A perpetual nomad allergic to leases but obsessed with real estate — it’s not an oxymoron; it’s me. Growing up my parents made a hobby out of attending open houses when we had no intention to move, and these days, from the moment I enter a new apartment I start plotting how to politely ask its inhabitant what they pay in rent (wine helps). What can I say? I’m fascinated by what money can buy in different parts of the world. Don’t even get me started on New York Magazine’s real estate section.
Hence this post — I figure I can’t be the only one out there curious to peek inside someone’s place on the other side of the world. In Koh Tao, I have heard of expats paying as little as 6-8,000 baht ($180-$245) a month in rent, but the cheapest I have ever personally paid was 10,000 baht (about $300). Years ago, I gave a little tour of one of those places. For my most recent return to Koh Tao, I splurged on a place for 20,000 baht (about $600), which is at the high end of what is available on the island. Considering I’ve now rented at both ends of the apartment price range, I thought it was time for a little compare and contrast.
When I arrived back in Koh Tao the last week of August, I hit the ground running looking for a place to live and work for the next seven weeks. I needed decent wifi, I needed to feel comfortable driving there (no too-steep hills or bad roads) and I needed to feel comfortable sleeping there alone (nothing too remote for this scaredy-cat). I also wanted to be in Sairee, and I preferred to live alone despite the fact that it would be more expensive. And considering I’d be spending at least half my time inside working on my laptop, I was on the lookout for a place with a desk or simply a table and chair.
I looked at several apartments in the 15,000-17,000 baht range ($455-$515), which was my target, but I found myself pretty unimpressed — they just weren’t that much better than the rooms available for 10,000 baht ($300), not enough to justify the extra outlay.
Then I saw an ad on Koh Tao Rooms for Rent for luxury apartment rentals in Sairee, and I couldn’t resist taking a look. I squirmed when I heard the price — though the room is typically 35,000 baht ($1,060) a month, the owners were eager to fill it for the low season and offered me 27,000 ($820). That price included everything — electricity, gas, hot water, air conditioning, cable, wifi, and a house clean and linen change once a week. Though I’m generally a terrible negotiator, I managed to get that to 20,000 ($600) a month with just a shy query. Like I said, they were eager to fill the room and encouraged by the fact that I was alone, and thus would be using up less utilities, I suppose. Right before low season is a great time to be looking for an apartment on Koh Tao!
I fell wildly in love with this apartment. It had a full closet as well as a small vanity (to the left of the bed). It had not only a desk and office area (to the left of the TV), but a separate dining table too — meaning other friends who worked online could stop by and set up shop during the day, making it a great communal work space. Also meaning I was happiest working from home, and didn’t waste time and money by flitting from cafe to cafe all day. It also had a pretty great kitchen for Koh Tao. In addition to the usual mini fridge and hotplate it also had a kettle, a full set of dishware and a microwave, a rare luxury on the island which meant I could reheat leftovers with ease. And while I hadn’t thought I needed air conditioning — I’ve never lived with it before on the island — it really did come in handy when I was stuck inside working in the mid day heat. I was walking distance from my gym and yoga studio and a five minute drive to the beach — a five minute drive from almost anywhere I’d want to go, really.
There were some downsides. The wifi wasn’t the best connection on Koh Tao and the water pressure in the shower left something to be desired. I could also never get the DVD player to work, which was met with a shrug by the property manager. Also, at this price range a lot of people would hope for an ocean view, though I was fine giving that up in exchange for a pretty garden and flat ground (I have a serious phobia of driving up steep hills, which eliminates a lot of Koh Tao apartments). And then there was the issue of having premium cable that showed important international sports games in the middle of the night, which meant my football fan friends often came over to terrorize me at inconvenient hours (just kidding, I literally love hosting even at 2am).
While I doubt I would commit to such an expensive place long term — I’d rather hunt for something great in the 15,000 baht range next time — for a limited period, this little studio was a killer home office and the perfect recharging retreat. It became a gathering place for my friends, too — it wasn’t rare for four or more to drop by throughout the day to work, to have lunch, to watch TV, to have a drink or just to say hi. While it was a huge splurge for me compared to what I’ve payed in the past on other islands and I went through bouts of feeling pretty indulgent and guilty about it, in the end, I really only spent $300 per month more than my lowest option would have cost me.
And it was money well spent.
Hard at work at The Office
Girls over for an imported cider and cheese night
Did I mention the bottle opener built into the cabinetry?
Goofing around in the garden
And considering I ended my last Koh Tao real estate post with a creature feature, I feel I’d be simply remiss if I didn’t share this photo I snapped just strides away from my front door. You can fancy up a studio apartment all you like — you’re still in the jungle out here, baby.
Looking for an apartment of your own on Koh Tao? Thailand travel guides are filled with hotel and hostel recommendations but have little insight into long term accommodation. Truth is, there’s no Craigslist and no real apartment brokers around here. My advice is to keep an eye on Koh Tao Rooms for Rent, ask local expats if they know of anything open, and simply take a drive around the island when you arrive and look for Room for Rent signs. I found this place on my second day of looking. It’s simple! Be aware that some landlords will only rent to those staying five months or longer — I was knocked back by my first choice due to my shorter length of stay. You’ll have the most options September through November, with selection doing down and prices going up starting in December.
What do you think, was it a worthwhile splurge? Any other intentionally-homeless,
real estate-obsessed nomads out there?
You are a pocket sized dynamite. Cute as a button. I’m sure you’ve been told this many times. Loved this post. Personally I quite enjoy the balance of a budget stay and a bit of splurge once in a while. If I am able to spend more, I’d choose a nice room too 🙂
Aw, thanks Julia! You are too sweet. I felt so grateful to have a few big projects over this period that allowed me this splurge!
Good to know. I would have had no idea what you would expect to pay for an apartment on Koh Tao. Everything seems cheap next to Sydney rent prices!
I bet! I know, I showed this to my New York friends and they were dying! For $600 you can probably get a closet in Manhattan.
Half a closet.
wow great deal- I think it was an extra 300 bucks well spent especially since you had so much work to catch up on. And the place is SO modern! I also have a modern place in Goa, some people come in and say ‘wow it’s like a real home! but it’s soo not “india”‘ but thats what I like about it … and maybe why I don’t get homesick b/c home is a escape from India.
Yeah, I’ve definitely stayed in places that felt a little more “Thailand” — wooden bungalows in the hills, like the one I linked to. I loved those too, but this was definitely my favorite of all my apartments on Koh Tao 🙂
I’m always curious to know what it costs to live in different countries, so thanks for sharing! This apartment looks so lovely and definitely worth the higher rent.
Glad I’m not the only one, Ashley!
Interesting, though I’m actually rather surprised prices tend to be so high there! $600 sounds amazing, though. Here in Moscow you’re lucky to get a tiny bedroom and three roommates for $800+!
The islands are much pricier than mainland Thailand — my friends in Chiang Mai think these prices are NUTS! But I just think back to when my share of a four bedroom, one bathroom apartment in Brooklyn was over $900 with no utilities included… and I’m happy 🙂
this place looks great!
Although I’m still freaking out about the snake picture…
Ha, sorry Sarah… I should have posted a warning!
This place is gorgeous!! The fact that you didn’t have to leave the house to get work done is a huge bonus…I always hate losing time traveling to get to a cafe, spending money unnecessarily while I’m there, leaving after just a few hours because I don’t want to buy something else, etc etc. Sounds like you made a great decision in renting this place. I can only dream of having a whole apartment to myself in Medellin…
Tell me about it. I’ve also found that I’m hyper-productive if I basically wake up and go DIRECTLY to my laptop and start working. Once I’m underway I’ll pause to make breakfast but my efficiency in that first hour after waking up basically sets my tone for the day. So if I have to spend it getting dressed, getting a bag together, commuting somewhere, ordering, blah blah… all hope is basically lost. Ha.
WOW! That place is nice and that’s an under-statement. I would say the extra $300 was worth it. I can only imagine what $600 in NYC would get you?! I’m guessing a spot on a floor with 10 roommates? In Portland, Maine it wouldn’t get you too much, but something decent depending on the section of town. I love seeing posts like this. It’s fun to see what money can get you in certain places around the world.
Ha, yeah… In Brooklyn you can pay double this for a share of a four bedroom apartment! In Albany you could get a pretty decent place for $600 actually, but it wouldn’t include any bills and certainly not a housecleaner. And a friend of mine recently told me her TV/internet/home phone bill alone was over $250!
such a cute place! i have a home but totally share your real estate fascination. i’m always hitting craigslist & real estate websites, esp after visiting a new destination. i love imagining my life in different apartments & will never get over the wildly varying costs of living, even from one neighborhood to the next. ie) in downtown LA where i live, $500K gets you a 900 sqft condo, if you’re lucky. 20 mins away in the valley, you get a beautiful 3 bedroom house with a pool!
I’d take the pool, thanks 😀
I was super curious too about how far money will stretch on Koh Tao. Gorgeous apartment for what would be a steal back in the states! Working from home for a couple months must have been really great too, and having some space for having friends over. P.S. – that poor lizard!! 🙂
Yeah, normally apartments in Koh Tao don’t really allow for any entertaining beyond maybe a small balcony. I loved being able to have friends over all the time!
