Chiang Mai vs. Koh Phangan

Chiang Mai vs. Koh Phangan

I’ve been in Koh Phangan for almost 2 weeks now, so I thought it was time to do a bit of a comparison between this Thai island and the popular digital nomad hotspot Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

I’ll be comparing the two places on 4 criteria that I find important:
– Cost of living
– Night-Life/Activities
– Nomad scene
– Internet

Cost of Living
So far, Chiang Mai is winning this battle. Let’s compare a few of the costs that I’ve found.

First, possibly the biggest cost is accommodation. In Chiang Mai there are apartment buildings everywhere, and in Koh Phangan there are houses or beach bungalows for the most-part.
In Chiang Mai you can find plenty of monthly accommodation for around 5000 baht per month. That will get you a basic room in many different apartments, and will often be even cheaper if you book long term.
Of the places I looked at in Koh Phangan, it was much more expensive. For a similar room, the costs here are closer to 10,000 baht, although cheaper accommodation can be found further away from the beach. If you’re happy to live away from the beach, you can find basic accommodation for just 8000 baht per month – still more expensive than Chiang Mai.

Food is probably the next biggest expense. I’ve been eating at many different Thai restaurants, where the majority of meals are only 50 baht ($2AUD). This seems super cheap, but in Chiang Mai it’s cheaper. It’s common to find the same dishes in Chiang Mai for just 35 baht ($1.40AUD).

Renting a motorbike is another large expense. In Chiang Mai I rented my bike for just 2000 baht for the month ($80AUD) but here in Koh Phangan most places wanted 3500 baht ($140AUD).

Chiang Mai definitely wins on the cost of living front. Chiang Mai gets a lot more long-term visitors, and thus has lower long-term prices. Koh Phangan mainly caters for short-term backpackers and people visiting for various parties. Most places I looked for accommodation didn’t even offer long-term options.
So keep in mind that if you’re visiting either Chiang Mai or Koh Phangan for a short time, then prices will be quite similar between the two!

Also on a side-note, if you’re happy to stay at back-packing accommodation then Koh Phangan is super cheap! Everyone seems to love the Echo Beach hostel in Ban Tai area, and it’s only 100 baht per night ($4AUD). Technically you could stay here, but I much prefer to have my own place.

Chiang Mai takes the lead 1-0

Koh Phangan definitely takes the cake here. While there’s definitely a lot of stuff to do in Chiang Mai (hiking, seeing temples, canyon, waterfalls, etc.) there is just as much and more in Koh Phangan. It is a paradise with beautiful beaches and an amazing nightlife. It’s the home of the infamous full moon party, but, there are way more parties going on here than just the full moon!
I’m trying to stay focused and not indulge in the night-life too much, but so far I’ve been to the half moon party which was held in the jungle, and the black moon party on the beach in Ban Tai. The half-moon was definitely my favourite, but both were insane and went all night.
If you’re planning to go out a lot, be aware that your expenses are going to go up dramatically! In Chiang Mai there are a few bars/clubs, but they all close at 12. Yes, there are secret after-hours spots, but they are nothing compared to the crazy parties on Koh Phangan.
There are also some great places to visit during the day-time. So far I can highly recommend Secret Mountain which is basically a hidden mountain with a restaurant and pool with amazing views, and also the AmSTARdam bar! Definitely go to the AmStardam bar for an amazing view of the sunset.


-Sunset from the AmStardam bar in Koh Phangan-

I live in the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne, where we have amazing mountains and wildlife. For that reason, while the mountains of Chiang Mai are also beautiful, they aren’t very alluring to me. I much prefer the beach.
It’s the one thing that I really think Chiang Mai is lacking.

Koh Phangan wins this one. Score = 1-1

Nomad Scene

One of the main reasons I decided to travel and work in Thailand is because of the work environment. In Chiang Mai there were hundreds of people working online, networking, socialising, and running weekly meet-ups. It has an amazing environment that is very social, yet conducive to work. I felt really inspired, competitive, and productive in my time there.

The nomad scene in Koh Phangan on the other hand, is not so good. Now, I don’t mean to offend anyone living in Koh Phangan when I say this, but in comparison to Chiang Mai, the scene here is dead! Being the burning season I expected the island to be full of other location independent entrepreneurs, but I’ve met maybe 3 of them total in 2 weeks here.
I signed up to the coworking space, Koh Space, which is nice inside, and the owner is really cool – but there’s just not enough people working here to justify the price (3900 baht per month).

I love this island, and I love the beach, but the lack of a nomad scene makes it not an ideal long-term location for me. The island is mainly backpackers (mostly German for some reason) and there is a very strong party atmosphere.
While beautiful, it’s very distracting and not the best environment for getting work done.
It’s odd, I’ve met only 1 other Australian out here! There are a few English people about, and a couple of Canadians/Americans, but the majority of people are European and speak only limited English. Just an observation that surprised me, since Phuket is dominated by Australian tourists!
Maybe things will change at Full Moon party time in a couple of weeks…

An easy win for Chiang Mai, and the lead goes to 2-1.

This is something very important to anyone working online.
And I have to say, both Chiang Mai and Koh Phangan have great internet speeds.
Well, great compared to Australia at least.

I can easily skype, stream video, and upload large YouTube videos in minutes in either places. In Melbourne a 5 minute YouTube video often takes me 3-4 hours to upload, compared to 15 minutes here.
I expected Koh Phangan’s internet to be a lot slower due to it being an island and all, but was pleasantly surprised.

For internet, this one’s a draw! Half a point to either place!

Chiang Mai takes the win for me at 2.5 – 1.5

In summary, I love the beach. I love the weather here, and I love all of the activities and night-life despite how distracting they can be.

The cost of living is still quite low in Koh Phangan, and isn’t really an issue for me or play into my decision that much about where I live.

But, the deciding factor for me really is the nomad environment. The best thing about Chiang Mai is the community. There are weekly meet-ups, people are very sociable, and the coworking spaces are amazing.
If Koh Phangan had the same community, I’d be staying here for a lot longer than just one month!

I look forward to going back to Chiang Mai later in the year, and recommend it for longer stays. If you’re planning to head to Koh Phangan, I think one month is definitely enough if like me, you love being around other like-minded individuals.
I’ll miss the beach a lot, and also the nightlife, but Chiang Mai is just too good to stay away from.

Perhaps in the years to come, and as more people start working online, more beach-side locations will become popular with the digital nomad community!

Either way, I highly recommend you visit both Chiang Mai and Koh Phangan. I do love them both!

Until next time,

Adrian Ingram

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