When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.

-Clifton Fadiman

Living in Chiang Mai

Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia and South America, are all known for their low cost of living. Well, if you didn’t know, now you know.   Thailand ranked #9 on Forbes magazine’s Top Ten list of best places to retire in 2013.  Chiang Mai was also listed as one of the most affordable places to retire in the world by CBSNews Moneywatch. (click links for articles in new window)

View of the moat in the old city Chiang Mai.

 

As a matter of fact, if you searched the internet, you would find numerous blog posts, surveys, and top ten lists over the last few years that repeatedly rank Chiang Mai highly.  I never even heard of Chiang Mai until about two years ago.

View of Doi Suthep from Puripiman Apartment 4th floor.

Southwest view from my studio apartment.

 

I chose Chiang Mai, to live for a few months because I knew the cost of living in Chiang Mai was very low and I figured it would be a good place to set up a base for future travels.  I had never been to Chiang Mai before, but since I heard and read so many good things about this city, I went with an open mind and an open heart.

Although I did not stay for as long as I thought I would have, I still learned what kind of lifestyle I could lead here and how much it really would cost, based on my own experiences.

View North from Puripiman Apartment 4th floor. New Building now blocks view.

Northern View from balcony.

 

I cannot speak for everyone because we all have different needs.  Some say, you can live in Chiang Mai on $1000USD/month or less some say you need at least $1500USD/month.  I think it depends on your personal needs and maybe the size of your family.

Okay, I will agree it is possible to live here for $1000USD/month, but you need to really know how to budget and where to eat.  You cannot eat Western food here everyday and expect to save money.

Western food is more expensive than local foods.  I would treat myself to something Western, maybe twice a week on average.  I could have saved a lot more money, if I didn’t indulge at times.

Drinking beer and liquor regularly will also drive your costs up!  I usually reserved going out to the bars and nicer restaurants for Friday and Saturday, with a few exceptions.  I also learned that not only is the food cheaper at local thai restaurants, but even the bar/restaurants often with live music had way cheaper drinks, than the touristy bars.  You could even bring your own bottle to some places and just pay for the mixers!

Local Thai Meal Take Home.

A little meal for less than $4 USD. Soup and all. Aroi Mak!

 

I would lean towards a $1500USD/month minimum,  if not a little more to continue traveling the way I would like to. This is based on my own personal needs, food, shelter, cellphone, transportation and entertainment.

I realized I could live very comfortably here in Chiang Mai on $1500USD/month, but I am not ready to retire nor settle down in one city permanently.

Chiang Mai has a lot of culture and that includes influences from all over the world.
It is definitely a hip little city with its own unique style.

 

So, Chiang Mai, for me is a great place to settle temporarily and save money if I was location independent.  I am not totally location independent yet, but I will be in the future.  I would definitely consider retiring here when that time comes.  The only thing missing for me is the beach!!

I’d like to share with you a little bit about the apartment complex I stayed in and how I got there.

Arriving In Chiang Mai For The First Time

I arrived in Chiang Mai around mid morning by train.  I woke up a little after daybreak on the train, but we still had a few hours before we finally reached our destination.  During this time I grabbed my camera and went to the bar/restaurant car on the train.  Only a handful of people were up at this time and I was able to catch some footage of the fog clearing along the lush green hillside.

I was so excited experiencing a whole new world with my own eyes.

Early misty morning view from my train ride to Chiang Mai.

 

As the train stopped, I was still re-organizing my luggage because I wasn’t sure how I would manage all of the bags I was carrying.  By the time I got off the train, it appeared that half of the occupants had already left me behind.

Wat Ku Tao - Chiang Mai - Landmark near Puripiman Apt.

Wat Ku Tao across the street from my apartment.

I shuffled down the middle aisle between trains and hoped I wouldn’t have a problem getting a taxi.  There was one young man waiting for me, when I reached the exit.  “Where you go?” he said, in perfect broken English.  I told him “Puri Piman Apartments, Chang Phuak” It was the only real information I had from the address Tyson had given me.  The taxi driver had no idea what I was talking about.

