We visited Thailand in January, which is high season. We were worried that we weren’t going to be able to travel in Thailand on a budget, as we had heard that Thailand is not as cheap as it used to be. It’s not, but we managed it on a budget. Here’s our budget and what we got up to so you can see which places take your fancy.
Did I Like Thailand?
My experience of travel in Thailand was shaped by so many moments of awe. I swam in a breathtaking waterfall where fish nibbled my feet and saw the most beautiful temples I’ve ever seen in my life. Giant Buddhas towered over me. In Thailand I scuba dived with big schools of fish. I found the Mae Hong Son Loop a bit poop (I’ll explain later!). The Death Railway was fascinating and sad to learn about. I also met the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in my whole life.
It’s VERY Popular These Days
I liked Thailand a lot, although I do think mass tourism has affected it significantly. Unlike the last few countries I visited (Vietnam and the Philippines) I found Thailand harder to get to know and understand. The locals are very used to tourists so we got less intimate experiences with them and so much is tailored around tourists sometimes the real Thailand can be lost. Nevertheless, it’s still lovely and is totally worth visiting.
Can You Still Do Thailand On A Budget?
Yes, you can still travel in Thailand on a budget! We spent a month travelling in Thailand and our budget was £42 GBP ($55 USD) a day between two of us.
Thailand Accommodation Costs
A decent double room with an en suite cost us anything from £12 – £18 GBP a night ($15 – $23 USD), with the most expensive accommodation on the Mae Hong Son Loop. There are deffo more budget accommodation options available as well, we just sometimes like our creature comforts.
Thailand Food Costs
You can pick up food at local places and street food (including vegetarian stuff) for a couple of pounds a meal. For us this food is the best. Tourist restaurants tended to be pricey and often disappointing.
Activities Are Expensive
Activities in Thailand are pretty expensive. Here are some of the prices for activities in Chiang Mai as an example:
- 3 hours of trekking £47.67 GBP per person (2000 Thai baht)
- ATV ride and 3 hours of rafting £140.64 GBP per person (5900 Thai baht)
- 3 hours of rafting £71.51 GBP per person (3000 Thai baht)
This is not great news for people travelling in Thailand on a budget. These activities were out of our backpacker budget so we avoided them. However there’s lots of cheaper things Thailand has to offer such as temples, museums and just wandering around taking everything in.
ATM Fees In Thailand
Another way Thailand can eat up your money is through ATM fees. The fees ATMs charge in Thailand are vomit inducing, here’s how you can make them hurt less:
Our Thailand Itinerary
Here is the travel route we took in Thailand to help you plan your adventure. We obviously didn’t go everywhere (there is so much to see in Thailand), but did visit some pretty awesome places.
Mae Hong Son
Back to Chiang Mai
Back To Bangkok
Chiang Mai is a northern city in Thailand and has a calm, relaxing and charming old town. The night we arrived there was a very classy Sunday market on, selling all sorts of beautiful clothes, jewelry and ornaments.
Temples, Temples, Temples
Chiang Mai is the first place where I got to experience the epicness of Thai temples. And oh my. I’d seen temples in Vietnam but they were nothing compared to the Thai ones. Giant golden stupas and Buddhas all intricately decorated. Chiang Mai has over 300 temples. Which means basically temples in Chiang Mai are as common as dodgy chicken shops in London.
Is Chiang Mai Worth Visiting?
Despite being pretty touristy these days, Chiang Mai is a nice city and worth visiting.
Things To Do In Chiang Mai:
1. Cooking Classes In Chiang Mai
We did a cooking class with Thai Farm Cooking School, and learnt how to cook Thai curry, coconut soups and spicy papaya salad. Our classroom was an open plan kitchen nestled in the countryside, and most of the food we cooked was grown on the farm.
2. Wat Pha Lat Temple
If you want to avoid the crowds of elephant trouser wearing tourists in Chiang Mai, you can hike up to a hidden temple. Wat Pha Lat temple is on the hillside with a very small waterfall. It was so small I really don’t think it can be called a waterfall. The temple was nice though, as were the views across Chiang Mai. We weren’t charged an entrance fee for the temple, so it’s a good option if you are doing Thailand on a budget!
3. Explore Chiang Mai’s Temples
As I said above, there’s feck loads of them. You literally can just walk around and pop into different temples. In the old town Wat Chedi Luang is completely beautiful and worth a visit. As are Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Man.
4. Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man is a famous temple on the hill, and is 18km from Chiang Mai. On a clear day you get amazing views across the city. However, to get those good views you have to climb up 300 stairs. To get there you can take a songthaew (a bus) from town.
5. The Chiang Mai National Museum
Chiang Mai National Museum is well put together and gave a good overview of the history of the area, the important people historically and the influence from Myanmar.
6. Elephant Sanctuary Visit
You have to be very picky when selecting a elephant sanctuary to visit. I urge you to avoid ones that do elephant shows or riding. Elephants don’t want you to ride them (would you?!). So to make them allow humans to ride them, they are basically tortured as infants through a process called Phajaan or “the crush”. They are beaten, pierced with bull-hooks, starved and deprived of sleep. Don’t support this industry.
Places like the Elephant Nature Park exist though, where they rescue and provide sanctuary for elephants (and cats and dogs!). Visiting the Elephant Nature Park isn’t super cheap. But many travellers doing Thailand on a budget stretch their budget on this occasion due to really wanting to meet Thailand’s elephants. I’d say it’s probably worth it!
Mae Hong Son Loop
After Chiang Mai we embarked on the Mae Hong Son Loop. Usually this is done by motorbike and is infamous among the motorbiking community. We weren’t keen to jump on a motorbike so soon after falling off one in Vietnam, so we did the Mae Hong Song Loop by bus. I think my bum would have actually fallen off if I had to sit on the back of a bike for a week.
Motorbikes: Leave It To The Experts
I’d also say the roads are so windy that the loop is probably better suited to experienced motorcyclists who actually ride back home rather than the muppets on mopeds backpacker brigade (us included in this) so common in South East Asia. Read more on how to do the loop by bus:
Is The Mae Hong Son Loop Worth Doing?
The loop was an interesting experience, and I’d say it’s probably much better on a motorbike or at least with your own transport. I found it a little bit poop.
Our Route: Mae Hong Son Loop
- Mae Hong Son
- Khun Yuam
- Mae Sariang
Pai was nice, but very touristy. Mae Hong Son was the polar opposite and was almost a ghost town. It was strange. Most sights were too far away to walk and with no public buses, a moped or car is needed. Any excursions (e.g trekking) were upwards of $78 for 2 people. We couldn’t afford this, as we were travelling in Thailand on a budget. Khun Yuam was small and had heap loads of dogs rampaging around the place. It had one restaurant open in the evening that served instant noodles and salad with yogurt and cereal on it.
Mae Sariang: The Border With Myanmar
We enjoyed the final stop, Mae Sariang. This was because we took a trip to the village of Mae Sam Laep near the Myanmar Border. The trip there involved getting an open-backed van (a songtaew) with people from the local hill tribe villages and a load of fruit and veg which was to be delivered to shops in Mae Sam Laep.
Refugees From Myanmar
Mae Sam Laep is located alongside the Salween River, which is the political border with Myanmar. Mae Sam Leap is home to many refugees from Myanmar. Many locals’ faces were painted with thanaka, which is a traditional Myanmar beauty treatment to protect and care for their skin.
Sadly, many of the refugee population in the area don’t have Thai citizenship, so do not have the same legal rights. They often exist in ‘legal limbo’. Furthermore, I didn’t realise there are 9 refugee camps in the area, all along the border with Myanmar.
Kanchanaburi is the home of the Hellfire Pass, the real Bridge Over the River Kwai and a breathtakingly beautiful 7 tiered waterfall.
I really recommend Kanchanaburi if you are like me, a bit into contemporary history. Here’s my comprehensive guide to Kanchanaburi:
Kanchanaburi Travel Guide: Why You Should Travel To Kanchanaburi
Is Kanchanaburi Worth Visiting?
If you love pretty waterfalls and contemporary history, totally!
Things To Do In Kanchanaburi:
1. Visit Erawan Waterfall And Have Your Feet Bitten By Bitey Fish
Kanchanaburi itself was pretty nice. But nearby is the absolutely beautiful Erawan waterfall which we jumped on the very old and rickety public bus to visit.
Erawan waterfalls are touristy but so well kept. Not a bit of litter anywhere! Watching tourists try to take selfies on the rocks without falling in was amusing. I also spent the time in the waterfall plunge pools laughing my head off as the fish LOVE YOUR FEET and try to nibble the dead skin off them. It tickled so much.
