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Thailand

Expat Location Spotlight: Chiang Mai

As the amount of travelers working in foreign countries increase each year, so do the number of locations for them to settle in. Chiang Mai, one of these locations, is in a mountainous region of northern Thailand. It’s often rated one of the top 10 most livable cities in Asia. It has started attracting a large amount of travelers who come to visit, and end up settling there for months. There are several reasons for this.

Cost of Living

The cost of living is much lower than in other countries around the world. Even compared to Thailand’s popular cities Bangkok or Phuket, it’s cheaper to live in Chiang Mai. For a studio apartment on the outskirts of the city, you can expect to spend about 5400 Thai Baht (equivalent to $150 USD). Factor in basic utilities and the cost of food, and you’re only at $500-$600 USD per month, not including entertainment or any extras.

Increase of English Speakers

Due to a large amount of English-speaking workers coming in the past 10 years, there are now many businesses catered to those that don’t speak Thai. Although it’s recommended to attempt to learn some Thai, you can go to stores or even doctors’ offices that speak fluent English. Expat meet-up groups have also popped up all around the city, making it easy to meet fellow travelers. It provides a social outlet, and lets you connect with others in the same situation to meet up with in the future.

Jobs

In case you don’t have a job where you can work remotely, teaching English is a very common choice for foreigners.  You need to apply for a non-immigrant visa, good for up to one year. You can then apply for a work visa, and an extension of stay if needed.

There are a few items to factor in before considering an extended stay in Chiang Mai. A tourist visa is required, which can be used for up to 6 months depending on how many times you leave the country. You need to exit the country every 60 days though, which will run you around $30 USD each time you enter the country. Visa fees and transportation costs aside, it’s easy to see why Chiang Mai is an affordable, livable city for expats.

Marissa Pedersen

Marissa is a freelance writer, travel blogger, and social media marketing manager from Seattle. She runs the travel blog Postcards to Seattle, which captures all her journeys from around the world. She likes to stay active wherever she goes, from kayaking in Italy to snowboarding in the Alps.

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An Interview with Diana from Save Elephant Foundation

Today we’re kicking off an interview series on OHW that will ask travelers, tech entrepreneurs, social enterprises, and more to share a bit about the work they are doing and why they’re doing it. Oh Hey World believes in not only the transformative power of travel (that’s definitely a focus of ours), but in the positive changes we can create when we connect with like-minded people (that’s the core of the OHW platform). During my travels in Southeast Asia over the years I began to learn more about the plight of the Asian elephant, and conservation efforts in the region. When friend and fellow travel blogger Diana Edelman slowed down her travels and began working for Save Elephant Foundation in Thailand I knew she was just the right person to kick off the interview series. 

thailand elephant

1) Tell me a bit about the work Save Elephant Foundation is doing in Southeast Asia and why it’s needed.

Save Elephant Foundation is working to protect Asian elephants in Thailand and beyond. The foundation, founded by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, a renowned animal conservationist, not only works to protect the Asian elephant, but also other animals. Elephants in SE Asia are being removed from the wild and the main goal of SEF is to raise awareness about the plight of Asian elephants and how current activities in the tourism industry impact the population of the elephants in the region. Other than the elephants, SEF also works to give people in local communities better lives by providing aid and education — particularly as it relates to elephants mahouts or elephant caretakers who, prior to working with SEF, would have their elephants working.

2) As a traveler yourself, why did you decide to stop traveling and work with the Foundation?

As a traveler, I decided to stop traveling so much and join the Foundation because I believe in what Lek is doing. When I first visited the foundation’s Elephant Nature Park in 2011, I was shocked at how little I knew about animal exploitation and animals working in the tourism industry all over the world. My time as a volunteer there really opened my eyes to the decisions we make as travelers, and the fact that most people who come to this part of the world are not aware that the decisions they make in regards to animal attractions can greatly impact an entire industry and trade. Lek’s unyielding passion and desire to make the world a better place for animals is truly inspiring. Her love knows no bounds and being able to help her raise awareness about her foundation and responsible tourism is a dream fulfilled for me. I’ve always loved to write and do PR, but to be able to use my skills to try to better the world and change people’s ideas of what is responsible tourism … it makes me so happy.

