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The 11 Best Places To Live in Thailand

Picture of Leslie Finlay
Updated: 12 May 2018
Ever dreamed about living in Thailand? With its incredible sites, extremely friendly locals, world-class food, lively calendar of festivals and entertainment, and high standard of living at a low cost, Thailand has been a magnet for expats for decades. Whether you’re a digital professional, budding entrepreneur, or simply want to get off the grid for a few months, check out these top places in Thailand to set down your roots.

Nimmanhaemin, Chiang Mai

Appeal: City living without the chaos of Bangkok

Chiang Mai has attracted expats for decades, offering the conveniences of city living but with a much more low-key vibe than its counterpart, Bangkok, and with a much lower cost of living as well. Nimman is the neighborhood home to most local expats, packed with every option for accommodation — from ultra cheap to luxury apartments — and more locally priced restaurant and shopping options than the tourist-heavy Old City. The neighborhood has a near endless supply of coffee shops and co-working spaces to cater to the city’s heavy population of digital professionals. Like Bangkok, however, the expat community is rather spread out and while not difficult, it can require some extra energy to make friends and engage with other local residents.

Size: Large

Expat community: Large

Comparable cost of living: $$

Accessibility: High

Job opportunities: Career professionals, NGOs, digital professionals

Hua Hin

Appeal: Proximity to Bangkok with the slow, easy pace of a coastal town

Three hours down the coast from Bangkok, Hua Hin is known as the capital residents’ holiday playground — even the King of Thailand’s summer palace is located here. Lively markets, excellent dining, beachside location, and home to some of the best golf courses in Thailand, Hua Hin has become home to tons of retiree expats looking to live out their golden years at low costs and with high standards. For younger expats, while the city is rather sleepy during the week, everything becomes far livelier upon the arrival of Bangkok weekenders.

Size: Medium

Expat community: Large

Comparable cost of living: $$

Accessibility: Medium

Job opportunities: Digital professionals, retirees

Koh Tao

Appeal: Authentic island life with a large, connected expat community

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Koh Tao | © Logan Brown / nomadphotographer.com

The smallest of the Gulf’s chain of three main islands, Koh Tao offers the most laid-back, authentic island living, but its long-term expat community has developed its own efficient infrastructure of everyday amenities. Tao’s prized industry is scuba diving, in which the majority of the island’s large expat population is employed, but there are opportunities for work across the hospitality sector, particularly in hotel or restaurant management. The hyper-multinational community is inviting and active, as well as integrally entrenched in the island’s overall management, making it seem like its own self-sustaining society.

Size: Small

Expat community: Large

Comparable cost of living: $$$

Accessibility: Medium

Job opportunities: Scuba diving, hospitality, restaurant and bars, digital professionals

Sathorn, Bangkok

Appeal: Every convenience of life in the big city, but more quiet than other Bangkok expat neighbourhoods

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Sathorn, Bangkok | © Timo Kozlowski / Flickr

Situated along the Chao Phraya River, this central but quiet neighborhood of Bangkok is known for its upscale accommodation at the right price, as well as accessibility to both city comforts and natural surroundings, like its proximity to beautiful Lumphini Park. It is home to a growing, if not more mature set of expats who want access to the city’s more vibrant areas like Sukhumvit, but without the soaring costs of living and the ability to retreat from the thumping nightlife that extends into the early hours of morning.

Size: Large

Expat population: Medium

Comparable cost of living: $$

Accessibility: High

Job opportunities: Career professionals, digital professionals

Kanchanaburi

Appeal: Living in the outskirts of Bangkok, experiencing a much more traditional Thai way of life

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Kanchanaburi | © Pinit-Ton / Pixabay

Weary Bangkok transplants are increasingly making a break for the outskirts, with many landing in the Western province of Kanchanaburi for rock-bottom deals for accommodation and an ease into the slower pace of Thai life. The area has attracted many retirees but also ESL teachers and other professionals looking for the convenience of being close to Bangkok — about two hours by bus — but enjoying access to some of Thailand’s most incredible natural wonders, like Erawan National Park, and life without the ambient pollution of the city.

Size: Medium

Expat community: Small

Comparable cost of living: $

Accessibility: Medium

Job opportunities: ESL teachers, digital professionals

Ao Nang, Krabi

Appeal: Living among the natural beauty of Phang Nga Province, with close access to the conveniences of Phuket

This laid-back beach town is far enough away from the ultra-touristy Phuket, but close enough to mean necessities like airports, hospitals, and shopping are never more than a quick ride away. Accessibility aside, the entire area has developed a sort of old-world charm that complements its adventurous attractions, like the world-famous climbing spots of Railay Beach or lure of island hopping through the archipelago. This appeal attracts a niche kind of traveler, which keeps the area from becoming overrun with tourists but relevant enough to forge a viable local economy, itself driven by a mix of local and expat-owned businesses.

