Thailand provides many options to accommodate both the small budget traveler and the big budget vacationer’s needs. As per usual, our goal was to spend as little as we could while still enjoying as many comforts as we could afford. Our trip took us from Bangkok slowly up North until we hit Chiang Mai, where we stayed for a while, and then back down to Bangkok where we caught a bus to head toward Cambodia. It seemed to us that most vacationers we met were more interested in Southern Thailand’s beaches, but we avoided that region because it also happens to be the most expensive. So, if you’re interested in information on traveling through Northern Thailand, you’re in the right place, read on.
Our 64 day daily average :: $32.92 USD (for two people: one couple) :: 1 USD = 33 THB (baht)
During our trip we stayed at mostly budget to mid range guest houses and didn’t spend a lot of extra money on treks or beer. The averages below include mostly cheap local food, travel, accommodation, and general living expenses with the occasional touristy splurge. You could easily spend less than we did by staying at the cheapest places and could easily spend more than we did by taking treks and eating at western restaurants.
Bangkok $41.62 (13 day average) :: Ayuthaya $29.83 (3 d.a.) :: Lopburi $31.50 (1 d.a.) :: Sukhothai $27.47 (3 d.a.) :: Lampang $38.80 (3 d.a.) :: Chiang Mai $28.32 (44 d.a.)
:: Budget Breakdown ::
Sleeping :: Avg 450 THB/Double Room :: Thailand is different from Europe in that room charges aren’t per person, but based on the amenities. Rooms with A/C, TV, hot water and a fridge are the most expensive, and rooms with a fan only are the cheapest. We spent most our time in fan only rooms with a hot water shower. Sometimes this included a TV and sometimes we managed to get free internet. You should base your choice of fan vs A/C on the season and the city (Ayuthaya is really hot, Chiang Mai is much cooler). Then of course, prices can vary with the quality of the guest house as well. The price above is the average for our comfort level (not luxurious, but not a health risk either) and we chose based on relative cleanliness and tried to get places with free wi-fi internet (which was pretty difficult to find). Only one place we stayed at had free breakfast and it wasn’t of any real value because it was just toast and jam. Most guest houses have their own restaurant and if they don’t, they have one very close by. Laundry is never free, but usually only about 40 baht/Kg.
CouchSurfing :: We actually didn’t do any CouchSurfing in Thailand, probably because the guest houses are so cheap. If you’re on a tighter budget, check out CouchSurfing.com. It’s a website that connects travelers with local people who offer up their couch space (or maybe their floor) to budget minded people. This is a great way to meet local people and save some dough.
Eating :: Avg 5-10 BHT/Snack, 30-60 BHT/Meal, 80-150 BHT/Nicer Meal :: They say that the Thai people only have one meal a day, but that meal lasts for 24 hours. With that said, we’ve found that there are 4 main ways to eat in Thailand and each one has a million options. FOOD STAND: These are little snack stands on wheels that have a huge variety of treats from grilled meat sticks, to spring rolls, to deep fried anything, to cups of corn and butter, and all the way to ice cream. Most snacks are 5-10 baht/piece and could easily add up to a full meal should you have problems quiting once you start. FOOD SIT: This is what we call a food stand that sells full meals and usually has seats and tables near by. They are often found near markets or on the side of a busy street. They serve mostly noodle bowls with meat or meat with rice for about 30 baht/meal. Some have other pre-cooked items as well. FOOD HOLE: These are what we call the little restaurants based out of garage like holes on the street level of a building. They are more likely to have a menu and typically have more food options, but normally still have the basics like noodle bowls and rice and meat dishes. Most items cost 30-60 baht. They usually have beverages of some sort available as well (water, beer, soda, shakes, etc.). This price range can also include some smaller guest house restaurants. And finally RESTAURANTS: This is just what you think it is. More of a traditional restaurant with big menus and higher prices. Often the only place to get farang food (western style). Note that most restaurants we’ve eaten at don’t have much higher quality food than Food Holes, just better cuts of meat, more options and a nicer atmosphere.
Drinking :: Avg 5-10 BHT/Bottle of Water, 10-15 BHT/Drink Stand Beverage, 15-20 BHT/Bottled Drinks, 20-30 BHT/Fruit Shakes, 45-60 BHT/Beer :: Almost as limitless as their food, Thailand has a multitude of options for liquid refreshments as well. The price of drinks at the market doesn’t vary much from the price of the same item at the food holes and beverage stands, though prices are marked up at nicer restaurants. You can get cheap drinking water or more expensive brand name bottled water. You can visit a beverage stand for coffee, tea, and many other mysterious and colorful drinks. Bottled beverages like green tea, soda and soy milk are widely available. Possibly best of all are the variety of fruit shakes made from delicious fresh fruit. And then, of course, you have beer which is pretty basic here. They pretty much only have Chang and Singha (I’ve seen very few other imports).
Seeing the Sites :: We haven’t been incredibly good tourists during our travels here so we don’t have a lot of information about the prices of the sites. The National Museum in Bangkok was only 40 baht/admission and was quite large. Bike and scooter rentals seem to fall around 30 baht and 150 baht per day. Tuk tuks, songthaews, and taxis are relatively inexpensive and can run around 30 baht for a shorter ride to about 300 baht for longer distances and tours. Always bargain with the first two types of transportation and only take metered taxis. Most Wats (temples) are free to visit.
Extras :: Movie tickets are about 70-90 baht for week day/weekend and evening prices. :: Our “Happy” Sim card was 150 baht and came with about 30+ baht worth of credit which lasted us until the Sim expired (30 days). Unfortunately, the 60 baht credit refill we purchased to reactivate the phone was only valid for 5 days, so if you’re staying for a while, look for a higher denomination credit. With Happy, we were still able to receive calls after our credit expired, we just couldn’t place any calls. :: The Night Train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was 1,350 baht/each for 1st class. The tickets sell out quickly so arrive at the station way in advance or buy them a day or four early. Regular shorter trip trains and buses are pretty cheap and can be purchased on the spot normally. For example, a train from Bangkok to Ayuthaya is only 20 baht and an A/C bus from Lampang to Chaing Mai was only 76 baht. Try to get Air Con for all transportation if you can, because it can be a pretty hot ride without it. Cooking Classes in Chiang Mai all seem to fall around 800-1,000 baht/day course. There are many options so look at some various flyers to find the right class for you. You can usually sign up for these classes the day before and make sure you bring your appetite – you’re going to need it.