Affording The Good Life – Chiang Mai
Life for the average ESL teacher in Chiang Mai is good. Really good. While the salary is usually less than other areas, the cost of living is much less while the opportunities for adventure are diverse and plentiful.
The average first-year salary in Chiang Mai is around 30-35,000 Thai baht per month (around $1000 to $1200USD.) That being said, a nice apartment will run you around 5000 baht per month. You can rent an entire house with 3 bedrooms for around 8-9000/month. I’m no mathematician, but divided three ways that’s only 3000 baht/month.
Getting around town is also reasonable. Public transportation in the form of songtaews or ‘red trucks’ will take you to most places in the city for 10-20 baht. Renting yourself a scooter will run you 2500 baht/month. If you have a few dollars saved up, you can buy a second-hand scooter for only 15,000 baht.
Now that you have the essentials covered – a roof over your head and transport – let’s look at food.
Delicious Thai food is everywhere in Chiang Mai. No matter what time of day or night, you can find some locals cooking up amazing pad thai or noodle soup. Either of which will run you a whopping 30 baht. In fact, any Thai meal costs somewhere in the vicinity of 30 baht, give or take a few satang (Thai cents.)
If it’s Western food you crave, worry not. Chiang Mai is also filled with options for your back-home palette. You will likely pay 4-5x more for a European or American meal but sometimes it’s a nice change of pace. Burger and fries, 100 baht; burrito and tortilla chips, 130 baht; schnitzel and veggies, 160 baht.
Your stomach’s full, you have a sweet apartment and a full tank of gas in your very own scooter. Best of all you still have a pocket full of cash left over from your teaching salary. What do you do now?
Chiang Mai is situated in northern Thailand, as you probably know. Nearby there are waterfalls, lakes and small towns like Pai that offer great day or weekend getaways. Let’s say you decide to take the beautiful, winding mountain road to Pai.
Once you’re in Pai you can find accommodations for around 300 baht. This will afford you a small, air-conditioned bungalow with a private bathroom. Just down the road you will find restaurants and stores selling unique gifts, home-cooked meals and traditional Lanna dishes – the culture indigenous to northern Thailand. Go a bit further and you will find yourself bamboo rafting through caves that were inhabited over 8,000 years ago.
Ok, you decide that a weekend trip isn’t in the cards for you this Friday. You’d prefer to stick around the city, listen to some live music or do a bit of clubbing. Once again Chiang Mai delivers.
The famous Soi Yellow is home to a handful of clubs ranging from top-40 dj’s to live reggae bands performing nightly. Once things wrap up there for the night (usually around 1 or 2AM) you can head to one of several after-hours establishments. These places can be “interesting” in the wee hours of the morning. Proceed with some semblance of caution.
Let’s have a recap of your two potential weekend scenarios.
Scenario One: You drove to Pai for the weekend. You stayed 2 nights, ate delicious food 3x/day and went for a cool rafting trip through some ancient caves.
The total cost for the trip (petrol accounted for) is around 1100 baht. You can cut that cost by 350 baht if you went with a friend and split petrol and accommodations.
Scenario Two: You went out for Western food Saturday evening then headed off for live music and dancing at Soi Yellow. You followed this up with a late-night kebob and a tuk-tuk ride home, because you should NEVER drive drunk!
The next morning you try to shake the “I had an awesome night which is leading to a less-than-awesome morning” feeling, by treating yourself to fresh squeezed juices and some organic fare. Then you put on your trunks (or bikini) and head to one of the waterfalls for a relaxing afternoon.
This equally amazing weekend runs you between 800-1000 baht; depending on where you go to eat and how many Chang’s or ‘Buckets’ you suck down.
As you see, ESL teacher can afford the good life in Chiang Mai. You can find a list of average costs in Chiang Mai, here – they aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty close to reality. The cost of living is low, the quality of life is high and adventures are begging to be had. While you’re at it, enjoy your newly acquired “baller” status as an ESL teacher in Chiang Mai!