Internet in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Internet... or lack of itChiang Mai is the digital nomad capital. How many times do you need to see a statement like this to pack your bags and go there? Clearly, we saw it enough since we ended up in Chiang Mai.

Somewhat naively, I thought that this was the winning formula:
digital nomad capital = good food + affordable accommodations + reliable internet connection.

While still researching information about Chiang Mai, I found couple threads in different forums about problems with internet connection. However, those references were so sparse that I attributed them to the good old trolling and didn’t pay much attention.

Thus, we happily arrived to Chiang Mai: the weather was great, the food was fantastic, the housing was relatively cheap. There was only one thing that marred the perfect picture: the internet connection, pardon my language, sucked. There is no other word to describe how slow and unreliable it was. I am not even talking about streaming videos, but just a simple web browsing or checking email becomes a chore with this ancient train wreck of the Internet connection. Admittedly, once its up its working. The “up” part, however, is problematic. Seemingly randomly, it goes down lasting from just mere seconds (but enough to interrupt whatever you were doing at the moment) to hours. The worst outage was on Christmas day when it was down for more than 12 hours.

So far, we lived in 2 different places with different ISPs in different parts of the city. In the first one, the outages happened every other day; the second one was “blessed” with daily outages. Hence, either we were extremely unlucky or; indeed, it is a widespread problem.

Switching to another ISP brings 2 issues:

  • there is no guarantee, except the ISPs promise, that it has better service
  • local ISPs require a 1 year contract. If you stay just for 3 months it’s not a feasible option. I heard that some person successfully negotiated ending the contract after about 3 months without paying for a full year, but I haven’t met him personally, so it could be a tall tale. There is always a choice of simply leaving the country without fulfilling your obligations. But what if you decide to come back after a while? Is there an equivalent of a “credit history” in Thailand or some other blacklisting mechanism where your name might appear?

Of course, there is always a coffee shop as a last resort. There are plenty of them claiming to have WiFi all around the city. However, localized renditions of Adele’s songs may somewhat tarnish your business image while participating in a Skype meeting. Also, I would never deal with any sensitive information in a public place, and I am not even talking about business projects, but just using your credit card to make an online payment or do your online banking. Even if you would be using VPN, you could become an easy prey of shoulder surfing.

There are also co-working places. However, they are not free, so you may get an Internet connection with a plenty of social interaction to boot, but the second postulate of the digital nomad capital, affordable accommodation, would go up in smoke.

Last but not least, there are couple “funny” things we discovered about Chiang Mai’s internet:

  1. because you share an IP address with other inhabitants of your apartment building, you might get into a situation where your IP address is blacklisted due to some nefarious activities of your neighbors or previous tenants. The only solution is to use VPN, but you end up with slower connection;
  2. Asian countries do implement some kind of internet filtering, and it works “as well” as it does for esteemed British citizens (so no porn for you). The negative side effect is that some types of VPN get blocked.

Other than these slight annoyances everything works like a charm.

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