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Money Diaries: The Cost of Living in Indonesia, Malaysia & Thailand

Monkeys and Elephants.

Villages and Valleys.

Beaches, Bustling Night Markets and Batu Caves.

I kicked off my semi-retirement with a one-month long mini-retirement in Southeast Asia.

I’m not only traveling for the cultural experience and novelty, but to vet potential places where I would consider settling semi-permanently, and gathering critical information about how much it costs to have a high-quality of life in a given place.

I spent the month of February in:

Bali, Indonesia [pictured above]

Chiang Mai & Bangkok, Thailand and

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

and only spent $1,500 on my baseline accommodation, food and flights.

While I spent quite a bit on art, and excessive entertainment and overly indulgent meals and desserts (the food in Thailand was unbelievably good), overall, the baseline numbers support my idea that you can live in these countries for $1,500/month or less.

Now let’s be clear: you can certainly spend more.

In fact, I accidentally spent $35 in Bangkok for ONE salmon sushi roll and mimosa (I mentally converted the currency wrong) and another $50 on 3 tacos and a margarita (I converted right – but I was in an upscale area).

I also spent so much on art across Bali and Thailand that I’m too embarrassed to publish the number.

But if you're going to Southeast Asia, put enough buffer in your budget to eat to your heart's content.

The food is outstanding. Seriously.

Inverted pad thai.

Freshly-caught fish for sushi.

Freshly fried chicken (from a chicken around the corner - so. fresh.)

Mango sticky rice. Mango sticky rice. Mango sticky rice.

This dessert alone is worth the trip to Thailand.

Even with all my indulgence, my excursions and outings were ridiculously cheap:

  • In Bali, I hired a private driver for 8 hours and we went to three art villages (wood, metal and weaving), the rice terraces, a restaurant in Ubud, Temple of Holy Springs, several other temples, a coffee plantation for a coffee and tea tasting, and he was even willing to take me to the Monkey Forest (I opted out because I didn’t have cash for entry or a rabies shot). This cost about $60 for the day. 
  • In Thailand, I treated myself to a four-hour spa day complete with a full-body massage, facial, body scrub, and relaxing dessert and drink for about $60. There are simple, basic massages to be had on every corner for about $5-$10/hr. I also took a midnight tuk-tuk and food tour for about $40 and a two-hour dessert and cocktail cruise on the river for $25.
  • In Malaysia, I took myself on a tour of the Petronas Twin Towers and KLCC Park. Total cost: about $6 on Uber.

If you find yourself planning a trip, check out my recommendations for highlights:

  • Thailand
    • Elephant Sanctuary 
    • River Cruise
    • Night Market Tours
  • Bali
    • Temple of Holy Springs
    • Luwak Coffee Plantation
    • Ubud Rice Terraces
    • Wood & Silver Making Villages
  • Malaysia
    • KLCC Park
    • Petronas Twin Towers
    • Batu Caves

The breakdown and accommodation details are below. Note that I didn’t do a line-by-line categorization because I paid most things in cash:

  • Bali, Indonesia
    • Accommodations: $230 / week 
    • Food / Average Dining Out Cost: $6 USD per meal
  • Chiang Mai & Bangkok, Thailand
    • Accommodations: $160 / week 
    • Food / Average Dining Out Cost: $3-5 USD per meal
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    • Accommodations: $320 / week (upscale business-oriented luxury hotel – this could’ve been much cheaper / you can rent an entire luxury condo for a month at this price)
    • Food / Average Dining Out Cost: $4-5 USD per meal

If you took a month off to travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why?

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