I have lived in Chiang Mai for 6 months and I have decided to create this guide for you to show you the cost of living Chiang Mai Thailand. I will show you how to get started and why Chiang Mai is such a nice place to stay for a while.
Arriving at The Airport
Chiang Mai International Airport is small. If you walk to the side of the arrivals hall you will see many men standing in the doorway with a van 40TB sign. These guys pack your suitcases/bags in the back and drop you right at your hotel/hostel door. They are friendly, helpful and polite (unlike arriving at many other airports, train stations in Asia where you feel you are almost like the prey).
If you have not already booked a hostel they can drop you at any street for a restaurant. If you are backpacking and looking for a backpackers street, Moo Muang Soi 9 is a great option, with many guesthouses, cafes, hostels to choose from.
The van was clean and air-conditioned. The drivers and ticking staff are friendly and helpful with your bag.
Arriving by train, bus?
If you are coming from Bangkok, you can take the train or bus. The train leaves from Hualampong Station in Bangkok, trip around 12-14 hours (tickets should be booked beforehand in the peak season), or on a coach bus (leaving from Mo Chit bus station – a 15 minute walk from Chatuchuk/MoChit Sky Train Station). Bus leave hourly, taking 9 hours (i have done this trip before)
Depending on how long you plan to stay, and what you will be doing in Thailand once you arrive will help determine which visa best suits you.
Tourist Visa – $30US. Visa Waiver – free (does not apply to all countries)
This Visa is a 60-day Tourist Visa, which you can choose to be single or multiple entries. If you apply for this visa and then decide you’d like to stay in Thailand for longer, then it can be extended by another 30 days. If you wish to stay for longer than this 90 days a better option is a Non-Immigrant Visa.
There are certain countries that have agreements with Thailand and citizens from these countries benefit from a VISA WAIVER. Australia is one of these, so whenever I plan just a short stay in Thailand, I do not apply for any visa, I just arrive. This allows you to only stay 30 days.
Non-Immigrant Visa. $80 Single Entry. $200 Multiple Entry.
This visa allows you 90 days in Thailand before you must do what is called a ‘visa run’. A Visa run is a bus or car trip to a neighbouring countries border, leaving Thailand for an hour or two, before coming back and simply being stamped another 90 days.
Thailand is gradually bringing in-laws to stop people from doing these hours-long or day-long visa runs, meaning, a visa run now might mean a two-night stay in Laos or Cambodia instead of two hours. As you re-enter Thailand your visa is re-stamped with another 90 days. A good option if you think you might only stay for 2, 3, 4, 5 months
One Year Non-Immigrant Visa. Cost varies depending on which type of one year visa needed.
This visa allows you a 1-year Multiple Entry Visa. Although you are allowed to stay for one whole year, you will still need to do a ‘visa run’, as explained above, every 90 days. There are many types of One Year Non-Immigrant Visas, ranging from allowing employment within Thailand, prohibiting employment, Investor Visas, self-employed online.
* If you are like me and do not like planning too far ahead, or you maybe have not visited Thailand yet so you don’t know if you would like to live in Thailand, you don’t have to commit to purchasing a visa.
As I did, you can arrive on a Tourist Waiver. Meaning, you just arrive and get your 30-day visit stamp as your stroll through immigration. Then, after one month, if you really wish to stay, take a bus trip to a neighbouring country and apply for the Non-Immigrant Visa from the Thai Embassy there. You’ll also get some time, while your Visa is being processed, to explore a new country!
The Thai Immigration website has further information on Visas.
Where to Stay the First Few Nights – Guesthouses and Hostels
Chiang Mai is a small city, although has a very large number of hostels and guesthouses. Inside the old city centre, Moon Muang Soi 9 is a great option for backpackers, and very central to allow you to stay a few nights while you get your bearings and look at a few rental apartments.
Guesthouses are practically on every street in Chiang Mai, so no matter where you are dropped off, you will be able to find an inexpensive place to stay quite easily.
It is very simple to walk or cycle around Chiang Mai and ask to see apartments available for rent. You will need to decide if you prefer an apartment or a house (this will usually depend if you live alone or have a spouse, pets, children etc).
Next, you will need to decide what facilities are important to you, an in-house gym, pool, linen, cleaner and location.
Living in the inner city may be noisier than living a small distance from the main city centre and you may be further from partying backpackers, but you may have to travel long distances to access services.
Apartments range in price and inclusions. Some apartments only offer a rental price, which does not include bedding, electricity, water, gas, cleaning, or any facilities such as a gym, pool or convenience shop.
Others apartments include water, gas, electricity, bedding and linen, cleaning and washing of linen and bedding once a week, as well as having security, and other facilities. Deciding what works best for you before looking at apartments will be helpful (much the same worldwide when apartment searching).
