The Search for an Apartment in Chiang Mai

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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.

The Search

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.

Success?

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

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?).

Twin Peaks pool
Twin Peaks pool

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.

Our kitchen at Twin Peaks

Our living room at Twin Peaks

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.

Galare Thong
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.

Smith Residence
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.

The Dome
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.

174 Comments

  1. I just wanted to thank you for you list of possible short term rentals. We actually live here but are leaving in February and wanted a smaller serviced apartment for the last two months we are here. It was proving an impossible feat with every place saying booked out or not answering at all (mostly not answering). Your list included Smith Residence which I had not heard of and whilst they did not have any vacancies in Smith Residence, Dr Smith answered and suggested his new buildings few hundred meters away called Smith Suites. The end result was that we lo oked at them today, paid our deposit and now have a our unit. They are brand new, beautiful and not even finished yet but already nearly all booked out. So, once again, thank you. I must add that we were quite shocked at the prices for short term apartments. They have gone up sharply since we first came in 2010.

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  2. A quick thanks for your recommendation to use Roberta as an agent to help find a place in Chiang Mai. She is such a fantastic woman, super helpful, very dedicated and a real joy to work with.

    Even though we lived in CM for quite a while before and knew our way around, it was really nice to have help from Roberta to make it happen quickly and efficiently. She found us a nice apartment really fast and kept in touch with us to make sure all is fine with our new home and to share some interesting places to experience around where we live.

    You won’t find a better real estate agent to help you find a place here. Very highly recommended!

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  3. Hello Simin & Erin,

    Thanks for this blog and sharing the information for others. Just one question – are there apartments with washer & dryers in Thailand? How did you wash your clothes? I currently live in NYC and frankly tired of hauling my clothes to the local coin operated laundromat, so just curious to know. Thanks!

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    • The places we have rented in Chiang Mai have had washing machines and clothes dry quickly in the sun. Otherwise there are many laundry places that will wash your clothes for you for only 30 baht (around $1) a kilo.

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  4. Many people who do research online get suckered into the ‘Chiang Mai/Thailand is dirt cheap’ line when it comes to apartments, and it’s because a lot of information online is written by what we call ‘sexpats’, who are only in Thailand for the girls (or boys!) or by people who have no money so are forced to live on less than $500 a month, which is almost impossible even in Chiang Mai (and yes, I’ve seen the articles by people who say they do and I’ve also seen the photos of where they live…..um……no thank you. Not for longer than a few days :)

    They tend to live in pokey one-room apartments with no kitchen, Thai-style showers (which flood the entire bathroom so you’re forced to paddle for 3 hours after you take your showers) and a teeny tiny room at that. They then tell you they are ‘living in the lap of luxury for 4,000 baht’. NOT possible in Chiang Mai or just about anywhere else in Thailand if you want something more than a glorified box.

    What you ended up renting is absolutely gorgeous though and, I’d say, well worth the money.

    I pay 10,000 baht a month for a large one-bedroom apartment in Bangkok. Awesome location near Chatuchak Market, 3 big malls, movie theaters, bowling alley etc. and it comes with maid service once a week for that money. I’ve lived here for 12 years :) Interestingly too, in 12 years my rent has never gone up, so it’s even cheaper now than it was back when I first moved in :)

    Anything below 10,000 in Bangkok, though, and you pretty much are living in a glorified box. For longer than a couple of weeks, I wouldn’t recommend it. Not if you want to feel like you can relax at home.

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    • Hi Rachael,

      Very timely post as I am currently in Chiang Mai and headed to Bangkok on Saturday, March 29. I will be there for one week and will be looking for a serviced apartment, preferably on a month to month basis, for when I return in October.

      Would you be kind enough to mention the name of your apartment complex, or can you recommend some in that same general area so I may begin my search here in a few days?

      Thank you very much!

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  5. This is a great article! It is indeed tough to find something cheap (or, something at all) when you either want more than a basic studio shoebox, or cannot commit to a year.

    Since the article was written I think these days the AirBnB site has more to offer when it comes to Thailand and Chiang Mai in particular, specifically for short stays that are however still longer than typical hotel stays. (Say a couple weeks or a couple months.

    I’ll be shamelessly plugging my wife’s place at the end, but in general it’s worth contacting an AirBnB host and ask for discounts for longer stays. (Longer being anything more than a month.)

    And of course the monthly rates will typically still include electricity, water and Internet, which is different from apartment rentals where it’s not just excluded, but also charged at an inflated rate per unit. (So this is something to pay attention to with apartments specifically.) And check if bedding and towels and the like are provided. With the right place all you do is drop your bags, with everything ready to go including your dinner plates, glasses and cooking utensils.

    For multi month stays via AirBnB and similar holiday rental sites you could likely negotiate a rate where you pay the electricity bill directly, which cuts a big ‘unknown cost’ for the host. (Because some guests run all air conditioners 24/7, while others don’t even touch them.) So excluding that you’ll cut something like 3000 baht from the rent and end up with the actual government bill, likely around 1000 baht for typical use, or less in the cool months.

    As promised the shameless plug, but I do think it’s typical for an actual place that offers a couple bedrooms, a kitchen and generally some more private space. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1521972

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