Our total monthly cost of living in Thailand excludes the expenditures for the visa and travel to/from Thailand as the figures will differ depending on whether you need a visa in the first place, where you apply and where you are flying from.
It’s 31st of December around midnight, and I’m standing on the tropical island beach in the Gulf of Thailand making a wish for the coming 2019 to be at least as awesome as the passing year. My nose is slightly burned after the month of the ruthless Thai sun, and Vitamin D in my body is hardly likely to deplete until the next winter. After having stayed in Thailand slightly more than a month, I can't stop sending thanks to the destiny for being able to experience the island life.
But living in a paradise comes at a price. Not a high one, as it turned out.
At the end of September 2018, Jacob, my husband, and I set out on a long-term honeymoon adventure and landed in Delhi, India. We’ve traveled around India and Nepal for two months and were surprised to find the cost of living in South Asia to be ridiculously small – less than 500 dollars a month per person. For this amount we’ve slept in private double rooms, sometimes better, sometimes worse; followed a diverse diet – from street food and local dishes to hip vegan meals and European style breakfasts; got around by taxis, bike, and buses between the cities. The average daily cost per person was ridiculously affordable - nearly $15. But, as it usually happens, there were certain issues.
In India, there was a constant problem with electricity and the Internet. Sometimes we couldn’t work for a week simply because the speed was so bad. 4G wasn’t better either. Besides, frankly speaking, we were not fans of the country, which is a story that deserves a separate post. The Indian food, though admired by many abroad, turned out to be sort of disappointing. You can enjoy some chicken biryani, paneer, and dosa once a week, but eating similar strong-flavored food 3 times a day for a month proved to be quite a challenge.
Nepal was definitely better: fewer power outages and a better Internet. But the food still didn’t appeal to us because of the lack of diversity. It was also getting pretty cold with 11-12 degrees Celcius at night in November, so we felt this might not be the best place to spend winter.
Thailand, on the contrary, has everything a working traveler can desire. The country has been holding the top positions in the best places for expats for many years. Excellent high-speed internet and 4G, summer-like climate all year round, tropical islands and beaches at arm's length, mind-blowing food, and friendly and tourist-tolerant people – what else can you ask for? The prices would surely go up if compared to India and Nepal, but we were willing to spend more to experience paradise life at least for a month.
During this month, we stayed a few nights in Bangkok, two nights in Pattaya (not recommended to anyone by the way), but most of the time we've spent on Koh Chang – the second largest island in Thailand merely a 30-minute ferry ride from the mainland.
Just like with India and Nepal, I have grouped our expenses into different categories. Most of them are alike, but we had no need for the category of "Health" as we haven’t bought any medicine (still have a whole bag I brought all the way from home) during the month. I have also added the category "Social Life," previously non-existent.
1) transportation - any mode of transport around or out of the city, i.e., bus/train tickets, taxis, ferry, scooter rent, etc.;
3) food – all meals including snacks, drinking water, and unnecessary cravings;
4) household - personal hygiene items such as soap, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.;
5) culture – expenses for entry tickets to natural landmarks, fun activities, etc.;
6) social life – drinks and other attributes of the traditional ‘having a good time.’ Non-alcoholic beverages drank in the pub or bought as complementary to the alcoholic ones were also included in this category.
7) clothing/gear - combines the articles of clothing with the swimming gear, etc.
During the month, we’ve spent $210.15 on transportation – more than we did before during the last 2 months in India and Nepal.
Bike rental and gas account for the largest part of the transportation expenses. We got a bike the next day we got on Koh Chang as this is the only convenient way to get around the island. Taxis are frequent, but the price for a single ride from the north (the Ferry Pier) to south Bang Bao will cost you nearly $5-6 (150-200 baht) – the daily rental cost of the bike. With the bike, you save money, do not depend on the taxis and spare the patience and trouble of haggling with the absurd tourist rates.
We did have to use the taxi several times, just to move from one guest house to another to move the bags.
If you are on a shoestring budget and want to save a buck, you can rent the bike daily, whenever you have the need.
Contrary to Koh Chang, Bangkok has fixed-rate and metered taxis and getting around the city is rather cheap and undoubtedly more convenient than biking or taking a public bus.
Accommodation in total cost us $437.57. That’s almost twice more than we spent in the previous two months in India and Nepal, but usually, the quality was much better.
Thailand is generally pretty expensive when it comes to accommodation (if $15-20 per private room counts as expensive of course :D). If you're traveling on a low budget, it's a good idea to book in advance especially before holidays such as Christmas and New Year when all the prices double.
In Bangkok, we were lucky to stay in a small guesthouse near Lumphini Park for $14 a night (450 baht). We rented a double room with a private bathroom, fridge, no air-conditioning. Coffee and fresh fruit were for free. The area wasn’t great for partying, and pretty far away for sightseeing, but let’s face it – in Bangkok, every location has its ups and downs. We could always go to Lumphini park which was 10 minutes walking distance and chill on the grass.
