I've been to Thailand a couple of times now, but before I first went out there, I had no idea how much cash to take with me or how much I would be spending out there.
I found Thailand to be one of my better value for money experiences. Sure, its not cheap to get there, however if you book flights in advance, you can get a good deal, especially with Russian or Chinese airlines. While you are out there, you really do get bang for your buck. You can do a whole range of activities, for a fraction of the cost of doing them in European cities.
I won't lie, I did have to save some money before I went, no matter how cheap a place is, spending a significant amount of time away from home will always eat into savings. Whats strange is, the longer you stay, the cost per day actually falls, this is because you begin to realise the cheapest places to eat and the most cost effective ways of travelling or finding shelter for the night.
How expensive is Thailand? Here's my take...
The biggest cost of a trip to Thailand is the cost of getting there and back. Depending on when you book, prices can fluctuate from about £400-£700, although this also depends on the airline you fly with.
Flights to Bangkok go from some of the major airports airports in the UK, I flew from Birmingham on my first trip and London during the second, both with stops in the Gulf States. You can of course fly through most European countries with European airlines, Turkey via Turkish Airlines, Russia, China, Malaysia and Singapore. I found stopping in the Gulf States were good for a number of reasons.
Firstly, airlines such as Qatar, Emirates and Etihad have a good reputation and I'll be honest, other than a couple of issues with Emirates, I have to agree, once you are on the plane the experience is significantly better than other airlines, Qatar Airlines in particular was an exceptional flight. The second reason for stopping in the Gulf area is that it is almost in the middle of the UK and Thailand and therefore a 14 hour journey can be broken down into two 7 hour journeys which is significantly more manageable. This is much better than a short flight to Paris, followed by a 12/13 hour journey. Finally, depending on your layover, its possible to stop over and visit cities such as Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi.
Once you are in Thailand, travel is relatively cheap. I managed to use a number of forms of transport, from tuk tuks, to taxis, buses, planes, boats and even two overnight trains and it was all fairly priced.
One thing I have found is that plane rides can be relatively expensive when flying in smaller locations around the world. For instance a flight from Northern Chile to Santiago in the centre of the country cost almost £250. This is due to a number of reasons, one of which is a lack of competition. However, the flights within Thailand and also to neighbouring countries are reasonably priced and fairly regular. A flight to Sukhothai from Bangkok is under £30.
The overnight train is an easy way to travel to both the north and south of the country. I caught an overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and another one from Bangkok to Surat Thani. Depending on how good your seats are, you can travel for under £10.
Tuk Tuks and taxis are both fairly cheap, even in Bangkok and a quick and convenient method of travel. Its important to carry smaller denominations of Bahts as drivers do not always have change.
As with travel, you can make this as cheap or as expensive as you like. Thailand is heavily geared toward the tourism industry and therefore you will find all the usual large hotel chains, especially in the larger cities. In some of the islands in the south you will find resorts and luxury hotels geared towards singles, families and couples.
I tend to use comparison sites and try to find a deal of the day which is quite helpful, but 5* hotels can be under £100 a night which isn't too bad especially for capital cities. However there is always another way of travelling and, especially when you aren't travelling with families is the preferable method for me and that is to stay in hostels.
Not only do you get to meet new people from across the world but you can stay for less than £10 a night, and in many cases it can be as cheap as a couple of Pounds a night.
During my trip to the north of the country I stayed in a village with a family and it was one of my most enjoyable experiences. I slept in a small shed that was just small enough to have a mattress which was on the floor. Surrounding the mattress was a large mosquito net that had quite a few holes in it. It was still one of the most interesting nights sleep I have ever had. I heard noises of insects and animals I hadn't heard before and it literally felt like I was in the middle of the jungle. If you get a chance to stay in a village, its definitely worth doing.
I am not a foodie, I don't understand what a foodie is to be honest. I eat for nourishment and nothing more, I don't really care for fancy dishes or taste. That being said, some of the best food I have ever eaten was in Thailand and I know this is a sentiment shared by others. Whats more, its also cheap. Food from street vendors often costs less than £1 and even at sit down restaurants you can get a full meal for less than a fiver quite easily.
I attended a cooking class and it was interesting to see how some of their most famous dishes are made from scratch using fresh ingredients. You can book onto a cooking class in pretty much any large city in the country and its well worth paying the small fee (£10/£15) to join a class for half a day. Not only do you get to cook the food but eat everything you have made too.
Some of my favourite dishes were made by road side vendors and by far my most favourite dish was Pad Thai. I went through a few weeks where thats all I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even back home in England, I spent a few weeks looking for a Pad Thai that was closest to the authentic version.
I also had one of my most interesting experiences when I tasted a scorpion for the first time. It doesnt taste like chicken. You know what it tastes like? Scorpion!
Ko Pha Ngan is the home of the world famous Full Moon Party, but there is so much more to Thailand. Although some of the best nightlife is found in the south of the country, Bangkok and Chiang Mai are also two cities with a good energy and a vibrant nightlife.
Bangkok has a number of centres, although Khaosan Road is by far the most famous. Bars spilling out onto the street and street vendors open all night, you can listen to pretty much any type of music depending on the bar you got to.
Ko Tao was personal favourite of mine. The island is relatively small but does a large bar crawl most weekends. The whole island seems to be geared toward two activities; diving in the day and partying at night.
I had perhaps my best night out in Koh Samui, the largest of the islands. I had a friend who lived there and she introduced me to her friends and we ended up going to quite a few bars, ending up at a medium sized open roof club. There was a good atmosphere at night and everyone just wanted to have fun, with activities taking place along all the streets and everyone in good spirits.
Some of the more touristy bars are more expensive, and parts of Bangkok are as expensive as upmarket places in London, the Skybar being one example, however if you choose your bars carefully, a night out in Thailand is about the same as a student night out in England. Everything is cheap, and fishbowls are even better value for money.
Activities & Tours
You can explore Thailand alone, or you can join a tour group. For first time travellers, I'd recommend joining a group, its what I did on my first visit and I enjoyed every moment. I got to meet some amazing people from all over the world.
The tour group takes care of things like accommodation and travel, although you have to pay extra for food and drink. The other negative is sometimes you feel a bit constrained, not having the freedom to follow up on promising locations or activities. There are a few towns where I wish I could have spent an extra day or two but I had to move onto the next location.
The other important distinction to make is whether to book your tour before you fly out or book one while you are out there. I did mine in advance, however, by booking in Thailand it would have been considerably cheaper, although you don't always know what you are getting,
One thing I would recommend is to get as many Thai massages as you can. In the UK an hour massage can cost anywhere up to £50, however in Thailand they are around £5/6, almost a tenth of the price. Cycling tours are another activity I would highly recommend. I took tours in both Lampang and Chiang Mai and I thought it was a great of seeing the city and surrounding areas, as well as it being great value for money.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.