I’m almost embarrassed to admit that since I arrived in Chiang Mai in January last year I’ve barely left the city. It’s simply because I find it so engaging.
I’m not a barfly (I drink very little alcohol so that barely registers in my budget) and having spent a number of years as a restaurant reviewer I’m no longer attracted to fancy restaurants at fancy prices. I prefer to cycle or walk for the simple pleasure of discovering the more idiosyncratic side of Thai life. I live a comfortable and enjoyable life and don’t feel as if I miss anything that other expats on larger incomes might be experiencing.
By far my greatest pleasure is just getting on my bike and seeing where it takes me. I may go out for an hour for a ride around Chiang Mai and come back six hours and 50 kilometres later. I find the city and its environs endlessly fascinating.
Thai people are very open and I get invited into the most unusual places; a workshop making the outrageously ornate biers that carry the deceased to the funeral pyre, an abandoned tobacco-curing factory where I was invited to share a green curry with the few people who still inhabit this ghost town…and more.
There are no shortages of internet cafés in Chiang Mai but I’ve discovered a few different places to write on my laptop. I’m a member of the library at Far Eastern University so spend a couple of days a week there, at Chiang Mai University there is a small open-air café overlooking a lake which is a beautiful place to get lost in thought, and perhaps one of my more curious places is the cafeteria at Sriphat Hospital. I choose these places because I can feel part of a community as distinct from one of the many thousands of travellers sitting in tourist cafés, with the bonus that I can also get a very decent meal for around 30 baht ($1.15).
My original idea was to stay in a hotel for a couple of months while looking for a permanent home. The fact that I’m still in the same place after just over a year is testament to how our ideas can change to suite our lifestyle. The staff are delightful, my room is cleaned and linen changed weekly, I’m a few minutes’ walk to the centre of town and all my daily needs are at hand. It’s important to me is that I live in a mainly Thai community.
My food and household bills are approximately 11,500 baht a month ($450). For 8,000 baht ($314) I cover my accommodation, electricity, water, WiFi (which is 400 baht, $15.40) and my mobile phone (200 baht, $7.70) There’s no doubt that these savings help me to live a far fuller life in Thailand than I ever could back home.
I wanted to know what my personal budget would be so since I arrived I’ve kept a note of almost every baht I’ve spent so I can now say with some certainty how much my lifestyle costs me each month.
In Chiang Mai I eat out regularly, whether it’s a 40 baht ($1.50) fried rice at a street stall or a 400 baht ($16) splurge in a European restaurant (almost all non-Asian restaurants are referred to as either ‘European’ or farang, foreigner), and you will get a darn good meal for that price. For me, that ‘darn good meal’ would be a huge hand-made burger, chips and a mound of dressings accompanied by an enormous Caesar Salad in a pleasant restaurant two minutes’ walk from my hotel.
All the necessities of life and a few minor luxuries, including a weekly massage (200 baht, $7.70). Having a kilo of my laundry washed and ironed is a treat I won’t give up and don’t need to—it costs just 50 baht, or $2. This, on top of occasional travel, gifts etc. bring my total monthly living expenses to about 18,000 baht ($706) a month.
In most respects the medical service can be quite good, with many Western-trained doctors. Thai hospitals are fee-paying and while general medical visits should cost around 400 baht ($15.40) to see the doctor plus another 200 baht ($7.70) for hospital services, depending if your examination required the use of specialist equipment.
If I look back over the last few years I can say hand-on-heart that the last year has been one of the happiest for a long time. Sometimes, as I’m walking the streets of the old town, I get the feeling that this is exactly where I want to be, and look forward to using Chiang Mai as a base to discover the rest of this beautiful country.
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