Retire in Chiang Mai for Cheap

–>Chiang Mai Thailand Livability Factors
–>Chiang Mai Thailand Cost of Living
–>Chiang Mai Best Area to Stay, Cheapest Flights
–>Chiang Mai Ancient City Walking Tour
–>Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Mountain Temple Tour
–>Nimman Walking Tour
–>Favorite Markets Tour
–>Chiang Mai Thailand Nightlife
–>Digital Nomads in Chiang Mai Life and Food
–>Chiang Mai Facts and History
Best Retire Cheap in Paradise Locations in the World

This is Dan from Vagabond Buddha. This is my Retire in Chiang Mai for Cheap guide.

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Today, we are talking about an ancient northern city in Thailand, Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Livability Factors

Here is why you should retire in Chiang Mai for Cheap.

Walkability: High.  If I retired in Chiang Mai today, I would live in or very near the 5 square block area of this community inside the ancient city itself.  Everything is walkable from here. But I would probably buy a cheap scooter anyway so I could get out into the countryside once a week or so.  In the past, I would have lived in the Nimman area of Chiang Mai, but it has gotten a little too pricey and commercial for my taste (gentrified).  

Internet: High.  Internet has only ever been an issue for me in Chiang Mai when I was sharing a router with too many people or the router was too far from my computer.  So if you need reliable internet, get a place that you have your own router nearby and share it with only one or two other people.  

Food: High.  This is where Chiang Mai shines.  Chiang Mai has been the capital of the digital nomad world for a decade.  All of that foreign buying power and diversity in food palates has supported a bunch of restaurants serving foreign cuisine that could not have survived in another city of this size.  Plus, the city is large enough that the local Thai food restaurants have barely been impacted by that foreign caused inflation. The largest market is still local Thai around most of the city and they are unwilling to pay tourist prices.  You may have to hunt (or visit our suggested restaurants) to get your 40 Baht ($1.20 USD) meals, but they are still there.  

Weather:  Medium. Average highs range seasonally from 83F/29C in December to 97F/37C in April. Average lows (at night) range seasonally from 59F/15C in January to 75F/24C in June. The rainy season is May through September when at least some rain falls in 15 or more days of the month. The rain turns on and off like a faucet but can ruin an entire day from time to time.  Do not try to stay in Chiang Mai during the burn season. The locals burn instead of till the soil and the air quality is unforgivable from March 1st to April 15th, +/- a week in either direction.  

Things to Do:  High. Chiang Mai is a charming city surrounded by beautiful mountains.  You can ride bikes, hike, do Yoga, study kick-boxing, learn Thai massage, learn Thai cooking or language, people watch, read and write books, drink too much, visit surrounding cities and natural beauty, fly internationally from the airport, fly down and check out the Thai islands, join a coworking space and start an online business, make friends, start a social circle … Chiang Mai has most things.  If it is lacking it is only in the most specialized of cultural expression like the opera, orchestra, symphony, etc. so you will need to enjoy that on Netflix or fly to Bangkok.  

Social Considerations:  High. Because of the large expat community including digital nomads, Chiang Mai seems to be the most English (speaking) friendly place in Thailand (maybe even more than Bangkok).  But you should take a Thai language course if you decide to retire or spend considerable time here. Thailand, in general, has a reputation as a sex tourism capital of the world. Chiang Mai seems to be one of the exceptions to that generalization.  It seems less preoccupied with commercial sex … which I personally prefer.  

Expats: High.  There is a huge expat community here with a wider age demographic than most parts of Thailand. There are young and old expats, digital nomads of all ages, retirees, and foreign workers.  So you are likely to form meaningful relationships here no matter what floats your boat. It is also a very digitally connected place with many online resources for connecting with locals and foreigners.  Facebook Expats. Nomad Soulmates. Entrepreneurs. Chiang Mai Nomads

Real Estate: High.  Our Chiang Mai Life and Food video (watch below) shows examples of rent and purchase opportunities in Chiang Mai.  Monthly rentals start around $300 per month for a 1 bedroom and purchase starts around $80k USD. Don’t try to rent long term or buy over the Internet.  Never buy real estate in a foreign country until you have lived there for at least a year or two.  

