What Do Expats Do in Chiang Mai?

My modern townhouse has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It’s cute. It makes me happy. Sometimes I head outside to do a bit of gardening. Just tending to my vertical garden or tidying up the hedges. I never had time for gardening before I retired to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s Rose of the North.

We actually built a sala at the side of our house. This is basically a roof on four posts. It has a cool ceiling fan and a water feature. It’s a lovely spot for an afternoon drink.

Sometimes if our neighbour, Owen, sees us he will come over for a quick chat. He is a friendly, twenty-something Chinese business man married to our Thai neighbour. He leaves early for work most days and comes home late.

“What do you do all day?” He asked us when we met for the first time.

My husband Mick and I looked at each other. It is a hard question to answer. You see, retired expat life can be quite busy. We are often off here and there and we always seem to be busy.

So, if you are imagining what your life might look like as a retiree in Chiang Mai, see if it appeals…

Enjoy Your New-Found Freedom Through Travel…

If you are reading this, you must be a traveller. You know how far Australia is from the rest of the world. Living in Thailand gives us a super head start! Did you realise that it is only 13 hours to London from here? Knowing that makes the flight much more appealing, doesn’t it?

Actually, my mother, who is also an expat, has just taken off to Egypt to see the pyramids. She had had the pyramids on her bucket list since she was seven years old and she has now ticked that off the list with just a 10-hour flight. Southeast Asia is a warm and delicious door step to the rest of the world.

But internal travel can be just as fascinating as Thailand is so diverse in natural beauty and has such a rich history. It’s not uncommon for expats in Chiang Mai to take a quick flight down to Bangkok to do some shopping or attend an event. The tickets can be as little as $90 return, so it is a very exotic and affordable getaway.

There are also the beaches down in the Southern end of town. My last trip was from Chiang Mai to Ao Nang Beach. The airfare was under $120 and it was a magical tropical getaway filled with island hopping, swimming in the Andaman Sea and seafood. As an expat, I try to travel in low season to save on airfares and hotel bookings.

It is important not to forget the other little historic gems within Thailand as well.

Kanchanaburi is a town known for its historical importance to Australians. This is where thousands of Allied forces were prisoners of war during WWII and were the labour behind the infamous Death Railway.

Ayutthaya was a major city before Bangkok was the capital of Thailand and it is famous for its 14th century archaeological site and national park.

Another popular getaway with expats is to explore the Mae Hong Son Loop which, popular with motorbike riders, takes a tour to the North Western parts of Thailand.

Attend Events…

There are literally hundreds of events, both large and small, that happen each month in Chiang Mai. This place is a jumping!

There are language meet-ups, academic talks on issues around the Northern Thai contexts, exhibition openings, musical recitals, film nights, expos and pool parties just to name a few. The Chiang Mai Expat Club also runs three events per month including a general meeting with a guest speaker and two breakfasts to mingle with other expats.


Oh come on, it is one of the reasons most people love Chiang Mai, the food is nothing short of fabulous. It is a place where a cheap $2 noodle dish can taste just as exquisite as a meal in a fancy hotel.

There are little wagons with cheap local food everywhere, thousands (only a minor exaggeration) of funky coffee shops, oodles of little cheap restaurants and a significant number of top resorts all keen and ready to serve you tasty delights.

Actually, some people make it a mission to try as many different restaurants as they can, just for fun. One expat I know tried 100 restaurants in 100 days just because she could. It is possible to eat food from many other cultures here.

I’ve tried restaurants in tree houses and eaten meals in teak houses by the river. I’ve enjoyed restaurants that have been decorated in traditional Thai décor and had a coffee sitting at a table in the middle of a creek while my legs dangled in the cool water. The diversity of food and dining experiences in Chiang Mai are truly remarkable.

Join Groups…

If you are a really social person or someone who loves structure, there are a ton of groups to join. There are fitness groups like hiking and qigong, if you like the outdoors but there are also lots of other options.

Dance groups and yoga are popular and if you live in a condo, you can start your own little fitness group of your own in the common area gym.

There are more social groups too, like expat lunches and Scrabble meet ups. Payap University Life-Long Learning hosts courses on a variety of subjects run by local experts. You can take a class to learn how to sketch or go on a historical field trip to a place of historical significance and learn from a Professor of History. There is a travel club where members share insights and tips and even Over Eaters Anonymous.

If you cannot find the group you are looking for, you are welcome to start your own. If you contact the Chiang Mai Expats Club, they will even help you advertise for like-minded people.

Everyday Stuff…Just Like Back Home.

Even though Chiang Mai provides such a lovely and affordable lifestyle, it also has some similarities to home. There are big shopping complexes where you can do your grocery shopping, you know, for the stuff you cannot buy at the local market.

The bakery will have sourdough bread and a lot of other bits and pieces you may miss about home.

Most shopping centres even have a movie theatre and it only costs $4 on Wednesday nights.

Sometimes expats are happy just to potter around their homes, read, watch a good flick on TV or get into their gardens. The real estate in Chiang Mai is pretty fantastic and ‘home’ can provide all the comforts reminiscent of pre-expat days.

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