3) What work are you doing at the Foundation right now?

I do the PR and social media for the foundation. I have traveled a bit and done research regarding the human elephant interaction, and also have been a part of two elephant rescues.

4) When I visited the Elephant Nature Park, I noticed visitors could not ride the elephants, which was a new concept for me, can you share the work the Foundation is doing in this regard.

The foundation’s main focus to is to educate tourists and future travelers to this region of how their actions impact the lives of wild and captive Asian elephants. Our hope is that with this information, people will make more informed choices as it relates to the animal activities they choose. The most common mistake people make in SE Asia is not being educated. Ignorance is bliss.

5) How can both short and long-term travelers have the biggest impact in supporting Save Elephant Foundation?

Short and long-term travelers can have the biggest impact by taking what they learn from SEF and their visits to the foundation’s projects and telling others. Education can change the world, and the elephants need people to speak for them.

If you’re keen to connect with Diana on the OHW network, you can follow her check-ins and activity from her OHW profile. Other important links to connect to Save Elephant and Diana include:

Save Elephant on Twitter and Facebook
Diana on Twitter

Shannon O'Donnell

A storyteller and knowledge-seeker captivated by the world. Formally an actress and web-nerd, I left in 2008 to travel solo, volunteer, and hunt down delicious vegetarian eats all over the world. She recently published "The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook, and her travel stories and photography are recorded on her travel blog, ALittleAdrift.com.

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Welcome Kits for Digital Nomads in Southeast Asia

When I decided to hit the travel trail in late 2011, I planned to go to Southeast Asia and be a digital nomad building WordPress websites (such as this one for Room77) until I figured out what my next career move was (which turned out to be building Oh Hey World). I did all sorts of research to figure out the best places to live as a digital nomad in Southeast Asia, and I eventually decided upon Chiang Mai due to the sheer volume of good recommendations about the city from other travel bloggers (Koh Tao was my second choice). When I arrived in Chiang Mai in early February to stay for a few months, I had a few very specific questions related to getting acclimated to the region:

  • Where should I stay for 1-3 months?
  • What expat communities exist?
  • What events are coming up that I’d be interested in?
  • Which coffee shops are the most comfortable with strong Wifi?
  • Who are the interesting people I want to meet?

That information was hard to find, so I set out to solve this problem on Oh Hey World. Our digital nomad welcome kits now answer those exact questions for digital nomads all over SouthEast Asia — and, eventually, the world.

Bangkok welcome kitGlobetrotting around Southeast Asia right now making money from your computer? If so, you’re in luck because we have welcome kits we’ve specifically curated for you for the major expat hubs around the region.

Tips for digital nomads in:

Have you been to any of these cities, and have something we should add? Leave a comment here or email shannon@ohheyworld.com and we’ll add them to our collection. If you’d like to create your own completely custom welcome kit for a city (such as this one for Santiago), then head over to our Welcome Kits page to learn more.

PS: You can also view some community generated welcome kits and OHW curated welcome kits in the US.

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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Chiang Mai - Buddhist Ceremony

Chiang Mai – A welcoming Oasis filled with wonder and intrigue

Chiang Mai, Thailand – At a first glance

There’s only a few places on Earth which can create such an immediate feeling of coming home again on your first visit, as Chiang Mai can. A large, yet peaceful city of just over 1 million inhabitants, Chiang Mai is situated in the hills of Northern Thailand. It’s picturesque backdrop of rolling mountains and lush green jungle, is complimented by it’s ancient history, which is still visible around nearly every turn! With an endless supply of activities  delicious food, and smiling locals, it’s no wonder so many expats choose to live here – some short term, others, indefinitely.

I remember when I first arrived to Chiang Mai, I was first taken by it’s awesome location. High in the hills, it sits very close to the Burmese border. This has given it a rich history of both cultural mixing, and invasions. A notable feature is the incredibly large moat and old city walls which still protect the old city’s centre. You are immediately inundated with historical features, which bring light to the magic of a city of such long standings.

