After tomorrow we are leaving Chiang Mai and heading to the south of Thailand to explore some islands. We spent three and a half months in Chiang Mai and we are really going to miss this city. It’s a great place to visit. Chiang Mai has a unique kind of buzz to it, oscillating between a busy city life in the center and a more tranquil setting as soon as you distance yourself by a few kilometers. If you are adventurous enough to rent a motorbike and head out exploring, a wonderful countryside bursting with all kinds of flowers and wildlife awaits you.
Chiang Mai is quite an affordable city. If you travel on a budget, you can still live here very comfortably. If you have some more money to spend, you can live in Chiang Mai like a boss. In this post I would like to share with you our monthly expenses in Chiang Mai for two people, and to tell you what you can get for the money you spend. Please, see the table below.
|Monthly Expenses in Chiang Mai for 2 people|
|Total Monthly Expenses for 2 people||$1759 (€1344)|
So what can you get for $880 (€672) a month in Chiang Mai?
We rented a one bedroom apartment in Twin Peaks Condominium. It’s fully airconditioned and equipped. It has a kitchen with two cookers and a fridge, a washing machine, an iron board, all the appliances you need, tableware – anything you might want to have at home. However we still had to buy some things to make our life at home more comfortable, as we spent lots of time at the apartment and cooked most of our food there as well. There is a gym and an open-air pool at the building. The staff is very friendly. Our apartment is located in a very convenient place, just a 20 minute walk away from the Old Town and only a few minutes away on foot from the Night Bazar and many cafes and restaurants.
The apartment cost per month is 23,000 Baht ($782). We also pay extra for the electricity and water supply, as well as internet. It is possible to find much cheaper places here though. Most of the people we met in Chiang Mai rented their apartments at the price of 6,000-8,000 Baht ($203-270). If we come back to this city again, we would probably rent a house somewhere out of the city for no more than 15,000 Baht ($507).
We love to eat and we eat a lot. Mostly I cook at home, but 4-5 times per week we eat out and occasionally visit cafes. Half of the money we spent for food was actually spent in restaurants and cafes. Also every month we spend $22 per 2 people for drinking water. We buy 6 litres water bottles in the 7/11 shop just across the street.
Chiang Mai, as elsewhere in Thailand, offers very cheap local food, especially if you buy it from the street. So one dish of Pad Thai (tasty local plate of noodles) will cost you around 40 baht ($1.35), while some tasty healthy fruit shake can be bought for the same amount of money. Most of people spend much less for food, but our problem was that I couldn’t eat Thai food very often, due to my stomach condition. And western food here is a bit more expensive. The average bill in some good western restaurant (without alcohol) is around 600 baht ($20) for 2 people. On the other hand the local food restaurants can serve you the same amount of food for 300 baht ($10) for two persons.
If you are going to cook at home, you can find a wide variety of products in supermarkets like Rimping, Top’s Market or Tesco. Our favourite is Rimping. Don’t forget to take a look at the local markets! You will be surprised by the prices of fruit, vegetables, nuts and other food! Here you can buy one big very juicy and yummy pineapple for 20 baht ($0.68), a pack of 20 average size bananas for 30 baht ($1), a one kilo of mandarins for 40 baht ($1.35) etc. The most expensive fruits here are probably apples.
First month of living in Chiang Mai we mostly walked and used local trasport – Songteaws or Tuk-Tuks. So this part of the budget includes our expenses for local transport, taxi from the airport, renting a motorbike and fuel.
One trip by Songteaw around the city will cost 20 baht ($0.68) baht per one person. If your route is more complicated or you travel in the evening, or outside the city, the price can be raised from 30 baht ($1) to even 400 baht ($13.5) – if you are going far from the city privately. The usual price of a Tuk-tuk for one trip is 50 baht ($1.69) and upwards.
