Living in Chiang Mai – Helpful Hints
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Advice for Anyone Considering Living in Chiang Mai
When we decided to come and live in Chiang Mai Thailand we didn’t realise how popular this city was with Westerners. We were also surprised at the number of people living in Chiang Mai for 3 months, 6 months or years.
We have used Chiang Mai as our base for almost a year, and understand why Chiang Mai feels like home to so many. Chiang Mai is a charming city, with first class medical, internet and retail facilities, everything you need is right here in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai has an International and Domestic Airport and flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai are frequent.
Here are some helpful hints for those who are considering the move to Chiang Mai. One of the most vibrant cities of South East Asia.
Thai Culture – Things You Should Know
The Royal Family
The Thai’s love their Royal family. The Royal family is treated with the utmost respect. Be respectful of anything that shows the Kings image, such as money and postage stamps. When you are in a movie theatre you will be required to stand while a tribute to the King is shown.
Wats (Temples) and Monks
As with any Temple, Church or Mosque be respectful when entering and dress appropriately. Shoes must be taken off before entering Chiang Mai Temples (Wat). Monks are treated with the highest regard in Thailand and are forbidden to touch women. If a woman accidently touches a Monk, he must go through cleansing ritual. Be careful not to bump into them on the street and avoid sitting next to them in a Songtauw (red bus).
The Head & Feet
Like many cultures, the Thai’s believe that the head the most honourable part of the body. To touch another person’s head is considered rude. Feet are considered offensive to Thai’s. Shoes must be removed before entering a house. It is rude to move things with your feet or have your feet pointed at anyone.
Thai’s take pride in their appearance, please try to do the same. Do not wear revealing clothing. Men, do not walk around without a shirt in public places no matter how hot it is.
Getting angry in Thailand will not get you anywhere when interacting with Thai’s. To get angry is to lose face. Always remain cool and keep smiling even in frustrating situations.
Thai is the official language of Thailand. Like many Thai cities, English is spoken by a large number of the local population. This does not mean that everyone speaks English, you will find many instances where you will not be able to communicate. You will find Thai language schools all over the city.
Chiang Mai’s weather is hot and humid between March and June, rainy season between July and October and the cooler weather between November and February. The most popular time to visit Chiang Mai is during the cooler months between November and February, Chiang Mai’s high season. Chiang Mai also has a smoky season where farmers burn off around March to April, something you need to consider if you have respiratory problems.
Thailand’s tropical climate means it’s very important to protect yourself from the hot sun. Make sure to wear sunscreen and a hat.
The currency of Thailand is the Thai Baht. Thailand is very much a cash society and credit cards are rarely taken. To purchase most items, you will need to carry cash. To save on bank fees check to see if your country has a Thai bank branch, Bangkok Bank has a branch in USA and UK.
Most people living in Thailand long term open a bank account. There are many different banks to choose from. To open a Thai bank account, you will need your passport and proof of residence e.g. your condo/house lease.
Thai food is one of the most delicious cuisines in the World, so you are in for a real treat! In Chiang Mai most food sold in restaurants is safe. Food sold from street carts, stalls and markets is not only cheap but some of the most delicious fast food available. If you plan to eat the food from street carts, markets or stalls, you need to take a few simple precautions.
Go to the cart that has the most customers, not only are they selling great food but you will know that the food is fresh from the fast turnover. Be wary of seafood, it has a reputation for turning bad quickly. Note that raw fresh fruit and vegetables may have been rinsed with tap water.
Thai food has a reputation for being spicy. If you don’t like your food spicy you can say, ‘mai phet’ (not spicy) or ‘phet nit nawy’ (a little bit spicy) depending on your taste, I like mine phet (spicy). If you get a dish that is too spicy, have a glass of milk, drinking water will only make the heat worse.
Chiang Mai has cuisines from all over the World for those times you feel like the taste of home.
Drinking Water & Ice
Most people drink bottled water. Water filters are another popular option, and are installed directly onto your tap. Many people use the water refilling station or boil the water from the tap. Unlike a lot of Asian cities, the ice in most of Chiang Mai’s restaurants and bars is made from safe drinking water.
Chiang Mai has had cases of Dengue Fever and Malaria. Make sure to use insect repellent, cover up in the evenings and make sure your accommodation has screens. Chiang Mai has a wet season and mosquitos are more prevalent during this time.