In addition to Chiang Mai’s rich history, it is also one of the most spiritual cities, with ornate Thai Buddhist temples hiding at almost every turn! I spent countless days wandering the winding old streets, and exploring the shoeless temples at almost every chance I got. Not only can you explore these beautiful temples, you are often welcomed into the ceremonies and services being conducted within them, as long as you keep a respectful air about you while there.

The food is really one of the biggest highlights for me, being a long time foodie! Not only do they have one of the best, (and CHEAPEST) selections of street food I’ve seen in all of Thailand, there’s a seemingly endless variety of choice for foreign foods as well! From Mexican, to French, to Italian cuisine, they seem to have a knack for doing an exceptional job no matter what food is being prepared. You will also find Thai dishes which are more exclusive to the North. My favourites being Massaman – a peanut-beef curry, and Kow Soy – a crunchy noodle curry.

For anyone looking for somewhere to have a quick visit, or even to settle down and try a new, longer-term adventure, I would recommend putting Chiang Mai high on your bucket-wish-list. It truly has a welcoming charm, giving anyone who visits a sense of finding a home and comfort.

Ian Ord

An explorer since birth, Ian has now spent the better half of his life travelling. Spanning all 7 continents, and leaving no stone unturned, he continues to pursue discover new cultures, festivals, foods and all the other riches the world has to offer.

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Travel – It’s All About the People

Like so many long term travelers, Earl gets it; travel is all about the people.

In a nutshell, that’s why I travel too.

When I think back to my summer in Santorini in 2010, I think about the time I spent with close friends (Dan, Chris, Ashley, and Brooke) and all the new friends I made (too many to name) over the course of that summer. Nights getting fed Raki by Dave at Atlas. Going out with the gang at Beach Bar. ATV’ing up to Oia to see the sunset with Dan. Watching the new Braveheart at the outdoor cinema at Kamara Beach — and Dan driving all the way home in pitch black with no headlight. I think of group dinners watching World Cup at Atlas.

Thinking back to my time in Kenya (& Tanzania), I always think about the people I spent time with there. Rocky. Dan. Allan. The girls. Dan and my driver we used almost daily. The kids at the refugee camp we visited. The numerous breakdowns our jeep experiences while on our safari. Our guide Livingstone leading Dan and me up Kilimanjaro.

When I think about Chiang Mai, I think back to geeky wifi sessions with Jodi, Shannon, Ian, Will, and Monica (among others). I think of the bamboo river raft and visiting Tiger Kingdom with Monica, Tom and Kristin. Dinners at Chiang Mai Gate night market. Mrs Pa and her amazing smoothies.


I could go on and on. Every single amazing experience I’ve had abroad is because of the people I met or spent time with. Sure, there are some f’ing amazing scenery I’ve seen — but that’s not what I’ll remember in 20 years. I’m not alone in my thinking; the proof is in the pudding.

Jeff Titelius – Eurotravelogue

What made this moment truly special was our encounter with these welcoming folks and our immersion into the lives of Dutch cheesemaking. Not only did they share with us their heritage, they introduced us to various types of cheese and offered us the penultimate moment of cheese indulgence—some of which were among the freshest and creamiest I’ve ever tasted.

Bret Love – GreenGlobalTravel

In Costa Rica, I became such good friends with a hotel employee that we wound up giving him a 3-hour ride to catch the ferry home, and he wound up literally giving me the shirt off his back.

Aleah Taboclaon – SolitaryWanderer

For me, then, the essence of traveling is not just ending up with jumpshots in front of famous landmarks. What’s more important is how I got there and who I met along the way. It’s my interaction with the people and my experience of the events that make my travels memorable. I may not be able to remember how many temples in the Angkor Archaelogical Complex I had visited, but I do remember the kids who sold me souvenir items, especially the girl who had exchanged her Mickey Mouse dangling earrings with mine. Those are memories I treasure, not the sites itself.

Emily Crone – Maiden Voyage

Then it was time to return to the modern world. The canoe ride back was just as peaceful and quiet. The breeze cooled our moist skin. We asked our canoe boat captain, also a native Bribri, if he ever wished he lived in a city. “Why would I want to do that?” he asked. “People have to go to the grocery store and buy food! Here, I can grow my own and not pay anybody.” I never thought of it that way. That, my friends, is the beauty of travel.

