Almost Fearless

Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,


For the past six weeks we’ve been settled down in Chiang Mai, catching up on work and doing some editing. If I had to pick somewhere to live in the world, right now, for the long term, it would be here. For me, it has the right combination of everything I need:

  • It’s cheap
  • It’s not overly touristy
  • It’s close to lots of day trips, like trekking or the Burmese border
  • There is so much culture
  • It’s easy to stay in Thailand long term, by renewing your visa in neighboring countries
  • The food is amazing
  • The people have been wonderful and the expats and locals live together well — there is some division, but you’ll also see Farang and Thai families eating at the same places
  • There is a lot of volunteer opportunities
  • It has an airport
  • It’s close to a major hub (Bangkok) for cheap international flights
  • It’s laid back
  • There’s nightlife if you want it
  • There’s every imaginable self-improvement class you can imagine: from yoga to cooking classes to Thai massage
  • It’s family friendly
  • It’s warm (no winter here, but there is a rainy season)
  • Medical care is ultra affordable
  • In short, the quality of life is extremely high and the cost is low

I was so enamored with the place (and many of the people I’ve met since being here) that I even looked into staying.  I found an established 10 room guesthouse (listed in Lonely Planet and in the perfect location) for rent via a local real estate agent.  The owner wanted to retire and travel.  We sat with her for an hour and worked out how I could run the place and make a decent income here in Chiang Mai.  It even has a small restaurant and she offered to get us a Thai liquor license — think of the profit margin on beer!  It was a fun exercise, a pleasant dream, but in the moment that it became even remotely possible,  I knew instantly there was no way I was ready to stay put.  I filed “running a Thai Guesthouse” under  “definitely possible, maybe someday”.

A snapshot of our life

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

We’re renting a studio apartment by the month, for $300.  It doesn’t have a kitchen, a surprise for me, until I put together that most people don’t have kitchens here.  Food is cooked communally at the night markets, and at $1 for a typical entrée, you’d be hard pressed to save money by cooking at home.

It’s possible to rent a place in Chiang Mai for a lot less, but we liked the extras like a rooftop pool and gym, ground floor restaurant, room service, weekly room cleaning, and cable TV.  There’s also a place that will do your laundry for a fee, a small shop and a french bakery next door.

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

The baby really likes the pool.  I’m not sure when the next time will be that we’ll be able to give him something like this, so we’re trying to take advantage of it while we can.

The view from rooftop gym…

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

The room also came with a Thai Cookbook on how to make Thai food in the microwave.  I can’t read any of it, but it’s still fun to flip through.

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

Total costs for our apartment $353/mo.  Here’s the breakdown :

$300/mo rent

$6/mo water

$13/mo internet

$34/mo electricity (based on use)


We rented a bike, through a friend, so we’re just paying $50/mo for our motorbike.  I’ve heard that it can cost $100/mo if you don’t have a connection.  We paid $26 for brand new helmets (three total, 2 adults and 1 child).  There are also tuk tuks that will charge you about $2-3 for a short trip across town.  The song taews, or community vans, cost a flat 75 cents for anywhere within Chiang Mai (20 baht).

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

Total costs for transportation:

$50/mo motorbike

$26 one-time for helmets

Most places in Chiang Mai are within walking distance.

The real reason we love Chiang Mai: The Food

There is a night market near us at Chiang Mai gate.  I think it might be the best in the city.  Every night, vendors set up from scratch (in the morning it’s an outdoor clothing market) and they cook delicious Thai food made to order.  Not only is it the best Thai food I’ve ever had, but I’ve also gotten to know many of the vendors, at least as much as you can when you don’t share a language, as they whisk my child away as soon as my food is ready, and frequently leave me to eat with my husband while they feed him watermelon and coo at him in Thai.

Everyone eats at outdoor tables set up between the food stalls (or they get their food take-away).

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

I would be remiss if I didn’t post at least one photo of the “Spicy Lady”.  Do you see the surgical mask she wears?  It’s not because she’s afraid of swine flu.  It’s because the food she cooks is so spicy, so loaded with super hot Thai chili peppers, that the smoke alone will make you cough.  If the breeze goes the right way, you might get a lung-full, immediately launch into a coughing fit and she’ll point and laugh at you.  Secretly, I think she’s trying to kill us.  But her food, oh god, it’s so good.

