How to travel Thailand on budget
It’s not just Chinese whispers that give Thailand a reputation for being cheap. There is truth in the chatter.
Thailand caters for all budgets, the lowest ones included!
There will of course be temptation to over-spend at every nook & cranny, but rest assured, it is possible to experience the magical kingdom for less than you’d think!
Let’s break down the main expenditures & talk about how these can be achieved at the lowest prices!
The earlier in advance you book a flight, the cheaper it is, in most cases! The best way to get a bargain flight is to check daily
& to start doing so in plenty of time. You can potentially half the price of your flight by doing this.
Use a flight operator that is searching the market, scanning through multiple airlines & finding the best deal.
Be flexible on dates!
Being flexible on travel dates will certainly crash the prices for you! For ease of access, using an operator that allows you to enter a date range, saves a lot of messing around! Kiwi.com is one of the few operators that has this awesome time saving feature!
Consider you flight times! Will travelling to & from the airport be possible using public transport at these times? Private transfers will bump the cost up!
A schoolboy error is booking a flight that gets you to a destination at a time that will be difficult to pick up cheap public transport, potentially leaving you with an expensive taxi fare.
What to avoid; Unsociable arrival times, last minute flight bookings.
Airport transfers & domestic travel
Getting from the airport to your hostel doesn’t have to cost much if you do a little research before you arrive.
Take the bus! The cheapest way to get form the airport to your hostel is to take a public bus. This is by far the cheapest method of transport. A single fare from Bangkok airport to Khao San Road is about 40Baht! (for an hour drive!)
Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket all have bus stops just outside the arrivals terminals, ask a member of staff & they will happily direct you.
Northern Thailand is famous for its red trucks, a shared trip in one of these form Chiang Mai airport to the Old City is around 100Baht (maximum!).
Spending a few minutes researching the bus number you require before you arrive at an airport will save you time in the long run! (unless your Thai language is up to scratch!) You can of course show the bus driver a map of your destination, this will usually do the job!
What to avoid; Airport taxi’s, expensive hotel transfers.
Ensuring you get the correct Visa can also save you money. For example, doing 30-day visa runs isn’t always the most cost-effective way, the trip in itself can be costly.
If you are eligible for an extended visa that you can gain before leaving your home country, this can save a lot!
Come prepared, have your own photocopies of your passport along with a bunch of passport photo’s (40mmx60mm). The cost of the photo’s at the immigration offices are sky high.
When renewing a visa, or applying for an extension, sometimes you are required to provide proof of onward travel, be prepared & have this available, or use a company such as www.flyonwards.com to provide an itinerary.
Alternatively, plan your trip whilst considering the length of Visa’s, it may work out better to use Thailand as a go between, whilst hopping over to the likes of Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore or Bali!
What to avoid; Overstaying your Visa! An overstay will bring a fine of 500Baht per day! Unnecessary Visa runs.
Sleeping in hostel dorms rather than hotels or private rooms are always going to create big savings on the accommodation front! If you are prepared to share then this is the biggest saver of the expenditures.
A bunk in a shared dorm could reach as low as 100Baht/night, whereas the cheapest private room could possibly be found for 350Baht at absolute best.
If you have a travel buddy, in some places it becomes the same price to share a private room that it is to pay for two in a dorm, so finding a friend to do this with can be a great way to upgrade your accommodation without the extra cost!
Take your time looking around! Give some thought to the most important qualities, that may be cleanliness, location, social areas etc. Prioritise them & search for the lowest price/best reviewed with those qualities.
Sometimes you can get the price a little cheaper by going directly to the hostel, rather than booking through a third party.
Volunteer your time! Have a little extra time on your hands & want to save even more? Some hostels are open to you volunteering your time & skills in return for free board (sometimes even food too!). One hostel in Pai- Northern Thailand (Circus hostel) is always looking for volunteers that can offer music lessons, yoga classes or socialising the guests in return for a private bungalow & some free food!
Listen up for recommendations! People are great at shouting about bad experiences, it’s good to take note of those but make a point of listening out for & asking for recommendations for the positive ones.
Most backpackers are happy to reel off accommodation experiences which you can take note of.
Getting breakfast, tea, coffee etc included in a board price will also save money so a free breakfast is always a win, even if it is just a coffee & some toast!
What to avoid; Booking excessive stays, always book one night to begin with, you could potentially barter the price for staying longer & for paying the hostel directly.
Not shopping around- suss out the going rates!
Food & drink
Here is another big player in the budget! Food & drink! Specifically, alcohol!
Alcohol is one of the most expensive consumables in Thailand, so if you plan to drink it, this will significantly affect your budget.
You could potentially spend the same on one relatively cheap drink, as you would on a night’s accommodation!
A cheap bottle of beer in the 7/11 (general store) may cost around 40Baht, in a bar it could be 80Baht. A cheap spirit & mixer in a low-cost venue may cost around 100Baht. In a nice sky bar, a glass of red wine may cost around 250Baht!
Alcohol consumption doesn’t have to be a budget blower if moderated or just enjoying the odd beer, but drinking frequently could see expenses rise significantly.
If you do love a beer & are on a low budget, purchasing drinks from the 7/11’s / local shops rather than in the bars will save you a lot! As will choosing a bottle of Chang (beer) or Sansom (Local rum) with free mixer!
Staying hydrated is super important, so water is an essential spend! There are water refill stations in most parts of Thailand that only charge 1Baht per litre! If you can’t find one, most hostels provide free water for guests!
Local stores will sell 1.5ltr bottles of water for around 15Baht.
Eating on a low budget is easy in Thailand, but so is over spending when faced with all the indulgences on every street!
Street food always caters for the backpacker budget, in most parts of Thailand you can pick up a Pad Thai for 30-40Baht!
You could easily spend 5 or even 10 times that on a quality meal in a restaurant, but cheap & fulfilling food is easy to come by!
Fruit shakes are a great way to top up on the nutrients when out & about, the cheapest fruit shake I ever came across cost just 10Baht! The most expensive was 50.
Eating on a low budget doesn’t have to mean eating unhealthily! Fruit shakes, endless meat/vegetable dishes, omelettes, fresh fruits, nuts, superfood smoothies, they are all available for low prices in Thailand! Just keep your eyes open & know that you will find it.
Getting free breakfast at your hostel is always a good start to the day as it saves you buying it, even if it is a simple coffee & some cereals or toasts, when you are on a budget, take what you can get & modify the rest of your meals to factor in the processed food you ate for breakfast!
what to avoid; Buying water at full price. Spending excessively on alcohol. Paying over the odds for dishes you can get at rock bottom prices!
Tours & exploring
Want to take part in all the excursions without spending a small fortune?
It is possible to experience plenty or trips without breaking the bank!
Give some thought to your most desired experiences! Are any of those possible without a specified tour guide?
For example, visiting hot springs & temples may be cheaper & even more enjoyable in some cases, if you hire a moped (solo or between two) & drive the route yourself! Sometimes, the expense you pay for a tour, is mostly for transport, which if planned properly, you can do yourself. This is by no means always the case, but at times it is & you can save a lot by being independent with it.
Hire a push bike! Cycling some parts of Thailand is enjoyable & more than practical, it will save money on private transport & give you some exercise too! Just be safe! Ensure you have water on you & have your lid on!
Weekly scooter hire! If you know you are going to be using a scooter a lot, booking up for a week & receiving a discount will save you money compared to a daily rate!
Some people even buy a scooter at the beginning of a trip & sell it on at the end, if you plan to get good use out of it, using it for travelling all over Thailand, this can be a smart move.
What to avoid; Paying for tours just for transport.
Accessing your cash!
There is nothing more frustrating than paying to access your own money! But unfortunately, it’s an unavoidable expense for most.
It’s always worth speaking to your bank before you leave on your travels & discussing the cheapest options for getting to your money whilst in Thailand.
Paying for purchases by credit card when possible is one of the cheapest rates. For cash withdrawals, pre-loading a cash card is the cheapest method, but the easiest one is using a standard bank card (such as Visa).
Most ATM’s in Thailand will charge you 220Baht for a withdrawal (no matter how big or small), so making as fewer transactions as possible saves money! Work out your monthly cash requirement & draw it out in one go, just be sure to keep it safe!
Your bank will usually charge an international transaction fee too (per transaction not amount!).
What to avoid; Making multiple card transactions – they all carry a fee!
Travel with hand luggage!
OK so you may think this one is a bit bonkers but it is very common! Many backpackers travel just with a bag that is passable to be cabin baggage! The maximum weight is usually around 7KG but if you have a light bag it is possible to get a good amount of stuff in amongst that weight!
Remember this means no fluids over 100ml & the usual hand luggage item restrictions (razors etc) will apply, so some sacrifices will be made but rest assured you can access all this stuff in Thailand!
You’ll save a small fortune in paying for checked baggage on each flight you take!
Most toiletries are accessible in Thailand too, great quality products at lower prices than you’d find in the western world for sure.
What to avoid; Going overweight! This can carry a large penalty at the gates!
Stock up on expensive items
before setting off for Thailand & depending on your baggage allowance (checked or hand luggage only), bear in mind that the following items can be fairly expensive in Thailand, so you may want to pack extras; DEET Mosquito repellent, tampons (for the ladies!), good quality sun cream.
All in all, there are endless amounts of ways you can manipulate your expenses to travel Thailand, it can be experienced incredibly cheaply. It is one of the cheapest parts of the world to travel (or live) when you think, plan ahead & know what to avoid!