Making money in Chiang Mai, part 1

I've been in Chiang Mai most of the time this century so I'm starting to write down how I've done it financially as it might help others.

There are big wins here but how everyone does it is going to be different. We are being creative with our lives and creativity brings diversity. The best way to follow along would be with the methods that I have shown to work, applying them to your own skills and experience.

Aim for the long term

This is still an experiment for me as I didn't have anyone else to follow. Even now I don't know how I'll make most money in the next six months, but it always works out, and I think I can explain why.

How I achieve the long term is to target exactly that, and by long term I mean years. This takes nerve, but I believe is the easiest way to make money without a job, mostly because so few people do it, so there's less competition.

If I was starting now, with the benefit of the internet, I'd just save up a few grand however necessary even if also having some debt, which can be a useful thing to take on as interest rates are really low now. Live cheap and go for the long term, which isn't what everyone else is saying to do when you're supposed to crush it in a few months - that isn't going to work for everyone all the time. This is a relaxed part of the world after all.

How I long term a business

In business I always take the long term option. I wrote a new version of software for a friend in 2002, for a system we both contributed to inventing back in the 1980s. I spent 8 months part time rewriting the code from scratch, and instead of getting the £10-£20k that may have been worth we agreed I'd get paid £500 per customer once the system sold. This was a great deal for both of us, for him because this was still a small fraction of the retail price, and for me because I knew the quality of my software and it continued selling well past the time in 2007 we decided to part company, a couple of sales a month on average must have made £50-£60k in total, nicely distributed over years living in Thailand.

Long term investing

Once having some savings investing can leverage them tenfold or more. You can either be a millionnaire getting 2% return or have a tenth of the money and invest at 20% a year, it amounts to the same thing in practice and gets there a lot quicker.

Here is how I made half of my investment gains from 2007 until 2011. The other half is even more interesting, I'll write about that later.

This is the gold price chart in dollars. Daily, monthly, even quarterly this is a really hard graph to predict, because everyone is churning away with their emotion and the news in short timeframes. Take the average price for the previous 2 years you get the red line, where there is not a single pixel going down the whole time. Zoom out to the big picture and it's easy, focus on short term details and it's really hard.

In those years it looked as if there were more gold shops than ATMs in Thailand, a big clue as to where the real money was. It also shows that just buying America's S&P isn't always best.

I'll also have to write about how in a garage next to a railway line in the cheap days of London I wrote the first version of my market software I still use to this day. Amazon, Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard all started in garages, keeping costs low until the profits are sustained.

Do what's possible, not just a little better

Look at what is possible, rather than try to improve a little on what anyone else is doing. That way you can reach 100% or even 100x improvement. I had my first startup when I was still in high school, it was a pre-internet computer graphics club based on fractals. I started creating computer generated mountains in the 1980s, now used in many 3D games today. I tried a startup on that too after university, but it was too early, the hardware was not fast enough. So I joined a chip company, now called Imagination Technologies, as the 7th person on the team of the PowerVR high performance 3D chips we have inside our iPhones, iPads and many Androids today. First big win, enough cash to head for here in 2001, before there was any thought of working remotely on the internet that was only then a few years old, and collected long before Apple was involved.

This work started at school as a hobby. All it took was following the opportunities which is easy when you're early because no one else wants to at the time. Now, so many people want to program games, so I would take a niche that's not considered a good idea yet by most people. I'm doing that and will write about it when I have something to show.

Make money from thin air

I registered .coms for free in the early 2000s, and have paid about £10 a year each to hang onto some of them. Now based on published transactions a number are worth good four figure sums, for example someone else's went for $16,000 last year and I'm currently selling and many others.

There'll be more virtual property opportunities, for example bitcoin was interesting. Spot what will stay rare but can have brand value to a business or rising brand value to people generally.

My son here in Chiang Mai is about to pay for his acting course by borrowing from a friend who is selling a digital asset in a game.

I'll explain more later, how I have gone from freelancer to owning digital assets with a massive potential for scale.

A few grand is seriously rich

I have no intention of accumulating great wealth, instead I optimise for health and then go for what else is easily available. I have a few millionnaire friends and I'm happy with my lifestyle in comparison, even though I have a small fraction of the money, because I get a great return on spending, investment and digital assets and can always fly wherever I want.

I've found my way into a brand new 150sqm house with a superb view, which I rent while investing for hopefully a higher return. Meanwhile where I am in a historically cheap district of town, you can see various shack living areas, Burmese migrant workers, Thais, and an Islamic district with a lot of people living behind a wall with no houses. Walking through these places they seem generally happy and relaxed although I'm sure they'd rather things were going better. But stress is pretty much illegal in Thailand, and their low incomes are matched by a very low cost of living. They will spend a minimum wage or less of around $250 a month for everything, and a neice of my girlfriend out in our village lives in our house there and has a local government part time job for $28 a month, and will also happily work for much less. She needs none of it, and spends it all on phones, as the food is free around there as everyone are farmers. I have seen a man catch most of a bucket of fish from the stream in a few hours, no fishing permit required.

This all makes the spending options in rental places and local markets very low indeed, and it's often easier to spend less than make more. I have recently seen 1500 baht a month in Chiang Mai and I started in a room with two beds (and lots of wildlife) for 60 baht ($2) a day, and he wanted to give me a monthly discount.


Big wins are great but they take time, lifestyle has to be paid for in the meantime.

It hasn't all gone well of course. In 2011 I knew the gold top was in, stockmarkets were awful, and the software project was long gone and I hadn't yet started work with my current business partner for the next one. Basically I just lived off my savings and it wasn't a nice thing to do. I've learnt from this that in a tiny scale of business I need three projects on the go, so that if they each have 50% chance of making decent money in a year, there's still a nearly 90% chance overall that at least one of them will be running nicely.

So the three I have now are a long term profitable software project, investing, and advanced stages of several programs I have written for myself that make my life really easy. They should be useful to other people too, and I'll be letting them out for free to anyone following this blog, as the feedback will be useful.

Coming next

How I moved up from employee to freelancer, to white label production for another brand, to marketing my own brand. The projects that make it all easy, like my program keeping me healthy while getting as much done as possible with a scientific balance. There are also some things I've done here with Thai people, like build a house for £7000 in a relaxing farm village area not far away and how I can be sure I have access to it for life.

I don't have a comments section here yet. I'm thinking of doing videos on this YouTube channel which can have comments. Other subscription options are at the top of this page.

I've just realised what else is in the bag in the picture, so I'll show and explain that next time.

Get my digital nomad news by email

I won't distribute your address.


Chiang Mai Expat Culture:
Dudeism vs Silicon Valley Silicon Sois

What Thailand really says about digital nomads and tourist visas

Thailand Multiple Entry Tourist Visa
- different rules at UK consulates