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Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand

by Globetrooper Todd | 61 Responses
Cost of Living Thailand

I always thought the cost of living in India would be the lowest on Earth. But after spending only a few weeks there, I started to hear suggestions that Thailand was even cheaper. Could that possibly be?

Our cost of living posts have become somewhat of a series. So it only makes sense, now that I’m in Thailand, to update you on how Thailand relates to our previous destinations. I think you’ll be just as surprised as I was.

It’s not easy to compare the cost of living across countries. Either the expense items aren’t comparable, exchange rates have moved, or average prices are too difficult to measure. With that in mind, we try to be as objective as possible, even if our tastes have changed quite dramatically after a full 12 months of travel.

Let me first update our usual table.

Comparison of Previous Destinations

City Accomm. (/mth) Dinner (avg for 2) Beer (660ml)
Sydney $1733 $30-50 $4.00
Montreal $867 $30-50 $2.50
Cusco $433 $7-10 $1.00
Buenos Aires $800 $15-30 $1.20
Bangalore $600 $7-12 $1.40
Chiang Mai $150 $2-4 $1.60

As always, there are caveats. Clearly Sydney is the most expensive city in Australia, just like Bangalore with respect to India. On the other hand, Montreal is one of the cheaper cities in Canada, just like Chiang Mai with respect to Thailand. Nonetheless, the table shows our experiences and you can make whatever adjustments you think necessary.

There’s another caveat here concerning accommodation. In Cusco we had a two bedroom apartment; in Sydney and Montreal we had small one bedroom apartments; in BA we had a studio; in Bangalore we only had one room of a large two bedroom apartment; and in Chiang Mai I just have a small room (because Lauren is still in the Gobi Desert).

Also, these prices apply to long-term accommodation. If you’re looking for shorter term Chiang Mai hotels, or specifically hotels near Chiang Mai gate or hotels near the Night Bazaar, then we suggest you check those links.

The Lowest Cost of Living So Far

There’s no doubt about it, Chiang Mai has by far the lowest cost of living of any city we’ve lived in. You can easily find dinner for $1, but in the table I’ve been a little conservative and added a drink, which will take you to $2. Even at a nicer restaurant, I can get pad thai and a beer, which also includes free WiFi, for less than $4. Yes, it’s really that cheap.

My $150 per month room (no, not a type, that’s per month), has air conditioning, television, constant hot water, a weekly cleaning service, and 6Mbps WiFi, all inclusive. I’m inside the old city and close to basically everything. Love it!

Interestingly, beer isn’t as cheap here as many other places. Including it in the table makes me look like an alcoholic, but I think the price of beer is an interesting cost of living measure. It seems to differ between countries with no regard to normal food and beverage prices. Likewise, I think the price of cigarettes is also an interesting social indicator, but since I don’t smoke, it’s a little too difficult to measure.

The Possibilities Are Endless

Some people have dreams that involve extended focus on a particular project that won’t return a profit for many months or even years. This may include starting a business, writing a novel, painting pictures, working on theories, or even just catching your breath after years of monotonous work. For most people, dreams like these will never come to fruition because they seem financially out of reach.

Places like Cusco and Chiang Mai make this possible through lower costs of living and favourable foreign exchange rates. Conceivably, you could live in Chiang Mai, write a book, and only need to save a few thousands dollars to last you a year. In somewhere like Sydney, that would barely last a month.

The surprising thing is that the standard of living isn’t so different. Sure, by some sterile economic measure, life in Chiang Mai may seem like the dumps. But from most first-hand accounts, life here is really a breeze. In fact it’s better than a breeze, it’s impossibly comfortable.

In trying to think of something I’m missing from Sydney, in terms of standard of living, I can’t really come up with much. At first I thought of public transport, but then I had to laugh. Sydney’s public transport is atrocious, and taxis in Chiang Mai cost a fraction of a Sydney bus, so that point is moot. What else? Maybe health care? Touch wood, but I haven’t had to test that out yet. I can say that we had good medical experiences in Buenos Aires, Peru and India, so I imagine it’s fine here too. What else? Umm… not the state of the roads (they’re the same here), not the quality of food, not the cars, not the accommodation, hmmm.

