Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Chiang Mai is Not for Everyone.

193

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say in passing, “Everyone loves Chiang Mai.”  Each time, it makes me wince — because it’s not true.

Not everyone loves Chiang Mai.

YIKES!  Someone finally said it.

I can understand why people would think that everyone loves it.  Chiang Mai is home to a sizable travel blogger community, and as a result, receives almost universal praise.  Those who love it are very vocal about loving it.

Do you think many bloggers, especially new bloggers, want to challenge that?  I didn’t.  Last year, I wrote truthfully about my experience in Chiang Mai, but steered clear of critical commentary.  I still felt like a newbie blogger and I didn’t want to lose the support of more established, Chiang Mai-loving bloggers.

Time has passed.  Now that this site drives most of my income, I should be more worried about what I say here; ironically, having so much more at stake has given me the greater confidence to speak candidly.

To start, let me tell you all the wonderful things about Chiang Mai.

Good Reasons to Live in Chiang Mai

It’s cheap.  While Thailand is cheap to begin with, northern Thailand is the cheapest part.  You can live in a great, modern apartment with internet and cable TV for less than $200 USD per month.

There are lots of Western amenities.  The internet is excellent, the hospitals are quite good, you can find many Western products, and there are many Western and ethnic food options, including the elusive Mexican food.

There is so much culture.  If you love festivals, this is a great city.  Songkran is reportedly better here than anywhere else in the country (though I can’t imagine anything better than Songkran in Bangkok!), and the Yee Ping lantern festival is beautiful.  Plus, there are tons of cooking classes and treks you can join.

The weather is cooler.  If the Bangkok heat is too much for you, Chiang Mai is in the mountains, where the weather is much more bearable.

The street food is amazing.  Chiang Mai is my favorite city in the world for street food, and the street stalls at Chiang Mai gate every night are amazing.

There are tons of expats.  You won’t have to look far for an expat community, and the travel bloggers in town have a special community.

And still…I didn’t quite get it.

On paper, Chiang Mai looks pretty damn perfect.  But paper wasn’t enough — I wasn’t feeling the magnetic pull that so many travel bloggers before me had felt.

Every now and then I see a traveler about to leave on a trip and say, “I might stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a while.”  For no reason other than the fact that lots of travel bloggers stop there.

So many bloggers have waxed poetic about Chiang Mai that I think it’s time to get some alternate views out there.  Here are the things not to love about Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is isolated.

Want to go somewhere different?  You’ll have to fly via Bangkok.  It’s either that or spending twelve hours on a bus or train to get to Bangkok.  You can fly to some international cities, like Kuala Lumpur and Kunming, but these are quite limited.

There are some nice northern towns, like Pai and Chiang Rai, as well as the undervisited ruins of Sukhothai, but to go elsewhere overland, you’ll be traveling for several hours.  Overland visa runs more or less demand Laos visits, and it takes just as long to get to Vientiane as it does to get to Bangkok.

Chiang Mai is far from beaches.

If you moved to Thailand because you love beaches, Chiang Mai is one of the worst places you can be.  If you want to get from Chiang Mai to a beach, you can fly to Phuket or to a few other beach towns.

If you’re going by bus or train, it will take you one 12-hour bus or train to Bangkok, followed by another 12-hour bus or train to the Andaman Coast or the Southern Gulf Coast.  The beaches on the Eastern Gulf Coast are slightly closer — 18 hours or so by bus as opposed to 24.

Chiang Mai is FILLED with creepy old men.

All over Chiang Mai — from visiting the temples to strolling the markets to sitting in restaurants — you see older Western men with young Thai women.  While I don’t mind these relationships in general, I DO mind them when the girls are young enough to be their grandchildren and the men speak to them like they’re babies.

Is seeing these relationships just a part of visiting Thailand?  Absolutely.  You see this throughout the country — but after traveling extensively through Thailand, I can say without a doubt that it’s more prevalent in Chiang Mai than anywhere else I’ve been, including Bangkok.

At least in Bangkok it’s mostly confined to certain neighborhoods.  In Chiang Mai, it’s everywhere — not just its designated neighborhood — and the girls seem to be far younger.  It was Chiang Mai that inspired me to write my post, Young Thai Women and the Western Men Who Love Them.

The strange thing?  Though I’ve talked about this with some of my Chiang Mai friends (some of these men are their neighbors), I haven’t read one blog post that references this facet of the city.

Chiang Mai has no edge.

This last part is the most significant factor to me, yet the most difficult one to articulate.

When I visited, I kept thinking to myself that Chiang Mai was nice, Chiang Mai was pleasant, Chiang Mai was peaceful.  And it bored me out of my mind.

I tried to see more of Chiang Mai.  I explored different neighborhoods.  I tried all the markets.  I had a memorable night out at some wacky bars.