The easiest way to get around the city and out of it is to rent a motorbike. You can rent a scooter in Chiang Mai for 150 – 400 baht ($5-13.5) per day or 2500-5000 baht ($85-170) per month, depending on the condition, age and model of the motorbike. Bigger bikes of course cost more, and are only recommended for longer trips outside of the city, or offroading. The price for fuel here varies depending on the gas station, from 35 to 50 baht ($1.18-1.69) per litre. Usually we fill our tank for 90 baht ($3) and ride our bike without thinking about fuel for 7-10 days (if we don’t go out of the city a lot). Going up mountains or opening up the trottle can burn gas pretty quickly though. You can read more about transportation in Chiang Mai here.
We don’t go to night clubs or bars, we usually go out for eating or taking a coffee. We went a few times to the cinema. The ticket here cost 170 baht ($5.8) and 220 baht ($7.5) for 3D movies. We visited a cookery school here and had a great time. From time to time we go to massage. Our favourite place is Zabai Thai Massage. You can get a one hour of Thai massage or foot massage here for 200 baht ($6.8). There are so many places for massage in Chiang Mai, even at the markets, where you can find prices a bit cheaper if you like.
We also went to yoga classes, which cost us 250 baht per 1 person every session. We visited the Chiang Mai Zoo twice, where we had quite a good time. Once we bought a tour from the agency, which probably was the most expensive entertainment item in our list – 1,100 baht ($37) per person. For us the best entertainment here was to hop on our bike and ride somewhere outside the city, enjoying the wonderful countryside and cleaner air.
This includes things like a haircut for me- 300 baht ($10), different necessities for our apartment, soap, detergents, hairbrush, body oils, protection from mosquitos, commissions from the bank when we withdrew money. So basically, this part of the budget can be much lower or higher, depending on your needs.
Other Expenses, Not Included
There are a few of expenses which we didn’t include in the above.
- We made a trip to Pai and spent $85 for the hotel for 2 nights.
- We had to do a Visa run, so we spent 1,000 baht ($34) for 2 people for visa.
- We didn’t really use our mobile, but we bought a local sim card of AIS which cost us 50 baht ($1.69) and spent around 200 baht in total for top ups. Here the mobile connection is quite cheap – 2 baht ($0.07) per 1 minute and 2 baht per 1 sms within Thailand.
- I had stomach issues after eating Pad Thai at a local place, so we spent 3,678 baht ($124.5) for seeing the doctor twice and for medicine. We went to the Ram Hospital and were very pleased with the service and doctor’s qualification.
We like tracking our travel expenses and analyse if we can spend less or more. It helps a lot when you are planning your long term travelling, especially when you consider that you are living in a new place where prices can be radically different than what you are used to in your hometown. In Thailand, if you come from practically any Western country, you will most likely find things cheaper than back home, but it’s still wise to plan and monitor your expenses.
We keep track of all our expenses using the trusty but old fashioned Microsoft Excel, but nowadays there are handy apps such as Trail Wallet, developed by fellow nomads Simon and Erin from Neverendingvoyage.com. Since we have an Android phone, we haven’t been able to make use of this app, but I would probably use of an Android-equivalent app if I found one.
Hope this post was helpful. We wish you a fantastic stay in Chiang Mai! Please, let us know if you have any questions or comment to share!
Nice experience. $1759 for 1 month for 2 person is quite affordable.
Heh, thanks for the info on Visa Run. Never heard about that before.
So, you’re Jean’s fiance? I only know him as owner of WPMayor, one of MUST go resources for WordPress. Seems you guys travels a LOT. So, what are you guys doing for living? Pretty much online business? I envy people who can travel around the world and go anywhere they want. Don’t have to think about office job, they can work everywhere. Thinking of doing the same thing after finish my studies.
Have you considered to come to Malaysia? I’m Malaysian btw, but now living in Canada.
Hey Rudd, thanks for stopping by 🙂 We do travel quite a bit, and you’re right, online business is what we do. I actually help in running WP Mayor these days, while Jean also does WordPress sites for clients, although he is moving more towards creating his own products and services now.
It’s quite easy for web workers to live this lifestyle, and we’ve met loads of others like us here in Chiang Mai (it’s one aspect that makes it such an attractive location). You should definitely try it if it fits your goals and lifestyle. It’s not for everyone, but the good thing is that you can always try it for a month or two and go back if you find that you’d rather have a more permanent base.
We haven’t been to Malaysia yet, but we would like to visit it. This is our first trip to Asia and we’ve been quite conservative in staying within Thailand, although there’s a lot to see here and we definitely weren’t bored. On the other hand not traveling outside of the country allowed us to get a lot of work done, which was one of our main targets. Did you move to Canada to study?
Yup, for my studies. I also do some freelance work developing website for clients. Will be graduating soon and will try to find job in Canada and planning to get PR status here.
Great plans, Rudd! Good luck! 🙂
If you go to Malaysia, hit up Penang. Eat at Kapitan, best indian food ever!
Marcel Ellis says
Excellent article but that budget truly does let you live like a king in Chiang Mai. If one wants to live a simple life and is happy with basic commodities (very basic may I add) one can truly live on half that amount or less – especially if you live in Chiang Mai for more than 6 months as you can get long term accommodation at much cheaper rates. I remember seeing a documentary on youtube about a guy who lived in Chiang Mai on 100 baht per day (around 2.50 euro) – excluding accommodation – though to be honest I still have not managed to do that myself. 🙂 I look forward to host you, Alyona and Jean down here in Phuket. it would be interesting if you can make a similar article for here for comparison sake 🙂
Jean Galea says
We’re so looking forward ourselves Marcel!
It will be interesting to compare life in the South with that of the North.
With regards to the expense of accommodation, which will invariably burn the biggest hole in one’s pocket, here you will find a whole range of prices.
Allow me to make a list of factors that can swing the price from low to high and vice versa. Readers should keep them in mind when planning their stay in Chiang Mai:
Arrive in November-January and expect to drop serious coin for quality accommodation, and there won’t be much to choose from. This is what happened to us when we arrived bang in the middle of high season and close to New Year.
Proximity to center
As usual, the closer to the center, the more you have to pay. It’s a question of convenience. From our apartment we can walk to most major attractions and good restaurants, if we had chosen to live farther out, it would have been a different experience altogether.
Managed condo or house/apartment
Living in a condo gives you benefits such as 24/7 security, swimming pool, gym, sauna etc. and a generally pleasant bunch of fellow tenants. Have an issue in your room? Just phone reception and a maintenance guy will be up a few minutes later, problem solved. Again, you pay for comfort and convenience.
Owners like longer rentals, for example when we arrived we could hardly find any place available for rent for less than 6 months. The longer you rent the cheaper it becomes. Sometimes the difference between a one year lease and a three month lease can be up to 6,000 Baht per month.
Quality of accommodation
Some people here seem to be very proud of parading around telling the whole world how little they are paying for rent every month. They’re typically the same people who are also driving around on run-down scooters without any helmets. They’re also the ones whose daily diet consists of 40Baht pad thai from a street vendor whose hygiene is questionable at best. I think you get the idea. If you have little regard for the cleanliness and size of your place, you can find some dirt cheap prices. If, on the other hand, you would like to enjoy a lifestyle that is comparable to what we are used to in the West, you need to pay more. It’s very simple. In any case, for the same kind of accommodation that you would get in the West, you will find that you can get something cheaper here.
Bottom line is, there’s always a trade-off with your choices. Do your research well and choose carefully. We were very happy with our choice. If I were to come here again, now that I know the city and surroundings quite well, I would probably be quite open to renting a quality house in one of the compounds we’ve seen on the quieter outskirts. But for a first time visitor, if I were asked for my opinion, I would suggest somewhere close to the center, and that’s probably where I would stop, since the other factors are personal and are best left to the visitor himself/herself.
