A Canadian budget for Thailand

The overwhelming obstacle in most people’s travel dreams seem to come from funds, or lack thereof. Travel can seem expensive. Having to spend money on flights, accommodation, food, transportation and everything in between. It surely does add up. But it seems that people have built this, cost of travel, into a boogie monster(cue dance) that it is not.

This piece will give you the basics (and some gems) about traveling around in Thailand.

If you’ve done even a small amount of research of how much it costs to visit Thailand (and other places in South East Asia), you may have heard/seen that you can get away with as little as $25/day. While this is not impossible at all, I’m going to outline a very realistic budget that I used to spend about a month in Thailand for around $1,000. I’m going to include your basic needs as well as some extracurricular activities that increase your costs, but are almost necessary if you’re going to travel (why not have a day or two or 6 for splurging?!). So here we go:

As far as the eyes can see.
As far as the eyes can see.

Before you visit/Upon Arrival

There isn’t much you need to be concerned about when getting into Thailand. Your Canadian passport will take care of it. You show up, you get stamped and you’re eligible to stay for 30 days without a tourist visa.

My first order of business after I landed was to convert a few hundred bucks to bahts. Then I proceeded to go buy a sim card for $10 or around 300 baht that gave me 6GB of data and some calling minutes. This ensured that I stay connected during taxi rides and updating anyone I needed to during my time in Thailand and kept up to date with social media. Much better than a Rogers/Bell/Telus/Other non-sense providers eh?

You want to be very sure that you sit with a registered and legit taxi driver/company during your first ride. The worst would be to get ripped off (as I did) on your first ride in the country. I ended up paying almost twice as much from the airport to my hostel because I landed in the country at 12 30am and didn’t have it in me (nor had my feet settled under me) to insist that the cab driver put the meter on. He told me that the meter would be more expensive and I believed him. He lied. These are the sort of experiences that you will look back on and realize how you’ve grown as a traveler. But lets save you the $7-8 and get you in a proper taxi for now.

As long as you’ve had your travel meds (Dukorol, Typhoid shot, Hep shots, Malaria pills) and you have travel insurance, you are free to do as you wish while traveling these parts. You can eat whatever food you see (okay, use some judgement here), you can adventure to your hearts content (don’t mess yourself up stuntin’ on scooters), jump off as many waterfalls and enjoy Thailand to its very core!

Bangkok

You’re going to find everything in Bangkok a few dollars more expensive than elsewhere and shopping even more so. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the city – with all its humidity and traffic and population and and and and. But there were still plenty of good times to have. Plenty!

Accommodation

I only recommend hostels that I have stayed in and have thoroughly enjoyed. All prices are from Oct-Nov of 2013 (I wouldn’t expect them to have changed much).

I stayed at a place called Born Free Hostel. The owner is this chilled out dude from New Zealand (if I remember correctly). Very friendly. They have a couple black persian cats that they had just gotten one of the nights while I was there. The place has lukewarm showers, is safe, has a nice area to hang out and talk (I made some long lasting friends in my first couple nights here), and is close to just about everything you need when you first arrive in Bangkok. There’s a massage parlour about 3 steps from the door, 7-11 (like that’s an issue in Thailand), money exchange, places to eat, areas to walk around, shop, etc. It’s about a 200 baht ride from the airport. It’s about a 10min walk to Khao San road. They have lockers which is always a good sign.

Cost -$5 for a regular room. $6 for an AC room.

Food/Drinks

Thailand is the crown jewel of South East Asia and is certainly head and shoulders above its neighbours when it comes to cuisine. You can go $1 padthais (so much. they give you so much). You can be ridiculous and have McDonalds for a few bucks. You can do nicer restaurants for around $10. But I would not sway from the street food. It is absolute class, its cheap and you’ll see exactly what you’re getting. Make sure you’ve had your Dukorol before leaving Canada and you won’t have a single thing to worry about. I never got sick eating street food in Bangkok. And I ate a lot. You will never have to worry about options.

Your drinks are going to cost you from anywhere between $1-$3. That includes any mixture of smoothie you can think of. Shop around for them, there will be plenty so you never have to give in to a price.

