I spent two months traveling in Thailand, making it my longest-traveled country on my Southeast Asian itinerary. During my three weeks in Laos and month in Cambodia, I found it possible to travel on an average of just USD$30 per day. Once I got to Thailand, however, keeping costs low became difficult. For some reason, I started spending Baht like it was monopoly money, especially in the islands.
I had heard previously, and can now confirm, that the north of Thailand is easy on a tight budget. As one moves south, costs for accommodation start to double, triple, and even quadruple. Pricey accommodation accounted for my biggest expenditure, and drinks came in at a close second.
However, when I considered my overall expenditure, I realized that the costs were still very reasonable, especially considering that I was in Thailand during high season, including Christmas and New Years.
My average daily budget for Thailand ended up at $45/day. Here is the breakdown:
Back in Laos, I distinctly remember stressing about spending $6.25 per day on a private bungalow in 4000 Islands. For the same accommodation in Bottle Beach on Koh Phangan, I was paying double. The most I paid for a room in Thailand was $20, completely blowing my budget, considering I often found $2 accommodation in Cambodia.
That said, I was able to find decent and cheap dorms in Chiang Mai and Pai in northern Thailand for a mere $3-$4 nightly.
Click here for some great high-value, budget hotel options in Thailand and check out my post on my favorite hostels in Thailand for great budget options.
Busses and trains were completely reasonable in price, especially the non-VIP options, ranging from $3 to $9 for a bus journey.
My main transport issue was tuk-tuks and cabs. As a solo traveler, I often had to foot the entire bill. I found that in Laos and Cambodia, tuk-tuks would haggle. In Thailand, they preferred to wait until another tourist came along who would pay the asking price. Given that they’re trying to run a business themselves, I can’t fault them for this. However, it made it hard as a solo traveler to save my money.
Tip: when possible, take motorbike taxis as they are the cheapest option. Always at least try to haggle, and don’t take a taxi that isn’t in a queue. If someone walks up to you, s/he is probably going to quote an outlandish rate.
When possible (which may only be in Bangkok) take taxis who agree to run their meters.
The food in Thailand is fantastic and very cheap. One can easily eat at a night market, sampling several different eats, for just a few dollars. Generally, prices are not negotiable and the asking price should be paid. Prices run from around USD$1 for a dish like vegetarian pad thai, to $3 for a soup with beverage and rice, or $6 for fresh fish.
Where Thailand gets expensive is alcoholic beverages. In Laos and Cambodia, beer runs about USD$1. In Thailand, however, $3 and higher per drink is quite typical. Cutting alcohol from your budget in Thailand could literally save hundreds.
Cheap vs. Expensive Places in Thailand
Also consider time of year. High season (December through March) means double the prices for accommodation in most places in Southeast Asia. Thailand is no different.
SIM cards are very cheap in Thailand. I paid only $20 (with DTAC – a Thai carrier) for 3 gigs of 3G over the span of one month. What’s more, service was great.
Massages are also cheap, generally costing around $6 for a full hour.
In general, Thailand can be very cheap to visit, especially during low season and in the north of the country. Even in the south, considering the beautiful beaches and truly delicious eats, Thailand is still a great budget destination.