Chiang Mai, Thailand Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand 03/05/19

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

We've lived elsewhere in Southeast Asia and traveled/worked in Europe and the Middle East.

View All Answers


2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Home is the east coast of the USA. It is a 14 hour flight from the major east coast cities (Boston, NYC, Washington DC, Atlanta) to usually Hong Kong or Tokyo, then another 6 hours to Bangkok and finally a 1 hour flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, often requiring an overnight in Bangkok. However there are more flights now that skip Bangkok entirely, shaving quite a bit of time and hassle off the trip. For example, you can fly through Seoul or Doha directly to Chiang Mai.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

Almost one year.

View All Answers


4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic assignment.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most expats live in condos in mid-rise apartment buildings near or right outside the small downtown area of Chiang Mai or in western-style housing in gated communities called "moo baans" further outside the city. Our house is smaller than a typical American house, but very comfortable for a family with 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, an office, large fenced yard, and safe gated neighborhood. Commute times are not at all bad compared to larger Southeast Asian cities as Chiang Mai is a smaller city. It can take 20-45 minutes to get to or from the downtown from the housing communities depending on traffic.

View All Answers


2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You can get almost anything you want or need here in Chiang Mai, including excellent quality and variety of fresh organic produce, organic meats and eggs, as well as imported western snacks and condiments, including a surprising amount of health food items. The supply chain seems fairly stable with the same imported items usually available in stores on regular basis. Household supplies are plentiful and cheap. There are big box stores similar to Wal-Mart (Big C) and Target (Tesco-Lotus) here with pretty much anything you could find at big box stores back in the States. There are plenty of mom and pop brick and mortar and online vendors that sell all-natural cleaning products as well. The price of imported items are obviously more expensive than in the States, but organic produce and meats from international grocery stores (Rimping and Tops) are about the same price. Purchasing produce and meat from a local market would bring that price down considerably, but for convenience sake, we do all our shopping at the international grocery stores.

View All Answers


3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

If someone is coming without access to US diplomatic or military shipments from the US, I might encourage them to bring western spices that they like, wrapping paper and holiday cards, plus any specialty diet items like gluten-free snacks, etc. If you do have access to US diplomatic shipments, I probably wouldn't advise bringing anything special in terms of household or grocery items as you can purchase them all locally or order them online.

View All Answers


4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are an abundance of restaurants in Chiang Mai, everything from fine dining (David's Kitchen) to delicious street vendor stalls. There are good Mexican options here (Miguel's and Salsa Kitchen), good American food (Arno's, The Duke's) and of course delicious Thai food. There are also decent vegan/vegetarian options, Indian, Japanese, Middle Eastern, etc. It is super easy to order restaurant delivery from either Food Panda or Meals on Wheels 4 U right to your house.

View All Answers


5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Being in the tropics there are going to be bugs and geckos, but most housing will have monthly pest inspection and control. For whatever reason, I've actually found bugs to be less a problem here than they have been in our other Southeast Asian posts! I actually am able to leave snacks and flours and pasta in the cupboards generally without finding them infested by ants or other insects (although I did once find a gecko in a box of Cheerios I forgot to seal up). The best policy though is to bring plenty of airtight containers and seal up all your food or put it in the freezer/fridge.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We use US military/diplomatic mail, but Thai post is generally reliable and not too hard to use. You will have to pay customs on anything you ship into the country using commercial mail.

View All Answers


2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Household help is quite affordable and many expats have full time mae baans (household helpers: literal translation is house mother) to clean their homes, cook food, or watch their children. The going rate is around 120 baht an hour (approximately $4), although that doesn't include 13th month bonus, etc. It can be a bit more challenging to find a mae baan who speaks good English. There is a great service called Bliss run by an American woman. She will match a mae baan to your needs whether its once a week house cleaning or everyday service and will take care of all the translation.

View All Answers


3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Most moo baans (gated communities) here have a small gym as part of their amenities, although they aren't always very nice or air conditioned. There are nice, snazzy gyms that you can join around town but I haven't looked into their rates. My guess is that they'd be on par with US prices.

