7 Biggest Problems With Living In Chiang Mai

The 7 Biggest Problems With Living In Chiang Mai

There is no such thing as a perfect city, and while we think Chiang Mai comes pretty close, there are some problems you may face if you choose to live in Chiang Mai.

We’ve heard – and experienced – them all, but here are the 7 biggest problems with living in Chiang Mai that we hear most regularly.

1. Chiang Mai Is “Not A Big City”

The 7 Biggest Problems With Living In Chiang Mai

Well, you can’t please everyone. In fact, we’re just going to say it now – if what you want is a big metropolis with skyscrapers, wide thoroughfares, constant noise, and inhospitable people then yes, Chiang Mai is not going to be the place for you.

What draws people here and – for a lot of them – keeps them here for years, is that it has the convenience of a big city but with a small-town feel.

It’s a slower pace of life than Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo, New York (insert nearly any metropolis here), has smaller neighbourhoods, friendly locals, and its only minutes to get out of town and into nature.

No sprawling suburbs, networks of modern glass-fronted buildings that touch the sky, incessant sound of honking vehicles, trains and busses, or overcrowded sidewalks.

So yes, we are proud to say Chiang Mai is not a “big city”!

2. Job Opportunities In Chiang Mai

The 7 Biggest Problems With Living In Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, as with all of Thailand, and really the majority of developed or developing countries, have strict laws on working illegally.

We’re not legal experts, so if you do want to work here we suggest talking to one of the many agencies here that can advise you, but without a work permit and sponsorship from a Thai company it won’t be easy to gain employment in Chiang Mai.

A lot of the foreigners who come to us for property aren’t looking to find employment here though. Most are retired, taking time out, have family here, or even just investing in property.

Few countries with the standard of living that Thailand affords are easy to find lawful employment in as a foreigner, but that gives you all the more time to enjoy what Chiang Mai has to offer.

3. Chiang Mai Doesn’t Have A Beach

The 7 Biggest Problems With Living In Chiang Mai

If we were building a perfect city to live in, a lot of Chiang Mai’s features would find their way into the design of it. However, nowhere is completely perfect and in 1296 when King Mangrai founded the city, beach resorts with swim-up cocktail bars and island boat trips weren’t top of the agenda.

Geography notwithstanding, Chiang Mai has practically everything BUT a beach. With the mountains on its doorstep, and lakes, jungle, mountain villages, and spectacular routes weaving their way around the north of Thailand it has its fair share of natural beauty.

However, it’s still often said that the one thing that is missing in Chiang Mai is a beach. Whilst there are a couple of man-made and lakeside versions, we aren’t going to argue with the fact that there isn’t one.

That said, we have a very well-serviced airport not five minutes from the city center, and within a couple of hours you’ll be dipping your toes into the sea.

Not only is the south of Thailand a quick flight away (Krabi, Surat Thani, Phuket and Hat Yai are all a direct flight away), international flights to beach destinations in Vietnam and Malaysia are frequent at most times of the year.

4. The Language Barrier In Chiang Mai

The 7 Biggest Problems With Living In Chiang Mai

Now, if you spend most of your time in local villages and the Thai neighborhoods of Chiang Mai, this MIGHT prove an issue. You’re in Thailand and the national language is Thai, so you can expect that most people who live here don’t speak your language as well as you do.

If you have a good understanding of English though, Chiang Mai is actually one of the easiest parts of Thailand to get by. The commercial and tourism-related success of the city has meant many residents have learnt English in order to conduct business, which has added to its attraction for visitors and long-stayers.

It is easy to find menus and store messaging in English now, and even a lot of road signs around the city are in English, so you’ll find it a lot easier than most non-English speaking countries and even other cities in Thailand.

That’s not to say you won’t find it easier – and likely a more rewarding experience – if you learn Thai when here, but by no means will it mean you won’t be able to enjoy living Chiang Mai.