Entertainment

I only stayed in Bangkok a total of 3 nights in all of my time in Thailand. I didn’t do much in terms of activities that involved getting into places e.i. the palace, watch muay thai fights, visit the big buddhas. To be honest, the only thing I’d do if I went back would be to watch a muay thai fight or take some lessons. They are for everyone and I have not heard of a bad experience from doing these things. Everything else is severely underwhelming because of the amount of people, the heat and just the headache of tuktuk drivers trying to con you. If you want the party scene, Khao San road will give it to you. If you want more peace and serenity, stay away from Khao San and stay in areas around the river that are about half an hour at least from Khao San.

An excursion (to a fight or other shows) in Bangkok can set you back between 200 baht – 500 baht ($8-$20). The Tiger Temple that used to draw people was now been closed. It was a bad place. Horrible really.

What you should know

It can be fun to negotiate and bargain for prices in Thailand. But because of the amount of tourists and foreigners in Bangkok, shopkeepers are much less willing to budge because there will always be another tourist that will pay the $10 for a pair of flip flops that you could have gotten for $1. Literally. But if you can bargain here, you can bargain anywhere. So practice! Don’t be afraid to bargain for anything/everything. Leave your farang mentality back home! Have fun with it.

Watch out for scamming taxi and tuktuk drivers. If you get into a taxi, ALWAYS ALWAYS ask for the meter. Or you will get ripped off. Period. If the taxi driver is not willing, then get out and hail a metered cab. At the airport, there will be registered taxis that are required to use the meter. Keep your eye on the meter and make sure its not increasing at a suspicious rate. Also, when you get into a tuktuk, say no to every stop they want to make. If they tell you that there is a jewelry store or a shopping place they know of. Say no. They are taking you to a place that their friend/family/people they know operate, which will probably be more expensive. It’s a rip off. Say no. Don’t be afraid to get out of the tuktuk and pay for the ride on the spot. It will save you a LOT of time and money. And again, do not be afraid to bargain BEFORE you get into the tuktuk.

Chiang Mai

I left my heart in Chiang Mai. The culture, the atmosphere, the people, the memories. This was by far my favourite place in Thailand.

Anything you can get in Bangkok, you can get here at a cheaper price and with much less hassle. Massages, shopping (its more famed here than it is anywhere else in Thailand) at the night market. The streets get closed down and the people of the city set up their stalls to give you everything from food to clothes to souvenirs, massages (see how I keep mentioning those) to shows. Everything.

The party scene here is a lot more relaxed and a lot less hectic. With still plenty of places and rooftop patios (not even patios, its like sitting around on the floor with cushions. Ugh. It’s great!).

The gates to the old city.
The gates to the old city.

Accommodation

I spent about a week and a half in Chiang Mai collectively and I only stayed in one hostel. Bunchun. It’s run by two gay guys from: Vee, who is from San Fran and Alex. They are the best. They are funny, charismatic, they know the city, they will take you on excursions, they will give you tips and advice. Although, if you want to book trips for cheaper to go see elephants, trekking and anything of the sort, do it externally because Bunchun sells them for a higher price since they collect a portion of the sale. But the money goes to Vee and company, so I didn’t mind (its like maybe $10 more) because the stay there was great. The place has hot showers, clean washrooms, great social atmosphere, fun outings and is close to everything you need/want in Chiang Mai. The place is super artsy and has a hipster vibe. Lockers are available.

Cost – about $5 for regular room and $6 for AC room

Food/Drinks/Entertainment

It matches Bangkok in terms of variety but it was the entertainment that I enjoyed here, more than anywhere else. You can book trips for jungle trekking, elephants at the sanctuary, climb mountains, go to the gun range, strawberry picking, cabaret shows. Its all encompassing. I have nothing but good things to say about Chiang Mai. Like in Bangkok, I met some people that I am still friends with.

Outings and excursions will cost you anywhere between $55 – $70 (1,500 – 1,920 baht). This is for things like trekking packages, elephant conservation visits, climbing mountains, etc. Usually this cost will cover your lunches and dinners that will be provided in the package. Extra water is almost always never covered. Make sure you have a safe place to store your belongings, such as your passport (never carry that around with you when you’re on your adventures).

