Thailand Inexpensive? It Was Supposed To Be!

I first visited Thailand over 20 years ago and back then it was dirt cheap.  I think I spent a total of $1000 for a 2 week backpacking trip from Bangkok to Singapore, including my airfare from the US!  Now I have returned as a family of 4 and it doesn’t always feel like it’s the greatest deal around anymore.
Thailand inexpensive - it was supposed to be

When researching to move our family from Spain to Southeast Asia, I would scour the web for costs.  Some people share their costs, but not usually to the detail I am looking for.  I did find several solo A Little Adrift and couple bloggers TielandtoThailand, in the Chiang Mai area sharing their costs.  I would make up some fake calculation to try to estimate what things would cost our family of 4 and go from there.

Now that we have arrived in Chiang Mai and found our short-term rental apartment, we are starting to settle in.  I am finally having a free moment to check all of the finances and see what the heck we have done for the past few months.  We did expect to spend about the same during our Europe portion of our travels as we did last summer for our 6 week European road trip and we did.

Our summer months of travel in Amsterdam, Belgium, France and Sweden came in at about $5200 a month.  Not bad when you consider it was high season and we were moving fast and furious around Europe in a little bit of luxury too.

Center Parcs De Eemhof Aqua Mundo Water parks

Center Parcs De Eemhof Aqua Mundo Water Parks

We didn’t hold back with the activities and really enjoyed ourselves.  All of this was fine with the thought that we would be able to spend a bit less while living in Southeast Asia and it would all balance out.

First of all let me be clear, living costs in Thailand can cover any budget range.  It all depends on your comfort levels and choices.  When I was visiting back in the 90’s, I was a true budget backpacker.  To be honest, as a family of 4, that just isn’t our style.

Thailand Inexpensive?  Let’s see…

During our first month in Thailand, we spent a week in Bangkok, a week on the island of Koh Chang, a week at a guest house in Chiang Mai and a week in our 3-month apartment rental in Chiang Mai.  So as you can see, we weren’t really “settled”.  A big change I noticed from my visit 20+ years ago, is that there are many western comforts now (fast food, restaurants, clothing, toilets, hotels).  These just didn’t exist back then or they were extremely rare.

After 2 years of living in small town Spain, our family went into an “I miss American food frenzy”.  It was great to have access to foods we hadn’t had in quite some time.  This is all well and good, but does come at a much higher price.  We even splurged a bit on our accommodations.

Koh Chang Thailand Alina Grande Resort Pool

A little nicer hotel or guesthouse, not to mention a bigger apartment, spending 23,000 baht a month ($719).  Which would allow the kids to each have their own bedroom and we could also live in a nice neighborhood. Yes, there was cheaper, much cheaper, but it just wasn’t our style.

Street food is yummy and we have had a ball trying new things.  It just isn’t realistic for us to eat out 100% of the time.  As we travel, I am sure the time will come where that is our only option.

Chiang Mai Saturday Night Market - Sushi

Sushi at 5 baht a piece that is 6 pieces for $1. Woo hoo!

We were all tired of eating out, so we stocked up our kitchen at the apartment, we had no trouble filling up those shopping carts with the $5 small jar of JiF peanut butter (missed from US) or the $10 jar of Nutella (missed from Spain).  No, we went ahead and allowed the splurge on several items.  Why not?  Comfort food helps us all adapt to the change, healthy or unhealthy, that’s what we do.

Thailand Inexpensive - Not for imports

All compared to a 16 oz bottle of water.

We all missed home cooked meals, so we started cooking some favorites (Red soup, curry casserole, chicken tacos, pancakes etc).  Again, seems harmless enough, but the ingredients for some things do come at a cost.  Maple syrup (13 oz) $5, flour tortillas $7 (pack of 10), hard corn tortillas $5 (pack of 8 broken shells).  We have since done some searching and found each of these for about $3.

