The Ultimate Chiang Mai Cost of Living Guide (How to Live Under $600)

On my return to Chiang Mai in 2017, I decided to finally address my audience's questions about cost of living in Chiang Mai. The result is this video, 'Living Under $600'.

Like I say at the start of the video, "how much does it cost to live in Chiang Mai?" is one of the most common questions I get asked. Despite the numerous videos on the internet answering this very question, not to mention my article on Chiang Mai where I breakdown a full month's expenses, many people are still wondering.

I get it. Just because you hear a number like $600 USD, doesn't mean you believe it.

Everyone of course, has a different number. It all depends on what kind of lifestyle they live, how nice their apartment is, what restaurants they eat at and how often they go on trips or hit the bars.

The question you're really asking is 'How much would I spend in Chiang Mai?'

To answer this question, I think it helps to not only hear the number but to see the lifestyle that you can afford with that kind of budget.

That's why I created my most ambitious video project yet, 'Living Under $600', a personal challenge to see if I can live in Chiang Mai under a budget and to show you guys what a budget of $600 USD looks like living in Chiang Mai.

I've set up the project to help you answer the question in two easy steps:

  1. Look at my lifestyle at $600 USD per month, and
  2. Add and subtract from it until it's starts to look more like the lifestyle you are after

The following article is a full breakdown of everything I spent money on during the 30 days of the challenge, followed by a more general guide, helping you to add or subtract from the $600 budget until you reach a number you're comfortable with.

But first, let's talk about my lifestyle under $600.

Living Under $600 - My Lifestyle

My life in Chiang Mai represents the quote-unquote "Digital Nomad Lifestyle". As a online freelancer, I spend most of my week working.

Of course, if you didn't have regular work to fill your week, your cost of living is likely to be higher as you're more likely (depending on who you are) to go outside and spend money on activities.

Our Budget

At a 35.28 baht to dollar exchange rate, $600 USD equal to about 21,168.81 baht for the month or 709 baht ($20 USD) per day.

This number will include all of my individual living expenses in Chiang Mai, including accommodation, transport, food, coffee and internet.

This number however, does not include virtual expenses like Netflix, Apple music, Web Hosting and other expenses, many of which are business expenses.

Monthly Expenses

Travelling as a couple can come in handy when it comes to splitting expenses. Especially when it comes to accommodation, It gives us the opportunity to stay in an apartment that's a little nicer.

However, when it comes to hiring a bike. My girlfriend Denise doesn't drive and therefore we choose to live in Nimman so that we can both be within walking distance of everything we need (food, cafes and coworking).

It's worth noting that the Nimman area is one of the most expensive in Chiang Mai. So, if you're travelling solo and are looking to budget, you can usually save money by living somewhere cheaper and hiring a bike in order to get around.

For accommodation, I would expect to pay anywhere from 3,000฿ ($85 USD) to 15,000฿ ($425 USD). Of course, you can spend more but I personally have never heard of anyone spending over 30,000฿ ($850 USD).

Our Monthly Expenses
Rent15,000฿ ($425 USD)
Internet1,423฿ (800 for the router + 623 for the first month)
Phone450฿ (Individual)
AIS Super Wifi150฿ (Individual)
Total9,186฿ ($260 USD - individual)

Daily Expenses

Daily expenses include things like food, coffee and transport.

We don't drink a lot of alcohol and don't have a motorbike so things like fuel and alcoholic drinks do not feature often in this table.

NOTE: Scroll down to check the legend below the table if you don't understand the abbreviations. Some restaurants don't have English names so we've developed our own way to describe them.