Could I have done a better job of filling my time in Chiang Mai?  Could I have scheduled more activities and spent less time working?  Of course.  But I don’t think my opinion is irrelevant.

The thing is that the extreme nice-ness of Chiang Mai made me realize that I need to live in a place with an edge — somewhere a bit more difficult, somewhere a bit less forgiving.  Somewhere with a bit of drama, somewhere that pulsates.

I started to explain to one like-minded travel blogger. “I think I’d be happier complaining about the traffic in Bangkok–” “YES!” he cut me off.  He knew exactly what I meant before I even said it.  (That’s yet another secret — some of the travel bloggers who have lived in Chiang Mai feel the same way I do!)

Some — though not all — of the people I know who live in Chiang Mai like to put down Bangkok on a regular basis, citing its pollution, traffic, and heat.  Sure, Bangkok is a big city, and God knows Bangkok has its problems.

But Bangkok is one of the most fascinating, electrifying cities I’ve ever visited.  Every day is starkly different than the one before.  There’s something charging through the air that you would never be able to find in Chiang Mai.

Living in Thailand

If I were to settle in Thailand for a while, it wouldn’t be Chiang Mai.  I would probably choose Bangkok, one of my favorite cities in the world, or a beach community — likely either Ao Nang or Koh Lanta.

The difference is that Ao Nang, Koh Lanta, and especially Bangkok have an edge to them.  They have a dark side.  Hell, even on peaceful Lanta, I ended up spending the night with the Thai Mafia!

My advice to those of you considering visiting or living in Chiang Mai:

Keep an open mind.  Don’t think that because so many travel bloggers love Chiang Mai, you need to love it as well.  It wasn’t for me and it’s not for everyone.

Listen to your heart and not just your mind.  Sure, Chiang Mai is cheap, and easy, and home to tons of expats.  But does it make your pulse race?

Think about it.

Thailand is a fantastic country, and there are so many great places to live.  Explore enough and you’ll find the place that’s right for you.

Comments

193 Responses to “Chiang Mai is Not for Everyone.”
  1. Good of you to tell the other side of the story. I’ve never been, but I’ve always doubted that there really could be a place in the world that simply everyone loves…

    • RF says:

      Well, where to begin. I have lived in Chiangmai for 10 years. I built a house in a half farang – half Thai community 15 minutes from the airport.

      Facts:

      June-September Chiangmai is super hot 35C in the shade some days.
      Chiangmai is a smokey sleepy town, no problem, its rural for the most part
      Traffic is fast becoming a problem, check Hangdong Road
      No real quality restaurants aside from franchise style caliber, but this suits cheap charlie budgets
      Hotels have significantly reduced flagship service to suit cheap charlies, check the Shanghai-la Hotel brunch
      Shopping malls have museum quality goods with limited sizes, but this suits most budgets
      Old men with slim hotties are everywhere in Thailand. Thai 101
      Thai beached are polluted, even Naiharn now. Trash and sewage inflows from rapid urban growth.
      Technological services are poor, ie car mechanics, IT services.

      Pros:

      Gateway to the beautiful unspoiled north and Isan
      Direct flights to Taipei, Seoul and Laos
      International check in Chiangmai Airport to the world via Bangkok
      Great local food markets
      Rustic ambience
      CMU and Payap U events
      Best Songkran and Loy Kratong Festivals
      Thais love CM Chiangmaichao

      • Barb Anspach says:

        Thanks for your response, RF. My husband and I are looking to live in Chiang Mai as retirees in the next year or so. We don’t need “edge!” CM sounds great to us in everything we’ve read (all but the air pollution.) Would you be willing to share the name of your area/neighborhood? We want to come visit soon and look for a place to live that’s a good mix of Thai and farang.
        Thanks!

        • max says:

          My wife and I just bought a brand new house in Choeng Doi. Siralee.(Great central handy position, very Secure estate) We have furnished it but probably wont be able to move in for a couple of years. My wifes brother bought in same estate and loves it. We could rent it cheaply for tidy retired couple. Just noticed your post. Reply if you would like to know more.

          • Barb says:

            Sorry I didn’t reply sooner, Max. Fact is, we wouldn’t be actually moving to retire for another couple of years. Otherwise, your rental sounds interesting!

