One of the most popular requests I get from readers of JetSetCitizen is for apartment recommendations in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In most cities around the world, it’s difficult and expensive to find decent accommodations in trendy areas. Fortunately, Chiang Mai is not like most places. It’s, by far, one of the easiest and cheapest places to rent accommodations in the world. Even in the busy winter season, there are always apartments available. Although, you’ll have better choices if you can arrive before October. Here is my guide to renting a great apartment in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Apartments are Not What You Think
If you haven’t been to Thailand before, I’m sure your idea of what it’s going to be like to rent an apartment here is going to be highly skewed. Your experiences renting apartments in your home country and most other travel destinations are nothing like what you’ll experience in Thailand.
There are no income checks, no reference requirements, and few long-term lease requirements. In many places, you can rent for as little as a day. Of course, the longer you rent, the better deal you will get.
One of the most difficult things to imagine about Chiang Mai is that there are literally apartment rentals on every street in the city. I think this is partly because Chiang Mai is a university town with a large student population, but it’s also because of the large expat and digital nomad community. Add in Thailand’s massive tourism industry and the number of Thai’s that escape north to Chiang Mai all combine to create huge demand, and therefore supply, of all types of guest houses, hostels, hotels and apartments for short and long-term stays. From a tiny one room studio to luxury homes in gated communities with swimming pools, maids and private gardeners, Chiang Mai has it all. The recent influx of Chinese travellers and condo buyers is likely to put some pressure on finding apartments in future years, but for now, you will find an apartment here at whatever budget and quality you want. This high demand for apartments and condos means that there are always hundreds of more residential complexes in construction at any given time. If you return to Chiang Mai on a regular basis, you’ll see the drastic changes to architectural landscape every visit.
Are Apartments in Chiang Mai Really That Cheap?
Yes, Thailand is a very inexpensive country, and the apartment prices reflect that. It’s possible to rent apartments for as little as US$100 per month. Yes, per month. They are very basic and small student apartments in older buildings, but they are available and I’ve met many foreigners who have rented at that price point. The rent is less than $200 per month in the building my family has stayed in in recent years. That is for a short term rental. On a one year lease, tenants pay less than $150 in the same building. Of course, I know people that are willing to pay US$1000 or more for western style kitchens and larger houses.
If you arrive in busy season (mid-November to February), only stay a short time, want to be in a prime location or are very picky in the amenities you want, you will likely have to pay more money. US$100 is for a very simple, Thai-style, one-room studio. You won’t have a view. Your balcony will be tiny and usually reserved for a sink and laundry. You won’t have a full kitchen, maybe only a small fridge and a kettle. However, with inexpensive meals and the great weather in Chiang Mai, most people only use their rooms for sleeping anyway. Very few people cook in their rooms because you can eat out for as little as $1 per meal, although $2 to $5 is more palatable. This is a very basic room and won’t be sufficient for most westerners, but if you’re on a tight budget, it is possible to live very cheaply.
The least expensive apartment my wife and I stayed at was about US$150 per month. We’ve rented a house in the past for approximately US$350. That is about the most expensive we’ve ever paid, although, it is possible to pay much more, particularly if you want a western style kitchen or luxuries like a swimming pool and large yard.
In general, US$100 per month is the lowest you can pay, but you’ll need to make more sacrifices. There are really nice places in the US$800 to $1000 range, including beautiful houses. A reasonable budget for a clean, nice studio is $200 to $400 and you can get a decent one-bedroom for US$300 to $600 per month.
Double Check What is Included with Your Apartment
Some apartment owners have different ways to extract money out of tenants including sheet rental fees, internet access charges per device, excessive water and electricity charges, high cleaning fees, etc. Nothing is going to be prohibitively expensive, but make sure you ask all the right questions so you understand what your total costs will be.
Once a week cleaning fees are sometimes included in more expensive apartments, but you’ll usually have to pay about US$10 to $15 for each cleaning of a studio or one-bedroom apartment. This will often include changing sheets and towels. We’ve had a maid clean an entire house for about US$12 including laundry. If you are going to stay longer term in Thailand, independent cleaners are not difficult to find if you make some local Thai friends.
Most apartments have wifi these days, but some charge US$10 to US$15 for access. I recently found one apartment that is trying to charge $10 for each device. It was a nice, big, new apartment in our favourite area of Chiang Mai but paying $10 each for our 5 devices seemed excessive.
Most internet connections are acceptable for light work, but the only way you are going to get faster speeds is to rent a place for a year and get your own dedicated fibre optic connection. Everything else is going to be shared and even the best, shared connections are susceptible to what your neighbours are doing. Just one person watching videos on a shared connection can kill your internet bandwidth. Some apartments definitely invest more in internet infrastructure so do a speed test before you agree to rent.
