It’s hard to say which is the best place to live in Northern Thailand because there are so many great options. It is an amazing place to be, with a diverse landscape and culture.

There are many different places to choose from, each with its own unique set of attractions and benefits.

In this blog post, we will take a look at seven of the best places to live in Northern Thailand as a foreigner.

We will discuss the pros and cons of each location, as well as what you can expect from living there.

Whether you’re looking for stunning mountain views or a more urban setting, we have you covered.

In the conclusion, we suggest what we would do if we were new to Northern Thailand.

Living in Chiang Mai, the capital of Northern Thailand
Chiang Mai Old City is a calm, ancient neighborhood that is absolutely worth a visit.

Chiang Mai Old City, Chiang Mai

Although somewhat biased, Chiang Mai’s old city, otherwise known as Si Phum, is my favorite place to live in Thailand.

Having spent close to a year here, I can comfortably say that it is a great place to live for all kinds of people.

The 700-year-old neighborhood is full of winding sois (side streets) and ringed by a moat that keeps most of the traffic out.

Despite being the center of Chiang Mai, buildings are capped at a height of 23 meters due to it being a heritage area.

The neighborhood is full of ancient temples, schools, local restaurants, and small apartment buildings.

The area is leafy and calm and you can find nearly everything you need within the moat.

There are plenty of gyms, doctor’s clinics, convenience stores, and tasteful bars in the area.

The area is popular with local students, retirees, and digital nomads. For a reason we can’t understand, rentals are very well-priced considering the great location.

We found several apartments in the area offering month-to-month rentals for around ฿4000 (USD 120) per month.

Living in Pai, Thailand
Pai is surrounded by the Pai Valley, a small farming area surrounded by stunning mountains.

Pai, Mae Hong Son Province

Pai is a one-of-a-kind place, at least in Thailand.

If you’re looking for a tasteful blend of Thai and western experiences, then this small hippy town situated a few hours northwest of Chiang Mai is the place for you.

With its gorgeous mountain views, yoga retreats, hot springs, and reggae bars, there’s something for everyone to enjoy here.

Those looking to take their love of nature one step further will find trekking opportunities, all forms of eco-tourism, and a few waterfalls.

You can also look into the several Muay Thai camps that are offered in Pai, they can be a great experience.

Pai is home to quite a lot of expats, mostly retirees and the more alternative crowd.

This town has earned its hippy status, but don’t let that dissuade you, it’s quite down-to-earth.

We would recommend Pai to anyone who likes the idea of living in the mountains, cooler weather, casual nightlife, and being outdoors.

Living in Chiang Dao, Northern Thailand
Chiang Dao is known for its hot springs, grand mountains, and coffee growers.

Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai Province

Chiang Dao is Pai’s introverted cousin.

Considered one of the most beautiful places in the country, Chiang Dao is a paradise for anyone looking to immerse themselves in nature and live in peace and quiet. 

Not only that, but Chiang Dao’s numerous hot springs and mountains add to the area further.

The area is known for coffee growing and farm stays.

Chiang Dao is only about an hour and a half from Chiang Mai so connectivity to the outside world isn’t an issue.

The town of Chiang Dao itself doesn’t have much happening, this isn’t the place to be if you want nightlife and the buzz of a city.

If you’re looking to leave it all behind and live on a homestead in the mountains with some chickens and a guitar, we’d suggest you move to Chiang Dao.

Living in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is a smaller, more local version of Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai, Chiang Rai Province

In many ways, Chiang Rai is what Chiang Dao is to Pai.

With 70,000 people, Chiang Rai is about half the size of Chiang Mai. Both cities share the same history, being part of the Lanna Kingdom for several hundred years.

We’ve heard people say that Chiang Rai is more affordable than its bigger cousin, but only marginally.

One thing is for certain: There are far fewer westerners than in Chiang Mai, so if you want a more local experience but like cities (large towns), this could be for you.

Living in Mae Hong Son, Northern Thailand
Mae Hong Son is the most forested and mountainous province in Thailand.

