Country: (Northern) Thailand
Dates Visited: November 9, 2014 – December 3, 2014
# of Days: 25
Average Daily Budget: USD 33.09 per person
Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 32.00 Thai Baht (THB)
The hotels/guesthouses we opted for were all well-located with clean rooms, AC, wifi and a private bathroom. Here is the breakdown by city:
Bangkok (4 nights) – Finding decent accommodation for a reasonable price (under USD 30) in Bangkok was harder than we imagined, especially in the Khao San Road area. We stayed in 3 different hotels over the course of 4 nights as we were unhappy with the first two. The first one was Thai Cozy House (USD 19.82 / night), but the room was dirty and the bathroom even worse. That led us to change hotels the next morning to the Four Sons Inn (USD 15.25 / night), an improvement on the previous one (and for less!). The rooms still didn’t please us and it was evident that we needed to up our budget for accommodation in Bangkok. For the third and fourth nights, we stayed at the Sleep Withinn Hotel (USD 28.98 / night), which finally had clean and decent rooms. Wifi was charged apart though at USD 3.05 for 10 hours.
Ayutthaya (2 nights) – We stayed at the Ayothaya Hotel (USD 25.87 / night). The room was spacious and decently clean, but wifi was charged apart at USD 3.05 for 24 hours.
Sukhothai (2 nights) – Our cheapest stay in Thailand didn’t let us down. A double, clean room at Sawasdipong Hotel in Sukhothai was only USD 12.2 / night. This time wifi was included.
Chiang Mai (14 nights) – Chiang Mai was our longest stay so far in this trip. We had initially booked 1 night at the Changpuak Hotel (USD 25.87), to check it out before we committed for 2 whole weeks. The room turned out to be the nicest we had in Thailand and we decided to extend our stay for 13 more nights, negotiating the rate down to USD 20.74 / night for the additional nights.
Chiang Rai (3 nights) – Chiang Rai had a limited number of affordable and well located hotels, therefore, we booked 3 nights with Fun-D Hostel (USD 24.31 / night). Our room was clean and big, with free snacks and drinks!
Money Saving Tips – Booking hotels in advance might save you some money as, in general, the walk-in rates are higher in Thailand (especially during peak season). In case you stick to walking-in, you can ask for membership cards that usually give you some 10% discount on the walk-in rates. Staying more nights also gives you more bargaining power.
Food & Drinks
Thai food was one of the most anticipated cuisines in our trip. From pad thais to papaya salad to tom yam soup, we had feasts fit for a king and for dirt cheap prices. Street food was clean and safe to eat in Thailand – we had our favourite corner in Bangkok and our favourite street in Chiang Mai that we frequented. A typical (and delicious!) pad thai with egg and one choice of meat would go for THB 40-60 (USD 1.25 – 1.88) throughout the country, while a papaya salad would cost THB 20-30 (USD 0.63 – 0.94). Our total daily average in this category was only USD 7.06 per person (including drinks!).
Even though we were eating street food, we still made frequent 7-Eleven runs for drinks and snacks, which means our costs could have been reduced even further, had we not drunk so much tea and beer.
Money Saving Tips – Eat the way locals do – on the streets! Thai street food is delicious and cheap, but you should avoid drinks on the streets though. For those, the best bet would be 7-Eleven, which is everywhere and has lower prices, including alcohol! A bottle of Chang Beer (640ml) cost around THB 50 (USD 1.56) at 7-Eleven, while other places would charge double that price for the same thing.
This category is split into two parts, intracity and intercity:
Intracity – From tuk-tuks to cabs to songthaews, we used a variety of means of transportation to move within the city.
Cabs – We took cabs only in Bangkok, for distances above 3km (when tuk-tuks became more expensive). Always insist on using the meter and if the driver doesn’t comply, leave. Locals pay based on the metered price and you should too. A ride from Khao San Road to Dusit Palace (3 km away) was USD 2.14, including almost half an hour stuck in traffic.
Tuk-tuks – We used tuk-tuks to cover mid-distance locations, as well as for day tours around the city. Locals pay what they think is fair at the end of the ride; needless to say, it doesn’t work like that for foreigners and it is advisable to agree on a price beforehand. We tried our best to always negotiate a fair price. Typical rides would cost around USD 1.30 for 2 people (rides around 3-5km), and a tuk-tuk hire for the day in Ayutthaya was USD 15.25 for 2 people.
Songthaews – This new method of transportation was introduced in Sukhothai. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes an extremely convenient and cheap way to get around town. Songthaews are pickup trucks converted to work like shared cabs, so they are cheaper than private tuk-tuks. To hop on one, simply flag them down and tell the driver where you are going and like the tuk-tuks, agree on a price beforehand.
We spent an average of USD 1.28 per person per day on this category.
