Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand

REPORT: THE COST OF LIVING IN CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Yes, this is yet another cost of living report on Chiang Mai. I’m sure you’ve seen more than your fair share of them over the course of the last few years.

While it seems as if there’s a billion and one of these cost of living reports floating around on the Internet these days, the beauty of these reports is that every single one is different than the next.

Note: This budget reflects the month of May 2013. We tracked every dime we spent for 31 days and compiled this awesome report on our living expenses.

Let’s get down to business!

THE BREAKDOWN

Cost of Living Report - Chiang Mai (2 People)
Total Monthly Expenses (2 People)$1433.96
Rent - (Water, Wi-Fi Included)$363.89
Electricity$61.41
Groceries$405.61
Dining$339.71
Transportation$25.58
Laundry$20.48
Other (Miscellaneous Purchases, Pharmacy, Massages, Entertainment, etc)$87.72
30-Day Visa Extensions$129.56

Please note that this budget is for two people living in Chiang Mai. When broken down, our costs per person came out to approximately $716 USD per person.

OVERVIEW

So, some of you might be sitting there saying “What!? $1433.96, that is outrageously cheap! I couldn’t get a shoebox of an apartment in New York City for that” while others who have spent some time here and have figured out how to get by on sheer pennies might be saying “Whoa, you guys are seriously overspending in Chiang Mai!”.

Could we have done it cheaper? Absolutely!

I have no doubt about it that we could have brought our costs down in certain areas. Groceries being one of them and dining out being the other. Yeah, we love food, but I’ll dive into that issue a little later on in the report.

First, let’s talk about the costs of apartment rentals in Chiang Mai, shall we?

OUR APARTMENT

Chiang Mai Apartment

We rent a clean and cozy little apartment conveniently located on the northeast corner of the old city, just outside of the moat. You really and truly cannot beat the location of this place. Our apartment is one of eight units in a 6-floor private apartment building.

When we started apartment hunting we really only had two requirements. One was a kitchen because Liz wanted to have the ability to cook meals in when we didn’t feel like dining out and my most important requirement was a solid Wi-Fi connection.

After visiting several apartment buildings, condos, and hotels with no luck, we retreated to Miguel’s, a popular Mexican joint for some food. It was then that I remembered I had been in contact with an English guy on Facebook who owned some property here. I remembered when we last spoke he gave me the number of his wife who deals with all of the property they own. I instantly hopped on Skype and gave her a call. Within a matter of an hour, we met with our landlord and headed over to check out the apartment.

As soon as we arrived we had a good feeling about the place. The landlord, Dee, was friendly and seemed very genuine which was a nice first impression. She took us on a little tour of the apartment but we we’re still a little hesitant to commit to anything just yet as we weren’t sure how long we wanted to stay in in CM just yet.

We initally thought we would like to rent month to month in case we decided we didn’t like the city, the apartment or the overall environment of the area but once we realized it would be cheaper to rent in two or three month blocks, we knew we would have to commit to at least two months in order for it to be worth our time and energy.

After looking at the apartment and really taking a liking to it, we took a spin up to the roof top to check out the views of Doi Suthep in the distance. It was there that we decided that this was the place for us. I mean, just take a look at the views from our shared roof deck.

Chiang Mai Apartment Roof Deck

We signed our lives away and ended up committing to a two month stay at first. To be honest, we couldn’t have been more relieved that our search for an apartment in Chiang Mai was officially over and done with.

Since moving in at the tail end of March, we’ve extended our stay by another four months. Yeah, you could say we absolutely love living here!

Included in Rent: Wi-Fi and Water

One thing I should mention is that electricity is pretty damn expensive in Thailand. Believe it or not, we pay just as much here (approx. $60/month) for electricity in our one bedroom apartment than we do in my families four-bedroom, two bath, home full of flat panel televisions and electronics back in the states.

Note: It’s not that the electricity in our building is expensive, it’s the same rate just about anywhere you go in the city. The government rate for electricity is 2 or 2.5 baht/unit ($0.06/unit) but most apartments, condos, and rental homes in the city charge their tenants a “standard rate” of 7 thb/unit ($0.21/unit).

In reality, the cost of electricity here wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for this “standard rate” that just about every landlord in Chiang Mai set for their tenants. Either way, it is what it is and we’re fine with paying it, we’ve just had to really watch our air-conditioning usage over the course of the last few months.

The only other miscellaneous cost that come along with renting an apartment in our building is a 500 baht common area fee which is tacked on to the rent each month. The young Thai couple (family of the landlord) that live on the ground floor take care of the cleaning, maintenance, security, etc so we have no complaints of shelling out an extra $15/month for their services.