Lola – Lolatravels

meeting new people is a very important part of my life and i’m always grateful for the new friendships. you learn so much by making new friends and inviting them into your life. while i love to learn about new places and see new things with my own eyes, it is TRULY the people from all over that i bond with and what makes it the hardest to say goodbye.

There are a number of other stories about the people you meet traveling over on Nomadic Experiences.

People are what make traveling great. That fundamental belief of mine goes to the heart of the opportunity Oh Hey World is going after of connecting you with relevant, nearby people – both locals and other travelers. If you share that belief, sign up to be in the first group to try the BETA of our product. I think you’ll like the product we’re working on. If I didn’t believe that, I obviously wouldn’t be spending my time and money building it…

Expect more stories of the power of people leading to amazing travel experiences here in the future.

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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Author of LegalNomads.com

The Food Book, By the Expert of Experts on Travel Foods

Where to find great, cheap, local food?

Author of LegalNomads.com

Chances are good many of you try to figure that out in each and every destination you visit. I’m no different. To figure that out in Chiang Mai, I looked no further than Jodi Ettenberg. And she happens to have a book coming out about travel foods.

For those that don’t know Jodi Ettenberg, you should. I had the pleasure of spending a considerable amount of time with her while we both lived in Chiang Mai earlier this year — and, what can I say, I’m a fan. She’s just an all around amazing individual. From day one, her fascination and obsession with great food was apparent. Every night, there were a few new travelers meeting the regular crew for dinner by Mrs Pa’s Smoothies. Each one of them wanted to know, “Which food to try tonight?” Jodi had the answer. And now she’s sharing her food knowledge from all over the world (not just Chiang Mai) with you.

Here’s the trailer for the book:

For the food lovers (isn’t that everyone?), you can head over to Legal Nomads and sign up to be notified when there is more available about the food book.

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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Getting from Chiang Mai to Beijing

Traveling from Chiang Mai to Beijing via any method other than direct flight can prove to be a bit of a hassle and a challenge. But if you have the time and the patience to map out the trip, it can also save you some money and give you a chance to see a few other places along the way. I opted to go the long way, bus-ing from CM to Bangkok, flying into Shenzhen, China, then taking an overnight train home to Beijing.

Chaoyang Park, Beijing

Destination: Beijing (Photo/Casey Hynes)

The trip was not without its frustrations, but ended up being enjoyable overall. If you take a similar route, however, I’d recommend flying into Hong Kong and taking the train from there to Beijing, rather than from Shenzhen. This especially applies if you’re not pressed for time and can afford to spend a couple of days in another city. I was on a bit of a time crunch but ended up having to spend an extra day in Shenzhen anyway, and I definitely would  have preferred to have seen Hong Kong. (If you do end up in Shenzhen, though, it’s not the end of the world. The city is cleaner than Beijing and not difficult to get around.)

If this is your first time traveling into China, be prepared for hassles. Things rarely go right the first time, and if you go into it with that mindset, you’ll be more relaxed and appreciate the misadventures of China for the good stories they are rather than trip-ruining headaches.

Here’s the route I took from Chiang Mai to Beijing, including transportation, travel costs, and hostels.

Bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (arranged by guesthouse): 450 baht (~$15)

You can also take a train to Bangkok. I looked online and I believe it was more expensive, but it might be worth it in terms of comfort. The bus ride to Bangkok was comically awful, in my experience — no AC, crowded, loud, overhead lights didn’t work, crazy uncomfortable. It’s cheap, for sure, and I would consider doing it again if I find myself back in Chiang Mai and on a budget, but if it’s comfort you’re worried about, the train or a flight might be a better option.

Single room in a hostel in Bangkok: 450 baht (~$15)

The bus dropped us off in the Khao San Rd. area, so I wandered around until I found a hostel with an available room. None of them seemed keen to give a half-day rate (I got in to the city around 6 a.m. and only wanted a room for a few hours, until I left for the airport), and at that time of morning, most dorms seemed full so I had to pay more than I had originally budgeted. However, after the hellish overnight bus ride, the single room was a nice break from being hot and crowded around other people.

