An Easy Life in Chiang Mai, Thailand For $1,000 a Month

“When I decided to move overseas, I went online to find the 10 best places in the world to retire. I was undecided between Cuenca, Ecuador, and Chiang Mai, Thailand,” says Preston Jewett of the decision that changed his life for the better. “Thailand had a tinge of the exotic. That’s why I came here.”

It wasn’t the only reason Preston chose to leave his home in Denver, Colorado, at the age of 64. Perhaps the most important was Thailand’s reputation for a low cost of living.

“In early 2014, I recognized my business ventures were not working out the way I expected. I’d been expecting to retire at 66, and even though I didn’t have a lot of money, I thought I could probably do it earlier. So I did the math and it seemed feasible.”

During his research, Preston came across Chiang Mai and read a blog that said you could live there on $500 a month. “That seemed pretty cheap, so I thought I’d double it to $1,000, which is probably realistic, and I could handle that.”

Known as the Rose of the North, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s third-largest city. It’s a favorite spot for both full-time expats and for people looking for sun and relaxation for a few months each year. Temperatures average from the low 70s F to the mid-80s F.

Chiang Mai still retains much of its historical ambience—stunning, gold-gilded temples, narrow winding back streets, and food markets stocking weird and wonderful spices and vegetables. It’s also home to upmarket cafés and restaurants that serve foods both familiar and foreign. With all this at your fingertips, you have a city that lets you live an interesting and comfortable lifestyle.

And with its established expat community, there’s no shortage of things to do or people to do them with. “Whatever you can think of is available,” says Preston, “from scrabble to pickleball (a cross between badminton and tennis), classical concerts to rock music. If you want to dance salsa, there’s salsa class. You name it, you can find it here. That’s why I came here; I can take advantage of all these things.”

When Preston first arrived in Chiang Mai, he stayed at a guesthouse. As much as he liked the place and the people, he wanted somewhere with a pool and a gym, so he moved into a hotel. But that’s not how he thinks of it.

“For me, the room is a condo. The only difference is that it doesn’t have a kitchen, so I suppose it’s a studio apartment.” It costs him $280 a month, rising to about $300 when you add in electricity and water. By comparison, a studio apartment in a decent part of Denver would cost about $1,000 a month, not including utilities.

“I spend about $300 [a month] on food. I eat out two or three meals a day. I like local food; a spicy noodle soup with either chicken or pork is one of my favorites. I can get a bowl of that for around $1.10 that makes a good light lunch. But I have a hard time giving up my Western breakfast of toast and eggs, and every once in a while I’ll have a burger. There’s an American-run restaurant I go to called Butter is Better, which serves authentic American diner food. You can get things like borscht for about $2.70 and a really good chicken pot pie for $5. A meal would run about $8, but you would easily pay twice that for a similar meal in the U.S.

“I don’t feel as if I’m scrimping at all; I pretty much do what I want. To live a similar sort of lifestyle in Denver, I’d have a cellphone, regular phone, a car, and all the expenses of running them. Here I have a cheap phone and I use my bicycle. Every once in a while I think it would be nice to get out in the country, and that’s where a motorcycle would come in handy. But I don’t consider it a hindrance at all not to have any form of transport other than my bike. I like riding in the city.”

Apart from the tinge of exoticism, the affordable lifestyle, and plenty of activities, there’s something else that appeals to Preston about his new life overseas.

“Every once in a while, something will happen and I’ll take off for a week. A friend might say, ‘Do you want to go south to an island?’ so I can say, okay, I’ll go. On Friday you didn’t know what you were doing. On Sunday you booked the flight and were leaving on Monday. It’s affordable and part of the attitude the locals are famous for—relax, take it easy.”

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