Shannon O'Donnell says
So not to start controversy, but you don’t do justice to the street food. If you don’t pick wisely, then yes, a 40b pad Thai might get you sick. But you can eat local foods at very hygienic places that do not charge much. In fact, price and restaurants have no true bearing on cleanliness. I ate many delicious local dishes from some of the cleanest and friendliest Thai people around for 25-35b for a vegetarian dish. And I did this week in and week out and never got sick from street food. It’s unfortunate you did, but street food can be an incredibly rewarding experience for travelers and painting it as dirty and cheap doesn’t do it justice in my opinion.
Jean Galea says
Shannon, your blog was one of the ones that got us interested in Chiang Mai, so thank you for all your articles! I’m sure you know some of the best places for street food in Chiang Mai.
In my comment I didn’t mean to generalise and say that all street food vendors are dirty. If you can can choose wisely you will definitely find some very good places. I also agree with you that price isn’t always a good indicator of quality and cleanliness.
I am sure the discerning visitor can also identify which places are clean or not and make decisions accordingly, however I must also say that I’ve seen many tourists and also others who live in Chiang Mai on a longer term basis, whose one overruling motivation and criteria is whether the place is as cheap as can be. I’m all for avoiding unnecessary expenditure, but I think one should take care with health and look at things like cleanliness very carefully when it comes to eating out.
Gabriella Galea says
What a great post! I’m sure it will be of great help to anyone traveling to Chiang Mai 🙂 I’ll definitely use it if I ever visit!
Thank you, Gabriella!
Chris & Angela says
We always like seeing how other people live in Chiang Mai. Your accommodation sounds and looks very comfortable. We miss having a pool, so we are a little jealous!
We are in a big newly built 2 story, 2 bed, 2 bath townhouse in a quiet but very convenient location 1 km south of Chiang Mai Gate for $550 including utilities. Our amazing landlord even let us design our kitchen at no charge before moving in. I will say the best luck we had with finding accommodation was once we got to know some of the locals (especially since we have a cat that a lot of condos didn’t allow). Our good friend Pui took time out of her busy schedule to help us find our current gem. I think very nice cheap accommodation is out there, and I would probably venture to say that most of the better places will only be found through word of mouth.
We almost completely dropped the big supermarket habit after looking at what it cost us the first month, and switched to almost completely getting our produce, etc from our local market. We typically eat out at least once a day, and the majority of our dinners are 30 Baht meals at Chiang Mai Gate. We found the street food there is always very fresh and tasty. The variety is great there too. The turnover in that area is so fast that we are never concerned with the quality being sub par. I have actually had more questionable experiences at some of the restaurants. Some seem to have enormous menus, but a lot of vacant seats upon looking around. If we do decide on a restaurant we try to order things that aren’t to out of the ordinary in order to be on the safe side.
We go to bars occasionally and eat western food a couple times throughout the week. We are currently living on $1,200 US as a couple. We use trail wallet every time we make a purchase as well. We shoot for a $20 a day budget, and if we go over it one day we try to cut back on our spending the next.
Oh, you could probably save some cash on your drinking water if you use the filtration machines. We spend 1 baht per liter, so around $2.50 USD a month. Doing this would allow you not have to worry about getting rid of all of those big bottles every month.
Sounds like you’re really enjoying your staying in Chiang Mai, Chris! 🙂 Now when I read your comment I realised that I miss this city a lot! We had a wonderful time there!
I think $1200 for a couple is a very good budget. We are planning to come back to Chiang Mai some day, so next time we will try to cut our expenses for accommodation…though we loved our apartment, it was really comfortable.
Thanks for your advice about drinking water. Where do you find these filtration machines?
Chris & Angela says
Yea, we went to KL, and I immediately missed it here. The reverse osmosis machines are really all over the city. Our friends did a post about them. Here is a link with a bunch of pics of what to look for http://8milesfromhome.com/post/23990726660/water-in-thailand-can-you-drink-the-tap-water
Thanks for the information, Chris! I’ll check out this post!
jmayel & sacha says
I wish i had a 1300 Euro budget out here! You really can live like a boss on that. Last year we survived on just over $500 shared between us which was very hard and very uncomfortable but possible. Once you move outside of the old city the price of everything drops MASSIVELY. I love Chiang Mai and you really can live on next to nothing here. But like Chris is doing i’d say $1200 is a good number to aim for. Great post.
