Living in Thailand
Just like any other country in the world, the cost of living in Thailand is very much dependant on which region or city you live in. If you decide to reside mainly in one of the hotels, or choose another periodic accommodation option, the cost can be very much dependent on the season. This is particularly applicable in towns and cities that have tourism as major sources of income. Thus, for example, the cost of accommodation in some hotels in and around Phuket city and Patong can double during the high tourist season as compared to the low tourist season. The cost of living in Thailand is also dependent on the type of lifestyle you wish to maintain. That is, is a minimum subsistence level satisfactory, or is living more extravagantly on your agenda? Also, do you have a specific medical condition that could require emergency attention (or maybe you just like to know how readily available medical attention is in the event of an accident)?
In this post, I will go through some important factors to consider when wanting to live in Thailand. The cost of living in Bangkok, for example, is particularly expensive and beyond the scope of this post. As I have lived in Khao Lak since 2011, and therefore have a lot more experience of what it’s like to live in this particular region, I will focus on Khao Lak. It’s not feasible to be comprehensive, given the different types of lifestyles people aspire to and the large range of things that must be examined when wanting to live in a particular place, but I can provide a broad outlook on necessary things to consider. For detailed information on the cost of living in Thailand, an Internet resource has been set up where individuals provide the content.
Accommodation in Khao Lak
The cost of accommodation in the Khao Lak region varies from around 3,500 baht a month to upwards of 20,000 baht a month. Of course, the price is very much dependent on the quality of the housing and rooms, as well as the service provided. Given the large range of prices, the best course of action would be to first rent a room in one of the Khao Lak hotels for, say, a month or two, then venture out into the different Khao Lak villages to initially determine which particular area is the most suitable. I also recommend talking to ex-pats and asking about the different types of accommodation and the landlords that own them.
When I first arrived in Khao Lak around April of 2011, I stayed at the Suwan Palm Resort, which is located close to the Khao Lak centre in La On Village. The hotel is right on Nang Thong beach overlooking the Andaman sea. It was a surprisingly quiet hotel given the Khao Lak centre is only 800 metres away. I was particularly fortunate in that I ended up paying only 15,000 baht a month, and for most of my several stays there I was the only person in the hotel! An alternative could be the Riverside Guesthouse which is very close to the Tsunami Memorial Park in the heart of Bang Niang village. The cost per night varies from 250 baht to 800 baht, but they do have monthly accommodation in the vicinity of 7,000 baht.
Types of Khao Lak Accommodation
I eventually found a cottage in Bang Niang (see above photo), and have lived there ever since. The rental cost was listed as 5,500 baht a month, but because I indicated that I would likely stay for some years, the landlord dropped it down to 5,000 per month. Once again, I feel very fortunate, because the rent is relatively low and the location is picturesque. There is a river flowing out the back of the house, and there is a lot of greenery (which is not all that surprising given Thailand is a tropical country). The Bang Niang centre is a comfortable 10-minute walk away and less than 2 minutes away by motorcycle. The cottage is small but it meets my needs very well.
One thing worth considering when renting a property in Khao Lak. The cost of improvements to the house are generally borne by the renter, not the owner. Thus, for example, I added an air-conditioner (which I rarely use because I actually like the heat and I find fans are sufficient), fly screens to the doors and windows, Internet connectivity, and a TV satellite dish. I don’t watch TV but a previous Thai girlfriend I shared the house with for several years couldn’t live without one! The landlord has organised the fixing of several things such as the plumbing and some of the fixtures. Because I have been a reliable tenant, the rent has not gone up since I first moved in, in 2013.