2. Visit Hellfire Pass and the Thailand – Burma Railway Research Center
I recommend visiting Hellfire Pass and the Thailand – Burma Railway Research Center (Museum). The history is pretty heartbreaking, but worth knowing and understanding I’d say. During the Second World War, the Japanese set about building an ambitious railway line from Thailand to Burma. This is now coined the Death Railway.
To build the railway, they used a labour force made up of Prisoners of War (from the Allied Nations) and local Asians, who were often tricked, coerced or forced into working on the railway. The Japanese wished to build the railway in record time and to do this, they set up brutal work camps.
The death tolls were extreme. 13,000 prisoners of war (including lots of British prisoners) and around 100,000 Asian Labourers died to build this railway. They died of malnourishment and starvation, abuse, overwork, exhaustion, injury and disease. It was sobering stuff. This aspect of the war was not something I ever learnt about at school or uni.
Hellfire Pass got it’s name as the pass would be lit up at night by torches which illuminated all the emaciated people working, combined with the sounds of drilling and hammering would conjure up images of hell.
Despite being on the same subject, both Hellfire Pass and Thailand – Burma Railway Research Center (Museum) are worth visiting. They give different perspectives to Kanchanaburi’s dark history. Both attractions are cheap to visit (Hellfire Pass has no entrance fees and only asks for donations), so fab if you are doing Thailand on a budget.
3. The Real Bridge Over The River Kwai
I am guessing you’ve heard about the film the Bridge Over The River Kwai? Well, Kanchanaburi is home to the real Bridge Over The River Kwai. The film was pretty inaccurate though, the river wasn’t even called Kwai!
When we visited the bridge itself, music was being blasting out. It was all just surreal and kinda uncomfortable after learning about what had happened to build this railway line. The bridge is worth visiting, but I do think as a tourist attraction it could be a little more informative and less, erm, naff and disrespectful to those who died building the railway.
Bangkok is big, busy and smoggy, when we visited the schools were closed in the city due to the smog and pollution. It is also a city of contradictions, where on one side of the street you’ll be offered a ping pong show or James would be shown a catalogue of women for sex, on the other side of the street you’d be at a highly religious temple where some guy would point at your legs and make sure you covered up. But despite this, it’s amazing with some incredible temples and sights. It’s also a pretty crazy place if you aren’t used to Asian cities 🙂
Is Bangkok Worth Going To?
I am not gunna lie, if you aren’t a big city person, it can be a bit overwhelming. The place is literally huge and pretty busy. It’s worth going to though, as there’s stuff you can see in Bangkok which you won’t see anywhere else.
Things To Do In Bangkok:
1. The Reclining Buddha: A Buddha As Big As A Blue Whale
We enjoyed exploring the huge, intricate and beautiful temples of Bangkok. But my favourite was the reclining Buddha. Before I saw the Buddha, I thought I knew what to expect. Just some Buddha lying down… right? I walked into the temple where the Buddha is kept and my jaw actually dropped. It was massive. At 46metres long, the Buddha is bigger than a blue whale. The entire temple complex it is housed in is so beautiful and completely extra.
2.Visit The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is epic, and was once the king’s home. It’s huge and beautiful and wow. Beware of scams and don’t pay your entrance fee until you are actually going in. It’s also super busy. Both the Reclining Buddha and the Grand Palace are a bit more pricey than the usual attraction in Thailand, so difficult if you are doing Thailand on a budget. However, I’d say they are worth stretching your budget for.
3. Say Hi To The Monitor Lizards In Lumphini Park
Lumphini park is full of monitor lizards, just strolling about minding their own business. Whilst there we witnessed one try to eat a fish that was way to big for it. The fish was still alive! It put the fish in its mouth and then bashed its head against a tree, trying to force the fish down its throat. Brutal. A crow then joined the fray. Lumphini park is pretty cool and worth a visit, not just for the huge monitor lizards, but also for the nice views of the Bangkok skyline. Lumphini park is completely free, so great if you are doing Thailand on a budget.
4. Huge Malls: Not That Fussed
In Bangkok there are also huge malls. Although a lot of travel bloggers went on about having to visit them, I just found them too big, too busy and exactly like the ones back home. In fact it was quite disconcerting as it was like being transported back home, and I’m not quite ready for my trip to be over yet.
5. Evening Ferry With Lit Up Temples
In the evening jump on the public ferry along the river from Sathorn (Taksin) to Phra Arthit for Khaosan Road and enjoy the beautiful views of a few of the lit up temple complexes.
