The northern Thai city of Chiang Mai is becoming my home base in between adventures. It’s charming, it’s beautiful, and it’s cheap as chips.
One of the reasons I chose to do my mini-retirement/sabbatical thing in Southeast Asia is the low cost of living. Places like Chiang Mai combine that low cost with actual livability. Thailand is further along the development curve than most of its neighbours, so everything is easy.
Here’s what a typical day might look like for me. I’ve included a daily cost breakdown (all figures in the universal currency of the greenback) to show how far western dollars stretch over here.
For some reason I’m still not down with the idea of rice or noodles first thing in the morning, which means I usually fix my own brekky at home.
I rent a furnished studio apartment for about $100 a month including all utilities, which seems ridiculous. How the hell are they making any money off this thing?
You get what you pay for, but I don’t mind the spartan living conditions, and it still happens to be the biggest room I’ve ever lived in. Usually I write from here for a few hours each morning, or occasionally go to a coffee shop or co-working space.
Tasty street food is sold everywhere for 25 to 50 baht, so lots of my meals cost less than a buck. Local restaraunts tend to be about 50 to 100 baht, or $2-$3.
Chiang Mai central is flat as a pancake, which makes it great for cycling. The mountains are only a quick ride from my house, as are various other attractions. There’s sometimes a small entry fee, which helps keep them in good condition.
Cost: Free before 9am
I’m three months into a bodyweight fitness regime, and absolutely loving it. I can do my exercises anywhere instead of having to go to the gym, and it’s always fun finding random stuff to practice on.
There are markets everywhere in Chiang Mai, and eating out is a big part of the culture. All the food is cheap, so you can wander through and try a little bit of everything.
In the evening I normally read, work on hobby stuff, or hang out with a friend. Supermarket booze is the same price or more expensive than back home, but thankfully I’ve figured out where to buy affordable wine. On the plus side, going out is way cheaper than home – a big bottle of beer in a bar is only $2.
Cost: 75c for a glass of wine
GRAND TOTAL: $8.05
Wait… have I deliberately chosen cheap meals and activities in order to justify a borderline click-baity headline? You bet! I do like to eat at nice restaurants on occasion, imbibe more than one drink, and do some touristy stuff. I don’t feel too bad about this minor deception in the sense that everything really is ridiculously cheap here, and most of my days actually look like this.
For a frugal-minded person who actively enjoys the simple life, Chiang Mai is pretty much paradise. However, I’ve noticed most people here don’t really fit that description.
For those on the bones of their ass who moved here with no savings to try and start their doomed-to-fail business teaching people how to move to Chiang Mai and start a business teaching people how to move to Chiang Mai (etc, etc, ad infinitum)… well, it’s probably not as much fun as they’re forced to pretend.
I’m kinda curious about my actual living costs, so I’m keeping track of every baht. Once I’ve logged six months or so, I’ll publish a full breakdown of spending including all the pesky stuff like visas, insurance and currency conversions, which most people usually forget about or gloss over.
My guesstimate is the real number is about twice my headline figure of $8. If that’s the case, my expenses would still come in at under $500 a month, which is… insane. Watch this space!
UPDATE: I’ve tracked my spending and done the math! Check out Chiang Mai on the Cheap: Living on Less than $500 a Month for the full cost-of-living breakdown and a wealth of money-saving tips. If you want to know more about the opportunities and pitfalls of the nomadic lifestyle, check out Living the 4 Hour Work Week: How Tim Ferriss Created a Monster.