Digital Nomad Tips – A quick start guide to Chiang Mai

After the luxury and isolation of Cempedak Island, I wonder how I will cope with the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai Old Town.

Digital Nomad tips are a handy way to get started in a new town or city.

Digital nomad tips will feature regularly in Nomads land, one for each new place I visit. They point you to tried and tested accommodation, handy tourist information and great places to help you settle in and find your feet. You want to have your own adventure, and so am merely giving you a heads up on where you can go with confidence. From there, it is all down to your spirit of adventure.

Arriving in Chiang Mai

I am reliably informed that Chiang Mai is a premier Digital Nomad destination. That title, along with the hearty recommendations of my fellow wandering minstrel Lucy puts the old city top of the list on my first visit to Thailand. Lucy and I will travel together. We decide to suck it up and smash out the journey from Singapore to Chiang Mai airport in one hit. Our original plan was to travel First Class from Bangkok by train. We abandon this idea as it will wipe off two days of Lucy’s six days break.

Travelling by train through Thailand sounds like a romantic idea. In practice, the best tickets are overnight sleepers, which negates any panoramic views. These tickets are also bunked as opposed to seated, so working was out of the question too. I will travel through Thailand by train in daylight at some point, and make a note to explore this further.

Digital Nomad tips – Flexibility is your friend.

One thing I am learning very quickly is that living moment to moment is the most stress-free way of living. Allowing yourself to adapt to change at short notice relieves pressure.

I have been very inflexible for much of my life. This new way of living is a challenge, but I am going with it. With the decision made, we book one-way tickets from Singapore to Bangkok, with an internal connection to Chiang Mai airport. The idea of one-way tickets fills me with dread. I decided months ago that I would go to Vietnam next, so I want to get that ticket booked too. Lucy talks me down. After a moment of consideration, I relax. Lucy knows best.

Digital Nomad Tips – Travel

There are direct flights from Singapore to Chiang Mai. Our decision to split the journey is based on the fact that we are to travel at night. Bangkok airport has lots of facilities and excellent WiFi. It works out better for us to spend 5 hours there napping and having some food. The plan is we can then arrive in Chiang Mai early in the day.

Digital Nomad Tips – Chiang Mai

Our first stop on arrival is the Kiriya Spa for a well-deserved oil massage! Total bliss, and highly recommended.

The old town is set within a perimeter wall of approximately 1.5 square KM. Packed full of culture and hosting some of the coolest venues and restaurants, this is a vibrant and colourful city. It is easy to find accommodation, and if you like being in the centre of it all, then the Old Town is for you. Well worth the nominal extra baht per night.

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Photo by Rune Enstad on Unsplash

Digital Nomad Hot Spots-Chiang Mai

There are several co-working spaces in Chiang Mai. They are available every day, and payment is by the half-day or full-day.

Co-working spaces are ideal if you want to meet other creatives. Formal areas also guarantee a conducive working environment. It is sometimes best to be surrounded by people who get what you are doing.

The quality of coffee and eating facilities can suffer in co-working spaces, which means you may find yourself nipping back and forth. This is not a bad thing, as it forces breaks from the screen.

For the purpose of this quick start guide, you could try the following:

Starwork – Corporate feel space. Excellent coffee and a mean smoothie

Punspace – Three handy locations, excellent facilities including meeting rooms

I read a great blog at Digital Tourist, which points out other popular spots. They have written a great article, so click and read.

Digital Nomad Tips-My Secret Cafe In Town

Although co-work spaces have their pluses, you can’t beat a friendly cafe space—my Secret Cafe In Town ticks all of the boxes.

Owners Ja and Paul are lovely hosts. They understand the Digital Nomad culture, and Lucy and I are made to feel very welcome on every visit. I continue to work there in the days following Lucy’s return to Indonesia.

The food is fantastic at ‘Secret Cafe’. The varied menu satisfies even the most demanding of cafe addicts, and the coffee delivers too.

The staff are all accommodating, and for the first few days after Lucy left, I feel totally at home working here, despite being in Asia alone for the first time.

