A Week In Chiang Mai, Thailand, On A $16,000 Income

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Today: a digital nomad/full-time traveler who makes $16,000 per year (combined with her husband) and spends some of her money this week on curry.
Occupation: Digital Nomad/Full-Time Traveler
Industry: Technology
Age: 27
Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Income: $16,000
Paycheck Amount: My husband and I make about $1,000/month off our iOS app, and I make about $4,000/year from my current part-time contract gig — so that's about $16,000 for the two of us while traveling. We are living and traveling off of savings for one to two years. Previously, I earned a $95,000 base salary, and my husband earned a $150,000 base, and we both had equity and annual bonuses that we put into our investment funds. We have $36,800 in my index fund investment account, and $320,000 in my husband's. We also have $82,600 in my 401(k) account and $152,300 in his.
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $450
Electricity: $30
Netflix & Spotify: $26
Additional Expenses
Phone: $52 prepaid for one year of data for two people — we'll use it over six months in Vietnam.

Day One

6:45 a.m. — Flight day. We wake up in Bangkok in an Airbnb we shared with two friends for three nights. One of them used to live in Saigon, where we are currently based, and Bangkok, where we traveled for Christmas. They left earlier than us for another week of vacation before going back to the States, and my husband and I are traveling in Thailand and Laos for the next two weeks before going back to Vietnam. We take the Skytrain and subway to the airport – $6.33 for two. $6.33
9 a.m. — After long lines at check-in, we rush to find an airport breakfast before the flight. I go with Subway to save time, and my husband gets a chicken-and-cheese sandwich from a café. $14.90
10:30 a.m. — Time for our flight to Chiang Mai – $132.17 for two tickets, which we already paid for.
11:30 a.m. — Arrive in Chiang Mai, and there's no shuttle bus to downtown, so we check Grab (the Uber of Southeast Asia) for car prices. It's cheaper to get an airport taxi, so we do that. $4.60
12 p.m. — While we wait for check-in at our guesthouse to open up, we have lunch and coffee downstairs ($6.70), and then hang around and chat. We're a little tired after three nights going out in Bangkok and an early morning today, so we're just looking to have a chill day. That's one great thing about long-term travel – you can have "nothing" days. We already paid online for our room, which was $142.68 for six days. We aim for $20 or less per night when we travel, but since we're a married couple we don't go quite as cheap as beds in a hostel dorm or couch-surfing. Prices are high in Chiang Mai right now because it's high season over Christmas and New Year's. Generally, we're gone a total of two weeks out of the month on two to three trips, and we keep our apartment in Saigon the whole time as a home base, which costs us $15 per day. For us, it's worth the cost to have a home in a city where we can make friends and not constantly schlep around luggage. $6.70
2:30 p.m. — After dropping off our stuff, we find a café to walk towards as we meander through the Old Town. When we get to the café, I order lime iced tea, soda water, and a vegan poppy seed cake, and my husband gets iced tea ($7.30). Then we spend a couple of hours on our computers — I read a few articles, write a blog post on my last weekend trip, edit photos, scroll through Instagram, and do a bit of trip planning. I'm having fun trying to develop an Instagram photo style and get better at photography, but both that and the blog are mostly to stay connected with friends and family — we don't make any money off of either one. Also, my career is in marketing, so creating content and growing an audience are valuable for my résumé while I'm mostly unemployed this year. $7.30
6 p.m. — Still at the café. We decide to skip happy hour to stay here. I order a ginger tea. $1
7:30 p.m. — We walk home to drop off our stuff, then head out to dinner. Time to try the Chiang Mai specialty: khao soi! It's a chicken curry noodle soup, and it's absolutely delicious. We each get a bowl as well as a papaya salad to share and a large bottle of water. $7.07
8:30 p.m. — I get on my computer when we get back to the guesthouse to do a bit of work. My husband built a gaming app that brings in some revenue every month, and I recently set up social media accounts for it to gain a following and ultimately drive downloads. The holidays are usually a good time for downloads because people get new devices and have lots of time lounging around to play on their phones, so I'm putting a bit of money into post promotion on Twitter and Instagram. I use our business credit card ($50) – when we started traveling I separated business and personal finances, so all the money we make and spend on it stays separate. That $1,000 monthly paycheck is the revenue we're currently earning off the app, and it goes into the business account – we haven't used it to fund any of our travel yet. I also have a two-month, 10-15 hour/week contract with my old company (on holiday break right now), which goes to fund travel. ($50 expensed)
Daily Total: $47.90

Day Two

8 a.m. — Wake up and read in bed for an hour. Then I check on our boosted post campaign and go downstairs to order breakfast from the café. I get muesli, yogurt, and fruit, and my husband gets a club sandwich with an egg. We also buy a bottle of water. $7.10
10:30 a.m. — I go to a Hatha yoga class next door, and it feels amazing to move and stretch my body. I've been dealing with an injury while in Asia, and I haven't been able to exercise for three months. (For someone formerly obsessed with studio fitness in San Francisco, it's been hard.) This is well worth the expense. $7.72
12:30 p.m. — After changing and packing up our computers and camera for the day, we head across the street for lunch and share khao soi (the chicken curry dish) and pad thai, and also get two more water bottles. The number of plastic bottles we have to use here is really awful, but even with a filter on my reusable water bottle, I am wary of local water sources. Also, in a lot of places there is simply no option to fill up, and with high temperatures I'm drinking close to a gallon a day. We do reuse plastic straws and bags whenever possible, but so many times I see them take back the plastic that was given to us and immediately put it in the trash. I promise I care deeply about plastic reduction and in the States tried hard to be responsible about it, but it feels futile here. $6.48
1:30 p.m. — I walk half an hour with my husband to a cute café that was on a blog list of "great places for digital nomads to work in Chiang Mai" (cute, air-conditioned, and has fast wifi). I get an iced green tea and my husband gets a berry smoothie, and then I settle in to update our budget tracker for December. An hour in, I get an Americano. I write down every expense in the notes app on my phone in the local currency, and then every week or so I sit down and transfer it all to a spreadsheet in USD with categories. We have a daily goal of $100 for two people while traveling. And with so much in transportation costs (I'm not about that 10-hour-bus-ride life – I'll take a flight, please), and all the nice-ish bars and restaurants we end up going to with expat friends (which are much cheaper than in the States, but not the same as a $1 bowl of noodles) we are often close to $100/day here. $5.56
3:45 p.m. — We leave the café, drop off our stuff at home, and walk 10 minutes to a Thai cooking class ($24.58 each). It starts with a market tour, and then we each make four different dishes and eat them all. We're completely stuffed by the end! They give us nice small books with all the recipes; hopefully we can recreate them at home. $49.16
6:30 p.m. — When I have a break at the cooking class, I book and pay for an Airbnb Experiences street photography class for tomorrow and email a cooking center in Saigon to reserve a cooking class for us and our families when they visit next month. $15.50
9 p.m. — Even though I'm stuffed, we stop down the street at an Italian restaurant so I can get an affogato – I'm really tired and need the caffeine because we're headed to an open mic night after this. I also get a glass of wine and my husband gets a beer. $8.91
10:15 p.m. — It's a half-hour walk to the open mic night, and I'm feeling a lot more awake. We give the suggested donation ($3.07 each), and I decide not to get anything else to drink. $6.14
10:45 p.m. — Half an hour in, I accidentally knock over a girl's beer, so I buy her a new one and get my husband one, too. We stay until close to midnight before heading home. $4.30
Daily Total: $110.87

