Thailand – is it cheap to travel here?
For almost every person who travels for longer time, call him/her backpacker, flashpacker, or simply traveller or even tourist, one of the important things before coming to the country is to check the prices and set the budget accordingly. For me, budget was quite simple to set while traveling in various countries. It includes everything I spend for – ie. accomodation, food, daily activities, going out in the night, bus/train/plane tickets to move around and small things I buy on the way. This way my daily budget so far was usually as following:
The categories: Developed countries (ie. US, western europe).
Developing countries (this category is quite broad, it would be Argentina as well as Brazil or Peru)
Subdeveloping countries (Morocco, Paraguay, Thailand)
Almost third world countries (Myanmar, Cambodia).
Now, the above mentioned budget is generally true for Thailand, but not for the whole country. Once I read at one of the travellers blog that the author lived for below 500 USD in Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand) for the entire month. That gives just below 17 USD per day. However, my experience was quite different.
Quick summary of prices in Chiang Mai (1 dollar equals 30 Baht, as for the end of 2012):
room rental: on monthly basis it is possible to rent for 4000-5000 B
food: basic meal on the street 35 B, but for me daily food budget was close to 300 B. Just a normal breakfast cost 130 B, and sometimes I wanted a steak instead of chicken with rice or noodles. So just food cost 9000 B,
activities: Here you can easily spend either 3000 B or 30,000 B. Just a few examples, cooking classes were costing from 800 B, scooter rental from 200 B. Trekking from 900 . Flight of the gibbon 3200. Downhill experience 1900 (all prices per day).
My expenses during the month were around 20,000 B, and I wasn’t saving on this part. I was there probably once in a lifetime and wanted to make most of my time.
Going out in the night: bottle of Chang (local beer) cost around 40 baht in the shop, and 60-80 in the restaurant. Entrance to most clubs was free, some cost 200 or 300 B. Coctails were starting at 80 B. Tuktuk ride back and forth around 100 B (bargaining skills highly required). Lets say that going out twice a week (very moderately) would cost me 600 each night. So 4800 B in total. Bangkok
It was somewhere in the middle in terms of the prices, of course accomodation was more expensive (here I’m speaking about good locations, close to MRT/BTS transport, not about Khao San Rd, where the room costs from couple of hundred Baht per night), but it was infinitely easier to find a host via couchsurfing. Frankly speaking during my month long stay in Bangkok I only paid for accomodation during 10 days. Rest of the time was surfing. Food was similarly priced as in Chiang Mai, daily activities almost nonexistent (sleeping and socializing with people was what I was doing most of the time).
Of course, I did some typical tourist stuff, but it was for no more than a week in total. And it wasn’t that expensive. Taxis are really cheap, entrance fees to tourist attractions are OK (most expensive was golden palace – 400 B).
Going out in the night. Bangkok is worldwide famous party place. I would be going out several times a week (at least 3), and this part was expensive. Coctails in the clubs were priced at 120-300 B (depending where you go), entrance fees were 300-500 B, and since the nights tended to last until afterparty, I would pay the entrance fee several times during the night out. Lets say that on average the night out would cost 1200 B. This kind of makes up for equal cost of living in comparison with Chiang Mai, altough they were completely different experiences.
In December I went further down south, to the island of Koh Phangan. The good mix of daily activities, sports (http://www.arturaroundtheworld.com/2012/12/24/scuba-diving/)
and nightlife (http://www.arturaroundtheworld.com/2013/01/01/parties-and-more-parties-until-the-final-countdown/). Here the accomodation significatly more expensive than in Chiang Mai, but still cheaper than in Bangkok. Food was twice the price from Bangkok (Pad Thai – typical thai food consisting of noodles with vegetables or meat, is a good example of the prices: The rest was priced adequately. Beer in the shop was approximately 15 % more expensive than in the continental Thailand, and gasoline was 40 % more expensive (if you refuel at the gas station, since there is also possibility to buy per bottles, which costs even more).
In general, my perception of prices was that they were 10-30 % higher on the island than in the mainland.
Now Koh Tao. A wonderful diving spot. Over 40 diving school, very relaxed atmosphere and general chill vibe make me like this place a lot. If only those prices weren’t so high… Accomodation more expensive than in Koh Phangan. It is almost Bangkok level now in high season.
Food: very few stalls with the street food on the island, and if there is stick with meat costs 40 B (in Bangkok no more than 20B). Bill in the restuarant was never less than 160 B, even for small amount of inexpensive chicken with rice (In Bangkok usually less than half of that). Beer in 7/11 costs 53 B per bottle (30 % more than in Bangkok). And proper food (ie. fish, steak) in restaurant is priced almost like in Europe. 350 B for a fish? 70 B for french fries? That’s standard. And I speak about the average places, not high end ocean view white tablecloth type. It makes sense to cook for myself again with this kind of prices. In fact, doing almost nothing here, just paying for accomodation and food could easily surpass 1000 B per day. From what I heard from my friends, further south to the islands, the more expensive everything gets. Not going to check it out though. But it sounds legit. Thus the answer for the title question would be: it depends.
General rule of thumb would be: more down south, less affordable.