Thailand on a Budget: What you Need to Know

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Thailand will forever hold a special place in my heart as one of my favorite destinations in the world. From the hilly green hills of the North to the turquoise waters of the islands, Thailand has something to offer for any type of traveler. And the best part about it? Visiting Thailand on a budget is super easy! In fact, in my opinion, Thailand is one of the most budget-friendly travel destinations. Yes, I’m sure you’ll read that it has gotten more expensive over the years, which is true. But I promise you that you can still absolutely visiting Thailand on a budget and have a great time.

The first thing that I want to call out about visiting Thailand on a budget is that your specific itinerary will have a huge impact on your budget, and how cheap you’ll be able to travel. In my 10 Day in Thailand Itinerary, I break down two different travel itineraries. If you haven’t already read that guide, I suggest you go do that now. The first itinerary covers Bangkok and Northern Thailand, while the second itinerary swaps in the Thai Islands in place of the Northern Thailand cities. If you are heading south to the islands on your Thailand travels, you should expect to have a larger budget. Traveling in the north, on the other hand, will make sticking to a low budget much easier. However, by Western standards, travel to anywhere in Thailand can definitely be accomplished on a budget!

Temple in Bangkok Thailand
Visiting the temples is a great budget-friendly activity in Thailand.

The Thailand Basics

Language: Thai

Currency: Thai Baht (THB), 30 THB = $1 USD, as of March 2021

Country: Thailand

Airports: Major airports include Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang Airport (DMK) in Bangkok, and Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) in Chiang Mai. BKK is Bangkok’s international airport, while DMK is serviced by all of Asia’s budget airlines.

Water: Thailand, especially Bangkok, is hot. You might get some relief from the heat as you head north, but Bangkok is quite literally hot all of the time. You’ll just need to embrace the constant sheer of sweat that will inevitably coat your body while traveling in Thailand’s capital. Because of this it is super important to stay hydrated, to avoid any heat exhaustion. I always carry around a reusable Vapur water bottle. While you will need to drink bottled water, this at least allows you to buy one large bottle, and avoid the excess waste of using many plastic water bottles. Another way that I love to keep hydrated while traveling in Thailand is with fresh coconut. You’ll find them on the side of the road, typically for around 60-80 THB.

Money: Although credit cards are slowly becoming more popular in Southeast Asia, cash is still the norm. For this reason, I recommend always carrying cash, ideally with an assortment of bills and coins. I find that having smaller bills makes it easier to haggle for bargains at the local markets. You’ll find plenty of ATMs throughout the city, but ATM fees can be quite high, so you’ll want to avoid too many withdrawals. Another option is to travel with a debit card that doesn’t charge ATM fees.

visiting the thai islands on a budget
You can visit Thailand on a budget for as little as $25/day.

How Much Does a Trip to Thailand Cost? 

I always struggle with blanket questions like these because the cost of a trip is going to vary so much person to person. The biggest factor in your budget being accommodation costs. Are you the type of traveler who is going to splurge on 4 and 5-star hotels, or are you more likely to spend $5 USD for a dorm bed in a shared room at a hostel? Furthermore, are you interested in eating local food, or are you planning to stick to Western dishes? Are you okay with taking slow transportation options such as buses or trains to cut costs, or would you rather travel throughout the country by plane to maximize your time?

The good thing is that no matter your travel style is, you can definitely experience the country of Thailand on a budget. It can really be as cheap, or as expensive, as you make it! I have traveled to Thailand for as little as 700-800 THB ($25 USD/day), and had an amazing time! This budget allowed me to eat well, stay at clean, comfortable places, and do lots of fun activities. For the sake of this article, I will be referring to costs in US dollars. Of course, these costs are estimated as the US Dollar to Thai Baht exchange is in constant fluctuation. 

Eating in thailand on a budget - noodles for 10 THB
A portion of these noodles costs only around $0.30!

Backpacker Budget for Thailand

$25-30 USD/day

As I mentioned above, Thailand can be extremely cheap and visited on a budget. For $25-30 USD/day you can have an awesome trip, but expect to stay at hostels in shared dorms, enjoy primarily street food (honestly a plus in my book), and take public transportation.

Mid-Range Budget for Thailand

$50-60 USD/day

With a slightly higher budget, you can expect to stay at a mix of cheaper guesthouses with 1 or 2 luxury villas sprinkled in. This budget will also give you the option to take faster transportation (plane versus bus), have a few nice meals, and book more excursions or activities.