Daily Expenses
160฿ - Lunch at 'The Fried Chicken Lady" (FCL)
60฿ - Hot Latte (Art Roastery)
60฿ - Dinner at "Restaurant under the tree" (RUT)
221.5฿ - Groceries and supplies
Total = 401.5฿ ( $11.40USD )
First day back in Chiang Mai. Searched for an apartment. Found an apartment. Went grocery shopping for the new place
2 10฿ - Black Coffee (Street Stall)
169฿ - Phone Charger
67.50฿ - Lunch (FCL)
9฿ - Soda Water (711)
60฿ - Hot Cappuccino (Art Roastery)
40฿ - Dinner (Maya Food Court)
10฿ - Water (Maya Food Court)
10฿ - Spring Roll (Maya Food Court)
Total = 375.5฿ ( $ 10.67 USD )
Woke up in a different room after locking ourselves out of our new apartment. Day 2 was virtually wasted as we waited for a 'technician' to break into our room.
320฿ - Water (CAMP)
65฿ - Black Coffee (CAMP)
50฿ - Chicken Briyani (Maya Mall)
75฿ - Hot Cappuccino (CAMP)
72฿ - Deodorant (KSK)
67.5฿ - Pad Thai and half of a Papaya Salad (KSK)
30฿ - Meat Stick (Market outside of KSK)
Total = 379.5฿ ( $10.78 USD )
Worked a full day at CAMP, hit the gym at home and had dinner at KSK Shopping Mall
450฿ - Lunch (FCL)
10฿ - Milk (711)
20฿ - Noodle Soup (Small Size at ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือติดปาก aka Noodle Soup Man (NSM))
135฿ - Masman Curry (Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant)
Total = 215฿ ( $6.10 USD )
Decided to work the full-day from home.
5125฿ - Avocado Stack (SS1254372)
90฿ - Jimmie Coffee (SS1254372)
40฿ Split fare to get to Big C (GrabCar)
139฿ - Hangers and a Laundry Drying Rack (Big C)
59฿ - 6 pack of sodas and 4 limes
144฿ - 480grams at the Western Buffet (Top Supermarket)
35฿ - Split fare to get home (GrabCar)
Total = 632฿ ( $17.92 USD )
Lazy Sunday, got up late and went to SS1254372 for brunch. Then, we went to the Big C supermarket to grab hangers and nearby Central Festival Shopping Mall for groceries and dinner.
6 69฿ - Grilled Pork and Noodles (Zood Zood)
20฿ - Water (CAMP)
75฿ - Hot Cappuccino (CAMP)
50฿ - Chicken Briyani (Maya Mall)
60฿ - Dinner (RUT)
Total = 274฿ ( $7.77 USD )
Worked from home, had lunch then went to CAMP. Came home, Worked out and went to dinner.
7 95฿ - Smokey Chicken (Nimman Soi 11)
154฿ - KFC
Total = 249฿ ( $7.06 USD )
Worked from home
860฿  - Lunch (FCL)
50฿ - Coffee (Wanz Cafe)
80฿ - Dinner (Burmese Restaurant and Library)
20฿ - Song Thaew to Loi Kroh road (per person)
100฿ - Beer (King Kong's Bar)
23.25฿ - Uber home (Split Fare)
Total = 333.25฿ ( $9.45 USD )
Worked from home. Then moved to Wanz cafe before catching up with friends for a trip to Huay Kaew Waterfall, dinner at the Burmese restaurant and then a few drinks on Loi Kroh road
9110฿ - Smokey Chicken (Nimman Soi 11)
40฿ - Coffee (Ganum Coffee)
189฿ - All-you-can eat Salad Buffett (Library Cafe)
Total = 339฿ ( $9.60 USD )
"Australia Day". Worked from home.
1065฿ - Lunch (FCL)
40฿ - Coffee (Ganum Coffee)
169.50฿ - Chinese Hotpot Dinner (Mama's Chinese Restaurant)
Total = 274.5฿ ( $7.78 USD ) 
 Worked from home.
1172.5฿ - Kao Soi and water (Ontong Noodle)
20฿ - Song Thaew Ride (Family emergency)
10฿ - Milk (711)
100฿ - Pad Thai + 1/2 of Papaya Salad (KSK Food Court)
30฿ - Soda Waters (Sangdee Gallery)
Total = 232.5฿ ( $6.59 USD )
Worked from home. Tended to a family emergency and went out after midnight to Sangdee Gallery.
1250฿ - Bicycle hire (one day hike, one gear bike)
199฿ - Chicken Burrito (Food4Thought)
30฿ - Half on Denise's spring roll (Rod Yiam Kitchen)
20฿ - Song Thaew to the Sunday Markets
15฿ - Gyoza (shared with Denise at markets)
60฿ - Chicken Kebab (at the market)
50฿ - 2 x Spring Rolls (at the market)
59฿ - Local made wooden iPhone stand (at the market)
22.78฿ - Uber Home (split fare)
Total = 505.78 ( $14.34 USD )