We should also mention that we get our apartment cleaned every two weeks or so by the woman downstairs and it costs us a whopping $6.22. We think that’s a damn good deal considering our place is absolutely spotless once our cleaning lady is finished with it.

Overall, we think we did a great job finding this apartment as it seems to be one of the best values for in town for the money (in our opinion). While our accommodations are pretty basic, there are a heck of a lot more modern looking places in town that range anywhere from $500-1,000/month depending on where they’re located, what amenities they have and how long you sign a rental agreement for. We personally know people who pay as little as $155/month for a studio apartment up to $1,000/month for a modern and beautifully decorated home smack dab inside the old city.

The ultimate question is, what do you need in order to be comfortable here? Whatever your requirements may be, this place has an endless amount of options for you to choose from.

If you would like some more information on this apartment building of ours, please feel free to shoot us a message.

GROCERIES

Expensive Groceries in Chiang Mai

As I stated above, one of our requirements for finding an apartment in Chiang Mai was to have a kitchen. While we knew we weren’t going to find ourselves a typical western style kitchen like back home, we had our sights locked on having a two burner stovetop, a small sink and the comfort of being able to cook up a meal or two from time to time.

During our first two months here we spent a fairly outrageous amount of money on groceries at some of the major grocery stores around town. At stores such as Tesco, Tops Supermarket and Rimping, you can find just about anything that you would find back home and things can really get out of hand if you stumble in there hungry! Since many of the items found at these stores are imported from the western world, they come at a premium price. I’m talking $12 for a box of Rice Krispies (yes, seriously), over $10 for a small plastic box of strawberries, $6+ for a jar of JIF peanut butter and the list goes on.

If we had chilled out a little bit on our insane grocery intake and spent our money eating out on the streets of Chiang Mai, we could have easily dropped our grocery budget down another one to two hundred dollars.

STREET FOOD & DINING OUT

Street Food at the Sunday Night Market

We’re not going to lie here, we weren’t on a strict diet of Thai food for the entire month of this cost of living report. We definitely had our fair share of western food as well and we’re completely content with that. While we know we could have really cut costs on dining in Chiang Mai, we wanted to continue enjoying some of the treats we missed most from the western world.

A western dish at a western restaurant in Chiang Mai will set you back anywhere from $4-$15 depending on what you’re looking for. Western food prices are less in Chiang Mail, although that being said, it can be a tough task to find the quality of food you’re used to eating back home.

It took me a while to find a good burger around here. I tried the burgers at 3 Little Pigs, Loco Elvis, and Duke’s. While all of them were tasty, none compared to the burgers I’m used to devouring back home. Same goes with pizza, we’ve tried just about every restaurant in town that serves pizza including Girasole, Da Stefano, Pizza y Vino, Paradise, Dailycious (Liz’s fav), La Ventana, Duke’s, Sahara, Boutique de la Pasta (my personal fav).

As for Thai food, everyone seems to have their favorite little spots around town. Our favortie Thai joints happen to be not too far from our apartment which is very convenient when you’re hungry and don’t want to travel across town to chow down. A few of our favorites include Nine’s Restaurant, Barnnakarn Kitchen, Anchan Restaurant and just about any street stall with a line out front of it.

Most Thai dishes range between $0.93 and $2.15 for a decent portion of food that will be sure to fill you for the moment. It should be noted that portion sizes are smaller than your typical (giant) portion size back home.

Here are some example costs for food and drink:

Food & Drink Cost Examples in Chiang Mai
1.5 L Water (Major Brands: Nestle, Aquafina, Dasani, etc) $0.56
Water (Local Thai Brand)$0.15
20 oz Soda (Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, etc)$0.87
Iced Latte (Medium)$1.71
1kg (2.2 lbs) of Chicken at the Street Market$3.26
1kg (2.2 lbs) of Fresh Mangoes at the Street Market$0.77
Burger & Fries at Western Restaurant$4-$6
10"-12" Cheese Pizza$4-$7
Plate of Pad Thai (Street Food)$0.93
Just about any Thai dish$0.93-2.15
Giant Portion of Chicken Pineapple Fried Rice (enough for 2 people)$1.50
Chicken Kebab$1.50
Fresh Fruit Smoothies (yum!)$0.62-$0.93
Candy bar (Snickers, Nutrageous, Kit Kit, Twix)$0.75

TRANSPORTATION

Bicycles in Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of the first things we purchased when we arrived in Chiang Mai was bicycles. We headed down to Cacti Bike, the best bicycle shop in town (IMO), located on 94/1, Singharat Road and picked up two secondhand Raleigh Cruisers for approximately $100 dollars each.