Khao Lak Food & Groceries
As one would expect, determining the cost of food in Thailand depends on the type of food and groceries purchased. Fresh food can be bought at one of several Khao Lak markets. The Bang Niang market is located on the main road in the heart of Bang Niang, only a few minutes from Bang Niang beach. It is open 3 days every week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays – although during the high season it is also open on Thursdays. Some of the shops, like the fruit and vegetable stall I frequent, open every day. The fruit in Thailand tends to not last very long, and since I eat a fresh fruit salad every morning, this has proven to be most convenient. It usually costs me about 250 baht for enough fruit to last for 3 or 4 breakfasts – this includes bananas, grapes, a water-melon, a cantaloupe and a pineapple. The market also comprises some of the best Khao Lak bars in the region, as well as clothes shops and businesses that sell assorted home items. There are also a variety of food stalls where one can eat at a table during a visit to Bang Niang market, or take-away.
Khao Lak Fresh Food Markets
The Build Market is located approximately 1 km north of Bang Niang market on the same side of the road. It is opposite the lake and next to the Build Factory, which is a music venue frequented mostly by young Thais. This market has an abundance of places to eat as well as other types of shops such as a massage parlour and a tattoo business. There is also a fresh food section at the back of the large property. The Build Market is open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays when the Bang Niang Market is closed. The place is utilised mostly by Thais but there is a significant contingency of Europeans. The cost of the fresh food is slightly cheaper than that at Bang Niang Market.
The third of the main Khao Lak markets is officially called the “Khao Lak-Bang Niang Fresh Market”, but it is more commonly known as the “Khuekkhak Market”. It is located opposite the Khao Lak bus terminal in Ban Thung Wa Nok Village. This is the place to go if you want to buy meats, fish, seafood, and fruits and vegetables. The cost of the fruit and vegetables is about the same as that found in the other two Khao Lak markets. There are a few food stalls which sell cheap food, but they usually only deep-fry the food. I sometimes buy chicken pieces for around 60 baht which lasts for 2 meals.
The Khao Lak region also has several supermarkets. The best-known is Nang Thong Supermarket which is located in the Khao Lak centre and caters mainly for Westerners. Food items that can also be found in the many 7-Eleven businesses that are dotted throughout the main Khao Lak thoroughfare, cost pretty much the same. However, special items such as European chocolates and biscuits are relatively expensive. A 50g block of Lindt cacao chocolate, for example, will set you back 140 baht, while a 150g block of Les Grandes hazelnuts will cost you 195 baht. That’s the equivalent of 4 lunches at the Boat Café (see below). A 1,000g packet of almonds will dent your wallet by 620 baht. That’s the equivalent of 12 lunches at the Boat Café! If you can live without such delicacies, the cost of living in Khao Lak can be significantly reduced.
Khao Lak Supermarkets
The other main supermarket in the Khao Lak centre is the “Khao Lak Supermart”. It’s not too dissimilar from Nang Thong Supermarket but it is significantly smaller. The cost of most of the items, however, are similar. The other main supermarket in the Khao Lak area is the recently opened “Mother Marche”. The food here is more expensive than in the other supermarkets; for example, a cantaloupe can cost as much as 250 baht, as compared to 70 baht at Bang Niang Market, but the fruit and vegetables are kept indoors and air-conditioned, so the quality is mainly superior.
The Khao Lak region is also dotted with 7-elevens that are open every day, all day. Here you will find the usual items that are stacked in 7-Eleven’s all over the world. The items are significantly cheaper than in Western supermarkets and 7-eleven’s, such as milk and potato crisps, but Western chocolates such as Rochet are relatively expensive.
Khao Lak Restaurants
Eating at one of the many restaurants and cafes is one of the great things to do in Khao Lak. There is an abundance of choice both in cuisine and cost. The more expensive restaurants are found in the large Khao Lak hotels and resorts that are located throughout the region. I have rarely eaten in any of these establishments, and will instead focus on the restaurants I frequent.
The cost of a meal in the lower end to middle-of-the-road Khao Lak restaurants varies from around 50 baht to 300 baht. I eat a bowl of chicken soup with rice (“khao tom ghai”) most days for lunch at either the Boat Café located opposite Ban Niang Market (50 baht), or at the Jim Fiske restaurant about 200 metres north on the same side as the market. However, if I am ready to eat breakfast early enough I go to one of my favourite Khao Lak restaurants in the region, the “Cultivated Banana”, which opens around 5am and closes at 11am. I begin with “khao tom gai”, followed by some of the wonderful Chinese-like dumplings that are steamed in the big pots at the counter. Each dish contains the same 2 items – the cost ranges from 20 baht to 30 baht. Tea is provided free and I usually pay around 100 baht for the entire meal.
