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Where to Begin
Travelling has always been something that I knew I needed to do. I think that the travel bug is something that you're born with; the desire to see the world for yourself. The problem with traveling, at least for most young people, is money. Traveling expenses can add up quickly especially if air travel and hotel stays are required. However, this should not deter a young traveler from seeking out adventure. This post is regarding my recent month-long stay in Thailand, and how we managed to make the most of our trip on a very limited budget. I will make a separate post regarding the culture of Thailand and the overall experience, for now this post refers just to money saving tactics and the best ways to get a big bang for your buck in the country of smiles.
Depending on where you are in the world, the initial airline cost will vary. We originated in Canada and managed to get a return flight for just under $800 CAD. This is considered fairly good in terms of round trip Thailand flight prices. Two tips for getting a competitive airline price are:
- Book early: We booked our flights over seven months in advance. This will lower the prices significantly and allows you more time to search for better deals.
- Look for seat sales: These will not always be available for long flights to Thailand and surrounding areas, however, check with your local airlines to see if they offer international seat sales and wait until that time to book.
We used the website FlightHub.com to book our flights and find the lowest price. When you're booking a flight be wary of the layover. Some airlines offer flights for a significant discount in exchange for 2-3 layovers in various locations. These may seem worth it in theory, however, these flights can sometimes last 24-36 hours when factoring in all of these additional stops. This is probably the only time when saving your money is not worth it. The 12 hour flight to Thailand is bad enough, spend the extra cash to escape layovers if you can.
Travelling Within Thailand
Thailand is very easy to get around in, and for the most part travel is relatively inexpensive. Flights within Thailand can go for as low as $20 CAD and are, for the most part, very hassle free. Additionally, trains and busses run frequently and ferries within the islands run 2-3 times daily. As with most countries frequented by tourists, you run the risk of inflated prices. Some stalls and online shops will charge you extra and it is sometimes difficult to determine a "fair" price.
For Airline Flights:
Cross country airline flights (ex. Chiang Mai to Phuket) Will cost you more. Expect to pay around $80 CAD for these flights. Alternatively, you can take a cross country sleeper train for around 2000 BAHT ( $40 CAD). This will take you much for time, but can save you money in the long run.
Small trips from city to city (ex. Chiang mai to Bangkok) should run you no more than $25 CAD. To get the best deal book in advance. This may be difficult if you do not have pre-determined travel dates, however, the cost of these flights is known to increase dramatically 2-5 days before the travel date.
For Busses, Ferrys and Long-Tail Rides:
Typically bus tickets can be purchased both online and in-person. Often bus tickets will be sold in tandem with ferry tickets for ease of travel. For example: We intended to travel from Railay to Koh Tao. Koh Tao is a relatively isolated island and requires a long-tail boat trip, bus ride and ferry ride to access. While it is possible to book all of these individually, it will save you quite a bit of money and hassle to book it together. Typically the most inexpensive way to book this will be from travel vendors along with main stretches of shops.
You may also book them online through services like 12goasia.com or Phuket Ferry. However, they tend to be more expensive. Make sure to shop around. Unlike plane tickets, these tend to remain the same price even if booked last minute.
Where to exercise caution is with the small travel costs. This meaning the trips from the dock to your accommodations via taxi. You may download an app known as Grab (the Thai version of Uber), however, this may end up being more than a Taxi. Some hostels offer Grab discount codes! Keep an eye out for those.
Taxi scams are common in Thailand. Make sure that you exercise caution when using Taxi's. Always ensure that:
- You know the general direction of where you need to go. ( the app called maps me lets you download complete maps and access them without data.)
- ALWAYS ensure that the taxi is by meter. They may try to give you a "set price" before you leave, or after you arrive. Always ensure that BEFORE you enter the cab you agree on a metered price and that the meter is turned on.
- If the cab driver insists that the location you wish to visit is closed and offers an alternate location, exit the cab and find another. This is a common scam in Thailand.
If you ever feel unsafe in a Thai Cab, exit and find another one. Trust your intuition. Some cabs are motorbikes intended for one passenger at a time, these tend to be less expensive and equally effective. Always ensure that these motorbikes are functioning taxis and not just locals offering a ride.
In Chiang Mai, they have Red Taxi's. These are incredible! If you visit Chiang Mai they are the absolute cheapest way to get around. They cost 30BAHT per person and will take you anywhere in Chiang Mai's old city. This will be the most efficient way to get around when visiting Chiang Mai. You won't miss them, they're red and say 30BAHT Cabs on them. They function sort of like a mini bus, you just get in the back and tell the driver where you would like to go.
Hostels are by far and away the most inexpensive places to stay for travellers in Thailand. HostelWorld is an incredible app that allows you to easily book stays. I would highly recommend it. For central areas (Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Pai) the average hostel will run you $10-25 CAD a night, maybe less depending on the season. On the islands this can get a little bit tricky as their prices are exponentially higher. If you are a solo traveller hostels will always be the cheapest option, regardless of location. However, if you are travelling as a pair or small group, hotel rooms can be cheaper when split. For example a hostel may be $20 per person, while a hotel room is $30 for a room. This can then be split by all members and may be cheaper. Make sure you look into all of your options for each location you visit.
AirBnb's can also be a valid option but tend to be more expensive as a rule. I will add a list of our favourite hostels and bnb's on my next post on staying in Thailand. Be sure to check it out!
