Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand is cheap. It’s one of the reasons (there are several, which would warrant a separate post) why foreigners flock to this country every year. You can spend very little money in Thailand, and still live a comfortable life. It’s a dream come true, especially in today’s economy.
In the past week, I’ve had a few conversations with travellers about cost of living in Chiang Mai – as my current plan has me living in the city until the end of June. It’s a key part of travel research, and since guidebooks are generally published almost a year after the information is gathered, it can be hard to find up-to-date costs.
I’ve spent a bit of time travelling around Chiang Mai, comparing costs, and gathering information which I think may be helpful for anyone who wants to know the cost of living in Chiang Mai (If I have left anything out, please let me know, so I can update this document).
*These prices are current as of April 16, 2012. Please know that these can (and will) change over time. Treat the following information as rough estimates.
Huay Kaew Residence – $4,000 – $12,000 THB / month
Located on Huay Kaew, near Kad Suan Kaew (a mall). This area is outside the old city, and the prices are reasonable. The cheapest is a studio apartment with cable TV, a fridge, bed, wardrobe, bathroom, and desk. Air conditioning is in the room, but costs extra. Internet access is 300 THB a month. To reserve a room/apartment at Huay Kaew Residence, you will need to pay 1,000 THB. When you move in, you’ll be required to pay the first months rent, plus a 2-month deposit. Basically, you’re paying 3 months worth of rent at the time you move in.
Smith Residence – $6,500 – $30,000 THB / month
Located just outside the old city, near Chiang Mai Gate (South Gate). Smith Residence is near the Saturday Night market, and there is a cheap food market at Chiang Mai Gate each night. A basic room (Superior Room on their website) comes with either a twin or king-size bed, fridge, desk, chair, bathroom, and cable TV. Air Conditioning is in the room, but costs extra. The Internet is 400 THB a month. Smith Residence requires first and last months rent when you move in.
There are several apartment buildings in Chiang Mai, these are the two that I am familiar with. Huay Kaew Residence is one of the cheapest in town. There are many that are 8,000 THB + a month, and they are spread throughout the city. It’s best to take a day or two when you arrive, pick a neighbourhood, and visit buildings in that neighbourhood.
If you’re looking for a short-term solution, there are well over 100 hostels and guesthouses in the city. The cheapest is Little Bird, at 100 THB a night, but keep in mind that this is a very basic hostel. The best bet is to book a hostel bed, and if you don’t like it, start looking for another one. If you’re in the old city, this won’t be too difficult.
There are several mobility companies in Thailand. The one that works the best (in my experience) is dtac. You can’t get a dtac SIM from 7-Eleven, but it’s worth the extra time to go to their office to get a SIM card. The coverage is good, and the data costs are amazingly cheap. I use less than 100 THB in data a day, and I’m on Facebook, Email, Twitter, and Instagram, quite a bit.
There seem to be coffee shops, and restaurants popping up all over the city, but some of the best (and cheapest ) food can be found in the outdoor markets. The best markets (that I know of) are:
Saturday Night Market – this is near the South gate (Chiang Mai Gate). The market is mostly souvenirs, but there are food vendors as well. Come hungry, and plan to eat as you walk around. A night market meal can cost anywhere from 20 THB – 50THB.
Sunday Night Market – it’s kind of the same as the Saturday Night Market, except it’s bigger, and in a different location. This market is near Tha Phae Gate (East Gate). Although there are a few food vendors along the street, the Wats turn into food courts, and the food options seem endless. Come hungry. The average meal is 20THB – 50THB.
Miguel’s is a Mexican place and one of the best in the city. There is FREE wifi, and the meals are very filling. A meal (with a beverage) will cost around 200 THB -depending on what you order.
Lemontree is a Food and Beverage place on Huay Kaew (outside the old city). It’s been in business since 1995, which is a long time by Chiang Mai standards and serves amazing Thai food. A meal with a drink is around 100 THB – 200 THB.
UN Irish Pub is a little more expensive than some places, but if you’re craving western foods, then this is the place to go. UN Irish Pub is located in the Old City on Ratchawithi Road. A large beer here will cost about 110 THB.
There are hundreds of restaurants in this city. Many of the yummy (and cheap) restaurants can be found down a Soi (alley), and they are definitely worth exploring. I could write about more restaurants, but it would take an e-book to list them, and there is no guarantee that all of them would still be in business in a year.
There are a few options available in terms of shopping. If you’re staying for a couple months, the cost of living in Chiang Mai will be cheaper if you buy your own food, and cook for yourself whenever you can (I highly recommend buying yourself a rice steamer)
There are several fresh food markets around the city. My personal favourites are:
Somphet Market – This is a fresh food market in the old city on Moon Muang Road. Fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, and meat can be found here. The prices are very reasonable – a lot cheaper than in a grocery store.
Warorot Market – This is a large market outside the old city, along the river. This is the location of the flower market, as well as fresh fruit, and vegetables, meats, dry goods, and more. Prices are good.
There are also stores like Top’s Market, Tesco Lotus, and 7-Eleven. Depending on where you live in the city, you may only visit one of these places, or you may venture out to all of them. Tesco Lotus is the cheapest option, but when you’re in a crunch 7-Eleven will do.
I recently visited all three shops and wrote down the costs for various popular items, this is the breakdown…
Water Lrg. (1.5 L) 12 THB
Beer Lrg 25 THB – 42 THB
Beer Sm 25 THB – 40 THB
Shampoo 59 THB – 300 THB
Soda Cans 14 THB
Wine 155 THB – 1,400 THB
Chocolate 20 THB – 118 THB
Water Lrg (1.5L) 48 THB for a 6pk = 8 THB each
Beer Lrg. 42 THB – 56 THB
Beer Sm. 25 THB – 31 THB
Shampoo 59 THB – 300 THB
Soda Cans 14 THB
Wine 129 THB – 1,000 THB
Chocolate 20 THB – 110 THB
Water Lrg. (1.5L) 13 THB
Beer Lrg. 46 THB
Beer Sm. 32 THB
Shampoo (travel size) 20 THB
Soda Cans 14 THB
Chocolate 15 THB – 76 THB
If you’re looking for Western foods, shop at Tesco Lotus, they have a wider variety. Top’s is more of a gourmet grocery store, and there are only two in the city (Airport Plaza, and Kad Suan Kaew). 7-Eleven is EVERYWHERE! There are also some small shops which may be a little cheaper, the trick is to find them!
Getting around Chiang Mai is fairly easy, and cheap.
Songthaews – This is the cheapest way to get around the city (aside from walking). Songthaews are red (the yellow ones are for the airport, and I can’t remember what the blue, or white ones are for) pickup trucks, with a cab over the bed, and benches inside. A Songthaew ride will cost 20 THB. If a driver asks for me, find another driver. Tip: NEVER ask how much it will cost, they will try to charge you a lot more money!
Tuk-tuk – With Songthaews driving around pretty much everywhere, I rarely use a tuk tuk. Most tuk tuk rides will be 60 THB – 120 THB. As with Songthaews, if you don’t like the price, try another driver.
Taxi – I’ve only used a taxi once or twice. The trick is to find one who will use the meter (make sure you ask them to turn it on). If they say no, and quote a price, I can guarantee it’s a lot higher than what the meter would be. For me, it’s about principle. If the meter is higher, I’ll pay it. The meter = honesty. Please don’t think I am implying that everyone will try to rip you off, that is not the case. There are a lot of amazing people in Chiang Mai.
Going to Bangkok– There are a couple of options available to you. If you want to take the train it will cost anywhere from 200 THB to almost 900 THB. The thing to keep in mind is that the train is usually late, and will take longer than a bus. Buses leave for Bangkok every day. The cheapest one is the overnight bus to Khao San Road, which is 350THB. You can also take a VIP bus (which is heaven) for about 600 THB to 900 THB. Your final option is to fly down. Check for seat sales. Sometimes you can find a really good flight deal with Air Asia or Bangkok Airways.
Discover the Treasures of Chiang Mai On Your Own
One of the best ways to get to know a city or town is to explore on your own. Leave the guidebook and the map back at your hostel. Put on good shoes (bring a notebook if you wish), and walk around. Asia is such an amazing continent, and decided where to visit in Asia is always a fun process. Obviously one of my favourite places to visit is Chaing Mai, Thailand. There are so many hidden treasures in Chiang Mai. I love to wander through a Soi and discover a small café or restaurant. I love coming across a new Wat, well, new to me. I love feeling connected to the city I’m staying in.
This post is merely a suggestion. I could spend months sampling restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and teahouse, and then write about them. Alas, I don’t have that much time on my hands right now.
I would love for you to try the places I’ve suggested, but I also want you to discover your own favourite places.
If you’ve been to Chiang Mai, and have a favourite place you think travellers should visit, please post in the comments!