Restaurants in Khao Lak
For dinner, I most often go to the Halal Restaurant located in the street that connects the main Khao Lak road to Bang Niang beach. They serve Indian or Thai food in either vegetarian or meat forms. The chicken curry dish I usually order costs around 150 baht with rice, while the cashew nut and tofu vegetarian dish with rice costs 100 baht. There is also a variety of Indian breads ranging from 30 baht to 60 baht. There are several other Indian restaurants in the Khao Lak area but the meals there can be significantly more expensive.
If more healthy food is desired, then it’s worth going to “Qcumber” which is located on the main road in the Khao Lak centre, approximately 100 metres south of McDonald’s on the same side of the road. You can make up your own salad from the ingredients listed on the menu, or you can order a set salad. I usually eat the Caesar Salad which costs 169 baht, or the chicken wrap which costs the same. The Qcumber also has some of the best smoothies in town!
The Cost of Khao Lak Utilities
Utilities such as electricity, water, Internet and mobile phone can add up depending on usage. My electricity bill in my rented cottage, for example, is around the 200 baht per month mark. This is extraordinarily cheap, but I do not often use the air-conditioner, preferring fans instead. Using the air-conditioner regularly will significantly increase electricity costs! I do not pay any water bills as, like the electricity, I only use a small amount each month. Internet costs are relatively expensive in Thailand as compared to many Western countries. I currently pay 8,300 baht every 6 months using TOT as the Internet Service Provider. TOT is located on the main road in Bang Niang and is located opposite the “Cultivated Banana” restaurant. Optical fibres connect my house to the Internet but the download and upload speeds are significantly slower than as advertised. There are 2 other options, however. The CAT Telecom Public Company Limited business also provides Internet access but not to all areas of Khao Lak. A second alternative is 3BB, who claims to provide Internet speeds much faster than TOT at about the same cost. I have yet to check out this alternative.
Mobile phone SIM cards can be registered with either TOT or DTAC. Pretty much everyone in Thailand has a mobile phone and are glued to them most of every day! Calls using DTAC cost around 1 baht per minute, while SMS costs 3 baht per message. SIM cards and top-ups can be bought at any 7-Eleven store. Note that officially every mobile phone in Thailand has to be registered, no matter what length of stay in Thailand.
Is Living in Thailand for $3,000 USD a month Feasible?
Can one live for $3,000 USD (95,000 baht) per month? Is it possible to survive for less, say, around $2,000 USD (63,000 baht) a month? The answers to both questions are “yes”. I live on around 45,000 baht a month, which includes motor-cycle registration and car registration, as well as gasoline and Visa costs. I can do this because my house rental and utility costs are relatively small, I make at least one meal myself on most days, I do not smoke, and I do not drink much alcohol. There can be unexpected eventualities like medical and dental costs, or even hospitalizations, but I have been fortunate not to have encountered anything serious enough to have demanded a large sum of money. Medical insurance in Thailand for ex-pats, however, can be very expensive, especially as you get older and/or you have any previous conditions.
Khao Lak is not the cheapest place to live in Thailand, but it is a lot less expensive than Bangkok or even Phuket. As important as costs are for living in general, it’s worth noting that you take yourself with you wherever you go. If you wish to live in a large house with several bedrooms and air-conditioners, eat in expensive restaurants, frequent bars drinking excessively, patronise the company of bar-girls in the Khao Lak area or Phuket, etc, then the cost of living in Thailand will escalate, perhaps to even parity the cost in some Western countries. However, if a more laid-back style of life is your thing, then Khao Lak is definitely a place where one can live cheaply, yet still enjoy what the region has to offer.