Exploring Chiang Mai as a Potential Home – a trip report by an American

Before an American makes his permanent home so far away from his homeland, he should spend some time checking the place out, spending real time to see if this is the right location for them.  That’s just what Peter Holden of Santa Monica did, and I am very pleased to be able give you his report.  Hopefully this report will provide insight to others about Chiang Mai.

Exploring Chiang Mai as a Potential Home

Guest Post By

Peter Holden

Wat_Chiang_ManMy expectations for Chiang Mai were high even before arriving last month.  Timing my visit with the start of the Loy Krathong festival in November seemed auspicious: the promise of sending away bad luck through the launching of candle-laden wax floats in the Ping River and setting aloft huge paper lanterns somehow seemed appropriate after a year of frustrating unemployment and finding myself rather in limbo, at 51 at home in California.

Even after 20 hours in the air I was enchanted by my hotel’s Lanna-style architecture, and inviting pool – no matter that is was 1 am.  The tropically warm and humid temps (think Hawaii) made the nearby jungle and vast unseen river valley palpable, and the warm greeting that everyone at the property gave me that first evening, seemed like every Thai Airways marketing message come to life.

Atypically, I woke before dawn the first morning on the other side the world from my Santa Monica home, and I took the opportunity to walk into the old town early to get a sense of what the city was like.  Passing through a teeming neighborhood open market and then the Buddhist temple compound immediately adjacent, I could tell that being in Chiang Mai involved a spiritual/commercial alchemy that is truly unique, charming and approachable.

Warrot Market, Chiang Mai

Warrot Market, Chiang Mai

After coffee on the banks of the Ping and a stroll along the unlikely “moat’ and decaying city walls, I entered into the overwhelming Warorot market.  A good percentage of items for sale, food, dry goods, what have you, were truly a mystery to me – a good metaphor for everything I encountered at this stage of my visit.

Having traveled extensively in my 25 + years as an international marketing executive for record labels and high tech companies – including 7 years living in various parts of Europe – and having bought land and built a house in Mexico, my initial take on Chiang Mai, the size and temperament of the place and the openness of the  people appealed to me tremendously, even on paper.

Chinatown, Chiang Mai

Chinatown, Chiang Mai

Now that I was here, the specifics began to fill in the blanks: the unfailing graciousness of folks I met in every setting, the astonishing number of elaborate temples, wats and gardens scattered around the city, the subtly and fragrance (and inexpensiveness) of the food, the gorgeous architecture, the beautiful girls, and finally the unfathomable appeal of US country music to many bar owners!

The thinking around my three week trip to CM and a few days in the south at Phuket, was that if things did not look more economically rosy for me in 2013, then I would rent my house and come here to teach English and perhaps make and sell art.  After my arrival, the sense of economic opportunity here as well as low barriers to entry in terms of starting, buying and running a business of kind became more apparent as I talked to more and more people, locals and expats alike.

Teaching English seemed to be, relatively, a no brainer.  Demand is high for native English teachers due to the 2015 impending ASEAN agreement, and frankly the cost of living and standard of living in Thailand generally and CM specifically is quite good.  Creating an alternate life here certainly seemed more financially viable here than most places.  Getting accustomed to the hotter and more humid climate would be perhaps a challenge, and as good as Thai food is, after living in LA and elsewhere, I was thankful to also experience good Italian, Indian, and other cuisines which would make a longer term stay more palatable…

I also tried to get connected to the local art scene through introducing myself to local gallerists and artists as that would be a community which I would try and inhabit if I relocated.  While I could tell that learning at least some Thai would make such connections all the more rich and successful, even with only English at my disposal, the artists I met were enthusiastic to connect, and hungry for international networking opportunities.

A coffee shop in Chiang Mai

A coffee shop in Chiang Mai

One of the really cool galleries I connected with:
Located in the vibrant Niemanheman Rd neighborhood, not far from the University and teeming with small boutiques, restaurants, galleries and clubs and tons of young people.

It is an amazing place, and I feel right at home.  I can give you my personal recommendation.



All in all I arrived home feeling satisfied that I could make my home happily in Chiang Mai for at least a couple of years, who knows if I really got connected there over time.  Thanks to Greg for this opportunity to share a few of my observations, and for all of the great info he and his blog have provided in trying to understand the Thai and their lovely country.  Let’s see what 2013 holds in store!

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3 thoughts on “Exploring Chiang Mai as a Potential Home – a trip report by an American

  1. Agree with this fully; I have lived in many countries but Chiang Mai has more to offer than the majority. To the comment about low barriers to entry, I would like to add that buying your own home and land here is easy to do as well, without donating it to some Thai person or worse still, a realtor. My company offers free advice on how to do this.

    • I noticed your comment on you can help foreigners to buy both land and house with out the Thai local also being named on the sale document. How is this done as I only hear that we as foreigners need a Thai native to join on the title unless it is in a gated community. I plan to come over soon to Chang Mai to look at property. I have seen many other areas of Thailand and feel very much at home. But feel very drawn to Chang Mai. Can you please also refer to your Company name or website
      Gary H,

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