St Paul's Cathedral, London

Living Costs in London Compared with Chiang Mai

Where were you this time last year? We were in Thailand, relaxing by the river Kwai in Kanchanaburi whilst preparing for our trip to Burma. I’ve written many times about our love for the Land of Smiles and now that the weather has turned cold and wet here in Hanoi I often fantasise about heading back to the warmth of one of our favourite Asian cities: Chiang Mai. We have fond memories of this northern Thai oasis; volunteering at the nearby Elephant Nature Park, hanging out with visiting friends and family and celebrating the New Year’s water festival, Songkran.

Thai Boy Squirting a Water Pistol During Songkran 2014

Celebrating Songkran 2014 in Chiang Mai

Some of my favourite Chiang Mai memories are of the month we spent renting an apartment on the outskirts of the city in late 2013. After six months of fast-paced travel we were burnt out and craving some rest and a place to call home; we certainly found that in our modern apartment equipped with a kitchen, downstairs gym, sofa and fast wifi. We worked online, relaxed, cooked meals and went to the Sunday Night Market every week – it was exactly what we needed to prepare us for the next phase of our trip.

Although we now spend less per month here in Hanoi, our month in Chiang Mai was also one of the cheapest we had during our initial 15-month trip – you can see exactly how much it cost us to live in Chiang Mai in this post. We thought it would be interesting to compare these costs with how much we used to spend when we lived and worked in London – here’s what we found.

Our Living Costs in London

To help understand our London living costs here’s a little background information about what our lifestyle was like. Andrew worked as a teacher in a secondary school not far outside the centre of London while I worked as a writer and content manager for a website near London Bridge; we had a joint income of over £55,000 before tax per annum. We lived about an hour away from both Andrew’s school and my office in a one-bedroom flat in South-East London.

St Paul's Cathedral, London

My old office was close to London’s amazing South Bank

While I used the train and walked to work, Andrew drove or cycled.  We did a weekly shop, cooked almost all our own meals and took  lunch to work with us, spending roughly £70 per week on groceries. Our miscellaneous costs include other bills and insurance payments; our ‘eating/going out’ expenses usually meant a couple of drinks after work, going to the cinema and having a meal out once or twice a month.

Since we lived so frugally in London we were able to put more of our money towards saving for our trip. All in all, our spending habits in London meant that during the last few months before we left the UK we were able to save about £1,500 per month (nearly half of our salaries) and we still had a little left over too. Here’s what we spent in an average month in London:

Expense Amount Per Person Per Day
Accommodation: Rent £750    
Council Tax £110
Utilities £140
Total Accommodation: £1,000 £500 £33.34
Food: Groceries £300    
Eating/Going out £100
Total Food: £400 £200 £13.33
Transport: Car Insurance £55    
Fuel £70
Bike Payments £40
Train Costs £130
Total Transport: £295 £147.50 £9.83
Total Miscellaneous: £135 £67.50 £4.50
Total: £1,830 £915 £61

The Cost of Living in London Compared to Chiang Mai

Here’s how our London living costs compare with the month we spent  in Chiang Mai:

Expense

London

Chiang Mai

  Total Per person Per day Total Per person Per day
Accommodation £1,000 £500 £33.34 £380 £190 £13.10
Food £400 £200 £13.33 £271.50 £135.75 £9.36
Transport £295 £147.50 £9.83 £90.50 £45.25 £3.12
Miscellaneous £135 £67.50 £4.50 £150.40 £75.20 £5.18
Total £1,830 £915 £61 £892.40 £446.20 £30.77

As you can see, it cost us less than half as much to live in Chiang Mai than it did to live in London. Utility, rental and transport costs in particular are very cheap in Thailand when compared to the UK. However, we could have lived much more frugally in Chiang Mai if we’d wanted to; there are plenty of hotel rooms or studios we could have rented for as little as £100 per month. We could have also halved our food costs if we’d stuck to eating local street food rather than buying western ingredients like bread, cheese and pasta to cook meals at home.

Amy at the Night Market in Chiang Mai

Eating at the Night Market in Chiang Mai

Even if we rented another chic apartment and gorged on expensive food we could still afford to live in Chiang Mai again one day; especially if we landed teaching jobs like the ones we have here in Hanoi. Now there’s an idea for the future…

Have you ever lived in Chiang Mai or London  – how do your living costs compare?

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11 Comments
  • Jenia from HTL
    Posted at 21:38h, 15 February Reply

    Do it! Move to Chiang Mai — that idea sounds so lovely right now. We are currently in Washington DC and it is -23C with windchill today! ANd our living costs are much closer to your London spending than to Chiang Mai…

    • Amy
      Posted at 00:31h, 18 February Reply

      Wow, Washington DC sounds a bit brutal at the moment! I like knowing that the option is always there to move to Chiang Mai 🙂

  • Patti
    Posted at 02:02h, 16 February Reply

    “Where were you this time last year?”

    Wow, Amy, that sentence really made me think. This time last year we were settling in for another season of tourism and guests at our B&B. We had no idea that in just another month we would close escrow on the sale of our B&B, and that we would agree to manage the inn for the new buyers for six months before moving east. Amazing how much our lives can change in just a heartbeat of time! It takes my breath away to think about it – and I remember interviewing you before you and Andrew took off. Wow!

    • Amy
      Posted at 00:32h, 18 February Reply

      How things can change in a year Patti, now you’ve moved across the country and are about to set off on a new adventure in Europe, exciting!

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 21:25h, 16 February Reply

    Very interesting post Amy, no wonder there are so many backpackers that end up staying put in Chiang Mai for a while. London is a very expensive place even though your joint income was a very good income, you had to be frugal and did not eat out a lot and therefore you did very well with your savings. Brian and I loved Chiang Mai and we would like to rent an apartment and live there for few months, some time in the future. We loved the food, the friendly people and all the activities on offer. We will retire in about 2 years time, so there is a thought also.

    • Amy
      Posted at 00:34h, 18 February Reply

      Oh, that’s a great idea Gilda, perhaps we’ll meet you there 🙂

  • Fabiana
    Posted at 02:46h, 24 February Reply

    This was soooooooooo helpful. Thanks for sharing!

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:19h, 24 February Reply

      No worries 🙂

  • Meredith Schwartz
    Posted at 09:03h, 11 August Reply

    It is great that you were able to save your money for traveling. Me and my boyfriend are doing the same and next year we really want to move to Costa Rica for a year. We live in London and we both have good jobs… but we both feel that we need to go away for a while. Thanks for sharing! I really want to visit Thailand some day!

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:42h, 11 August Reply

      Hi Meredith, Costa Rica sounds exciting, I hope you guys have a great adventure 🙂

  • Pingback:How we Can Afford to Travel Full Time | Travel Costs
    Posted at 14:55h, 23 September Reply

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