Last updated on November 15, 2021
A routine forms when you hunker down in one place, when you pick a spot and decide “hey, I’m going to live here; not just travel through, but live here.” Is it safe to admit I thought the routine and normalcy would still elude me? Coming to Chiang Mai was the next leg in my wanderings; I didn’t realize that the entire pace of my life would slow back down into a routine.
I’ve been in near constant motion for more than two years; my months home this fall were a break of sorts, but even then I was busy bouncing between busy state capitals, countless couches, guest bedrooms, and even a floor or two as I visited friends and family around the U.S.
I was still on the roller coaster adventure of perpetual travel.
Now I’m here, living in Chiang Mai, and it’s so very normal.
I have a home. A really cute one too. I have an address and rent, my trusty backpack is shoved deep in the corner of my room from lack of use and the street vendors near my house smile and wave out of familiarity.
I have a routine.
Curious emails have begun to flit into my inbox:
What do I do here every day? Why Chiang Mai? Is it what I expected?
This is the first time I’ve stopped and actually lived somewhere outside of the US.
And I like it, a lot. There’s a community here in Chiang Mai; friends, food, and decent wifi are the constants.
And yet it’s not what I expected entirely either. The normalcy makes it easy to float through days in a routine without paying close attention to what’s happening…and then sometimes very little actually happens. Sadly that has included work; I get distracted by the food, people, and culture maybe even more regularly than I did on the road. Now that wifi and work aren’t challenging (easy connections, tons of time on my hands) less seems to get done.
But then again, that’s partly why I came here, just to see what it’s like to live somewhere else. So I can report back to you now, people over here live in routines too.
I’ll appease those wondering souls concerned about what it’s like to live here in Chiang Mai. It looks something like this…
A day in Shannonland, Chiang Mai Edition:
4:30a : The smell of frying garlic from the restaurant next door suffuses the room and I dream of food.
6:30a: Wake up! The sun’s up, the birds outside compete in a loud and aggressive morning chirping contest and I’m hungry enough to eat an entire garden (don’t feel like the “hungry enough to eat a horse” analogy fits?!).
8a -12:00p: Ponder the Thai National Anthem as it blares through the street speakers around town at 8am every day … then work. The internet is only good in the morning at our house, so it’s a Western breakfast of yogurt, fresh fruit, and work.
12:00p: Scoot over to the veggie lady’s buffet nearby for a spicy lunch with an assortment of tasty and convincing fake meats; their complete mastery of seitan here in Thailand is, in a word, delicious.
1p-6:00p: Thank the heavens for the 99baht ($3) coffee and wifi buffet—a few afternoons each week I buffet it up for hours and hours.
6:30p: Team Chiang Mai (all the expats in town) meet for dinner a nearby night market so we can all find our favorite foods (that way the rest of the team isn’t forced to eat at veggie restaurants all the time). Then it’s a free-for-all for the rest of the evening … sometimes a local festival, other days just chatter over drinks.
Blissfully normal, right?!
I came here for the ability to hunker down and maintain a work schedule while still abroad and in a different culture. And I’m welcoming a routine and framework for my life. I like it. And I love the smiles of recognition and genuine warmth from the locals I encounter on a daily basis.
So, why Thailand for this first foray into expat-ism?
Because establishing a mini-life and routine here in Chiang Mai is an adventure of its own and I wanted to see if I like it. My roomie and I navigate the street food stalls with expertise – we cobble together a mish-mashed dinner from our favorite street food vendors. An ear of corn from the grinning lady at the edge of the night market, a wave to the man selling chopped fruit.
The nods of acknowledgment and smiles makes it a bit like the Cheers sentiment. I like it here because “everyone knows my face” (not so much my name, I’ll admit, we haven’t gotten that far yet ;-).
Everyone here is living their lives too, they have their routine and for the first time in a long time I’m slipping into a routine with those around me, fitting my life into my surroundings, and the familiarity of food I know, a constant culture (less chance of embarrassing snafus like my roomie’s recent “May I fart?” debacle).
This venture into a more sedentary nomadism is, well, progressing. I can’t yet decide if I’ll pick back up traveling or move to another place…who knows?! Still figuring that out.
Any burning questions for me? The next post in the series I’ll share the costs of living here in Chiang Mai, arguably one of the more appealing reasons I moved her too!
48 thoughts on “A Little Chiang Mai Living… Routine is It’s Own Adventure”
Hi. Great posts on Chiang Mai! I’m looking into making the big move to work on projects full time and CM seems a good place to start. Only problem is, I don’t drive and don’t have a license. Is it feasible to get around the city without a motorbike or car?
