappe anywhere you go. Inhale, exhale, enjoy. Most coffee shops sell coffee for 40 baht a cup (around 1,5 USD).
When you come here especially in high season (October to February), you can enjoy a variety of free and paid workshops done by digital nomads and everyone who is active in expat and local community. You can exchange your knowledge on software engineering, meditate, enhance your creativity, play with your brain by watching at some light patterns of neurolight, do some laughter yoga and improve theater, practice non violent communication, language exchange, join a writing meetup, learn how to cook local and not local food and how to dye fabrics. Go to any Chiang Mai events group on Facebook, but try not to get lost and limit yourself to one workshop per day.
There is a great choice of vegetarian, vegan, healthy and not helthy food in Chiang Mai. Someone even commented: “The food is so good here that when I am eating lunch, I am already planning what I shall eat for dinner.” Local specialties to taste – khao soi (egg noodles in Northern Thai curry), som tam (papaya salad which can be spicy and smelly), pad thai (Thai fried noodles and the favorite of all tourists). My favorite simple vegetarian place Sangwiroon serves meals for 30-45 baht and is open until 1-2 PM. Also recommended Tikky’s, Cat house, Salad Concept, Birdnest café, Bagel house. Indulge and nourish yourself, and let me know what you liked the best.
If you are interested in yoga, this is a place to be – there are countless yoga studios, regular retreats and sometimes even yoga teacher trainings. Wild Rose yoga studio hosts ashtanga classes every winter, in Yoga tree you can try a lot of different styles, Mahasiddha yoga school teach tantra yoga and a lot of courses on self development. One of the coolest experiences to have is going to Maladhara for their new moon and full moon steam bath and staying overnight to wake up to yoga in the rice field.
There are temples everywhere you go in Chiang Mai – they are great places to cool down from the heat and calm one’s mind. Come in to meditate anywhere you like and join one of the monk’s chats in the afternoons at Wat Chedi Luang or Wat Pha Khao. The latter is my favorite cosy little temple, and not very crowded. There you can also get foot reflexology massage right inside the temple.
Chiang Mai is a the place to receive Thai massage and to study Thai massage. It is not easy to find a good place though, because anyone can open a shop without having a license. I would recommend to get your massage at a school where they know what they are doing, for example Old Medicine hospital (where they also have a nice steam bath for a 100 baht). Lila Thai massage is not a bad chain of shops which employ ex female prisoners. If you want to chill and look at nature while getting foot massage, go to Wat Pha Khao.
What to avoid?
Do not go to Loi Kro street unless you want to buy something. It is noisy, dirty and full of old ugly bars which are not pleasant to look at. Avoid coming to Chiang Mai during Burning season (in March and April when locals burn forests to create new rice fields and make a lot of smoke in the city). Avoid waiting too long to come to Chiang Mai, as it is waiting for you.
What are you waiting for? Time to pack your bags and go =)