Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, A Budget Breakdown

A beautiful temple in our front yard: Wat Suan Dok

The beautiful temple in our front yard: Wat Suan Dok

The main reason Kevin and I picked Chiang Mai for the starting point of our adventure abroad is because of its reputation for being a dirt cheap place to live.  Luckily, we love Chiang Mai for lots of other reasons too: the wonderful locals, the delicious food, the beautiful mountains surrounding us, the ease of getting around the city, and the huge expat community.

We are both officially unemployed now, without much reliable monthly income.  Luckily, we make enough money from renting out our house in Seattle to cover many of our expenses here, and Kevin still makes a little residual income from past app successes.  However, we saved up and set out for this year abroad knowing that it’s highly likely that more money will be going out than is coming in.  And we are ok with that.  The whole point of this year is to experience new cultures, as well as to spend all of our time learning and working on projects we are really excited about.  In order to do that without worrying too much about finances, we came somewhere cheap!  So how much are we spending in Chiang Mai?

The Budget

Note: When this post was published, the exchange rate was about 32 THB for $1 US.


  • Seattle Rental Income (Rent minus Mortgage minus property manager fees): $860
  • Unpredictable App Income
  • Begging for money in the Old City (just kidding, mom and dad, we’re not really doing this)

May’s Expenses

Cost (THB) Cost (US) Note
Rent ฿14,000 $430 41 sq. m 1-bedroom apartment
#8211; Water ฿225 $7 #8211; Electric ฿1,400 $43 We run our aircon a LOT.
#8211; Cell Phones ฿749 $23 #8211; Internet ฿641 $20 We upgraded the free "Internet from Hell" that came with our place
Massages ฿1,630 $50 Three 1-hour Massages each
Coffee ฿4,837 $148 Cafes are our work space!
Food: (We only cook breakfast now!)
#8211; Restaurants, Cafes, Food Stalls ฿7,466 $93 40% of this was at Pun Pun! #8211; Farmer's Market ฿2,283 $70
#8211; Grocery Store ฿841 $26 Booze ฿971 $30 One large beer here will run you ฿55 at the 7-11 Transportation ฿480 $15 Travel ฿0 $0 No travel in May! We were settling in, and plan to pick this up soon. Miscellaneous ฿1,757 $54 Soap, toilet paper, laundry detergent, toiletries, etc. Travel Insurance ฿2,050 $63 IMG Global's Patriot International Insurance with Adventure Sports Rider Grand Total ฿39,330 $1,203 For 2 people per month in Chiang Mai

What Does $1,200 per Month Get you in Chiang Mai?

A great 1-Bedroom Apartment

Enjoying the apartment pool

Enjoying the apartment pool

We love our apartment!  It is brand spankin’ new, has two aircon units, a washing machine, a hot water heater, cable TV, and a great well-stocked kitchenette.  It also came with the slowest internet ever, so we pay each month to have our own wifi network that is much faster.  We use either the pool or the gym every single day, so we’re definitely getting our money’s worth.  Our landlord also sends a cleaning company over every month for a top-to-bottom scrub.  For more info, photos, and a video tour of our apartment, check out my previous post about our apartment search.

Delicious Market Fresh Breakfast Supplies

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We cook just one meal a day now – breakfast.  Every few days, we head to the Ton Payom market, where the farmers bring their goods and set up shop.  We always buy eggs, mangos, lychees, bananas, bok choy, sugar snap peas, baby corn, a bell pepper, tomatoes and onion and rarely spend more than $7 per market trip.  Sometimes we pick up a whole pineapple from the gal down our street for 50 cents.  Sometimes we impulse purchase food from “cake guy” who sells this amazing coconut cake for 30 cents per piece.  More often than I care to admit, we stop to buy Kanom Krok from a street vendor from 20 Baht.