Tips

-Try the Khao Soi (Chiang Mai noodles) – much of the food here is halal

-Go to the women’s prison for a massage (forreal)

-Get a pedal bike to get around the city and shop at the little markets

-Do not miss the night bazaar

-Karaoke bars are brothels

They just want food and love and food!
They just want food and love and food!

Pai

I had heard a LOT about Pai and how its everyone’s favourite city. And although I enjoyed my time there, I don’t think its what it used to be. Pai is considerably smaller than Chiang Mai and Bangkok, but since it went mainstream, everyone wants to be there. So it’s not the secluded and peaceful place it once must have been. The views in Pai however, are unmatched. It’s surrounded by mountains, has a river running through, the city and the surrounding areas are filled with grasslands. The hot springs and waterfalls in Pai are major attractions and make for great adventures to get to.

Everywhere you go, it's Pai.
Everywhere you go, it’s Pai.

All prices for accommodation, food and drinks are comparable to the other cities.

Spicypai Backpackers is a popular destination and you’ll want to book it in advance because it fills up fast. The social life here is probably the best in Pai. Otherwise, you can shop around for places since Pai is not that big at all, a lot of Hostels are in very close proximity and offer very similar rates as well as views with comparable amenities.

The major difference in Pai is that to get around, you should rent a scooter. It cost around 200 baht/day for a 125cc. Pai is beautiful and the surrounding areas are much more open than in the other cities. You’ll want to have a scooter so you can explore places on your own time and stop wherever you’d like to, when you’d like to. Get the insurance for $1/day. Driving these things can be very easy and you should be able to get accustomed to it within 15min. Fill up the tank every so often and it will last you a couple hours.

If you are coming to Pai from Chiang Mai, I would recommend renting a scooter and driving it up instead of getting packed in a little minibus with 8 other people, some of who may throw up along the way because the road is very winded and will take you on heights. It will cost you up to 220 baht each way. But if you do scooter it up (and especially if you have a backpack bigger than 40L) then you may want to get something stronger than 125cc. It will be a solid investment if you’re budget can handle it.. Stopping on the way for food, to fill up gas, for scenery, it can take you up to 7 hours.

Let's do this, Sasha!
Let’s do this, Sasha!

So a bike rental with insurance and gas can set you back just under 2000 baht (200 baht x 7 days for rental, 350 baht for gas for the week, 210 baht for insurance if not included).  That’s about $75.

Ultimately, renting a scooter is a worthwhile experience and allows you the freedom of your own schedule, if you leave early in the morning. Be careful about the weather, potholes, animal crossings and watch your gas meter carefully. Try to fill up whenever you’re half empty. You will find stations along the way but don’t be afraid to ask locals if you run dangerously low (they might charge you a premium but it’s worth it) in a stretch where there are no other options. Remember, driving in Thailand is a completely different game, so you’ll need to get used to how everyone else drives. And for the love of god, watch out for the potholes!

Islands

Now, to be honest, my time in Thailand wasn’t spent on all that many islands. I was on Railey beach, Koh Phi Phi, Tonsai beach and that was really it. I’m not much of a beach bum, which is not to say that I didn’t absolutely adore my time on the islands ($3 smoothie, getting a massage, watching the sunset on the beach? Ugh. That life). It’s very easy to get to Tonsai and Railey beach from Krabi (southern Thailand). It costs $1 to water taxi it.

Serene.
Serene.

Cost Summary

If we look at the essentials:

Accommodation – $8 x 30 days = $240

Food/Drinks – $12 x 30 days = $360

Shopping – $60

Transportation – $80 (various)

Entertainment/trips – $250

You’re looking at a total of $990. Throw in at least 10 massages/spa days (honestly, if you don’t then stay at home) at the high end price of $8/hour. That’s right. No zeroes missing there. That comes out to just over $35/day. This doesn’t include exchange costs but I have inflated the accommodation a couple of bucks as well as the food. This also won’t include the party nights where you end up blowing $20 on just drinks (which can cost as low as $1 each).  But don’t shy away from spending on experiences that will be valued more than any amount of dollar. You’re out there to have the time of your life, literally. Be a budget traveler but don’t rip yourself off from experiencing a trip that you will never forget!

What are you waiting for?! Get out there!
What are you waiting for?! Get out there!
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