As well as the excellent food, and welcoming staff, the ambience is just right too. The cafe is well fitted out, with a covered area outside for smokers, or for those all-important screen breaks. As with any self-respecting cafe, it is not just about day time. Tuesday nights are music nights. Various local artists perform, and the cafe is also home to the Words Will Win spoken word & storytelling night.

If you want a slightly less corporate feel to your workspace, My Secret Cafe In Town is highly recommended.

Digital Nomad-bonus tip

Ja and Paul also have an out of town guest house; The Ruang Tawan Hideaway. I won’t get the chance to visit this time around. I hope to in the future.

While we are talking about accommodation, here is a quick guide to some of the accommodation on offer in Chiang Mai Old Town. You will find cheaper accommodation in the districts surrounding the old town, but we want easy access to everything. For variety, we opt to try accommodation at three price points.

Digital Nomad Tips – Cheap accommodation-The Cozy Inn-Chiang Mai Old Town

If you are looking for comfortable, clean basic accommodation then the Cozy Inn is top of the list in that category. Situated amongst a cluster of street food, massage, bars and restaurants, the Cozy inn is accessible, yet quiet.

Chiang Mai is always going to be a culture shift after the extreme luxury of Cempedak, but the Cozy Inn does not disappoint.

The staff are super friendly and welcoming. On arrival, reception look after our bags until check-in, which is offered earlier than stated. The team arrange laundry for 80 Baht per kilo, (a little pricey, best to cross the street and drop it off yourself), and mopeds are delivered to the hotel at the cost of 250 Baht a day from DJ bike hire.

 

You will need a 3000 baht deposit or leave your passport. We had no issues at all with the company, and the bikes were great fun. You can read my review here.

Cosy Inn Pros:

Great WiFi

Warm and friendly staff

Excellent value for money at just 350 baht per night!

Rooms are clean, comfortable and have a modern apartment feel to them despite their size.

Cons:

Breakfast:

Breakfast was included and was available 7:00 AM until 10:00 AM daily. The terrace was functional, and the food was OK. In all honesty, there are so many cool little restaurants and café’s, you are better to skip breakfast at the cosy and buy nearby.

Solution:

Go and see Andreas and his staff at the Drop Inn two minutes walk from the Cozy Inn. The breakfast is excellent, and the coffee too. Friendly and affordable.

What about the rooms and facilities?

Room Size:

The rooms are small. If you plan on spending a lot of time in your room then maybe the Cozy Inn isn’t for you. If like us, you intend to be out and about, returning only to sleep, it is the perfect budget stop.

We would definitely use this accommodation again as a budget crash pad.

Accessibility:

There are no lifts at the Cozy Inn. If you have specific access requirements, then you will need to specify ground floor accommodation. There is ramp access to the ground floor rooms, so you will be fine, just make sure you let them know in advance as the upper floors will be inaccessible. This will mean no access to the cafe on floor 2, but as mentioned, this should not be an issue if you plan to eat out.

Facilities:

Comfortable double bed

En suite Wet room

Air Conditioning

Very low mosquito activity

Mid-range Accommodation, Jaidee Bamboo Huts-Chiang Mai Old Town

I book this as a solo traveller on the day Lucy returns to work.

A step up from the Cozy Inn in terms of size, Jaidee Bamboo Huts is near the East Gate and in one of the coolest little areas of town. Anything you could possibly want is within a few minutes walk, including a handy travel agent (hut).

The accommodation is split between recently refurbished double rooms with wet rooms, and the older bamboo huts a the rear. When I read the reviews, there are some pretty scathing ones on Google, but I like the manager’s friendly pitch and decided to try them anyway. Besides’ the bamboo huts are entirely personal space, set in a nice little garden area.

About those negative reviews:

I have to say, I disagree entirely with all of the negative reviews on Google. It strikes me that some people just love to bitch. I understand that people are on holiday and that the time they spend in a hotel is precious. Reading through the negative reviews, I get the sense that some people book these places and expect to be treated the same way as they would in a 5-star hotel! If you want to be pandered and pampered, eat Michelin star food, and have staff at your beck and call, then pay the money and go to a 5-star hotel.