Day Three

8 a.m. — I read in bed for an hour and finish my book (Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer), and I'm still so completely stuffed from dinner last night that I decide to skip breakfast. I go downstairs when my husband gets breakfast and order a cappuccino. I had planned on going to a 10:30 a.m. yoga class and booked the street photo tour for 3 p.m., but the instructor texts and ask if I can join an existing group going at 11. It's a 45-minute walk away so I quickly finish up and change before heading out. On the way up the stairs, my one-month-old flip flops break — that's what I get for buying cheap ones at the market, I guess. I'll have to get new ones today or tomorrow; it's always annoying when we lose or break something and have to pay to replace it. $3.15
11 a.m. — The photo group meets at a café to talk about camera settings before we go to the market for photos, where I order an Americano and vegan coconut bites. At the market, the instructor buys us Thai sweets of our choosing. I get a fudge-like square of taro, which I love. $3.07
1:30 p.m. — The tour was amazing! I learned so much, and resolve again to find a longer class to take when I'm back in Vietnam. I meet up with my husband for lunch, and we find a café where we split a spicy cabbage chicken noodle soup and a pork curry noodle dish for lunch. $4.61
2:45 p.m. — We pick up our computers from the guesthouse and head out on a walk to find a new café. I order a mango smoothie, and he gets a passion fruit shake, then I spend an hour struggling with the wifi and security changes on various sites. This is one challenge of moving networks so frequently — all my sites are convinced someone from Asia is trying to break into my accounts. $4.15
3:30 p.m. — The cooking class emails me back to confirm, and I pay a deposit for the class I booked for next month. I'll put it into Splitwise, and charge my parents and in-laws next month for their portion. $64.66
4:50 p.m. — On the way back to our guesthouse, we pick up four pastries and rolls for tomorrow morning's sunrise hike. $5.84
5:30 p.m. — Yoga! It's the same instructor from yesterday leading a 90-minute class on structural alignment. My body thanks me. $7.72
7:45 p.m. — They have free bananas after class, and I grab two for my husband because he wanted a snack. After I shower, we head out to dinner and explore a new area near our guesthouse. The first place we pass is a pizza place with an outdoor wood-fired oven, and it's packed. It seems odd to get pizza in Chiang Mai, but after circling for a bit we end up there, and it's delicious. I get a vegan green pizza and two glasses of wine, and he gets a sausage mozzarella pizza and two beers. I had planned to go home and try to get all my photos downloaded off the camera and start on editing, but I'm feeling really relaxed and enjoying chatting, so we wander and find a cute bar. I get a soda water and then another glass of wine but only drink half, and my husband gets a beer. $32.71
Daily Total: $125.91