People clearly get paid more money in the West. Though arguably it’s for work that’s less industrious; most people push paper and tick boxes back home, whereas people here more often create stuff and have to sell to real customers. I love that! But otherwise, the world outside of conflict/poverty zones seems pretty much on an even keel. Of course there are exceptions, but I find they’re rare.

What am I getting at? I’m not really sure. I guess I’m trying to motivate others to explore and experiment. Zip to the other side of the world, set up shop, and let us know what the experience is like. Every now and then I think back to what life was like grinding away at a profession, albeit a promising one, and it makes me shudder every time. We really do feel alive now, which is such an awful cliche, but the underlying meaning makes the cliches bearable.

Many Things Are Actually Better

Take WiFi. I have a bizarre fascination with Internet speeds around the world, probably because they’re linked to my livelihood as a web developer. In India, the lack of decent Internet basically stopped this livelihood in its tracks. So I guess you could say we’re sensitive to Internet speeds as a matter of survival (or sustainability of our long-term travel).

Thailand Internet Speed Test

Internet Speed Test from my $5/night Apartment

In most of the places you think WiFi would be awesome (with highest costs of living), it actually sucks beyond belief. Sydney, New York and Bangalore are the absolute pits. Of all places, New York! It really is hopeless there. And Bangalore, the supposed Silicon Valley of India, ha!

What about cheap Chiang Mai? It’s everywhere. My $5 per night room gives me a constant 5-6Mbps. I had a $2 pad thai at a restaurant last night, connected to their WiFi, and was downloading at 5Mbps. Even in the streets there’s WiFi and large routers mounted to the telegraph poles. Admittedly it’s not free, but it’s only a couple of dollars.

Of courses it’s not all strawberries and cream; places like Thailand are labelled ‘developing’ for a reason, but man, it’s relatively difficult to make a case to go back home. Most patriotic/defensive people would say, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t come back home then’, and I’d have no other response than to say, ‘Well, that’s a brilliant idea!’

 

Posted in Featured, Thailand, Travel Hacking | June 18th, 2011

61 Responses to Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand

  1. Hi Todd,

    Great comparison on the cost of living for cities around the world. I already commented on your Facebook update, but I will declare my love for Chiang Mai again anyway :)

    It’s great value for your money, people are friendly, and I had access to everything I need to feel at home, including Starbucks(!), plus abundant WiFi (better than in Canada), plus cheap and delicious street food and fresh fruit everywhere, all the time.

    A few other Chiang Mai costs I’d like to add to your list, if anyone is interested:
    1kg laundry <= $1, large fruit shake <= $1, movie ticket $3, foot massage $3/half hour.

    Have a great time Todd!
    -Lily

    • Looks like I’m getting ripped off on my laundry; I’m paying at least $1.20, hehe. I love having my laundry done; I’d pay much more because it makes me so happy.

    • I live in Tampa Fl but constantly go back and forth to N. eastern thailand (Issan) Nong Ki is where I reside and you talk about no crime, excellent living , people are beautiful and nice, they happily give you their shirt off their back , I own my home but definitely in the beginnig I stayed many places but stayed in Chiang Mai for about 3 months and it come out ot be about 600 bucks but that is everything and the room was in a beautiful chankarat mansion , maid service , high speed internet about 7 to 10 mbps , just great living , and I was their during Songkran , but for living I definitely think the medical is one of the best I paid for a full physical 36 dollars, just to see what it was like to see a doctor, he spoke good english as well , I recommend anybody retiring from the USA to definitely check it out, the travel is well established their bus system is top class nothing like our grey hound bus system totally different , you will have to experience that for yourself because I doubt anyone will believe me if i said just how good it is . Anyone with questions definitely can email me I have a huge latex plantation and do very well with production of natural latex the olnly downside is you have to wait 5 years but what do you have to lose , nothing you have to work anyway so my email kevwall2009@hotmail.com ask me anything you want .
      Sincerely Kevin Wall (Thailands number one guide )

  2. I hope you visit Cambodia and compare. It’s much cheaper than Thailand and less touristy. The only negative though is the internet.