Chiang Mai has stray street dog population, generally they will leave you alone but sometimes they do bite. If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten by any animal, you must go to the hospital or doctor.
Medical, Dental and Optical Facilities
Chiang Mai has first class medical, dental and optical services. These services are a lot cheaper than at home. I have had dental work done and found the Dentists to be professional, caring, and best of all it was pain free!
I have friends who have had major operations with extended stays in Hospital and they have the utmost respect for the Medical professionals of Chiang Mai.
Crossing the Street
You will find lots of crossings in Chiang Mai, but they are not like the crossings at home. Most of the traffic will not stop at the crossing unless they have a red light. You will have to watch the traffic, walk out when clear, sometimes stopping in the middle of the road. NEVER just walk out onto the road, give the traffic time to see you.
Be mindful of your bag, don’t flash money around. Most Thai’s are honest people but as with any city, you do have to use common sense when looking after your valuables.
Getting Around Chiang Mai
If you don’t have a car or bike, Tuk Tuk’s are the quickest way to get door to door. They cost around 80 baht around the city, more if you are travelling further out. Negotiate a price before starting your journey.
Songthaew (red bus)
Songthaews are my favourite form of transport in Chiang Mai. A songthaew is a shared red bus. When taking a songthaew, take note of any landmarks near your destination, this will help the driver. Songthaews cost 20 baht per person around the city. If you are travelling further afield, negotiate a price with the driver. If the driver refuses to take you, he is travelling in a different direction, try another songthaew. Because songthaews are a shared bus, getting to your destination can take time, if you are in a hurry take a tuk tuk. Songthaews can be rented out for day trips.
You will also find yellow, white, green and light blue songthaews traveling around the city, these songthaews travel to different areas further out of town.
Taking a taxi is a good option for getting from the airport or hiring for day trips and tours.
As with most countries, Thailand has many phone providers. We use dtac and are very happy with them. I have visited dtac stores in Maya, Central Festival and Airport Plaza shopping centres in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai has fast broadband readily available. What provider you use will depend on which one services your premises. Our condo uses Sinet. Again we are very happy with the provider. I have visited Sinet stores in Maya, Central Festival and Airport Plaza shopping centres in Chiang Mai.
Home Sweet Home
There are many different kinds of housing in Chiang Mai, including houses, apartments and condominiums. Chiang Mai has a lot of good real estates to choose from. We chose Perfect Homes and we were very happy with them.
We chose to live in a condominium. Our condominium is fully furnished, right down to cutlery, crockery, linen and cooking utensils. You may want a place that is unfurnished, that is available too, it is your choice.
Just be aware that on top of the rental price you have to pay for power and water. Other fees may apply for different types of accommodation. Just make sure you know all the extras before you sign the lease.
A rental contract/lease is necessary for proof of residence, you will need this to open a bank account and get a Thai Driver’s licence.
There are companies in Chiang Mai that can assist you with Visa reporting requirements. A company we have used it O.S Thai Visa Express. These companies will charge a fee to do your reporting for you. You can also do your Visa reporting at Immigration.
Like anywhere insurance is very important and a personal preference. CNXinsure is just one of the Insurance brokerages in Chiang Mai. You can contact CNXinsure through Chiang Mai Expats Club.
Chiang Mai is just like home, it has a large range of modern shopping malls, superstores and supermarkets. You will also find smaller shops like 7-Eleven dotted around the city. They are cheap and great for picking up that last minute item. You can also pay some bills at the 7-Eleven.
Chiang Mai Expats Club is a must for anyone who is new to Chiang Mai. I don’t know what we would have done without the Expats Club, they were so much help to us when we arrived. Chiang Mai Expats club offers many outside activities, a great place to make new friends.
Chiang Mai Festivals & Tours
There is so much to see and do in Chiang Mai. Here are a few of our favourites.
Festivals of Chiang Mai
From the unforgettable Loy Krathong and Lantern festivals held in November, to the famous Songkran festival in April. You will be astounded by the variety of different festivals held year round in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Tours
Songthaew’s and taxis are available for private hire for trips to tourist attractions. You will also find small tour shops selling tours. My favourite Chiang Mai tours are the Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai Zoo, Doi Suthep, Elephant Nature Park and Hill tribe tours.
I hope this information is helpful for anyone thinking of living in Chiang Mai Thailand. We love this city and hope you come to love it too.
Do you live in Chiang Mai? What tips can you give to newcomers to this fantastic city?