I texted Tyson and he said “Tell them, Wat Ku Tao”.  It is a familiar landmark for Chiang Mai locals.  After he spoke to a few other taxi drivers about the location, we settled on a price, and then we were on our way.

I believe it was 200 baht, which I know now was very expensive for this distance.  But relatively speaking, it is still less than $7 USD.  These are some of the details you learn pretty quickly, living here.  There is a farang(foreigner) price and a local price.  If you are there long enough and can communicate in Thai, you will do a little better at negotiating a lower price for taxis and tuk-tuks.

Puripiman Apartments

When the taxi parked in front of Puri Piman, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice, clean and modern it really was.  I knew it was a little more expensive than some other apartments in the area, so I only intended to stay a few days until I found something else.

You can rent nightly, weekly, or monthly.  By the second day, after getting settled I decided, I would stay there and pay monthly, because it was cheaper than renting weekly, and even though I was only staying there initially for 2 weeks, it was still a better deal to rent the entire month.  I was moving to the Vdara resort outside of town for a month to do the English certification course in 2 weeks.

My little workspace with wired internet connection.

 

When I completed the course at the end of September, I moved back into Puri Piman where Tyson was living, and I checked into a larger studio apartment.  Tyson chose this apartment complex because it had a wired internet connection as well as wi-fi.

I decided to stay simply out of convenience and since Tyson was still living there, it was a lot easier to meet up for meals and running errands around town.  I ended up on the top 5th floor in a corner unit and Tyson had a nice corner unit on the 4th floor.

 

Most apartments do not come with a full kitchen, simply because most people eat out on a daily basis.  It is actually, more convenient to eat out and may even be cheaper at times depending on where you choose to eat.

 

Cost of Living in Chiang Mai

Coffee stand girl at Siri Wattana Market.

I usually drove my motorbike to the Tops Supermarket or the Siri Wattana Market to buy fruits and vegetables.   Even though, they were both walking distance.

The Siri Wattana Market also had an area with different vendors and tables where you could buy delicious hot meals, throughout the day.

Late at night and into the wee hours of the morning there are street-side vendors on the West corner just before Chang Phuak Road.  This is a high traffic area from dusk till almost dawn. Every night!

All in all, my experience living in this area amongst mostly local Thai people, was a great and memorable time for me.

The staff at Puri Piman was always kind and helpful.  The food at the Salad Terrace on the first floor was healthy and tasty.

My neighbors in the surrounding area were also very friendly and would often wave at me or stop me to chat if I was walking by.

Cost of Living in Chiang Mai

Track and Field open to the public. Gym inside was 50 baht per entry.

 

Puripiman Apartments - Chiang Mai View from Balcony - 2013

Only contention I had, was the noise from the construction on a building next door.
Although, it was cool to watch their progress.

 

Puripiman Apartments - Chiang Mai

Salad Terrace located in the front 1st floor of Puri Piman.

From the owners at the corner store, the tailor next door, the coffee shop owner around the corner to the old lady who always sold me bananas on my walk back from the outdoor track and gym.

I don’t think I have ever felt more at home, safe, and welcome in any other neighborhood I’ve ever lived in.

Puri Piman Apartments

–Taken from my October 2013 Bill

  • Monthly rent:  9,265 Baht = $298 USD  — (Approx. $1 US to 31 Baht at that time.)
  • Electricity:  1,094.40 Baht = $35 USD
  • Water:  100 baht = $3.25 USD
  • Bed Linen rental:  1000 Baht = $32.26 USD

October Rental Total: 11,459.40 Baht = Approximately $361.66 USD

Also, I believe the wired connection was 300 baht a month, or you could pay also pay for that daily, weekly, or monthly.

Believe me, I could have spent less somewhere else or I could have spent more for something even nicer.  Either way, it was a nice break from paying 3-4 times as much in the U.S.

 

A butterfly I found one day at my front doorstep. He didn’t even move as I got closer.

 

Thank you so much for being here.

If you enjoyed my post, please like, comment, and share.

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Brian Dennis

I am a software test engineer, ex-mental health counselor and wanna-be vagabond with a passion for traveling, board-sports, nature, music and photography.
I love to share my experiences with family and friends.
Hopefully, I will inspire you to fulfill your travel dreams too!
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