Before you read any further, let me first say that these tips are so basic and easy to implement that you’ll probably be like “yeah Matt, no sh*t” – I’m not saying that these tips are revolutionary, but they are pretty big tips that, if you stick to, will make a huge difference to your budget. But trust me, sticking to them is far easier said than done. Especially tip #1…
Thailand was my biggest adventure, both in terms of scale and duration, but I had a strict budget. Yes, Thailand is cheap. Food can be cheap, accommodation can be cheap, transport can be cheap. But if you’re not careful, your cheap backpacking tour of Thailand can quick rack up in cost, as it did for many of my friends that didn’t effectively budget.
For one month in Thailand I had a budget of £750 which included much of my accommodation, food, activities, and all transport that wasn’t flights. That converted over to around 30,000 Thai Baht, which, conveniently, perfectly divided to 1,000 baht per day daily budget. That was 1,000 baht covering my accommodation for the day, food, transport, and any activities that I wanted to do. 1,000 baht equals around £22, which seems like a lot, right? Well, yes, and no. 1,000 baht per day is actually a pretty strict budget.
Let’s say 400 baht goes on accommodation for a reasonably nice 8 bed mixed dorm with breakfast included, because you should always book somewhere with breakfast included. You spend 100 baht on some street food and snacks throughout the day, water, crisps, maybe an iced coffee or Thai tea, that sort of thing. You spend 80 baht on a thai dinner, because western meals start at 100+ baht, but you get a drink as well, Cokes cost around 30 baht in a restaurant, so that’s 110 baht on dinner. You spend 200 baht on taxis, visiting temples, and other smaller activities. That leaves you with 190 baht in the evening, great, I’ll get a large beer for 90 baht and I have 100 baht left over – and that was how I spent most of my days.
Great, you’re thinking! That’s easy! Well, it sounds easy, except you rarely spend 110 baht on dinner, because you want that burger. You rarely spend 200 baht on transport and activities during the day because you want to see those elephants, rent those bikes, go on that snorkelling tour. And you never, never ever, spend only 90 baht on one large beer. You get a bucket. And those bad boys cost 400 baht. Oh look, before you know it, you’ve spent 2500 baht and you’re eating pot noodle tomorrow for lunch and dinner, but not breakfast, because you were smart enough to get that included. So with that, on to my first tip for budget travel through Thailand.
#1 Cut out the alcohol
I can assure you, that being a 20-something millennial travelling through Thailand, a lot of your money will go on alcohol, especially if you’re traveling in a group. Small beers can cost you 60-70 baht, larger beer will cost you between 80-110 baht. Chang Beers are always cheaper than Leo, but to be honest they are both lager and they taste exactly the same. Your standard mixers like vodka coke, rum and coke etc. will start at around 100 baht, whilst cocktails will go up to 180 baht. Buckets will set you back between 350-450 baht depending which one you get. Vodka coke buckets are usually the cheapest.
So you can quickly see that a pretty steady night out drinking, even just two small beers and a mixer will set you back at minimum 260 baht. In reality you’ll probably get 3 large beers and perhaps a mixer, which is 340 minimum, ranging up to 430 baht. When you factor it into your budget, alcohol is expensive. Comparatively, a standard coke in a bar will cost no more than 30 baht. I personally always need a drink in a bar or club, just so I have something to hold. Nights where I didn’t drink I would spend no more than 100 baht, and some nights no more than 50.
If you do want to drink, the you can always go to 7 Eleven and buy some beers there. They will always be cheaper than in bars and clubs and you can just pre drink / pre game in your hostel. If you want to simply get drunk then best bang for your buck would be to share a bottle of Hong Thong or SangSom rum and drink it in your hostel dorm. Not glamorous, but sometimes needed.
#2 Choose your activities wisely
The north of Thailand is cheaper than the south, and the islands are the most expensive of the bunch. But activities are expensive no matter where you are, and some are really bloody expensive, so be selective. Here’s a quick list of some of the average costs of activities that you’ll probably want to do in Thailand.
- Visit an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiangmai = 2,000 baht
- Zip lining through the jungle = 1,200 – 2,000 baht
- Day snorkeling off the coast of Koh Tao = 500 baht
- Learning to dive = 4,000 baht
- Full day authentic cooking class = 1000 baht
- Watch a Muay Thai Fight = 400 – 600 baht
- Have a Muay Thai lesson = 300 – 500 baht
- Renting a scooter = 200 – 400 baht
- Visiting the floating markets of Bangkok =1,000 baht
- Day trip to Chiang Rai to see the White Temple = 200 – 800 baht
Yeah, they’re expensive. So what are you going to do, not eat for a week? Sleep on the streets because you simply have to throw mud on some elephants? No, you just have to be selective. Out of the 10 activities above, I did 6, the ones in bold. I really wanted to visit the White Temple, but the transfer there and back would cost me just under 1000 baht from Chiangmai, not to mention cost of entry, so I didn’t do it. Which sucked, but because I didn’t spend 1000 baht on visiting the White Temple I was able to see a Muay Thai Fight and have a Muay Thai lesson. It’s give and it’s take, it’s prioritisation, it’s life.
I was fortunate that I wasn’t bothered by seeing elephants because I’ve visited an Elephant Sanctuary before, in Sri Lanka. Whereas most people haven’t, and seeing elephants for them, and most likely you, will be a really big part of them wanting to visit Thailand. And from everyone I’ve spoken to, the Elephant Sanctuaries and been their favourite days, so for them it was worth the money, so if you want to visit the elephants, don’t let your budget stop you, priorities that activity, and do less of the others. Make it work, you can do it. Comparatively, I wouldn’t bother with Zip Lining. That I can do in Wales…
#3 You’re in Thailand, eat Thai
This may seem like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised at the number of backpackers than sustain themselves predominantly on western dishes. You’re in Thailand, eat Thai! Not only is it cheaper, it’s culturally immersive. If you don’t want to nosedive into a counties culture then why are you visiting it? You wound’t visit Rome without eating pizza, so why are you visiting Thailand and not eating Pad Thai, Thai Curry, Som Tum, or, my personal favourite, Pad Ka Prao? Don’t witness a country, experience it, and eat local. That doesn’t mean picking a nice looking restraint and order from the Thai menu, that means choosing a restaurant where the tables and chairs are made of plastic and where locals are eating. That means eating street food, ordering a dish you cannot pronounce or pointing at a picture because it looks nice, not because you know what it is. I cannot emphasise how important it is to eat local food, you’ll gain a far richer experience from it, and ultimately that’s why we travel, for the experience, not the Instagrams.
I may have lost focus there, so lets bring it back to topic. The reason why you should eat Thai, beyond cultural immersion, is that it’s cheap. Cheap as chips. No, wait, it’s even cheaper than that. Even in Bangkok or the islands, you can pick up a Chicken Pad Thai for 50 baht. That’s a full meal for the equivalent of £1. If you eat Thai for lunch and dinner, over western food, you will save an enormous amount of money. But, I get it, sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes you just want that burger. Trust me, I know. Thai food is rich, and spicy, and sometimes all you want is something a little more striped back, a little less intense. Western food is more expensive than Thai food. But because you’ve been so good at eating Thai food, you have the extra dollar you’ve saved from not eating western food, to let yourself indulge in western food when you really want it, and let’s face it, when you really need it.
Alright, that’s it – my 3 big budgeting tips for travelling through Thailand, and most of South East Asia. I’m also writing another post on budgeting your Thailand adventure, if that’s live then you can read it here!