Medical: High. Thailand continually ranks in the top 5 countries in the world for medical tourism.  Source. Medical insurance is available in Thailand for expats.  Source.  Here are some interesting ideas I read online about assisted care in Thailand.  Source.  One quote was 20,000 Baht ($660 USD) for 12 hours a day of in-home care.   Chiang Mai has a very advanced medical community. You will probably not need to travel to Bangkok except in unusual circumstances. 

Retirement Visa Thailand:  Medium. Here is an explanation of Thai Retirement Visa Requirements.  Source.  At 30 Baht to $1 USD, you need about 800,000 Baht ($28,000 USD) in a Thai bank or proof of a monthly pension of about 65,000 Baht ($2200 USD) per month.  Source.      

Chiang Mai Overall Desirability Score:  High. It remains one of my top 5 locations in the world for retiring cheap in paradise.  

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Chiang Mai Cost of Living

In this section, we interview our Guest Star Martin from Canada who lives in Chiang Mai.  The interview takes place on January 24, 2023.  During the interview, Martin discusses his personal cost of living (30k Baht, $920 USD), how he thinks about healthcare, and what he remembers about Canadian retirement pension limitations.  Please verify your personal Canadian pension terms and conditions with the Canadian authorities.    

The following cost of living estimates and all other sections of this report are Dan’s estimates from his September 2019 visit to Chiang Mai.  Your cost of living will likely be drastically different as described below this table.

Expense Cost Low Medium High
Airbnb/per month rate $20.00 0 14 30
1 Br Apt w/lease $15.00 0 12 0
Hostel/per day $9.00 30 3 0
High-End Restaurant $10.00 1 4 8
Neighborhood Restaurant $2.00 30 44 48
Food Cart $1.00 30 12 4
Subway/Train/Metro $0.50 20 26 8
Bus $0.50 20 10 0
Taxi/(Grab is 30% more) $3.00 6 10 20
Total Per Month $408.00 $675.00 $ $844.00
Total Per Day $13.60 $22.50 $28.13

This estimated cost of living for one month, for one person as a temporary visitor. It only includes rent, 2 meals per day, and local transportation. I usually have oatmeal for breakfast in my room, so I don’t count that. For a full understanding of what it would cost you to live here, visit Chiang Mai and add any items you spend money on.

If you retire in Chiang Mai for Cheap you will have an amazing life compared to the life you would have in the expensive world.

Never move anywhere until you have visited first personally to verify the living costs for your lifestyle and needs. I am not guaranteeing these prices. These are just my notes and estimates from the time of my visit and this post. Your costs will likely be drastically different depending on lifestyle and the time since this post.

The above numbers are for one person and do not include alcohol, tours, or extras. Here is a free report explaining, “How The Cost of Living Table Works.”

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Best Area to Stay in Chiang Mai

Normally, I stay in the Nimman area of Chiang Mai.  But this time, I fell in love with old town Chiang Mai.  So, if I were to retire in Chiang Mai for cheap today, I would stay in the following area:

Airbnb: We stayed in this condo in Chiang Mai for 10 days for about $19 USD per night.  The AC and Internet are great. Plus it is near everything including the mall where we found everything at a bargain including groceries.  Plus, it is between the old town and Nimman, not a bad place to get to know Chiang Mai. If you want to see a video of the inside, check out our Life and Food video below.  🙂 If you are new to Airbnb use this code at checkout to get a big discount.

Cheapest Flights to Chiang Mai

We almost always get our cheapest flights on this Skyscanner. They have a web crawler that is constantly looking for the cheapest prices all over the world. As usual, we found the cheapest flight to Chiang Mai on Skyscanner.

Chiang Mai Ancient City Walking Tour

I love living in a cultured part of the world.  I could retire in Chiang Mai for cheap because it is steeped in culture.   

If the above video looks fun, click ==>this link<== or the below Google Map and start walking.  

Wat Phra Singh:  King Phayu constructed the Wat Phra Singh temple in 1345 AD to house the ashes of his father, King Kham Fu.  The Burmese conquered Chiang Mai for about 200 hundred years ending in 1774. After the Burmese were pushed out, this temple was restored in 1782.  

Wat Phan Tao:  This temple was built in the late 14th century.  The name means clay oven in Thai. Some believe the bricks used to make the temple next door come from this site.  This temple was built later using teak wood instead of brick.  