Casual Sunday, hired a bicycle, had lunch by myself at Food4Thought and then had coffee with a viewer (she paid )

Laid by the pool before heading to the Sunday market.

13120฿ - Coffee/Coworking day pass (Mana Coworking)
100฿ - Two dishes at Zaab
125฿ - Pineapple Fried Rice (Zood Zood)
Total = 345฿ ( $9.78 USD ) 
Decided to switch it up and work out of Mana coworking space today.
14120฿ - Coffee/Coworking day pass (Mana Coworking)
128฿ - 4 AA Batteries (711)
50฿ - Lunch (Zaab)
100฿ - 3 Curries, 2 Salads and Rice (split between two at the Burmese Restaurant)
Total = 398 ( $11.28 USD )
Virtual repeat of the previous day.
1565฿ - Lunch (FCL)
20฿ - Water (Starbucks)
70฿ - Coffee at Starbucks (2-for-1 split between two)
220฿ - Dinner (split with Dylan at Lemontree)
Total = 375฿ ( $10.63 USD )
Worked from home and Starbucks. Had dinner with Dylan Wolff.
1665฿ - Lunch (FCL)
90฿ - Jimmie Coffee (SS1254372)
130฿ - Veggie Burger + Sweet Potato Fries (A Taste from Heaven)
Total = 285฿ ( $8.08 USD )
Attended a family funeral. Hired a bike for 250฿ (paid for by Denise) and used it to get to and from the service and dinner.
17105฿ - Smokey Chicken (Nimman Soi 11)
20฿ - Water (CAMP)
40฿ - Chicken Briyani (Maya 4th Floor Food Court)
75฿ - Coffee (CAMP)
20฿ - Meat Stick at the market across the road
Total = 260฿ ( $7.37 USD )
Filmed an interview for my channel at SS1254372 and then went to CAMP to organise and upload footage.
18 40฿ - Song Thaew (to and from the Summit)
90฿ - Pad Thai and Noodle Soup (KSK Food Court)
6.5฿ - 1.5L Water (split)
Total = 136.5฿  ( $3.87 USD )
Attended the Nomad Summit (paid $35 to attend, purchased ticket last year so not counted this month)
1960฿ - Burger (Thrill Burger)
40฿ - Pad Thai (Moustache Man)
60฿ - Iced Coffee (Street Coffee Crew)
21.5฿ - Water and Plastic Cups from 711 (split)
220฿ - Vegetarian Thali Plate (Accha Indian Restaurant)
Total = 401.5฿ ( $11.38 USD ) 
Hung out with friends at the JJ Market, came back home and hung out at the pool before going to a nice dinner.
2099฿ - Make-your-own Salad (Salad Concept)
40฿ - Hot Latte (Ganum Coffee)
132.50฿ - Dinner at Lemontree (split between 2)
181฿ - Groceries (Wash pan, glass and water)
Total = 452.5฿ ( $12.83 USD ) 
Worked from home
2140฿ - Noodle Soup (Large Size at NSM)
60฿ - Hot Cappucino (Roastiyom)
150฿ - Dinner (RUT)
Total = 250฿  ( $7.09 USD ) 
Worked from home
2265฿  - Lunch (FCL)
40฿ - Pad Thai (Maya 4th Floor Food Court)
Total = 105฿ ( $2.98 USD )
Worked from home. Dinner at Maya and uploading footage at CAMP in the evening.
2360฿ - Lunch (FCL)
7฿ - Water (Gas Station)
272฿ - Large Pizza (Koh Lanta Pizza)
Total = 339฿ ( $9.61 USD )
Worked from home. Went to Wat Lok Molee to take some footage and photos.
2465฿ - Lunch (FCL)
291฿ - Half sushi and a katsu Curry (Sushi Umai)
Total = 356฿ ( $10.09 USD )
Worked from home.
2545฿ - Black Coffee (Ombra Cafe)
40฿ - Chicken Khao Soi (Khao Soi MaeSai)
45฿ - Hot Cappucino (Ombra Cafe)
7฿ - Small Bottle of Water (711)
320฿ - All-you-can-eat Korean BBQ (Lum Lum)
13฿ - 1.5L Water (711)
Total = 470฿ ( $13.32 USD )