When I moved to Chiang Mai from Hong Kong, I was looking for a one-bedroom or studio apartment. With WiFi. A kitchen was not necessary for me, although I needed a refrigerator.
I preferred the apartment to provide linen and have 24-hour reception and security. I did not care if there was a pool or gym. And preferred to live near to a fresh fruit market, walking distance to the city, although did not mind if it was not located right in the city centre.
So with that in mind, I set off from my guesthouse with a few apartments listed to consider. I ended up choosing the Marina Inn, for 7500TBH (220 USD) per month.
Details of my apartment:
- Studio apartment with two beds.
- TV, refrigerator, desk, cupboard, fan, mirror.
- Large bathroom with non-Thai shower.
- Located near the river and > 1-minute walk to the fruit market.
- 15-20 minutes walk to the city centre.
- Car park.
- 24-hour security.
Included in the rental price:
- Electricity, Water, Gas.
- Linen and towels.
- Washing of towels and linen weekly.
- Cleaner to take rubbish.
- Water (one bottle per day delivered & left at your door)
- Toilet Paper (one roll per day delivered & left at your door).
It is possible to find a list of apartment rentals, priced from 3500THB, although these often do not include any expenses so require you to pay gas, water, electricity and wifi costs for example.
Here is what I found on a quick search on Chiang Mai Thai Apartments.net
Here is a list of websites you can find rental listings:
Cost of Groceries and Meals
If you are looking for affordable and fresh fruit and vegetables then the best place to go is to the markets (there seem to be many fresh food markets along the river). You can purchase mangos for as little as 10TB per kilo (that is approximately .30cents AUD).
The following list is the prices at my local fresh food market (as of August 2015).
Watermelon (18THB/kg), Papayas (20THB/kg), Pineapple (15THB/kg), Mangosteen (25THB/kg), Longan (40THB/kg) and Dragon fruit (20THB/kg) are plentiful and fresh! If you are interested in finding out more about the beautiful fruits found in Asia you can read this informative post here.
I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like street food! There are street food carts and food stands found all around the city. Coconut or Durian ice-cream, waffles, Thai desserts, and unidentified things grilling on sticks everywhere you turn (i call them UFOs, unidentified flying objects on sticks – even those I realise they are being grilled).
If you are vegan you may need to spend some extra time finding stalls to cater – the mango sticky rice, rice and vegetables, rice noodle vegetables, the pre-cut fruit and fruit smoothies are always a winner for me!
* Although keep in mind if you are vegan or vegetarian to check if the stall is cooking meat products in the same oil (often they do not, but at stalls that sell many different types of foods there is a very high chance).
Here are some photos of what you can expect to see around the streets of Chiang Mai.
The food stalls around the night markets also offer an extensive range of cooked meals and snacks, where you have the option to sit down at a table if you have a meal, or wander the market with your snack.
If you are interested in the vegetarian and vegan street food found in Thailand these posts might be helpful:
Chiang Mai is home to several large supermarkets.
There are three large Tesco Lotus stores in Chiang Mai, as well as many smaller Tesco Lotus Express stores (similar to a convenience store). The large stores offer a huge range of fresh food and vegetables, as well as a large number of local pantry products, and very minimal international foods.
In Tesco Lotus, you will also find a large electronics section (T.V.s, home appliances, phones, kettles, microwaves, rice cookers etc), as well as a large clothing section, shoes, linen, toys, beauty, stationery and sporting goods. Tesco also offers bulk purchases.
There is two TOPS stores in Chiang Mai, selling mainly imported fresh food, as well as an extensive amount of imported pantry products, snack foods, and baking ingredients. If you are looking for your comfort cooking ingredients from home, Tops would be your best choice. Also offer home delivery.
Big C is very similar to Tesco, offering a large supermarket as well as a wide range of other items. From camping gear, health and beauty, household produces, sporting gear, pet food and accessories, clothing, shoes, baby products and lots more. Also offers home delivery.
Rim Ping sell mostly freshly imported fruits, vegetables, animal products, coffee, tea, wine. It is your best bet if looking for a certain brand or product from your home country. Also offers home delivery.
Like any other tourist hub in the world, Chiang Mai has an extensive range of international restaurants and cafes. All the major restaurant chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Star Bucks e.t.c., can be easily found in the city centre.
Cafes, street food and local restaurants are all good value, and much less expensive in comparison to Bangkok. If you eat at small local restaurants you can expect dishes to be priced around 40-50THB. If you prefer to eat in more western styled restaurants you can expect to pay between 70-100THB per meal.