Wat Chedi Luang:  This temple was started in the 14th century by King Saen Muang Ma to house the ashes of his father.  At the time of completion, it was the tallest building in all of Lana at 82 meters (270 feet). The Emerald Buddha discovered in Chiang Rai was housed here for about 6 years but moved to Bangkok after an earthquake toppled the Chedi.  

Three Kings Monument:  This monument commemorates a treaty for common defense signed by three the three Kings of Northern Thailand in 1287 AD. 

Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center:  Behind the Three Kings is an arts and cultural center with the history and arts of Chiang Mai.  Entry is 180 Baht ($6 USD) and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:30 to 17:00.  

Lanna Folk Museum:  Across the mall in front of the three kings.  

Wat Chiang Man:  This was built in 1297 AD by King Mangrai and he lived here during the construction of the walls and moat around Chiang Mai.  The Elephant Chedi is the oldest building at Wat Chiang Mai. One of the standing Buddhas here has the date 1465 AD engraved on its base and depicts Buddha holding an alms bowl.  

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Temple Mountain Tour


We decided to take this tour at night because we wanted to see all the lights reflecting off of the golden Chedi.  The night tour cost 500 Baht ($16 USD) per person. You can also take the tour yourself by renting a scooter for about $5 USD per day using my map below to find your way.  There are two temples on the tour.    

Wat Umong: Wat Umong is a 700-year-old Buddhist temple in the mountains above Chiang Mai.  Like Chiang Mai, the temple was built by King Manglai of the La Na dynasty. There are tunnels with Buddhist images below the chedi which can be easily explored. 

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep:  If you come to Chiang Mai without seeing this second temple, you have not been to Chiang Mai.  This temple was built in the 14th century based upon the following Omen: “A piece of Buddha’s shoulder was placed by the king on the back of a white elephant which was released into the jungle. The elephant is said to have climbed up Doi Suthep, stopped, trumpeted three times, then dropped dead. This was interpreted as an omen. King Nu Naone immediately ordered the construction of a temple at the site.”  Source

If the above video looks fun, click ==>this link<== or the below map to take the self-guided tour on your smartphone.  You can rent a scooter at the first stop on the tour.    

Nimman Walking Tour

This is a funky cool and fun area if Chiang Mai.  If the above video looks fun, read the following directions and then click the below Google Map to get started on this tour.

Click the below map or ==>this link<== to take the Nimman Walking Tour.

Chiang Mai Favorite Markets

Sunday Walking Street Market:  Starts after 4:30 PM until late.  For tourists and locals. Click the Google Map or ==>this link<== to start the Sunday Walking Street Market. There are three more markets below the map we recommend … one for local foods. 

Saturday Night Market: Starts on Saturday after 4 pm until late.  For tourists and locals. 

Somphet Market:  Fresh fruits and vegetables local market experience with a few clothing items.  This is the market featured in the above old town walking tour. In order to retire in Chiang Mai for cheap, you are going to need a fresh local market.  There are many like this throughout Chiang Mai. 

Central Kad Suan Kaew:  This mall is where we got Visa photos, groceries, clothing, toiletries, and cheap local food.  Before 3 pm every day there is a big selection of local food stalls (30-40 Baht) in the back on the basement floor.  Keep going even after you find the food court. There is also a large well-equipped grocery store in the front. There is even a food market out front except on Sunday.    

Chiang Mai Nightlife

Plan A: Old Town Bar Hopping Tour  (Google Map)

Watch the sunset at Oasis:  Oasis Rooftop Garden Bar (Old Town):  Nice place to watch the sunset. 

Go listen to Jazz at around 8PM:  North Gate Jazz: Small Jazz club.  Decent musicians. 90 Baht beers.  

Have a drink with the professionals before you start dancing: UN Irish Pub (Old Town)

Start bumping to some Reggae around 10 PM: Roots Rock Reggae (Old Town):  Reggae, live music, reasonable prices.  

Start Jumping around 11:00 or 11:30 PM:  Zoe In Yellow: Crazy loud madness. Many bars all facing each other with people sometimes dancing in the streets.  Starts around 10 PM won’t get crazy before 11 PM.  

Plan B (Nightlife):  Just Chill in Nimman

Warm Up Cafe (Nimman Area) : Live and DJ music.  Different rooms in the same venue to please everyone.  You can also take the Nimman Walking Tour at night and it will walk you by a bunch of cool places to sip your favorite adult beverages. 