    • Hey Sonya, after a couple of weeks here, I can see the attraction of somewhere a little less touristy. Will definitely check out Cambodia.

    • Agree but NOT in Phnom Penh and Seim Reap.

  3. Great post Todd. Interesting to hear a 1st-hand experience of cost of living and not just hearing about it on CNBC. I loved Chiang Mai…actually I loved all of Thailand…If i knew i could get accommodations like yours for so cheap, i would have stayed much longer!

    And that comment from Lily makes me laugh as it reminds me of how my Chiang Mai hotel quoted me $5 to wash a Tshirt while the local laundromat across the street washed my entire luggage of clothes for about $1. It even came nicely folded too!

  4. So, so glad I was right about Chiang Mai. It has freaking three Apple stores, for god’s sake. Also, we will be there VERY shortly! WOO HOO!

    • Wow, that was spooky. Just as I hit submit and replied to Christine’s latest post about you, I got an email alert about you posting here. Something’s not right man, I don’t trust this Internet thing.

      PS Super cool that you guys are coming. I’ve spent some time with Wes here, he’s good fun to hang out with too.

  5. Love the post Todd! Sounds like u are totally loving the place. Makes me wanna pack my bags and leave for Chiang Mai. Hope to see u n Lauren soon!

    • Hi Lakshyya, yeah it’s a very easy place to live. I am missing India though. I liked that Bangalore wasn’t so touristy and that beer was harder to get :) I’m also a little sick of Thai food already and other food costs a lot more. But otherwise it’s a very laid back place and the roads and footpaths are all well sealed, so I can walk down the street without watching where I step the entire time. hehe

  6. haahhahah…nice…never mind the easy availability of beer:P u can burn it out by walking ryt? thai food, i knw its nice but i can totally understand wat u wud b goin thru…missing the Spicy Dals? try makin some there! wud b fun.

  7. yea i knw its so nice to get ur laundry done…we found this place here so we r also doin the same but definitely its not that cheap:P

    • You get what you pay for though, I think my shirts have shrunk a little from getting my laundry done here.

  8. hahhahaah…r sure its the laundry or the easy access to beer?

  9. Man, you are about the 3rd person in the last month I’ve seen talking about how cheap Chiang Mai is. My wife and I are traveling now and for a couple of days were thinking about heading to Chiang Mai in a couple of months.

    If we didn’t have a pet rabbit we may very well have done it for all the reasons you mentioned here. For now though, we are planning to head into Mexico and explore for about 6 months.

    • Hey Robert, from what I hear it’s quite easy to bring pets to Thailand. Definitely not Australia, but most other countries are cool. We’re meeting up with a friend in Germany next month, and he’s bringing his pet cat from Canada.

    • they will have to keep the rabbit in quarantine for a few days but , you know thai baht goes a long way, if you know what I mean 500 baht and bugs bunny will be a first class thai citizen lol
      Sincerely Kevin

  10. This is why we are heading to Chiang Mai for the winter. It sounds like the perfect place to get some work done for a few months. Thanks for the useful info!

    • Hey Erin, thanks for dropping by. CM is definitely good for working. Love the fast Internet. I’m in Laos now, and while I love it here, the Internet is pretty slow, but not as slow as India.

  11. I’ve now seen a few articles now on the cost of living in Chiang Mai – you make for a compelling case to stay there. I’ve been several times but never to live. I think that’s going to change soon. Thanks for the article.

    • Hey Samuel, yeah the price of accomm drops considerably if you stay for a while. When Lauren joins me again, it could be as cheap as $2.50 per night on a monthly rate.

