One of the reasons Thailand is such an alluring backpacker’s destination is because it’s cheap. Many manage to do Thailand for less than $30 per day. My budget was much more relaxed than the average SE Asia backpacker since I was only there for 10 days.
Nomadic Matt has an excellent post with money-saving tips, and a more comprehensive breakdown of travel costs in Thailand. Here is a breakdown of how I spent my time and money in Thailand:
Days 1-2: Touch Down in Bangkok
I arrived in Thailand from Hong Kong late at night, and immediately took a cab to my AirBnB rental. The jet-lag was still hitting me hard, and I passed out after unpacking.
I had a deadline looming for a freelance project, forcing me to spend most of the next day on my computer. The only time I left the apartment was to get some food, and to check out a small market nearby.
One of the drawbacks of being a “digital nomad” is that since your work travels with you, sometimes you miss out on experiencing your current location.
For the sake of time, I cancelled my original plans to stop at temples and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Instead, I found a direct Air Asia flight for $48. Though the flight was inexpensive, it was still exponentially more expensive than the 12-15 hour train or bus.
Taxi: 150 Baht
2 nights AirBnB accommodation: $50
Dumpling Soup: 30 baht
Chicken kebab: 40 baht
Bubble tea: 60 baht
7/11 snacks and drinks: 240 baht
** ~32 baht = 1 USD
Running Total: $56.07
Day 2-3: Arrival in Chiang Mai
The next morning, I headed to DMK airport for my flight. Checking in with Air Asia was a huge headache, which was to be expected from a budget airline. I took a taxi to the Living Place2 Hostel, where I had reserved a private room for $18 per night. I still had work to do, meaning that first day in Chiang Mai was no fun. Finally my jet-lag began worked in my favor, as I was able to follow asleep early that night and naturally wake up at 7AM ready to take on the day.
I was feeling guilty about spending the last few days mainly working, so I was hell-bent on making the most of the rest of my time in Chiang Mai.
I stopped off for breakfast at the Chang Puek Market, where I was relieved to find European style pastries among endless stalls of dead fish, mystery meat and vegetables. Unlike the locals, I can’t stomach such heavy foods first thing in the morning. After eating, I flagged down a Songthaew (truck/shared taxi) to take me to Bhubing Palace and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. The 45-minute drive up the mountain was gorgeous, and it was fun to watch the mountain roads trailing off behind me.
Our first stop was the palace where the Thai Royal Family spends the winter months. The grounds boasted beautiful gardens, and some lovely architecture. My entry ticket was only 50 baht, but I had to rent clothing to cover my shoulders and legs for an additional 30 baht. Since my guide only gave me an hour to tour the property I oped for a golf cart tour around the grounds for another 300 baht.
I recommend skipping the golf cart and exploring the grounds on your own. I felt rushed by my driver and 300 baht is pretty steep by Thai standards. He insisted on taking loads of photos of me (while expecting tips of course), while I just wanted to enjoy the gardens at my own pace.
Next up was the famous Doi Suthep temple. This mountain top temple ranks high on most Thailand tourist itineraries. Don’t miss this temple while visiting Chiang Mai – it’s stunning and feels other worldly.
Before even approaching the temple steps, it’s clear that you’re in the midst of something sacred. As you walk up the steep steps to reach even more steps at the main entrance, a large statue greets you. He is accompanied by masses of flowers, and other beautiful Buddhist relics. The fact that it took several centuries to build this holy site is apparent through the temple’s ornate details.
Climbing up the main stairs was tiring, but I appreciated the beautiful snake-skin tile designs and turning around occasionally to check out the view behind me. Normally, you can catch amazing mountain views from the temple but I missed out due to the smoke from crop burning season.
Once you make it to the top, foreign visitors have to pay a 30 baht entrance fee. Don’t forget to cover your shoulders, otherwise you will have to pay extra to rent clothing. Like in all temples, you will be expected to remove your shoes.
Aside from the temple’s abundance of gold, what phased me the most was the sense of devotion. This was one of the few tourist attractions I visited that also attracted local Thai people. Observing them praying, leaving flowers, and burning incense was moving. Buddhism’s focus on mindfulness and karma have always resonated with me, and my first trip to a Buddhist temple is something I will never forget.
Per my request, the driver dropped me off at the Wat Chedi Luang temple in Chiang Mai’s historical center. Amazingly, it was not crowded at all. Near the temple, you can find many cute boutiques and restaurants. I tried to stay away but couldn’t resist buying a pair of elephant print pants. Chiang Mai really needed another blonde westerner in harem pants…
At this point I was exhausted, and scouted out a tuk-tuk to take me back to my hostel. The rest of the day was spent bumming around the hostel, where I enjoyed chatting with some of the other guests over drinks.
Two nights in hostel: $36
Breakfast: 20 baht
Songthaew tour: 900 baht
Bhubing Palace (admission, clothe rental, golf cart): 380 baht
Doi Suhep Admission: 30 baht
Souvenir (pants): 150 baht
Tuk Tuk ride: 80 baht
Sticky mango rice c/o street vendor: 30 baht
Mystery soup dish c/o street vendor: 30 baht
3 beers from hostel: 180 baht
4 large water bottles from hostel: 160 baht
Days 2-3: $97.25
Running Total: $145.32
Day 4: Baby Elephant Bliss
My last day in Chiang Mai was spent at Ran-tong Save & Rescue Elephant Centre. It was an amazing day filled with baby elephants, sticky mango rice, and elephant baths. The experience deserves it’s own post, which you will find here.
Hostel accommodation: $18 USD
Muesli breakfast at hostel: 70 baht
Full day tour with lunch: 2500 baht
Pad Thai with fresh coconut water: 120 baht
Bottled water x 4: 160 baht
Day 4: $107.06
Running Total: $270.38
Day 5: Beach-bound
My Air Asia flight to Krabi left early that morning, forcing me to be awake at 4 AM for my airport taxi. I booked my ticket the night before for $38 – not too shabby! I arrived at my hostel (Bananas Bungalows) well before check-in time, but the owners were gracious enough to let me into my bungalow early.
What I loved about Bananas is that it is 35km from Krabi town, so there were hardly any other tourists. Bananas in unique in that it features both dorms and private bungalows. For more info, check out my World’s Best Hostels post.
I spent the day riding a rented bike around the area enjoying beautiful views of both the mountains and ocean. I watched the sunset that evening from the hostel’s dock while lounging in a hammock. It was the perfect day minus the fact I had to wake up at 3M. At this point I hadn’t met any other travelers. I didn’t care though; I felt so at peace with my surroundings that I cherished the solitude.
Later, everyone met in the common area for dinner. I chatted with some very friendly couples and solo travelers over an unbelievably delicious seafood meal prepared by a local chef.
A small group of us decided to partake in a three island boat tour the next day. That night I had trouble falling asleep because I was so excited to finally see Thailand’s beautiful islands. Fortunately, I had the sound of the ocean behind my bungalow to soothe me.
Flight to Krabi: $38
Airport taxi: 800 baht
Private bungalow: 600 baht
Egg Ciabatta: 60 baht
Water x 4: 180 baht
Bike rental: 50 baht
Dinner: 150 baht
Cocktail: 100 baht
Day 5: $98.63
Running total: $369.01
Read about Days 6-10 here!
If you’ve been to Thailand or SE Asia, how much money did you budget and did it end up being a realistic amount?