Finding proper information on moving to Thailand amidst the sea of websites bragging every city up in to the sky is impossible. This article boils 10 years of wisdom down to one page, divulging all the vital information you need to pick a new hometown to thrive and enjoy life in.

I spent over a decade in Thailand, driving my motorbike across the country on numerous occasions and visiting well over two dozen cities. In the process I spent years living in Phuket, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, Chiang Rai, Hua Hin, Korat, Koh Samui, Nakhon Sawan, Pattaya, Buri Ram and Surin. Whilst all are arguably more livable than most cities in Europe or America, there are some major differences between them that could make or break your stay in the land of smiles. Let’s begin then by excluding some of them as cities you do NOT want to settle in.

So which city is best for long term living?

The map is as usual at the bottom of the article.

7. CHIANG MAI

This city has an unfair reputation, most often chiangmaithailandbestexpatcityperpetuated by international rankings created by people and journalists who’ve never lived elsewhere in Thailand, as the number one place for foreigners. Thais themselves also light up whenever the fabled city of Chiang Mai is mentioned.

Sure it’s fun to drive a motorbike on the mountainous roads close to Pai and the Burmese border. The climate is cool and not as humid as further south. Aesthetically the city’s surroundings are beautiful. There’s less pollution (when it’s not fire season) and noise. But let’s face some cold hard facts.

Unless you’re an aspiring carbon neutral 75 year old environmentalist moving to be at one with nature, you simply don’t choose a city according to the density of sulphur dioxide in the air.

What matters is city life, cost of living, prospects for creating a healthy social circle and if you can get a nice girlfriend. The scenery of the city itself is quite picturesque and you can have a nice lifestyle here. If I had no choice but to live in Chiang Mai, I’d stay at Smith’s Residence right outside the moat before moving to a house towards the outskirts of town. Having done all that however I know that few foreigners who aren’t married or old last longer than six months before getting sick of the city.

The fact that Chiang Mai has the country’s most unattractive women doesn’t help matters. The Thais think that their Northern women are the prettiest. I think they look like overgrown ladyboys. There are some beautiful women around but most hail from other parts of the country. The only way you’ll love living here is is you choose to remain blissfully unaware of how much better life is in other cities.

 

 

6. PHUKET (Patong)

phuketbestexpatcitythailandPatong on the west coast of Phuket (Thailand’s largest island) is home to a huge expat community. I rank it ahead of Chiang Mai on account of the beach and the nightlife alone. Both are sublime but they alone ain’t enough to create a sustainable lifestyle. In fact it’s going to work against you as there’s precious little else to do down here.

The city’s geographical isolation also means you have to fly far to visit other major cities. That would be an acceptable trade-off if it weren’t for the fact that many of the locals detest foreigners. I’d say a healthy majority of them actually do.

Phuket’s biggest drawback then remains the hostile locals. Yes you read the correct.

Most locals are born and bred on the island or elsewhere in Thailand’s south. They’re not at all service minded like the rest of the country and many will act in a threatening manner even when you catch them trying to rip you off or steal from you. I would avoid all taxis, tuk-tuks and small Thai run hotels for this very reason. Avoid the police like the plague. Even other Thais from elsewhere in the country find the people living in Phuket extremely rude and unwelcoming. If you’ve never been elsewhere in Thailand you won’t understand any of this. Suffice is to say you’ll never go to Phuket in the first place if you had. Phuket is only good for a two week holiday at most. Do not attempt to live there! If you’re hell bent on doing it though rent a studio room as far inland from the beach as you can get towards the hills. They’re dirt cheap.

 

5. KHON KAEN

khonkaenbestexpatcityThailandA little over 2 hours North of Korat you find Khon Kaen. A regional metropolis with a couple of large Universities, it’s not a bad place to live. It was sadly more happening a decade ago though. There used to be more nightclubs and cool bars downtown.

I’d say the nightlife was the best in all of the Isan region. Then came the 2008 financial crisis and the city never really recovered. I spent over a year here working as a lecturer.

