Thailand is the travel hub of Southeast Asia and the center of the universe for most first-time backpackers. With it’s lush jungles, famed beaches, world class diving, delicious food and crazy parties, Thailand attracts visitors from all over the world. Thailand caters for most budgets; you can find dirt cheap guesthouses and hotel suites costing thousands of dollars a night right next to each other. I myself have been to Thailand a whole bunch of times, often I am just passing through as some of the cheapest flights to Asia are in to Bangkok. In general, although I like backpacking Thailand I tend to avoid staying there as it is comparatively expensive to neighbouring countries. Many backpackers and digital nomads stay in Thailand for a long time, to get a proper break down of how much it costs to live in Thailand, check out Nina’s guide.
Whether booking your trip in advance, or winging it with a backpack and travelling alone (which you likely won’t be for long), moving around Thailand is really easy to organise. The country is well established on the backpacking trail and things are convenient, easy and relatively safe. Though well on the map there are still a few gems not yet discovered by the tourists masses. When you think of Thailand you straight away think of beaches, beauty, jungles and tasty food. These thoughts are bang on.
Thailand Travel Budget
- Accommodation: Although cheap, accommodation in Thailand is more expensive than most other countries in Southeast Asia. You can still find guesthouses for around $7 in the cities and $4 in the countryside. Bungalows and beach huts start at around $4 but can cost way more if you haven’t perfected your haggling skills.
- Food: Food is super cheap in Thailand and is some of the best in all of Asia! Street food costs around $0.65 and if you eat locally it is possible to get by on about $2 a day. You can save a lot of money on your bar tab by taking advantage of happy hours or buying cheap beer from a 7-Eleven.
- Transport: Transport is pretty cheap in Thailand if you don’t get ripped off by a tour operator. Only get in taxis which agree to run on the meter. A taxi ride normally costs under $3. Tuk Tuks are great fun but you have to haggle, they probably work out more expensive at around $5 a journey. Boats between islands cost between $7 and $15 and it sometimes works out better value to buy a boat and bus ticket combo. Buses are pretty cheap and local buses cost just $0.25 in Bangkok. Trains across the country cost between $7 and $18. The whole of South East Asia is, in general, fairly well connected by train. When booking short-distance buses it often makes sense to simply book them on the ground but if you plan on heading to Singapore or Malaysia it can be worth booking them in advance.
- Activities: If you choose to pay for a tour (I very rarely endorse this) it will cost between $15 and $35 a day. Trekking with a guide costs between $30 and $50 a day. A PADI dive certification course costs around $300. One of the best value experiences you can have in Thailand is to track down a traditional tattooist and get a Sak Yant Tattoo.
Top Things to See and Do in Thailand.
- Bangkok: This is the hectic heart of the backpacker scene in Southeast Asia. Many travelers, myself included, hate it when they first arrive but dig a little deeper and you will come to love it. There are plenty of temples, palaces and markets to explore and the nightlife is fantastic. My first time in Bangkok, the city ate me alive and emptied my wallet in under 24 hours. Having become a regular visitor since, I now love the city and have come to be more aware of potential scams, such as the long running Bangkok Tuk Tuk scam, which often aim to target visitors in their first few days of arrival. Keep your wits about you in this city of saints and sinners!
- Chiang Mai: Most backpackers end up in this leafy laid back city at some point and with good reason. The historical, yet surprising cosmopolitan, walled city is surrounded by jungle and amazing hillside landscape starting just a short ride from the city centre. The area has become well known for home stay and hill-tribe trekking in Thailand. One downside however is that the treks here can sometimes feel unfortunately commercialised. I suggest either trekking elsewhere such as a national park or heading out on a longer trek to discover some more untouched areas. The city itself is well worth visiting if not only for the vast array of temples, then for the quaint coffee shops that seem to match them in numbers, often serving locally grown coffee bean and free wifi. Prices for Thai massage are some of the cheapest Ive come across and the massive night market is one of the best places to pick up souvenirs in the country. There are some great trekking opportunities from Chiang Mai around the Myanmar border area.
- Khao Yai National Park: Just three hours north of Bangkok, this park is a great place to find wild elephants as well as hike and swim.
- Khao Sok National Park: Probably the best national park in Thailand, Khao Sok offers caves, jungles, rivers and gorgeous limestone scenery.
- Islands: Thailand has an absolute ton of beautiful tropical islands. For the adventurous it is possible to find small islands all over Southeast Asia that are pretty much uninhabited. Some islands are very crowded and others only have just a few bungalows on them; some of the best (well, best known!) are Ko Samet, Ko Taruato, Ko chang, Ko Tao, Ko Samui and the Similian Islands. To discover something a little bit different, head on over to Koh Lipe.
- Kanchanaburi: In 1942 Kanchanaburi was under Japanese control and it was here that Asian forced laborers and Allied POWs were made to build the infamous ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ as part of the ‘Death Railway’. Although a sobering experience the bridge is surrounded by some gorgeous waterfalls that are well worth a visit once you have been to the ‘Jeath War Museum’.
- Pai: A small town in the north Thailand near Myanmar‘s border, Pai has only recently made it onto the backpacker circuit. It is well worth a visit as it is located in a beautiful area of rolling hills and mysterious peaks. If you have time I strongly recommend getting closer to the Myanmar border and visiting some of the Karen villages in the area. Check out this accomodation guide for places to stay in Pai.
- Full Moon Party: Probably the most popular backpacker party in the world. 20,000 people partying until sunrise on Haat Rin beach, Koh Phangan. It is extremely touristy but still well worth it, there are so many ‘moon’ parties that you can pretty much turn up whenever you want and party however the biggest one is still the full moon party. I personally prefer the half moon party as there are not quite so many people and so prices do not skyrocket. For loads of details on the Full Moon Party click here.
- Jungle Trekking: There is some great jungle trekking in Northern Thailand. If you choose to go trekking make sure to go on a multi-day hike. The most popular places to go Jungle trekking are Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Personally, I prefer the trekking in Laos or Myanmar.
- Scuba Diving: Many backpackers fall in love with scuba diving whilst in Thailand. The country offers incredible diving opportunities in crystal clear waters with abundant marine life and plenty of wrecks for the underwater adventurer. The cheapest place to learn is the island of Kao Tao.
- Learn to cook: No Thailand guide could be complete without mention of the tantalising food that pops up on every corner, at every hour. Thai food probably ranks as my favourite food in the whole world and many tourist areas offer Thai cooking courses. It’s a memorable experience to try out on the backpacking route in Thailand.
Backpack Thailand for free
Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Thailand long-term and experience living in this truly incredible country is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching english abroad.
Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your Thailand backpacking adventure but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.
And so there you have it budding adventures; admittedly my notes on backpacking on Thailand are somewhat garbled but I have to say; it’s a hell of a country, the people truly are lovely and the beaches truly are pristine; head on over now whilst you have the chance. Peace and love amigos :)
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