Coming from a more developed or Western country, you are likely to find yourself eating out rather more than you are used to in Chiang Mai. The “bang for your buck” to be found in the food markets and restaurants here is hard to beat anywhere.
You are likely to cook at home at some point, not to mention you’ll need household goods and hygiene products. So, what does it cost to shop for groceries here?
Thailand is considered to be a great value country to live, but beware that some of the stock grocery goods may not be significantly cheaper to anywhere else.
Where to buy groceries in Chiang Mai
Buying food at local markets and from street vendors offer some of the most iconic pleasures of living in Chiang Mai. Whether you’re strolling around the bustling Sri Wattana market, fighting off the vendors in Warowot market, or stopping at a roadside market stall you are going to find some of the cheapest food goods in the city.
Convenience stores are found – conveniently enough – on every street in the city. 7Eleven, Lotus’s and Mini C’s dominate the market, but there are also plenty of “mom and pop” stores in every part of town.
For those more at home shopping for everything in one place, there are several superstores around Chiang Mai. Lotus’s, Big C, Tops and Rimping have stores in various malls. They also have their own standalone “mini malls” on the highways around the city.
Macro and Go are more akin to wholesale stores and are at two or three locations around the city, though you might need a membership to shop at them.
In terms of cost, you will find local markets often the lowest-priced for goods and convenience stores at the pricier end for the same products.
Meat and Fish
Meat and fish often won’t be kept in refrigerators in the markets, so many choose to buy from supermarkets, but the prices will be lower at the former.
Chicken breasts and good cuts of pork will be priced at less than 100 baht per kilo at many. This will edge up to more like 250/300 baht in supermarkets, and more for organic or specially reared animals.
Beef and lamb are not commonly farmed in Thailand, so is priced relatively high. It also isn’t as commonly found in markets, though will be lower-priced than in supermarkets when you find it. In the supermarkets, an Australian sirloin steak will cost from 350 baht for a 250g cut, and around 200 baht for a Thai-reared steak.
Fish often isn’t local (that’s right, we aren’t that close to the sea!), and seafood isn’t priced as low as it can be found in the south. Anything caught in the seas of Southeast Asia will be cheaper than that caught overseas. For example, a medium-sized Saba caught in Norway is likely to cost 250 baht, but you’ll pick up a similar-sized one caught in Thai seas for 70 baht in a fish market.
Prawns and squid are widely available and at prices lower than in any western country. Both will come in around 40-60 baht per 100g in supermarkets.
Shop around in the markets though. Some of them have big displays of fresh fish and seafood on ice and are worth a visit just for the experience…if fish is your thing!
Fruit and Vegetables
Vegetables are, on the whole, well-priced, but only for those grown in the tropics – or even just Thailand. Broccoli for instance is likely to cost 40 baht for a decent-sized head, similar to the UK and US, whereas you’ll buy enough bok choi to feed a family of five for the same price.
The range of fresh vegetables will seem limited compared to home, but experimenting with local herbs and vegetables you don’t usually see, for very affordable prices, will be fun for the chefs out there!
Potato – a stock vegetable item in virtually every western country – is rarely produced in Thailand and as a result not as common. That said, whilst you might not find the variety here you are used to, basic white potatoes and sweet potatoes – which are grown here – can still be found for around 40 baht a kilo.
Fruit is generally good value if it isn’t imported, but there can be some wide variations in price. You will definitely stumble across a roadside stall selling mangoes for 20 baht a kilo, but the market further down the road could be double that price. Supermarkets will come in even more expensive.
Stick to Mangosteens, longans and pomelo when in season, or dragon fruit, bananas and watermelon – all grown locally – from the market, and you’ll be filling a family of five with their daily vitamins for less than 100 baht a day.
Dairy & Pantry Goods
Dairy is not a staple food-type in Thailand…unless you are drinking tea or coffee when milk is suddenly plentiful! In fact, the range of dairy alternatives is rapidly increasing. A liter of fresh milk will start at roughly 50 baht, with dairy alternatives upwards of double that.
