Thailand is usually the first stopover for backpackers in Asia and it makes a good soft start, but as usual we don’t like to do the same as everyone else. Thailand was the final country we visited on the banana pancake trail since we crossed from Laos to the North. Our short holiday to Vietnam to see Zoë’s Dad meant that our time was split between northern and southern Thailand with a short gap for our trip to Vietnam and a mini exploration of Myanmar. So really we spent 3 weeks exploring the north and just a week in the south to explore the Bangkok and Koh Tao.
We noticed some fairly big differences between north and south. The most obvious was the prices, the north is very cheap and the beaches to the south are pricey. We also felt that northern Thailand felt a lot more thai and had a lot more of the smiley people which Thailand has a reputation for. Saying that the beaches are beautiful and we didn’t resent spending time there at all.
In total we spent 26 days in Thailand and £1243. Of that sum, we spent 16% on accommodation, 17% on food, 30% on travel, 38% on activities.
For most Europeans Thailand offers visa exemption for 30 days. The only catch of this is that you can only enter over land twice per calendar year, but as often as you like by air. Other nationalities can get a visa on arrival or prearrange one with the advantage that it can be extended.
Thailand uses Thai baht which are easily withdrawn from ATMs, although all machines charge 220 baht per withdrawal. Exchanging money is easy in Bangkok, but some banks won’t take currencies such as Myanmar kyat. Some businesses will pass on the credit card fees directly to the customer so check if they add a 3% fee before you pay.
If you take the train to Malaysia, please note that there are no money exchanges in the train station. You can pay for your onward ticket with baht, but the rate is bad. Change is given in ringit and also at the bad rate. Your two options are changing baht on the train (there will be people on it between the last two stations) or you have to go on a bit of a journey and try to find one near the border. The rate offered on the train was much better than at the ticket counter.
Travel infrastructure in Thailand is good and continually improving. We almost always used public transport with the exception of getting from the airport when we used Grab. The only reason for this was the location of our couchsurfing host: public transport just would have taken too long leaving us with little time together in the evening. If you prefer to travel in style then an app like Grab or Uber is worthwhile. Some routes are very popular so it is often best to book train and bus tickets a few days in advance. We heard from other travellers that tuk-tuk drivers around the island are taking tourists for very expensive rides costing a minimum of 200 baht even for very short distances.
We found trains easy and reliable. In the north we just went to the station and bought the tickets for the next train. The ones we ended upon did not have air conditioning as the ones that have it tend to go early in the morning. The only train we booked in advance was the sleeper from Chumphon to Padang Besar at the Malay border. There is only one train (No. 45) and it does sell out so advance booking is recommended. We bought the tickets through thairailwaytickets.com which is the official site of the thai railway company. Therefore prices are a lot cheaper than with agencies. The sleeper train was very comfortable, had good aircon and we highly recommend it.
Accommodation for every budget is available everywhere and is generally of a good standard. We struggled to find real budget accommodation on Koh Tao, so it’s probably best to book in advance. On average we paid 569 baht per night for the two of us. The north was generally much cheaper, but there are still cheap(ish) places in the south. Book ahead during peak season and around thai holidays.
Thai food is fantastic, if a bit spicy. We loved discovering local dishes everywhere we went, and found that most restaurants would make dishes less spicy if we asked. We found asking locals for recommendations was a good idea and that sometimes going to a night market when you are hungry can be costly (but fun!). Food in the north can be as cheap as 30 baht per dish but on Koh Tao 50 baht was the cheapest we could find and prices spiralled into the 200’s.
Thailand has something for everyone and we definitely recommend learning something new while you are there. We did massage, muay thai and cooking classes which were all great fun. Our most expensive activity was the massage course, but diving on Koh Tao took a healthy chunk out of our budget (so worth it). Actually diving in Koh Tao is some of the cheapest in the world starting from £20 per dive all in.
Thai for beginners:
Hello – Sabaidee ka
Thank you – kop khun ka
Go! There are certainly many reasons Thailand has 38 million tourists per year. We really loved diving in Koh Tao and cooking Thai food in Chiang Mai. One of the best parts is that travelling is easy and the pace of life is laid back.