When planning our year of nomadic life in Southeast Asia, we knew we would want a couple of locations to stop for a few months. At least we know our limits and style of travel and realize that we don’t do well when we move fast or nonstop. We preselected 2 locations to spend 3-4 months each, Chiang Mai, Thailand and Penang, Malaysia. We selected these locations based on loads of research as well as reading about the experiences of many other travelers. Most of which weren’t family travelers, so that left a little to our imagination. This should help the family travelers!
We have tested the family travel limits with 2 summer road trips, so we are speaking from experience. The first was our 6 week European road trip, which we wrote all about. The second was 7 weeks of Europe and Thailand, via car, planes, trains, buses and ferries. We have shared some of that experience with you already. We have come to the conclusion that we do well until about the 5th or 6th week. That seems to be the point where the family begins to sound off and needs to take a breather. So, 3 months in Chiang Mai, it is!
We arrived in Chiang Mai after experiencing the night train from Bangkok. That was an experience to remember! We didn’t pre-book accommodation, but had researched several guest houses.
We ended up selecting Chiang Mai Thai House for a week, while we searched for a short-term apartment rental in Chiang Mai. It was in a great location, with a pool and AC, all at a reasonable price. Now, the apartment hunt was on!
Chiang Mai Apartment Requirements For Our Family of 4:
- Budget $800/month including utilities (this shouldn’t be a problem as many people are renting for $500-$600)
- Family accommodations – prefer 3 bedrooms with AC and internet (kids are getting older and need privacy)
- Near other expats (a bonus). We weren’t looking for full immersion like we were in Spain. We do want to meet others that speak English and get tips and tricks from them. We are here for a short time and want info at our fingertips.
- Western kitchen and toilets (no squatting for Alan!)
- Good, safe location to have a vehicle-free lifestyle
- We weren’t sure if we wanted an apartment in the city, which we could only find 2 bedrooms or if we wanted a house in the suburbs with 3-4 bedrooms and space. If we opted for the suburbs, we would also need to rent a car, so that would add to the costs.
Short-Term Family Apartment Search Tools
We did our research for rental apartments in several ways:
- Google searches – this provides a good overall view of your rental options to dig further. Chiang Mai Neighborhoods described.
Chiang Mai Area Map
- Local Realtors – I found these to be the best with gaining info on neighborhoods and understanding how the city is organized. They did have several rentals as well, but many were already rented, yet still listed. We did see a few properties with Realtors.
- Facebook groups – These were the best for some “real” recommendations. Travel blogger groups as well as I Heart Chiang Mai group. All were valuable resources for general info or names of areas and buildings. The only problem for us was many of these people were either single or couples. Searching as a family of 4 adds an entirely different dimension and price bracket.
- Craigslist – We found a few this way.
- Direct on condo/apartment websites – Taking names from other resources and just looking the buildings up directly. They too had listings.
- Classifieds –
- Pounding the pavement! – There is nothing like just walking around to get a feel for an area just stopping in to ask if they have any apartments available. This really proved to be informative, beneficial and successful for us.
- Holiday rental sites – We did find several homes in the suburbs, that looked like they could be in the US. Not many owners had the full 3 months available.
- Remember when looking for short-term or long-term to check holiday rentals and see if they are willing to provide discount for monthly rentals. Many times they will, especially if it is off-season.
- When looking at long-term rentals a lower price is usually advertised. If you want it short-term it will cost more than advertised. There doesn’t seem to be a standard percentage, but it would be slightly more to rent for 6 months rather than 1 year, and again, slightly more to rent for 3 months rather than 6 etc.
- Ask for a deal! Either in advance via email or in person. Worst case they say no, but what if they say yes? Our rental was a set price, in fact a little more because we were only renting for 3 months. I asked for a 10% discount and they gave us 8% discount (almost the price of a 6 month rental). I was expecting a no and instead we are saving $65 a month!
By doing all of this research, we not only had a better understanding of area and neighborhoods, but also the terminology.
Hunting for a family rental in Chiang Mai – The Terminology
I will fess up now, these are what we “learned” along the way. If you have a better definition, just let us know.