          • Kavitha Setlur says:

            Hi,
            I noticed your comments on this blog – my husband and I would like to stay in Chiang Mai for about a month, to see which of the places in Southeast Asia will be good to spend the looong winters away from Canada. We would take care of the house as if it were ours, and would like to know if you could rent to us from January 2, 2014 to Feb. 2, 2014.
            Thanks
            Kavitha

          • max says:

            Hi kavitha
            Best to contact me at sb393@hotmail.com re house.
            max

        • This is the opinion of the solo female travel blogger.. I looked.. no name!! She seems a very troubled person.. kinda sorta lonely that if a man of any age looked at her for any length of time he would soon tire of her.. I was almost tired of hearing her dribble.. Chiang Mai is NOT for everyone and for sure not her.. I LOVE CM and can see no other place to live in for me.
          CHIANG MAI is AWSOME forget this woman’s negativity.. My house I built on land I rent. My rent is $116 a month that is $1400 a year. so I built a house for $5000. Yes.. I did and it is great… very “Hobbit” styled. Figure it out .. 4 years at $191 a month figuring the cost of the house over 4 years.. My rent was less than her and I have about 50 yards x 100 yards of gardens my 50 dogs can run in.. Like a football field size. 16 kms from the city on the river. Let me tell you I live in paradise.. The beach life is over rated and too many loonies like this writer wasting space there.. Been to Pattaya and all i say is NO FCUKING way .. CHIANG MAI IS PARADISE

          • Greg says:

            Jack: Sounds like you have a great place, and I agree that Chiang Mai is a great place to live, and tourists that stay mainly near the old city really don’t see how nice it is just a little outside of town. (I live just a little SE of CM in Sanpatong). And I totally agree about this little judgmental brat that wrote this terrible article. I am sure that if she saw me go to the Airport Mall to do some shopping with my 19 year old university student daughter (half Thai), she would make an immediate terribly negative assumption about me. Maybe write about all the sleazy old guys with young girls doing some shopping. I hope twits like her just stay away and keep their little judgments on others to themselves.

          • Chris says:

            Hey Jack!

            It looks like you can’t read to well as our writer here does give her name Kate MCCulley She also has photos, profile and a blog that you can read about all the other places she has visited. By the way if you bothered to look at her photos I think she would have no trouble getting a fella to look at her for a very long, long time.

            It’s amusing as you actually sound like the troubled person on this blog for jumping up and down about her opinion of Chiang Mai. She gave us the PROS and CONS according to her experience and it’s refreshing to read.

            It’s also great that you can live cheaply but it’s not always about living cheaply that excites people. I don’t think I would want to feed and pick up the siht of 50 dogs everyday assuming you do look after them and not some poor Thai person working for peanuts.

            Everyone has a different view of the places they have lived in. I have friends that live and love Phuket I think that’s great but I hate it. I found living in Chiang Mai was ok but I find living in Bangkok much more diverse and exciting. That’s my opinion! However I could write about the pros and cons of that city too.

            Kate’s blog makes interesting reading. I don’t always want to hear about the wonderful things in a place. I want to know about other things so I can make an informed decision with added information from others. That’s why she writes these blogs to inform us through her eyes and I think she has actually convinced some people that Chiang Mai might be the place for them.

            Quiet life for some and young girls for old guys but that’s another issue!!

            It’s all about

  2. John says:

    Thanks for your views Kate. I have just begun to pick up on the love affair with Chiang Mai and this is the first post I’ve seen that actually criticizes it. It’s important to understand the pros and cons of every location before visiting or living there – I think this post will be extremely valuable to those considering Chiang Mai as a destination. I had no idea it was so isolated – to me, that is a huge negative. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Satu says:

    I’m on my way to Chiang Mai in a couple of weeks and will spend a few weeks there. I’m happy to hear from at least one person who does not absolutely adore it – I was starting to get a bit suspicious when everyone I spoke to was praising Chiang Mai. I have been there before but that was about 5 years ago so it’ll be interesting to see if it’s changed. I know what you mean about Bangkok: I love it, the good and the bad.

  4. Susan says:

    This is interesting. Right before moving to Chiang Mai I had this conversation with this Berliner in Bangkok who COULD NOT HANDLE that I CHOSE to move there of all places. It is isolated, and I can see how people would get bored. It’s really, really chilled out. It works for me because I am a mountain girl. I like being able to go frolic near a waterfall or rock climb all day long and then come home, bathe, go out for drinks, and have a comfortable bed. I tend to favor cities that offer this.

    The creeper men, though. They’re everywhere. One of the reasons I chose to live on Nimman Rd. was because there are FEWER here. The girls hanging out around here tend to be university students uninterested in farang, probably because they have so many other options.

    • That’s it, Megan — it works for you, and that’s fantastic. :-)

      • lost my pants says:

        Well its like everything too much of a good thing will turn sour.
        I have lived chiang mai for years and i am borded to tears with it.
        Not sure about the lovely locals thing. If uou have been here as long as i have
        Speak the language etc…. You realize that your not welcome unless you carry and
        Spend your cash. They couldnt give two ticks who you r. Not enough money and your screwed.
        They live a shallow life mostly centred around stuff and hsving lots of it.
        Cant wait to go home. Sick of the lies.