Hi Jmayel & Sacha! Thanks for sharing your experience!
First, thanks for the story. It’s always fun to follow such topics. Second, you could really dramatically cut costs in a few areas – particularly housing (as mentioned in the article). You can find a 2BR / 1BA house with air con & western bathroom for 9,000B – 10,000B / month. The large development condos often charge more for a studio than you would pay for a 2BR house in a Thai neighborhood. The total to live an upper middle class lifestyle in Chiang Mai with a house, scooter, language school, laundry service, comes to just over $1,500/month by my calculations. But I include International WIre Transfer Fees ($45/per), an annual flight to the States, a weekly massage, dental & health insurance, haircuts, water delivery, clothes, household products, tech budget, and more.
That sounds about right if you rent a house further out than the very centre, and rent it for a longer period. When you arrive also impinges on pricing. We arrive in December so there weren’t many options given that we were looking specifically for a condo in the centre.
surachai tuamsomboon says
Sorry to hear that you had a stomach problem from Pad Thai. Because Pad Thai is the most favorite food for our customers.Come back again and I will show you what is the real taste of Pat Thai in Chiang Mai with good health !
Hey everyone! What a wonderful post, Alyona (my 1st time chancing upon your blog), and what good dialogue by everyone else :). I am from Canada and just arrived in Chiang Mai a few hours ago. I admit i rarely do much ‘research’ at all before visiting a place, other than getting a sense of it beforehand, FEEL whether i’m, well, feeling the vibe or not. I certainly did with Chiang Mai, and your accolades for this city make me feel confident i’ll like (love?) it as well (no pressure, hehe).
I do have a question, and would appreciate any feedback, tips etc. I am at a guesthouse in the Santitham neighborhood (i felt i would like the quieter, local vibe better, as it’s not in tourist-central/Old City). However, i may be here 7-10 days, most likely take a massage course nearby. I am paying 500 Baht/night for a basic room (single bed, wifi), but shared shower+100 Baht for breakfast. So, 600 Baht per night. However, i have a feeling that i could find something much less, and budget is definitely a priority. Safe place, Wifi, breakfast, hot water are Key for me (and i’m sure many of us travellers!)
Please share names etc of guesthouse, neighborhoods (i like local neighborhoods/vibe), areas with character and charm (bonus!) Whatever money i save on accommodation would help toward a massage/healing course that i’ve Always wanted to do here in Thailand. (by the way, feel free to share suggestions on massage/healing courses as well if you want).
Thanks SO much in advance – your time, consideration, and ENERGY are much appreciated :).
Hey Jay, like your adventurous style!
With regards to accommodation, may I suggest you take a look at my post about Our Search for an Apartment in Chiang Mai. You’ll find some good agencies listed in the post, they’ll help you with your search. Chiang Mai is still under heavy development and places come and go, so in my opinion the agents are a great way to start your search. You could also hit one of the coffee shops popular with digital nomads (try Marble Arch) and just chat with people, see where they’re staying, most of them will be very open and helpful.
As for massage, we loved Zabai Thai massage but I’m not sure if they do courses. I’m sure if you go there and talk to the owner (a very friendly chap) he will recommend some good courses for you.
Hey Alyona! Thank you so much for your suggestions and for getting back to my query so promptly. I totally forgot to acknowledge your reply and to thank you – better late than never, i hope. Happy New Year and regards.
You are very welcome 🙂
William Brian McCanless says
Wow, you spent WAY too much money. You could have gotten an apartment of the same size, with the same stuff, for about $250. I also am not sure how you managed to spend that much on food unless you were eating foreign food in tourist restuarants. I train Muay Thai here and eat about 8 full meals a day and only spend about $200 a month on food.
Hi my name is Rashid I’m seriously thinking about retiring to chiang mia next year. I live in the US, Chicago IL. Is there anyone out there that I can hit up every now and then when I have questions about Chiang mia, thx [email protected]
If you have any questions, just let me know. I will try to help if I can 🙂 I would also suggest to join the group on Facebook I Love Chiang Mai. You can ask as many questions as you want. Good luck!