Size: Medium

Expat community: Small

Comparable cost of living: $

Accessibility: Medium

Job opportunities: Hospitality, ESL teachers, adventure sports, digital professionals

Pai

Appeal: Quiet life among a diverse, well-connected community driven by a mutual love of nature, wellness, and art

This small mountain town north of Chiang Mai is a magnet for tourists, locals, and expats alike that love nature and appreciate a slower, artistic way of life. The local community traces its roots back to heavy early influence by Burmese and Chinese migrants, creating a truly multinational tone long before the arrival of Western expats en masse, and one that has consistently been receptive to visitors of all kinds — either temporary or long term. Today, the rural village is highly art and wellness-oriented, and the community-minded residents are largely involved in many aspects of the town’s growth and betterment, from reforestation projects to volunteering with marginalized minority groups.

Size: Small

Expat community: Large

Comparable cost of living: $

Accessibility: Medium

Job opportunities: Hospitality, adventure sports, artists, wellness and fitness, volunteerism, digital professionals

Koh Phangan

Appeal: Health and wellness-oriented community that is extremely close to conveniences of more built-up Koh Samui

This small island in the Gulf offers the perfect compromise for those wanting a dose of real Thai island life but without the mass tourism of islands like Koh Samui or Phuket, or the remoteness of areas like Koh Tao. The location of the monthly Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan maintains a robust tourism economy that supports many of its residents, but its reputation as a party island is wholly undeserved. Aside from the monthly extravaganza, the island maintains a rather quiet vibe dedicated to wellness and healthy, sustainable living, and boasts some of the most beautiful beaches and scenery in the country. Its expat community is well-connected and extremely friendly, and while island life is always a bit pricer than the mainland, the costs of living are generally low for long-termers. What’s more, with bustling Koh Samui just 30 minutes away by boat, anything residents can’t get on the island is easily accessible.

Size: Small

Expat community: Medium

Comparable cost of living: $$

Accessibility: Medium

Job opportunities: Hospitality, restaurant and bars, yoga, wellness, digital professionals

Chiang Rai

Appeal: Life in a small Thai city with access to incredible nature and adventure activities

Smaller and quieter than nearby Chiang Mai, this home to the famous White Temple has experienced much slower, but nonetheless steady growth. It boasts many commonalities to life in Chiang Mai, but with a considerably smaller number of tourists, and while offering plenty of bars and restaurants, lacking in Chiang Mai’s near constant entertainment options. The draw for expats is its unrivaled proximity to some of the best nature and adventure options for city dwellers, from motorcycle trips through the countryside to waterfalls, rock climbing, and more.

Size: Large

Expat community: Small

Comparable cost of living: $

Accessibility: Medium

Job opportunities: Adventure sports, ESL teachers, NGOs, digital professionals

Pattaya

Appeal: Coastal life in a well built-up community

Any established resident in Thailand may be reluctant to live in Pattaya, as the coastal city has been linked to prostitution. Pattaya is going through a sort of Renaissance, however, complete with the introduction of world-class cuisine, a more family-friendly vibe, and a strong contingent of nearly 40,000 expats that have established an efficient infrastructure over time. Pattaya is also known to have one of the strongest LGBTQ communities in Thailand.

Size: Medium

Expat community: Large

Comparable cost of living: $$

Accessibility: High

Job opportunities: Hospitality, education, digital professionals

Pak Nam Pran

Appeal: Establishing roots in an up-and-coming area

This up-and-coming region of Southern Thailand in Pranburi Province still maintains a relatively small expat community, but its growth trends greatly appeal to younger, entrepreneurial expats eager to put down roots early to take advantage of the predicted explosion of tourism and development. Local industry focuses heavily on eco-tourism and sustainability, and residents are actively engaged in activities like organic communal gardens, farmers’ markets and artisan trade, and outdoor activities. The government also maintains an active presence alongside Chinese and Thai partners to encourage sustainable growth, rebuilding the beachfront, and monitoring development.

Size: Small

Expat community: Small

Comparable cost of living: $

Accessibility: Medium

Job opportunities: Entrepreneurs, hospitality, digital professionals, retirees