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

Our nightly ritual

Every night we cross the street to Chiang Mai gate….

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

We walk along the food stalls…

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

We decide what to order…

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

And then we wait for them to bring it to us at our table.  After we’re done eating, then we walk around and pay all the vendors.  I’m not sure how, but somehow they keep track of it all without ever writing an order down.

Dinner for Two

A big dinner might look like this:

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

A Strawberry and Lime Fruit Shake: 50 cents

4 skewers of Pork Satay: 60 cents

An order of Pad Kra Pow with Gai (Fried Basil Leaves with Chicken): $1

5 mini donuts: 15 cents

Total for dinner: $2.25 per person

A Sample of Other Potential Costs

1 hour Thai massage: $5

Large Beer (like Chang) bought at 7-11: $1.33

Large Beer (like Chang) bought at a restaurant: $2-3

Coffee to-go: $1

Pizza Hut Pizza, Large: $15

Emergency room visit, 3 stitches: $50

Diapers: $6.80 for 15

Christmas tree: Free if you don’t mind visiting our lobby to see it.

Chiang Mai, cost breakdown, Thailand, Asia, living,

Updated to add: We’ve gotten a lot of emails/questions about best places to stay in Chiang Mai. Luckily, our friends at put together a Where to Stay in Chiang Mai Guide.

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • This totally reminds me how amazing Thailand is, and I really want to go back! I love that you are doing this with a baby, so much for it all having to stop to have a family. Great pics too- is it a big chunky camera you use? I love the quality but wouldn’t want the responsibility of something too hefty. Thanks for sharing such a detailed insight into yet another possibility

      • Hi christine. Thinking of selling up and moving to thailand . Change mai sounds family friendly
        I’m a single parent with a seven year old boy would u recommend best area?

  • Hmmm… I don’t have much to add here! Agree 100% .. and more!

    Glad to have you as neighbors too!

    I think I’ll be staying in CM still for a year 😉

  • I just arrived in Chaing Mai yesterday and can’t wait to get a taste (pardon the pun) of the city. I plan on doing a couple day-trips and then relax the rest of the time and get some work done.

    It’s going to be tough to compete with Luang Prabang as far as vibe (I loved that city) but I can’t wait to see how they compare.

    Thanks for the post! Helps put things in perspective as far as living in the region.


  • Hi,

    I’ve just followed your blog recently and I feel in love with it. Your stories were inspiring and make’s me want to do this soon. 🙂

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • CM was one of my favorite places on my trip and that was BEFORE all you great people moved there. Makes me want to think about settling down there myself a bit in 2011.

    So for my comment luv contribution, I’ll link and interview with ANOTHER visitor to CM soon enough. Seems like everyone is doing it….

  • Thank you so much for posting! I’ll be here with my boyfriend in early January, the cost break down is extremely helpful! I can’t wait to see it!

    • Yes — you can’t do it without a Thai person involved. In the guesthouse situation I mentioned, she would remain the legal owner of the property and we’d be leasing it from her. She would have to do things like apply for the liquor license because we wouldn’t be able to.

  • Fun! Thanks for all the details on costs. As much as I love, love, love Thai food, I don’t think I could live without a kitchen for that long. Being able to cook was one of the things I missed the most during long term travel.

    I’m wondering how you addressed the issue of a visa for staying longer than 30 days?

    • I really do miss having a kitchen too!

      The visa situation is this: it’s 30 days on arrival, which means if you just fly into Thailand, they’ll stamp your passport and let you in for 30 days.

      However, if you apply for a visa before you arrive, you can get 60 days. We got ours in Penang, Malaysia. Then you can renew it locally for 30 more days. So one visa = 90 days in the country.

      If you want 90 more days, you just hop out to Laos or Malaysia or Cambodia (or anywhere) apply for a new visa and fly back in. You can keep doing this for quiet a while (I think after a few years, they start asking questions though, but there isn’t any official cut off that I’m aware of).

      So unlike other places, that require you to leave for a set period of time before returning, you can just keep churning visas and stay in Thailand as long as you’d like.

  • Sounds fantastic. It certainly is the place to be for travel bloggers at the moment! I am sure we’ll end up there at some point. Enjoy!

    • We just came to the city, booked a guest house for a few nights and started looking around — you’ll see signs on the buildings that have openings. There are some websites online, but I found it easier to do it in person. It’s really hard to get a sense of where you want to live from a map.