View All Answers


4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

There are a few smaller restaurants that only take cash and most stores will have a 300 or 500 baht credit card minimum (approximately $10-15), but credit cards are almost universally accepted and very safe to use. ATMs are everywhere and also very safe.

View All Answers


5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Chiang Mai is a regional hub for Christian missionaries so there are TONS of Christian churches of all kinds of denominations with both English and Thai (also Korean and Chinese) language services. Obviously as Thailand is a Buddhist country, there are plenty of temples to choose from. I'm honestly not sure if there is a Jewish synagogue or Hindu temple here.

View All Answers


6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

I would definitely recommend learning at least basic Thai. Many of the people that you'll deal with in terms of house repairs, gardeners, maids/cleaning service, cable/internet installers, delivery service, etc. don't speak much if any English. Also, outside the tourist areas of the city center many restaurant servers, taxi drivers, cashiers in stores, etc. don't speak much English. Knowing basic survival Thai would be extremely helpful. I speak basic Thai and can only imagine how hard it would be for people who don't speak any. There are plenty of local language classes and tutors available so you can always start when you get here if you want.

View All Answers


7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It could be tough. The downtown area has limited sidewalks or smooth pavement, requiring you to walk in the street or on bumpy/narrow sidewalks. Most restaurants, smaller shops, etc. are not handicap accessible. If you stick to the malls and more upscale hotel restaurants, it might be easier as these are more likely to be built to Western standards of accessibility.

View All Answers


Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

All forms of transportation in Chiang Mai are safe and affordable. Most people use Grab here (the Southeast Asian version of Uber) and its extremely easy to use. The drivers are usually knowledgeable of the area. Most Grab trips around the city are $2-5. There are also "songthaews" which are like pickup trucks that pick people up on a route and can be cheaper than taxis and "tuk-tuks" which are 3-wheeled vehicles which many tourists use to get around the old city.

View All Answers


2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

An SUV would be good if you intend to do driving trips around Northern Thailand as the mountain roads can be a bit treacherous. If you're driving around the city, a smaller sedan might be more convenient. Thailand is a left-hand drive country, so it may be more convenient to purchase a car in country with a right-hand steering wheel. Cars can be expensive here, but there seem to be a decent number of used cars for sale. Chiang Mai is quite safe and I've never heard of anyone's car being broken into.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

High-speed internet is good quality and quite reliable. You should be able to get it installed within a week of arriving. The customer service of the larger internet providers will speak English, although the installers most likely will not. We pay approximately $40 a month for high-speed internet.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

It's probably easiest to use a local SIM card.

View All Answers


Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

You can definitely bring your pets and it's not hard to get them in. You'll need the proper paperwork signed by a USDA-certified veterinarian. No quarantine is required. There are good kennel services available (Lucky Dog) and lots of vets here. Our experience with the vets hasn't been bad, but they probably aren't quite at Western standards. There are a few here and there who speak English, although most of the staff at the vets do not. I would recommend bringing any crates, leashes, collars, etc. that you think you'll need as while those things are available here, they are not available in near the variety that they are in the States.

View All Answers


Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

There are plenty of "digital nomads" here in Chiang Mai so telecommuting is popular. There are also several international schools for spouses to look for teaching jobs and TONS of charity organizations to get involved with. I am not sure about local salary scales, but I would be prepared to expect quite a bit less than what you would make at a comparable job in the US.

View All Answers


2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Yes! Tons of charity organizations, everything from elephant rescue to helping the local hill tribes, etc, etc.

View All Answers


3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Chiang Mai is quite casual and laid back. I RARELY see people wearing a full suit (maybe only at the nice hotels) and most people wear either a polo shirt and khakis or a button-down shirt and khakis to work.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Really no personal security concerns. Chiang Mai is an extremely safe town. Many people don't even lock their doors here!

View All Answers


2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Probably the biggest health concern would be the air quality during the smoky season (roughly Feb-April). The quality of medical care here is quite good. Bangkok Hospital here in Chiang Mai is probably the premier medical care facility here and it comes close to US standards in terms of care. The hospitals in Bangkok, just an hour's flight away are at US standards.