6. The National Museum: Learn More About Thailand’s History
The National Museum gave us more insight into Thailand’s biggest religion, Buddhism. Do check when the National Museum has English tours, they are awesome and so insightful.
Within the temples there are often lots of intricate paintings, and the one in the museum depicted the life of Buddha. Buddhism’s links with Hinduism were made more apparent, as the museum displayed statues of gods like Ganesh, who is often depicted with a snake around his waist. This is because the story goes that Ganesh once ate too many sweets and his stomach exploded everywhere, sending all his knowledge flying, so he wrapped a snake around his waist to hold in the knowledge (and his guts). Now, let’s not judge, we’ve all been there. The story of Buddha’s birth is a little out there too. I won’t spoil that one!
7. Khao San Road
Khao San has got to be Bangkok’s most famous road right? It’s a tourist strip, with a happening night life, lots of shops and once was as seedy as feck. They’ve cleaned it up though. Khao San is a delight for party animals, and intriguing for those like me, who like to people watch. You can also sample edible scorpions or spiders…if that floats your boat.
Ayutthaya is the ancient and beautiful capital of Thailand. I loved it. What a place. You can easily get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok via train.
Is Ayutthaya Worth Visiting?
Ayutthaya gets very hot, and reached 37 degrees with little breeze or cloud cover when we were there. However despite melting, it was one of my favourite places in Thailand.
Things To Do In Ayutthaya:
1. Visit the Multiple Temple Complexes
Ayutthaya has magnificent Lara Croft style overgrown temple complexes. These temple ruins aren’t like the ones you usually see in the UK, e.g mounds of stones from an old castle that you try to be impressed at. They are huge, intricate and glorious. My favourite was Wat Mahathat, which has the buddha’s head stuck within the roots of a tree. The Ayutthaya temples resemble the temples at Angkor Wat, although with far less tourists.
There are tens of temples in Ayutthaya so just pick and choose the ones you are interested in! Entrance fees for the temples are not expensive, so a great option if you are doing Thailand on a budget. Plus, they are worth every penny!
2. Visit The Strange Ayutthaya Toy Museum
The Ayutthaya toy museum is some guy’s attempt to monetise his hoarding. It is filled to the brim with thousands of toys, many of which were exactly the same – pikachus, tin robots, superman figurines which were also accompanied by a collection of broken plates.
Krabi is a chilled Thai province by the sea and offers a totally different side to Thailand to the places above. I guess it’s the more stereotypical Thailand!
Is Krabi Worth Visiting?
If you are a beach bum, love diving and sunshine Krabi province is for you. I do think there is lots more to Thailand than just beaches though, hence why most of the stuff I’ve mentioned above is not just beach based!
Things To Do In Krabi Province:
1. The Phi Phi Islands, Near Krabi
From Krabi Town, we did some fabulous diving in the Phi Phi islands. One of the Phi Phi islands is famous for the beach in the film ‘the Beach’. The famous beach itself is actually closed due to pollution because of extreme levels of visitors. On a daily basis it was receiving 5000 visitors. This was polluting the waters dramatically and wreaking havoc with the marine ecosystem. The Thai government took the decision to close the beach to allow recovery.
We were going to do diving from Koh Lanta, but it was very pricey and actually cheaper from Krabi. However, despite that, it was some of the most expensive diving we have done on our travels. We spent £215 for the two of us and that was only for 2 dives.
If you don’t dive, you can visit the picturesque Phi Phi islands via boat from Krabi town or Ao Nang in Krabi Province.
2. Visit Ao Nang Beach
Ao Nang is essentially Krabi’s main beach. You can just chill out, get a massage or rent a kayak and have a paddle around.
3. Visit Krabi Town’s Night Markets
Krabi Town actually has some unexpectedly good night markets. We got some proper tasty vegetarian food. I think street food is literally the only way to go in Thailand, it was cheaper and better than the restaurant food we had.
4. Railay Beaches & Caves
Railay beach is NOT quiet, but it’s pretty and that’s why people go to it. The good news is there is a quieter beach just a 15 minute walk away called Tonsai (although it’s getting more popular).
5. Rent A Moped And Explore
I am not usually one to suggest this, but Thailand is best explored via moped. Renting a moped is ridiculously cheap, so great if you are doing Thailand on a budget. You can find secret beaches and cool little villages. PLEASE do be careful though. Wear a helmet, wear long clothes and drive carefully. The amount of tourists we saw in Thailand with moped related injuries was ridiculous. We also crashed a moped in Vietnam, so we know what we are talking about.
Koh Lanta is a pretty island, off the coast of Krabi. It’s a very chilled place, you can spend the day on the beach and watch the sunset whilst having a meal on the beach. Pretty special right?
Is Koh Lanta Worth Visiting?
Koh Lanta is nice, and is one of the cheaper and more accessible Thai islands. BUT, I just didn’t find it as pretty as some of the other places I’ve been recently. Having spent 2 months in Indonesia and the Philippines I liked their beaches better, I particularly loved Gili Air in Indonesia. Koh Lanta is surprisingly big, so you can’t just wander around (which is what we like doing). Saying this, you won’t have a terrible time on Koh Lanta. It’s lovely.
Things To Do On Koh Lanta:
1. Visit The Big 4 Beaches (And Others!)
Koh Lanta has 4 main beaches, called Klong Dao, Pra Ae (Long Beach), Klong Khong, and Klong Nin. There are also some lovely more secluded beaches such as Bakantiang, Nui Bay, Klong Chak, and Bamboo Beach. To explore most of the beaches on Koh Lanta, you do need to rent a moped. Again, as I mentioned before, Koh Lanta is not a small island.
2. Scuba Diving
Whilst scuba is an option on Koh Lanta, we decided against it as it was much more than in Krabi. To be noted, diving in the Krabi area is really not very cheap. As I said above, we spent £215 for the two of us for diving in Krabi, that was for 2 dives and that was the cheapest option we could find. These high prices make it hard if you are doing Thailand on a budget.
3. Meet The Monkeys At Mu Koh Lanta National Park
You can pay Mu Koh Lanta National Park a visit, and even camp there! It has twin beaches, wonderful panoramic views and lots of monkeys.
Accommodation On Koh Lanta
I only ever recommend accommodation when I’ve absolutely loved it, and on Koh Lanta we stayed at Lanta Para Hut. These are delightful and cute little huts in the forest. The huts aren’t by the beach, but that doesn’t matter. Red (the owner) is a top guy and made us feel very welcome. I do recommend spending a little more money and opting for a air conditioned hut, as we almost melted. But we still loved it there! The food is great, we ate endless red Thai curry, met a cat called Barbecue and spent our days chilling.
Hat Yai: Crossing Over To Malaysia
To cross over the Malaysian border and get to Penang, it took us two days of travelling by various vans with a stop over in Hat Yai. Hat Yai was a surprisingly nice town, with a very decent market. It had tasty food, friendly locals and a selection of trendy clothes.
We passed over the Thailand/Malaysian border safely and surprisingly smoothly (considering the stories we had heard about our bus company), and embarked on the next country in our adventure.
Try To Avoid Flying
I might be a travel blogger, but I try to avoid flying as much as possible. In fact I hate it and am endlessly searching for alternative ways to travel. A one way flight from London to New York is estimated to melt about 3.3 square metres of Arctic ice. If you have the time, I urge you to try to avoid flying as much as possible. Also, going by land is usually cheaper so best if you are doing Thailand on a budget!
Here’s how we got from Thailand to Malaysia via bus:
Ultimate Guide: Getting From Thailand to Malaysia (Updated 2019)
My Thoughts: Thailand
Thailand On A Budget: Still Doable
I did really enjoy our month of travelling in Thailand. Yes, it’s touristy but it’s still got loads to offer. Also, it is still feasible to travel in Thailand on a budget. We were very worried about it being too expensive for us, but if you avoid expensive tourist activities and eat local (which is best anyway) you can do it on a budget.
It’s All The Same, Right?
After 5 months in Asia, one of my most overriding thoughts is around how the West often sees Asia. When we think of Asia, it is often seen as a monolith of similar cultures. What has really challenged my own preconceptions is how radically different every country has been that we visited, and even how radical this difference is within a country.
In Nepal, the country has a strong mix of Indian and Tibetan influences, with different regions displaying different cultural characteristics. Vietnam and Thailand are often assumed to be culturally similar, yet I found them so different. With Thailand shaped by the role of the monarchy and Vietnam shaped by communism and the Vietnam war. Indonesia is a majority Muslim country, yet there are Christian regions. The Philippines is the other way around, and also has significant American influences. Thailand has a significant Muslim community too.
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Great descriptions Lara. I can’t wait to go myself.
The food in the picture looked amazing.
It was so tasty. Although the best food I found in Thailand was in shacks. Always ask the staff if they can make you something veggie, they always seemed to be happy to do so 🙂