Our New Apartment in Chiang Mai

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.

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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: robertametta@gmail.com). I also joined a few Chiang Mai real estate Facebook groups, and messaged anyone who posted a place that looked interesting.

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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?

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Our board of love: Notes from our friends and former students

 

Have you ever rented an apartment in another country? Share your experiences!

 

27 Responses to Our New Apartment in Chiang Mai

  1. Rika April 22, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    Awesome! This is so much nicer than the $400 apartment I rented here (http://www.cubiclethrowdown.com/2014/03/roatan-rent-what-400month-gets-you.html) Hope you guys love Chiang Mai – it sounds like a hotbed for long term travelers and expats!
    My recent post Roatan Review: West Bay Lodge

    • waysofwanderers April 22, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

      I thought your apartment was pretty cute too – at least yours had a full kitchen, which is so tough to find in Asia (if you're looking for a budget place). Then again, fruit and vegetables are so expensive here, it's much cheaper to eat out anywhere.

  2. Vanessa April 22, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    What a fun and new experience getting your own apartment in a new country! I had no idea about realtors, as I’ve never used them myself. The pictures of your place are so quaint! Do you guys have a kitchen?

    • waysofwanderers April 22, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

      We do – it's quite small, though. It didn't come with burners, but our landlord is going to reimburse us when we buy a hotplate, which is cool. Although street food is so cheap here, we haven't been motivated to really cook yet.

  3. @livedreamdiscov April 22, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    This is an exciting post for me as we are contemplating Chiang Mai as our next short term home starting in Sept. I would love to chat with you some more about why you chose this destination._We have been living in Mexico for the past seven months and have rented apartments a couple of times and although we started out searching ourselves we eventually ended up using realtors both times. I think you sometimes pay a little more to cover their commission but it's usually worth it as they open the door to places you may not find on your own http://www.livedreamdiscover.com/how-to-find-a-re

    My recent post Feeling Beat Up And Screwed Over On Good Friday-Anyone See The Irony There?

    • waysofwanderers April 22, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

      Cool – shoot me an email if you have any questions. We've actually talked about renting a place in Mexico at some point, so I might have some questions for you too! :)

  4. Steph (@20YH) April 22, 2014 at 11:51 pm #

    Love the new digs, Jess! Looks cozy & bright and I can definitely see why it felt like home for you guys. House hunting can be so exhausting and stressful, but it looks like you definitely hit the jackpot in Chiang Mai. A great place to kick off your new lifestyle!
    My recent post Learning to Let Go in Vang Vieng

    • waysofwanderers April 23, 2014 at 1:54 am #

      Thanks! I'm definitely glad we hung in there and didn't settle for one of the first places we saw. This place has so many little personal touches and decorations that make it feel like a welcoming environment.

  5. Sherrie April 23, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    Love the new place, Jess! It looks like a great place to relax and unwind after exploring your new surroundings! I'm taking notes!

    • waysofwanderers April 23, 2014 at 10:49 pm #

      It really is! I love that our couch is so long and comfortable – it's perfect for chilling out and reading or watching movies.

  6. Mandie April 23, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    Wow – that's really cute! I'll definitely be saving this post, as the possibility of living in Chiang Mai next year is becoming stronger for me. I look forward to reading about how you are enjoying the city & your new home! :)
    My recent post 100 Happy Days: An Adventure Challenge

    • waysofwanderers April 23, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

      It's really an amazing city. They have so many cool ideas that cater to digital nomads/entrepreneurs etc. – like co-working spaces. How awesome it that?

  7. ferretingoutthefun April 23, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    Love it! I'm with you, I will gladly pay a little extra for something that's clean and comfortable and feels like home. Our apartments are usually provided through my husband's job, but we never know what we're going to get until we arrive and someone hands us the keys. So far it's been only pleasant surprises, but I still hold my breath with each move :-)
    My recent post The Big Reveal: We’re Moving to LATVIA!

    • waysofwanderers April 23, 2014 at 11:44 pm #

      I've had similar experiences with some of our teaching jobs. It's so weird arriving in a completely new country and having someone take you to a random house, and be like "Ok, so you live here now".

  8. midlifewanderlust1965 April 23, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Good luck in your new apartment. How long will you be in Chiang Mai?

    • waysofwanderers April 23, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

      Thanks! I think we'll be staying for about 5 or 6 months.

  9. itstartedinasia April 23, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

    Looks pretty sweet to me, and the bathroom is nice too, which is a bonus. A friend of ours is considering a move to Chiang Mai, so will certainly pass on this post to him for guidance. Looking forward to reading your updates from this beautiful part of Thailand.
    My recent post WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE: On Top

    • waysofwanderers April 23, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

      Yeah – I was so serious about having a nice bathroom because there are some horrifying ones in Thailand. I can handle it for a day or two at a hostel, but not as an everyday thing.

  10. cvail April 24, 2014 at 2:23 am #

    Enjoy your apartment for the summer! We have to start house-hunting as well as we move to a new place in Germany in a couple of months!

  11. Beth April 26, 2014 at 4:29 am #

    Your new apartment looks lovely! Really sorry we never got to meet up; we were only in Chiang Mai for less than 3 days and our internet at the hotel was broken :(

    Hopefully we can meet up soon though! How long are you thinking you'll stay in CM? We want to head back soon :)
    My recent post Foto Friday: World Penguin Day

    • waysofwanderers April 26, 2014 at 7:29 am #

      No worries! It was kind of a busy time with Songkran and everything. We'll be here until at least September (maybe October), so if you come back over the summer, we'll definitely get together.

  12. Margie April 28, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Great post! I agree, it's nice to set up base camp somewhere and actually have a nice place to come back to each night. Your apartment looks great!

  13. Lauren May 2, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    Your apartment is super cute! It looks amazing! I'm glad you were able to find such a fantastic place and it didn't seem like too difficult of a process!
    My recent post Travel Blogger Thursday: Ewa of Post Travel Thoughts

  14. TammyOnTheMove May 3, 2014 at 10:40 pm #

    Love it. What a cute place. So glad you found a nice place to settle into your chapter of life.
    My recent post Can you learn Spanish in 9 months?

  15. Rachel May 15, 2014 at 7:53 am #

    Nobody I know has used a real estate broker for Chiang Mai. You end up paying far more for rent than you would if you looked for places by yourself. Where do you think the commission for the broker comes from? Your increased rent.

    I pay 10,000 in Bangkok for an apartment twice the size of this, and one that's a couple of minutes from the sky train and within walking distance of three major malls. Cute, but extremely expensive for Chiang Mai. I have friends living in much nicer place for 2,000 to 3,000 a month less rent. But, they didn't use real estate brokers.

    • waysofwanderers May 15, 2014 at 8:15 am #

      Congrats on your big apartment in Bangkok. I wouldn't know about the average rent prices there, since I was only focused on Chiang Mai.

      You're right about the broker fee, but I also did some independent searching online and the prices I found were pretty comparable to this one. Our real estate agent actually negotiated for some extra utilities and upgrades to be included in our monthly rent, which wouldn't have happened if we had searched alone.

      And I'm sure some of your friends do pay less for bigger and equally nice apartments in Chiang Mai, but I'll bet they're also living quite far away from the city center. That's fine for some, but we were willing to pay more to be in a busy neighbourhood. They likely also don't have kitchens, which again was an important factor for us.

  16. Perfect Rental Home May 26, 2014 at 5:46 am #

    What a wonderful apartment Jessica…

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