Luxury Budget for Thailand

$100 USD/day

With a budget of $100/day you can expect to have a rather luxurious trip to Thailand, especially if you’re traveling with a small group. This budget is better if you’re looking for more Western experiences (hotels, Western restaurants, etc). This is also a good budget if you’re planning on partaking in more expensive activities such as diving. 

When Is the Best Time to Visit Thailand on a Budget?

Typically it is said that the best time to visit Thailand is between November and April. This is considered Thailand’s cool season, as well as the dry season. If you’re visiting Thailand on a budget, I would consider the shoulder months of May and December. You should still get decent weather and you’ll find much cheaper prices for accommodation and even flights.

Tips for Finding Cheap Flights to Thailand?

Luckily Thailand is a super popular travel destination with tons of flight options from all over the world. The frequency of flights and options will be key for finding affordable options. I’ve flown round trip from NYC to Bangkok (BKK) for as little as $600, and I bought my tickets super last minute. I recommend being flexible with your dates, and being open to longer layovers for great flight deals.

As I mentioned above, try checking out flights during the shoulder season for great travel deals!

Thai temples in bangkok are a good, budget-friendly option

How Much Does it Cost to Get Around Thailand?

Getting around Thailand can be extremely budget-friendly if you are open to public transportation options. For traveling within cities, I always recommend looking for accommodation options that allow you to walk to many of the attractions on your itinerary. Of course, for big cities like Bangkok that won’t always be possible. If you need to get around, I recommend using Bangkok’s BTS train line or ordering a Grab taxi. Unlike a traditional taxi, where rates can be quite high in Bangkok’s traffic, a Grab taxi is similar to an Uber. Having a set rate ahead of time will ensure that you know exactly how much your trip will cost. 

Fares on the Bangkok BTS range 15-55 THB ($0.50-2.00) depending on distance. When in the station, you can look at the chart based on origin and destination to determine the cost of your ride.

For traveling between the different cities in Thailand on a budget, I recommend taking advantage of buses and trains. In particular, overnight buses and trains are great options that allow you to save on a night of accommodation costs. The slower you travel, the cheaper it is. This is because you’ll have time to take slower transportation methods, and you’ll be moving from place to place a lot slower. This will obviously greatly depend on how much time you have for your trip. In general though, taking local buses is a great way to budget travel and save money. Here are some prices for reference: 

Costs for Transportation in Thailand 

Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Bus$20 USD
Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Train$38 USD
Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Plane:Flights start as low at $30 USD round trip
Bangkok to Koh Tao by Bus + Ferry Combo ticket$35-40 USD
Bangkok to Koh Samui by Plane$150-200 USD round trip

One thing to note for the flight cost is that while this is extremely cheap, sometimes even cheaper than the train option these prices do not include a checked bag. You will also need to factor in the cost for getting to and from the airport, and you won’t have the advantage of saving on a night of accommodation costs. Plus, I personally find that the overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok is a fun, unique experience to have while in Thailand, whether you’re on a budget or not! 

If you’re planning on spending most of your trip on the islands, and don’t care to visit Bangkok or the North, you might want to consider flying into Phuket or Krabi. You can find some cheap international flights that fly direct to Phuket.

How to Eat and Drink in Thailand on a Budget? 

Eat street food! Eat local food! Okay fine, I’ll elaborate a bit here, but really if you follow those two guidelines you’ll be set. Thailand has some of the cheapest, and most delicious food that I had while in Southeast Asia. Although portions do tend to be on the smaller side in Thailand, especially when compared to Western portions, they are super cheap. You can easily eat a full meal for $1-2.

My general rule of thumb is that the more local people you see eating at a restaurant, the better it is going to be. If the restaurant is advertising lots of Western dishes and A/C, it’s probably not as great.

If you’re planning on enjoying lots of local beers, 7/11 will be your best friend. It is super common to grab beers at 7/11 for beach days or hostel hangs, as they tend to have the cheapest prices in town. It is also a great place to get a large bottle of water, as tap water in Thailand is not drinkable. To avoid single-use plastic as much as possible, I recommend purchasing the largest bottle possible. From here you can refill a reusable water bottle each day to stay hydrated.

eat local thai food on a budget
Eat at local restaurants for cheaper prices.

Here are some average costs for food in Thailand:

Street Pad Thai$1
Main Dish at Local Restaurant$1-3
Western Dish$4-5
1.5 Liter Water Bottle$0.50
Fresh Coconut$2-3
Local Beer (Convenience Store)$1-2
Local Beer (Restaurant)$3-4
get chang local thai beers at convenience stores
Buy cheap local beers from 7/11!

Where to Stay in Thailand on a Budget?

