Chiang Mai is one of the best places you can go to on a budget in Southeast Asia. It’s not only a great spot for short term travelers, but it’s also the perfect place for digital nomads looking to set up a home-base. The cost of living in Chiang Mai is one of the most appealing factors when it comes to travelers and expats alike. Boasting affordable housing, dirt cheap dining options, and a thriving entrepreneur scene… Chiang Mai has landed itself as one of the #1 places to live on a budget.
After traveling around Southeast Asia for the past two years, Nate & I have found Chiang Mai to be one of the best cities to live in. You could even say it’s become our second home. In this article, I’ll give you a breakdown of our cost of living in Thailand as well as some tips on how to save money.
Where is Chiang Mai?
Located in Northern Thailand near the Myanmar border, Chiang Mai is culturally different than it’s big brother Bangkok. Chiang Mai is a medium sized city with relaxed vibes. Surrounded by more than a dozen National parks, it also harbors over two hundred temples.
Imagine yourself transported back into time in a temple wonderland. Orange robed monks stroll around the ancient walls dating back to 1345, golden tiered rooftops ascend into the blue sky, and neon clad tuk tuks rush past in a blur.
Cost of Living Chiang Mai, Thailand
First of all, Nate & I typically spend around $1500 USD for the two of us to live in Chiang Mai per month. Our cost of living in Chiang Mai is kept low because we usually stay for a couple months minimum in order to rent a long-term apartment.
Also, this total price includes a modern apartment with a pool and gym, membership to a co-working space, and eating out at least once a day. Lastly, we are also accounting for groceries purchased and any money spent on entertainment. Note: Figures have been rounded up to the nearest dollar for simplification.
Chiang Mai has many affordable hotels and hostels all around town, especially inside the old city. Thus, a basic room with a fan typically starts around 200 baht ($6 USD). You can either book ahead online or you can try to find a hotel once you arrive to Chiang Mai. Hotels normally have a chalkboard outside listing the room rate along with photos of the room.
If you’re backpacking and you would rather stay in a dorm bed, this is also a great budget option. A bed in a mixed dormitory will cost you as little as 99 baht ($3). A great website to check out is HostelWorld.com where you can compare hostels and read real reviews by other travelers.
Another great option are Bed & Breakfast joints and standard hotels. Mid-range travelers can find a myriad of deals on Airbnb.com as well as Booking.com. A room with air-con and breakfast starts at $10 and goes up from there depending on the amenities and location.
Nate & I recently stayed at a very nice hotel (Baan Ploy-in) that provided air-con, wifi and a communal kitchen. We found this place on Airbnb last minute and it only cost us $15 per night.
We try to stick to Super Hosts on Airbnb as we find that they usually provide the best customer service to their guests.
Click here to get $40 off your booking of $75 or more on Airbnb with my coupon code.
If you are okay with spending $25-30 a night, you can rent a luxury hotel room which normally includes a rooftop bar, and pool.
Chiang Mai also has a great selection of resorts which range between $50-100 per night. Spa treatments are typically available at all high-end hotels for an extra fee.
We use AIS service for our cell phone service and we really love it. We use to get our SIM card service through Dtac but they weren’t as good. Most noteworthy is that AIS offers great reception, english customer service, and very fast internet. We also get a couple hundred minutes to use locally.
There is an AIS store at the Maya Lifestyle Shopping mall where you can get set up within a few minutes. Make sure to bring your passport with you as this is required.
If you want to keep your cost of living in Chiang Mai extra cheap, you can easily skip buying a SIM card as there is free wifi at almost every cafe and restaurant in town.
Sim Card: 400 baht ($12)
Cell phone Total: $12
Renting an Apartment
Modern apartments are widely available in Chiang Mai. Most apartments in Chiang Mai are equipped with air-con and hot water. Although wifi is usually found at hotels, wifi is normally not included in the price of rent when it comes to apartments. Some condos have extra amenities such as a gym and pool.