I don’t know what it is about bedding, but many places still charge a US$15 to $40 per month fee to rent your bedding (sheets, pillows, and blanket) and might have an extra $4 to $8 charge to wash each time. We haven’t been charged this in recent years, but we definitely paid in the past. Some places let you buy your own sheets to save this money, however, we found it difficult to buy affordable, quality, double-sized, sheets here. They must be available, we just couldn’t find any, so we paid the rental charge.
Television is commonly included, but some places still charge up to about $10. We don’t watch TV so I don’t know much of these charges.
Water and Electricity
You will almost always have to pay metered charges for the water and electricity you use. Some landlords charge a surplus fee to profit from these charges, but if you don’t overuse your air conditioner it’s not likely going to be more than $30 or $40 per month. It’s usually about $20 per month for us.
Chiang Mai tap water is supposed to be relatively safe, but I wouldn’t say it’s drinkable. It’s probably okay to brush your teeth and wash with it, my wife and I always have, but for drinking, you should always buy bottled water. You can get water delivered for as little as US$0.05 a litre if you order a case or maybe US$0.20 if you buy it at convenience stores. Still very cheap.
There are reverse osmosis machines that refill water containers for about $0.02 cents a litre, but I don’t trust them very much. The quality of water is only as good as the maintenance and cleaning of the machine, and that I don’t trust at all. Before our baby, we used the reverse osmosis machines extensively and never got sick, but with a young child, we buy bottled water.
Overall, you will rarely spend more than US$100 on cleaning, utilities, internet and other incidentals in a one-room, monthly apartment. Our recent bills have been closer to $50. In a rented house, it will be about three times that amount with the internet making up a third or more of the costs.
“I Searched Online but Couldn’t Find Many Cheap Apartments”
Trying to rent an apartment in advance before you arrive in the country can be more challenging. There are plenty of listings on AirBnB, but they will naturally be more expensive.
The apartments that have English websites and are actively marketing their apartments to an international audience will be more expensive. That should be expected. Anything that is easy to find online will have lots of interest and competition. The real gems are more difficult to locate and are discovered by exploring the city.
Most apartments don’t have websites and must be booked in person. You will need to leave a deposit to book the room and it can be difficult to communicate with the landlords or staff over email or telephone.
I always caution against committing to a rental property before you see it. You’ll never know if there is a loud bar nearby, photos can be old and hide the quality, and you won’t know the speed of the internet until you test it. It is much better to visit in advance.
AirBnB Chiang Mai Rentals
I’m sure it’s no surprise that AirBnB is exploding around the world, including in Chiang Mai. You can visit the site and pre-book an apartment for as long as you need. While that works perfectly well, expect to pay a lot more money for a comparable rental.
If you are very risk averse and don’t want to waste time searching for an apartment on arrival, then AirBnB can be a good choice. Personally, I found the selection limited and very pricey. Recently, I did find one apartment on the site that I almost booked in advance. However, the photos hid the fact that there was no kitchen and the room was ultra small.
AirBnB is the best site for rentals in some cities, but I don’t think the selection available in Chiang Mai is where it needs to be yet. I’m sure AirBnB will continue to gain in popularity and the increased competition will put more pressure on prices. However, don’t take my word for it. Search Chiang Mai rentals on AirBnB to see what you can find.
Chiang Mai Real Estate Agents
I’ve tried using real estate agents a couple of times in Chiang Mai but didn’t have much luck. Agents need to earn a commission, so the properties they show are generally more expensive and are in the larger buildings. With that said, others have had more success with agents. Here are some sites that might help:
- Chiang Mai Open Realty
- Perfect Homes
- Buy Rent Chiang Mai
- Realtor Chiang Mai
- Chiang Mai Properties
“Where Should I Stay in Chiang Mai?”
When people ask me to recommend an apartment, I usually respond with “Where do you want to stay?” The area of Chiang Mai you choose to stay in depends on what you are looking for. A great apartment in an area you don’t like is probably not going to be enjoyable. With beautiful weather, inexpensive restaurants and endless internet cafes, most don’t spend much time in their rooms anyway. Pick a great area first and you’ll save yourself a lot of commuting time.
Start with a Guest House
If you are going to be in Chiang Mai for more than a few weeks, I highly recommend staying in a guest house for a few days first to explore the city and visit apartments you like. Guest houses or hotels can be easily found for $10 to $50 per night and are easily booked online. Agoda.com and Booking.com are my two favourite sites for hotel bookings.