  • What a wonderful post! I love hearing about your life there and the photos are superb. It has been 4 years since I came back from my last expat assignment and I’m desperate to get back out in the world. Your post hammers that thought home

  • Have been following your blog for awhile now, but today’s post really hits home for me. After a lifetime of flitting ’round the globe and running my own adventure travel company (to Belize and Costa Rica), I’m now ready to (semi) retire and try life as an expat in some distant corner of the Planet.

    The “Plan” is to take a CELTA course there in Chiang Mai next summer, and then… the tough part has been/is deciding between settling down to teach ESL in Thailand or Vietnam.

    Suffice I’ve been leaning towards Vietnam (the ESL pay is higher), but… your post today (w/ those handy costs – thanks!) has me waffling back to staying put in Chiang Mai after I complete the CELTA.

    Any advice on the present state of teaching ESL there in Chiang Mai?

  • Ah you brought back memories for us of our halcyon days renting an apartment in Chiang Mai a few months back. We decided we needed to pause travelling for a bit, and like you guys thought Chiang Mai was perfect for it. We splurged a bit on a wonderfuln studio in a great apartment block with pool and gym too! We count our days in Chiang Mai as one of the highlights of our trip so far.

    Currently doing something similar in Melbourne, Australia and let me tell you it is nowhere near as cheap! Lots of fun though, so nice to stop and stay.

    All the best, Merry Christmas, Erin and Gavin

  • Chiang Mai is indeed a great city. I spent there a week (not enought!) and it’s one of my favourite cities ever visited. Your post made me want to leave everything right now and go! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your adventures in Thailand. We’re currently contemplating what’s next for us after our Virgin Island winter is up in the spring. Finding cities like this around the world is certainly appealing 🙂

    And I’m now tempting to post the cost of living in St. John.. it would be sticker shock in the other extreme to your costs in CM 😀

  • Chiang Mai holds a special place in my heart. Whenever I get overwhelmed at site I go to Chiang Mai. It’s a great mix of the things I love about Thailand and miss about the Pacific Northwest. Glad to hear you like it too.

  • This is totally making me want to go to Thailand for a month. Do you have any specific recommendations for websites to look up rental apartments? And how’s the internet? Fast enough to upload pictures obviously, which would be my number one concern.

  • The travel blogging community has convinced us to add Chiang Mai to our itinerary and this rundown just puts the icing on the cake!

    Wow – we can’t wait to get there and spend a month or few in this fantastic place!

  • Hey Christine,

    What wonderful and practical advice. You really hit all the points of how to choose a place to settle, even if temporarily.

    But I’d also like to say that seeing your FB posts and comments during your six weeks in Chiang Mai made me long to visit. You really seemed to find a place of belonging and community that is always difficult to cultivate when constantly moving or even as an expat.

    And your photos and descriptions of the food now have me intensely craving noodles and spicy food, none of which you can find here in Salta. When we visit NY in February, don’t be surprised if the first place I go is a Thai restaurant, although I’m sure it won’t do the Spicy Lady justice.

  • Wow! Chiang Mai is such a liveable city, isn’t it? It’s really good to see you set down the prices so precisely and unpick the appeal, and I hope this inspires more people to spend time there.

    I contemplated spending more time in Chiang Mai. In the end, though, the place that’s drawn me to commit to a month’s rental for reasons not that dissimilar to your own is Ubud, in Bali.

    It’s smaller and in some ways more touristy than Chiang Mai, in others less…

    Have you tried Chiang Mai sausages yet? To die for. And fresh mangosteens, which I think are just coming into season….

  • Wow, I had no idea most Thai houses did not have kitchens either. Having everyone eating out at night markets every night sounds incredible! I cannot wait to go to Thailand now early next year.

  • I’ve lived in Kuala Lumpur for 13 months from 2008 to 2009 and feel lots of things are similar. I just know that working opportunities are much more available in Thailand compared to Malaysia.

    The Malaysian immigration authorities are not so friendly toward the expats working there unless they initiated large corporation and accepted to pay large sums of money for illogical regulations.

    Then, I remember the expats working in Thailand always talked so well of the situation over there.

    By the way, I love those rooftop pools and the view from top of the high rises.

    Thanks for the comprehensive report about life in there.