Electricity is typically not included in the rent price, so you’ll have to pay your bill at 7-11. Houses are also available in Chiang Mai, but are located outside of the old city.
One of the reasons our cost of living in Chiang Mai is extremely cheap is because we rent long-term. Nate & I live in a one bedroom apartment just outside of the city center. We really love our residential neighborhood because there are a ton of cool local restaurants and cafes.
Our condominium has an 24 security, gated entrance, an infinity pool, modern gym, and keycard access elevators. Also, our apartment is 33 square meters and includes a balcony and full size kitchen. In order to get the great price we pay, we had to sign a 12 month contract. The rates for shorter stays will increase the price of rent. Normally property owners are looking for tenants that can commit to at least 3 months, but 6 months and 1 year contracts are more prevalent.
Rent: 12,000 baht ($352)
Electricity: 1225 baht ($36)
Wifi: 749 baht ($22)
Accommodation Total: $410
Chiang Mai is a very walkable city and also has plenty of public transportation options. The cost of living in Chiang Mai can be kept very low if you walk everywhere or rent a cheap motorbike during your stay.
Walking – FREE
You can either explore the city on foot which is a viable option during the high season when the weather is pleasant and the temperature is mild.
Songthew – 20 Baht ($0.60)
If its raining (during monsoon season) taking a songthaew might be a better option. Songthaews are red pick-up trucks that carry passengers in the back for a small fee. There are two wooden benches facing each other in the back of the truck bed with a cover so you can stay dry while making your way around the city.
Songthaews usually circle around the moat as well as pass through the various streets in the old city. All you have to do is wave one down with your hand,ask the driver if he is willing to take you to your desired destination, set a price, and then hop in. Pay after they drop you off. Songthaews can also drive longer distances (up the mountain and to surrounding villages) but the price will be much higher.
Bicycle – 50 baht per day ($1.50)
You can rent bicycles pretty much anywhere in the center of town. This is a great way to get around quickly without having to pay for a tuk tuk or songthew.
Tuk Tuk 100-200 baht ($3-6)
Tuk tuks are just plain fun. It’s always an adventure riding in one of these because they go fast, and usually are decked out in neon lights. Not the cheapest option, but certainly the most entertaining.
I’ve never seen a public bus once in Chiang Mai so I don’t think these exist. However there are private buses and shuttles that leave daily to and from Chiang Mai. A bus to Pai is 170 baht ($5) while a sleeper bus to Bangkok is 600 baht ($18).
Renting a Motorbike
Scooter – $1.50 – $5 per day
This is my favorite mode of transportation (especially for long-term travelers). Renting a motorbike gives you the flexibility to go anywhere you want in Chiang Mai on your own terms. The price of the scooter depends on what kind of motorbike you want. The higher the CC’s (power) the more money it will cost. Motorcycles typically cost $20 per day.
Nate & I stay for several months in Chiang Mai at a time so we are able to negotiate the rate down of our scooter and save money. We find that having our own scooter is the most economic choice for us. The only qualms we have are that there are daily cop stops around the mote targeting foreigners for bribes.
As long as you figure out how to drive around these (and not get stopped), you’ll be fine. Bribes and tickets can range anywhere between 500 baht to 1000 baht ($15-30). Typical offense include not wearing a helmet, not having an International Driver’s license, and not having a Thai license.
We recommend renting through Nat Motor. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Once our bike had a flat tire, and they switched out our motorbike for a new bike immediately. They didn’t charge us for the repair or make us wait. They are owned by Honda and they also provide free helmets.
Our motorbike expense is only $4 a day which breaks down to $2 per person. We always negotiate long-term contracts with the motorbike shops in order to lower our overall cost of living in Chiang Mai.
