Chiang Mai vs Bangkok

I’ve lived in both so it’s always enjoyable to listen to the perspective of others with regards to where to live as a digital nomad (I hate that word. Please give me a different word that has not been hijacked by silly, broke 20 somethings trying to sound cool).

Chaing Mai vs Bangkok

Alright, both these places are awesome and you should totally live in both. 

Side note – I have another piece of content (and a video) on the cost of living for Bangkok:

How much does it cost to live in Bangkok

The reason people always say “both” are good is primarily because you’ll get bored of one place and want to live in the other. If you live in Chiang Mai, you’ll eventually want more of a city life. If you’re in Bangkok all the time, you’ll start to long for nature, trees and beaches.

But both are good, just in different ways. It’s like asking which is better, an Americano or cold brew. Depends on what you want. 

Here are the main differences between the two

We’re going to break down this comparison into a few different sections.

  • Cost of living
  • Nightlife
  • Fellow Expats
  • Weather
  • Overall Location
  • Services
  • Women (sorry girls, I’m a guy. Honestly, most girls are not that into Thai men anyways).

Cost of Living: Bangkok vs Chiang Mai

Not surprising Bangkok is much more expensive than Chiang Mai to. Both are cheap, but in Bangkok you really need an income of 50,000 Thai Baht per month to live without worrying about money.

This 50,000 baht is enough to cover rent, food, transportation, random expenses that pop up and visa runs depending on your situation.

50k Baht is roughly 1,500 dollars. For me, I was spending 13,000 Baht per month to rent my condo (including electricity). Then 500 Baht per day on food and the BTS (15,000 Baht). I also had to pay for internet, my phone and other random things like tickets to concerts, nights out, dates, and miscellanious expenses.

All in all I was spending about 43,000 Baht to live per month. While you’ll see in forums and other websites talking about living in Bangkok for cheap, you’ll HATE Bangkok if you try to do it cheaply.

It’s not a place for cheap back packers to live. If that is you, hit up Kao San road, enjoy your week or so in Bangkok but then move on. Bangkok is a city and you’re going to want to spend money on nicer things and really enjoy yourself.

Sure, I could have gotten a cheaper place to live, but then I would have had to pay more for transportation to get to and from my place. Paying a bit more allowed me to live next to the BTS which made my life way easier.

Sure I could have spent less on food, but do I really want to eat every single meal from the food court at TESCO and 7/11 for snacks?

Sure I could have gone out less and not dated as much but then what is the point of living abroad if you’re just going to stay in your room all the time and not do anything.

It’s these expenses that make Bangkok more expensive because in Chiang Mai. You simply don’t have as much temptation as you do in Bangkok with bars, world class clubs, girls and the higher overall costs for food and housing.

I honestly have no idea how any foreigner lives and works there as a teacher on a salary of 35,000 Baht per month. You’re one problem away from disaster as you have no money to take care of any unexpected expense.

What about Chiang Mai?

As for Chiang Mai you could live there on 35,000 Baht per month with no issue. It’s a large town, not a city like Bangkok. Your transportation costs will be less if you own or rent a motorbike and the rent is much cheaper. 

In Chiang Mai you can find a comfortable, respectable place for 7,000 Baht. Food is also much cheaper as there are a plethora of Thai food places that sell great food for 40 Baht a plate.

My personal favorite for dinner was to get chicken and vegetables mixed together over rice with a fried egg on top. A simple good meal that fills me up. 

With Chiang Mai, you simply have more options than Bangkok in terms of cost. You can eat Thai food and live in a place that has a lower rent. For Bangkok, you simply can’t because as you try to cut costs in one area, they increase in another.

Nightlife: Bangkok vs Chiang Mai

Yea, this is no comparison, Bangkok by a mile. Now don’t get me wrong, Chiang Mai has night life. It has it’s strip of bars and places to eat for evenings out, it also has it’s after hour places and what not.

But it’s the same 3 places over and over and that gets boring after being there for 6 months or more.

Not with Bangkok. The city is massive and there are so my different options. You can check out somewhere sleezy like Nana or you can checkout RCA where all the young people go to party.

You have your standard bars with your bald aging English men, but you also have very expensive cocktail bars with some of the best drinks you ever had. My personal favorite is Backstage at Thonglor. They make this crazy good cold brew coffee cocktail.

I also went to beer feast with live punk rock music at the Brown Stone at On Nut. My friend and I were literally the only foreigners there as it was more of a locally known place.

With Bangkok there is always something to do and always somewhere to go.