        • Pierre says:

          I have stayed in Chiang Mai for a while ….. I find most of the Thai people here impolite … often in local shops they will serve any Thai person first, this has happened to me 5 times now and I’ve had enough ! .. Everywhere else I have been in Thailand people are much more polite even in Bangkok. when out walking in Chiang Mai the only people who smile and talk with you are the massage and bar girls … I think the rest of the people in Chiang Mai are not aware Thailand is called the land of smiles. I have been to Ratchaburi, Cha-Am , Hua Hin, Bangkok, Chum Phae, Kanchanaburi, Chiang Rai and Udon Thani … and everywhere most Thai people are very polite. Chiang Mai is proving a big disappointment.

          • Raul says:

            Pierre is almost right:

            Chiang Mai as a big city absorb most of tourist in the north. I live here for a few months yearly and for about 3 years already. Shops become to commercial specially where “falangs” like to frecuent and the “smile” and kindness you looking for are slowing down. Yes, I have been in C.Rai, Nan, Uttaradit, Ayuthaya, various beaches cities, etc. and I do have better reception.as a foreign, exceptions always there are of course, just try to avoid to go back to those places, that it. My actitud is important when I show up to any place and almost always I do eyes contact first together a relaxing smile, whatever I go I break the ice and i get back various smiles for sure.. Some new servers are shy to deal in foreign language, I am not to tough to judge them, of course them feel better to go to take order/s from thai first, but is nothing against foreigners. 90% of servers there are not professional as we have in our countries, so you get what you get. If you want to pay cheap, server can not be better, if you choose Five Star Hotel Restaurant…you will see the different, and for sure you will get big smile and politeness.

    • Katherine says:

      I’m trying to locate some western women age 50+ who have retired to Chiang Mai. Please if you don’t mind helping me by answering a few questions I’d really appreciate it. My email is shaynelle at hotmail dot com. Thank you!

  5. Megan says:

    So great to see a different view on the place! I have not yet been to the city, but I quite frankly feel like every blogger is located out of their or is raving about the place…and it is almost a turn off from my side. So, seeing this post break everything down a little better is such a breath of fresh air!!!

  6. Congrats for having the courage to share your real feelings and thoughts about a place. That’s the job of all of us who write. The ones who just regurgitate the pablum are hacks and do a disservice to any reader.

  7. Dave says:

    It’s funny to hear expats in Chiang Mai talk down about Bangkok because as an expat in Medellin, Colombia I like to take jabs at Bogota.

    Both, along with Colombia as a whole, feels edgy to me which was a big part of my initial draw, as well as why I wanted to live there. Ironically, after a year and a half, it’s that same edge (mostly due to crime) that makes me feel as though I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life there.

    No place is going to be perfect for everyone. What matters is individuals find the place that gets them excited, curious, and invested in learning more about the city and culture.

  8. Priscilla says:

    So happy you said it!! Especially about the Western men with the young Thai girls. You summarized my feelings exactly.

  9. Paul says:

    Everything what I have just read above is a pure true! I am Polish guy who knows Thailand as the tourist (but many places and cities) and reading this article on my sofa at home I have to say only this: good Lord, at last someone has told what I was thinking so long time! Chiang Mai is quite boring city, with unacceptable low temperature (who comes to Thailand to wear the pullovers?), with dirty streets and claustrophobic atmosphere. Food is of course excellent (try fishes on the night market), Thai people amazing but it is not the best place in Thailand to live. I am always surprised that Chiang Mai has so good marketing… Till now.

    • You said what I was thinking, Paul — who comes to Thailand to wear pullovers?! I want the crazy, nonstop heat!

    • Mike says:

      Ahhhhh…all the more reason that I might like it a lot! I have an older gf and am retired and we make our bordom or be active…I hope that I might find or start a Hash Runners Club—Have enjoyed and appreciate all the views…like to learn more about the air pollution and harvest burning…that I do Not like.

  10. Colleen says:

    You have such a great sense of whatever place you are in. And that’s why I never stop reading. That and you’re my cousin :)

  11. Amanda says:

    Nice job providing the dissenting opinion, Kate. I, of course, would never pass judgment on a place until I visited myself, but I can appreciate that not everyone is going to love every town, city, or country. I have no idea what I would think of Chiang Mai, or even Bangkok for that matter. But I definitely want to visit both someday!

    Your post definitely has given me a better picture of Chiang Mai, though. Hearing that it’s “awesome” over and over doesn’t really help to pain a very solid mental picture.

  12. Kiri Bowers says:

    I think it’s great that you’re brave enough to say this. I always make a point to be honest about places that don’t quite do it for me, I think other readers appreciate this.

    I also really admire that your main income comes from this, I hope this can happen me too. Living the dream!

