To end my two-years of backpacking antics, I spent 6 weeks in Asia exploring Thailand. Its undeniably well-trodden by backpackers and tourists alike, but this place still did not disappoint me. Having never been to Asia before, I think anyone can use Thailand as a place to build their confidence before striding off to more remote and challenging parts of the continent.
It's said you can live like a King here, but eff the patriarchy, I lived like a QUEEN.
What did I spend?
Around $1500 Australian Dollars (I used my Aussie bank account) so for UK reference, £900.
This figure does not include my flights to, or from, Bangkok, or my travel insurance.
For the latter, I recommend World Nomads even if it is pricey (around £50-70 for 4 weeks), its certainly worth it for the piece of mind. World Nomads quite efficiently helped my partner when he was admitted to hospital with bad wounds on his foot from stepping on coral. He was treated and looked after beautifully by the hospital, and thankfully it cost just the excess on the policy (£100).
For booking flights I pretty much exclusively use Skyscanner although I have heard of Skip-lagged as a new and equally cost-saving site. I really recommend not leaving it too late too book flights before you want to fly as I have almost always lost money doing things this way. If you know something I don't about late-minute flight deals, hit me up!
Accommodation and sharing costs: solo travel is the more expensive (but still affordable) option.
I was travelling with my partner which made things a little cheaper at times, as we often shared costs or took it in turns to pay for stuff.
If you want to be budget-savvy, but not feel too restricted, I would recommend a daily budget of 500-700baht a day for 1 person.
This includes a hostel dorm bed often available for 200-300, sometimes cheaper in places like Pai in the North and the islands in the South (not during the Full Moon party, when prices go up to Australian rates, $30 a night).
Some dorms will come with air-con, some without, but largely dorms are clean and well-maintained, even if the bed mattresses are usually on the thinner side.
If you want a private room most hostels charge quite a lot compared to using a website like Air B'n'b. Using my app I managed to find a somewhat luxurious double-bed room with AC, WIFI and a stunning bathroom, for only $16 a night in Chiang Mai.
In spots like Pai (my favourite spot) private rooms and bungalows generally run quite cheap anyway if you are travelling in a pair, anything from 350 to 500 baht a night.
If you plan to drink regularly, visit every temple going and tour a lot, add on a contingency fund to your savings; alcohol ranges from 100-200baht for a cocktail or cider (my poison of choice), with beers your cheapest option starting at 30baht (at mini-marts and 7/11's, considerably more at bar/restaurants).
Temple attractions can be on the more expensive side like the Grand Palace in Bangkok, or on the cheaper side if much smaller (around 20-40baht) but they are something worth visiting so certainly factor in these costs.
Day tours are competitively priced and a good option for solo travellers but I was lucky to see a lot via scooter. More on that later. The main tour we did was visiting an Elephant rescue project for 2500baht each, with Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. I highly recommend doing this, being that the cost was nothing compared to the memories I will always carry with me of looking into the eyes of a liberated elephant. Obviously you do not attend elephant shows in Thailand, where elephants perform and are abused daily, having been stolen as infants and brutalized into submission. You also would not ride elephants as this too is a disgustingly abusive and immoral practise, one which inflicts pain on the animals every day.
Transport: Taxi's are fine if you use an app.
Long-distance transport within Thailand can be as little as 600 baht to travel Bangkok to Chiang Mai by a VIP sleeper bus, or as much as 1500 baht+ for 1st class train travel.
I paid for a 1st class cabin for a train from Bangkok to the south and the 13-hour ride was crazy comfortable, with a single bed/seat combo, sheets, sink and the option of in-car dining. I booked all trains via 12goasia, a booking agent website, which I found quicker and easier to navigate and arrange tickets through than I would going to a street-agency. I booked ahead for sleeper trains as these tend to book up the quickest and furthest ahead of travel, especially around big Thai holidays like Songkran.
For inter-city travel, Taxi's can be a little unpredictable and rife with scams, with many drivers not turning on their meters, pretending they are broken, and then trying to agree upon an overpriced fare. For this reason I recommend the GRAB app, similar to UBER, but Asia-based. This app regularly runs promo codes, in so that we once did a 20-minute car ride from Chiang Mai Immigration (out of town) on a searing hot day, in an air-conditioned vehicle, for 20 baht (8 Australian cents, or 4 pence). Even without promo codes we regularly travelled 20 minute distances, just the two of us, for around 70-100 baht. If its a busy time of day in Bangkok this price goes up, even then we paid a maximum of around 200 baht.