  12. Hi Todd,
    Thanks so much for the motivating article! Chiang Mai will be our next destination to live for a while.

    I found it very difficult to find reliable websites for apartments online. Do you happen to know any good apartments with a website that I can check out?

    Thanks a lot! Bart

    • Thanks for dropping by Bart. We love SpottedByLocals. We’re on our way to Europe next month, so will be able to make more use of your guides soon.

      Here’s an apartment website: http://www.chiangmaihouse.com/

      There are lots of monthly rentals though. So if you’re fine with eating out a lot, long-term guesthouses are pretty economical. Normally I wouldn’t advocate eating out all the time, but if you eat local here, it can be quite healthy and very cheap.

    • Chankarat Mansion and english vocouple own it its a gorgeous place to stay 3500 BAHT per month and maid service , high speed internet everything you want free coffe to

  13. Can anyone help? I’m going out to Chiang Mai November time to do a course at See tefl, then hopefully find a job teaching.Like Bart I’m looking for accomodation and was wondering if it’s possible to
    get a small apartment for around 3-5 thousand baht per month.And,if I stay away from western luxuries, is it possible to get by on 15000 baht per
    month.Any help is hugely appreciated-ta David from Glasgow in Scotland.

    • When I arrived here (at first by myself) I stayed in a place called Gap’s House 2. It’s on the west side of the moat (which surrounds the old city). It was 4,500 per month + elec.

      As for food, Lauren and I can do less than $10 per day (300 baht). That includes muesli for brek, lunch at our favourite french cafe (cheap), and dinner at a night market. So cut that in half for one person, which is 4500 per month. That + another 4500 for rent leaves you with 6000 for having fun.

      We’re now staying in Smith Residence, which is a little better located, and bigger for the two of us. Places here start at 7k per month. The place has a nice pool, gym, etc. So you can see how cheap it is.

    • Hi There, I know I am probably too late but I know this property is located only a short drive (on a bike) from SEETFL and it is neat and clean.

      As for living on 15,000 Baht a month, Yes it is possible just stay away from too many bars and you will be fine. Remember locals can keep a complete family on less than than that.

  14. Dear Todd,

    Please clarify….You advised David Riddell (Glasgow, Scotland, 8/13/2011) that he could live in Chiang Mai for “15,000″ Baht per month.; including $200 discretionary spending.) In another article you mentioned that you and Lauren need $1,000. Did I miss something?

    My research indicates that it’s possible to live comfortably (long-term; one person) for $500 per month. Not a lavish lifestyle; but simple, comfortable, and decent.

    Thank you!

    Brian
    South Korea

    • Hi Brian,

      I think $500 is possible, but it would be a little tight. So $150 for accomm, $150 for food, then $200 left over. You can get a scooter for 2,000 per month, so that’s about $66, but you don’t really need one. If you don’t drink alcohol, that helps a lot. Then there’s electricity and water. One hot month my elec bill came to $60, but I used the air cond way too much. Water is cheap. Drinking water is about 50c for a large bottle. So $500/m doesn’t sound too difficult.

  15. That’s it.
    I’ve made up my mind.
    Not going to Bali, going to Chiang Mai instead.
    Excellent post, thank you!!

  16. How does a person find out about teaching jobs? Even short term ones?

    • Hi Myrna,

      I’m not too sure. But lots of people here are teaching and seem to go through short-term employment agencies. Lots are also teaching English online. I’ve heard mention of a few websites, but not sure of the names. Check google maybe. Otherwise, there are a few blogs that talk about it too. Again, can’t remember the names sorry.

    • If a person is already in Thailand, an online school is hiring at, I believe, 300 Baht per 45 minute class. The school is http://www.englishtown.com and they are recruiting loads of people just in Thailand now. Send your CV to: global.recruit(at)ef(dot) com You will need to be TEFL certified with one year of experience.