Looking back on it, we now realize that this was hands down the best investment we made during our stay here. We’re very active so we couldn’t see ourselves navigating our way around the city any other way.

Another perk about buying a good quality bicycle here is that you can always sell it to someone when you decide to leave. We rode our bicycles around town for five months with little to no repairs needed and sold them for $70 when we were finished with them. Let’s do the math here: $100-$77=$23 for five months of transportation.

The majority of expats rent motorbikes here for anywhere from 2,000-3,000 baht per month ($62-93 dollars per month). While we can’t deny that it’s a heck of a lot more convenient to have a motorbike when you want to get somewhere fast or far away, we rarely ran into a situation where we said, “Man, I wish we had a motorbike!”. We probably could have used one twice in the last six months, other than that we were happy as hell to be exploring the city by bicycle. Pedal power, baby!

Songthaew Chiang Mai, Thailand

We tried our best to avoid riding our bicycles at night here so most nights we would either walk or hop in a songthaew (red truck) which takes you just about anywhere inside and a mile or two outside of the city for 20 baht ($0.62/pp).

We love songthaews and we use them just about anytime we want to head out for the evening. We should mention that a songthaew is basically a group taxi so it stops and picks other people up and drops them off along the way so if you’re in a major rush, skip the songthaew and grab yourself a slightly more expensive ride in a tuk-tuk.

Tuk-Tuk Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tuk-tuk’s are everywhere in this city. They’re loud, obnoxious and would fail miserably in an emissions test back home. It seems as if everywhere you go, you hear the words “tuk-tuk!” yelled from across the street as the drivers try to get your attention. If you’re in a rush or you want to go somewhere directly, this is what you’ll want to take.

A good rule of thumb for tuk-tuk’s is to pay approximately 20 baht more than you’d pay a songthaew to take you to your location. For example, if we’re headed from our apartment to Chiang Mai University, a songthaew costs us 20 baht per person ($0.62/pp). A tuk-tuk to the same location should cost us no more than 80 baht.

OTHER EXPENSES

Chiang Mai Massages

As you probably noticed above, our “Other” category of the budget consisted of a bunch of miscellaneous things such as stops into the pharmacy, massages, and other bits and pieces of entertainment along the way.

I’m sure you’re probably wondering why we didn’t split Entertainment into it’s own category, right?

Well, we really don’t get involved in too much “entertainment” other than things like going bowling with friends from time to time, attending a free music festivals, taking part in the world’s largest water fight and getting dirt cheap massages on a weekly basis is pretty damn entertaining.

For those of you who are interested in the price of massages here in Thailand, let me blow your mind with these prices real quick.

A 60-minute full body Thai massage here at Young & Beautiful Massage (our fav massage parlor) in Chiang Mai goes for $6.20 and you can find them slightly cheaper if you look hard enough. In short, you could get 10, one-hour, full body massages here for the price of one back home.

One of Liz’s favorite types of massages is the 30-minute leg and foot massage and she shells out a whopping $2.48 each time she gets one. Oh, and I should mention she gets a lot of them.

Another thing to note is how much money we have saved over the course of the last few months by simply staying away from the bar scene. It’s not that we’re against drinking or anything, we were just never big drinkers in the first place. We’re the type to have a drink or two once every month or two. Not only does our lack of drinking save us from throwing our money down the drain, but it also keeps us off the streets and home before midnight on most occasions.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all of my travels over the years, it’s to stay away from the bar/nightlife scene after 12-1AM no matter where you are in the world. If you’re out drinking and wandering the streets of a city you’re unfamiliar with at that time of the morning, you’re asking for trouble. Just about every traveler and tourist I’ve ever met that’s been robbed on the road has been walking home from a bar in the early morning hours. It’s simply not worth it.

THAI VISA COSTS

Thailand 60 Day Tourist Visa

As you may have noticed in our breakdown above, the month that we tracked our budget also happened to be the same month that we had to head to the immigration office here in Chiang Mai to extend our visas for 30 days.

Considering that extending your visa is not an actual monthly expense, we could potentially remove the $129.56 from our total budget from the month and we would be down from a total of $1433.96 to $1304.40 or $652.20/per person.

Tip: Be sure to check out: Requirements for Thai Tourist Visas, an incredible resource for those of you who want to learn more about the requirements for obtaining a single entry, multiple entry and 30-day extensions of your Thai tourist visa.

CONCLUSION

Well, that just about wraps up yet another cost of living report for Chiang Mai. As we mentioned in the beginning of the report, we spent a grand total of $1433.96 for the month of May and $1304.40 if you subtract our Thai visa extensions.

Either way, we’re content with the majority of what we spent during the month. Sure, we could have done better, but we’re not stressing about it. Life is too short to be counting pennies!

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