What initially caught our attention about living in Chiang Mai was the excitement in the voices of our friends who had visited. With huge smiles on their faces many people told us things like “you guys would love it” and “Chiang Mai is the most livable city in Asia.” We were intrigued and began the deep research which finally lead us to our decision to move here.
All the glowing reviews aside, it is still a pretty weird feeling moving to a city you have never personally been to. ‘What if it isn’t really for us?’ Naturally, we were both equal parts excited and anxious when we finally touched down in Chiang Mai.
We gathered our luggage and stepped out of the airport into the crisp late evening air. We got a taxi with a jovial middle aged Thai guy who we are pretty sure had enjoyed a few drinks with his buddies on his last break. On that first ride from the airport Sarah and I nudged our heads out the window trying desperately to get an initial sense of the city.
We spent our first week in Chiang Mai at the Green Tulip Guesthouse inside the ‘old city’. We walked side streets, explored new markets, and got our feet under us. Surprisingly, we were actually quite busy with all thing things to get ready before starting our jobs. That first week, we actually really enjoyed going to the mall. There was something strangely cathartic about strolling around a big 3 story mall that reminded us of home. We started to get settled by buying cheap cell phones, went grocery shopping, bought a few pieces of clothes and rented a motorbike (more to come on that in a future post)
After so many months of curiosity, we finally had our answers about Chiang Mai and we couldn’t have been happier. It seems to be the place we hoped it would be and more. There are the classic Asian cob webs of electrical cords and bustling traffic yet it is exceptionally easy to live in. Designated as the hub of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai still retains a small town feel. It seems just weird enough to keep things fresh, yet modern conveniences just around any corner if you need them.
Here are some more of our initial reactions to Chiang Mai:
Yes, there is a moat, and it’s awesome
Seriously, what modern city has a real moat… Built over 700 years ago, Chiang Mai was once an entirely walled in city with a deep moat around it. Remnants of the wall remain including the 4 gates on each side. How cool it must have been to see the city 500 years ago when the moat and walls were used to fend off invaders. Today the moat encompasses what is known as ‘The Old City’ and in the water there are many fountains and lights. It is actually quite beautiful at different parts of the day and add an extremely cool element to the vibe for the city and its overall layout. The first question always asked when trying to find some place is ‘which side of the moat?‘
The city is surprisingly clean (by Asian standards)
SE Asia is not necessarily known for it tidiness. Garbage on the streets becomes a part of the landscape after a while and most do not think twice about throwing trash wherever they please. (I actually heard an interesting perspective that one of the reasons for this is because non-biodegradable products hit this part of the world very quickly and the habits of eating meals off banana leaves and then just throwing them on the ground did not change when styrofoam boxes replaced the banana leaves for example.) We noticed quite quickly that Chiang Mai is better than most. They seem to actually have a coordinated city wide cleaning process and you see workers picking up trash and cleaning the moat. Garbage cans also seem to be more accessible which help. It is a nice change of pace and just makes things look nicer.
Outdoor markets are one of the best things about Asia, and Chiang Mai has got it figured out. Every day throughout the city, markets pop up selling street food, handicrafts, fresh fruit, clothes, office supplies, anything you can think of. Furthermore the markets are much more relaxed and the people selling things are way less pushy. We have yet to experience the incessant hounding or pressure we got in every other market in Asia (especially in Cambodia.) It can be flat out exhausting getting yelled at and pressured everywhere you go, so we were relieved that this was not the case. Chiang Mai is known for its night markets and by far our favorite of them all is the Sunday night market in the old city where it feels like a full town gathering. The Sunday night market is so cool it actually deserves its own post, which is coming soon.
The City ‘feels’ very young
Many people call Chaing Mai a College town and rightfully so. There are at least 4-5 universities in the area and the abundance of young people is easy to notice. Chiang Mai University is right in town and the neighborhoods that surround it reflect the young and vibrant students that live there with hip coffee shops, great restaurants, and loud bars.
Misty Mountain Tops
The proximity to nature is a huge draw to Chiang Mai and the city sits right at the edge of the deep jungle and mountains of NW Thailand. Lush green mountains capture the western landscape of the city and create beautiful views when the weather is clear. The famous Doi Suthep mountain with is golden palace on top is the most revered and is a common tourist stop. When looking for an apartment there is always either city view or mountain view.