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We came to Chiang Mai planning to rent an apartment for three months and focus on getting lots of work done. The huge amount of travel bloggers and digital nomads that have made the city their temporary base is testament to its attractions. It’s much more laid back than Bangkok but has all the conveniences you might need, the food is delicious, the weather hot and sunny, it’s surrounded by hills, the WiFi is fast and the cost of living is low.
We’d read so many articles about how it’s possible to find an apartment in Chiang Mai for $150-200 a month that we were sure we’d be able to live here really cheaply. When we arrived we realised that in fact those low prices are for small studio apartments without kitchens – basically glorified hotel rooms. We spend most of our life living out of hotel rooms, and wanted more space and comfort to work from for 10 hours + a day. We set our sights on a one bedroom apartment with a kitchen.
And watched our budget go up and up.
It turns out a kitchen isn’t easy to find in Chiang Mai. Most people eat out at the markets because buying a meal for $1 is cheaper than cooking for yourself. As vegetarians, the choice of meals for us at the markets is limited and although there are lots of vegetarian restaurants the prices are at least double than eating on the street. Plus I like cooking and wanted to take advantage of the fantastic local markets and learn to cook Thai food.
We began our apartment search with Google. We put together a list of apartment buildings that had apartments with kitchens, rented a moped for the day and set out to see as many as possible. Our search focused on the area around Nimmanhemin Road towards the University, and just north of the old city, as there aren’t many apartment buildings within the old city (and you’ll pay a lot more). As well as the places on our list we also stopped and asked at any buildings we saw along the way.
The moped gave us the freedom to cover a lot of ground in one day. We must have looked at at least ten different apartments. The lack of a kitchen was the biggest problem. Those that did have kitchens were expensive and we didn’t like them enough to justify the price.
The search continued the next day and we looked on the other side of town – along the river and down Chang Klan Rd. Still nothing.
It was time to get some help so we contacted a number of real estate agents. Most had nothing for less than a 12 month lease, but Chiang Mai Properties sent us a list of places and we arranged to see them. The benefit of an agent is that they pick you up in a car and take you around to show you a number of places, and the service is free.
With our agent’s help we finally found some apartments we liked. The problem – he’d shown us places that were over our budget (it had crept up to 15,000 baht ($488) a month by then). Our favourite apartment, in the Karnkanok 3 building, was a duplex with a spiral staircase leading to the big bedroom. The bedroom and living room both had sliding glass doors with a gorgeous view over gardens and hills beyond. We loved it, and after some agonising decided to increase our budget to 18,000 baht ($587) and put in an offer.
We thought the search was finally over. But the next day our agent got back to us and said the owner didn’t want to rent it for less than six months. We were horribly disappointed and annoyed that we’d been shown the place at all.
After more agonising and indecision we decided to go for our second choice – a spacious apartment with a gorgeous pool and much closer to the old town, but even more expensive at 20,000 baht ($652). We never planned to spend that much, but we just wanted the search to be over. Initially we tried bargaining the price down but were told by the agent that this wasn’t possible. When we decided to go for it at 20,000 we had another unpleasant shock when the agent told us that for three months it would in fact be 22,000 baht! Now we were annoyed and realised the agent hadn’t even asked the owner to consider our initial low offer.
In a last ditch effort we offered to pay rent three months in advance, plus a one month deposit (usually it’s two months) if they gave us the 20,000 baht rate. Thankfully, they accepted and we could move in the next day. It was a relief for the search to be over – we felt we could breathe again – but we still felt uncomfortable paying that price. I couldn’t help but feel guilty. We were paying so much more than everyone else does in Chiang Mai, it felt so extravagant.
After a few days of swimming in our lovely pool, cooking our own food and lazing on our comfortable couch we didn’t regret our decision though.
Our apartment is in the Twin Peaks Condo building just off Chang Klan Road not far from the Night Bazaar. We can walk to the old city in 20-30 minutes or whizz there in five on our rented moped. The building is pretty swanky and there’s a mix of tourists in holiday apartments and longer term residents.
The pool sold it to us and I swim every day. Mostly I have it to myself. There’s also a gym (I will get there!) and a sauna (in this heat?).
