So you wanna backpack Thailand on a budget? Here are some tricks to keeping things wallet friendly and as cheap as possible giving you more money to spend on activities and adventures in Thailand. The cost of living in Thailand is incredibly cheap and you can make your money go far by following my budget Thailand tips below. As I live in Bangkok, I’m a frequent backpacker and like to keep things cheap so I can travel as much as possible and spend my money on scuba diving.
1. Eat local. Thai street food is delicious and cheap. Most dishes will cost between 30-60 baht. When on the islands, the most expensive restaurants are normally on the beach front, so I’d avoid these touristy restaurants if travelling Thailand on a budget. Western dishes such as pizzas and burgers etc are generally made using imported items which means they are much more expensive. Stick to noodles, rice and soup if you want to travel Thailand cheaply.
2. 7-11 convenience store is your new best friend. Snacks, alcohol, toiletries…there’s nothing you can’t do here. (You can even pay in cash for flights here with Air Asia or Nok Air). Beer is obviously much cheaper here than at a bar and a large bottle of water costs around 13 baht.
3. Save the planet and save your money by refilling your water bottle at a water filling machines. You can fill up ONE large bottle for ONE baht. If you’re consuming around 5 bottles a day then that’s a serious saving and definite help for the environment. If you’re reluctant to refill plastic bottles then consider buying a refillable bottle instead. I bought my mum this one for Christmas as I think it is a great size, contains a filter and is available in various colours.
4. Negotiate. Most prices in Thailand are up for negotiation and this includes accommodation. If you have unlimited time then you can haggle with hostels and hotels and if you stay longer then they might give you a discount. Always haggle with patience and a smile!
5. Having said that, you can find fantastic accommodation deals on both booking.com and Agoda. I usually compare the both to find the best deal. Agoda also do ‘insider deals’ once you have an account with them which I find to be very reasonable rates.
6. Drink local. Most travellers find that their biggest expense in Thailand is spending money on alcohol. While Thailand is generally cheap for alcohol, it can add up when drinking every night. Thai beers are great – Leo and Singha (I avoid cheap Chang at all costs…here we call it a Changover!). Thai rum Sangsom is also delicious with coke and costs next to nothing! Imported beers or wines is incredible expensive so avoid these if you want to keep it cheap. Tax is exceptionally high on most imported goods.
7. Shop around different tour operators when booking snorkelling/island hopping/day excursion trips. I often find your guesthouse charges you more than the street stalls tours. Snorkelling tours in a long tail boat are often cheaper than in a speedboat. For the cheap tours, the agencies will fill up the boat as much as possible so be prepared for the boat to be busy and to make some new friends. Make sure to enquire if National Park fees are included as I have been caught out many times. For example booking a snorkelling trip for 400 baht which is a great price, only to find out the morning of the trip that National Park fees are an extra 400 baht, doubling the cost of my trip. These are fixed by the government and tour operators cannot reduce the cost of National Park fees. Read more about National Parks in Thailand here.
8. Shop in markets. I’m not sure how I can ever return to the world of H and M now that I have discovered 100 baht dresses and bikinis at Thai markets. As a general rule, I find that if the price is written on the items then haggling is not possible. My haggling tip for Thailand is to negotiate the price down for one, and then consider buying two or more to make it even cheaper again.
9. Use night buses. Not as comfortable as trains or planes but they are generally the cheapest way of travelling around Thailand. Package deals can often be booked which include ferries which I think is a good idea as they often take you all the way to the pier rather than dropping you in a town near the coast. From Bangkok you can leave from Mochit 2 Terminal (to go North), Ekkamai or Sai Tai Mai/Southern Bus Terminal (to go South). Some tourist companies leave from Khao San road and these tend to be the more comfortable buses in my experience. A friend has a travel company and you can get great discounts by booking multiple tickets and group tickets as well, as each time you add a trip it decreases in price, saving you money.
10. For travelling to Thailand’s many islands there are often multiple options concerning boats. There are slower ferries, faster ferries, long tail boats and speed boats. The cheapest options are obviously the slower transport so if you aren’t in a hurry the always take the ferry or a long tail boat.
11. Take public transport. It’s an obvious one but taxis can be at least three times more expensive than local buses and songtaews (trucks) so stick to public transport to save a lot of money. If you’re in a group then a taxi might be worth sharing however as they still are very reasonably priced when on the meter.
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