You should have no problems getting around town, I have friends that either ride a bicycle (though you have to ride in traffic, it can be very effective!) or they ride in the shared taxis (song-thaew) that are only 20b for one-way ride most anywhere you might need to go regularly! You should be really okay, don’t let transportation stop you :) Safe travels and happy planning!
Thank you for this post. I traveled to Thailand when I was young and “undomesticated” and now I have 3 kids, a husband and a business and I’d like to go back with them all and try it for a year. That said I now need a few things I didn’t before from Thailand. If we go my husband has to be able to continue to do business with the states. The time zone difference will be a challenge but I am curious about something you said. You mentioned that the WiFi is only good in the morning there. Is that normal? WE would need good service in the evening from 8p to 1 am to do bus with the states. We would like to rent a house 15 mins out of the city or something in town if we had to. Do you know if that makes a difference in terms of wifi? Another concern is cellular. We would like to keep our US number for our clients but I read that it’s up to $2 a min for roaming charges. Also, it must cost extra for people to call a cell in Thailand from the US? Thanks for any help you might have on this!
Hi Nixtaur! Glad you got in touch, I can only speak to my experience. For WiFi, it can really vary on connection speeds but at my apartment complex the internet and cable were through the same lines and thus that is what slowed it down at night. If you are in a house outside of town it is very reasonable to assume that on your own internet connection you can keep fairly fast speeds. You can always access the internet enough to do business, but if you were calling/Skyping on a shared connection for business that could be tricky. Again though–private connection should do you! Several friends live there and run online businesses from Chiang Mai. As for phone numbers, you can get a local Thai number and a data plan for a very reasonable fee and that will keep you connected to your email. Then, consider something like Google Voice–it’s a free number and allows you to call any land or cell phone number in the US through the internet for free. And, you can set up call forwarding, the messages will go to your gmail inbox and you could call back clients to quash any fires. Google Voice is my go-to for maintaining clients in the US despite living abroad. Hope that helps some and gives you some ideas to think about, happy planning! :)
I have been dreaming of traveling and homeschooling my 9 year old son for about 2 years now. Your blog inspires me. I was considering Puerto Rico but that was me wimping out then it was Costa Rica, then Panama then Ecaudor till I ‘discovered’ Thailand. I am so glad I found your blog/site. I plan on coming by October and am thrilled to offer the experience to my son. Thank you
All of the places you mentioned would surely be great. I myself have considered Costa Rica as a possible next spot for traveling with my niece — the infrastructure is there, as is the Spanish language. That being said…I love Asia and Thailand in particular is a very easy introduction to the Asian culture, it’s easy to get around and would make a great base for exploring with your son and getting used to travelling/learning in a fairly safe culture and environment! Safe travels, if you’re in Thailand in late October/early November make sure you two find a good place to experience Loy Krathong https://alittleadrift.com/2011/11/loy-krathong-yee-peng-thailand/ :)
Hi ..I am a doctorate from India..gonna start my post doctoral research at chiang mai university…i need some basic information about rental housing, food and day to day activity etc….plz say something about this
Hi shared heaps of resources at the bottom of this post: https://alittleadrift.com/2011/04/living-costs-chiang-mai-thailand/ You may be able to find what you need there, good luck and enjoy Chiang Mai, it’s a wonderful city!
I know what you mean about settling down for a few months and establishing a routine in the middle of perpetual round the world travel. We have done it a few times and it can be quite nice, you get a chance to slow down and experience things at a different pace. We lived in St. John’s, Newfoundland for four months after backpacking across Canada and we settled into a routine of working and getting to know the character of this great city.
We are heading to Thailand in June and I am really looking forward to Chaing Mai, perhaps it will be another place where we cool our heels for a while?
I’ve heard St. Johns is really beautiful, so I can imagine why you chose to hunker down there for a bit :) As for Chiang Mai, it has a nice small city vibe, but with tons of food options, expats, and small towns nearby for weekend trips. Plus, tons of coffee shops, which is one of my favorite aspects :) Enjoy Thailand, it will be a change from Canada, but you will eat well!
You may find that true integration is hard to achieve in Thailand. It’s cheap and people are polite, but genuine connections / friendships with people other then other visitors / expats seems to be difficult to find. There is always an outsider vibe there that’s hard to shake.
It’s true that it’s hard to be fully accepted into the Thai community here, though many are willing to be friends, total immersion is difficult. I imagine though, that it is often this case in such disparate cultures and though difficult, there are many accepting and open to expats living here in my experience :)
Do you need a licence to drive the moped around town?
A copy of your passport usually does the trick if you are just renting short term! :)
I’m jealous!!! One year to retirement and then I hope to join u there!!!