  13. The cat has been set amongst he pigeons! I’m with you, Bangkok FTW.

    Those who know, know ;)

  14. Katrina says:

    Thanks, Kate! That’s good to hear. We do have Chiang Mai on our list, but know that we love the ocean too much to stay for long.

    I seem to recall that Craig from yTravelBlog found Bangkok vastly more interesting than CM, too. But you’re right — it’s mostly lovey dovey talk with not a lot of balance. :)

    • nate says:

      I live in thailand for 5 years its great

      the funny part is I’m a kid.

      ps. so many great places,elephant camp,sunday night walking street,just plane everyday markets

      you should really come to thailand :-)

  15. Anthony says:

    Good eeeeeevening from Chiang Mai ;)

    Spare a thought for me, mate. My most overrated place in the world is London and people look at me like I’m into beastiality when I express such views! I like Chiang Mai, I’m living in Chiang Mai for a few months and I have absolutely no problems with you not liking it. You as a human being deserve your individual opinion and I’m not going to get shitty with you just because we disagree!

    You do make some good points though, mainly about it being isolated. I have fucked up real bad and topped with a bit of bad luck, I have had to find somewhere to put my head down and make some money online, before having to sell my bum on the street.

    if the pendulum was swinging more towards travelling, other than working, who knows – I might have the same perception as you. As for the pervy men – it’s horrible. I seen a man touch a Thai woman’s foof in a pool bar and it seemed I was the only one in the bar who thought it was creepy and wrong.

    • Thanks for the reply, Anthony! And I loved that you shared what few people say — that one reason it’s so great is BECAUSE you get a lot of work done BECAUSE there isn’t enough going on to distract you!

      Also, any day you mention foofs is a good day!

    • bob says:

      Never gave Chang Mai a chance, i arrived late to a litter ridden town and a large snake in my hotel room toilet, Maybe its a nice place but i got the first bus to Mae hong song which i loved

  16. Betti says:

    been living here in CM 6 years now. need to choose a neighbourhood and lifestyle and won’t see any creepy man. none. but then, I’m a boring person, no need for nightlife.
    not sure though why it would be odd or mean to criticise Chiang Mai. why not? I completely see your points. and people have different expectations and preferences. for one, Bangkok really disorients me and gives me such a sensory overload that I practically flip out within a few days. it’s not about Bangkok, it’s about me. so what?
    one thing I really like in Chiang Mai is that despite the heavily trodden tourist routes, it is TOTALLY possible to get on a motorcycle and get lost in the countryside within an hour, on routes where people will stare at you and kids scream in delight. can go on trips for 2-3 days and not see another westerner. and then you can come back to “civilisation”. very convenient balance for people like me.
    the distance from the sea is the worst thing as far as I’m concerned :-(((
    I would also add the lack of decent bookshops with lots of English books. the second-hand shops are quite ok, and there are some smaller shops selling English titles, but it is one of the highlights of my year when I stop over in Bangkok and go to Kinokuniya at Siam Paragon. I stop over in Bangkok only for the friends and the bookshop :-)

    • I love your point of view, Betti — thanks for sharing. It’s true that it’s so much easier to get out of town than the hours of gridlocked traffic in Bangkok…

    • Ratsso says:

      See about getting a Kindle reader if you’re short of titles.
      You’ll have no problem finding almost anything, and some are free !

  17. Jonathan says:

    Good stuff speaking your mind kate. However I’m not sure about your description of koh lanta as being “edgy” – the place seemed full of families, couples and resorts when I was there 2 weeks ago.. I found it pleasant…. but pretty tame and not cheap! You may have met the local don there but that could have happened anywhere.. Including chiang mai?

  18. Jodi says:

    I agree with you completely – and yet I’m still heading back to Chiang Mai for a few months, for exactly the reasons you stated. I always say the same thing, that I prefer Bangkok because it has an edge, it’s a constantly swirling mass of change and people and fascinating (complicated) politics. But I’m going to CM because I need to go into writing-lockdown-mode and I know – I really, really know – that if I head to Bangkok I’ll be enticed by all the shiny and won’t be as productive. So, CM it is even though my heart isn’t in it.

    The key for everyone is to find the place where the positives outweigh the rest for whatever point you’re at in your life. I’d prefer to settled in BKK but I’m forcing myself to focus on writing. However, I can’t wait to stuff my face on all that street food you’ve mentioned :)

  19. Yeah i love the articles with an opinion against the grain, it’s refreshing .

  20. I haven’t been to Thailand yet, but wanted to check out Chiang Mai (in addition to the other places people talk about.) Thanks for sharing your opinion. :)

  21. Ali Elle says:

    Taking trains in SE Asia, including the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is an awesome experience actually. Its kind of a waste to fly from Bangkok to CM. The scenery is incredible, the ride comfortable and dirt cheap. Buses however are never good.