Day Four

5:15 a.m. — Wake up call for the sunrise hike! My husband runs downstairs to buy water. $1.84
5:40 a.m. — We call a Grab to the edge of town where the hike begins ($2.64). We get to Wat Pha Lat temple at 6:45, and then…we realize that my husband planned the hike wrong, and we're at a smaller temple that's less than halfway to the main one on the top of the mountain, where the gorgeous sunrise would be. It would take another 80 minutes up a steep track to the top. Rain starts to pour, and we take shelter while we figure out a plan, eventually working out that there might be rideshare taxis driving up the hill we can hail. We hike to the road and sure enough, a red truck comes by in two minutes and picks us up to drive to the top ($2.46). $5.10
8 a.m. — The temple is completely packed. It's $0.92 each for entry. $1.84
8:30 a.m. — It's gorgeous, but the photos are very meh, and I'm bummed out. I eat my feelings by getting a chocolate waffle and sharing it with my husband. $1.38
9:30 a.m. — We take another red truck taxi back to the old city, walk back to our guesthouse by 11 a.m., and pass out for two hours. $3.07
1:30 p.m. — Time for lunch. We wander around our neighborhood and end up at a vegetarian Thai spot, where we get a curry and a pad see ew. $4.76
2:30 p.m. — We had planned on renting bicycles and exploring some temples within the city today, but it's really overcast and might rain, so we decide to have another café afternoon and get everything fully planned for the next two days. We walk 20 minutes to a café and order a smoothie (him) and a soy mocha (me). It takes at least an hour to figure out how to get to the sights we want to see over the next two days — most people do guided tours to the nature sights here, but we can't justify the cost. I finally download all the raw files of new photos from the past week off my camera, sort through which to keep, and start editing. When they're done, I'll load them into Google Photos and sort into albums, and then I'll be able to add them into blog posts and line them up for Instagram. I constantly feel behind on trip photos because we take so many. $4.65
3:30 p.m. — Still at the café, I get a ginger honey tea and a small chocolate bar. My husband signs up to promote his gaming app through the App Store. We get the first $100 free, and he sets a monthly limit of $300 (using the business account). $3.69
5:15 p.m. — The coffee shop is closing early, and when we leave we see why — the main streets through the center of town have turned into a night market. We wander through on our way to a coffee house that's open later, and my husband gets a snack advertised as "cheese balls." (They're more like sweet cream cheese). $0.93
5:40 p.m. — I pass a woman selling indigo-dyed sandals, and buy a pair. She tells me her brother makes them by hand. Hopefully these will last longer than the cheap factory-made ones! $3.11
6 p.m. — Turns out the second coffee shop's wifi has gone out because of the rain, so I finish editing what I can while we split a large beer and a water. $4.67
6:45 p.m. — We start to make our way through the rest of the night market to get back to our guesthouse and buy a few dumplings on the way – they are SO good. $1.56
7:30 p.m. — I'm now a bit stressed about getting photos uploaded so that I can put up the blog post — due to bad internet and difficulty downloading photos from the camera, this whole thing has taken way longer than planned. I get a beer, sit downstairs at the guesthouse, and finally finish. My husband still needs to put in the code to make the blog post live, but he'll do it when we get back from dinner. $1.65
9 p.m. — We find a nearby restaurant for dinner and split veggie spring rolls, curry, and a couple of beers. When we get back, we watch two episodes of the Netflix show, Christiane Amanpour: Sex & Love Around the World. $13.35
Daily Total: $51.60

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — We sleep in a bit considering we're going on a day trip today, but I LOVE sleep. I actually function very well in the morning and do most of my work calls at 7 a.m., but am relishing not needing to get up early. We order our usual breakfast (muesli for me; eggs, sausage, and toast for my husband). We also check on App Store downloads since we set up App Store ads, and they're shockingly good! If we could triple or quadruple the $1,000 we currently make off subscriptions, it would entirely pay for our travels. I'm feeling super motivated about some of the other marketing plans we've made, but we're busy for the next two days, and I probably won't have a chance to set any of them up. $5.54
9 a.m. — I pick up our laundry from the front desk. $3.42
9:10 a.m. — We rent a scooter for the day through the front desk. $7.78
10:30 a.m. — On our way out of town, we stop by a bakery to get lunch. We both get tuna salad sandwiches and a small pastry ($12.61), and my husband picks up water from the 7-Eleven across the street ($0.62.). $13.23
12:15 p.m. — We make it to our first stop, the "sticky waterfall!" We have to write down our vehicle information at the park entrance, but there's no fee. We spend an hour or so climbing around it, and then eat our lunches by the stream. On our way out, we go to a gas station. Our second stop is Wat Ban Den, a complex of temples that includes one made entirely from teakwood. No entry fee here either! $2.18
5:30 p.m. — When we get back to the guesthouse, I contemplate going to yoga, but I'm so sore that I decide against it. Instead we head out to happy hour and get two rounds of two-for-one mojitos. $4.40
7:30 p.m. — After happy hour, we go off to find a restaurant that we walked by on our first day and bookmarked. I get a soda water while my husband gets a beer, and we get spring rolls, a ginger pork dish, and a vegetarian curry. $15.13
9 p.m. — It's New Year's Eve, and our plan is to go to the lantern release party in a public square. We head there first to scope it out, and I take a ton of photos that I'm really pleased with. Sometimes, I feel really down about photography because the more you learn, the more you realize you don't yet have the skills for, but this is a perfect occasion, and it's really beautiful to see strangers' happy faces releasing their lanterns into the night. We decide to get a few drinks while waiting to go back to the festival closer to midnight, so get a few beers at a beer garden ($12.45) and both pay $0.31 to use the bathroom upstairs. Afterwards, we head back to the lanterns for a magical night. $13.07
Daily Total: $64.75

