Thousands of western retirees, western expats and western teachers move to Thailand every year. For many of them, a choice between moving to Bangkok or Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is the most important decision they will make, as these two Thai cities are where most westerners live.
If you are considering whether Bangkok or Chiang Mai would be better for you, make sure consider these important things before you decide which Thai city will become your new home.
Bangkok vs Chiang Mai for International Travel – Having spent a lot of time in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, the one thing I would recommend considering carefully before you move is what your international travel needs are.
If you are only likely to leave Thailand once or twice a year then living in Chiang Mai wouldn’t be inconvenient. If however you’re going to need to fly out of Thailand a few times a year, then the inconvenience of, most of the time, having to fly to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok first could become annoying.
Salaries in Bangkok vs Chiang Mai – For many expats and for just about all the western teachers, salaries in Chiang Mai are lower than in Bangkok.
For western English teachers, for instance, an average teaching job in Bangkok will pay 35,000-50,000 baht (around $950-$1,500) a month.
In Chiang Mai, a similar English teaching job will only pay 28,000-35,000 ($835-$1,045), a substantial difference and, even though some people say Chiang Mai is cheaper, that certainly hasn’t been my experience.
Apartments are around the same price as Bangkok, food is sometimes more expensive and transportation is a lot more expensive, as bus service and sky trains in Bangkok do not exist in Chiang Mai.
Temperature in Bangkok vs Chiang Mai – In the hottest time of the year, it is just hot everywhere. So it wouldn’t really matter if you were in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, you’re still going to be dying of heat exhaustion. The only thing that is different about Bangkok is a lot more places are air-conditioned and you have air-conditioned sky train and underground trains, which Chiang Mai does not.
However, during the cooler months, Chiang Mai is markedly cooler than Bangkok, and with a very pleasant climate from October until February.
Variety of Jobs in Bangkok vs Chiang Mai – This one is pretty much a no-brainer. Bangkok has thousands more jobs advertised each week than Chiang Mai does.
Especially for teaching jobs or true expat jobs, as most of the major corporations are in Bangkok, which adds thousands of job opportunities every year.
Experience Real Thai Culture in Bangkok or Chiang Mai – Chiang Mai is touristy, after all it is the second most popular tourist destination in Thailand after Bangkok.
It is also packed with westerners who live there, so it often seems too western. But, if you dig a little deeper, my personal opinion is ‘real’ Thai culture is a little more authentic here than in Bangkok . Plus, because Chiang Mai is so far upcountry, just a few minutes out of the city and you are in paddy fields and looking at ancient temples.
Bangkok vs Chiang Mai, Which is More Relaxing – Hands down, Chiang Mai. The pace of life is slower, the people are even friendlier and nothing seems too urgent here. Bangkok, on the other hand, is like every capital city in the world – frenetic, crazy, crowded and rushed.
Bangkok vs Chiang Mai – More Fun Things to Do – If you love cities with huge shopping malls, enormous weekend markets, shows, theater, world-class cinemas, every international cuisine imaginable and more, then Bangkok has everything.
Chiang Mai still has some of these things, but on a smaller-scale. But, it does have two incredible night markets, muay thai kickboxing events, a couple of good shopping malls, many lovely cafes and restaurants, and some decent art galleries and used book stores. There are also the elephant camps and rafting trips outside the city, if those things interest you.
Imported Items, Cheaper in Bangkok or Chiang Mai – As a westerner moving to Thailand, you are probably thinking you will use and buy mostly Thai things. You will live on Thai food, you will buy Thai clothes, you will read Thai newspapers.
Well, let me tell you, you probably won’t. At least not all the time. But, when you are craving some scrumptious imported cheese, or a big bar of British chocolate, where is it cheaper and easier to find? Unfortunately, in Bangkok.
That is because imported items are bought in bulk as there are a lot more westerners, or Thais that are interested in buying them, and they don’t have to be transported that extra few hundred kilometres to Chiang Mai.
Which is More Beautiful, Bangkok or Chiang Mai – Chiang Mai. Not much else to say there, it’s just a fact.
If push comes to shove, I have to admit I do prefer Chiang Mai over Bangkok. But, as I love enormous shopping malls, big bookstores, every cuisine imaginable, western clothing stores as well as the Thai stuff and the ability to fly out of Thailand at a drop of a hat, for me, Chiang Mai is currently my second choice.
While Chiang Mai is a wonderful city to retire too, while still working, I think most expats make the decision Bangkok is the city for them as well.
But, assess your priorities and see which of these things wouldn’t bother you, then you can better decide – will you be moving to Bangkok or Chiang Mai?