View All Answers


3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The air quality is fine nine months out of the year, but quite bad between Feb and April as fields are cleared by burning. Being in a valley and with no rain during that time, the smoke just hangs around. Air quality for those three months is bad enough to require wearing a mask whenever you leave the house and running air filters 24/7 inside. School will keep the kids indoors for recess during this time. It can definitely affect people, especially anyone already susceptible to respiratory issues.

View All Answers


4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

I would recommend always having a card in Thai explaining your food allergy and also memorizing how to tell people in Thai about it. I believe most restaurants would make an effort to accommodate you if they could.

View All Answers


5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Not that I know of, but the good news is that they are Western-operated counseling services with both psychological and psychiatric services offered here in Chiang Mai if something like that does come up.

View All Answers


6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Mid-Feb through May: Hooooot!!!! Blazing sun, no rain, temps are generally in the mid to high 90s by the afternoon. Although, unlike Bangkok, it does get cooler in the evening and overnight making it more comfortable to sleep and allowing you to enjoy walks in the early morning or late evening.
Jun-Oct: Rainy and humid. It does a torrential downpour twice a day during this time, but there can be days where it rains almost all day and many days are cloudy all day. Nice because it is cooler than the hot season, but very muggy and lots and lots of mosquitoes.
Oct-mid-November: Rain lets up and it's a mix between cloudy and sunny days. Temps are like mid-to high 80s and still pretty humid
Mid-Nov through mid-Feb: Gorgeous, cool weather with lows in the 60s and highs in the low 80s. Relatively low humidity and sunny and beautiful. Spend everyday outdoors during this time if you can!

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are a few international schools near Chiang Mai. The 2 I'm most familiar with are Chiang Mai International School (CMIS) and Grace International School (GIS).

CMIS - Near the city, a small campus and small, cozy environment. There are two classes of around 18-20 kids for each grade in elementary. I think there's just one class for each grade in junior/high school. They use an American curriculum and the main teachers are mostly American. Our kids attend this school and they love it. Before coming I heard bad things about this school, but so far I've found it to be more rigorous than other international schools my kids have attended. Maybe the one complaint that could be valid is that it is more of a traditional education and somewhat less experiential learning than some schools we've attended. Some parts of the campus need some serious updating, but they are working on it and will have opened two new buildings during the time that we'll be here (though my kids don't care what they look like). While it is a Christian school, its more nominal in nature with no specific religious education included in the curriculum.

GIS - South of the city, they are currently building a brand new campus and are temporarily using a local college. This is Christian-school founded by and for missionaries and the religious aspect is much more prominent here than at CMIS. From what I've heard, it's a great school and the kids who attend it love it as well.

View All Answers


2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I'm honestly not sure, although I've heard that GIS has more support available than CMIS.

View All Answers


3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Yes, there are a few preschools available and I don't think they are very expensive, especially compared with US prices. Schools do not provide before or after-school care and most people would have a nanny to take care of their kids during those times.

View All Answers


4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, there are plenty of activities for kids: various sports through the school as well as martial arts, dance classes, yoga, etc. outside of school.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

It's very large expat community because there are so many missionary and charity organizations based here. The diplomatic community is quite small. And there are tons of tourists coming and going, so in general you'll see a lot of Westerners here in Chiang Mai. The overall morale seems quite good to me. I think people enjoy living here in general (despite the usual grumbling during the smoky season). There is quite a lot of things to do for families, it's easy to get around, locals are very friendly, it's safe, the culture is interesting, food is delicious, and the weather isn't horrible. It really is a great place to live!

View All Answers


2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are quite a few expat groups here (although I haven't joined any of them) and you can search on Facebook for them. One great group to join if you are a mom is the Chiang Mai Expat Moms group on Facebook. It's a super helpful group. If you are Christian and go to church, you'll be able to find quite a network that way. If you have school-aged kids, the international schools are a good source of meeting people. Or you may find people in your neighborhood to hang out with. Otherwise, volunteering or doing an activity like crossfit or something like that would be a good way to meet people.,

View All Answers


3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I could see it being a good city for single guys. It could possibly be hard for single woman if they are looking to meet a guy. It's a great city for families as it's safe, has lots of outdoor activities, and you can live in a house with a yard and place for kids to ride bikes, as opposed to a high-rise apartment.