  22. jan says:

    I have been to Bangkok and loved it. There has been so much hype about CM that I am going to check it out next time I am in Thailand. I am glad you have put the cat amongst the pigeons!

  23. It wasn’t for me. I got Dengue there and was bed-ridden for 10 days. The hospital was fantastic & CHEAP though.

  24. Wow I love that I didn’t see one negative comment!

  25. Poi says:

    As you know we lived there for a while but have been in Bangkok longer and prefer it much more. We can’t go back to Chiang Mai anymore as we’ve seen it to death.

    We had this conversation in a bar with you in Bangkok :)

  26. Kelly says:

    I love Chiang Mai. But I guess your opinions of a place totally depend on the type of experiences you’ve had there, and I’ve had some great ones. For me, CM and the North were the most enjoyable because they feel more authentic and diverse. I have a lot of love for Bangkok too, (it’s also one of my fave cities) but Chiang Mai has a simple rhythm that I really enjoy.

  27. I tend to disagree, I loved Chiang Mai.

    I think it is what you make of it, CM is great for a lot of outdoor activities, and I agree with Ali Elle – you definitely need to get the train up.

    Would I live there? probably not, but compared to Bangkok it’s a dream.

  28. Lissie says:

    Chiang Mai was over-rated long before travel bloggers – in fact long before the Internet. I remember everyone raving about it in 89 – I couldn’t figure it out – like you I couldn’t find a beach anywhere near! And when I got there – no character, busy, fairly modern city, quite nice climate – I cut the trip short and went to Vietnam (that was a whole other story in 89!).

  29. Holgs says:

    Glad your site is back up – have to agree about Chiang Mai. After finally making it up there at the end of last year I can see why some people love it, but I’m just not one of them. Its nice enough, but I really prefer Bangkok. To me its just too much of an alternate reality there where nothing much ever happens. Not really the way I want to spend my life!

  30. Harrison says:

    I didn’t realize that Chiang Mai was far from beaches. That wouldn’t work for me then, haha. Good analysis!

  31. Dayna says:

    I have to say, this is the VERY first post I have ever read criticizing Chiang Mai. Thanks for giving a more realistic picture of it. I do enjoy glowing, raving reviews of places… when they are honest. Refreshing to hear.

  32. Abby says:

    I agree! Chiang Mai is certainly not the worst place I have ever been, but there are so many other locations that are less touristy, that allow you to understand local culture better and not just gap year, backpacker, drinking culture! And if you do a trek from Chiang Mai (which I do recommend), be sure to insist upon an opium-free group! Unless of course that is what you are looking for…. Don’t end up like me, sick as a dog the whole three days from the second hand smoke!

  33. sid says:

    Opinions certainly relate to the age of the person blogging and the place of upbringing. . .speaking to “edge”. Being an accidental single adult older male walking the street of Chiang Mai recently (wife ill) I must say i felt somewhat awkward with the feeling that i was being judged as a “seeker”, by other couples or single adult females or families…due to the numbers of guys in the situation you describe.

  34. Coolmon says:

    Enjoyed reading your article, Chiang Mai is a beautiful place.

  35. Adam says:

    YES!

    I agree 1,000,000 %

  36. Pam says:

    I’m with Jodi. I’ll be returning to Chiang Mai at the end of March because I need a calm and quiet environment where I get a bunch writing done and get ready for the Mongol Rally. I love Bangkok and I’ll probably make a couple trips down there while I’m back in Thailand, but if I live there, I’ll be swamped with other things and my writing will never get done.

    I think it depends on what your travel goals are and what your speed of travel is.

  37. After having read so many wonderful things about Chiang Mai before we got there, all I could think was “That’s it? Really?” when we got there last November. Sure, it’s a nice little city, but I still cannot understand what’s the big deal about it. The two things that I dislike the most: the creepy old men everywhere with their young Thai ladies (although I have yet to find a place in Thailand where I don’t come across that) and how far it is from the beaches. I also asked myself the whole time what Chiang Mai would be like without all the backpacker hostels, Farang restaurants, coffee shops & huge handicraft markets – all clearly set up for tourists. That said, we still enjoyed our time in Chiang Mai, loved the abundance of vegetarian restaurants and cute coffee shops with free wi-fi, the street food markets at night and the beautiful temples. Bangkok is just too crazy for me – I could never live there.

  38. I certainly agree that Chiang Mai is not for everyone. I have a friend who is here with his western wife but when he is out on his own everyone thinks he is just another sexpat, so he constantly feels very uncomfortable.

    But why would everyone like it. I enjoy Chiang Mai and have done for over ten years and it is comfortable enough for me to live a good life in comfort but still enjoy something different everyday.