There are many vegetarian restaurants as well for those who are vegan or vegetarian. Mai Kaydees, Happy Green, Aum. For an extensive list, information and maps on vegetarian and vegan only restaurants, the very extensive Chiang Mai Vegetarian website will surely be of help. https://www.veggieinchiangmai.com
And for reviews of all restaurants and cafes, https://www.happycow.net
A personal favourite of mine? The Salad Concept– a make and mix your own salad, toppings, dressings and sides menu with an extensive variety to suit every preference (there are non-vegan and vegan options for the dressings).
Drinking Water while living in Thailand
If you are living in Thailand for a substantial amount of time, it might be worthwhile to purchase the larger bottles of water (6L) and refill these at the water stations found around the city.
For 3 THB you can refill a 6L bottle, compared to purchasing a 1.5L for 13THB, not only saving you money but also saving the environment due to not purchasing many plastic bottles. It is also a good way of using the ever-growing loose change you accumulate.
The water stations can be found on any of the quieter streets and are very simple to work, placing your coin in the machine, placing your empty bottle under the nozzle and pressing the green button.
Tuk tuks cost about 60-100 baht per ride, and songtaew red open back vans cost 20 baht per ride. Hiring a bicycle costs roughly 60TBH per day, although you have the option at some places to rent monthly. If you are living in Chiang Mai for an extensive period of time, then it would make sense to purchase your own.
You can hire a motorcycle/moped from 3,000/month, however, if you plan to live in Chiang Mai for more than a few months, purchasing your own will cost from 15,000THB second-hand or 40,000THB new.
Entertainment / Things to do / Nightlife
- Movies – 90 – 150THB
- Club entry – 100 – 300THB
- Bowling – 100THB
- Alcohol (I don’t drink alcohol but here is what I have observed) Drinking local beer is, of course, much cheaper than imported beer and spirits. A local beer sells for around 50THB in local bars outside the touristy streets, and a tourist bar will charge approximately 70THB. Cocktails start at around 100THB, although in many nicer bars and hotel bars you can expect to pay 200THB.
Chiang Mai is well-known as ‘The city of temples’! Grab a map and rent a bicycle and visit all the beautifully coloured and well-maintained temples. There are many beautiful cities in Thailand and temples sites worth visiting while you are living in Thailand.
The markets, be it fresh food markets, flower markets, or the nightly tourist markets full of clothes and accessories, are all worthy of a visit. Sample the street food, find some bargains, souvenirs for loved ones, or maybe even a nice painting or lantern to decorate your new apartment.
The Night Bazaar, every night from around 7 pm is full of life and action, and the Saturday/Sunday markets (at the Tha Phae Gate in the city centre) is also an evening market and is more crowded than the nightly Night Bazaar markets. Both are worth a look.
The rainy season in Chiang Mai starts near the end of May, until November. I am currently living in Chiang Mai during the rainy season and there are still plenty of days that allow me to walk into the city centre, spend a day or night walking around and then walk home without it raining on me once.
On other days, however, it can rain from around 10 am and continue for a few hours. The rain never normally lasts for more than a few hours in my experience, although when it does rain it sure is heavy rain! Rainfall in September is the heaviest.
The hot season in Chiang Mai is from April to June. Think humidity, no rain and blazing heat.
The peak season to visit Chiang Mai is during the winter, December to February. The days are warm but the evenings cool down making it very pleasant to be outside.
The burning season starts in January and lasts till mid-April. Many farmers burn their fields to prepare the land for the next year. With Chiang Mai surrounded by mountains, the pollution gets trapped in the valleys. You can expect the blue skies to be replaced by a grey haze. The smog doesn’t fully clear until the rain comes in April.
Getting a tattoo while living in Thailand
There are so many tattoo studios in Chiang Mai compared with the small size of the city. I believe this has much to do with Chiang Mai being a major tourism hub in Thailand.
If you are looking to get a new tattoo or have a previous one redone, then Dejavu Tattoo, near the Tha Pha Gate is a great option. My experience there was nothing short of excellent.
I had done some research into the best studios to go to, and their daily photos of pieces they had done were spot on, the linework was always very sharp and had plenty of raving reviews. As someone who has a lot of tattoos already, i could say the tattoo I got from Dejavu is the highest quality and best line work.
Other helpful resources for living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Chiang Mai section on ThaiVisa, https://chiangmai.thaivisa.com
- Chiang Mai Facebook group “Farang in Chiang Mai”
- Chiang Mai Buy, Swap and Sell group.
- Chiang Mai Real Estate Buy Swap and Sell group.
As always, I really hope this post is helpful to anyone considering living in Thailand, or specifically to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is of course a lovely place to live which is why I keep returning. I hope you found my cost of living Chiang Mai article useful.