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Budgeting for Chiang Mai: Living on $300 a Month

One of the greatest perks about being a digital nomad is the higher standard of living and lower cost of living that can accompany living half-way across the world

Chiang Mai, Thailand is a perfect example of this affordability. Warm weather, beautiful mountains, delicious food, and friendly people are just a few of the perks of this city. The other benefit: it’s incredibly cheap. It’s possible to live here and live fairly well for just $300 a month. That’s what I spent my first month. Now, I recommend spending more to take advantage of all Chiang Mai has to offer. I’ll break it down for you in the local currency, baht, to keep the nice round numbers. At the time of writing, 100 baht is 2.80 USD.

Accommodations

For about 6,000 baht including utilities (excluding wifi), you can find a studio apartment without a kitchen. The once I’m currently staying at is a bit plain, but it has plenty of room, a TV with service, AC, and a large pool. It’s also at the perfect location on the trendy Nimmanhaeminda Road. There are people paying half as much in cheaper places, getting whole houses a bit further away for around the same price,  and others paying twice  as much for separated living spaces and a full kitchen. Paying about the same price as you pay now can get you resort style living with frequently cleaned rooms, room service, and other such amenities. You can check out a video of my apartment (and the stuff I brought along) below:

Food

This is where it gets a bit tricky. In Chiang Mai, it is generally cheaper to eat out than to cook for yourself. I keep stuff for sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, cereal, and ice cream in my apartment. You could save a little with these simple foods, but not much with meals starting at just 30 baht at a local Thai place. The price goes up for western food with 140 baht for burgers and 300 baht for pizza, but even at one of the nicest restaurants I’ve been to, I only spent 300 baht for the food. You can get a better idea of what’s here and what it cost in Places to Eat in Chiang Mai.

I’ll set the budget per day of 90 baht for the purpose of this article. I probably average 120-150 baht a day, but this article is on a budget! That still gives you three tasty 30 baht meals or allows you to spend 40 baht per meal and grab some fruit or yogurt for breakfast. This will keep you from getting much beyond Thai food, but you could always use some of the entertainment budget to splurge. All told, that’s 2,700 baht for eating out at 30 baht per meal with 3 meals per day over a 30 day period.

Gym

Currently, I’m using the app, Seven, to work out in my room. There’s also great opportunities to run, hike, or bike up nearby mountains. If you want an actual gym, you can either find an apartment with a gym built in or spend about an extra $30 – $100 per month for general gym access or even lessons at a Muay Thai gym.

Co-working space, wifi, and phone

For 300 baht a month, you can get a plan with AIS that includes 300 minutes, 750 MB (with unlimited afterwards at a lower speed), and unlimited AIS wifi around town. The data should be plenty for e-mail, messages, and Google maps, but the biggest perk is the unlimited AIS wifi. AIS powers the Camp co-working space on the top of Maya mall. This means that with AIS wifi you can work at Camp for free. (Normally, Camp provides temporary wifi passwords with food purchases.)

Currently, I am using DTAC for phone and internet service at 600 baht per month for 9 Gb (with unlimited afterwards at a lower speed). I paid an initial 200 baht for an extra 2 Gb (11 Gb total) per month for the first 3-months. You can add an additional 2 Gb anytime during the month for 100 baht. However, the speed after using up all data is still actually quite good. I have to let videos buffer for a bit, but general surfing works well. Post plan data was more or less useless outside of checking e-mail with AIS. I continue to pay a monthly fee of 100 baht to AIS to use their super wifi at Camp and across town, but their price plans are too expensive for general data.

Entertainment

Your entertainment choices will vary, but a few of the options are:
150 baht – 3 rounds of bowling
120 baht – movie ticket
200 baht – 1 hour Thai massage
50   baht – cider or large local beer at bottle bars
120 baht – various cocktails
150 baht – half a bottle of local rum or whiskey at bottle bars

With 1,750 baht left for entertainment, you could see a movie, get a massage, and grab a couple beers every week and still be under-budget. There’s also Wats to explore, hiking, a zoo, arcades, and live music at various events and bars where you can have fun for cheap.

My Budget Totals

All that said, I don’t really recommend this budget unless you’re seriously bootstrapping. I’m spending about $500 a month or about 18,000 baht. Spending just a bit more on food, a gym, entertainment, or a better wifi plan will make your time working abroad more enjoyable and still save you a lot of money.

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