View All Answers


4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I'm guessing it would be better than other places as Thais tend to be pretty accepting of LGBTs, but I couldn't speak to it from personal experience.

View All Answers


5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

I think it is pretty easy to make friends with the locals (as long as there is a shared language, obviously). Thais like Americans and are very friendly. There are a LOT of Chinese tourists here and at times they don't always have what Thais would consider to be the best manners, so I have heard some negative remarks from Thais about Chinese. But at the same time, the Thais depend on the Chinese for tourism, so I don't think they'd ever be rude or discourteous to a Chinese person directly (and many Thais have a Chinese ancestor or two at some point in their family lineage), but it's good to be aware that that dynamic exists.

View All Answers


6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not that I know of per se. I'm sure they exist, but nothing that I've experienced. Overall Thais are an extremely accepting and courteous people.

View All Answers


7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Well there are tons of things to do here! We are still trying to get to many of them. The lantern releasing at Loy Kratong is very cool. The mountains are beautiful and there are lots of fun camping or "glamping" experiences. Of course the temples in the old city are just gorgeous. And then just a short plane ride away are all of Thailand's fabulous beaches.

View All Answers


8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Lots of fun things for families: Grand Canyon Waterpark, Art in Island museum, Insect Zoo, Thai Silk Farm, etc. etc.

View All Answers


9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Oh yes, tons of shopping here. There is a huge furniture area with tons and tons of shops called Baan Tawai. You can get anything custom-made there or search among their many antiques. All the Thai silk you can imagine is sold in lots of places. There is the night market and walking street for smaller, handicrafts and touristy things like t-shirts. Gems and jewelry are plentiful and reasonably priced. There are tons of shops where you can have photos drawn in charcoal or pastel. You can shop until you drop here!

View All Answers


10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The culture/food, the mountains, and the really really great people.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

One thing I learned about Thais is that they will often tell you "yes" when they really want to say "no". They are too polite to turn you down and disappoint you. So sometimes you have to press a little to find out what they really mean.

View All Answers


2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely!

View All Answers


3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Big city stress, high heels and fancy clothes, and winter coats.

View All Answers


4. But don't forget your:

Patience, appreciation of natural beauty, sense of adventure, and sunscreen/mosquito repellent.

View All Answers


5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Even though it's old and it's about Bangkok instead of Chiang Mai, I love the book Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind. Written by the spouse of an American diplomat living in Bangkok in the late 50s or early 60s, it's such a fabulous peek into Thai culture. While some of the culture has modernized and changed since that book, a lot of it is still rooted in what you read there. Plus the lady who wrote it had such a great attitude about living overseas.

View All Answers


Chiang Mai, Thailand 05/12/07

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No--lived in another city in Asia, Central America, and Africa.

View All Answers


2. How long have you lived here?

3 years.

View All Answers


3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Government.

View All Answers


4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Thai Airways flies direct from Bangkok to New York or Los Angeles (about 17 hours in either direction).

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Houses are big and cheap. Most are rented furnished. It can be hard to find a house in the center of town, and they tend to be less modern (including some old traditional, wooden, Thai-style homes) and more expensive. A suburban housing boom in the past five years has resulted in a tremendous number of new neighborhoods (gated communities) featuring modern, western style (but not western quality) homes with yards. It is possible to find a nice house for less than US$500 per month, a very nice house for less than US$1,000, and an extremely nice house for less than US$1,500.A commute of 30 minutes is considered long.

View All Answers


2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

If you shop in the local markets, food is cheap. A household of 4 can buy groceries for US$40 per week. If you shop in a western-style supermarket (e.g. Rimping, Tops, Carrefour), you can expect to spend nearly as much as you would in the U.S. Certain things are cheaper--meat and vegetables--but imported items are more expensive. You can find most anything, even gourmet items, easily.

View All Answers


3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

There's not much you can't buy in Chiang Mai or Bangkok.