Absolutely worth the splurge! I love your budget breakdowns – they remind me that it’s possible to travel in style without breaking the bank x
Thanks Miriam! I think detailed and specific info like this is the best kind to read, so I’m happy to write it, even if it is a little personal!
That is a gorgeous place, Alex! Wow. Sounds like a lot of fun! And I flipped over that snake/lizard pic. I would be so ecstatic to find such a shot. Love nature, even in the middle of its dinner. 😉 (And their colors–you got to admit they’re really pretty)!
They are indeed, though it did turn my stomach a bit in person! (Or maybe that was the hangover.)
My mom is a real estate agent and when I was a kid I loved going to open houses with her. I have kind of an odd obsession with real estate and I’m always fascinated to learn about homes in other parts of the world. I suppose that’s why I’m such a House Hunters International fan! In the past year I’ve also gotten really into renting apartments abroad. I find that it can be way cheaper and more comfortable than staying hotels. Plus, the added perk of having kitchen facilities really helps to cut down on food costs. I think $600 for this place was definitely worthwhile. It sounds like it was the perfect place for you!
I have to admit I didn’t do much (read: any) cooking, ha. But I did love having that microwave to reheat leftovers 🙂
Oh girl, that was 100% worth the splurge when you think of what great value it was. I just moved from NYC after 7 years of paying $1000+/mo in Brooklyn rent and man, I’d live in that Koh Tao studio year-round if I could pay just $600 for all that! Thanks for sharing – my Thai retirement plan looks to be in tact! 😉
Yup, I love that my last permanent place of residence was New York… it makes EVERYTHING seem like a bargain 🙂
Um….what IS that?! A snake and a lizard?!
A snake eating a lizard, actually 🙂
That place is GORGEOUS! Wish I’d been one of those friends who came there to recharge.
So, since you asked in a roundabout way, wanna know what our mortgage is for the Victorian? $850 a month. With nothing down. I KNOW. I haven’t ever even paid that little in rent since 12 years ago in college in Knoxville. 😉
Shut the front door! Girl that is cheap. And while I know you guys are married so probably don’t think of it in this roommate-y way, but that’s $425 a person! Jeez. I can’t wait to see it in person!
I think of it more as a third of what we paid in rent for a one-bedroom in San Francisco…or a fourth if you consider how many parking tickets we incurred monthly 😉
Have you ever considered Budapest as a home? We don’t quite have the weather you have right now, but I’m paying $730/month for a 900 square foot apartment right in the middle of downtown. Internet is super reliable, water pressure is great, no complaints!
Can’t say I ever seriously have considered it, but you do make it sound pretty appealing!
If we’re doing Internet postings of our houses, this is the place I’m staying at right now: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/25640
Just had a burger and two beers around the corner for $6.50.
I have spent so much time reading your blog that I thought it was almost mandatory to introduce myself and say hello! My name is Lorena and I am from Spain. I have recently come back home from Hong Kong and I am already wondering where to go next!
I really like what you are doing and the way you are doing it. Keep on enjoying and learning!
I don’t have a blog but I would really like to start one soon. Yours has been a source of inspiration for me. Thank you.
Hey Lorena! So lovely to hear from you! Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. I hope you’ll stick around for more 🙂
It’s a beautiful apartment, just think of it as a well-deserved treat! Really interesting to see what $600 can get you.
It really was the best kind of treat 🙂
Definitely worth the splurge. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a splurge. I suppose the old budget traveler in me would have done things differently. Just recently, I had to book transportation between London and Paris. A ~8 hour bus ride for $30, or a 2.5 hour train for $60. I chose the latter.
I’m with ya! I almost never take the bus between Albany and New York when I’m home anymore — I just can’t stand the thought when the lovely train is available, even if it is double the price.
So how many more times than the bus would it have to be for you to take the bus instead of the train? I’ve had a few tough calls before.
It’s usually $36 for the train with my AAA card, and anywhere from $12-20 to take the bus depending on how far in advance I book it 🙂
What a beautiful apartment! I loved how cheap places were to rent in Thailand, I remember a fantastic apartment a friend and I stayed in for a few nights in Bangkok for £11 a night and I’d happily live there if it were here in Auckland. As someone who is looking for somewhere new to rent in New Zealand, I am envious of this little abode and actually inspired to go back to Thailand!
I know how that feels… just writing this post got me reminiscing and inspired to go back 😉 Good luck finding a great place in New Zealand!
Lovely apartment. I love all of the natural light. I swear I’m part lizard, I need natural light to move at all.
It’s so crazy how $600 bucks can change worth when it comes to housing. We lived in New Orleans and I paid about $650 a month for a huge two bedroom, big living spaces, kitchen, and porch in an awesome area of town. My poor brother lives up in Boston and is thinking about spending double that for a closet with out a stove.