Pattaya wasn’t our preferred destination in the first place. We knew that it’s notorious for the nightlife, packaged tourists and weird kind of travelers. It was just the most convenient stop from Bangkok towards Koh Chang, as we didn't want to strain ourselves to make the whole trip in a day (and we were still getting used to hot and wet Thai climate). We got a fantastic double room with private bathroom and AC for only $15 a night. The beach was 3 minutes away, and the location was great. It was calmer than the area near the Walking Street which we excluded from our itinerary at all.
Koh Chang is a different story. It has all sorts of accommodation: hostels, bungalows, guest houses, hotels and all of them are pretty pricey. You can find a private room with the shared bathroom for $9-10 (300 baht), but unless you want to live in the bungalow with holes in walls and be eaten by the insects all night, then I would recommend paying slightly more for the comfort.
On arrival to the island, we have stayed two nights in the cheap hippy-like bungalow, just a walking distance from a pretty shitty pebble beach. Our hut had no doors between the bathroom and the bedroom, no hot water, no fridge, and it was impossible to switch on lamps in the evening as every small moth was flying towards the light in the room.
For 10 nights or so we were staying in a private room in a hostel with a shared bathroom for a bit more than $18. It was way overpriced, but the view was stunning, and it was a holiday season. With the wooden terrace facing the ocean, the hostel was a perfect place for chilling, greeting sunsets and making new friends.
Most of the time though we have lived in a small bungalow (concrete with no holes) a bit far from the beach but with great owners and living conditions. For $14 per night, we got a double room with private bathroom, fridge, fan, and free coffee. This place also had the best internet and a table for working outside.
Be prepared to pay as much as $45 (1500 baht) for a basic lodging on the beach front. And I don’t even know how much the luxurious house on the secluded beach with white hammocks and bounty-ad-like setting will cost you. But the places looked pretty empty in the high season.
Food can be very cheap if you know where to look. We have spent $380.52 during the month and Jacob have gained at least 4-5 kilos during our stay in Thailand – that is we eat a lot.
As everywhere, we prefer street food to the cafes because it’s always fresh, cheap, and oh my god it’s delicious! I guess Thai food is my favorite Asian food so far. I like it so much that I started to work out every day and read up on the more healthy and less calorie-loaded choices just because I felt that I was getting heavier and rounder every day.
You can cut down your expenses significantly by preparing home breakfasts. Instead of spending $1.5 on every morning meal, stoke up with a pack of oats and natural yogurts - all of which will cost you approximately $5 for eight food intakes. That's precisely what we're doing. Early in the morning, we prefer to stay at home and work. So we prepare overnight oats, and along with some snacks it keeps us full from the wake-up time to lunch.
If the hassle with oats is not for you, no worries. Bangkok offers dirt cheap selection of street food. You could get a typical Thai noodle soup for $1 (30-35 baht). On islands such as Koh Chang, the prices go up. The soup is generally $1.5 (50 baht), and it’s hit and miss. There’s one small place in Koh Chang which is so good that it ruined all the other soups for me.
The main course such as the traditional Pad Thai (stir-fried noodles with veggies) or rice with meat (chicken, beef, pork) is generally $1.5-1.7 (50-60 baht). The portions are enormous, to say the least. I rarely finish mine (only if it’s so tasty that I can’t stop eating).
Seafood and fish are pretty good prices as well. You can buy a big grilled fish for $5 (150 baht) at a street food stall or starting from $8-9 (250-300 baht) at a cafe. Middle-sized squid is $5 (150 baht), approximately 5 tiger prawns will set you back on nearly $3 (100 baht).
It is not very simple for vegans to visit Thailand. While you can ask for veggies only topping instead of meat, every soup broth is meat-based. Vegetable fried rice often includes an egg, so you have to be vigilant and ask for the dish without it. Even salads such as papaya salad are loaded with fish sauce.
We didn’t splurge much on the hygiene items. A big tube of toothpaste, a bar of soap and an occasional shampoo cost us $4.67 for the whole month.
After arriving in Thailand, we realized that Jacob’s hat has seen better days. So we bought him a new and a better one. We have also been two Decathlon (twice!) and splurged on full-face snorkeling masks, swimming suit, flotation sticks, new shorts for me, and shades. That all gear cost us a good buck, namely $130.25 but was totally worth it.
Feel pretty funny to write about it, but we weren’t involved in many cultural activities during the month. We filled our free time with swimming, driving around the picturesque hills of the Mu Koh Chang National Park wandering the jungle and discovering secret beaches.
Once, we went to the waterfalls for which we had to pay entrance/bike parking fee of $1.23.
We’re not big drinkers, and in India and Nepal have consumed almost zero amount of alcohol apart from few random beers while watching the movie at home. In Thailand though, we were caught by the Christmas and New Year celebrations, new friends and barbecue gatherings all of which resulted in the wasted $54.07. This expense could have easily been avoided, but what’s life without a little party.
TOTAL - $1218.46
Roughly $610 per person for the whole month – that’s less than some people spend on their rent in their home countries. If you prefer mountains, Northern Thailand is even more affordable and hides tons of surprises, making it a perfect destination for long-term low-budget traveling.