I sipped my tiny, overpriced water bottle, absently wondering if I could make it last for the entire flight to Chiang Mai, since I had no intention of paying for another one. It occurred to me that this move to Chiang Mai felt completely different from our previous relocations. Up until now, Brent and I had always had someone to guide us around our new overseas homes: In Europe, it was our host families, and more recently in Asia, it had been our employers and co-workers. This time there would be no reassuring airport pick-up, no familiarizing orientation session, and no translators to help us get settled. There would be no one to show us where to get the best deals on food, the fastest coffee service, or the hoppiest beer in the coolest setting. For the first time in several years, we were also on our own when it came to finding a place to live for the next few months.
Before leaving Japan, I spent a few days planning out our apartment hunt in Chiang Mai. We’re far from being the first travelers to use this Northern Thai city as a temporary home base, so researching how to find an apartment in Chiang Mai was easy. All the advice I read online basically boiled down to: Grab a guesthouse for a few days and get a realtor to show you some places. As someone who has never owned a home and has always found my own apartments (or had them provided for me in the case of a few jobs), I was really unsure how the whole realtor thing worked. As it turns out, realtors make a commission when they successfully rent or sell a property, so as potential renters, we didn’t have to pay anything to be chauffeured around Chiang Mai to look at apartments. Not bad, right? Am I the only one who didn’t know this before? Anyway…
I emailed some real estate agencies a few days before we arrived in Chiang Mai, and told them what we were looking for: A one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, with a rent price less than 10,000 baht (about $350) per month for a short-term lease. You could easily find an apartment for less than $150/month in Chiang Mai, but we’ve done the window-less boxy bedroom, wet cockroach-infested bathroom thing, and we felt ready to pay more to live in a place that wouldn’t make our skin crawl. I used this amazingly helpful article from Neverending Voyage to narrow down which real estate agencies were worth contacting, including Chiang Mai Properties, Chiang Mai House, and an independent agent, Roberta Thitathan (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). I also joined a few Chiang Mai real estate Facebook groups, and messaged anyone who posted a place that looked interesting.
In terms of neighbourhoods, I was torn between the Old City and Nimmanhaemin Road. The Old City is where most travelers stay when they come to Chiang Mai – it’s packed with markets, restaurants, hostels, and other budget-traveler goodness. Nimmanhaemin Road (affectionately known as “Nimman”), on the other hand, is a trendy street near Chiang Mai University, swarming with coffee shops, quirky boutiques, and plenty of patio bars. In the end, we settled on Nimman, since there were more apartments available there, and it seemed like a more popular neighbourhood for longer-term residents, compared to the passing backpackers of the Old City.
We barely had time to drop our bags in our guesthouse before our first viewing appointment with Roberta. She not only showed a genuine interest in helping us find the right apartment, but also in helping us fall in love with Chiang Mai. As she drove us from one viewing to another, she pointed out which restaurants offered specials on particular days, where to catch free documentaries, and which coffeehouses had the actual coffee chops to back up their funky decor. We ended up cancelling our appointments with the other realtors because we trusted Roberta to find the right place for us.
Initially, our search turned up a mixture of drab (and high-priced) studio apartments near Nimman and passable 1-bedrooms in the middle of nowhere. After a few days of searching, Brent and I started to talk about the pros and cons of settling for an ugly apartment near Nimman versus one of nicer ones on the outskirts of the city.
On our third day of hunting, we pulled up to yet another rundown apartment building off Nimman. The neon lights in the hall were flickering weakly and the wood paneling around the reception area was rotting; but for some reason my hopes remained inexplicably high. We climbed a crumbling staircase and unlocked the door to apartment 224. It was like stepping into an oasis: Sweet and simple furnishings, an adorable kitchen, a big soft bed, and a renovated Western-style bathroom. It immediately felt like home. At 12,000 baht (about $400) per month, it’s a little more than we were hoping to pay, but we felt completely certain about our choice. Welcome to our new home for the summer.
What do you think?
Have you ever rented an apartment in another country? Share your experiences!