How I would love to live in the jungle for ever.
Sitting in my little sister’s bitchin’ New Orleans apartment, for which she pays about $650 as well, I second this comment 🙂 The south forever!
I absolutely loved Koh Tao, but we stayed at a(n unnecessarily fancy) resort… I stupidly had no idea the long-term rental market offered such amazing places. If/when I go back, I’m definitely renting a place! Thanks for the recommendation!
Yup, it’s definitely the way to go. Especially when you can get one like this which has some resortish amenities, like a weekly linen change and necessities restock (I never had to buy toilet paper or dish soap, ha!)
I love these types of posts… I have done a couple here on Roatan and they are some of my most popular posts! This place looks amazing.. much nicer than what you would get for $600 here 🙂
Well I am quick to point out this was a low season deal. But still! It was a great find 🙂
OMG, did the lizard-eating-snake come with the house?!
But what a gorgeous place. Until recently, my share of a Brooklyn apartment was $610, the sort of deal I’ll never manage to find again. To pay less, for this sort of paradise? Awesome.
Ha, he didn’t come with the house, but he was my neighbor 🙂 And nice find on the Brooklyn front!
Seems a steal really…
Compared to anything in New York it certainly is!
After spending a year traveling all over Southeast Asia, I’ve also rented in several price ranges and found a mid-range the best bet. If only I’d had this post before I started…great stuff as usual, Alex!
Just trying to share the Southeast Asia love, Rebekah 🙂 Thanks!
Damn, this place looks sick, and I find $600 a month not too bad at all! One thing I really don’t like while travelling is looking for new apartments, but then once you’re settled in it’s all worth it. Not sure if you remember but I emailed you about Koh Tao last year as I’d planned to settle down there for a bit – this post answered quite a few of my questions on what to expect for accom, so thanks! Hopefully I’ll make it there next year 🙂
Well, I definitely wouldn’t say this is the norm on the island! Check out the other post I link to in my intro for what’s more prevalent and standard 🙂 But this is definitely what you can look for at the small upper end!
Great find and good negotiating to get the price down to that. Looks like a great spot to live and work for a while
It certainly wouldn’t work in the high season, but I’m glad they were willing to wiggle in the low! It’s the only way I made this beautiful place work.
Beautiful flat! I’m the same way: obsessed with real estate but too nomadic to settle somewhere (yet!). Nice to get some breaks in.
Looking forward to another one coming up this fall! Hopefully I’ll have another beautiful Koh Tao flat to share then.
Do you remember the name of the property manager where you rented? I did my DM with Crystal at Koh Tao, and later my IDC at Gili T with Trawangan Dive (you messaged me about Gili T), and now going back to Koh Tao for instructor specialties to do my MSDT. Then a buddy of mine and his wife are coming while I’m there in late April, he’s doing his IDC at Crystal and she’s doing her Rescue/DM course. We want to share a place for the overlapping time, so would be from mid-April to the end of May. I’ve been looking at Bua Management places, seems good. I applied to join the FB group Koh Tao Rooms for Rent, too. But if you have contact info for where you stayed, I’d like to give them a call or email.
Hey Bernie! No property manager for this one, just rented directly through the owner via Rooms for Rent 🙂 Best of luck!
It’s gorgeous !
We ( a traveling couple ) would gladly pay about that for such a luxurious place. In fact, we bookmarked it . 🙂
Nice! Koh Tao has some gorgeous accommodation 🙂
Great post! I see tons of tips for acquiring hotel rooms for short stays, but how do you go about finding a place for longer stays such as 1 week or more?
I actually have a post coming up about just this! Stay tuned!
I think this place was worth the splurge! I’d love to rent this place too if I ever find myself in Koh Tao!:)
I did love this apartment! The only thing it missed was a couch — the only place to hang out was the bed.
Do you know what site to see whats available for remt in Koh tao?
Hey Anthony — check the last paragraph of this post for my recommendations.
Congrats on the opportunity to travel in such beautiful territory. You were smart to compare the rentals which were on opposite ends of your payment spectrum for future travels.
Always good to do a good comparison shop! 🙂 Thanks for reading.
Hi Alex, Whats the name of this apartment? Looking to rent for possibly a year in 2017. Thanks 😉
Hey Matt, feel free to email me privately through my contact page!
Great article! And scary stuff on the reptile being eaten 😉
I just found this website on Google for long term renting.
Do you have any experience with them? I looked at your recommendation on Facebook but couldn’t really find something I like.
Thanks and keep up the good work
Hey John, I have reached out to Bua in the past once and they told me I was searching too far ahead, and then another time I went in in person but they weren’t able to show me anything that I hadn’t found on my own already. I’m sure they provide a good service for some people less familiar with the island or not comfortable using Facebook.