Cheese is scarcely produced, so your choices are mostly limited to imported cheese. Even processed cheese is priced from around 100 baht for a pack of 10 slices.
Imported cheese from Europe, America and Australia are – as you might imagine – considered a luxury food item in Thailand. Expect a basic camembert round to cost 200 baht, cheddar 300 baht for 200g, and lower-grade grated parmesan around the same. For higher-quality cheeses there are delis around the city, attached to some eye-watering prices!
Local cheesemakers are slowly popping up around Chiang Mai, with their versions of well-known cheeses costing around the same as the basic imported ones. Some of them are well worth a try.
Eggs are well-priced here and are an integral part of the Thai diet. Expect to pay from 35 baht for ten eggs, depending on size and where you buy them.
Bread, much like dairy, is not as common as in the west, though you will see preserved breads in most stores, usually with added sugar. A small loaf will cost around 40 baht, but there are bakeries around Chiang Mai where a decent sourdough loaf might just cost you the same.
The rest of your pantry foods are priced depending on their origin. Rice and noodles, as you’d expect, are very cheap to buy. 35 baht will get you a basic “boil in the pot” noodle or rice meal, but you’ll pick up 5kg of rice for 100 baht, and a kilo of dried noodles for less than that in markets and probably even in supermarkets.
Pasta, flours, oils etc. that are imported will be subject to the dreaded import duty, so will often cost 10-20% more than you are probably accustomed to.
There’s no easy way to say this, but if you’ve a taste for Vegemite, Yorkshire Tea, or Twinkie’s then you’re not going to like the prices in Thailand.
Many of the products you are used to having in your fridge and cupboards are not going to be cheaper in Thailand. Even if they were produced in Southeast Asia – perhaps even Thailand itself – they will have been exported out and reimported back into the country. This usually means itching your craving can come at a premium!
Rimping and Tops have a good range of imported foods, but there are several specialist international shops around Chiang Mai. Stores holding British, US, German and French foods can be found if you really need something that reminds you of home.
You aren’t going to see huge savings on household items, such as cleaning products, laundry detergents, or toilet paper (albeit you’ll use less of the latter – if you know, you know!).
The range isn’t as wide either and, whilst made by mostly the same manufacturers, the brands will often look unfamiliar.
Largely speaking consumable products will be priced around the same as you commonly pay in developed countries. There are – as with any country – budget versions of any product, but prices are again typically similar to the non-brand versions in the US, UK and Europe.
Cleaning equipment and basic tools, however, can be found at very low cost. Have a browse around your local DIY shops and you’ll have a mop, bucket, and enough cleaning cloths to last a year for around 150 baht. Ok, they won’t be the highest quality, but we are in a nation who love their plastic products!
Personal Hygiene and Beauty Products
Personal hygiene and beauty products are, again, largely in line with international pricing.
Brand-name shampoos and shower products, toothcare, deodorants, sanitary, and face care products are – if anything – priced higher than they are elsewhere. Buying these kinds of products in bulk is not unusual though, with most superstores stocking bigger bottles of shower gels and shampoos.
The range may be limited, compared to the lines you find in the west, and beware that a lot of the skin products sold here have skin whitening agents.
There are still plenty of beauty product stores however, so you certainly won’t go without!
Grocery shopping – especially for food – can be a real adventure if you shop like the locals do. The markets are usually vibrant, often much better priced than supermarkets, and offer a good range of fresh, locally sourced produce.
Overall, you may not see a big difference in your grocery bill compared to that of the average town in many Western countries. You will find that you eat at home – or at least cook at home – a lot less than you usually would. The culture in Thailand, and especially in Chiang Mai, is very much centered on eating out.
Many argue that it is more cost-effective to order a pad thai or tom yum at a local restaurant than it is to make – and far more authentic. At the very least you’ll have far less clearing up to do!
For more on the cost of living in Chiang Mai, we have a series of articles to help new or prospective residents and visitors be more prepared for life here. These are just some of the more popular ones: