Thailand is the dream vacation destination for many people, it has beautiful scenery, incredible food and wonderful people.
However, even though prices for certain things are cheap when compared to living in the West, you can quickly find your costs stacking up in unexpected ways.
It may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but because many things in Thailand are so much cheaper than in the West, you may actually end up losing the run of yourself and spending much more than you initially intended to.
How much should I budget for a trip to Thailand?
Although the prices for many things in Thailand are quite cheap, especially when compared to prices in the West, those costs are relative to your available budget and how long you are planning to stay in Thailand.
If you’re only going to be in Thailand for 2 weeks but have an available budget of $1000 or $2000 then you will be able to live extremely well,
However, if you’re planning on staying in Thailand for a month and you have a budget of $1000 then it is doable, but you need to do some planning and research before you arrive in the country.
If you plan on visiting for 30 days and have a budget of $1000 then you probably are not going to be out picking up bar girls or going out drinking every night. You will fare much better if you have an available budget of $1500 to $2000+
Below, we will break down some of the costs you are likely to encounter, some of them may well surprise you.
Food in Thailand tends to be quite cheap, especially if you are eating Thai cuisine. Thai street food in particular is very cheap and tends to be really tasty also.
You do hear horror stories about people getting food poisoning as the street food wasn’t cooked fully, and for sure this can happen.
However, as an ex-pat in Pattaya pointed out to me once, go to the street food vendors that the Thais themselves are buying from. If they had gotten sick from that vendor’s food before, they would not be buying from them again.
Street food in Thailand, including small roadside cafes, can vary widely, ranging from pork or chicken skewers up to rice or noodle dishes with meat and sauce. The vendors will often provide the sauce in a sturdy plastic bag which means there’s little risk of you spilling the contents if bringing it back to your hotel.
You will often find that pork or chicken skewers will cost about 10 Baht each (currently about 33 cent USD), so you could get three of these for a Dollar. This is perfect if you just want a quick snack, and to be honest, it’s often so warm in Thailand that you’ll find that you won’t be in the mood to eat a big meal.
Western food in Thailand is easy to source, particularly in the cities, however you can expect to pay quite a lot more for it than the local Thai fare.
There are lots of western fast-food chains in Thailand (KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, etc.) and they are becoming more popular with younger Thais. If you have a look at the menu though, you may find some differences as some Thais don’t eat beef, chicken and pork would take preference. You’ll also find that prices are similar to your home country, or in some cases actually more expensive.
Another popular western food, especially with ex-pats and longer-term visitors is breakfast. You’ll find a lot of places will offer a “Full English” breakfast, prices will vary for sure, ranging from 99 Baht up to 199 Baht ($3.30 to $6.65) but this is a very filling meal so will keep you going well until lunchtime. Many of those same eateries will also offer an American style breakfast for around the same price.
Spread over a month, getting those breakfasts each day would tally up to either $100 or $200 respectively, and that’s just breakfast, if you’re working on a limited budget then it’s probably worthwhile to maybe have them just a couple of times a week.
Travel and transport
I’m going to assume that you have already done a little planning on your itinerary in Thailand before arriving in the country. You’ll find that public transport within cities tends to be very reasonably priced.
In many places you will find what are often known as Baht buses, these tend to be converted pickup trucks with seats in the bed that will run on a set route. They charge a fixed fare of 10 Baht (about 33 cents USD) no matter how long your journey on the route is.
You’ll also find plenty of taxis and tuk tuks (sort of a converted motorcycle with seating area in the back). Be very wary if using these as often times the drivers will tell you a price before the journey begins that is likely much more than it should be. I’d recommend only using these if going on a pretty short trip.
Motorbike taxis are very popular in Thailand, they are relatively cheap to use (25 Baht for first kilometer then 5 Baht for each kilometer), however if you’re like me and not overly confident on a motorbike then you may want to rethink this option. I’ve seen the drivers squeeze through gaps in traffic that I honestly don’t don’t think many Westerners on foot would fit through.