We found public transportation in Thailand inexpensive too.  For about $0.65 you can hop in a songthaew and go anywhere in the city.  Once you multiply that times 4 people, it is about $2.60 for each journey, one-way.  So if we just went once a day, round trip that would be $5.20 a day and $156 a month!  It can really add up when you are a family of 4.

All of this to say, we have been splurging and compromising a bit more than anticipated. But then something happened and I went into a real funk.

Time for Heidi to hit Funky Town

After living in our apartment for 2 weeks, we received an electricity bill.  In fact we received 2 electricity bills.

Why two?

Our apartment is actually a 2 bedroom and a studio connected to make a 3 bedroom.  The electric meter in the building still counts them as 2 apartments.  So we received a bill for our master bedroom and bath and then another bill for the main living area (2 bedrooms, bath, living room and kitchen).  The bills are calculated on the 25th of each month, so each of our bills was for 10 days.  The grand total for both bills was 1900 baht! ($60)


Isn’t Thailand Inexpensive?

In Spain we didn’t have AC and our utilities were included in our rent, so we haven’t paid and electric bill in over 2 years.

That is when I spiraled into a crazy funk.  I quickly did the math and realized that we would be spending $180 a month on electricity, if we kept living the way we were living.  You see, we had been running the AC, just as we did in all of the hotels.  We have an AC unit in each bedroom and in the main living area.  We let them run all day and especially, when we are sleeping at night.

We were also cooking in the kitchen! That is not too common in Thailand.  Ha!  

Everything is electric, even the water heater.

Oh, I was a mess.  My initial thought “This was really going to blow our budget!”.

Heidi the Nagging Budget B**** (family friendly blog, family friendly blog)

For 2 days, I was in a not so nice panic.  I was constantly nagging at the family to turn off the AC or adjust the temp.

NO!  Don’t cook french fries in the toaster oven.

I was going crazy (but the family doesn’t realize I still held back some) and well it didn’t take too long for the family to sound off.  They made it very clear, we couldn’t live like this and I couldn’t live like that either.  It was not all paradise, in the Wagoners Abroad Chiang Mai camp.

I felt unappreciated for all of the planning and trying to keep the family on a budget.  How come everyone else doesn’t just naturally understand, this all costs money?

I had become my own family’s worst nightmare.  I felt like I worked so hard to get us here and planned everything, but I didn’t plan for all of the American food and western comforts for a lengthy time.  I didn’t plan for crazy electric bills (which are in our complete control).  The family didn’t like having to watch their every move.  UG!

What kind of pickle do I have us in?

My mind was racing and it drifted all over the place.

“Oh, we are going to go through our money so fast, we will have to return to the US much sooner than we wanted.”


“We are going to need to find jobs and earn some money.”


“Maybe we should just go back to the States and give everyone the comforts they miss?”


“It would be so great to see family and friends regularly.”


“Then, everyone will miss travel, adventure and experiences!”


“We would be bored out of our minds and long for culture and people we have met.”

You see, the best part about our lifestyle is that we get to explore and experience new things everyday.  We meet wonderful people, taste new foods, embrace the culture and traditions.  No matter where we are or what we do, we get attached.  We get attached to people, food, locations, traditions and then we move on.  We move on and miss those things and people.

It doesn’t matter if it is the USA, Spain, Budapest, London, Morocco, Thailand or any other place we’ve been.  We “miss” something from everyplace we have been.  So you see, it isn’t really that we miss the USA, it is the people and the things.  We also miss the people and the things from Spain, just as much.

That is the curse of long-term travel.  You open your heart, your minds and your mouth and allow the new in.  You fall in love with the new and when it is no longer there, you miss it.  It doesn’t matter where we live, it happens.  There will always be something missed.

Back to Butterflies and Waterfalls

Not to worry, I snapped out of all of that fairly fast (a couple of days).  I love what we are doing and we are back to butterflies and waterfalls, experiences and adventures.