You can just show up and find a place, but that can be stressful after a long journey. It’s much easier if you have your first few nights of accommodations settled before you arrive. It’s always nice to have a place to put your things and sleep before venturing out on the apartment hunt.
One of the key benefits of guest houses is that they are usually in more touristic areas of the city so you’ll be able to get restaurant, apartment and sightseeing advice and recommendations from staff and other guests.
After you Arrive in Chiang Mai
Now that you have your first couple of days of accommodations sorted, start thinking about what type of area you want to be in.
Do you want to be:
- in the trendy area with lots of bars?
- in a backpacker section of town?
- in a quiet gated community?
- outside the city?
- inside the Old City in the center of town?
- near the Night Bazaar area?
- near the mountain for hiking?
All have their merits, but I always recommend starting with the location before choosing an apartment. For me, location is everything. I’m willing to sacrifice the quality of apartment or pay more money to be in my favourite area. The only way you’ll really get a feel for each area is to visit in-person unless you really trust the judgement of the person you are asking.
For your first couple of days in Chiang Mai, explore the city and find the area you like most. Once you decide where you like best, start visiting apartments in the area. Most apartments will have a reception on the main floor with English speaking staff that can show you rooms.
For privately owned condo rentals, you’ll have to rent directly from the owner or through a real estate agent. There is often a notice board in the lobby of larger buildings with listings of available condos.
Will you Rent a Motorcycle?
If you plan on renting a motorcycle, the area you choose will be less restrictive. My wife and I walk or cycle everywhere so we want to be in a central location. If you have a motorcycle, you can explore much more of the city.
Motorcycles can be rented for as little as $100 per month. However, traffic in Chiang Mai is crazy. I’ve witnessed numerous motorcycle accidents and had my own crash many years ago on my first experience riding the hilly roads of Koh Pha Ngan. With that said, it’s very easy and inexpensive to rent a motorcycle here, and most foreigners do. Many families even ride motorcycles with children. That is something I would never do.
Orientation of Chiang Mai
The Old City
The Old City is in the centre of Chiang Mai and is demarcated by the square road visible in the center of the Google Map image below. The Old City is surrounded by a 700-year-old moat and it still has sections of the wall that once protected the city. (You can learn about the history of Chiang Mai on Wikipedia.) The famous Sunday Walking Street, Thapae Gate (The East gate of the Old City), Three Kings Monument, many guest houses, restaurants and other attractions are all in the Old City. This is where most short-term travellers to Chiang Mai spend their time.
Google Maps and Google Street View, in particular, are a great way to get a feel of the city and each area. Take some time and browse around.
While the old city walls and canal are quite beautiful, they exacerbate the already horrific traffic problems. Traffic flows in only one direction around the moat, so drivers are forced to make U-turns and drive longer distances to get anywhere. There are only two pedestrian crossings with a pedestrian crosswalk, so getting into and out of the old city on foot, is always an adventure trying to squeeze through moving vehicles that have little regard for traffic conventions.
The primary problem is the terrible levels of pollution on the main roads around the Old City. If you are crossing in and out of the Old City on a regular basis or are driving a motorcycle, you’ll quickly notice the pollution in your throat and nose. My family tries to limit our exposure to those roads to about once a week.
East Old City (Thapae Gate)
The main eastern gate is called Thapae Gate and is the most popular area for tourists. This is where many of Chiang Mai’s festivals and outdoor events are held and it is the centre of tourism in the city. You’ll also find McDonald’s, BurgerKing, Starbucks and the main foreigner-focused businesses here. If your idea of a vacation is eating American food with thousands of other tourists, this is the place for you.
Thapae Gate is also the start of the famous Sunday Night Walk Street market that takes place every week. You’ll definitely visit here a few times during your stay.
There are countless hotels and guest houses in the area so it might be a good place to spend your first few days in the city, but if you are going to stay for any longer period of time, you’ll probably want to rent elsewhere.
The Old City is full of old tiny roads with countless guest houses and boutique hotels. It’s an amazing place to explore with many great restaurants, temples, and other attractions. You can walk across the Old city in about 15 minutes, so it is not that large, but it’ll take months to explore all the side streets and quaint restaurants and shops.
The east side near Thapae Gate is heavily focused towards short-term tourists, but once you get out of that area you’ll find many quiet and friendlier places to stay and eat.
West Old City
The west side of the Old City is a little quieter, although still very touristy. Some of my favourite restaurants are in this area including Bird’s Nest Cafe and Good Morning Chiang Mai. There are many hostels and guest houses off of the main streets that are nicely insulated from the busyness of the East side.