Louise Mason says
This post is perfect, i am saving to set off on my travels and this breakdown gives me a more realistic idea of what i can expect with my budget, i too had heard how cheaply you can live in Asia, but i would definitely want to live at this comfort level, i think i need to double my savings target!
PS i love Malta, if i lived there, i’m not sure i would need to leave to travel 🙂
I am also glad that i have read all the comments to discover your wp mayor site – of course i will be creating a new website for my new online business to support my travels as a lifestyle entrepreneur (i prefer this to ‘digital nomad’) – but i’m not yet convinced whether to use WordPress.
Glad you like our post Louise. We’ll probably head back to Chiang Mai this winter, maybe we’ll meet you there 🙂
Have you been to Malta already? It’s a great place for sure, but the world is too awesome to be lazy and stay on a tiny island all our lives 🙂
I like the ‘lifestyle entrepreneur’ term, and yes come to think of it I do prefer it to ‘digital nomad’, especially since we don’t plan to be nomads for the rest of our lives, but we do intend to keep designing the perfect lifestyle anywhere we are. Being an entrepreneur of course is also central to my way of life, so lifestyle entrepreneur it is!
I have to say, I am more than a little inspired by you both. I have been to Thailand twice in the past year, and I loved being there so much, that my goal is to retire in Chiang Mai in 6 years when I hit my mid 50’s.
I was pleasantly surprised to see you run the WP Mayor site too. I am also a blogger and have read many of your tips and tricks. When I had seen your picture, I was thinking “Hey that’s the guy from WP Mayor!”. Dude, you have answered so many questions for me as I am researching WordPress. I wish you both the best.
Jean Galea says
Glad to hear Chiang Mai is still awesome 🙂 We’re planning to head there again this winter, do let us know if you visit again. I’m really happy that WP Mayor has helped you in learning about WordPress, such feedback is what keeps me motivated 🙂 Thanks for commenting here!
Your blog completed resonated with me. It was balanced and realistic. There are a thousand ways to live in Chiang Mai, and each person would do it differently, and that same person would do it differently the next time!
My husband and I have lived in CM twice. Each time we have changed where and how we lived. First in an estate near Nong Hoi in a 3 bedroom house for 10,000 baht – Siriwattana, which was okay and if we had kids that’s the way I’d go. The next time we lived on Prapokklao in the old city for 4,500 baht a month. It was a small one bedroom townhouse attached to a Thai families home. We loved being a part of the flow of the old city right near chiang mai gate. The biryani chicken there is awesome, near the 7/11 and the green sauce is the best. The downside was the morning and afternoon traffic, which in the end drove us a bit crazy. There were some fabulous guest houses that our friends stayed at for 2,600 baht a month, with shared kitchen area.
One of our friends live on 300 baht a day, eating at the 15 baht places over at airport shopping centre. Other friends lived in some of the flashiest estates with amazing pools gyms etc for 20,000 baht a month with their two teenagers.
There is no right or wrong way, there is only your way and sometimes it takes time to find your way. For first timers I’d suggest staying at a guest house on a week to week basis until you get an idea of what you want.
Both times we bought our bikes at the Hang Dong bike markets, mostly almost new Hondas and resold them for almost the same amount when we left. They hardly lose any value. We had our bikes serviced at the Honda dealership on the walking street.
Thanks so much for your blog, I really enjoyed being taken back. We’ll be in CM for a few days in December and already have a list of must do’s. At the top is a latte bun and khao Soi at the restaurant just past the Varee International across the little bridge. The best we have found in Australia is Chat Thai at Westfirld on Pitt St.
Jean Galea says
Thanks for the comment Mary, let us know when you’re there maybe we can meet up 🙂 I’ll have to check out the Hang Dong bike market as I was thinking of buying this time round instead of renting. How long did you stay and how did you go about selling the bikes?