Bangkok vs Chiang Mai: Expat Community

The expat community in Chiang Mai is made of three groups of people. The first group are the vegans. You’ll see them riding bikes in large groups together and making sure everyone knows they’re vegan and better than you because of it. 

The next group are the digital nomads. This is my favorite group obviously because it’s a really helpful way to make friends with like minded people. Like the saying goes, you are the sum average of the 5 people you spend time with. Chiang Mai provides some excellent networking opportunities with people who are making their living online. 

Even if you’re not successful in the way you want to be yet, just being able to get around people who are running successful Shopify stores,  bloggers selling digital products or freelance professionals; being able to ask questions of these individuals will help you tremendously in deciding what path is right for you to start building passive income online.

The last group are the old men of Chiang Mai. This group is awesome too because you’ll meet men from all walks of life. Some men married a Thai woman and have lived in Thailand all their lives, others are retired and now just living it up in the north of Thailand. 

As for Bangkok you basically have your creepy guys, broke English teachers and your super successful foreigners.

The creepy guys are that stereotypical sexpat. Fat, old, ugly, wearing ridiculous clothes but think they look good. Often accompanied by some dark skinned, tattooed girl from the bar.

Then you have English teachers who make 35k trying to live like they make 50k.

Last are your guys working in startups or who were recruited from abroad to work in a specific position within a company based in Bangkok.

It’s this last group that make Bangkok really compelling. One of my good friends I meet while out eating works at a start up that is applying the block chain to the medical field. Only in Bangkok could I have meet a person like this. They don’t exist in Chiang Mai.

However, Chiang Mai is known for being a go-to destination if you’re wanting to get started in the digital space with a website.

Weather: Bangkok vs Chiang Mai

“Winter” in Thailand is awesome. It’s usually in the mid 80’s (25-30 degree celsius) and hot but not too hot.

Bangkok is of course hotter than Chiang Mai but generally you’re going to be in a building. So your time outside is limited. It matters more at night because if you have any sense, you’ll dress up a bit for clubs and bars. When the hot season rolls around, it’s really too much all across Thailand.

The hot season is from March to May. I personally would not live in Thailand during this time unless you really like 110 degree (40 celsius+) weather everyday.

For Chiang Mai it’s slightly less hot and during winter and it actually gets cold enough at night to need a jacket. Chiang Mai is really beautiful over all. The only downside is that the city burns the rice fields every year around March during the hot season to prepare the fields for the up-coming rainy season. 

So during this time the air pollution is bad and it’s incredibly hot.

What is the pollution like in Bangkok? It’s bad too, but again it’s not like you’re outside all the time wandering around.

Overall Location


So Chiang Mai is nice, BUT it’s isolated as it is all the way in the north. It’s surrounded by country side, small towns and rice farms. It’s very beautiful but you need to understand that you’re sort of stuck there.

If that sounds fine and you look forward to renting a bike and heading out into nature then by all means visit Chiang Mai. You’ll have a wonderful time once you have a good group of friends to explore with.

Bangkok’s location is nice too because when you want to escape to say Hua Hin, Pattaya or Phuket you can do so fairly easily. Hua Hin and Pattaya can be reached from Bangkok by mini van and Phuket you can simply fly to from an airport in Bangkok.

Which one is best? Like I said earlier it depends on what you want. I loved exploring Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai by bike. Every month I would take off and visit somewhere new and just enjoy the freedom of being on the open road.

Bangkok was also great because when you got bored of Bangkok you could escape to somewhere totally different. 

Services

In general this is a tie between the two. Both have world class hospitals to take of any issues you may have. Bangkok does have more specialized options than Chiang Mai. But for living there on a 6 month tourist visa, both are fine.

The specalization is only applicable if something unlucky and unusual happens to you like it did to me and my never ending eye infection. Bangkok is the better choice for more serious health issues.

Thai Women: Bangkok vs Chiang Mai

Thai women are beautiful. Bangkok has more types of girls from different backgrounds. Girls from all over the country come to Bangkok for both school and work.

As for Chiang Mai, the selection is simply less due to a smaller population. But again, Thai women in general are very attractive. Chiang Mai girls tend to either be university students, girls who were born and raised there or Thai girls who are just visiting as Chiang Mai is a popular travel spot for Thai’s as well.

Conclusion

Bangkok has everything expect nature. But it’s more expensive with a lot more temptation to go out all the time and spend a lot of money. If you’re instead looking for a chill place to set up shop and focus on work, Chiang Mai may be the better option.

It really comes down to this:

Do you want a world class city for cheap or do you want a fun, beautiful but isolated large town?

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