South Old City
Just outside the Main South Gate of the Old City is the Saturday Night Walking Street. There has been a lot of new development in this area. You’ll find the popular Smith Residence about a 5-minute walk outside of the South Gate.
North Old City (Chang Phuak)
Chang Phuak, the North Gate, is my favourite part of the old city because of the great music at the North Gate Jazz Co-op. There are many guest houses in this area as well, both inside and outside the Old City. The area North of the North Gate, closer to Ratchapat University has many inexpensive apartments. This area is great if you don’t mind being a little out of the trendy areas and rent a motorcycle or bicycle to get around.
Nimmanhaemen is a road that extends from the circle highway towards the airport. It has become one of the trendiest areas of Chiang Mai. It is full of bars, restaurants, cafes, shops, hotels and guest houses. MAYA shopping center was completed here a few years ago
While there are still many cheaper accommodations to be found, this area is more luxury focused. The newer apartments all tend to be high-end and expensive for Chiang Mai, but you can still find some good deals, particular, on the west side of Nimmanhaemen Road. Hillside Plaza 3 comes to mind.
One big problem with Nimmanhaemen is that it is right under the flight path from the airport. Planes will be taking off right above your apartment until late in the evening. I love watching the planes here, but I’d hate to have a high apartment west of Nimmanhaemen Road.
Kad Suan Kaew (North West Corner of the Old City)
Kad Suan Kaew is the old, dilapidated, original shopping mall of Chiang Mai. It has a movie theater, bowling alley, fitness club, supermarket, many restaurants and decent stores. Although the building is old, I think this is one of the best areas of Chiang Mai. It’s close to both the Old City, Nimmanhaemen and is minutes away from my favourite area called Santitham. Kad Suan Kaew is right on Huay Kaew Road which connects to the Northern wall of the Old City if you are travelling east. When travelling west on Huay Kaew, you’ll go past MAYA shopping mall on your right, Nimmanhaemen on your left, and later Chiang Mai University, the Chiang Mai Zoo and the road to Doi Suthep.
Huay Kaew Residence, right next to Kad Suan Kaew shopping mall, is in a great location, but it is a bit run down. I’ve heard that some of the rooms have been renovated, but I think most are starting to show their age.
We stayed in Varada Place, just north of Kad Suan Kaew. It was small and simple, but clean and safe. The new restaurants across the street, can make it a little noisy at times, but it’s good budget accommodation.
Night Bazaar Area
The Night Bazaar is a good place to go for restaurants and shopping in the evening. Boy Blues Bar in the Kalare Night Bazaar is a great live music venue that I love going to. There are countless hotels and guest houses in this area. It’s very close to the river with many high-end restaurants and shops. While many of the apartment buildings and guest houses are older, you get more for you money than the new buildings in areas like Nimmanhaemen. Simon and Erin from NeverEndingVoyage.com and Jean and Alyona from AlyonaTravels.com found beautiful apartments in this area at Twin Peaks.
While the Night Bazaar offers some great apartment choices, I’m personally not a big fan of the area. It’s close to Loi Kroh Road the main area for girly bars and is one of the seediest areas of Chiang Mai. This area is popular for the sexpats and their young rented girl friends. This is the ugly side of Chiang Mai, that I prefer to avoid. In the words of the GlobeTrotterGirls.com, “the apartment building where we spent our first month seemed to be mostly inhabited by old, single Western guys and the number of young Thai girls we’d come across in the hallway or lobby was astonishing.”
Suthep Road, south of Chiang Mai University, has some great apartments as well. This is a popular area for students, so there are many inexpensive cafes and food stands. It is a great location if you like to hike up to Doi Suthep on a regular basis and Chiang Mai University has many cafes, inexpensive cafeterias and even green areas to enjoy. Explore some of the back roads in this area to find some nice, quiet apartments. If you rent a motorcycle, this area can be a good home base in Chiang Mai.
There are many gated communities with full houses for rent. My uncle rents a house for less than US$250 per month in Doi Saket, about 20km outside of Chiang Mai. I know others that pay $800 to $1200 per month for beautiful, western style, furnished homes 5 to 10km from the Old City. If you spend a lot of time at home and rent a motorcycle for transportation, renting a nice house might be an attractive option. Real estate agents and AirBnB are your best bets for finding homes to rent.
Santitham, North-West of the Old city is my favourite area to stay. It is off the backpacker, sexpat areas, so it is much more local. My favourite restaurant (Imm Aim) and cafe (Akha Ama) are both in Santitham. The old shopping mall, Kad Suan Kaew is less than 10 minutes away by bicycle and it’s still easy to get to the Old City and Nimmanhaemen. Another key benefit is that it’s only a 10-minute bike to the Sunday organic market at JJ Market. There is heavy pesticide use in Thailand, so we stock up on vegetables and fruit from the organic market every weekend.