- Mooban – Neighborhood
- Soi – Side street. Many areas will have a main street and then side streets that feather off with the same name only the addition of “soi” and a number are added. Example: Nimman is the main street. The side streets would be Nimman Soi 2 or Nimman Soi 13 or Thapae Soi 4, Thapae Soi 6, etc.. It seems the even Soi’s are on one side and the odds on the other.
- Western Kitchen – Usually a stove and cupboards, perhaps more appliances.
- Thai Kitchen – Usually a counter space and sink with a portable gas burner.
- Serviced Apartment – Typically an apartment or condo with many amenities and services available (internet, pool, gym, cleaning, etc). Meant for short-term rentals and they often come at a higher price.
The Actual Family Rental Hunt
Within a few hours we had a list of several apartments and houses we wanted to reach out to for more information. We figured after seeing a few, we would “just know” what was right for us. The next day we had 2 appointments to see houses in the San Sai suburb of Chiang Mai. On the map, it appeared to be close enough to the city for us and it seemed like a good expat area.
It took us quite a while to get out to the suburbs via public transit. It was much farther than it appeared. Each of the owners agreed to pick us up near Meechok Plaza and take us to view their home. Both homes were in typical Thai moobans. The first house was a 4 bedroom, 2 bath for $300/month! It was very basic, sparsely furnished and very Thai style. Nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t what we were looking for.
The second house was an expat family looking for someone to sublet from September – January. Perfect dates for us with our triple entry visa and it was a 3 bedroom for only $400/month. The house was nice and a beautiful kitchen and gorgeous yard. The down side, we would have yard work and need to rent a car (an additional $550 a month).
After this full day affair, we quickly realized that we wanted to be in the city and not the suburbs. We wanted to be able to have a “city” lifestyle and just get up and walk out our door for our daily needs. We have lived the suburbian life and the small town life with the kids, but they haven’t experienced that city life.
We focused our search on the city next and viewed a few rentals in Riverside Condos and almost selected a 2 bedroom for $500 a month. It had many amenities and along the Ping River, but it was a bit out of the city. We weren’t too sure about the neighborhood either. We would likely need to rent scooters to get around. We viewed many properties around town and soon figured out that we really liked the Nimman neighborhood near the University.
Again we began scouring the area on the web and by foot. We viewed a few properties in this area with Realtors and some appointments directly with owners. Based on our experience, we found that it was good to just walk up to a building that we liked and see if they had rentals. We walked up and down every Nimman Soi and looked at a few places. We also asked in the lobbies of the buildings we viewed with Realtors.
We realized the building managers usually took care of rentals too. Ultimately, that is how we found our place. We viewed an apartment in the building and later returned and asked the front desk if they had any rentals. They said they only had one 2 bedroom, but when we entered it was really a 3 bedroom! Score! We were having a tough time just finding suitable 2 bedrooms, but 3 was great.
We spent 4 days (4-5 hours) straight looking at rentals. We viewed close to 15 properties and all of them would have worked. The prices ranged from $300 – $850 per month and surprisingly the 3-4 bedrooms were the cheaper opitons, but outside of the city. Like any place you would live, it is more expensive the closer you get to the city. Go ahead, take a peek at our Chiang Mai Apartment.
In the end we are very pleased with our choice. We have the space we need in a great location. We are paying rent within our budget, but not as low-cost as I would have liked. In the big scheme of things it is still inexpensive for US standards and we have 3 bedrooms! Yes a family can find that rental for $200 – $500 for sure, but you will need to compromise on something (location, bedrooms, space, furnishings etc). If you are interested in studio’s or 1 bedrooms, there are plenty!
For us, allowing the kids to have their own space turned out to be a very high priority. This would help alleviate tension and future arguments between budding teen/tweens.
Tell us what you think and if you have rented in Chiang Mai, let us know the details (price, location, size etc). This will help our readers compare. Thanks!
If you have any questions for us, just ask!
Feel free to also check out our Family Friendly Guide to Chiang Mai