Thailand is the travel hub of Southeast Asia. Most people coming into the region fly into Bangkok and make that their base for doing the circuit around Southeast Asia. With its lush jungles, famed beaches, world-class diving, amazing food, friendly and cheap prices, Thailand is by far my favorite country in the world!
You’re never alone! The country is a well-worn destination on the backpacking trail and everything is convenient and easy. However, there are still many off the beaten path destinations away from the crowds and the prices they bring. Overall, Thailand speaks for itself. When you hear its name, you already think about beaches, beauty, jungles, and food. And your thoughts are spot on.
Accommodation – Thailand is very cheap, though the north is far cheaper than Bangkok and the southern islands. You can find cheap guesthouses for as little 300 THB per night in cities and 200 THB per night in the countryside, though in the big cities like Chiang Mai and Bangkok, rooms start at about 400 per night. On the islands or for a nicer room with air-conditioner, expect to pay 600 THB and up per night. Basic bungalows cost the same. Hotels start at around 1,350 THB per night and go up from there. Big resorts on the islands start at 1,700 THB per night for a bungalow on the beach. Dorm rooms, which are increasingly widespread throughout the country, range from 100-150 THB per night. Airbnb is also growing in Thailand and a good amount of cities have a nice selection. A shared room starts around 350 THB per night and renting a full apartment starts around 700 THB per night. Suk 11 Guesthouse (Bangkok), Chada Guesthouse (Bangkok), Julies (Chiang Mai), Kodchasri B&B (Chiang Mai), Pooh’s (Ko Lipe), Greenhouse (Khao Yai) are my favorite places to sleep in the country.
Food – Food is really cheap in Thailand. Street food costs as little as 20 THB, though on average you’ll spend about 35-50 THB per meal if you want something really filling. If you stick to the local street food, you can eat for around 120-170 THB a day. Most western dishes (burgers, pizza, pasta, etc.) cost between 170-340 THB, though they can be higher in the fancier western establishments. Since food is so cheap, there’s no point in grocery shopping unless you’re looking to get some pre-made salads or fruits. Visit each city guide for specific food recommendations in each place!
Transportation – Like everything in Thailand, transportation is also cheap. Local buses cost as little as 8 THB per trip, the Metro and Skytrain in Bangkok cost 15-50 THB per trip and metered taxi rides are usually 60-100 THB each. Tuk-tuks are un-metered and generally more expensive, costing 100-235 THB per ride. Motorbike taxis (in orange vests) are available all over the country with short trips costing about 35 THB (you need to negotiate the price). Train service around the country is cheap – day trains cost as little as 50 THB. Night trains start at 575 THB for second-class without air-conditioning. Boats to/from the islands cost between 250-475 THB. (Note: It’s often better to get a bus/boat package then pay for them separately.) Coach buses are a great way to get around the country. For example, a bus ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai costs 550-700 THB and a bus ride from Bangkok to Phuket costs 500-1,000 THB.
Activities – Day tours cost 500-1,200 THB depending on the activity. Jungle trekking costs 1,000-1,685 THB per day. Keep in mind, you have more bargaining power if you go with a group. Most parks and national museums cost between 50-100 THB to get into (as a non-Thai, you’ll always pay a higher rate). A PADI dive certification course (very popular in Thailand) costs around 10,000 THB (but often includes accommodation).
Suggested daily budget – 900-1080 THB / 25-30 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
• Go local – The easiest way to save money in Thailand is to simply live like a local. Take local buses, eat street food, and drink local beer. The average Thai lives on a less than 7,750 THB per month in Bangkok, and on even less in the country side. If you stay at cheap guesthouses and eat street food, you can spend as little as 335 THB per day.
• Eat street food – Speaking of street food, don’t be afraid to eat it. It’s safe — sometimes it’s even safer than restaurant food. If it wasn’t, Thai people wouldn’t be packed in the food stalls each day. You’ll find the best of Thailand’s food on the street and it will cost you a fraction of what you pay at a restaurant.
• Take advantage of happy hour – Thailand’s many happy hours have half-priced drinks and 2-for-1 specials.
• Buy beer at 7-Eleven – Buying beer at Thailand’s ubiquitous 7-Elevens and drinking outside will save you quite a bit on your bar tab. A beer in 7-Eleven is about 35 THB, while the same beer will cost 100-170 THB in a restaurant or bar.
• Don’t book any tours before you arrive – Want to take a cooking class? Go zip-lining? Trek in the jungle? Dive? Wait until you get into Thailand to book anything. Travel agencies are located all over the tourist areas, looking to sell their tours. Time to brush up on your negotiation skills. You’re able to purchase these tours online before you arrive, but you’ll be paying a lot more!
• Stay in hostels – Hostels are both an economic and social choice for Thailand. There are tons to choose from, especially in the really touristy areas of Thailand. Bring some earplugs and prepare to save a lot of money!
• Couchsurf — Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay, but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see.