  39. Daniel N. says:

    Being probably the oldest “settler-blogger” in Chiang Mai (2 years now), I can say that yes. Chiang mai is not for everyone. it’s not for those who seek glitz and party and hangovers in the morning.
    It’s not for those who want to perfect their tan at the beach.
    It’s just for those who want to settle down, in a quiet and beautiful environment and enjoy their time.

    If so many bloggers are coming to, and praising Chiang Mai, over and over again.. it’s not because they are brainwashed, or because they are paid for.. It’s because there’s a truth in it.

    I knew from the first week I saw you would actually hate Chiang Mai :)

    Oh and come on… Chiang Mai is isolated? I thought you liked Sihanoukville which probably is much much more isolated than the second biggest city of Thailand! That’s not a good reason.

    I enjoy my laid back life here and I understand if some don’t like it. (And frankly, that’s better)

    Cheers

    • Haha, you really knew from the first week? ;-)

      Oh, I loooove Sihanoukville…but it’s not that far away. 2 hours from Kampot and the Thai border, 4 hours from Phnom Penh. Then again, I wouldn’t live there and don’t tell anyone to live there!

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for your well rounded comment. Until your comment, it was either everyone was, as a your said, presumed to be a brainwashed “me too I love Chiang Mai” follower, or jumping on the “Kate- I think Chiang Mai is dull as mud” bandwagon. As with everything, nothing is perfect, and it really depends on many things- your age, education, prior experiences, your expectations, your current likes and dislikes, are you single/in relationship/married, and so on.

      A couple of things I’d like to comment on.

      – I’m really sad to see all the creepy loser white men who prey on the women in poorer countries. If they weren’t white and drawing a pension from back home, they wouldn’t even get a girl in Asia. Really sad to see these tattooed uneducated low lifes.

      – About it being isolated. I never really felt this. I’m from Australia. Every capital city in Australia is between 1000-3500km from each other (except Sydney and Canberra- still 300+km though). Using Kate’s criteria of “isolation”, I think those who need another city within an hour’s drive would have a crisis if they visited Australia.

      Chiang Mai has an international airport, and a train to the capital. I don’t really think Chiang Mai is what most people think of as being truly isolated. It’s simply not near a beach.

      I think it’s more a case of Chiang Mai not being a large city with skyscrapers and a sprawl. Being smaller means it may feel further away from other places which you have decided are more happening.

      – I love nature. I much prefer to meet people who like hiking and trekking to those who love cafes/restaurants/shopping malls. For those people, Bangkok is better for you. I know I’m not the only one. Go to Chiang Mai waterfalls. The locals love going and just hanging with friends, or having picnics.

      – Chiang Mai is not perfect. It’s dirty, there’s too much traffic in the Old City, the local custom of burning huge amounts of rubbish creating a thick haze is infuriating.

      But I like it :-)

      • Katherine says:

        “tattooed uneducated low lifes”

        Why the word tattooed? I have none myself but am married to a soldier who wants to get one to honour the tour he did. I am sure you can try and defend the use of this word in your derogatory sentence, but it’s not going to garner support from me. I dislike stereotypes, although for a second the thought “clearly she is the uneducated one” passed through my mind after reading those words. Other than this your comment seems great.

  40. Ann says:

    I agree! My family is from Bangkok (I was born and raised in the states) and love Chiang Mai… I never saw the appeal, it seemed kind of an empty shell to be honest. A place that is set up but yet not quite so for tourists…

  41. NLM says:

    Thanks for this honest piece. It’s odd that the creepy old man thing so colors one’s view of a place, but I’ve had that experience elsewhere, too. Sometimes one thing poisons a whole place. Still, I’d like to see Chiang Mai one day…

  42. IamJoyceee says:

    Wow. thanks for this. I’ve been looking all around for posts/articles of travel bloggers about Chiang Mai. And I think yours is the most insightful.

    I’m flying there tomorrow night from SG. Gonna spend a few days up there and then fly back. Hopefully, I’ll see most and be satisfied with my length of stay. :)

  43. I didn’t realise Chiang Mai was so isolated. I’ll be going there in a few months, but plan to stop at places on the way (hopefully!) I will keep an open mind whilst I’m there!

  44. Steve says:

    It’s good to finally find an opposing view! I’m looking for somewhere to spend a couple of months and had so many recommendations for Chiang Mai.

    I loved Bangkok, but it sounds like CM is to BK as Shanghai is to Beijing (my current home). A little bit too easy for foreigners, and lacking that edge to keep the days exciting.

  45. Laura says:

    I’ll guess I’ll have to put Chiang Mai on my travel list so I can see for myself if I like it or not. Thank you for the honest post.

  46. Turtle says:

    Nice to hear a different viewpoint. I was there a few years ago and loved the place… but that was only for a few days. I can think of a lot of other places I would rather settle for a while. As you say, it’s so far away from other things that you can’t really explore the region properly as a travel blogger (IMHO).

  47. gus says:

    Having spent over a year in Chiang Mai I’m pretty bored with the place as a whole. I’ve been working here but as soon as my contract is up I’m out. Though I’ve made some good friends it’s still just time to go. The worst thing about this place though is the smoky season between February and April. The health department actually warns people not to go outside and to keep windows shut during this time. Feels like a post apocalyptic haze every day.

    Once I learned to speak and understand Thai I learned something else that turned me off. I started meeting a lot of locals who think that Chiang Mai is very sophisticated compared to Bangkok. At first I just thought this was strange but then after a while I started hearing it more and more and realized that there was a real “holier than thou” attitude up here. Not with everyone of course but definitely with a lot of locals. There is a kind of arrogance up here but the kicker is that I don’t know what in particular there is to be arrogant about. Anyway that’s just a pet peeve of mine.

    I gotta confess that the old men with the young girl thing didn’t really bother me but you need to keep in mind that before Chiang Mai I’d spent 6 months in Phuket which is much worse on that front. Put it this way the first time I walked down Loi Kroh which is the bar girl street in Chiang Mai I didn’t even click that it was. I mean coming from Patong in Phuket where they have strip clubs with poles on the balconies overlooking the street and girls dancing on them – Chiang Mai was like coming to a boy scout town.

    • Thanks for sharing, Gus! Love hearing your perspective. And as many travel bloggers as there are living in Chiang Mai, I’ve seen hardly anything written about the smoky season.

  48. LordKoos says:

    Different strokes… I can see why younger people wouldn’t appreciate Chiang Mai, I think it depends on your orientation. At my age (60) I like peaceful, I’ve seen enough of the “edgy” side of life. When you are younger you enjoy danger and excitement a little more (perceived or real), when you are older, maybe you’ve already experienced enough & just want to chill out. I’ve been living in CM for a couple of months and enjoy the pace very much, as well as the proximity to nature. My (non-Thai) wife and I have rented a cheap apartment in a non-touristy part of town, not in the suburbs, but well off the backpacker trail, there are mostly poor and middle-class Thais in our neighborhood, and people are very nice.

    I think Bangkok is fascinating and I want to return to explore it further, but when there I immediately got an acute sinus infection from the humidity and pollution. For me BKK is like New York, a fantastic place to visit but I wouldn’t care to live there. As far as the “creepy old men”, you must be kidding! I saw far more of that in Bangkok in one week than in Chiang Mai for a month, although maybe it’s worse during the high season. And I’m sure it’s even more apparent in Pattaya and Phuket. You want “edge” but you can’t handle seeing prostitution?

  49. Chris says:

    I have lived in Chiang Mai for eight years now and I agree with you. We also have the most hostile expat community I have ever come across anywhere in the world and their expat club is out for nothing but the personal financial gain of the people that run it.

    • Jalapenos says:

      Let me add that the Chiang Mai Expats Club is now under a new professional management and has rooted out the problems that existed in the past.

  50. I too have long been a bit leery of the persistent gushing cheerleading squad for CM. Thanks for a most open-minded and thoughtful look at the current Expat Sweetheart du Jour. Interesting too, you compare it to Bangkok’s “edge”. I haven’t been to Bangkok in years, but let me tell you – here in nutso Saigon, we’ve got nothing BUT EDGE! I’ve been here 9 months now and never thought I’d grow fond of the craziness. It’s like an Asian NYC on steroids! But it does kinda grow on you, and I’m sure I’ll miss it.

    Nonetheless, it’s time to move on, and… After a month in Mongolia, I plan to settle down in a bit more serene place up in the cool hills where I can – yes, yes: “who comes to Thailand to wear pullovers?! I ” – some of us actually DO come to Thailand, Vietnam, et al, yet love to snuggle into our dear “fleece”.

    I’m really loving Vietnam (and particularly the dear Vietnamese) and I’ve long favored Dalat here in Vietnam as my next place to settle in for a spell. Nope, no “edge” there, but the climate much like my beloved Seattle, and the best part is – it’s not on the backpacker trail.

    But first, I’ve wisely decided to take a quick side trip to Chain Mai, to check it out and see how it compares to Dalat. I suspect it might be a tad too “expatty” for my tastes, but I want to see for myself.

    And that’s the thing, yes? Each of us has our own unique druthers, so no surprise not everyone would adore Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi, Santorini, Bali, NYC, younameit. And besides, wherever I choose to land next, it most certainly won’t be forever. So why not just drift from place to place, hanging out for 6 months or a year til somethin’ new catches my eye?

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