Country: (Southern) Thailand
Dates Visited: December 22, 2014 – January 17, 2014 /// February 1, 2015 – March 1, 2015
# of Days: 24 and 30 days (54 days total)
Average Daily Budget: USD 47.70 and USD 27.22 (USD 36.32 for both stays per person)
Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 32.00 Thai Baht (THB)
This budget summary applies only to southern Thailand, you can find our northern Thailand budget summary here.
We broke our visit to southern Thailand into two parts – first at the end of 2014 for Christmas and New Year’s and the second right after Myanmar in February 2015.
With the exception of a few places, the hotels/guesthouses we opted for were all well-located with clean rooms, AC, wifi and a private bathroom. Here is the breakdown:
Koh Phangan (2 nights) – We stayed at the Lime N Soda Beachfront Resort at Thong Sala Beach. For the first night we had our own private bungalow, which was pretty decent and clean, for USD 25 / night. Unfortunately, all bungalow were taken for the second night (we didn’t have reservations and accommodation on Thai islands around New Year’s time get full quickly), but luckily they opened their dorm room for us (sort of a staff room with a mattress on the floor used during full moon party times) and that only cost USD 15.20 / night.
Koh Tao (4 nights) – Our four night stay in Koh Tao at the Tommy’s Resort was included in our PADI Open Water Diving Course with Simple Life Divers. The room could have been better (no AC or hot water) but it was “free”.
Koh Samui (6 nights) – We stayed at Akwa Guesthouse (USD 34.50 / night) on Chaweng Beach for New Year’s – it was one of the cheapest places available during that time. The guesthouse was centrally located and the room clean with all the amenities we needed – comfortable bed, hot shower, AC with pluses like a foldable beach mat (useful!), minibar and cable TV.
Bangkok (9 + 12 nights) – Bangkok was the end of our first trip to the Samui Archipelago in southern Thailand and the beginning of our venture through the islands of the Andaman Sea. We stayed 9 nights at the Swana Bangkok Hotel (USD 25 / night) during the first stay, which was one of the best hotels we had during our trip so far and I highly recommend it. We came back to the same hotel during our second stay, this time for 12 nights as we had to apply for Indian visas.
Koh Muk (3 nights) – Koh Muk didn’t have that many options – you can count them on one hand. Taking out the extravagant resorts, we got a bungalow at the Had Farang Guesthouse for USD 21.36 / night. The bungalow was simple, there was no AC or hot shower and the bed wasn’t the best, but such is the case for untouched paradise, so we can’t complain. Wifi was available at the guesthouse restaurant only.
Koh Lanta (3 nights) – We stayed at the Lanta of Colour Bungalows (USD 12.20 / night) at Khlong Dao Beach. Again, the bungalow didn’t have AC, hot shower or internet and it could be cleaner. Besides the many mosquitos and monkeys outside the bungalow, we had three frogs visit one night and were jumping from the walls on top of our things. The bed was decently comfortable and it was good value for the price.
Koh Phi Phi (2 nights) – Koh Phi Phi was surprisingly not a typical budget destination despite the many backpackers there. During high season, it was pretty much impossible to find anything of good value and we had to settle for a room at The Rock Backpacker for USD 36.60 / night. At least the room was clean, had AC, hot shower and an amazing view of Loh Dalum Bay. Internet was shaky, but it was the most luxury we’ve had for a while.
Phuket / Patong (5 nights) – We had initially booked one night at the Sabaidee Patong Hotel (USD 20.86 / night). The room was decent with a great location not far from Jungceylon Mall. Unfortunately, they were fully booked for the next day and we had to move to a different hotel. For the other three nights, we stayed at B-Bossa Patong Hotel (USD 23 / night). The room was nice and spacious, with the only downside being a 15-20 minute walk to the beach.
Ao Nang, Krabi (3 nights) – The prices for most hotel rooms at Ao Nang beach were incredibly high and it was a bit of a struggle to find a decent yet affordable room. Yellow Sun Guesthouse was the best we could do (USD 24.60 / night).
Money Saving Tips – During both peak season and high season, booking rooms in advance will save you some money, especially in Phuket as the walk-in rates can be 50% or more when compared to online rates. Most of the untouched and undeveloped islands have very basic but cheap accommodation, so don’t expect much out of it (the uncrowded paradise is your reward!). For those really on a budget, some places offer tents for rent (with a mattress) for an unbeatable price.
Food & Drinks
Just like for northern Thailand, food in the southern part of the country was fairly similar in options and taste. However, you should expect to pay a bit more on the islands – even at 7-Eleven.
From all of the islands, Koh Samui and Koh Phi Phi stood out when it came to food prices. The restaurants at Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui were rather overpriced (a pad thai cost around USD 4.60, whereas it usually costs USD 1.90) and we definitely splurged on food there. The same happened at any restaurant serving western food on Koh Phi Phi – the prices were insanely high, even at 7-Eleven (where shelves were empty and prices doubled). Thankfully we found a few Thai restaurants that served decent food in satisfying portions for regular prices.
Money Saving Tips – For budget food options, walk away from beachfront restaurants or Western options catered to tourists on main roads. Eat authentic Thai food on the streets like the locals do and you are almost guaranteed to skip the tourist prices. 7-Eleven still has the best deals for snacks, drinks and alcohol. On the islands (and in quite a few places in Laos), Pornthip waters sealed via a removable strip of plastic are cheaper than regular water bottles. Control your drinking! Partying on the beach is great and all, but is the quickest way to break budget in southern Thailand without even realizing it until it’s too late.