  17. Free WIFI.. huh!!!

    Beware of session-id hijacking.. others on the same n/w can use simple tools to hack into ur accounts.
    In fact, ur account has almost certainly been hacked.
    Pls change ur pwds once ur back on a secure n/w.
    ~TC

  18. From what I’ve been reading here, someone living in Chiang Mai long term could do so more than comfortably on US $1,000 a month, yes?

    • Hi Doug, Yes, I definitely think so. Though it depends on what you’re used to. Partying and drinking can break any budget in any country. So if you’re fine with local food, simple accommodating, and you don’t drink too much, $1k is more than enough.

  19. Hi, A great read, I know a guy that moved from BC to a island in Thailand and been looking thing I need to know like shots I need. And to get as much info as I can,and I really want to go. Now on the news is showing the worst flooding in 50 years,and warning travelers not to go,whats your thoughts on that? Nov 9 2011

    • Hi Brian, we know a few people there and there say there are no problems up north in CM. Trains stopped for a little wile from Bangkok, but otherwise they’re doing fine. You can get the shots done in Thailand, sooooo much cheaper and the medical facilities are very good. Might be $30 compared to $300 in the West.

  20. Great work! That is the type of information that are supposed to be shared around the web. Shame on Google for not positioning this submit upper! Come on over and visit my site . Thanks =)

  21. I know for 3500 Baht a month you can get some basic neat and clean properties but please be aware that there a lot of less than desirable properties in that price bracket so do shop about as it will be well worth it in the long run

  22. I have a quick question for you – how did you go about finding a room? And what neighborhood or area were you in?

    I’ll be going to CM for 1 month. I’ve never been there and I don’t know anyone there. So when I get off the plane the first thing I’ll do is go look for a room to rent. Definitely appreciate your advice!

    • Hi Drew

      There are places to say al over Chiang Mai virtually around every corner. I’d suggest Smith Residence in the south. Lots of ex-pats and longer term travellers there. In fact, if you’re travelling soon, we can put you in touch. Smith is about $300/month + a bit more for elec and water. If you want something cheaper, I’d suggest Gap’s House 2 on the West side of the moat. A nice room is about $150/month + extras. If you want to stay in the middle of the backpacker action, try the North East quadrant of the moat. Also, make you you hire a scooter for a few day trips into the mountains. Even if you’re not a bike person, it’s loads of fun. There’s a facebook ground of long-term travellers in CM: http://www.facebook.com/TeamChiangMai

  23. Can someone tell me can I fly one way from Chicago to Chiang Mai Thailand & if so what are Thailand’s laws regarding living there permanantly with a U. S. Passport because I’m on social security. Thankyou Charles Donaldson cfd562003@yahoo.com

    • Hi Charles, not too sure about flights, try hipmunk.com. As for Thai visas, you can only stay 30 days on arrival. Then you can do a visa run to Laos and get a double-entry visa that gives 4 months in total. To stay longer, you’ll need to apply for a longer-term visa. For example, you can get an education visa if you commit to thai language lessons. It’s best to ask people who live there.

  24. Todd – I will be travelling with my 2 kids an 11 and 3 year old to stay in CM for about 6 weeks in January and I home ed my eldest. I have looked at the Smith Residence and wonder if it would be suitable for a family if we take the suite (with lounge and kitchen)? Are there other areas where you can recomend families. Its just me and kids so safety is important not somewhere isolated.

    Good internet is very important as she attends some online school and I wonder about the realiability.

    Lastly can we manage without renting a car? We would love to explore the area a bit more and wondered if this can be done. I have looked at the public transport and on my own I could do it but not sure if I can do it with kids. Can you please advise…Thanks for such a useful post

  25. Hi Todd, GREAT ARTICLE, I am looking to retire early ( from the snow & Ice) and was thinking the Phillipines but Chiang Mai seems like a fairly safe and quite inexpensive city, PLEASE If you get a chance could you list the cost of other living items (Supermarket prices, health care etc.. Thanks – your blog is one of the best I have ever seen on Thailand- Could you live on a $1000 a month or would you counting to make ends meet.