Tasty, Cheap Thai Lunches and Dinners

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This has got to be the best thing about living in Thailand.  There is delicious, fresh, wonderful, crazy inexpensive food all around us!  It makes me want to use a gratuitous amount of exclamation points!!!  The most fantastic thing about being in Thailand semi-long-term is that it takes away the fear of ordering something that won’t be good.  If you’re only in Thailand for a week, you kind of want to play it safe and order things you know you’ll enjoy.  If you’re here for a long time, you may discover a surprising love of dishes with lots of chili paste in them (I used to refuse to even eat onions or garlic, people!  I’ve come a long way.)  Plus we rarely spend more than $2/person per meal.  I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Local Cell Phone Service

We have a family plan with DTAC, a Thai cell service provider.  In order to get this plan, we walked into their store, were helped out by an English-speaking employee, and left an hour later with Thai Sim Cards in our iPhones we brought from home.  For 700 Baht (plus tax) per month, Kevin and I each get 1GB of 3G data (and unlimited slow data if we go over that amount), we get 200 text messages, and 300 minutes apiece.  DTAC allows you to tether with their data plan, which means we can create a wifi hot spot from our iPhones.  This is great if you sit down at a coffee shop to work, then realize their internet speed is abysmal.

The occasional ride in a Tuk-Tuk or Songathew

Unfortunately, we don’t have a motorbike.  This is certainly the best way to get around in Thailand, but we’ve so many stories about foreigners being pulled over and forced to bribe policemen that we haven’t been brave enough to wade into the murky waters just yet.  We take the occasional ride on a Songathew, which is a red pickup truck with bench seating in the covered truck bed.  Songathew rides cost 20+ Baht per person depending on where you’re going.  Tuk-Tuks are a different animal – these are sort of tricycle-style motorcycles with a bench seat behind the driver.  He’ll take you straight to your destination and will generally cost at least twice what you’d spend on a Songathew.

Heavenly Massages

Green Bamboo, 1-hour Massage for 200 Baht

Green Bamboo, 1-hour Massage for 200 Baht

Coming in second behind the food, massages are another great reason to base in Thailand.  The most we’ve ever spent on a 1-hour Thai Massage is 250 Baht, or $7.70.  (We also typically each leave a 50 Baht tip, or $1.50.)

Travel Insurance

Many people travel without any sort of medical insurance, but I’m a little too high strung for that.  Before leaving home, we paid $760 for a 1-year Patriot Travel Medical Insurance Policy with added Adventure Sports rider from IMG Global.  This is essentially a catastrophic coverage plan that we’d use only if something major were to happen.  It also provides us with Identity Theft Assistance and Lost Luggage coverage.

Lots and Lots of Coffee

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Rarely does a day pass when we don’t hit at least 2 coffee shops.  We typically spend 3-4 hours at each spot working on whatever project is top priority that day.  This means we spend quite a bit on coffee, but we justify this to ourselves because we rented a fairly small apartment and spend $270 less per month rent than we had initially budgeted for.  Also, we’re from Seattle, which means coffee runs in our veins instead of blood.

A coffee in Chiang Mai can run you anywhere from 50-80 Baht ($1.50 to $2.50).  You can find bubble tea for just $1, and we have a favorite bar with Wifi and beers for just $1.  Life is good.

You Should Move Here Too

Do you see how inexpensive Chiang Mai is?!  One of the reasons we’re blogging is to try to convince other people to throw caution to the wind and spend some serious time abroad.  Hopefully this will help sell Chiang Mai as a great spot for a “mini retirement”, or even a full-on retirement (they have special retirement visas aimed specifically at folks over age 50)!

While there are certainly significant financial implications to consider (like getting ahead on retirement savings) before quitting your job and moving abroad, I think we’ve made a case here that it’s possible to really minimize your expenses in Chiang Mai.  We certainly don’t pinch pennies (er, pinch Baht?) – we live in a brand new “western-style” apartment with a pool and gym, we run our Air Conditioner a lot, and we’re eating as much fresh, healthy food each day as we want to.  It’s definitely possible to live here for much, much, much cheaper than we do.

Here are a few budget-isms we have found interesting:

  • We are now horrified to spend more than $2/person per meal
  • All our monthly expenses, including rent, are paid in cash
  • Can you believe our water bill was only $7?!
  • Electric bills are paid at the 7-11 store, so that’s something to get used to! I think the US should learn from this – it’s far more pleasant to pay your electric bill somewhere where you can also buy a beer.

We want to hear from you!

Are you surprised at what it costs to spend a month in Chiang Mai?  Have we convinced you to quit your day job and move over here to join us?

5 thoughts on “Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, A Budget Breakdown

  1. Pingback: Prices of Everyday Living in Thailand

    • Hi Sloan,

      We actually never worked for a local company while we were living in Chiang Mai. Kevin just continued to dabble in his app work and I studied to change careers when we came back home. (It worked! I’m a software developer now hooray.)

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