I laid down roots in Chiang Mai, Thailand two years ago, and I still get caught off guard by the cost of living and the overall quality of life. The old city is a myriad of backstreets packed with all kinds of vendors. But what it’s renowned for more than anything else is the abundance of high-quality food on offer.
You can dine out for as little as $1.21 at places like Khao Soi Mae Sai and Khao Soi Kun Yai. Both are local institutions famous for serving the Northern Thai specialty, Khao Soi, a coconut curry noodle soup that has taken on legendary status in the region. Virtually every restaurant has a rendition of this classic, but none pull it off better. It’s an absolute must-try.
Unfortunately, many of these quant Thai eateries operate café hours, closing around 4 p.m., or whenever they sell out for the day. But there’s so much on offer, especially within the four walls of the old city, choice is never much of an issue.
You can expect to pay around $4.55 to $5.45 at the mid-range for meat dishes and $2.40 to $3.60 for the vegetarian or vegan equivalent, which most places are happy to prepare. The upper end of the scale will set you back around $9.70 to $11.50 for meat options, and $5.45 for vegetarian/vegan.
Personally, my go-to is a busy but unassuming place on Loi Kroh Rd., called Lemongrass. The staff there always go out of their way to make me feel looked after, the service is quick, and the food is consistently excellent. Prices are in the mid-range.
Typically, I spend between $60 to $90 a week on food. Some might call that excessive, given all the cheap eats on offer, but I like to treat myself when I go out and indulge in a few luxury items.
In terms of getting around, you could feasibly walk anywhere within the old city, but most people opt for some sort of transport. I rented a bicycle when I first arrived, which was $1.50 a day, or $39.40 a month with a 10% discount applied, and it served me very well.
Chiang Mai is so small that most places are only a short ride away if you’re up to it. To put it into perspective, the distance from my previous rental to the airport on the opposite side of the city was under six miles; very reachable, and most destinations are a lot closer than that. These days though, I have a scooter, for which I pay $60 a month.
I rent a studio apartment for $363.64 a month, which gets me 46 square feet of living space. There’s also access to a swimming pool, and a small gym, which is fairly typical of apartment complexes in this price range around Chiang Mai. I arranged a viewing without any hassle, signed a few days later with my deposit, and had a broadband package set up inside of a week.
My broadband package is $21 a month, while the mobile plan I have comes in at $9 a month for unlimited data but no minutes. I manage fine like this as most people have WhatsApp or Facebook messenger for calls.
The cost of electricity can vary, depending on how much you’re using the air conditioning. Without, it costs about $18 a month, about $36 using it only at night, and roughly $72 going 24/7. I do use it, but tend not to have it on all the time; the bill usually comes to around $45.
So, taking the sum of my accommodation, utilities, transport and food, my outgoings for the month are just shy of $850 for what I consider an excellent standard of living. If you want to do things more cheaply, you can do that, as well. It all depends on what your needs are. Many people come here and survive on next to nothing, or you may find you have greater needs than those I’ve mentioned.
Chiang Mai is an incredibly vibrant and welcoming part of Thailand. Northern Thai people are some of the friendliest you could ever hope to come across, and for less than the price of rent even in some of the more affordable North American cities, you could be enjoying so much more in this incredible part of Southeast Asia.