Where to Stay in Bangkok 

Once Again Hostel – Once Again Hostel is one of my absolute favorite hostels that I’ve ever stayed at! I have stayed here on two occasions and have never been disappointed. Great location, super cute common area, and silent rooms. I think that this is the only 12 bed hostel dorm that I’ve ever stayed in that is actually quiet!

Glur Hostel – Glur Hostel is another adorable hostel option. The hostel is conveniently located next to the Saphan Taksin BTS stop and the water ferry line. Staying here makes it super easy to get around the city. There is also a basic breakfast available 24/7.

If hostels aren’t your thing, don’t worry! There are tons of hotel options with private rooms in the $15-25 range. You can easily find something to suit any budget.

Booking.com

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai

Hug Hostel – If you’re looking for an affordable hostel with a bit more of a party, social scene – look no further than Hug Hostel. This is a great place for solo travelers, with rooms starting as low as $6/night, it’s a hard price to beat. While breakfast is not included in the rate, they have a cafe on-site with affordable prices!

 

Where to Stay in Pai

If you’re planning a trip to Thailand on a budget, Pai is a great option! This sleepy backpacker town in Northern Thailand is cheap, laidback, and moves at a very slow pace. You can expect to find cheap accommodation, great street food, and plenty of free, outdoor activities that can be reached by motor bike.

Common Grounds Pai – Common Grounds is a great option if you’re looking for something cheap and central. There is a good social atmosphere here, without being too much of a party hostel.

Spicy Pai Backpackers – although I never personally stayed at Spicy Pai, it has been recommended to me so many times over the years. It is located a but outside of town, so renting a scooter is recommended.

Where to Stay on Koh Tao

Koh Tao is easily one of my favorite islands in Thailand. Known for it’s great diving, there are endless water activities to enjoy on this island. It’s what I would consider a mid-range island. It is not as cheap or rowdy as Koh Phangan, known for the famous Full Moon Party. However, it is also not to quiet, expensive nearby Koh Samui.

Booking.com

Where to Stay in Koh Phangan 

Echo Beach Hostel – dorm rooms start at $3 USD a night, do I need to say anything else? This hostel definitely caters to a younger party crowd, but it’s a great option if you’re looking for that scene. Many people looking to experience the Full Moon Party will stay here.

street food in thailand on a budget
Thailand street food for less than $0.75!

Top Tips for Visiting Thailand on A Budget 

I’ve covered many of these top tips in the various topic questions above, but I’ll outline the top tips below. 

  1. Eat Street Food – Seriously, eat all of the street food. Honestly you should be eating as much street food as possible even if you aren’t traveling to Thailand on a budget. Thailand has so much incredible street food to try, and it is all so delicious and cheap. Don’t be afraid to try it all.
  2. Reduce Alcohol Consumption (Or Buy it at a Convenience Store) – Alcohol is one of those things that can really add up when you’re traveling on a budget. I wouldn’t say that alcohol is expensive in Thailand, especially compared to Western prices, but if you’re hoping to travel on a budget of $25-30 a day, you’ll need to factor that in. At bars in Thailand a beer costs around $3, so 7-11 will be your friend for cheap beer and bottled water!
  3. Travel to Thailand during the Low Season – This is my budget recommendation for any city really. If you are able visit on the shoulder seasons, the time before the high and low seasons, you’ll be able to find great flight and accommodation deals.
  4. Take Advantage of Public Transportation – Overnight trains and buses are a great way to move throughout Thailand cheaply. Plus, you can save on a night of accommodation! 
  5. Haggle – Hagginling, or trying to get a bargain on quoted prices, is a common practice in Southeast Asia. Foreigners are often quoted as high as 5x the local price. I always work to get that number down a bit, while also remaining respectful of the conversion rates working in our favor. Don’t get ripped off and overcharged, but also don’t haggle over a few cents, please.
  6. Avoid Extra Trips to the ATM – As with most foreign destinations, ATMs can have extremely high service fees. I found that many of the ATMs in Thailand had a fee as high as $10 USD each withdrawal. 
  7. Rent a Motorbike – Renting a motorbike is a great, and affordable way to get around without taking making taxis or tuktuks. However, please make sure you wear a helmet and never drink and drive.

Travel Insurance for Thailand

I always recommend getting proper travel insurance when visiting Thailand. Yes, this will increase your budget, but it will save you a whole lot of money if you end up in a serious situation. I have seen far too many scooter accidents in Thailand! I personally always get my travel insurance through World Nomads.

Visiting Thailand? Here are some other articles to check out:

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