Five cities where you can live large, for a little
Singapore’s hawker food centres meet their rival in Bangkok’s street food, where spicy, salty, sweet and sour mingle in a head-whirring gastronomical experience with prices starting at around 50 baht. Cheap and cheerful street carts abound, but there is also plenty of upmarket, white-tableclothed haute cuisine, often in restaurants run by expats. Numbeo statistics show midrange meals in Bangkok can cost about half of what you would pay in Singapore and budget eats can be almost 75% less.
Bangkok’s nightlife might be on the seedy side compared to Singapore, but the city has its share of glamorous cocktail and rooftop bars with stunning views across the brightly lit urban sprawl, such as Sirocco Sky Bar. Entertainment runs all night, and the Thai sense of fun imbues almost everything going on in the city, which makes for a great atmosphere.
While Bangkok might not have an Orchard Road, it’s shopping scene is diverse and teeming with options for all budgets. Shiny megamalls rub shoulders with outdoor markets, fashion knock-offs coexist with the real deal.
Paris, France / Buenos Aires, Argentina
Chic, fashionable, wine-loving Paris, with its grand architecture and wide boulevards is likely the city of your dreams. Sadly, it may have to stay that way, at least for now. But if you are prepared to temper Parisian style and sophistication with a Latin flavour, then Buenos Aires is right on the money. Numbeo calculates that consumer prices including rent in Buenos Aires can be 45% less than Paris, making the Argentine capital worthy of consideration, even though inflation in the city is high.
Known as the Paris of the South, Buenos Aires’ European heritage is apparent at street level, where Belle Époque architecture and grand boulevards resonate with Parisian influence. The buzz on the streets is undeniably Latin American, of course, which creates an intoxicating blend.
The city’s vibrant cafe culture means there are ample spots to relax in atmospheric surrounds. Coffee is big, and Argentinean wines are achieving world-wide recognition; malbec is set to rival French reds, with all the taste but none of the cost. Like the French, Portenos love food, and the gastronomic scene is varied, from local parrillas (grill houses) serving juicy steaks to sophisticated gourmet restaurants and an array of ethnic eateries with influences from Japanese to Indian to Brazilian. Dining out is roughly 40% cheaper.
As with Paris, style is everything in this hip, fashion-conscious city. From runway flair to boutique innovations, Buenos Aires embraces design wholeheartedly, showcasing the country’s top talent biannually at the glitzy Buenos Aires Fashion Week.
San Francisco, United States / Lisbon, Portugal
San Francisco may cost less than New York City or Los Angeles, but it will still likely leave a dent in your wallet. For a similar geographical and artistic flavour, Lisbon is an interesting alternative. According to Numbeo, consumer prices, including rent, in Lisbon are approximately 45% less than in San Francisco. Rental prices in particular can be markedly cheaper – around 65% less.
Ancient Lisbon may be a far cry culturally from the US west coast, but this historic Portuguese city shares a number of topographic and visual qualities with San Francisco. Most obvious is the enormous orange Ponte 25 de Abril, a suspension bridge almost identical to the Golden Gate. Like San Francisco, Lisbon is a picturesque water-facing city built on seven hills, which give impressive views out across the city and water. Lisbon’s steep streets are serviced by yellow cable cars too, redolent of its US twin.
Delve beneath Lisbon’s surface and there lives a thriving, alternative arts scene – similar to San Francisco’s Mission District – focused in the hilltop neighbourhood Bairro Alto. Street art brings the terrain of this area to life, with walls and buildings colourfully rendered with murals and graffiti, in a striking emergence of the city’s artistic subculture, free for all to enjoy.