Mae Hong Son, Mae Hong Son Province

The town of Mae Hong Son is one of the most remote in Thailand.

Known for its isolation, mountains, and hill tribes, it feels like a step back in time.

The town itself has 7,000 people and the province has some 280,000.

Being one of the poorest parts of the country, there is very little development. The majority of the population is from the Shan and Karen ethnic groups, but Thai is the lingua franca.

Mae Hong Son is the starting point for many hikes and trekking journeys.

Mae Sariang is a nearby village worth checking out. The place has a timeless feel and is home to some interesting traditional markets and temples.

Living in Suthep, Chiang Mai
The glinting Doi Suthep can be seen form everywhere in Chiang Mai.

Ched Yod/Suthep, Chiang Mai City

These mountainside neighborhoods of Chiang Mai are very popular with the long term expat community.

Many retirees have homes in these neighboring areas.

The further west (up the mountain) you travel the more the apartments turn into small farms and jungle.

The whole area is quiet, affordable, and local. There is a great mix of Thai students, Chiang Mai locals, and westerners that create its tight-knit little community.

Both areas are green and have a few trails and waterfalls right nearby. The beautiful Doi Suthep mountain temple is only a short drive.

There are also quite a lot of affordable international food options, likely thanks to the students from nearby Chiang Mai University.

If you’re seeking a location that is close to the main city of Chiang Mai (15 minutes away) and its various amenities, yet with some greenery and fresh air, this is our recommendation.

Living in Lamphun, Northern Thailand
Lamphun is a small, ancient town with its own history and architecture.

Lamphun, Lamphun Province

This one is admittedly a bit of a wild card.

Lamphun is the oldest town in Northern Thailand, over 1100 years old. It seems not much has changed in that time.

The sleepy riverside town of a few thousand people is a time capsule of the past.

The town has great food, plenty of longan orchards and some beautiful historic sites.

It’s only 40 minutes from Chiang Mai, so it’s worth checking out and if you choose to live there you’ll be right near the city and all its conveniences.

Lamphun is perfect for anyone who wants to live in a beautiful small town with stunning architecture and a quaint, timeless feel.

What We Would Do

So, where to live in Northern Thailand? This is what we would do if we were newcomers:

Option 1: Base yourself in Chiang Mai

To begin your journey, book a hotel in Chiang Mai for several nights – you’re likely to arrive here anyway.

Explore the city and its surrounds for a few days and find an area you like (e.g. Si Phum).

Get a monthly rental in this area and settle in. A decent apartment is only around ฿5000 (USD 150).

Over the next month or two, get a feel for Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand.

Go on a few trips. Pai, Chiang Dao, and the other places mentioned are only a few hours from Chiang Mai.

If you find a place you prefer to Chiang Mai, move there.

This way is very safe. If you’re new to the country it allows you to set up your new life.

With the monthly apartment, you can get a proof of residence form (TM30) which will allow you to open a bank account. You can apply for a driver’s license and straighten out your visa situation.

If you need to do any of the above, being in Chiang Mai will be helpful as this is where many agents and government offices are located.

Option 2: Move around

The other, arguably simpler option, is to just travel around the North until you find a place where you’d like to settle down.

This is probably ‘quicker’ and might make more sense, however, if you’re a planner like me you probably want to get the administrative stuff (banking, visas, etc) out of the way first.

However you choose to move here, the best advice we can give you is to simply do it.

We’re yet to meet a westerner who regrets their move to Northern Thailand. We all wish we did it sooner. 

This part of the world is so full of wonder, adventure, and opportunity, you’d be a fool not to take part.

If you’d like a hand getting started, book a call and we’ll be happy to advise you on the best places to go and how to set up your life here.

Want to move to Thailand?

If you’re interested in moving to Thailand but are unsure about a few things – visas, banking, safety, scams, dating, accommodation and more.

Check out our premium Thailand guide: The Need to Know of Moving to Thailand

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