If going a short distance then it’s likely a fine option but if you’re feint of heart then you may need to think again.
One option that may be a better way to go, although it’s a bit more expensive would to use the GRAB taxi phone app. On the surface this tends to appear more expensive, however it gives you the added advantage of both you and the drive agreeing a set fare before the driver takes the job.
With Grab, the cars also tend to be higher end than average taxis and will provide a more comfortable ride.
Renting a scooter or moped in Thailand
Depending on which part of Thailand you ‘ll be visiting, for example a more rural setting or one of the smaller cities, then an alternative may be to rent a moped or scooter. This will cost you around 150 – 300 Baht per day ($5 – $10 per day).
If you intend to travel around a fair amount in a region that doesn’t have great public transport then this option may more economic sense, rather than paying for taxis.
However, riding a moped on the roads in Thailand really can be a nerve wracking experience, I’d not recommend this option unless you are quite confident on motorbikes.
You can read more details about renting mopeds and scooters in Thailand here.
Partying and nights out
One thing you can say for sure about Thailand, it really does have incredible night life.
Now this is the one that will likely be the biggest drain on your finances. Be it beer bars, go go bars, gentlemen’s clubs and so on, you may well find yourself spending money very quickly indeed.
Mostly you’ll find bottled beer for sale rather than beer on tap (it is available but not prevalent). Prices for a bottle of beer will vary from bar to bar, however the bars will list their prices outside.
If you are outside Bangkok then you could expect to pay about 60 – 100 Baht ($1.66 – $3.33) for a bottle of local beer in a regular bar. In a go go bar then you could very easily pay 150+ Baht ($5) per bottle. If you are buying imported Western beers then you can expect to pay a premium.
If you go to a “girly” bar and are chatting with the bar girls, it’s likely that you will buy them a drink, these are known as Lady Drinks, and they generally tend to be DOUBLE the price of your drink. Now in fairness, this is one of the main ways that the girls will earn a living as they get a percentage of the price as a commission.
When you think about it, if you’re a guy in his 60’s with a beer gut (don’t get me wrong, I’m no oil painting myself), and this stunning younger Thai woman is chatting to you and telling you how handsome you are… yeah, she’s doing her job and just trying to earn a living.
There’s also the aspect of if you decide to bring one of the girls home with you (also known as a bar fine), you will pay a bar fine to the bar itself (as the girl won’t be in the bar while she’s away with you and so can’t earn a profit for the bar during that time). You will then also need to pay the girl for her time.
You can read more about bar girls and what to be aware of here.
Prices for this will vary depending on the bar, you may need to pay the bar 300 – 500 Baht ($10 – $16) and then with the girls themselves, the prices may vary anywhere from 1000 Baht all the way up to 3000 Baht ($33 up to $100).
You are probably now starting to see how nights out may well become the most costly part of your visit to Thailand, and why I suggest that you bring a good amount of money with you, even if only going for 2 weeks.
Another thing worth noting is charges on ATM withdrawals, you can expect to pay about $5 per withdrawal, so it likely makes more sense to take out a few hundred Dollars worth of Bath at a time. Bear in mind that many of malls and coffee shops will accept ATM contactless or chip & pin payments, however almost none of the street side cafes and none of the street food vendors will accept, they deal in cash.
You can see that while many things in Thailand are much cheaper than in the West, some things are a similar price and may actually lead you into spending more money than you planned to (beer leading to bar fining a girl for example).
If you can control yourself and be a little diligent with your spending habits then you could manage with $1000 for a month, but in all honesty, if you are visiting on vacation then it’s very likely that you will be letting your hair down and going a bit wild.
If you’re planning on visiting Thailand for 30 days then I’d recommend going with a budget of €1500 or better yet, $2000+ if you can. You may not spend all the money but better to have it and not need it than the other way around.