Thailand is a magical country. The kind of place where you’ll one day fulfill a lifelong dream of being cuddled by a newborn elephant, and the next watch a prostitute let fly a live dove from her pussy – in the most majestic way possible, of course. I went the month after graduating college with my two roommates. We were the kind of guys that drank too much, duct-taped a freshman to a lightpost, and threw a TV down the stairs. You know, shitheads. Thailand was destined to either chew us up and spit us out (holla, city of squala) or suck us in so much we would never leave. It was my first international trip that didn’t involve the cool members of my family trying to sneak me drinks, and I’ve been abroad ever since. So guess which end result I found?
Thailand is an interesting place, because rather than having cheap days and expensive days depending on what you choose to do, the cost tends to focus more on where you are. If you’re on the islands, a hangover isn’t going to keep you in bed all day and thus put a notch in the Cheap column. That’s just the culture of it – you’re going to keep drinking through that possibly meth-induced hangover until you don’t even remember what it’s like to be sober. But if you’re up north, checking out the mountain village of Pai, you won’t be able to spend too much money if you try. Unless you wipe out your motorbike while careening through the mountain hills. Which is sometimes avoidable.
Rather than doing a cheap, regular, and expensive day like I normally would, I’m going to separate it into three areas: Pai, Bangkok, and Koh Phangan. Three places on every backpacker’s itinerary with wildly different prices. I’ll also list some bigger expenses you’ll probably want to take part in at the bottom. Note: tipping in Thailand is similar to the Philippines. Not required, but most people leave their change or round up to the nearest 10 baht.
Thailand uses the Baht (THB). The conversion rate is usually around 32 THB per $1, but like Vietnam and their rounding system, it’s usually easier to just stick to an even 30 THB to the dollar.
Full disclosure: as I haven’t been in Thailand in a while, these prices are based on pictures, online research, and simple memory. They may not be 100% accurate. But they’re damn close if they’re not. Also, prices can so much as double during the peak season, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.
- The hostels in Pai are simple, and usually cost the same while offering different things. If you’re into sleeping in a shit pile jungle gym type bungalow on an absolutely gorgeous rice paddy, then SpicyPai is your SpicyGuy. If you’re into a more traditional hostel, then Darlings is your Darling. Either way, it’s gonna set you back about 150 THB ($5) a night.
- Don’t worry about waking up with a hangover – even if you drank too much the night before, Pai has so much weed in it that it won’t last long. If that’s your thing (and it’s everybody’s thing in Pai), you can probably find some for 90-150 THB ($3-5). Wash down the smoke with one of those legendary Thai breakfasts for no more than 60 THB ($2) and you’ve got yourself the makings of a morning.
- The thing to do in Pai is rent a motorcycle and take it for a spin all day. I mean, the thing to do in Pai is to crash your motorcycle, it’s like a rite of passage, but more on that later. You can rent them all over town for around 120-150 THB per day ($4-5), and double that for a full tank of gas in the thing.
- The best stuff to see in Pai is free. Waterfalls, hot springs, elephants on the side of the road. The viewpoint. If you’re daring, take the motorcycle all the way to Tham Lod Cave (an hour and a half away through turning hills, an awesome ride). If they do cost money, it’s not gonna be more than, like, 100 THB.
- By the time you make it back to town, it’s gonna be a little late. There’s a place called Burger Queen by the river that serves the best fucking burgers this side of the Pacific Ocean, and it’s 90 THB for a meal. Get one before you leave.
- There’s a night market in Pai where you can get some cool souvenirs. I myself bought a pair of fisherman pants for 250 THB, though I had to haggle for a while. Get whatever you want.
- Pai has a lot of nightlife options. Nobody really drinks liquor (unless they bring it themselves), and beers are pretty much universally 60 THB ($2) each. So whether you want a quieter night with live music or a raunchy night at Bamboo Bar where you puke into the fire pit, you’re gonna spend roughly the same. Call it six beers for 360 THB total.
Obviously there are different ways to do Pai. Maybe you stay in town for a day. Maybe you don’t drink for the night. Maybe you eat food out of the garbage and sleep in a ditch. It’s your trip, do what you want. But if you did Pai this way, the maximum you’re going to spend is 1000 THB ($33) in a day. On a slow day, with no drinking and driving (not necessarily at the same time…), that can be as low as 250 THB ($8.30) a day. Of course, that’s a sleepy mountain village. There’s more trouble to find in…
- Hostels in Bangkok tend to be a little more expensive. You can find some cheap, but most backpackers try to stay close to Khao San Road. It’s a shithole, but it’s accessible and easy to make friends, so might as well sleep there. Hostels go from 300-500 THB ($10-15) a night in this area, but what you spend in staying close to the action, you save in not paying to get close to the action.
- Bangkok’s huge. City of Squalor, yo. World’s your fucking oyster. The only thing for sure, though is that you’re gonna need transportation. You’re gonna see lots of tips about paying the same price as locals, but here’s the sad truth. You’re farang. You will pay extra. You can avoid the 500 THB charges, but expect to pay around 80-100 THB for a ride, and expect to be taken to the wrong place at least once. Assuming you take at least two tuk-tuk rides a day, you’re looking at around 160 THB a day at least. Watch out for scams.