Money Saving Tips – Walk as much as you can to explore the cities. In Bangkok, preferred methods of transportation are taxis (use the meter) and ferries (set price for journey). From Ayutthaya all the way north to Chiang Rai, tuk-tuks and songthaews are the norm. Unless you know what you are doing, always agree on a price beforehand and make sure everything is clear, like destination, number of people included in the price, how long they will wait for you at the destination (if applicable).
Intercity – This category starts with our bus from Battambang – Bangkok (USD 13.00 per person) and then buses to the northern part of Thailand.
From Bangkok we took a minivan to Ayutthaya that cost THB 60 (USD 1.83 per person), if bought at the station next to the Victory Monument. The ride was about an hour and a half long, in a clean, relatively comfortable minivan with AC. The minivan stopped at the entrance of the city (quite far from most hotels) and told us that we had arrived. A tuk-tuk driver was pleased to offer us his overpriced services, but since we were well aware of this scam, we walked to our hotel which was only 1km away. Alternatively, if your hotel is further, you can insist to stay in the minivan, as it has only one stop in the downtown area and then you can make your way from there.
From Ayutthaya, we took buses to Sukhothai (USD 8.5 per person) and then to Chiang Mai (USD 6.83 per person) and Chiang Rai (USD 5.63 per person). We always bought the tickets the day of at the bus station for the lowest possible prices. Buying from hotels or travel agents was not worthwhile, even though they included a pick-up from the hotel to the bus station as part of the service.
The total cost of going to northern Thailand using buses was USD 35.80 per person.
Money Saving Tips – Try to buy bus tickets directly at the bus stations to guarantee the lowest possible price. There is no need to get the tickets in advance, so you can just show up an hour before the departure time. Make sure to negotiate for the price of a tuk-tuk or songthaew to the bus station!
Entertainment & Tours
Thailand had numerous free and paid attractions. Below is a list of the ones we paid for:
- Wat Pho (Bangkok) – Entrance fee USD 3.00 per person
Wat Pho is a national symbol and the birthplace of Thai massage. Admission to the grounds was actually free, but if you want to see the big reclining Buddha, you should get tickets at the entrance of the temple.
- Wat Arun (Bangkok) – Entrance fee USD 1.50 per person
The iconic towers of Wat Arun stand high in the skies of Bangkok and climbing the main tower gives you a 360 panoramic view of Bangkok. The ferry is a great way to get from the main backpacker area to the temple.
- Grand Palace / Dusit Palace (Bangkok) – Entrance fee USD 15.00 per person
The landmark of Bangkok, the Grand Palace is a must-see. Admission tickets are USD 15.00 per person and also include tickets to the Dusit Palace, which is another attraction you can’t miss in the city.
- Sukhothai Historical Park (Sukhothai) – Entrance fee USD 3.00 per person
Tickets to the Sukhothai Historical Park are sold in a zone base. We decided to explore only the central zone of the park, that housed the most important temples.
- Muay Thai Fight (Chiang Mai) – Ringside VIP tickets were USD 18.3 per person
The national sport of Thailand, a Muay Thai fight is something you must experience in Thailand. We went to Thapae Boxing Stadium in Chiang Mai, where ringside VIP seats cost USD 18.3 per person. There wasn’t much difference between the VIP tickets and the regular tickets, which can save you USD 6.00 per person.
- UltraScreen Movie Tickets (Chiang Mai) – Tickets cost USD 33.50 per pair
We watched The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I at the Major Cineplex in the CentralFestival mall in Chiang Mai. It was a truly VIP movie experience, with fully reclining leather seats and waiters serving us. Tickets are sold in pairs only, so bring a date!
- IMAX Movie Tickets (Chiang Mai) – Tickets cost USD 18.25 per pair
We came back to the Major Cineplex to watch Interstellar, this time in the IMAX theatre. We got VIP seats that are sold in pairs only.
Besides the entertainment costs above, we had other minor entrance fees at some temples, which summed up to USD 5.34 per person.
We had some considerable miscellaneous expenses in Thailand:
- General Thai Massage Course Level I – USD 228.15
I took a full body Thai massage course at the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai. The 5-day (30h) course cost quite some money, but was totally worth it!
- Postage to Canada + Brazil – USD 109.83
We had to mail souvenirs and Christmas gifts back home, which ended up costing us USD 109.83 for 3 packages with Thailand Post (one of the most reliable in SE Asia). They all arrived safely and faster than expected!
- 30-day + 1 GB SIM Card – USD 15.25
We got a pre-paid SIM card with AIS, the major provider in Thailand. The price includes a 30-day, 1GB data package with relatively good speeds throughout the country.
In addition to the items above, we had other miscellaneous expenses such as laundry, haircuts, gifts, etc. that summed up to USD 129.90.
Travelling in northern Thailand was cheap, even though housing was a bit more expensive and we splurged with some VIP attractions, gifts and the Thai massage course. Eating cheap and spending less in transportation were key to keeping our budget low. Since we will be back to explore southern Thailand in the future, we will save our usual Final Thoughts until later. From Chiang Rai, we crossed over to Laos and a 2-day slow boat down the Mekong River.