Hung out at Ombra Cafe for a little work and travel planning.

Had Korean BBQ with friends for dinner.

2654.88฿ - Uber to UN Irish Pub
20฿ - Water (UN Irish Pub)
149฿ - Burger and Fries (Burger Queen)
50฿ - GrabCar Home
200฿ - Hot plate of chicken and Sushi (Yatai Sushi)
58฿ - 6 x 1.5L Water (Rimping)
59฿ - Instant Coffee (Rimping)
Total = 590.88฿ ( $16.75 USD )
Went to UN Irish Pub to watch UFC 208 and hit up the CMU market for dinner
2769฿ - Spicy pork and noodles (Zood Zood)
60฿ - Hot Cappucino (Roastiyom)
80฿ - 2 Thai Dishes (CMU Market)
20฿ - Song Thaew Ride Home
Total = 229฿ ( $6.49 USD )
Worked on the video for 'Living under $600' all day at home. Goodbye dinner for our friend Sebastian.
28110฿ - Smokey Chicken (Nimman Soi 11)
40฿ - Hot Latte (Ganum Coffee)
200฿ - Valentine's day rose for Denise
100฿ - Chicken Burrito (Border Run)
Total = 450฿ ( $12.76 USD )
"Valentine's Day". Worked from home.
29 65฿ - Lunch (FCL)
48฿ - 6 Pack of Soda Waters
250฿ - 1 hour Thai Massage (Varalee Massage)
205฿ - Quarter Ribs, Fries and Coleslaw (Dukes)
Total = 568฿ ( $16.10 USD )
"Denise's Birthday". worked from home. Went to grab a massage later in the day.
3065฿ - Lunch (FCL)
275฿ - Party Expenses (Beers, Cups and Sodas)
180฿ - Chicken wings and fries (RAWTrucker)
Total = 520฿ ( $14.74 USD )
Lazy day. Woke up sick and had a long nap. Had a 'pool party' at ours before heading out to dinner.

Legend: FCL - 'Fried Chicken Lady', RUT - 'Restaurant under the Tree', NSM - 'Noodle Soup Man', CAMP = 'CAMP Creative and Meeting Space' (Coworking Space), KSK = "Central Kad Suan Kaew Shopping Mall"

Final Spending Breakdown

 ฿ (THB)$ (USD)
Rent (Split)7,500212.58
Home Internet (Split)711.520.17
Water & Electricity (Split)374.510.62
Phone + Public WiFi60017
Total 19,929฿ $564.87 USD
If you include the Nomad Summit Ticket  $599.87 USD

Your Lifestyle

So now that you have a pretty good idea of my lifestyle under $600, my suggestion is add and subtract until it starts to look more like you envision it for yourself.

1. Subtract what you don't need

I believe my spending is pretty bare-bones for a western foreigner. That being said, there is one major area where you could save hundreds - Rent.

Even split between two people, 15,000฿ is a lot to pay on rent.

So why did we spend so much on rent? - Two Reasons: location and luxury

Our apartment building 'The Nimman' by Palm Springs, is by local standards, quite luxurious. The apartment is modern and the facilities - a rooftop pool and gym - aren't very indicative of budget accommodation.