Without a job I think most people would be wise to choose a different location

It doesn’t help that most expats living there went broke in Pattaya and moved to Khon Kaen to live out their days on the remains of their meagre savings. Unless you’re married or come for employment I don’t think you’ll last. For a short term visit try Kosa hotel for a few days. On a month to month basis, the cheapest place to live is the area known as Lang Mor behind Khon Kaen University. It’s a ten minute motorbike ride from downtown. If you’re hell bent on staying in this city for the long haul or start a business catering to the University students, this area is the way to go to get away from the dreadful expat crowd and find some local friends.
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  • Sean D

    I lived in Bangkok (Asoke) and Pattaya. Both fantastic cities that changed my perspective forever. I prefer Pattaya but agree that guys who want a little bit of everything (or are averse to paid company) will enjoy Bangkok a bit more.

    If you’re thinking about living in Thailand… do it! 🙂

    • Harald Baldr

      Thailand will indeed change most people’s perspective on everything

  • PeteyBrian

    I’ll use your tips – in venturing outside of the touristy areas that I frequented on my previous trips to Thailand.

  • Cecil J

    My interest would be for surfing and seeing the most beautiful beaches possible- is Phuket still king for this or is there better?

    • Yeah Phuket have some insane beaches. I’ve never seen anyone surf there though

      • Cecil J

        Were you an Internet Entreprenuer while in Thailand or was your speaking engagement in the business consulting or education realm?

        • Internet entrepreneur at first. Then I sold the biz and became a University lecturer.

          • Cecil J

            Were you doing the TEFL ESL stuff back in the day as a lecturer? Was it shit pay?

          • I was teaching Political Science and Economics. Pay was ok. Between $1-2k USD per month pending how many courses you taught any given semester.

          • Cecil J

            Did you have to have a Doctorate or Masters in Political Science or aeconomics in order to teach college courses in Thailand at University?

          • Masters only

  • Craig Ross

    Interesting. I also thought Udon was pretty smart. The locals did do things like draw you a quick map to show you where you were going, or come out of the shop to have a discussion (in English!) about how cheap brown rice is in Isaan compared to the UK. There’s also an awful lot of good apartments, markets that display prices that everyone pays, a fantastic park and first world shops and gyms. Hopefully the recent incidents of violence are just a blip.

    • Violence? What’s going down? I haven’t been for a few years.

      • Craig Ross

        In quick order, i) old farangs gettting mugged, with one getting put in intensive care, ii) a pregnant noodle bar female getting murdered by her ex in the middle of the street and then iii) a local thug – complete with dragon tattoo eyebrows – trying to hit someone with a sword and connecting with a little kid. That said, the cops made arrests instantly.

  • James Wagner

    Wow, this is such a raw and unfiltered article with loads of real life data and first hand experience. Holy shit thank you!

  • pocket

    as this title is cities to live in then of course this is different to choosing a holiday destination

    .I love bangkok but my gf is from a village near khon kaen and she isnt a big fan of the city.its not a place to relax on vacation and isaan women typically like to speak their own dialect rather than thai. We usually go to hua hin and first time i went there i know what u mean.

    i thought its hard to see any genuine thai culture there.but then i realized we are on vacation and found a great hotel with pool and live music and street food square outdoors.plus the foreigners there had a holiday feel too.Most importantly it is easy to get to from bangkok airport.

    i have spent alot of time in khon kaen and udon thani and i do prefer udon but i found both u may run out of ideas pretty quickly .cycling round the block over and over.I usually avoid the dreaded soi sampan with its array of girly bars as i have a gf and their is much more to the city than this.I have to spend alot of time in khon kaen when im in thailand as gf village is close by.its grown on me definitely and there is a better array of restaurants and bars than udon thani.market is better too.never been to pattaya.

    chiang mai i found the outskirts better near to nimmanheim and maya mall best area.the area near the wall tired me out full of Chinese tourists and tacky bars set up to rip off tourists.I disagree about beauty.i thought some of the best looking women are from chiang mai but abit more aloof than other regions and probably harder to get into unless spending lot of time there.

    Hands down if i wished to live in thai and have a job Id pick bangkok.I think the mentality of locals in bangkok is alot more open minded than in say isaan.you can easily strike up a convo with any lady in bangkok and many of them have decent jobs.in isaan conversation hardly riveting and most of them not much in the way of career.you will end up paying for everyone including the dog.

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