Tuk-tuks and Songthaews (pick-up vans with seating and roofing in the back) are very common too and whilst these are open to negotiation on pricing, I still think they are rife with scams. Tuk-tuks especially often involve a driver trying to sell you other random tours in your short ride and so they are more of an experience than an efficient travel option.
If you can, walk as much as possible, but in the heat (and with my partners injured foot) that wasn't always a comfortable option.
Affording ourselves some more freedom and exploration, we rented a scooter in Ko Phangan and again in Pai, for around the price of 100-150 baht a day. I seriously only recommend this option if you are experienced and confident at driving them. I personally felt like a liability whenever I drove short distances so my partner took the reins most of the time.
If you really have no competence with driving, especially with scooters/motorbikes, or you choose to drink/drug and ride, you will be end up like the 100's of other travellers who walk around limping and grim-faced, 80% bandages, and way poorer in their pockets as most insurers do not cover scooter riding.
If you feel good about renting one, ensure you check out reputable places on google, take photos of the bike the moment you rent it, be prepared to hand over your passport as insurance (they ALL do this, it is a common and unavoidable thing) and wear a helmet. And don't drive fast where it's not safe to do so, the thrill won't be worth the financial cost, or the loss of limb, or even life. They are fun to ride, don't get me wrong, but personally I prefer to air on the side of caution with them, hence why I deferred to my very responsible and semi-experienced partner to drive.
Eating: You will pretty much exclusively dine out.
I didn't realize before coming to SE Asia that it is a totally different eating culture to Australia in that most places you stay do not have kitchens or self-catering at all. Many do sell snacks and drinks, or have their own restaurant, but you will find a highlight of your trip is wandering street-food markets, not washing dishes for weeks on end, and of course, eating lots of yummy food.
With food costs, it ranges in price. You could easily find a filling meal for 50baht at street-markets and even some restaurants, or you can order a couple of dishes and fruit shakes at a sit-down place with table-service and not spend much more than 300baht total. I often ate street-food, in Chiang Mai especially, at the famous Kelare food market opposite the Night Bazaar, usually having a large rice and veggie plate or an Indian curry platter for 50-60 baht. These cheap market foods were always filling and super tasty, enough so that restaurants were mainly something we went to in Pai or Bangkok, and still, these were a well-priced option.
I tried to keep food expenditure to around 200-300 baht a day (inc. all 3 meals and beverages). For example I might grab a 7-11 croissant for 20 baht, lunch was small, or I didn't even eat it, (I might spend 50-100 baht if hungry) and then dinner again, 50-150 baht again, plus maybe a couple yummy 40baht fruit-shakes in the day.
In Pai I often opted for brunch and dinner instead of 3 meals a day which is easy to do if you are having a relaxed time and not waking up until 10am and then just doing some light sight-seeing.
I didn't go crazy for snacks as time went on, opting for larger meals to get me through. My main repeated vice was however fruit-shakes, multiple juicy concoctions available at every road-side for around 40-60baht. They do add a little naughty sugar syrup and ice to the otherwise healthy fruity goodness, but these are just so refreshing in the height of the humidity!
Our vegetarianism was generally not an issue. We often referred to google reviews to find good-value vegetarian options for sit-down meals, or, if we felt like just meandering we would grab little bits and bobs at the markets which pretty much cater for everyone with vegan, western and Thai options abound. As for other food preferences or intolerances, I still think its possible to eat well and cheaply here.
My Trip Highlights:
- Island-hopping - Koh Phangan to Ko Tao, Ko Lanta to Ko Phi Phi.
- Chiang Mai - Elephants to street-food, mountains to temples.
- Bangkok - madness all round, but still, good temples, food, and night-life, if that's yo thing.
- Pai - Lod Cave, Mae Yen Waterfall, Sai Ngam hot-spring, the White buddha on the hill, Pai Canyon for sunset, walking street food market and restaurants.