Wagoners Abroad Huay Kaew Waterfalls Chiang Mai Thailand

I think the entire family is learning, growing and embracing all that is presented.  It will last as long as it was meant to be.  I needed to remember, we are a family of 4 and we aren’t the extreme budget family who will sleep all in one bed to save money.  We all need certain comforts to keep peace in the family and to make this adventure comfortable enough for us all to enjoy the experience.

Koh Chang Ferry Back the kids had fun trying to stay dry

Back to the Electric Bill

We had the apartment manager monitor our electricity usage for 24 hours, so we could see where we needed to make adjustments.  To be honest, we made the request thinking they overcharged us and didn’t zero out the meter/log when we moved in.  After the assessment, it turns out it was all ours!

We owned that electric bill and used every bit of energy it said we did!

We are at home most of the day, so not the typical family that leaves for 8-10 hours.  We are using 4 laptops for work and homeschool, which all adds to the electric bill.  We now use the AC occasionally (hot time of day and at night) and monitor our cooking to some extent.  We will see if we have a handle on things next month.  If not, well then we have a high electric bill.

I know, I know, you are just dying to send us $200 a month so we can have AC right? (wink wink)  Not to worry, just hit that “Donate” button on the sidebar of our home page and it can be so.

Breathe, Stay Calm – It will all come out in the wash

Laundry Day

Which reminds me, I need to write about our laundry situation. Oh and be on the look out for a post on other things that we’ve been having fun washing.

In the grand scheme of things, it should all average out with some other costs.

–  In Spain we were paying about $200 a month for communications. This included 2 mobile phone contracts and internet in our apartment.
–  In Thailand our internet is about $30 a month.  We have paid a grand total of $20 for 2 SIM cards with phone minutes and 1 GB of data.

Travel:  This should be much lower than it was in Spain, as we don’t own a car and plan to do most of our exploring around town, for the next couple of months.

So I have finally calmed down a bit. If we all make small changes it should be just fine and we should remain on track for our $3000 / month budget.  Again, a family could live on much less than that here in Chiang Mai or in Thailand, but we are going with the keep the family happy route.   I will share our costs and spending with you as time goes on, so we will see how we do.

Wagoners Abroad continues with the journey to prove a family can find Thailand inexpensive.

Wagoners Abroad Sunparks De Haan Belgium

Wagoners Abroad Sunparks De Haan Belgium


Read more about our cost of living in Thailand!

Thailand Budget 2 Months1 month costs Thailand and Laos


Cost of Living Chiang Mai Thailand



Just a reminder, we don’t mind sharing the details.  If it can help you, we share!  Go ahead and check out how much it cost to live in Spain for a year too.


So many people say how inexpensive Thailand is, but is it true for the family of 4. Thailand Inexpensive? It Was Supposed To Be! Can we make it work? Cost of living in Thailand. Read more on

This entry was posted in Chiang Mai, Finances, Thailand and tagged , , , by Heidi. Bookmark the permalink.

About Heidi

Heidi has a passion for travel and has been exploring the world with her husband and 2 kids, since August 2012. She's visited more than 50 countries and loves to write about their family adventures, mishaps and costs. She has been an inspiration to others wanting to live their dreams. Her travel tips, planning posts, cost breakdowns, accommodation, and product reviews are also very popular. Her current home base is in Spain. Any post on this site may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, there is no extra cost for you and we may receive a commission.

32 thoughts on “Thailand Inexpensive? It Was Supposed To Be!

  1. Haha, I had a bit of a meltdown about cost after my first week here too. I felt really silly about it since everyone else seems to be raving about how cheap everything is, but don’t feel quite as bad reading and relating to your post!

    • Thank you! I remember it being such a shock, what kind of crazy people are we? We weren’t able to live off of $5 a day. LOL Hey it was still cheaper than living in our home country and as a family of 4, we just needed certain comforts too. Thanks for stopping by. How long are you in Thailand? Are you in Chiang mai?