Mini-bus from Khao San Road area of Bangkok to the airport: 120 baht (~$4)

I booked this at a little travel and Internet shop called Terranet. You may be able to get a better price by haggling with taxi drivers, but I was too tired to argue and remembered that I got a way better rate using a minibus when traveling in Bangkok before (between the two bus stations on the way to Chiang Mai) so I took a chance on them. It worked out fine.

Flight from BKK to Shenzhen, China (booked through AirAsia): $142

The AirAsia website can be a pain to use sometimes, so I went directly to one of their offices, which is across the street from Lanna Guest House in Chiang Mai, just before you turn the corner to walk toward El Diablo, the Mexican place. That was a totally painless process, but even if there are any promotional prices offered for the flight when you look online, they won’t apply that price if you book in person. Make sure to tell them no meal, no checked luggage, no insurance to avoid sneaky extra charges (unless, obviously, you want those things).

Taxi from Shenzhen airport to Small Inn Fuhua, in the central business district of Shenzhen: 150RMB ($24)

Two nights at Small Inn Fuhua, Shenzhen (found/booked on hostelworld.com: 270RMB (~$43)

I totally recommend this place. The staff doesn’t speak much English but they are pleasant and checking in and out was a cheerful, easy process. The rooms are small but they’re cute and the bathrooms are clean with good showers — hot, good water pressure. They also include tea, a water boiler, and some other little items…like bottled water. And condoms featuring black men and Russian women on the package. And lube. (I’m totally serious.) That aside, it really is a charming place and it’s near a metro station. The cab ride to the rail station costs about 20-25RMB. The only downside to the hotel is that there is no wi-fi, though there are internet cables in each room and a community computer in the lobby. I just went to a Starbucks in Shenzhen’s Central Business District and used the wifi there all day, which worked out fine.

Overnight train from Shenzhen to Beijing, hard sleeper bed (booked in person at the Shenzhen Luo Hu Railway Station): 437RMB (~$70)

It is way easier to go to the train station and book the ticket yourself than to try to get some online company to do it. The further in advance you go, the better (11 days ahead is the max.) so you can get a soft sleeper, but I went the day before I wanted to leave and still got a ticket with no trouble. The actual purchasing process is fast but the lines are long. Bring your Kindle.

Total cost of travel: About $313

On top of that, there was obviously the cost of food and toiletries, which was maybe another $100 but probably less than that, and would vary person to person.

Casey Hynes

Casey Hynes is a writer, editor and photographer living in Beijing, China. A 2008 graduate of Columbia Journalism School in New York City, she has been published in Roll Call, The Wall Street Journal, Travel Wire Asia and numerous publications in China. You can see samples of her work and photography at caseyhynes.com.

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Free WIFI in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Certainly one of the most digital-nomad friendly places I’ve traveled to, there’s no shortage of WIFI hotspots in Chiang Mai. Here are a few of my favorites WIFI hot spots to work at in Chiang Mai:

Good Morning Chiang Mai – While the WIFI doesn’t work extremely well outside in the bean bag chairs, it’s a nice comfortable reading spot to plop down with my Kindle. The WIFI works better sitting inside (downstairs and upstairs), just not as comfortable. The breakfast is good and moderately priced. Located on Rachamankha Soi 6 (details here).

Paca Mara – Not much food available, but great iced coffee with extremely reliable WIFI. If there’s a group of you, there’s a nice table in the back that can fit 4-5 people, and has plugs available. It’s on Rachadamnoem right near Lila Chang Massage.

Bird’s Nest – Located in the Northwest corner of the old city, the atmosphere is great and they cook excellent food. Two decent sized tables if you’re in a group of 3-4. Located on Sinharaj, Soi 3 (details).

Smith Residence – I happen to be living in Smith Residence, and the wifi connection there has been great for the entire past two weeks. Never once have I experienced an internet outage, and skype calls have worked flawlessly. Smith Residence is right south of Chiang Mai gate. For a visitor, it’s 50 baht per day for their WIFI.

Starbucks – There is a large Starbucks right by Thae Pae Gate. I’m sure the WIFI is very reliable, but they charge for WIFI access. In a city littered with free WIFI cafes, there’s no reason to pay for expensive coffee AND pay for WIFI.

Where are your favorite spots?

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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