The Best Places to Live in Thailand

The island of Koh Tao offers laid-back, authentic island living and idyllic spots such as Sai Nuan beach
The island of Koh Tao offers laid-back, authentic island living and idyllic spots such as Sai Nuan beach | © Alexander Ozerov / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Leslie Finlay
10 June 2021

Ever dreamt about living in Thailand? With world-class scuba diving sites, vibrant nightlife, low living costs and tropical temperatures, this Southeast Asian country tempts in many immigrants from cooler climates. From Bangkok to Chiang Mai and Krabi, here are the top areas to live in Thailand.

Nimmanhaemin, Chiang Mai

Appeal: City living without the chaos of Bangkok

Chiang Mai has attracted incomers for decades, offering the conveniences of urban life but with a more low-key vibe than counterpart, Bangkok. It also has a much lower cost of living, and the weather is cooler than the central plains further south. Nimman is where most immigrants settle, and is packed with every accommodation option, from ultra-cheap to luxury, and more locally priced restaurant and shopping options than the tourist-heavy Old City. The neighbourhood has a near-endless supply of coffee shops and co-working spaces to cater to the local population of digital professionals. Like Bangkok, however, the immigrant community is rather spread out and it can require some extra energy to make friends and engage with other local residents.

Hua Hin

Hua Hin is just three hours from the Thai capital of Bangkok | © Thaiways / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Three hours down the coast from Bangkok, Hua Hin is the holiday playground of the capital residents – even the King of Thailand’s summer palace is located here. With popular markets, excellent dining, a beachside location and some of the best golf courses in Thailand, it has become home to many retired immigrants looking to live out their golden years in a coastal town. While the city is rather sleepy during the week, everything becomes far livelier with the arrival of Bangkok weekenders.

Koh Tao

Koh Tao offers chilled island living | © Alexander Ozerov / Alamy Stock Photo

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

The smallest of the three main Gulf islands, Koh Tao offers laid-back, authentic island living. But the long-term immigrant community here has also developed an efficient infrastructure of everyday amenities.

The prized industry is scuba diving, which employs most of the large immigrant population; there are also opportunities for work across the hospitality sector, particularly in hotel or restaurant management. The multinational community is inviting and active, and well integrated into the island society.

Sathorn, Bangkok

Appeal: Every convenience of life in the big city, but quieter than other Bangkok immigrant neighbourhoods

Situated along the Chao Phraya River, this central but quiet Bangkok neighbourhood is known for having affordable upscale accommodation. Sathorn blends city comforts and natural surroundings, thanks to its proximity to beautiful Lumphini Park. It is home to a growing set of immigrants who want access to the more vibrant areas of the city such as Sukhumvit, but without the soaring costs of living, and with the ability to retreat from the thumping nightlife.

Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi provides easy access to Erawan National Park | © Prasit Rodphan / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Weary Bangkok transplants are increasingly making a break for the outskirts, with many landing in the Western province of Kanchanaburi for rock-bottom accommodation deals and a slower paced Thai life. The area has attracted many retirees, but also ESL teachers and other professionals looking for the convenience of being close to Bangkok. Here, you can enjoy access to some of most incredible natural wonders in Thailand, such as Erawan National Park, and life without the city pollution.

Ao Nang, Krabi

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

This relaxed beach town is far enough from ultra-touristy Phuket, but close enough that necessities such as airports, hospitals and shopping are never more than a quick ride away. The area has an old-world charm that complements adventurous attractions such as the climbing spots of Railay Beach and the lure of island hopping through the archipelago. This appeal attracts a niche kind of traveller, which keeps the area from becoming overrun with tourists, but is enough to forge a viable local economy, itself driven by a mix of local- and immigrant-owned businesses.

Pai

Pai is a picturesque rural village with a focus on art and wellness | © Julian Peters / Alamy Stock Photo

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 immigrants who love nature and appreciate a slower way of life. The community here has roots to Burmese and Chinese immigrants, who created a multinational atmosphere long before the mass arrival of Westerners. Today, the rural village is focussed on art and wellness, and the community-minded residents are involved in many aspects of the growth and betterment of the town, from reforestation projects to volunteering with marginalised groups.

Koh Phangan

Appeal: Wellness-oriented community close to the conveniences of the 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 found in Koh Samui and Phuket, or the remoteness of Koh Tao. The location of the monthly Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan maintains a robust tourism economy that supports many residents, but the party island reputation is undeserved. Aside from the monthly extravaganza, it has a quiet vibe and a focus on wellness and sustainable living, and has some of the most beautiful beaches and scenery in the country. The immigrant community is well connected and friendly. While island life is always a bit pricier 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 you can’t get on the island is easily accessible.

Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is home to the White Temple | © Sorin Colac / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Smaller and quieter than nearby Chiang Mai, this town – home to the White Temple – has experienced much slower, but nonetheless steady growth. It has a lot in common with Chiang Mai, but with a considerably smaller number of tourists. While there are plenty of bars and restaurants to explore, Chiang Rai does lack the multitudinous entertainment options of Chiang Mai. The draw for immigrants is the unrivalled proximity to some of the best nature and adventure options for city dwellers, from motorcycle trips through the countryside to waterfalls and rock climbing.

Pattaya

Appeal: Coastal life in a built-up community

Established residents in Thailand may be reluctant to live in Pattaya, as the coastal city has been linked to prostitution. But the city is going through a sort of renaissance with the introduction of world-class cuisine, a more family-friendly vibe and a strong contingent of nearly 40,000 immigrants who have established an efficient infrastructure. Pattaya also has one of the strongest LGBTQ communities in Thailand.

Pak Nam Pran

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

This up-and-coming region of southern Thailand in Pranburi Province has a relatively small immigrant community, but it appeals to younger, entrepreneurial types wanting to get a look-in before the predicted tourism explosion. The local industry is heavily focussed on ecotourism and sustainability, and residents are actively engaged in activities such as organic communal gardens, farmers’ markets, 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.

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