View All Answers


4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Chiang Mai has thousands of restaurants, including at least one from most culinary regions. Prices are low. If you want to eat cheap (but delicious) Thai street food, it's cheaper to eat out for every meal than to prepare your own food. Western fast food is widely available too: McDonald's, KFC, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, etc.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic help is widely available. Salaries among expatriates range from US$150 to US$300 per month. Thais pay their staff less and work them more.

View All Answers


2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

I use credit cards and ATMs without worry. In three years, I haven't had a problem. Some official Americans prefer to get cash from the U.S. Consulate.

View All Answers


3. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Christian: Catholic, various evangelical churches although I'm not sure if they are affiliated with specific protestant sectsI think there are other options too--Bahai, Jehovah's Witness, Church of Latter Day Saints, etc.--but I'm not sure. Not sure if there's a Jewish, Buddhist, or Muslim temple/mosque that offers English-language services.

View All Answers


4. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

There are at least two cable providers with English-language channels. The Bangkok Post is an English-language newspaper. In Chiang Mai, there are a number of English-language weekly and monthly publications, although they contain mostly adds, human interest stories, and community news.

View All Answers


5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Knowing Thai is helpful (more so in Chiang Mai than Bangkok) but not necessary. If you can count and say

View All Answers


6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Chiang Mai would be a real challenge to navigate for someone with a disability. Sidewalks, where they exist, are peppered with holes, cracks and street dogs. Most buildings are not wheelchair accessible.

View All Answers


Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Left side of the road

View All Answers


2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

A new taxi service was established in town 2 years ago. The taxis are clean and safe, and have seatbelts. You must call the dispatcher to request one. They are affordable but not cheap. Train travel is rare, although a train does run between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Converted pick-up trucks (songtaews) travel all major roads and provide cheap, convenient taxi service to the local population and budget-minded tourists.

View All Answers


3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

It is preferable to buy a right-hand drive car in the region. Driving can be a hair-raising experience, and driving from the

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

High speed internet is available from many providers are a reasonable cost.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

It seems that everyone in Chiang Mai has a cell phone, from the businessman to the person mowing your lawn. Cell phones are available everywhere and in every price range. You can buy minutes at any convenience store or sign up for monthly service.

View All Answers


3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

If you live in Chiang Mai, sign up for Vonage or Skype and make phone calls through the internet. If you're visiting, there are numerous small businesses downtown that offer pay-by-the-hour internet service and long-distance phone service. Or use your cell phone!

View All Answers


Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Vet services are abundant and very cheap. I know of only one kennel. Thai-produced pet food is of poor quality. Imported pet food is available but expensive.

View All Answers


Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No. Teachers can probably find jobs at one of the international schools, but the pay is very low. Spouses of U.S. Government employees are technically banned from getting a work permit (although there are ways around this). Well-paying, professional-level employment is nearly nonexistent.

View All Answers


2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

A suit is a rare sight. Thais dress neatly and modestly at work and in public.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

In the months of March and April, the pollution index is very unhealty. Slash and burn agriculture at the regional level and trash burning at the household level can make living in the valley of Chiang Mai feel like a trip to the airport smoking room. This year (2007) was particularly bad with PM10 readings many times the healthy limit.(See http://www.pcd.go.th/AirQuality/Regional/Default.cfm for daily readings.). Some expatriate families with the means to travel chose to escape to the beaches in the south or even Bangkok (not usually known for its fresh air). Exercising outside during this period is downright dangerous. Fortunately, the air quality is significantly better during the rest of the year.

View All Answers


2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Chiang Mai feels very safe. I do know a number of people whose houses have been robbed, but by petty thieves rather than hardened criminals. Weapons were never involved. The Thai culture is not a violent one. Pickpocketing is uncommon. Carjacking is unheard of.

View All Answers


3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

No major health concerns. Several local hospitals offer adequate, but not terrific, care. Several hospitals in Bangkok offer world-class care.