5. Chiang Mai’s “Burning Season”

The 7 Biggest Problems With Living In Chiang Mai

There’s no getting around the fact that the air quality in Chiang Mai between around February and April often deteriorates. With farmland owners struggling to deal with the long dry season and prepare the land ready for wet season, the region is caught in a trifecta of Laos, Myanmar and Northern Thailand all doing the same at once – and the former two with little legislation to prevent it.

During this time a lot of expats use it to take a vacation or visit friends and family elsewhere as, for the other nine or ten months of the year, the mountain region has amongst the best air quality in Thailand.

Those who stay invest in what can be inexpensive air purifiers, wear masks and – given it is also the hottest time of year – choose to stay inside much of the time anyway.

The severity of the effects the burning of the land can differ from year to year – sometimes it lasts only a few weeks, sometimes starts in late February or as early as January. Often, Songkran – in the middle of April – can signal the end of it.

If you read the Facebook groups around this time you are likely to see a range of pictures being painted, but regardless of the sway of opinion many still choose to make Chiang Mai along-term home.

6. There Is Hardly Any Public Transport In Chiang Mai

The 7 Biggest Problems With Living In Chiang Mai

Public transport has become a norm of day-to-day life in a lot of western cities as populations have grown, the price of fuel and owning vehicles has risen, and environmental issues have driven people to adopt it.

Outside of Bangkok, however, it has never been a widely used mode of getting around in Thailand. There is a limited train system – Chiang Mai is the northern-most station in fact – and there are local buses in some areas, but it is unlikely to be as extensive as you are used to.

Chiang Mai has at various times adopted a city-wide bus system, and there are public services out to other parts of the north. It is not a widely used mode of transport by locals though, and a lot of the popular destinations are served by private van and bus companies.

Widespread motorcycle ownership, and less frequent travel in general by Thais, has meant an extensive public transport system just isn’t sustainable.

Chiang Mai does have its own alternative around the city with the Songthaew (red truck, or Rod Daeng), which operates as a cross between a bus service and shared taxi service and at a very reasonable price. However, most choose to rely on their own transportation to get around.

7. Rainy Season In Chiang Mai

The 7 Biggest Problems With Living In Chiang Mai

Ask any expats from the UK or much of the north of Europe if they would prefer the weather back there or stay through rainy season in Chiang Mai, there would be no contest.

For many expats, it is one of their favorite times of the year to be in Chiang Mai. It is a little cooler than the hot March-to-May period, is not as wet as the name might suggest, and the city and the surrounding province become lush, green areas of natural beauty.

The climate during rainy season isn’t quite as extreme as a many tropical regions as there is very little risk of devastating storms or flash floods, and the rain is usually short-lived when it comes.

Any time from May to October can be classified as rainy season, but really the main months that might see heavier rainfall are August to October. Even then it is often limited to an hour or two on some days and, largely speaking, it dries up quickly and the roads and day-to-day life just carries on as if it hadn’t happened.

8. Chiang Mai Is Hot

The 7 Biggest Problems With Living In Chiang Mai

Yes, ok, we promised 7, but we think it’s better to over-deliver than under-deliver!

We’ve touched on this briefly already, but this is something that – while it sounds obvious – is a consideration many overlook.

Chiang Mai has a relatively stable climate, despite having a wet and dry season. It can cool a little in December and January, when the evenings and mornings can at least feel cooler, but overall it is a relatively hot part of the world.

Only from March through to May might you see the scorching 100ºF-plus temperatures, and the gauge will sit in the high 80s to low 90s for much of the rest of the year.

For those who stay for a while it is usually quick to acclimatize thanks to this consistency, but for those adverse to hot temperatures might well find themselves in many of the air-conditioned malls, restaurants and café’s much of the time!

Have you found any of these to be a problem for you in Chiang Mai? Perhaps you’ve faced bigger issues here, or are worried about some you’d heard of. Let us know in the comments as we’d love to share them, or maybe even offer some help!

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