Living and working on a Thai salary may seem difficult at first glance but it can be done, while even saving a few baht to enjoy the luscious vacation spots that Thailand has to offer.
The costs of living will differ if you’re living in a big city rather than a small, Esan provincial town. A big city, like Chiang Mai, is much more expensive than living in small town like Ubon Thani. I’ve managed to save money on my Thai salary of 30 000 baht; after accommodation, utilities and other monthly expenses were paid.
I’m a massive foodie. I love food, I love desserts and I love chocolate. I try to mix it up by opting for Thai food during the week and treating myself to western food on the weekend. Average Thai street food costs about 40 – 50 baht. At big restaurants, it will cost about 100 baht. Western food such as Italian, Mexican and Indian can cost you around 150 – 200 baht per meal. Chiang Mai is known for the coffee shops around town. While coffee from a street vendor can cost you about 25 baht, in cafes it will cost you about 60 – 100 baht. If you’re a chocolate lover, like myself, chocolate cake costs about 50 – 70 baht!
The great thing about living in a big city is that you can find a variety of brands that aren’t Thai. You have plenty of options, in terms of beer and whiskeys. The international branded liquor and beer are more expensive. Heineken is surprisingly, not that badly priced and only costs about 80 baht for a large. Leo and Singha are around 60 – 70 baht. Tequila! Yes, you can find a variety of shots in the bigger cities. I’ve found a Mexican place that charges about 70 baht for a shot of Tequila. I’ve paid so much more (around 120 baht) in Bangkok.
Accommodation is where your budget suddenly hits the wall. Living in the city center is way too noisy and over crowded. The further you venture out of the city, the cheaper and quieter it is. However, the city center has many hostel-like places that are available for cheap monthly rent. An average cost of housing in the city ranges between 5000 – 7500 baht. Around town you will find condos and apartments for about 8000 – 12 000 baht per month. Luckily, I’ve managed to find a newly built (fully furnished) apartment, about 5 minute drive from the city, for 5000 baht a month. And it’s in a very “Thai” neighbourhood. Utilities often add up to about 1500 baht per month (8 baht per water unit; 7 baht per electricity units)
Getting Around (Tuk Tuk, Songtao, Motorcycle)
Traffic. Traffic. Traffic. That’s all I can say about the city-life. The best thing about living in a city is the convenient public transport. Motorcycles can be rented on every corner and costs about 2000 – 3000 baht a month. Gas costs on average about 100 baht, per month. If you’re like me, and haven’t been brave enough to drive one (in these crazy streets, zigzagging through traffic) then Tuk Tuks and Songtaos will be your new favourite thing. Their usually rate is about 50 baht to get into the city (about a 10 minute drive, in traffic). However, the later is gets at night, the more you would pay – the drivers give the “excuse” that it’s so far out for them to drive. Learn how to haggle.
Thai markets are amazing for cheap shirts, handbags and shoes. The Night Bazaar and Sunday Walking Street is great for a shopping spree. Be careful, or you’ll find yourself, 2 years later in Thailand with a room full of “things that I absolutely needed” (hoarder). Average cost for a handbag is about 200 – 300 baht. Most big cities in Thailand have a Central Plaza (in Chiang Mai, you have Maya Mall). In these department stores, you will find your fancier designer clothing, handbags and shoes. Average cost for a handbag is about 2000 baht.
Thai massages are a monthly necessity. It relieves all the stress, aches and pains from work. In the big cities, they tend to over-charge tourists (farang) for massages. However, in the side streets or backend of the city you can find cheap and decent massages for an average cost of 150 – 350 baht. The inner city could easily charge you around 350 – 500 baht.
Breakdown of Budget
Meals @ 50 baht a day (including western food occasionally) = 7000 baht
Alcohol @ 1000 baht for a night out (average for one night per weekend) = 4000 baht
Transportation (scooter rental and gas) = 2100 baht
Shopping/Massage (My personal budget) = 1000 baht
Rent = 5000 baht
Utilities = 1500 baht
Total = 20 600
Savings of a 30 000 baht salary = 9400 baht (This obviously depends on you and your other expenses/needs)
In the past 2 years of living and working in Thailand on a budget, I’ve managed to save quite a bit of money. I’ve traveled to about Koh Samet, Koh Phangnan, Koh Tao, Phuket and recently spent a week in Malaysia – all on my Thai salary. Big city life can be done on small city budget. It’s all about who you know and where you go! Hope this information was helpful.