View All Answers


4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Cool in November to January.(You might even want a light sweater in the early AM.) HOT in March, April and May. Rainy from June to September. Somewhat hot the rest of the time.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are many international schools from which to choose:Chiang Mai International School (CMIS)--In existence for more than 50 years, CMIS is the original int'l school in Chiang Mai. It is a Christian school but accepts students of all faiths. The 450 students from K-12 represent more than 30 nationalities, although half the students are half Thai or full Thai. The school uses an American curriculum. Facilities are adequate but not impressive. It is located in the center of town. Grace Int'l School (GIS)--Founded just a few years ago, Grace has grown incredibly quickly. Like CMIS it is a Christian school but, unlike CMIS, most of the students are the kids of evangelical missionaries and religion is a major part of the curriculum. The school uses an American curriculum and occupies a large campus south of town. Prem Tinsulandonda Int'l School (Prem)--Prem is the 5-star hotel of int'l schools in Chiang Mai. It offers an IB curriculum and occupies a sprawling campus north of town in the Mae Jo area, including dorms for boarders. Some Prem families worry that the school's fast-pace growth plan is compromising quality and that the school oversells and underdelivers. That said, for families who want a secular education and/or live north of town, it could be a good option.

Other choices: Nakorn Payap Int'l School, Lanna International School, Christian German School, American Pacific Int'l SchoolFor a town this small, Chiang Mai offers a wealth of school choices. Unfortunately, none seems perfect. Most of the U.S. Consulate kids, including mine, go to CMIS.We have been satisfied with the quality of the education, although it less rigorous than our neighborhood public elementary school in the US.I would think twice about bringing high school-age children to Chiang Mai.

View All Answers


2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

As far as I know, none of the international schools have gifted programs. Some schools claim to offer special help for kids with learning challenges but may or may not have the resources (financial and/or personnel) to follow through. Chiang Mai is not an ideal post for a special-needs kid.

View All Answers


3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Cheap and reliable daycare is available in the form of a nanny. There are a few English-speaking preschool options including Kiddy Bear (downtown) and American Pacific International School--Lower School (south of town).

View All Answers


Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Big for such a small town. The majority are missionaries (probably the bulk of the community), retirees, tourists, business people, and NGO workers. The diplomatic community is very small.

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

Depends who you ask. Most people seem to live here by choice, and therefore think that the positives of life in Chiang Mai outweight the negatives.

View All Answers


3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There aren't many major cultural events in Chiang Mai, although Bangkok is only an flight away if you want to attend a big concert. We settle for

View All Answers


4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Chiang Mai can sometimes feel like a sleepy town. There are options for families (school events, movies, bowling alleys, climbing wall, swimming pools, etc.). Outdoorsy people will enjoy Chiang Mai's location near mountains (hills) and waterfalls. Singles may find Chiang Mai a bit dull, especially compared to the action of Bangkok.

View All Answers


5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

The average Thai is very accepting of all lifestyle choices. The average expatriate in Chiang Mai might be less accepting, especially considering the overwhelming number of missionaries. That said, I suspect that Chiang Mai is a good city for gay/lesbian expats.

View All Answers


6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

The Thais can be prejudiced against the Hill Tribe people from the North. It is rare to see a person of African descent in Chiang Mai, and African-Americans residents/tourists might get some stares. Regardless of their private views, most Thais treat everyone with kindness and respect. Most Thais are Buddhist; they are very tolerant of other religions.

View All Answers


7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Shop, eat, visit temples, go to the movies, trek, camp, etc. Sometimes you have to make your fun, but compared to other places I've lived, there's always something to do.

View All Answers


8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Furniture, jewelry, silk.

View All Answers


9. Can you save money?

Yes!

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, but only for two years.

View All Answers


2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Gowns, impatience.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Suntan lotion, bugspray, hat, sense of humor.

View All Answers


4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

View All Answers


5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

View All Answers


6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View All Answers


7. Do you have any other comments?

Among expatriates, at least the ones I know, religion has a big impact on social circles and free-time activities. If you eschew organized religion or missionaries, Chiang Mai can be a lonely place. Other groups exist, but they are smaller and less noticable in the social fabric of Chiang Mai.

View All Answers


New book from Talesmag! Honest and courageous stories of life abroad with special needs.

Read More