Food in Thailand will not cost you much if you know where to look. In heavily populated areas like Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket, street vendors are everywhere and sell a variety of traditional dishes. A meal in Chiang Mai will often run you about 30-100 BAHT ($1-3 CAD). Both my friend and I are vegetarians and we did not find it difficult to find food that catered to our needs. If you have dietary restrictions, make sure to learn the Thai word for that restriction before you buy from vendors! ("Vegetarian" is pronounced mon-savee-rat). Most hostel owners/staff will be more than happy to teach you. Don't be shy.
Water is the most important thing in Thailand. You will have to buy bottled water from 7-Eleven's (they are EVERYWHERE in Thailand). You can refill the bottles at most hostels or at water cleaning stations along the streets. Big bottles will run you about 30 BAHT. Always make sure you have abundant water with you. Dehydration is not fun.
On the islands everything is more expensive. Unfortunately, that includes food. You will also have a more difficult time finding traditional Thai food on the islands. Instead, westernized option will be available such as pizza, McDonalds, waffles and many others. Food on the islands will cost you around 300-400 BAHT. Yes, its insanely overpriced and No, there isn't really a way to avoid it. If you can find street vendors on the islands, these will be your cheapest option. Places like Phi Phi and Railay will not have any so be sure to budget for this.
Always be wary of blended drinks, salads and drinks with ice cubes. The water supply in Thailand is not always known to be clean and there is no guarantee that ice cubes or blended ice are made with bottled water. It is safer to ask for no ice. Salads are risky, as lettuce and tomatoes can be contaminated by the water they are grown or soaked in. Be safe and skip the salads while visiting.
Just for Fun
If you've gone all the way to Thailand, there's no way you can't try at least some of the amazing activities they have to offer. Even on a budget, you can have a ton of fun. I recommend a least one forest trek, an ethical elephant experience, diving and snorkelling just to name a few.
When traveling Thailand it is easy to get sucked into unethical experiences. Please ensure you are informed before you support certain things. I will go more in depth in my next post regarding these but in short:
- Tiger Temples and tiger experiences are NEVER ethical. The animals are typically drugged and abused in order for them to appear docile for visitors. They are not "rescued". Please do not support them in any capacity.
- Elephants are some of the most exploited animals in the world. There are few "sanctuaries" that actually offer an ethical home to elephants. Riding elephants is never ethical. It harms the elephant. I would recommend Happy Elephant Home in Chiang Mai.
- Ensure that snorkelling and diving trips are booked through companies that do NOT support shark finning or drift net fishing. These practices harm the ecosystem and do irreparable damage to the beautiful reefs. Please be mindful.
Now that all of the heavy stuff is out of the way, lets get into the most rewarding experiences in Thailand.
The forests and natural scenery in Thailand are incredible and cannot be overlooked as a highlight of your trip. The best part: most hikes are completely free! In Chiang Mai we visited Doi Inthanon and the Sticky Waterfall, both of which did require that we hire a private taxi to take us there.
These can be expensive, but there is a way around it. Most Hostels will allow you to ask other hostel guests to come with you! This is a great way to meet people as well as cut costs. For example: the taxi to Doi Inthanon was around 2300BAHT. A hefty price for just the two of us. We recruited 6 other visitors to come with us making the whole day trip around 300BAHT per person. Not only that but we made some awesome friends along the way.
If you visit the islands, you have to snorkel. You can buy your own snorkels and find locations on your own, or you can go on a snorkelling tour. The best location to do so in my opinion is Koh Tao. We went on a full day snorkelling trip which ended up costing us just under 600BAHT. The trip took us to every significant snorkelling location in Koh Tao and even provided us a lunch. This was well worth the money in my opinion, and was one of the highlights of our trip. We went with Oxygen Snorkelling Tours Koh Tao. As day trips go, it was definitely inexpensive and worth it. We even saw turtles!
Diving is a must if you visit Koh Tao. This will likely be the most expensive thing you do in Thailand. It is the cheapest place in the world to get your PADI if you have time, but if not they do offer a "try dive" that allows you to do two dives without a certification. We did our try dive with Dive Blue Koh Tao and wow. It was absolutely incredible. It ended up being around 3000BAHT ( $150 CAD). This is the most expensive thing that we did in Thailand, however, if you're ever going to try diving this is the place to do it. Koh Tao has some of the most incredible dive sites in the world.
Elephant experiences are popular in Thailand , and unfortunately the means that they are often unethical. With proper research, it is possible to find one that does not exploit the animals. They truly are incredible, and worth the time to see. The following articles can offer more information on locating an ethical sanctuary:
We visited Happy Elephant Home in Chiang Mai and were very pleased with our guide and experience. I would highly recommend them. They ran a full day experience for 2500BAHT. Again, well worth it.
There are plenty of other amazing experiences that Thailand can offer, most will cost little to nothing. In bigger cities like Chiang Mai and Bangkok there are markets to visit, temples that are open to the public and amazing food to try. The islands offer night life and exceptional views. All of these things can be enjoyed at a very low cost.
Below I have averaged what we (approximately) spent on each section, to offer an idea of how much one month cost us. Please note that we did splurge on activities such as diving! All things considered the entire month cost us around $3,000CAD. Definitely a manageable amount for a month in Asia.
Budgeting for the Student Travel: Final Breakdown
- Flights- $1000
- Ferry's, Busses: $300
- Taxi's: $200
- Total: $1,500
- Food: $200
- Water: $50
- Total: $250
- Hostel Stays ( 30 Nights): $750
- (average cost approximated at $25 a night)
- Total: $750
Activities and Other: $500
- Total Costs: $3,000
Keep an eye out for my second post regarding the highlights of our trip and some things to look out for! It will be up soon.