Additionally, our apartment is in the Nimman area, perhaps the most expensive area in the whole of Chiang Mai.

The reason why we chose to live at 'The Nimman' is because,

Some of you might be thinking, 'Chris! I don't have a partner to split my apartment with!' and honestly, you don't need one.

As I said at the top of this article, budget accommodation can be found anywhere from 3,000฿ ($85 USD) to 15,000฿ ($425 USD) - even in the Nimman area. So, travelling solo is no barrier!

For apartment ideas, check out my guide to finding an apartment in Chiang Mai here. Keep in mind though, that the article just covers the area surrounding Nimman and you can probably find accommodation much cheaper outside Nimman.

Other than rent, there's not many other areas to cut. If you could cut out coffee and any meals over 100฿, you possibly save up to $100 USD.

2. Add as you like

Missing from my expenses are some things that you might require/desire on your stay in Chiang Mai. Let's talk about a few.

A Motorbike & Fuel

Most nomads will hire a motorbike (or on the rare occasion, a car) while living in Chiang Mai. For us, we choose to go without because we live within walking distance of almost everything we need by living in the Nimman area.

A standard scooter bike should cost around 2,200 to 3,000 baht ($62 to $85 USD) per month but the cost can more than make up for itself when you consider that you are now able to live in a much cheaper neighbourhood.

If you're a motor enthusiast, maybe you're looking forward to the excitement of having a 'proper' motorbike and using the weekends to drive your vehicle into the mountains. Unfortunately, I don't know too much about premium bikes but I remember a friend who was paying over 10,000 baht ($283 USD) per month for his.

In terms of fuel, I would of course factor it into your budget but I wouldn't worry too much about it. It costs about 60 to 100 baht ($1.70 - $2.80 USD) to fill the tank of a regular scooter bike but the cost of course, completely depends on how much you ride it, the distance you travel and how fast you travel.

Nightlife & Alcohol

Nightlife doesn't feature heavily in my expenses this month. Getting up at 6am everyday doesn't tend to mix well with late nights filled with drinking and I'm not much of a drinker anyway.

If you're a bootstrapping entrepreneur, I can't see drinking a lot of alcohol as a good idea for you either. Alcohol is not overly expensive in Chiang Mai but of course, it's one of those unnecessary expenses. If you are coming to save money but are a bit of drinker back home, maybe now is your excuse to tone it down? - Gosh! I sound like your mother.

But honestly, if you do decide to go drinking every weekend, you can probably expect to add a few hundred dollars to your monthly expenses.

I spoke to my friend (who I won't name) about drink prices in Chiang Mai and he said you can expect to pay around 40baht (~$1 USD) for a beer from 711 (Convience Store) or 70-80 baht (~$2 USD) at a bar. Cheap liquor is about 80baht ($2.27 USD) per mixed drink and the higher shelf stuff is around 100-140 baht ($2.80-4 USD)


During the budget month, I forwent a very usual expensive of mine - a coworking space membership. For the previous six months I spent in Chiang Mai, I spent all of them working from the coworking space, Punspace. This month however, I ended up enjoying the break and now, I prefer to work from home - something that was unthinkable to me last year.

I did go to Mana Coworking space twice in the month just to get out of the house. Places like Mana charge a very affordable daily rate of 99 baht ($2.80 USD), 120 if you want a coffee included.

If it's essential for you to work out of a coworking space (as it was for me last year), a membership to Punspace will set you back about $100 USD per month.

Desserts and Sweets

Something that made living under $600 much easier for me was the fact that I quit sugar about a week before arriving back in Chiang Mai. I remember last time I was in Chiang Mai, I would buy ice cream, frozen yogurt and sweets that often equaled the cost of local thai meal. Not only were these treats bad for my health, they probably contributed quite a bit to my bottom line as well.

