This guest blog post is written by Peanuts or Pretzels
Liz and I love to immerse ourselves in the local culture while traveling around the world. It makes us feel less like tourists, and opens up opportunities for a whole new experience. We have also noticed that we can actually save money by traveling this way, because let’s face it, the “touristy” stuff is always overpriced!
So to us, there is no better way to experience a country than to live like a local. We did just this during a recent trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Renting an Apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Knowing that we wanted to stay in Chiang Mai for an extended period of time, we had calculated that renting an actual apartment in Chiang Mai was cheaper than paying for a longterm hotel stay, or even a hostel. Not knowing much about the rental process in Thailand, we just started browsing the classifieds and walking around town to see what we could find.
Honestly, it turned out to be much easier than we expected (and much easier than back home in the States!). We found a studio apartment that met our budget in a classified ad online. After contacting the owners, we met them the very next day to check the place out.
The apartment was just what we were looking for, including being tastefully furnished. With laundry facilities, a pool, restaurants all around the building, and a kitchen (which is hard to find in Thailand), it was perfect for us! We felt at home immediately. So we decided to sign the lease right there. We went down to the ATM (just outside the building), handed over cash, and they gave us the keys to our new home!
The apartment was located just east of the train station, and about a mile or so away from the Old City, where all the tourists stay when visiting. The location was great because we were close enough to the action, while being far enough away from the tourists to experience true Thai culture with the locals. And it was a LOT cheaper than staying inside the old city walls.
Getting Around Chiang Mai Like a Local
As a tourist in Chiang Mai (or anywhere else in Thailand), you have probably taken the popular tuk-tuks. However, locals typically don’t use tuk-tuks because they are expensive. Living like a local means trying to save money where we can. So learning to use local transportation was a must!
“Songthaews” are the brightly painted trucks that you will see all around town. Basically, they have been converted to include seats in the back; and they go around the city picking up people for a negotiated rate (go to the window and negotiate the rate before hopping in the back). This rate is usually very cheap. However being a foreigner, some drivers will try to charge you more. Stay firm and they will usually work with you on the price.
The most popular form of local transportation around Chiang Mai is the motorbike, and you will see lots of them all over Thailand. The motorbike is a great way to save money and have the freedom to explore the city.
You will find bike rental shops all over town. We rented our bike for a reasonable monthly rate, much cheaper than any other form of transportation! It took us a while to get used to having a motorbike, but after a while, we felt like pros. Having our own bike really added to our experience living in Chiang Mai, and we loved every minute of it!
Eating Like a Local in Chiang Mai
We were so excited to have a kitchen in our new place. Our first thought was how great it would be to have a few home cooked comfort foods that we were missing, since we’ve been on the road for many months. But soon we realized why there are so few apartments with kitchens in Thailand.
During our first trip to the grocery store near our new home in Chiang Mai, we realized that food is expensive. In particular, we were blown away at how expensive simple cheese slices were. Converted to American Dollars, it cost about $6 for a pack of 12 slices of processed cheese. Whoa!
After cooking the first meal in our new home, we calculated that it cost about 2 to 3 times as much as a regular Thai cooked meal downstairs on the streets. So we decided that cooking at home would only be for certain occasions. At least it was nice to have the option to cook at home if we wanted to!
We also used our Trover app to help us discover tasty restaurants around town Chiang Mai too. It was really helpful when we wanted to check out a new area beyond our neighborhood.
Shopping at Chiang Mai Markets
One alternative to the pricey grocery stores is to go to the local markets. In Chiang Mai, we found the Warorot market to be a great place to get fresh fruit & vegetables, flowers, snacks, and other cheap food.
This worked out especially great in November, when we would traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving back in America. We thought it would be fun to celebrate the holiday in Thailand with our own little feast in our new apartment. But knowing how expensive the supermarket was, we opted to go to the local market to pick up our ingredients. Driving around on our motorbike collecting ingredients for our meal made for a memorable Thanksgiving abroad.
Working in Chiang Mai
While many people retire in Chiang Mai or take an extended vacation here, others plan to do some work. The most popular form of work is English teaching, which is what we do. However, there are some other jobs for expats around town as well.
If you plan to work anywhere in Thailand, then you should have a work permit. Being Thailand, some people find ways around this — but you could get caught. To get a work permit, you need to have a company hire you who can sponsor your work permit for you. If you are self-employed, then you will need to set up a business in Thailand and pay all the appropriate taxes in order to get your own work permit.
In addition, in order to be eligible for a work permit, you must have the proper visa. So be sure to check into that before your arrival. Even when you have the correct visa and work permit, you may need to do border “visa runs” every few months. That’s just a part of expat life in Thailand.
Loving Life in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand has been an awesome experience, and one that we won’t forget. We enjoyed seeing how the local Thai people live day to day life, and feeling like we were a part of their community. It was a vastly different experience than just staying for a couple weeks in the touristy area of town. If you ever have the opportunity to be able to live like a local while traveling abroad, do it!