Knowing how to travel Thailand cheap is just a matter of making good decisions.
There is such a large price range when it comes to everything available in Thailand. You can pay $600 for a Gucci dress in Siam Paragon or enjoy a month of backpacking in Thailand for about the same. This range makes it possible to travel through the country on very little money, especially if you are careful and know a few tricks for backpacking in Thailand.
Below are some ways to get as much value as you can out of every last baht.
Cheap Food in Thailand
It’s very easy to save money on cheap food in Thailand, but the number one rule is: do not eat Western food! Western food can easily be three times the price of Thai food, and more often than not, is very disappointing.
Did you really come to Thailand to eat banana pancakes and hamburgers?
Eat as often as you can at the small, family-run, Thai restaurants or at street carts. In case the restaurant has no menu or one written in Thai, learn some basic Thai phrases for food.
Some cheap meals other than pad thai:
- khao pad (fried rice)
- som tam (papaya salad)
- pad krah pow (meat fried with basil)
- pad see ew (noodles, meat and vegetables in soy sauce)
And remember to specify what meat you like: gai (chicken / usually the default), moo (pork), tow hoo (tofu) or mai sai neung sat (no meat). You can also say gen jay for eating vegetarian.
Food on the islands can be particularly expensive. Try to eat in restaurants away from the beach and more into the towns. To keep water prices down and reduce plastic, buy larger containers and fill up smaller bottles. Find a water refill machine; these are usually located at convenience stores and along main roads. In Bangkok, water is only one baht per litre!
Thailand Budget Accommodation
To travel Thailand cheap, always do the legwork yourself. At most bus, train and boat stops, there will be people trying to solicit for a particular guest house. These guest houses are generally not the best available; they may be far from the beach or town and expensive. The touts may receive a commission.
A good way to go about finding a room is to consult other travelers. Ask people who look nice (they’ll end up your neighbors!) where they are staying and whether or not they like it. Find an area that sounds like what you want (for example, cheap and near the party scene or quiet and secluded). You’re better off trusting the opinion of real travelers you met yourself than online reviews. Many booking sites are plagued with fake reviews!
Bangkok hotel booking is a no-brainer: just choose a place near the Khao San Road area in Banglamphu where you can find the cheapest accommodation. Soi Rambuttri, just one block from Khao San Road, is a slightly quieter option than the famous party street. The Samsen Road area across the canal is even quieter and only a 10-minute walk from Khao San Road.
Try to look at a handful of guesthouses until you find something you like in your price range. Always ask if there are cheaper rooms available; the more expensive rooms will usually be offered first. Make sure to see the room first to check that it’s clean and safe. Sometimes the price can be negotiated, especially if you are planning on staying for a few days and are willing to pay up front.
To travel Thailand for cheap, don’t opt for rooms with air conditioning and hot water. Learn to rough it. There is nothing wrong with flushing your toilet with a bucket! Sleeping under a mosquito net in a wooden bungalow with the sounds of noisy geckos and the ocean right outside can be a great experience.
Also, try to share rooms wherever possible, which can cut costs in half. Hostel dorms, once not much of an option in Thailand, have become popular. Just know that if you’re traveling with someone, you can usually get a private room for the same price as paying for two bunks in a dormitory.
Cheap Transportation in Thailand
For travel within Bangkok, use river taxis and the BTS and MRT train systems whenever possible. Always make sure that taxi drivers turn on the meter. In heavily touristed areas, they will try to take you for a flat rate. This rate will always be higher than the meter price. If you cannot find a driver who will use the meter, simply walk a block or two to another area with less people. The taxi “mafia” in Bangkok is quite tough.
Though tuk-tuks can be a thrill for the first couple trips, they surprisingly are not the cheapest options. Tuk-tuk drivers almost always charge more than a taxi meter will. You’ll soon find that air-conditioned transport is a lot nicer than breathing in exhaust.
Take night buses and trains for long-distance travel, which will save on a night’s accommodation.
Do not take VIP or first-class buses or trains. A first class sleeper ticket to Chiang Mai costs 1,353 baht but a second class sleeper with fan costs 531 baht. Try to buy tickets directly from the train or bus stations, instead of through travel agents who will certainly take a cut.
Travel around the islands can get expensive. Always try to negotiate songthaew (covered pickup trucks) prices and check maps to see how far the beach really is. On Koh Samet, the beach is only a 15-minute walk from the pier, while a songthaew can cost 60 baht.
When trying to travel in Thailand on a tight budget, it is important to occasionally spend money on non-essentials like fun activities. But pick activities wisely, and shop around for the best prices. If you do a lot of scuba diving, consider taking a course, which will make each dive much cheaper. Also, ask for discounts, especially if you are with a group of people. Many dive shops offer discounted accommodation if you sign up for a course.
Don’t purchase tours if possible. Many travel agents will sell tours for waterfalls, parks, boat trips and other activities. While tours can make things easier, usually you can arrange to see a sight yourself and for much cheaper. Team up with someone at the guesthouse and make your own way!
For example, at Khao Yai National Park, there are park tours available for around 1,000 baht per person. But it’s also possible to rent scooters and drive. You can also hire a car and driver then split the cost with other travelers.
By far, the biggest money waste is partying. Paying 100 baht for a beer at a bar may seem cheap compared to home. But after spending 40 baht on dinner and 150 baht on a shared room, a few beers can relatively become very expensive. Yes, you should socialize, but spending your entire budget on drink can happen way too easily!
Buy drinks from 7-Eleven at a third of the cost. Or share a cheap bottle, such as whiskey, with friends at the bar. Many places in Bangkok have happy hours or other discounts.
Meet the Author:
Lindsay comes from Canada and has endured intense humidity, chaotic traffic, noisy children, and the spiciest food she’s ever eaten for the opportunity to live and work as an English teacher in Thailand for a year. The weekends away at the beach made it all worth it! She really knows how to travel Thailand for cheap.