- Beauty of Bangkok – street food. Just… don’t even bother eating in restaurants. The pad thai you get from that sketchy little stand on the street is better than the stuff you have to sit down to eat. And you’re gonna be able to fill yourself up with glass noodles, soup in a bag, and boiled oysters without spending more than 60 THB ($2) on a meal. If you get really hungry, eat two meals a day. You probably won’t need more than that.
- Bangkok has these cheap little bracelets that everybody buys. Be a conformist. You know you want to. That’s why you’re staying on Khao San Road. You can haggle them down to around 70 THB if you’re persistent.
- Like Pai, a lot of the best things to see in Bangkok (Reclining Buddha, Floating Markets, Weekend Market) are either free, or just a 100 THB entrance fee. The temples in general have the fee. The markets obviously don’t. We’ll call it 100 per day if you’re seeing the things you’re supposed to.
- This may come as a surprise, but bars and clubs in Bangkok are a little more off the wall than those in Pai. Especially if you’re gonna go see a ping pong show. They normally have an entrance fee of around 500 THB (possibly lower, but that’s the farang tax), and you’ll be spending a good deal on drinks too. Call it another 400 THB at least. But it’s worth it. Don’t you want to tell your friends that you watched a woman pop a balloon with a pussy dart?
By the time you make it, drunk, tired, and possibly horribly emasculated by a lady, back to your hostel, you’ll have topped out at (at most) 1890 THB, or $63. Holy shit! Okay, like I said, Bangkok is expensive. But again, I’m throwing a lot of different charges into this one day. I mean, if you cut out the ping-pong show alone (not that you shouldn’t go to one), then you’re down to around $35 for the day, and that gets even less if you don’t drink or buy souvenirs. Some things, like the tuk-tuk rides and the hostel, are basically unavoidable, but Bangkok is what you make it.
- Okay, here’s the money pit. You’re obviously here for the Full Moon Party, and nobody ever went to a 24-hour shitshow with the intent to pinch pennies. You’ve earned it, cut loose a little bit. Make sure you stay on the main beach of Haad Rin, where you’re close enough to the action to walk but far enough away to avoid the drunken thieves. Hostels in this range are gonna knock you back around 500-800 THB, or $15-25.
- Food costs the same on Koh Phangan as it does anywhere else in Thailand… roughly 60 THB per meal. Luckily, you won’t be eating much during your time on the island. Liquid lunches and all that.
- Likewise, there is less to do on the island when it’s completely devoted to partying. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true: there’s scuba diving, snorkeling, boat rides to hidden beaches, and lots of great stuff like that. But since those are generally more expensive (to the tune of $60-100), I won’t list it here. Check the end.
- The name of the game on the island is Bucket. The buckets are basically pails of vodka, Thai Red Bull (cue the arrhythmia), coke, and ice. That ice can mean solid water or, if you get one of the sketchier ones, potentially meth. Whatever floats your boat, man, it’s your party. Each one is 150 THB, which is obviously more than a beer… but you only need two in a night to fuck you up. Three is asking to black out.
- If it floats your boat, there are plenty of drugs on the island. Weed, shrooms, E, laughing gas, whatever. Of course, there are lots of police and sketchy drug dealers, so choose wisely. The bars on the hillside, like Mellow Mountain, offer shroom shakes for 500 THB each. You’ll want to try one before you leave.
Leaving the island is a little like leaving Vegas. It’s a boat full of brain-dead zombies moaning as they hurl over the side of a ferry. It’s worth it, but if you really live it up on the island, you can look forward to spending around 1570 THB, or $52, a day. This may originally seem like a smaller burden then Bangkok at first, but remember that Bangkok was a maximum and could be done for much less. This price for Koh Phangan is fairly average for the day, if not on the low side. Be careful how long you spend there… it’s easy to get sucked in.
Like most of the countries in Southeast Asia, you can easily get by with around $600-850 per month in Thailand. Of course, this is entirely dependent on your drinking habits and how much you actually want to get out and explore. Thailand is a huge tourist destination with a lot of must-dos that aren’t in the daily spendings. Everybody does them, so don’t miss out. Elephant rides will go for 2-3000 THB for 1-2 day excursions to the camp (just don’t use the saddles, which are terrible for their backs). Tiger cuddles in Chiang Mai can cost up to 1500 THB if you want to play with three different sizes of cat. Scuba diving in the islands can cost $220 to get certified or $60 just to try it. Make sure you keep these things in your budget if you’re going, because you’re gonna hate going home without a picture of an elephant stepping on your balls.
Despite the high daily costs listed above, I was able to manage with $25-30 per day, often going lower and rarely going higher. The drinking culture on the islands will put a heavier strain on your wallet, but it’s usually worth the trouble for your bank and your liver (and your dignity).
Cost of Inter-City Travel
- By Motorcycle: $5/day
- By Bus: $10-15
- By Train: $20
- By Ferry: $12
- By Plane: $50