We have a one bedroom apartment with a spacious kitchen/living/dining area, plus a balcony. The kitchen is well equipped with luxuries like a blender and rice cooker. There’s a two plate electric hob and no oven, but that’s impossible to find. We have air con throughout, a hot powerful shower, bath, and even a washing machine. When you are living in cheap hotels most of the time these things become big luxuries.
All the apartments we saw in Chiang Mai charge extra for water and electricity depending on usage. Some include internet and some charge extra. Annoyingly we have to pay 500 baht ($16) a month per computer. Water is cheap but if you use the air con a lot the electricity bill can really add up. We heard of some people spending $120 a month with their air con on all the time.
Other Apartments in Chiang Mai
To help you out in your search for an apartment in Chiang Mai here’s a list of some of the apartment buildings we looked at and our thoughts.
Apartments with Kitchens
Green Hill Place
This would probably have been our third choice. There are two buildings and we only looked in Green Hill Place 2 which is cheaper. We looked at the suite room deluxe which is a very spacious one bedroom apartment with a kitchen that costs 18,000B or 18,500B on a higher floor with better views of the hills. We could have lived there but found the furnishings rather soulless, the couch uncomfortable and no kitchen equipment is provided so you’d have to stock it from scratch. There is a great big pool but it annoyed us that it would cost 50B per use.
The Airport Greenery
The Superior room (14,375B) is a studio with a kitchen, and the Suite (17,825B) is a one bedroom with a kitchen. They are well equipped and comfortable but the furnishing is very chintzy. The pool isn’t very attractive and looks like it’s always in the shade. We didn’t like the location on a big highway just opposite the Central Airport Plaza shopping centre.
Touch Hill Place
We were shown a nice one bedroom apartment here for 20,000B. There’s a big pool but it’s quite far from the old city and has ugly views overlooking building works. If I were staying that far from the centre I’d want views of the hills.
Huay Kaew Residence
This is quite cheap at 13,000B for a one bedroom with kitchen but we found the apartments a bit grim and soulless and didn’t like the pool in the car park. It’s worth a look if you are looking for something cheaper though.
Warren and Betsy from Married with Luggage stayed here when they first arrived. Their main complaint was that the bed was very hard and it’s quite far from the old city if you don’t have a moped. There is also no pool. The apartments were nicely furnished though and had kitchens. A studio apartment is 10,500B and a one bedroom 21,500B.
We didn’t look at apartments here as the apartments with kitchens were already booked up. It’s a popular place though and is good value with a pool and close to the old city. Rooms start from 6500B a month and suites with kitchens from 14,000B.
Note: if you are looking to rent a place for 6 or 12 months then you’ll have many more options and will be able to find a whole house for less than a short term apartment rental.
Some of the apartment buildings above may have cheaper options with a kitchen if you are happy with a studio apartment rather than a one bedroom.
Without a Kitchen
We didn’t bother looking at most places without kitchens but if you don’t need one this seemed a decent option.
These apartments are quite nicely decorated and a one bedroom is 12,000B a month while rooms are 6000B or 10,000B if you rent for three months. There is no pool though.
If we were going to rent an apartment or room without a kitchen (which is definitely a lot cheaper) we would stay at a guesthouse in the old city. It’s a much more walkable area without the traffic of the big highways outside the city walls. It’s also more convenient for the many restaurants and street stalls.
When we first arrived in Chiang Mai we stayed at the Na Inn. The king room costs 650B a night and is very clean and spacious with a large fridge, lots of storage, a big table and small couch. It also has air con and hot water. The staff are friendly, it’s quiet and the location is good. The downsides are no garden and the décor is rather plain.
Finding an apartment in Chiang Mai was more difficult than we expected. If you want more than one room, and a kitchen, and you are renting for less than six months, then you need to be prepared to pay substantially more. If you are happy with one room and no kitchen then you’ll be able to pick up some great deals from around 5000B ($163) a month. Shannon from A Little Adrift and Todd from Globetrooper were both able to live very cheaply in Chiang Mai.
UPDATE: We returned to Chiang Mai in November 2013 for three months. Our search was a lot easier this time—read about it our article on finding apartments around the world.