Regular Massage, Tourist Activities and Going to the Movies

For the purpose of this article, I will consider the above expenses all luxuries. Here's some examples of luxuries and how much they'll set you back

Going all-out

Maybe you - and I highly doubt this is many of you - have an unlimited budget. In which case, if you go all-out, staying in the nicest apartment and eating western food everyday, I would say that it should be hard to spend more than $2,000 USD per month.

Obviously, if you're going to be stupid about it (ie. stay in a hotel rather than an apartment and go on tours every day) you could spend more. But otherwise, if you're just here to live free and comfortable, $2,000 USD should be more than enough.

If on the other hand, you're a bootstrapper, no worries! Living in Chiang Mai as a foreigner can definitely be done for well under $600 USD. Just read the next section to find out how.

Major Keys to Living under a Budget

If you're a bootstrapping entrepreneur, maybe your priority is to save as much money as possible. If so, here are my top budgeting tips.

1. Repetition

My number 1 tip to living under a budget is to form a habit of returning to restaurants that meet your budget and preference. F0r the month under $600, I made sure to stick with restaurants and food courts I knew were cheap but still satisfied my tastebuds.

The following is a table of my most visited restaurants and cafes.

Restaurant or Cafe# of Times
Fried Chicken Lady11
Maya Food Court5
Ganum Coffee4
Restuarant Under the Tree, Smokey Chicken, CAMP, KSK Food Court and Zood Zood3
Art Roastery, Mana Coworking and Roastiyom2

As you can see, my favourite 'restaurant' in Chiang Mai is the food stall on Sirimangkalarn that I simply call 'the fried chicken lady'. It just so happens to have delicious Thai food at a crazy affordable price.

2. Be Weary of Socialising

One thing I didn't realise until I stopped working out of Punspace was the hidden cost of eating out with fellow members everyday. Instead of eating the same food I know and love everyday for lunch, I would be forced to side with the majority. This could often end up with me spending 3-5 times on lunch than what I would have spent if I ate solo.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that you should become a recluse but just become aware of the situation. I'm fortunate that when I do go out to dinners and such with my friends here that it's always reasonable - apart from that one time we had all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ for dinner!

3. Don't spend money on Stupid Sh*t (Duh!)

Ok, so this maybe should be rule number one but it's so obvious, I decided to put it at the end.

If you want to save money then don't buy stuff unless you actually need it.

Also important is, you don't want to spend too much on stuff you can get much cheaper. For example, in the Nimman area, you can pay anywhere from 40 baht to 150 baht for a latte (that's $1 vs $4). This is something you'll need to learn over time and that's why articles like this are a must-read for people who want to spend as little as possible.

My Unfair Advantage

Yes, I have an unfair advantage and no, it's not that I have a girlfriend to split costs with.

My "Unfair Advantage" is the insider knowledge and experience that I've had over the last 6 months of Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, these 'hole-in-the-wall' Thai restaurants and good-value apartments aren't easy to find online.

In any case, I hope this article has helped you with your budgeting or perhaps just opened your eyes to how good it is here value-for-money wise.

Be sure to watch the embedded video at the top of the post for more info and I'll see you on the next blog post.

Until next time,


Disclaimers and Q&A

"Im not sure living like a pauper is anything to aspire to..."

This article is not intended to encourage a long-term budget lifestyle but rather, an opportunity to offer bootstrapping entrepreneurs and freelancers a longer runway towards success.

"You didn't include things like flights and VISAs which are required for a long-term nomading"

Yes, that's true. When you live in Thailand, you must leave every 3 months (maximum). You will need to factor-in flights and VISA costs if you want to stay long-term in Thailand.

"You've proved that you can live comfortably on $600 USD but how cheap could you go if you were really trying to save money?"

To be honest, the challenge wasn't too difficult for me. Even with having to pay for half of a nice apartment, I was still able to have the occasional expensive meal and drink coffee out almost everyday.

The cheapest I could see myself living under (living solo) would be about $400 USD but it would be a struggle. Here's how I'd do it:

Like I said, it's doable but not pretty.