Mistake: Expecting Too Much out of our Chiang Mai Apartment Search
Finding an apartment or condo for rent can be tricky in Thailand, but here are a few good lessons we learned in our saga to find a new 7-month home in Chiang Mai. Our apartment search began a couple weeks before we left Seattle. We contacted Chiang Mai based property management company Perfect Homes, and connected with Noon. She emailed us a few listings before we left Seattle, but warned us that apartments tend to come onto the market and get rented fairly quickly, so it’s best to wait until we arrive to see what’s available.
Before leaving Seattle, we came up with a list of our apartment must-haves:
- Air conditioned gym
- Hot water
- Kitchen with fridge and hot plate
- At least two separate work spaces, since we’ll be working on lots of projects here
- Good natural light
- Good walkability to restaurants and a fresh market (we won’t have a motorbike during our time here, so this was important!)
- Budget: $700/month
- 7-month lease
We looked at a dozen apartments, all shown on the map below. Click on a pin to see more detail about a particular apartment. Our search began in May 2014, which is considered the low season in Chiang Mai when apartment rent tends to be lower than the November-December High Season.
We focused our search in the Nimmanhaemin and Chang Klan areas. The Nimman neighborhood is one of the trendiest areas in Chiang Mai, and is home to many expatriates from various other countries. It’s hard to pop into one of Nimman’s MANY coffee shops without meeting someone from the US, Australia or New Zealand. Over the course of our entire search, we looked at 3 apartments in Green Hill Place, 1 unit in Punna Residence, 1 unit in Hillside 2, 1 unit at One Plus Suan Dok, 1 unit in DD Park, 3 units at Twin Peaks, 1 unit in Peaks Garden, and 1 unit at Riverside. A dozen units! It was exhausting!
On Day 1 of our apartment search saga, we worked with Noon from Perfect Homes and saw 6 different apartments. Unfortunately, Perfect Homes doesn’t provide transportation to and from apartment complexes. We hadn’t quite figured out how to use the many transportation options in Chiang Mai yet, so we ended up walking over 11 miles in 95-degree weather! I know I promised in my Beijing Post not to talk about my chapped ass unless the situation got extremely dire. Let me tell you, 11 miles of walking in 95-degree weather was DIRE. To top it all off, we got caught up in a thunderstorm on our way home when we had our laptops with us, and had to spring back to the hotel! Lesson learned – use a Songathew or Tuk-Tuk to get from point A to point B, and carry a damn poncho!
Day 2 was a dud. But we did get Thai phone numbers and spent some time at the pool! Little victories.
On Day 3 of apartment searching, I was at anxiety level orange thinking we might not find a new home. We decided to expand our search and meet with agents from Satihoga Properties and Chiang Mai Properties. Between Noon and the two other companies, we saw six more units which were all at the very top of our budget. The best thing about Chiang Mai Properties is that they provide free transportation service to and from apartment viewings.
On Day 4 of our saga, we decided to return to the One Plus Suan Dok unit with Noon, which was the very first apartment we saw in Chiang Mai. This was one of the smallest apartments we viewed, coming in at 41 sq. meters, but it also had the lowest rent price of any apartments we viewed at just 14,000 Baht, or about $430 USD. The larger units we saw mostly came in over 65 sq. meters, but cost at least $200 USD more per month in rent, and all that extra square footage wasn’t always utilized efficiently. In the end, we decided to go with the cheap apartment and use that extra $200 USD to get more Thai Massages and spend more time at coffee shops.
Our New Home, The Winner
- A 1-bedroom, 41 sq. m top floor corner apartment in the One Plus Suan Dok condominium.
- Location, location location! We have a gorgeous temple right in our front yard (see photo below). Wat Suan Dok is home to beautiful gardens, ornate buildings, and our favorite Vegetarian restaurant, Pun Pun. There is also a fresh market right down the street.
- Onsite gym (with aircon!), pool, and sauna (HA, like I’d ever use a sauna in a place as hot as Chiang Mai… good one, guys…)
- YOU CAN FLUSH TOILET PAPER DOWN THE TOILETS HERE. Words can’t express how excited I am about this. In most bathrooms in Thailand, including some upscale hotels, you throw tissues into a waste receptacle instead of flushing. I like to call the waste receptacle the “bin of doom”. Luckily, this apartment will not be filled with doom.
- Security: there are several 24-hour security guards onsite, and our building is accessed by fingerprint scan.
- One note about the One Plus Suan Dok free internet – it is unbearably slow and requires you to login through a secondary sign-in screen several times throughout the day when you’re connected via wifi. To quote Kevin, “If I imagined internet in Hell, this would be what it’s like.”
What We Learned
- Lower your expectations before arriving – no one finds the perfect apartment without shelling out some serious cash. We compromised on space, but spent way less than we anticipated.
- Use Perfect Homes for your property search in Chiang Mai! Noon has gone way above and beyond the call of duty. After we signed the contract and moved in, we expected her to disappear. Instead, she helped us upgrade to faster internet and helped us set up weekly drinking water delivery! These two things would’ve been impossible for us to do ourselves because the only Thai we speak is “Hello”, “Thank You”, and “How much”.
- Utilities: Ask how much utility costs are – some condos inflate the government rate of 4 baht/unit for electricity! Electric bills can be paid at your neighborhood 7-11, water bill is paid to the condo administrative office. Maybe in the U.S. you should be able to pay bills somewhere you can also buy beer, I think that would take the sting out of winter heating bills.
- Apartment Deposits are paid in cash! For this apartment, we had to pay 2 months security deposit plus 1st month’s rent at contract signing, or 42,000 THB (about $1300 USD). That’s a lot of cash, so bring some along or spread your ATM withdrawals out over several days!
- Rent is also paid in cash! Every month, we’ll take 14,000 THB to the bank and deposit it into our landlord’s account.
- If you have time several months before arriving in Thailand, start your search on websites such as airbnb, flipkey, or tripadvisor vacation rentals. Send messages to apartment owners to ask if they offer a monthly rate – more often than not they will knock several thousand baht off of the listing. We started doing this after we arrived, but found that everything was already booked up.
We don’t think we’ve made a huge mistake in picking the small apartment; our mistake was expecting to find a huge, modern apartment in an awesome building with a great location and mountain view for just $500/month. Because of this, we strung our search out over 4 days instead of going with our gut and renting the first apartment we saw. Only time will tell whether picking the small apartment was a mistake – if we’re still married in 6 months, I’m calling it a success.
Have you had any crazy experiences searching for lodging on your travels? If so, leave us a comment – we’d love to hear about your experience! Safe travels, friends.