I am sitting in a sala, a wooden structure on tall stilts, looking at the endless lime green glow of rice fields. Kites shaped like eagles swoop and dive above the farms to keep other birds from eating the precious crops. I am an expat, an hour away from Chiang Mai City, in Northern Thailand. In the distance, I can see a giant Buddha statue belonging to a treasured local temple.
Looking back, it is unimaginable to think that ten years ago, tranquil Chiang Mai wasn’t even on my prepat radar!
So why Chiang Mai?
1. How Much?
Expats enjoy an affordable lifestyle, particularly beginning with accommodation. A quaint 45 sqm (about 450 sqft) studio condo will only cost around $330 per month and offer a top view, gym, and pool. Well, that is a pre-COVID price. Rental properties have dropped 20% in price. This means, when all you adventurers begin to roam, things will be much cheaper. Naturally, there are upscale condos and houses, too. Expect to pay $1500 monthly for the high-end market.
Bills are paid monthly, and water is surprisingly cheap. An average monthly water bill will be around $7.00. If you shop at local markets, your food bill with be lower. My weekly fruit and vegetable cost be less than $5 and I do a lot of cooking at home. Be mindful of your electricity usage. Air conditioning can bite into your wallet. Running three aircons moderately in my household costs me around $133 per month. This lowers significantly in the cool season, although I must add that winter is a very short month.
The Biggest Decision of the Day: Where Do I have Lunch?
The lifestyle for expats here is fabulous. There is a diverse expat community with lots of events, local interest groups, and a popular Expat Club. Lunch meetups at restaurants, hiking groups, history courses, and book clubs are just a few examples.
My favorite group is run by Payap University. They offer academic courses on a variety of topics, from Thai history, sketching, gemstones, and astronomy. A course may run for five weeks and cost on average $16, and the teachers are so inspiring.
Naturally, with the warm climate, swimming is a favorite pastime, with many condos providing a pool. Actually, one of my top tips on making new friends is to hang around the pool!
Nearly every day, my biggest decision is where I will spend lunch. Shall I eat on top of the mountain, by the lazy Ping River, or behind the walls of the ‘Old City’? There is something for everyone here.
3. Lanna Culture
There is no way I would enjoy Chiang Mai if it wasn’t for the immersion into Lanna culture. Lanna culture is unique to Northern Thailand. Customs and cultures have merged from Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Cambodia, and other tribal groups.
They believe in an active spirit world and have many customs to appease ghosts. Spirit houses, offerings such as red Fanta (yes, the drink!), and supernatural characters all mingle with daily life here.
My Thai friend told me not to take a photo of a particular tree, as it may upset the spirits that inhabit it!
The people on Chiang Mai are generally very friendly and helpful. In saying that, don’t expect that every single Thai person will be interested in you.
They also work six days a week, and they endure lots of pressures (usually economic), and some are not interested in using the English Language.
Each day I spend here, I feel its magic increasing. The vibrant colors, spicy foods, ancient culture, and serene temples surround and inspire me. I could never go back to my pre-expat life now, I only have eyes on a future full of adventure and freedom. Do you live as an expat in a magical place, too? Let us here at TCI know.
by: Rachel Devlin