    Rahman Mehraby
    Destination Iran Travel & Tours

  • Chiang Mai looks awesome and you’re pics are great. When you do those collages of 3 or 4 photos do you do that manually in PS or do you have a template or plugin? I’m trying to make my blog less awful looking and yours is super clean. The photos part I got down, the blogging/presentation part not so much…

  • Wow, this article is amazing! It really puts into perspective how cheap Chiang Mai is and how much of a worthwhile destination in Thailand it is. It makes me want to take a hiatus from my job and spend a month there on my next trip back home to Australia.

  • Food in Chiang Mai is amazing. I had two of my best meals ever there, some sort of curry noodle dish and Thai-style wonton soup, both from food stalls. That was in March 2008 and I can still taste those meals…

  • I want to run a guesthouse in Chiang Mai!!!
    Can you post the link to the real estate website?
    (Seriously, my husband and I have been talking about guesthouse/restaurant, but in Vietnam where the pollution is appalling)

  • Wow, what a great place, and a great post. Makes me feel like I’m there. I’m definately putting Chaing Mai on my list of places to visit.

  • Chiang Mai is a wonderful city BUT the air pollution can be a major issue in the cold season. I agree though that it is definitely a place to settle down and live in for a while.

    Neville 🙂
    ITTP Prague TEFL

  • Great info and article! Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to get there next year. I’m guessing it was hard to walk away from the guest house. What a temptation!

  • My best bud retired to Chiang Mai from the States. Looking at your pics, I really want even more to visit him.
    Your pics have shown me a city very different from what I imagined. And the food looks to die for!
    Thanks for your posting.

  • Hi Christine,

    My husband and I just arrived in Chiang Mai. After reading your post, we joined Team Chiang Mai on Facebook. What an awesome community. Thanks for pointing us in their direction!


  • Hey you all!

    Just found you and Team CM on FB. Your pictures of the market are stunning. It’s nice to see where I live looking so Technicolor 🙂 Sometimes I have a hard time deciding what to snap because I’m familiar with Thailand, you know?

    I’ve been back and forth myself and have now been in CM for about 6? months. Love it. I hope our paths cross. I’d like to get to know more CM bloggers.


  • Insanely useful blog post on the cost of living somewhere overseas, wish more posts were like this.

    Nice photos too.

  • can you tell me if there are more rural places to rent? if so what type of features would a more rural place come with? also, would it be more money or less money to rent?

  • Good post. I’m thinking about spending time in Chiang Mai myself and was wondering how you found your rental?

  • Hi Christine, I am coming to Chang Mai in November to undertake my CEKTA course. I am 25 years old and I am looking for some quiet accomodation at around the same price you are paying. Can you maybe help me out with some info> I’m a bit scared as I’m doing this alone but excited at the same time 🙂 My email is: I am from Australia

  • Great article. I’ve been to Thailand, back in 68-72 range but never made it up there. I’ve got 3 questions…if anybody could perhaps offer some knowledge:

    1. How easy is it to pick up some on-the-side English teaching gigs (w/o an actual teaching visa)
    2. If I came w/o my laptop, are there internet cafes around? And are they cheap?
    3. I assume one can buy computers around there somewhere….or in Bangkok?

    Skype: atwill4

  • Hey Everyone! If you want to visit Chiang Rai or Bangkok and want room for 3-4 days Free (including room and food). Don’t miss contract this email: He is a Buddhist monk and very kind. He is looking for enthusiastic volunteers to come to Thailand to teach English to Novices.

  • Hi, Christine,

    I really enjoyed reading your post about Chiang Mai. I’m looking into moving there next week (I’m currently in Pattaya training for English teaching) and I’ll be looking for apartments – could you tell me the name of the place that you rent/rented from? It looks comfortable. Thanks!


  • Hello Christine,
    My wife is from C/M and we are coming in the new year to full retirement!!! HOORAY!
    Thanks for all the great posts everyone.
    Stephen and Naya and family

  • Hi!