Santitham is also home to our favourite apartment, Mata. We’ll be staying there again on our next visit. This is the only time I’ve ever shared the name of my favourite place. Mata is always booked well in advance for the winter season, but there are vacancies in summer. The rooms are small, but very clean and safe. The owner is awesome and many of the long term tenants are great as well. The rooms are a little small with a child, but we are going to stay there again just because we love the landlord and location.
My Chiang Mai Monthly Apartment List
These are all a list of the apartments I’ve either stayed at or considered staying at over the years. All are decent enough accommodations but vary in cost and quality. I strongly recommend visiting in-person prior to committing to a monthly rental.
Mata Apartment – My favourite place to stay. Inexpensive one room apartments in a quiet and very secure building with good internet access. Above one of the best cafes in the city and out of the way of the tourist areas.
View Doi Mansion – Just a couple blocks from Mata. Another great apartment. There are some great views from the higher floors, particularly on the West side. Located in Santitham, this area is popular with the experienced expats in Chiang Mai. Some of the best croissants in the city are at Nana cafe, only a couple blocks North of here.
Huay Kaew Residence – I personally think this is one of the best locations in Chiang Mai. It is right next to the Kad Suan Kaew shopping mall with Tops Supermarket in the basement. It is an older building with some older rooms in need of renovation, but rooms are slowly getting updated. It is between Nimmanhaemen and the Old city, so it is very easy to get everywhere.
Green Hill Place – This is a quiet building a little off the circle highway and only about a 10-minute walk to MAYA shopping mall. Rooms are US$300 and up, but they are spacious and clean. There is a nice pool in the complex, as well as, a new cafe that is great for working. When we stayed here the internet was lousy, but that was a few years ago. There are half a dozen new apartment buildings in this area now so walk around and check out the others before committing.
Varada Place Chiang Mai – It is close to Huay Kaew Residence but off of the busy road. It’s a clean building with a security guard at night. When we were leaving, the internet was being upgraded so hopefully it is much faster now. There is a new strip mall in front of the apartment with many restaurants popular with foreigners. It is also next door to the popular Small House Kafe bar. The apartments can be a little noisy and the area is very touristic, but that might appeal to some.
Chiang Mai Lodge – Just down the street from Varada Place, Chiang Mai Lodge is also in a great location. The rooms are clean and satisfactory. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s not terrible either.
Pansook The Urban – This new apartment building is also in the same area as Chiang Mai Lodge and Varada Place. The balconies are very small, but they are nice, modern apartments. You might also want to check across the street for privately owned apartments for rent in Nankornping. They have a nice sized swimming pool in that building.
The Dome – Located on a quiet street, not far from Kad Suan Kaew shopping mall, The Dome has mid-priced apartments. There are some great views if you can get on the West side.
Hillside 4 – Located in between Kad Suan Kaew and Nimmanhaemen, this large, older apartment complex usually has many condos for rent by owners. Some of the apartments might be a little dated, but have balconies with nice views to the West and South. You’ll find available condos by visiting in-person, contacting a real estate agent and possibly on AirBnB.
Hillside 3 – Just off of Nimmanhaemen Road, this is also an older complex with many inexpensive apartments for rent.
The Bliss – Just up the road from MAYA shopping mall and Nimmanhaemen Road. The Bliss is becoming popular for Chinese tourists.
Smith Residence – Located just South of the Old City, this apartment building is very close to the Saturday Night Walking Street. Once popular with digital nomads, Smith seems to be attracting an older expat community now.
Puripiman – These apartments are North of the Old city in an area not frequented by tourists. One of our favourite restaurants, Salad Terrace is in Puripan so we come here regularly. It is also close to the organic Sunday market at JJ Market.
SD Condo – Another good choice that I considered is SD Condo close to Thanan Market North of the Old City. This new building has very spacious rooms and great views from the higher floors. They wanted to charge per device internet charges, so that was a deal breaker for us. However, it is still a great choice.
Nara Apartments – Located on a quiet street in Santitham, North West of the Old City and close to the YMCA. These apartments are in a good location, but seem to fill up quickly in the winter.
There are literally hundreds of more apartments, condos and houses for rent around the city and more are built every year. This list only includes the main apartments I have experience with. All would be satisfactory for a short stay and all have one-room apartments for under US$400 per month. Take your time and check out each for yourself. Make sure you choose the area you want to live first, then walk around the neighborhood. You’ll find many apartment options.
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