Chiang Mai Cost of Living
An Aussie, Michelle Hammond, writes that living in Chiang Mai saves her $23,994 a year:
Medical: Dermatologist visit without an appointment: vital signs, 10-minute wait, evaluation, CO2 removal of two pre-cancerous lesions: 996 Baht. (You didn’t think Chiang Mai’s cost of living was so low, did you?)
Two farang friends have just delivered baby girls in Chiang Mai hospitals. Each had a private room, one for four days. Their total was pre-agreed: 60,000 Bt (US$1700) each. Both were delighted by the care they received which, in one case, included an autographed photo of the entire delivery team gathered around the bed of the exhausted mother holding her baby for the first time. Another friend got bad food poisoning and went to the hospital in early July. She needed intensive care but every bed in the hospital was full so the doctor, not wanting to put her back in an ambulance, had his desk removed from his office and a bed installed for her. The bill next day was 1400 Bt (US$40). When she protested that this was too low, staff told her it was because she did not have a ‘proper room’. A nurse called her at home that night to check her progress.
Automotive: I’ve been doing a lot of fast driving through mountainous roads lately and can assure you that even remote roads are well maintained in the Kingdom. But taking thousands of curves stresses wheel bearings, apparently, because one of mine went out. I discovered this when I went to have the Toyota’s front alignment checked after I hit a pothole (in the middle of town!) and the steering went weird. The shop fixed the affected wheel and moved it to the rear, then balanced and aligned the front wheels. They refused payment because I’d bought the Michelins (3,000 Bt each) from them and the work was covered by their lifetime warranty – a pleasant surprise. There was no denying the wheel bearing problem (the grinding noise was obvious once they pointe it out) so the next day they came and picked up the car. It was back a few hours later along with a bill for 2,000 Bt. and the old bearing in the factory box that held the new bearing. Don’t worry too much about the cost of owning a car in Chiang Mai: it’s far less than you’re accustomed to at home.
Bathroom Installer: I consider Thai bathrooms more dangerous than Thai roads so decided to install three grab bars in case I slip. Home Pro, the hardware store that sold the bars quoted me 1,100 baht (Aimie was shocked at the price but this was too important to haggle) and sent around a man with the experience and equipment to drill tiles (a tricky business) and I showed him where and at what height I wanted each bar to go then left him to get on with his work. Thais don’t give up any freedom just because you’re paying them and one of those freedoms is deciding how things should be done. This means you don’t always get what you expect – or want. He installed the bars neatly and professionally in 30 minutes but so far up the wall that I have little chance of grabbing them if I slip, as you can see from the height the door handle.
The garden installer came to put in some shrubs outside my front fence. All my neighbors have hedges and my fence looked naked without one. I told the crew where to break up the thin concrete outside the fence and left them to it. They had other ideas, as it turns out. Their idea is what you see in the photograph: a raised garden surrounded by bricks. It doesn’t match the rest of the street and, worse still, it gets 12 hours of direct sun in summer and the soil gets so hot that it broils the roots of anything but the hardiest weeds.
My hairdresser is an artist. He finds my ultra-short hair style an affront to his aesthetic sensibility. Every time I go for a cut – 220 Baht – he gives me the style that pleases him. Then follows a ‘yes but’ discussion during which I make excuses for the hairstyle I need (“I go swimming every day and cannot spend time drying it”, etc.). He shakes his head in disbelief and, eventually, complies.
I mention these three people not in any negative way, but to contrast Thai culture with our own: Thais feel freer to be themselves, express their own opinions, and ignore the master-slave relationship that Western employees are encouraged to embrace. And now to a different adventure:
The Plumber: I heard water running outside the house day and night for weeks, then came home to find a a water bill pinned to my gate for 9,761 baht – 30x times normal. A water inspector then showed up and located the leak in a water junction box (no the West does not have such things, and I’m not sure why Thailand does) in the yard behind the house. It was clear that someone in the past had attempted to repair it with what looked like black electrical tape, which had finally given way. The inspector sent a repairman who quickly set things right, but I was now in a tricky position: under Thai law I am responsible for everything in and around the house, but this strange box had water pipes entering it from other properties and the damage was done before I signed the lease. “Did you take a photograph of the old repair?” was Aimie’s first question. Damn! It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d need evidence. However, after some back and forth, the owner offered to split the bill.
Picked up cushions for the two Yang chairs (like the one in the picture). Total for two big cushions, cover and zipped outer covers was 3,180 baht. When I tried to pay, the lady behind the counter became concerned and explained that I had paid when I ordered the cushions. I find this kind of honesty typical in Chiang Mai. Cheating is quite rare.