Monthly Motorbike Rental: $118 (4,000 baht)
Monthly Gas: 320 baht ($9)
Transportation Total: $127
Chiang Mai might be a small city, but there are many places to visit and things to do. From taking a Thai cooking class to zip-lining in the rainforest, there isn’t a shortage of activities. The best part is that there are a lot of free things to do as well which is perfect for budget minded travelers.
Almost all of the temples do not charge an entrance fee. Below I will give you an idea of how much it costs to do certain activities in Chiang Mai including a huge range of free stuff you can do.
Nate and I have visited Doi Suthep Temple a couple times, and it’s always a great experience. After you get up the two hundred stairs flanked by a colorful dragon statue there is a golden pagoda. This is an active temple that locals frequent to pay homage to the resident monks.
The small entry fee helps to maintain the grounds and house the monks (who seem to have a pretty good life I might add). There is also a beautiful vantage point overlooking Chiang Mai city from the top of the mountain.
Top Places to Visit in Chiang Mai
- Doi Suthep Ticket: $0.90 ( 30 baht )
- Elephant Jungle Sanctuary half day: $50 (1700 baht )
- Elephant Jungle Sanctuary full day: $70 ( 1400 baht )
- Cooking Class half day: $23 ( 800 baht )
- Cooking Class full day: $30 ( 1000 baht )
- Zip-lining in the Jungle: $130 ( 4400 baht )
- Art in Paradise 3D Art Museum: $12 (400 baht)
- Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders: $6 ( 200 baht )
- Mae Sa Waterfall: $4 per person (100 baht + 30 baht parking fee)
- Chiang Mai Mui Thai Fight: $9-18 (300-600 baht)
- Chiang Mai Ladyboy Cabaret Show $9 (290 baht)
You don’t have to spend a bunch of money to have a good time in Chiang Mai. In fact, Nate & I barely spend anything on entertainment costs. Below is a wide array of things to do around the city that won’t cost you a dime. To keep our cost of living in Chiang Mai extremely low, we try to take advantage of visiting the dozens of free temples around town.
Free Things To Do in Chiang Mai
- Wat Chedi Luang Varavihara
- Wat Suan Dok
- Wat Phra Singh
- Tha Phae Gate
- Three Kings Monument
- Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls
- Chiang Mai Nigh Bazaar
- Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market
- Chiang Mai Saturday Night Market
- Chiang Mai University Reservoir
- Chang Puak “North Gate” Street food Stalls
60 baht (temple fee) $2
590 (cabaret show) $17
Entertainment Total: $19
Restaurants – Eating Out
Eating out is incredibly cheap in Chiang Mai. There is a wide range of places to eat at from authentic street food stalls to fancy international restaurants, and everything in between. Nate & I eat out everyday for lunch (since we are working at a co-working space and are away from our apartment).
The abundance of amazing restaurants is Chiang mai has left us spoilt for choice. If you’re trying to stay healthy while traveling, there are dozens of vegetarian restaurants around town because of the predominant Buddhist community. Whether you’re in the mood for a juicy burger or a tofu wrap, you’ll be able to find exactly what you’re looking for in Chiang Mai.
Thai locals typically spend $1 on a meal which is about 35-40 baht. You can easily find meals in this price range all around the city. This normally consists of either a noodle soup (with meat) or a curry and rice. Locals eat street food as it is prepared quickly and is very inexpensive.
If you want to eat at a restaurant, the prices usually start around $2 and go up from there. International restaurants that offer western options such as burgers, pizza, and sandwiches typically charge $5-6 per meal.
Nate and I eat a giant salad for lunch everyday at Salad Concept and that only costs us $3 per person. If we really want to splurge, we’ll go to our favorite restaurant Food For Thought and eat a wrap which costs $5 per person. As you can tell from the prices mentioned above, eating out in Chiang Mai is really affordable.
Local meal (curry with rice): $1
Economic meal at restaurant: $2-3
Mid-range meal at restaurant: $5-6
Eating Out Total: $316
There are several grocery stores in Chiang Mai and they are typically located inside malls. A typical Thai grocery store includes plenty of imported goods from countries such as Italy, USA, France, and Australia.