      • Honestly, I felt guilty and embarrassed to even admit I was thinking of money at first, so when I saw this headline on your post I felt much better 🙂

        We’ve been here for 2 weeks, and are here for another 2 then off to Malaysia. We’re just starting an adventure like yours and was glad to find your site, and totally amazed at how much you managed to write AND do while here, plus you’re homeschooling 2 kids. We’ve watched some of Anya’s Adventures too (which inspired our trip to the fish spa yesturday in fact)… you guys are rockstars!

        • Oh you are too kind Rian. Glad you enjoy Anya’s video. We are trying to get her to do more, but that tween stage is proving to be more of a challenge when requesting things like that. 🙂

          We were in Chiang Mai for 3 1/2 months, so it was the perfect amount of time for us to get a routine and see as much as possible. We really liked using the surroundings and culture for education. It was awesome. Sometime up at 5:30 to go see morning alms even. Enjoy your time there and glad you all made it to the fish spa too!

  2. Glad you guys are making it work, CM is one of my favorite cities in the world. It makes sense with your family and lifestyle that you’re in the mid-range, but if that is what it takes to make everyone stay balanced and enjoying the experience then it’s a small price. Thai electricity is crazy expensive, I always had a tiny place and am fortunate that my family (somehow) raised me in south Florida with no AC, just fans, so I easily took that practice into my tiny one-bedroom. It never really occurred to me when I wrote my cost of living post that most people do actually need to run the AC more often! On the up side, CM starts to get a lot cooler as dry season comes, and is downright chilly (again, to a Floridian) in December and January. I always took my niece to the super nice movie theater at the mall when we needed a break, some Westerness, and to cool down. Hope all continues well! 🙂 (oh, and depending on the ages of the kiddos, the youngest technically ride for like half, or discounted on Asian transport–boats, buses, trains, songtaews–though you would likely have to bargain/be firm to get that enforced!).

    • Hey thanks for dropping by Shannon. I didn’t know about the half price for the kids. We have been paying just like adults. Maybe people assume they are older because they are as tall as Thai adults (even though they are 10 and 12).

  3. Thanks so much for this! We’re eyeing up a trip to Asia in the next year or two, and I’ve been having a terrible time trying to find budget numbers for a family.

    Like you, we were in Thailand and Malaysia about 12 years ago as budget backpackers. Back then, we had a couple of months where we lived in a a beach hut and ate street food and spent a total of $500 a month (for two of us!).

    Now, though, we have the two kiddos (and for the sake of general family happiness I don’t think we would enjoy living in a one room beach hut, unfortunately :).

    I think you guys are doing pretty well if you hit $3000 a month for a family of four!

    • You bet Micki! We aren’t finding much in the way of families and pricing either, so we will try to share all of our info. At least people will have one data point to go by. We are going to gather info and make a family friendly guide for Chiang Mai in the next couple of months.

  4. I have heard that Thailand is not as cheap as it once was and sorry to hear about the higher than expected costs. I think it is hard to balance being comfortable and budgeting for just one person, let alone a family of 4! Sounds like you are striking a happy balance!

  5. Can I just say, your pic is priceless. 🙂
    Reminds me of my first international cell phone bill. What?!! feed a small country yes, I could with this. lol!
    I’m glad to see you all enjoying yourselves.

    • Hey Christine! Thanks. Yes it was a shock, but we are doing much better now. I hope! We will see on the 25th, when we receive our next bill.

  6. Reminds us of when we first arrived. Our electric bill for 2 weeks in our first studio apartment was 1700 baht. We moved out shortly after into a house with government rate electricity and our bill dropped to less than 1000 baht a month. We run our a/c all day in our new place (fan at night). Condos that target the foreign market definitely make their money overcharging on utilities. Sad but true. We knew one girl who’s electric bill was more than her rent! Oh, for some good cheap peanut butter head to Rimping. Their is a nice Thai brand (organic) for less than 80 baht. Thailand gets cheaper the longer you stay. You eventually start finding the things you though didn’t exist here too. Keep your head up and take care!