    I’m coming to CM in late January to do some work setting up an experimental agricultural project in cooperation with an American University and will be there five or six months,. I may use CM as a base of operation for work in Asia. The comments sound very different from what little I remember from my short time there in the early 1980’s. It didn’t impress me at that time. However, things were fast and furious back in those days and much is a blur of sights, sounds, tastes and new experiences for a whirlwind summer of travels throughout Asia for a first time adventurer. I now have new priorities and didn’t include certain mundane things in my diary in those days. I would like to know if you can get toiletries like deodorant, toothpaste, etc. What is the voltage? Will I need to bring my 220v kit for my computer? Can you readily buy clothing there? What about tailoring? Thanks, Jim

  • Hi I noticed your posting and I am planning to go to bkk at the end of Feb. My plan is to travel to the north with the intention to get a feel for the area. I am in search of a place to retire and Chang Mai is one area that cought my eye.

    You have awesome pics and a great web site so thx for the info. I see that these pics were from 2010, are you still there?


  • loved your post!
    just wondering about great places to stay as my husband and I will be visiting for a few months this summer.
    Any information you can offer?
    I have been researching but the place which you lived, pool and gym sounds fantastic.

  • For those WHO ARE NOT RETIRED and are SINGLE and are 100% responsible for yourself how do you make a living here ? What is the medical care like ? I have a brain tumor and high blood pressure–thanks ! Dave

  • Wonderful blog. My family (husband and I in our early 40’s & 2 boys 9 & 11) are moving to CM over the summer. Where would I try to find a fellow westerner who could direct me to a great: expat club, relator, ‘word on the street’ about private English schools, tips.. This is our 3rd international move, so I know what I need to make this an ‘easier’ landing and hoping to find that contact who and point me in the right direction. Thanks for your help – Kathy in Barcelona

    • Thanks Kathy! I would recommend hitting this group first and using the search function to see who else has asked similar questions, if you don’t find what you are looking for by searching that group, feel free to ask everyone – tons of valuable information to be found, though beware – the regulars can be a sarcastic bunch sometimes:)

      Good luck, and I hope you enjoy Chiang Mai as much as we did!

    • Hello Kathy,
      I hope you have already moved to CM. How does it go?
      I have the same questions as you. Can you help me with informations about schooll options?
      My daughters have 12 and 9 too.
      You can also write me to
      looking forward to hearing for you.
      Patrícia C.

  • Hey, I am thinking of moving back home myself and family….Currently, I am in CA…my wife is still working though and she told me that she needs 5 more years and then we will settle in Chiangmai for good. We will be in CM in April 2014 to visit and look for a good place to buy…Actually, I already own a land, 132 talang wah , in San Sai ( Chiangmai-maejoe rd ) but I have not visited since 2008….But this time, I will visit and see the places and areas.

  • Hi, well I cant wait to retire there a big change from Australia 68 years old but so very active a recycled teenager!! single but not for long I hope…Any advise please. take care Raymond

  • Great post! I lived in CM for about a year and a half. I really luved it. I stayed at hillside condo 4. My place looked out over one of the pools. I had no kitchen but a little sink thing out on the balcony. The food in the condo which they would bring to the room was amazing! Nice Japanese restaurant downstairs too. Some of my favorite things to do were the Sunday night market in the middle of town. Sit and get a foot massage and watch the world go by. Eat eat eat. It did start to feel a little small town though after a while. I guess I like modern and larger cities a bit more right not. I always tell people to check it out though to see a different side of Thailand. Maybe retire there someday. Thanks.

  • DO NOT brag about buying 3 helmets for $26, unless you feel your brains are only worth $8.66!!! Go to the chiangmai motorbike graveyard, have a look at the thousands of crashed bikes, each that had a rider on it, up until the impact. Buy a real helmet, with actual protection…. $100 and up…

  • Reading up on Chaing Mai as a potential destination and maybe you can give me some clue as to how you see my family’s situation. First we are a family of 5. Older dad (that’s me age 63) mom 35 and three kids ages 11, 5 and 9 months. We all travel on US passports but everyone in the family but me also has Russian passports.

    We are already expats. We’ve been away from the States nearly 8 years and don’t look back. We’ve lived in Kazakhstan, Yekaterinburg (west-central Russia – my wife’s home city) and now Kyiv for the past 4 years.

    Bottom line: My wife is wanting a big change – to give up her job and just be a mom. I already teach English for a corporate concern 40 yours a week and am in some state of “retirement” though you wouldn’t know it. I love what I do.

    How do you see a bigger family coming th Chaing Mai? Is teaching English something that’s in demand there? Would you email me and give me your insights please!
    Mike Lynn
    Kyiv, Ukraine

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