The average Thai person does not shop at a grocery store but instead opts for shopping at locals farmers markets. This means that the prices of produce and dried goods will be more expensive than if you were to shop at a farmers market.
The advantage of shopping at a grocery store is convenience, set prices, and more selection. We usually purchase our fruit at the local markets, and then buy the rest of our groceries at the grocery store. Local items such as bok choy, rambutan, lychee and red curry powder are going to be less expensive than imported goods such as apples, almonds, asparagus, and hummus.
Example Grocery list with prices:
Can of lentils: $2
Can of tuna: $2
Can of Sardines: $2
Bok choy: $1
12 pack of Eggs: $2
Bag of Rambutan: $0.50
Can of Olives: $2
Ramen Soup: $1
Seaweed Sheets: $1
Boxed Wine: $30
4 pack Soy Yogurt: $2
Bag of Almonds: $3.50
Groceries Total: $360
Nate and I find it easier to work outside of the house so we purchased a full-time membership at a co-working spot called PunSpace. The longer you stay in Chiang Mai, the cheaper the membership costs.
Our cost of living in Chiang Mai would be lower if we worked from home, however we find that we get easily distracted and our productivity takes a nosedive. Consequently, we decided to commit to a three month membership and focus 100% on advancing our start-up to the next level.
PunSpace has super fast Fiberoptic internet (perfect for uploading videos on Youtube), a quiet atmosphere, and a never-ending supply of free tea and coffee. Did we mention they are also open 24 hours and provide us with a free locker to store our stuff? It’s perfect. We feel as if we are at our very own work retreat. Our cost per day breaks down to approximately $3 per day per person.
PunSpace quarterly membership: $265 (8,999 baht) per person
Total for two people per month: $176
One of the reasons there are a ton of expats in Chiang Mai is due in part because of the incredible nightlife. There are a ton of bars ranging in style, price, and theme.
Nate enjoy sipping cocktails at Prestige’s rooftop and we also enjoy hanging out with locals at The Bus Bar situated on the Ping river overlooking the Iron Bridge. The great thing about Chiang Mai is that no matter where you go, there is always a mix between locals and foreigners.
The good news is that liquor and beer in Thailand is not expensive. Local beers include Leo, Chang, and Tiger which cost about $2(60 baht) for a small bottle or $3 (100 baht) for a large bottle. Cocktails cost about $4 (130-150 baht). In order to keep our cost of living in Chiang Mai down, we try to buy wine and beer at the grocery store instead of frequenting the bars.
Nightlife Total: $80
Grand Total Cost of Living in Chiang Mai: $1500 per month
That breaks down to only $25 a day per person. Not to shabby if you ask me. 😉
Best Travel App for Chiang Mai Thailand
If you’re on the market for a travel expense tracking app, I highly recommend checking out Nomad Budget. This iphone app is a true lifesaver and one that I use everyday on my travels. I can track my daily and monthly expenses in any currency all around the world. I really like that I can tap the screen and see how much I’ve spent in USA dollars (my home currency) versus the foreign currency (of wherever I’m traveling through). You can also get your first 25 expenses for free!
Nate & I average about $1500 a month for the two of us here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Could we spend less? Probably. However, I don’t think we would be as happy as we currently are. Most of all, we try to prioritize our happiness instead of living the most frugal life we can.
Furthermore, we get a lot of pleasure out of occasionally eating Western food and cooking our own meals at home. It’s been great for our body and minds to focus on healthy living and establishing some roots in our current location.
In conclusion, our cost of living in Chiang Mai is the perfect amount for leading a comfortable middle-class life here in Thailand. Although we don’t have too many frills or splurges along the way, we make do without any complaints. I hope that this article helped you get a better idea of how much things cost in Chiang Mai Thailand.