Digital Nomads Chiang Mai Life and Food Experiences

To successfully retire in Chiang Mai for cheap, you are going to need to develop a list of excellent local foods at local prices.  Here is our first crack at it. 

Ming Kwan Vegetarian Restaurant:  $ The best meal I had in Chiang Mai.  You have to try the local favorite dish in Chiang Mai called Kao Soi.  I got my vegetarian version of it here for 40 Baht ($1.20 USD).   

Salsa Kitchen:  Great Mexican Food.  $$$ My sister told me about this place and I loved it too.  

Night Food Markets:  $ See the Saturday and Sunday markets above under Favorite Markets.  

Mall Food Basement: $ Way past the food courts to the right in the back of this mall.  The stalls that have no names … just food and cheap prices (30-40 Baht, $1-1.50 USD) at  Central Kad Suan Kaew

Homm Noodles:  $ 40 Baht ($1.20 USD)  Qiang Hui ate here during old town walking tour.

Noodles:  $ There is a noodle place directly across the street from this guest house in old town where Qiang Hui loved her 50 Baht ($1.60 USD) meal.  It is one of the places featured in the above Life and Experiences video.  

The Larder Cafe & Bar:  $$$  This used to be my favorite breakfast house in Nimman every weekend. They jacked the prices so high, I will only go once a year now if that.  A fantastic breakfast for 2 was about $13.50 USD.  

Tops Grocery Market:  In the basement of this mall.  

Vagabond Buddha’s Kitchen: I was cooking one meal per day in our Airbnb and buying groceries at the grocery store in the basement of this mall.  Next time we will stay in old town and shop at this wet market: Somphet Market

Running Meditation:  I like to run in this park when I am in Chiang Mai.  

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Chiang Mai Facts and History

Here are some interesting facts about Chiang Mai Thailand according to Wikipedia.

Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand with about 160,000 people living within the city limits and one million people in the metropolitan area.  

Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 AD as the new capital of La Na after the former capital, Chiang Rai, fell to a northern siege.  

Chiang Mai was surrounded by a moat and a defensive wall because it was under constant threat.  In 1556, Chiang Mai was conquered by the Taungoo Dynasty.  

Chiang Mai formally became part of the Thonburi Kingdom in Bangkok in 1775, after King Taskin of Bangkok helped drive out the Taungoo.  However, Chiang Mai fell to a Taungoo counter-attack for about 15 years starting a year later. It was recaptured in 1791 and has since been part of Thonburi Kingdom of Thailand.  

In 2014, Chiang Mai was named one of the “25 Best Destinations in the World” by TripAdvisor.  

Chiang Mai has a continuing air pollution problem that occurs every year between February and April.  The farmers in the area burn their fields instead of tilling the soil. That is not a problem for many of the digital nomads that live in the area.  They just head south to the islands during the burn season. But for people that are not so mobile, this is a significant health risk. Do not visit Chiang Mai in March.  

Chiang Mai has over 300 hundred Buddhist temples.  The oldest temple in the city is Wat Chiang Man, which was built in the 13th century by the King Mengrai, who lived in the temple.   Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most famous temple which sits on a mountain outside Chiang Mai. Wat Phra Singh which sits within the city was built in the 14th century.  

In November, people celebrate Loi Krathong.  People assemble and place small floating bamboo containers on the river with flowers and candles.  In April, people celebrate the Thai New Year, Songkran.  The celebration includes a city-wide water fight.  In the first weekend of February, people celebrate the Flower Festival.  

Khao Soi is the local famous food.  Chiang Mai is a famous University town known in and outside of Thailand.  Both foreign and domestic students move to Thailand for their University years.  

There are several national parks and mountains in the vicinity making Chiang Mai a nature lover’s paradise.  

People move about the city in rented scooters, public buses, taxis, tuk-tuks, and songthaew (red trucks with covered open beds).  During peak hours the roads are badly congested which causes many people to prefer scooters because they can zip through the larger vehicles.  

The train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is an overnight train or you can fly into Chiang Mai International Airport. 

Over 15 million tourists per year visit Chiang Mai, about 70% Thai and 30% foreign.  Chiang Mai is considered a favorite tourist destination in Thailand because of its climate, cultural history, and beautiful green topography.  

We hope you have enjoyed our retire in Chiang Mai for cheap guide.  If so… 

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