  26. Thanks for your continued feedback and support guys, hope you find all the articles useful and of value.

  27. Hey Todd, what a well-written article you got there!

    I am planning to move to Chiang Mai in a couple of months and I don’t know how long will I stay there (at least 5-6 months though), but your article really inspired me.

    I am not man of many needs and my monthly salary is around $1k which should be enough, judging from your article. However, I do have emergency funds in worse case scenario, but I hope it won’t come to that.

    Thanks again for valuable info!

  28. Fast internet in Chiang Mai??
    Not even running at 1 Mbps at Huay Kaew Residence.
    Get a 3G USB from True Move or AIS and you’ll have 5 Mbps but then you’re limited to 1-3 Gigabyte total download per month.
    That’s not much.

  29. I just had to say that this is one of the best articles I have ever read on the internet. We are thinking of going to Chiang Mai to realise our ideas, write a book etc. and what you have written has confirmed everything that we hoped in such a beautiful way.

    Thank you and enjoy you life away from “home”.

  30. No argument that Chiang Mai is cheap compared to Sydney and as you have said there are caveats so I’m just adding some more pointers from my personal experience.

    My brother lives in an apartment in Sydney and pays $999 a month. It’s a student apartment but actually has a separate room for a bed room and a kitchen, lounge room and bath room.

    For $150 a month in Chiang Mai I’m betting that you don’t get a kitchen. In fact it’s hard to get a kitchen in an apartment here for anything under 400 bucks unless you just get yourself one of those portable gas cookers. Some might say that you don’t need a kitchen because you can just eat out all the time but if one is living in CM like myself you can actually get sick of eating out every single meal every day for years.

    More to the point you can get sick of just eating $1 Pad Thai every night so when if you start going for a bit of variety and eat western foods the cost can go up that way too.

    The other thing is that a $150 room is almost always just that – a single small room with a tiny bath room, toilet and sink and that’s it. For 300-400 dollars you can get something with more size but probably still a studio apartment with no partitions or interior doors besides the toilet door.

    For an nice and clean 1 bedroom apartment with a small kitchen (by western standards) and a separate lounge room the best I could find was $500. Still pretty good compared to Sydney.

  31. Another pointless ramble about living on $150/month. For that you get a small spartan room with a small window and rickety bed, maybe a rattan chair and small table. Do you live in a flophouse? Some people can, but it’s much easier to do while on vacation. Much more difficult to live there if you are staying long term or have anything else going on that requires using the space for living.

  32. “… the roads and footpaths are all well sealed, so I can walk down the street without watching where I step the entire time.”

    Thanks for the article. I gotta comment on the above statement. While the rare sidewalk in CM is in better shape than in, say, Pattaya, it’s still a disgrace by Western standards. That said, it’s quite dangerous walking around CM because of the hideous traffic. No Thai (other than monks) walks further than it takes to get to the motorbike or baht bus. Just want to let people know who haven’t been there. Then there’s the pollution that’s gotta be breathed to be believed.

    Such a pity in what would be a perfect walking town.

  33. Great blog here! Also your website loads up very fast!
    What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  34. I do not know if it’s just me or if everybody else experiencing issues with your website.

    It appears as though some of the written text within your content are running off the
    screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let
    me know if this is happening to them as well? This may be
    a problem with my internet browser because I’ve had this happen
    previously. Kudos

  35. Chiang Mai, and Thailand in general, is getting more expensive, but still a bargain all things considered. Chiang Mai also still has the most affordable dental clinics in Thailand if anyone has a toothache during the month. For a look at some example prices, http://www.chiangmaidentist.com/dental-cost/

  36. I will stay for a month, and I need fast and reliable internet. I also need an in-room safe.
    Apart Smith any other ideas of where I could stay ?

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