Chiang Mai, and all of Thailand for that matter, is an excellent country to dip your toes in the Digital Nomad scene or save money while growing your business if you’re a seasoned veteran of the remote lifestyle.
Flying across the world where you don’t speak the language will be the least of your struggles because these fears every Digital Nomad has in Chiang Mai are so much scarier. The struggle is real y’all, but experiencing Thailand is so worth it.
Getting Ran Over by a Motorbike
Traffic laws in Thailand are laughable at best. Motorbikes dominate and pedestrians and cars get second priority on the roads. Remember your grade school lessons and look both ways before cross the street because, well, a motorbike could easily come out of nowhere and mow you over.
Forgetting Your Umbrella
Umbrellas are a funny thing when you’re a nomad in Thailand. You’ll see locals walking around town holding an umbrella on a perfectly sunny day, but when it’s raining, they’re nowhere to be found. Thai rains are hard, fast, and sticky. During rainy season, you better keep a small, foldable umbrella in your bag with you at all times because it’s better to be prepared than drenched outside waiting for a songtaew.
Similar to #2, but Moonsoon Season has the potential to ruin your whole trip. The summer months are particularly wet, which is why aside from burning season, most tourists don’t come to Thailand during these months. Monsoon season can vary in severeness depending on where you are in Thailand – near the ocean, inland, the mountains or low sea level.
You can’t find a songtaew
Speaking of songtaews… This is a true problem in cities like Chiang Mai where there is no central public transportation system, unlike Bangkok. Thankfully, just recently, Uber has launched throughout Thailand and you have a little more options if songtaews don’t run in your neighborhood. Or, rent a motorbike for convenience.
There are No Seats Left at the Café
Ahhh, a real Digital Nomad dilemma. One of my favorite spots to work in Chiang Mai was Wake Up Coffee on Nimman. This place was incredible – 3 floors of workspace, but even with 3 floors, it was always packed. As Thailand becomes a must-visit destination for remote workers, your favorite cafe becomes vulnerable to this very inconvenient issue.
Those Feet-Eating Fish Tanks
Eeeeek! These things are SO freaky. Because the fish tanks infamously began in Thailand, I just had to try these suckers out. These spas (some more sketchy than others) are dotted across many cities in the country so you’ll never have trouble finding one in a pinch. I faced my fear at the Night Market in Chiang Mai, although I didn’t last a full 30 minutes. It felt so tickly and strange – but I emerged with smoother feet than before!
Your Songtaew Driver Has No Clue Where You’re Going
This isn’t so much a “fear” as it is a common occurance that you just have to embrace. Most drivers speak a little bit of English, which is so helpful and I was so appreciative. But even without a language barrier, you may find yourself in a red truck with a driver unfamiliar with some parts of the city. A good tip is to screenshot the address in Thai using Google Translate, and have the destination pulled up on your phone maps app for the driver to zoom in and see what’s nearby.
Two words: Unfiltered Water
Honest to God, this is a legitimate factor that you need to be cautious of. Drinking tap water in Thailand is potentially lethal and can make you extremely sick in some cases. Keep a refillable bottle on you and fill up at water stations around town for about 5 baht. You can also purchase gallons of water at any 7-11 and if you must drink water from the tap, always be sure to boil it fully.
You’re Out of Mango Sticky Rice?!
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE OUT OF MANGO STICKY RICE????”
If you have asthma or sensitive breathing, be cautious of burning season in Thailand which lasts from around December to March, particularly in Northern Thailand in the mountains where there isn’t much air flow. Try to plan your visit accordingly around these months. You’ll also notice that burning season affects tourist events and activities and there won’t be as much excitement or fellow tourists around, which is important if you like to meet travelers or partake in local celebrations.
Luckily, I only experienced the bucket toilet in the rural mountains of Pai in Northern Thailand. But these facilities are also prevalent in many of the small beach communities in the southern part of the country.
Thailand is actually infamous for their many variations of waste plumbing. The 2 most confusing and unsavory versions, at least to this American, is the squatty toilet and the bucket toilet. These aren’t scientific names by any means, but it acurately describes them both.
-Squatty Toilet: Basically, it can be as basic has a literal hole in the ground, or a ceramic comode built onto the floor. Either way, you better have some limber leg muscles because you’ll be squatting to get the job done.
-Bucket Toilet: There are no flushing valves on these bad boys, which is why I always referred to them as the “bucket toilets.” Instead, next to the toilet or hole, there is a large bucket filled with water and a ladle. When you’re finished doing your business, you use the ladle and pour water into the hole, manually moving the… ahem, contents… down the plumbing.
Oh yeah, if you’re using one of these toilets, there’s a high chance there’s no toilet paper because eastern plumbing can’t handle paper and it will clog easily. Shake and bake, baby.
You Actually Need a Prescription at the Pharmacy
Pharmaceuticals in Thailand are exceptionally surprising to westerners because you don’t need a prescription for a lot of medicines that you would need in your home country – with some exceptions. Many heart medications or antibiotics or birth control pills are available over the counter in Thailand, and often at extreme discounts than you would find in the U.S. But just in case, bring your prescription paper with you to Thailand to show the Chemist of Pharmacist on duty if there are any questions. They made just need to look up the generic drug in stock.
In some cases, you’ll be surprised at what pills you actually have to have a prescription filled at the hospital by a doctor, such as Schedule II drugs like Ritalin. Be sure to read what restricted medicines are illegal in Thailand (like Adderall) to avoid any legal trouble.
Attack of the Ants
Hooooo boy if you don’t like ants, do not go to Thailand. No matter how nice your residence or hotel is, you’re gonna have ants knocking down your door if you leave crumbs anywhere.
Rabies is a fairly big issue in Thailand and as much as it pained me to see, stray dogs are everywhere on the streets. These stray dogs can be covered in ticks and disease aside from Rabies and as much as you want to pet the adorable dogs who walk with you down the road, please resist.
Did I miss anything? What other things would you caution other Digital Nomads who are thinking about spending time in Chiang Mai? Let me know in the comments!