Internet Bills: I dumped my unreliable Internet carrier, 3BB, and put in a direct fiber connection from AIS, whose equipment is much newer and more reliable. I’m paying 1300 Bhat per month for 30Mb fiber. Twice the speed for little more money and less down time. When you’re figuring your Thailand cost of living, you can usually get Internt free via WiFi in condos and apartments – so that’s a potential savings.
More Chiang Mai Cost of Living
Town gas is unknown in this part of the world, as is cooking with gas indoors. Most domestic kitchens are outdoors, with charcoal braziers. My house has a small Western kitchen with a two-burner stovetop with a small (15 kg) tank underneath. When it ran out last week I took it down to the local gas merchant and swapped it for a full one – enough to last me 6 months using it once a day.
Reading Glasses. After cataract surgery (below) I need reading glasses and, since I only use them at home, did not want fancy (2,000 baht) frames. Bought four pairs of reading glasses for 100 baht each and had the prescription lenses made up and inserted into them for 2,100 baht. Total for four pairs of prescription readers: 2,500 baht ($85).
Furniture: Took delivery of two yang chairs to match the big yang chair/bed/lounge (4,000 Baht each, above) I bought last month (12,000 Baht, below). These are popular locally since the sofa-style yangs double as occasional beds for unexpected guests – and unexpected guests are the most common kind here. They’re (very) solid teak and weigh a ton. I’m planning to upholster them with some fabulous silk from our local silk merchants, Shinawatra, who make beautiful stuff. Very expensive, though.
Refrigerators: This month’s shopping has been educational and fun, as usual. When we’re shopping together sales staff assume Aimie and I are married. She cracks up and tells me, “They call me ‘madam’ instead of ‘sister’ and congratulate me on having such a rich husband”. Their congratulations came when I went to buy a good quality(!) $200 mattress for the guest room (visitors have been lining up since friends learned about the spare bedroom). I was tired of defrosting the Panasonic refrigerator that came with the house and I fell for a tall silver Samsung with a separate freezer on sale at HomePro for 9,999 Baht, $330. Two guys delivered and installed it that afternoon and stayed to explain the controls – which was rather sweet.
Utility Bills: One advantage of condos is that the landlord pays the utility bills. The disadvantage is that she then charges you double what she paid. I was looking forward to saving a few bucks when my first round of bills arrived for the house but I discovered that, like so many aspects of Thai life, bill-paying is more complicated than it appears. For one thing, the bills are in Thai. For another, most companies – including the biggest – have hit-or-miss billing software. Why? I suspect it’s a combination of the facts that
- Thais hate being told how to do things (especially by farangs)
- They always assume that the Thai way is best, and
- They can figure it out themselves.
One result is that my cellular carrier, True, does not bill me at all. Despite my pleas (and complaints, when my service is discontinued for non-payment) they simply tell me that their billing department is ‘having problems” and that I should ‘just remember next time’. The lady says it with the sweetest smile so I apologize and pay meekly. The water bill comes monthly on a cash-register printout slip. It’s about $5 a month and I can pay it – like most bills in Thailand – at any 7-11 store. Reassured by this knowledge, I waited a few weeks before paying the first bill because there’s no convenient 7-11 near my house. Then I found to my dismay that I was ‘too late’ and would have to visit the Water Department on the other side of town. Bummer. The Water Department building is clearly signed – in Thai – so it took me a while to find it. I finally figured out that the building with the huge, shiny blue pipe and valve in front of it must be the right place. (Pipes and valves are beautiful, from the Water Department’s point of view, of course). Living in Thailand teaches you to look for contextual clues, that’s for sure!
Trash Bills: The trash bill is a bit of a mystery. There’s no regular trash pickup so, if I want it picked up, I must leave the bin outside the gate, in the narrow laneway, permanently. The big yellow truck roars by several times a week, but I’ve taken to carrying my trash to a local drop-off bin (a recycled blue plastic barrel) when I go out for my early morning walk. The standard trash bag in Thailand is a recycled plastic shopping bag, so that’s what I use, too. And since I started hauling my own garbage, the bills (30 Baht/mo) have stopped. Trash collection is not going to figure heavily in your Thailand cost of living – as you see!
Rent: The least problematic aspect of Thailand’s cost of living is my rent (10,000 Bt/mo): I just transfer it from my online bank account directly to my landlady’s account with a few mouse clicks). On line bank payments are as easy here as they are there, thank God! More here..
So there you have it: bill paying is a curse that we must all endure since Adam and Eve made their rash decision to leave Paradise, and in Thailand it’s a mixed curse. But Chiang Mai’s cost of living is pretty hard to beat!