It’ll be worth it when you get here!! Congrats on making the choice to come here, there will be so many expats and new friends to make the transition, then you’ll never look back :)
Did you make it?
lovely post thanks! Having been in CM for a couple of weeks I definitely recognise many of the experience you mention and also the need for a routine. Working on it….
A question: where do you rent your scooter from? I rent from Jaguar (by the month) but for a lot more than $65/month. Thanks!
I rent from a Burmese woman a bit outside the moat, near Canal road and it’s 1500-2000 baht per month. I think if you ask Thai friends and people in town you can find better deals than renting through the major rental companies! :)
thanks! I’ll ask around :)
How can one find someone to share a house or apartment with in Chiang Mai?
That’s tricky! There are a lot of expats in CM, and I know that once you arrive you will meet a them, there are bulletin boards in many of the restaurants and coffee shops and you could go that route. Many of the long-term volunteers and NGO workers share houses, so once you arrive you can start asking around…I don’t know of any message boards, but that should do you! :)
i was for the first time in chiang mai in 1997 will travelling too thailande for the first time and finish by staying there for 5 months…love the town…
Glad you enjoyed Thailand while you were there, no doubt it was a lot
different back then, less touristy :)
I like the experience shared by Shannon in the post.The routine is good,hope i will manage such routine lol…….
Sounds like a nice routine! Keep enjoying!
Thanks Rebecca! I’m here for another couple of months, so I’m reveling in
the routine :-)
interesting post, I think that Chiang Mai is really a great place to go if you ever get to Thailand. Thanks for sharing.
Chiang Mai is just a great place to stay for awhile. There is such a pull between stay and settle in and move on and see more. It is always a struggle for us. It’s so great you have the time and lifestyle to do both.
Thanks for weighing in Sheryl! :) It is tough sometimes to decide which is going to fulfill more -the adventure on the road, or the thorough exploration of a single spot.
So you have decided what seems like on a new home and routine but you seem to be questioning it even though you are enjoying yourself.
Hmm, quite perceptive. I’m transitioning right now, and part of moving to Thailand was to give myself time to figure things out…so yeah, the questioning is probably underlying it all because I’m still really confused! :)
Stay off the drugs please!!
:-) :-) :-)
I can definitely understand why you chose Chiang Mai, we actually considered settling down there as well for a while.
It has everything you need: good food, cheap accommodation, nice people, beautiful nature… what more could you ask for?
It does have a little bit of everything pleasant around here! Are you guys planning on settling somewhere else in Asia for a bit then? Or just going til the fancy strikes you? :)
Sounds like the perfect place to be an expat! Enjoy Paradise :)
Thanks Andi! It’s shaping up pretty well over here :) Enjoy your wedding planning!
I love the idea of settling down in Chiang Mai for a little while. I’d love to know how you deal with the visa restrictions. Is your routine disrupted by visa runs once a month?
Chiang Mai is a really great for expats, and although it’s a pain to leave, it’s not quite 30 days. If you fly into the country you get 30 days on arrival, but if you apply for a double entry visa outside of Thailand, you get two stints of 60 days :) So that’s a bit better and makes it easier! On the plus side, Chiang Mai is relatively close to the Laos border, so it’s good for a visa run.
Sounds like you’ve set up a lovely life for yourself there in Thailand! I’m very jealous!
It’s a great town up here! You should come for a visit some time! :)
I like your routine, but I personally would not mingle with expats, but try to find locals to befriend. But I guess it’s not that easy, must be a big language barrier. Anyway, good luck and may the wind blow you to Taiwan one day ;)
There is truth there for sure; I was actually telling my roomie last week that we need to find some local friends. But it’s fun to have expats here too, they’re great to have as a buddy when I plant myself at a coffee shop for a day of work! :)
Glad you’re finding a nice routine for yourself here in CM, Shannon. I recognize the lady in the second picture. :-) :-)
Thanks @GotPassport :) You guys are a big part of why it’s so nice here! And yeah, love my veggie lady! She’s really sweet and let’s the whole gang sit at her tables :)
As my travel, as I’ve matured, I too have sought out – and found – my place, my home away from home. My last two trips to India have been to Varanasi and Varanasi only. My flute teacher is there. The last guesthouse I found still calls my room “Scottji’s room”. I know and have friends who stay who are seasonal, as I am. There is much to be said for hunkering down . . . and you’ve touched on much of it. Enjoy!
What a unique spot to pick; I’ve heard many stories about Varanasi (haven’t yet been) but no one who’s jived with it quite like that. Amazing that you have such a faraway place that still feels like home, and has friendly faces ready to welcome you :) That’s one of the things I’m loving about hunkering in for a bit. :)