The staff at Jaidee Bamboo Huts are all lovely. Yes, occasionally they are on their phone when you want to ask something, and they won’t be quick about stopping the conversation, but, Context is everything. The staff are working too long hours, dealing with some very unreasonable people every single day. Have a heart.

Part of the travel experience is trying out new places. Turning up at your digs and using their restaurant as the only source of food, and then moaning about it is really pointless. If you don’t like it, try walking 100 yards down the road instead of criticizing the poor staff. Just an idea.

The 500 baht a night price tag, (expect to pay a bit more in high season or through booking services) would barely get you a Gin and Tonic in London. I think it is important to have perspective.

Rant over.

Digital Nomad Tips – What was it like to stay here?

Accommodation:

The bamboo huts are obviously not new, I think they are really cool. They are a little tired, but certainly not shabby. I really enjoyed my two nights here. The bed was very comfortable. I liked having my own small space in a cluster of huts. The garden area is quiet and having an outside veranda with a little table made evening writing sessions very pleasant.

One of the newly refurbished rooms in the main building has a balcony, so if you like al fresco seating, and can live with a little hustle and bustle from the street go for that. At night, there is a charming ambience. Coloured lanterns adorn the trees making for a more rural feel, which considering you are in the heart of the old town, is actually very pleasant.

Pros:

Good value for money

Great location

Friendly staff

Clean and comfortable room

Air conditioning

Security Safe

Very spacious for the money

Cons:

Access is not suitable for those who have specific access requirements.

The rooms at the front may have a little noise bleed at night, but earplugs work wonders.

I would definitely book here again, especially the huts, which gave a sense of personal space that is hard to find in a hostel or hotel complex.

As for the food, (most of the complaints on Google are food-based) I didn’t partake. I choose to take my breakfast in The Nice Kitchen instead. My evening meals are eaten at Peppermint Guest House Vegan Cafe. Owners Mai and Pepe are the perfect hosts. I didn’t use their Guest House facilities, and so I have no feedback, other than it looks very budget. The cafe and food were a real highlight for me, and I look forward to returning. This is a great little corner of the Old Town, hanging out here is highly recommended.

Higher-end accommodation-The 20 Lodge-Old Chiang Mai Town

It is much easier to find stunning accommodation at low prices when you are travelling with a partner. Our reason for choosing the 20 Lodge is initially based upon the fact it has a swimming pool. The rooms looked great in the gallery shots, and so we went for it. We are happy we did. This place is absolutely heavenly, set in well-manicured, almost tropical gardens, the 20 lodge is a must for those with the budget.

(Lucy and I booked here together, and we found the 20 lodge on Agoda booking two nights at 1000 baht per night)

Again, perspective is handy. 1000 baht is only £25.00 a night and includes breakfast. We eat breakfast every day here as the food is lovely, with a serene ambience.

The owners have it just right. There is a spa-style playlist all day, with chilled out vibes. The staff are fantastic, and the rooms are superb!

We thoroughly enjoy our stay here, and were it not for Lucy having to return to work, would stay longer. You can get a massage if you want one. The laundry service next door is a very reasonable 30 baht per kilo, and the surrounding area is full of things to do.

There is not much to say other than put this on your very shortlist. In fact, just book it and thank us later.

Pros

This extraordinary place has it just right—a rare find.

Cons

We can’t think of any!

Digital Nomad Tips-What to do in Chiang Mai

What to do in Chiang Mai is a whole series of blogs, some of which I will write in the future. For now, you can find out more by reading these beneficial articles.

Flight Of The Gibbon

Two Wandering Souls

Nomadasaurus

Conclusion:

Chiang Mai lures you in, a charmer that comes alive at night. The streets are a sprawling maze. You will have hours of fun exploring little back alleys and streets. There is something to see at every turn, and friends to make in every quarter.

The Saturday night Walking Market is incredible. Thousands of people milling around hundreds of stalls, each offering all manner of treasure and trinkets. Don’t miss it!

There is so much to do in Chiang Mai old town that it is impossible to cover it all. Set your sights on a week here, and discover a place that will live in your heart for years to come.

I hope you will benefit from this quick start guide to Digital Nomad life Chiang Mai. Have fun!