Day Six

9 a.m. — Another late start to the day, but I excuse myself for this one since we were out late. We get the standard breakfast plus some water. $7.10
10 a.m. — I book our transportation to Pai for tomorrow through the tourist booth next to our guest house ($6.22 each for a four-hour van ride). $12.44
10:15 a.m. — I walk back to the bakery to pick up rolls for lunch ($10.74) and water at the 7-Eleven ($0.87). $11.61
10:30 a.m. — My husband goes to rent a car for the day – we're going to a national park nearly two hours away, and it's too far and too hilly for a scooter. $37.35
11:30 a.m. — Stop for gas. $9.34
12:30 p.m. — This national park is very popular and has a ton of well-maintained trails and attractions, which is awesome – but that means it's $9.34 per person for entry. I'm happy to pay to support nature preserves, though; they're in short supply in Southeast Asia. We park at the entrance to a nature trail, eat our lunch, and hire a mandatory guide for the two-hour walk ($6.22.) It's stunning, and so nice to go on a real hike again! We visit a waterfall in the park before leaving to go home. $24.90
6 p.m. — It was a long drive home, and what I thought was a sore throat just from drinking last night is turning into an actual sore throat. I lie down and watch YouTube for a while and eat one of the leftover pastries. (Sugar always helps when you feel sick, right?) Then I spend half an hour lining up social media posts for my husband's gaming app for the next two weeks. We've had a 20% increase in downloads since I started the social media accounts, which is really gratifying! We had planned to walk about 25 minutes to dinner tonight, but since I'm really not feeling great, we go to a restaurant across the street. I get a tom yum mushroom soup and my husband gets a duck red curry, and we buy three water bottles. We end the day catching up on emails, then watch an episode from Netflix's Salt Fat Acid Heat with Samin Nosrat. $12.61
Daily Total: $115.35

Day Seven

8:30 a.m. — I wake up with a very swollen and sore throat. We finish packing up the room, then I drink two cups of tea with honey downstairs while I eat breakfast and call my mom. I order breakfast for my husband, too, who has to go return the rental car. $3.65
9:30 a.m. — My husband fills up on gas before returning the car. $4.65
9:45 a.m. — He picks up a pastry for himself on the way back as well as water and cough drops for me. Our van is supposed to come at 10, but it comes at 10:30, so I get a bit of extra time to write up a blog post with highlights from 2018. $1.95
12:15 p.m. — Halfway to Pai, we stop at a cute lunch spot. I get tea with honey and vegetarian Cup Noodles (except it's a Thai brand) and my husband gets a tuna sandwich. $3.72
2:30 p.m. — We get dropped off in the center of Pai and call our guesthouse for a free pickup. After checking in, we spend a couple of hours planning what we'll do for the next few days, and I finish my highlights blog post. My husband walks to town and rents a motorbike for two days. $12.39
4:45 p.m. — I bike to a yoga class — Pai is a sort of hippy enclave known for lots of yoga. My sore throat has calmed down a lot with all the honey and cough drops, but halfway through class I start to feel it worsening. $7.74
6:30 p.m. — When I get back from yoga, my husband is playing cards with some other people from our guesthouse and suggests we go to dinner together. I shower, and we bike down, and meet the other couple for khao soi ($1.86). We stroll through the night market and try a bunch of other food including Yunnan dumplings, a fermented tea leaf salad, and a banana shake ($5.89). Along the way, our group absorbs another couple when they overhear us talking about the Thai islands, and together we go grab a drink. I get tea, while everyone else gets beer ($1.86). I'm feeling worse and worse, and we cancel plans for a sunrise bike trip. As we leave to go home, we stop at a 7-Eleven to get a large bottle of water, paracetamol, and more cough drops ($1.64). $11.25
Daily Total: $45.35
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