    • Hey guys! So glad your bill was worse than ours! Yes, the rates here are crazy here in our condo. It is full of expats, so I am sure they are taking advantage. We looked at one place and it was government rate, but we didn’t like the location. Go figure. We are loving Rimping and haven’t tried their brand of peanut butter yet. Slowly we are finding things around for less and we will just need to deal with the AC bill. We are off on our first border fun in a couple of weeks, so that should be fun too.

  7. I totally feel for you on the electricity bill shock! That’s definitely no fun. But as you said, it all comes out in the wash. Sometimes I have to remind myself as well that living abroad might mean that XYZ is more expensive, but then I don’t have to pay for gas for a car or I don’t spend money using a drier, so then those things are less expensive.

    • You said it Dana! We don’t have a car or car insurance and that was a bit of a cost in Spain and in the US. It is tough that first month though. I would rather start cautiously and then splurge the next month, if we did well. On the flip side, the rest of the family would rather live it up and see how we did. Then potentially cut back the next month. That just isn’t my style! We have found a good compromise and we are all pitching in to do our best, but not to my extreme. Thanks for stopping by to comment. It is very much appreciated.

  8. Surprised it’s that much. Our single family house ran about $100 per month with A/C. It may be that the building is marking up your electric. Probably not much you can do about that if it’s the case.

    No way I’d go without A/C during that summer humidity. . .

    • Yep that is what it is. I think it is the building. Each place we looked at told us what their rate was, but we were clueless. Plus we have a big place full of windows, which aren’t well insulated at all. That is really the problem, the humidity!

      I was looking at the weather the other day and it was 89’F with a “feels like note” of 108’F. The dryer season should come soon. Perhaps it won’t be as bad?

  9. I’d be all for cutting out the nutella for my aircon at night 🙂 I remember one night in Perth having the worst sleep and my husband says what is the price of your sanity? I never worried about the cost of the aircon again. What is the price of your sanity, Heidi? You are doing well! xx

    • Oh Erin, that is exactly how I rationalized my way out of the funk. “How much does it cost to keep the family at ease and happy?” Thanks for keeping tabs on me!

      The kids aren’t willing to live without the nutella, but will live without AC. Alan is the opposite and needs a good sleep. We don’t need any Grumpy Grizzly roaming the house. 🙂

  10. That is the curse of long-term travel. You open your heart, your minds and your mouth and allow the new in. You fall in love with the new and when it is no longer there, you miss it. It doesn’t matter where we live, it happens. There will always be something missed.

    That’s the pain, but also the reward of traveling: You leave behind a little bit of you wherever you go, and in return you take a little bit of wherever you go, with you.

  11. Switch the air-con off Heidi! In all our years in Far North Qld we NEVER ran it at night. I know, I have crazy freak out times too, particularly in Malaysia it seems. Times when I want to rant, shout, cry and punch anyone that so much as looks at me the wrong way. Glad you’re feeling better. Do you have fans by the way? Or just air-con? We always had fans at home.

    • We have been using it at night. I don’t really think we need to, but Alan doesn’t want to budge on that one. The kids aren’t running theirs at night though, so that is a little better. I know that is what is killing us. But gotta keep the clan happy too. Such a tough line to walk sometimes. We have a ceiling fan in the main living area and in 2 bedrooms. Anya doesn’t have one. As long as I am under the fan, I feel fine. It will all be good. It is just a few months and we will trim back in other areas (I hope). Sometimes it sucks being the budget person!

  12. I remember my first electricity bill when I moved to Bangkok. I was living on my own at the time and it came to 3,000-4,000 baht. That came as a bit of a shock. Many Thai people use a fan instead of aircon though because they are much cheaper to run. Also, smaller condos are easier to keep cool. I do love aircon though and it’s one thing that I don’t skimp on.

    • Manfred, I bet you and Alan would be the best of friends! I can see it now… you two having a chat in the AC with ice dripping off your chins. LOL I prefer the room to be at about 26’C (78’F) and Alan would prefer it to be at 17’C (62’F). Of course we picked out the BIG condo to top it all off! 🙂 oh well.

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