With the exception of Bangkok, where we took metro, buses and cabs to go around the city (local buses were so cheap and a fun adventure), we walked around within all the islands. With this in mind, we will only detail the costs of getting from Bangkok down to the mainland hubs and then ferries to island hop.
Train – Our favorite method of transportation traveling to and from Bangkok down to the mainland hubs of Surat Thani and Trang, the Thai night trains were cheap with clean and comfortable beds (much better than Vietnamese night trains). The total cost of our 3 night train trips (Bangkok – Surat Thani – Bangkok – Trang) was USD 89 per person – which includes ferries from Surat Thani to Koh Phangan and from Koh Samui to Surat Thani, as we bought those as a joint ticket with the train tickets.
Ferry – We used several different ferry companies to hop from island to island and the total cost of our itinerary (Koh Phangan – Koh Tao – Koh Samui) and then (Trang – Koh Muk – Koh Lanta – Koh Phi Phi – Phuket) was USD 68.70 per person.
Besides the methods mentioned above, the total cost for all the other means of transportation during our 24 + 30 day stay in southern Thailand was USD 77.40 per person, which was roughly a daily average of USD 1.40 per person – consistent with what we have been spending in this category.
Money Saving Tips – Book train tickets directly at the train station counters – they will give you the lowest possible fares. Remember to buy bunks above and below each other for couples as opposed to across from each other, because Thai trains don’t have carriages, just one main corridor with beds on either side. For the ferries, we found that agents are usually unavoidable, so shop around for the best deals. Ask for transfers to and from the departure and arrival piers to be included in the ferry ticket if possible.
Southern Thailand had a lot of free activities (re: beaches!) but islands meant a lot of tours. Here is the list of paid activities:
- Drinks for New Year’s (Koh Samui) – Entrance fee USD 30.00
We usually don’t list this as a separate expense; however, drinking in Koh Samui did take a considerable amount of our budget.
- Movie Tickets (Bangkok) – Entrance fee USD 27.50 per person
Even though it was more expensive than the UltraScreen experience in Chiang Mai, we went to watch The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies with our friend Abby and got the VIP tickets. These ones even came with a “free” 15min massage!
- Floating Market Tour (Bangkok) – USD 11.00 per person
We visited the Damoen Saduak floating market with our friend Abby. The actual cost of the tour was USD 6.00 per person and we paid an additional USD 5.00 per person to have a longtail boat take us around the crowded market (walking along the canals is a free alternative for a similar experience).
- Thai Cooking Class (Bangkok) – USD 30.50 per person
The best budget option in Bangkok was Silom Thai Cooking School where we learned how to cook mouthwatering dishes and had a lot of fun at the same time.
- Koh Kradan and Emerald Cave Day Tour (Koh Muk) – USD 36.60 for the boat
We had such a good time on this tour – the Emerald Cave was nice enough, but Koh Kradan was true paradise. The shallow sand banks meant perfect light blue waters and great snorkeling. If we ever go back to southern Thailand, we will stay on the island for a few days just to enjoy it.
- Koh Rok Day Tour (Koh Lanta) – USD 40.00 per person
Lacking idyllic beaches, we took a day tour from Koh Lanta to the Koh Rok islands to do some snorkeling and find Nemo!
- Day Tour in Koh Phi Phi (Koh Phi Phi) – USD 17.70 per person
This was one of the worst tours that we’ve ever taken and it cost USD 13.75 plus a USD 3.05 National Park admission fee. All tour operators sell practically the same itineraries and services. An independent visit to the Phi Phi viewpoint added USD 0.90 per person.
- Movie Tickets (Phuket) – USD 9.10 per person
We went to the movies again in Phuket and for the first time, didn’t opt for any fancy seats or cinemas. Regular tickets with drinks and popcorn only cost USD 9.10; USD 4.30 for just tickets (an absolute steal for North American standards!).
- James Bond Island Tour (Phuket) – USD 27.63 per person
The tour included the transportation and all fees to see the James Bond Island, canoeing around Talu island, lunch in Koh Panyee and a visit to the Monkey Cave. The tour was better than what we expected – it wasn’t overcrowded and the boat was relatively comfortable. Plus we relived 007 and saw the inspiring Panyee soccer pitch in person!
There were some considerable miscellaneous expenses in Thailand that almost threw us above budget, but were definitely worth it.
- PADI Open Water Diving Course – USD 298.40 per person
One of the best experiences in our lives, we not only became certified scuba divers, but unlocked a whole new world to explore. Koh Tao is the cheapest place in the world to get your scuba diving certification and the three-day course also included four nights of accommodation. Thanks Simple Life Divers!
- SIM Card with Data – USD 16.70
We reused the AIS SIM card we got the first time we were in Thailand and just had to top up this time, getting additional 900MB at full speed + unlimited data at reduced speed via our favourite MaoMao199 plan.
In addition to the items above, we had other miscellaneous expenses such as laundry, hygiene items, etc. that summed up to USD 325.63.
Traveling in southern Thailand was cheap, even though we splurged during New Year’s time, took a $300/person (!) diving course and were island-hopping during our second stay (islands tend to be more expensive than cities, ferries tend to be more expensive than buses). We’re so happy that we still managed to be below budget. Most importantly, we enjoyed our time with our friends, learned a new skill and lounged in paradise for many days! Our time in southern Thailand was a blast.