The Top 7 Expat Activities in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Living in the tropics is a dream for many, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, is still a popular destination for those seeking a year-round hot climate, along with a low cost of living.

Although far from any white sandy beaches, Chiang Mai still has plenty of activities to keep you busy, both in the city and the surrounding countryside. Here are a few of the popular activities that you can enjoy while living in this tropical paradise.

1. Eat Out

Thailand has long been known as a home for incredible cuisine, with its huge number of local eateries, as well as a host of international restaurants featuring well-known dishes from around the world. In Chiang Mai, there are enough restaurants and street vendors to keep you busy for a lifetime. Whether you are in the mood for local Thai cuisine, or looking for something closer to home, you will never be stuck for somewhere to go in Chiang Mai.

2. Shop in the Markets

Chiang Mai is home to several well-known weekly and daily markets that are shopping magnets for everybody living in the city. Residents soon learn which ones are tourist oriented and which have the best supply of inexpensive items for locals. For many expats, shopping at the markets is a daily event. They are usually the best places to find fresh produce, fish, and meats at inexpensive prices. They are also great spots to practice speaking Thai as you have fun bargaining with the friendly vendors!

3. Join a Club

There is no shortage of expats in Chiang Mai, over 30,000 at last count, and they get together on a regular basis. The Chiang Mai Expats Club has monthly meetings, featuring interesting guest speakers…and anyone can attend. There are also bi-weekly breakfast get-togethers at one of the local restaurants, where dozens of expats gather to enjoy a great selection of food and catch up on the latest Chiang Mai gossip.

More than 20 special interest groups are informally connected to the Chiang Mai Expats Club. These clubs offer opportunities for people to meet and explore their common interests with other expats. All are welcome to join, even those who are not part of the CEC. They meet weekly and represent a diverse selection of interests from bridge, to hiking, computers, and writing. You can find the complete list of clubs here.

4. Learn the Language

Living in a foreign land becomes much more interesting when you can communicate with the locals. In Chiang Mai, many expats take advantage of the large number of Thai language schools throughout the city. Getting an Education Visa and attending Thai classes is also another way expats can be granted permission to stay in the country for an extended period of time. More dedicated students can enroll in full-time courses at one of the many universities in town, but most expats opt for one of the private language schools that are located around the city. Here they can improve their language skills, learn about local culture, and meet other like-minded expats.

5. See Some Live Music

Chiang Mai has a vibrant music scene, and expats are thronging to the many venues around the city to enjoy the myriad of styles that can be heard every night.

Thirty years after it first opened, The Riverside is still providing great entertainment to residents. Regarded as a pioneer of live music in Chiang Mai, it is now joined by a host of other exciting venues such as the North Gate Jazz Club, Thapae East, Gossip Gallery, Roadhouse, and others.

One of my personal favorites is the Boy Blues Bar that is located near the Night Bazaar and Kalare Night Market. Every night the rhythmic sound of the blues is provided by a host of talented musicians, including the owner.

6. Take a Hike

Many tourists passing through Chiang Mai never manage to get outside the historic center of the city. But resident expats know that the best part of Northern Thailand is in the nearby countryside. The Chiang Mai Hiking Group meets every Sunday for organized hikes which vary in length and difficulty, and they are open to everyone.

Those who don’t want to be part of an organized event can head out on their own to the various walking trails close by—some within walking distance of the city center. And nearby Doi Suthep and Doi Inthanon National Parks offer a good variety of interesting trails for the more adventurous hiker.

7. Become a Volunteer

Whether you are retiring full-time in Chiang Mai or just visiting for a few months, many expats find a way to use their skills in one of the many volunteer organizations in the city or in surrounding villages and towns.

Some volunteer on a daily basis, while others just set aside a few hours a week. There is no shortage of groups looking for help, and most expats can find something that suits their skills and interests. You can find a list of the NGOs and not-for-profits in and around Chiang Mai here.