Ahh, Thailand. I KNEW I would love it. I knew the Thai islands would be some of the most beautiful places I’d see on my 2013 Asia trip – and in my LIFE. And they absolutely lived up to their hype.
But you didn’t see me raving about Thailand the way I did with Koh Rong, and I didn’t declare it my favorite country of the trip (Vietnam took that honor, with Laos a very close second place). There’s a lot to be said for the element of surprise: going to a new place not knowing what to expect and then having your socks rocked off is one of the most satisfying travel experiences you can have. Life in Thailand is relatively easy – maybe that’s why it might not have been my favorite. I like a challenge – I like a place that’s a little rough around the edges and harder to crack.
Let’s be clear, though: Thailand is awesome. It is the ideal introduction to Southeast Asia: very backpacker-friendly, easy to get around, cheap, beautiful, diverse, and rich with culture. I spent 6.5 weeks here, making it the country I spent the most time in while in Asia. I did just about everything I wanted to do, from island hopping to trekking to cooking to spending time with the hilltribes.
It was also nice being able to take my time traveling in Thailand: I never had a plane to catch or a border to cross by a certain date (with the exception of my return flight at the end of June, but after 5 months on the road I definitely didn’t feel like I ran out of time there). This luxury of time allowed me to change my plans when I met someone in the islands, linger in Bangkok to deal with my camera blunders, and visit a clinic in Chiang Mai to get my ringworm taken care of. Slow travel is definitely my preferred way of seeing the world – Thailand solidified that for me.
One thing I love about Thailand is that you can design a completely different trip each time you visit. Say you visited Chiang Mai and Phuket/Ko Phi Phi on your first Thailand trip; why not try Pai and Ko Phangan/Ko Samui on the next one? With hundreds of islands and no shortage of inland adventures, Thailand is the kind of place you can come back to year after year. Next time I’m there, I’ve already decided I’m going to ride an elephant and visit Koh Chang!
My Thailand Adventures
- Spent a week beach hopping, playing with cats, and seeing the best of Koh Lanta
- Finally got my white sand beach, bright blue water, and hammock time on Koh Kradan
- My camera randomly died in Ko Phi Phi and took WEEKS to get fixed
- Met Hot Arms on the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard ;)
- Motorbiked up the coast of Phuket and got hit by a thunderstorm and Songkran celebrants
- Kayaked, climbed, and ‘honeymooned’ at Railay
- Lived the 5-star life for one night in Bangkok and had my first infinity pool experience
- Went to the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok not once, not twice, but 3 TIMES
- Went temple hopping in Bangkok and toured the Grand Palace
- Found the best coffee in Bangkok – nay, in Thailand! – at Size S Cafe
- Hung out with some locals and did some other things in Chiang Mai
- Took a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai
- Went on an eco-trek in Northern Thailand
- Made a quick stop in Chiang Rai to visit the crazy White Temple
- Hung out in Pai and did a whole lot of nothing
Budgeting for Thailand
Because I had 2 separate stints in Thailand, in 2 very different regions, it makes sense to break up expenditure into 2 parts.
Northern Thailand is far more affordable than Southern Thailand, particularly for solo travelers. It is cheaper and easier to get there and get around in the region, and accommodation is more affordable.
Southern Thailand (Thai Islands and Bangkok)
Stint #1 in Thailand spanned 27 days: about 3 weeks in the islands and 1 week in Bangkok.
Overall, I was super frugal throughout my 5 months in Asia. But, erm… let’s just call my stint in the Thai islands a splurge. I found myself in a Catch-22 when it came to spending money here: on the one hand, I was constantly having to pay for pricey bungalows myself while traveling alone which quickly added up as I hopped from island to island; on the other hand, once I teamed up with Hot Arms and was able to split accommodation costs, we ended up spending more than I normally would have if I were by myself. I also ended up having to pay for a flight back to Bangkok with him when I had originally planned on taking the (much cheaper) train back. Further proof of my theory that even when sharing the costs, you spend more when you’re traveling with others.
But on the other other hand, Hot Arms treated me to a few things during our 10 days together in Thailand: date night dinners, taxi fares, our 5 star hotel stay on our last night in Bangkok. I’d like to think it all balances out somehow, but overall it’s hard to accurately talk budgeting about this portion of my trip with so many variables at play.
I spent about $1350 in 4 weeks, which equates to about $50/day in Southern Thailand. Considering that I lived on the beach for a good portion of this time, took several boat trips and a flight, and went rock climbing and on an overnight trip, this was money very well spent in my mind and I’m not sorry about it.
Stint #2 in Thailand lasted 19 days: the bulk of it was spent in Chiang Mai, with a few days in Pai and Bangkok as well.
I kicked serious ass on the frugality scale my second time around in Thailand. I spent about $615 total in just under 3 weeks of travel, averaging $32/day in Northern Thailand. Excluding the pricey overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and back, and the bus from Chiang Mai to the Lao border and back, I averaged $28/day.
As usual, food was my #1 expense; though I spent nearly as much on activities (cooking class, trekking). Accommodation was particularly cheap (e.g. $5 for a bungalow in Pai, $8 for a hostel in Chiang Mai). If you were to base yourself in Northern Thailand for a longer stretch of time and not spend money on long distance transportation or extra activities, you could easily get by on less than $25/day.
PS – If you’re heading to Thailand, get yourself a prepaid travel SIM card!