Lots of people have been asking me recently, ‘What’s the cost of living in Chiang Mai?’. It’s true that one of the reasons we chose Chiang Mai as our base of operations within Thailand was because of the low cost, yet high standard of living. I hope this article sheds some light on the cost of living in this beautiful part of the world. n.b this information is current as of 2014/2015.
Cost of Renting in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is host to a number of digital nomads and other people in a permanently transient state. This is fantastic as many different accommodation locations offer a good rate on monthly rentals. You could expect to pay as low as 4,000baht or as high as 20,000 baht ($122USD – $614USD) a month for a basic studio unit in the city, depending on what different luxuries you would like. Even at the higher end of the spectrum, it is still incredibly good value.
It is often better value to rent of private owners, rather than from the condo desks themselves. Both of our month-long apartment stays were rented privately and we had fantastic experiences with cheaper rent, better customer service and just lovely people.
We were quite picky – some of our requirements were a larger than normal studio (over thee normal 32sqm) and access to a pool. The two condos that we rented were:
Hillside 4 Condo: 45sqm studio for 12,000baht (368USD) a month + utilities.
Riverside Condo: 40sqm studio for 14,000baht (429USD) a month + utilities.
Here are a few condos in Chiang Mai that offer monthly rental, it is by no means an exhaustive list but a great place to get started.
If you are happy to take a 32sqm room, or sacrifice the pool there are many many cheaper options around. Both of these condos charge an extra couple of thousand baht if you rent directly through them. Both condos came fully furnished right down to including bedding, towels and cutlery. We were splitting the rent between the two of us, so the impact of a nicer studio wasn’t so much – even at the 14,000 baht rate we were only paying around $7USD each a night, considerably cheaper than a hotel room and also a whole lot nicer & larger.
Even cheaper? The price of a condo rental drops massively if you are happy to take on a longer rental period. Renting for a year will usually get you a significant discount, but even renting for 6 or 3 months will get you a discount at most places. Renting a bungalow/house outside of the city is also a cheaper option, and the idea of share houses where a group of foreigners rent a large, cheap house a littler further from town is catching on.
Many of the condos, in fact most, are not listed on the internet. I advise against booking online unless it is an urgent matter, and instead booking into a hotel or guesthouse for a few nights while you walk around and drop in to the various condos for a look through.
Utilities: Rental price does not typically include water or electricity. Water is generally very cheap – we paid less than 100 baht per month, and electricity around 700 – 2000baht per month.
Warning: we were quite particular about the features we wanted in a condo, and privacy/quiet was one of them. Some condos will show you a “show room” and in fact sign you up for a less desirable room, in our case we were shown a lovely studio unit up on a high floor, with views out over the city. We loved the room, and went to get our deposit. Just as we were about to sign, we noticed the room we were signing for was on the second floor and directly overlooking the main entrance. They didn’t have any other rooms to offer us, so we moved along and took a room at a different condo.
Cost of Eating in Chiang Mai
In Thailand, possibly much of Asia, it is generally cheaper to eat out than it is to buy groceries. Plenty of condos do not contain kitchens, and it is normal to spend most of the days meals dining out.
The cheapest way to eat is local. Everywhere you turn you will spy street hawkers selling meat on rice or noodle soups. Contrary to initial beliefs, Chiang Mai also provided some of the most delicious (and cost effective) meals I have ever tasted. If you are worried about missing the culinary comforts of home, this is one Asian country where there is no need to worry.
Here is a short and rough guide of what I would expect to pay for something in Chiang Mai – the lower price is for a local establishment, the higher for something more upmarket. I have chosen not to include the extravagantly priced restaurants, much like any city there is also a selection of considerably more expensive food which will cost above and beyond what I’ve listed here.
Note: This is just a guide based on my own personal experiences – you will most certainly be able to find food for less (or more) than this around the city.
Some local dishes
Basic curry on rice: 25 – 50baht
Basic, local, noodle soup: 25 – 50baht
Tom Yam or Tom Kha Gai soup: 60 – 150 baht
Pad Thai: 40 – 100 baht
Khao Soi: 40 – 100 baht
Slow cooked pork leg on rice: 25 – 50 baht
Mango sticky rice: 30 – 90 baht
If you eat at the markets, you will get much better value (and in my opinion a better quality of food) than if you sit-in at a lot of local restaurants. If you are looking to be cost effective, and happy to live off meat on rice or noodle soups, then you could live off only 30 baht (92 US cents) a meal. We tried to keep our budget around 100baht ($3USD) per person, per meal, except for special occasions, and we got by quite happily.
Western style, hotel buffet meal: 300 – 800 baht
Cake, cheesecake etc: 80 – 150baht
Steak Dinner: 250 – 800 baht
Burger: 80 – 250 baht
Sunday night Roast dinner Buffet at Gekko Garden: 200 baht per person
Coffee & Cake at a hotel cafe: 150 baht
Avocado & Tomato Salad: 100 – 150 baht
Western food is definitely more expensive, and the quality can be hit-or-miss. There is certainly a lot of poorly made western food in Thailand, however some of the nicest western food I have experienced can be found there too. The Sunday night roast dinner at Gekko Garden is hard to beat and exceptionally good value at just $6USD per person for all you can eat.
Cost of Transportation in Chiang Mai
Unfortunately, there is no ‘public transport’ per se in Chiang Mai, and getting around can seem a little confusing at first. Prices vary, and taxis refuse to use meters generally opting for very high fixed prices. Knowing what a good price is will help you in the never-ending quest against getting ripped off, however we never quite figured out ourselves what the best price was – just managed to figure out some rough guidelines.
Songthaews You will see these everywhere, they are like a pickup truck with a roof and bench seats. The key to understanding this often-mysterious form of transport is that they come in different colours. There is no official route that I have been able to discover, but almost all of them pass through a songhthaew station just north of the old city, as well as through Worarot market.
Red songthaews are the key to getting around cheaply. These are the only colour that operate like a taxi. You should be able to hail a ride from between 20 – 40 baht per person to pretty much anywhere within reasonable distance, however we did encounter a few quoting more like 200 baht and kept away. Unlike a tuk-tuk or taxi, a songthaew will continue picking up people during the trip as long as where they are heading fits into the overall journey, so if the songthaew refuses to take you to your destination don’t be offended, it probably means the current passengers are headed in a different direction.
Yellow songthaews go all the way out to Mae Rim, they cost 30 baht per person for the full journey there, and run until around 6pm. Some of the yellow songthaews heading back from Mae Rim will try and charge far too much to tourist-looking people, but 30 baht is the correct price.
Tuk-Tuks you can expect to pay between 50-150 baht per journey in a tuk-tuk depending on distance, however you may often be quoted much more and have to bargain down. 100 baht to most destinations is the norm, longer journeys around 150 baht.
Chiang Mai is an incredibly cheap place to live. You could scrape by on under $500 a month if you really needed to (I don’t recommend it – I would go for more like $1000 a month to live comfortably).
As any city, Chiang Mai can be as expensive as you make it, with higher-end restaurants, cafes and hotels reality available.
I always respond to comments on my posts, so if you have any questions about the cost of living in Chiang Mai, or any of your own experiences to share, please do comment!