Thailand is a country that wears many hats. Backpacker heaven, tropical paradise, mountain refuge. Everything from five star hotels to grotty guesthouses are on offer. You can sip cocktails at ten bucks a pop or take out beers from 7-11. World-class cuisine exists along side dirt-cheap street food.
With so many options, any visitor to sunny Thailand has many choices available as far as budgeting is concerned. Relative to similar holidays that could be taken in Europe, Thailand can be a bargain. For many it just means enjoying more luxury for the same holiday budget. Backpackers can get by quite comfortably on 20 euros a day, while the well-heeled can enjoy a respectable meal for two for that price in Bangkok. The average visitors spends roughly 2,000 baht (US$60) per night on a hotel room, which would typically be three/four star. While the same amount would buy you a day trip to Phi Phi Island, from Phuket.
Bangkok itself is substantially more expensive than other cities in Thailand, but is still cheaper than other world capitals. Adapting to local habits can keep costs down, while opting for Western imports – whether it’s food, wine or other luxury items – will cost more than you may think, since they are imported in small numbers. An afternoon in midrange spa, getting pampered, will cost less than the Heathrow Express into London.
A plate of local street food in Bangkok will cost you about 50 baht. In more touristy areas like Khao San Road, you can expect to pay between 50 and 100 baht. If you’ve got a hankering for a Western-style meal in a restaurant you can expect prices to jump to anywhere between 150 and 300 baht. If you want to dine out in style, expect to pay 300 baht and up. However, the typical cost of a very good meal in a silver service restaurant in Bangkok is likely to be a third of that in, say, London. And Bangkok is becoming an expensive city. The same meal will cost less than half in Chiang Mai. These prices generally go for the more popular island destinations like Ko Samui and Phuket as well.
Of all the popular venues in Thailand, Bangkok and the west coast of Phuket, along with parts of Samui, are the most expensive. But, as with all locations, a lack of zoning means a cheap guesthouse can be found in close proximity to a popular and posh area. Pattaya, Koh Lanta, Hua Hin and Krabi are middle market destinations, while backpackers head for Koh Phan Ngan. Koh Samet and Koh Chang are relatively expensive for what they offer, but also have budget options. Chiang Mai and the north, along with Kanchanaburi, Ayuthaya and Sukhothai are substantially cheaper.
The price for alcohol is as wide ranging as the food. A Thai beer (quart) from a convenience store costs between 50 and 70 baht, while in a bar or a club it’s not surprising to pay 100-150 baht. Mixed drinks usually start at 100 baht, but in smaller towns you can expect to pay 60. After any revelry, water will be in order, and this is always quite cheap compared to other countries. One litre of mineral water will run from seven to 12 baht. As usual, hotels are more expensive than private bars, where a cocktail can cost 100 baht in the right places.
Continuing with extensive options are accommodation. In Bangkok, you can still find a bed for 100-200 baht, but for anything larger than a closet and cockroach-free, expect to pay a minimum of 500 baht. Island resorts will have similar price schemes, but even in Chiang Mai (the principal city of the north), 500 baht will get you a squeaky clean room with air-con and cable TV. The mid- to upper-range hotels start at around 1,500 baht and can reach 15,000 for a night’s stay. The important thing to remember in Thailand is that it has some of the best value hotels in the world, and if you usually can only afford to holiday in three star hotels, here you can upgrade and ‘style’ it in a four-star+ establishment. This is especially true outside of Bangkok and prime beach areas.
There are many options for inter-city travel, with the most common mode of transport for tourists being the tuk-tuk. In Bangkok you won’t be able to get in one for less than 60 baht, while in Chiang Mai, for example, for any trip within the centre, you wouldn’t expect to pay more than that–100 baht is the average price to expect for an average trip through Bangkok in a taxi, with fares lower in cities outside the capital. Many cities use the songthaew, a pick-up truck shared taxi that collects passengers en-route to drop off others and can be as cheap as 10-20 baht. But mostly, tourists find taxis so cheap that they are the most convenient option to get around.
For travel between destinations there are many options as well. The most costly is flying, but the proliferation of budget airlines has made the price more affordable even for those on a budget. You can now fly from Chaing Mai to Bangkok on AirAsia from around 1,500 baht. If you have the time to spend on the road, an air-conditioned bus can cut that price in half. Train travel can be a good experience and is similar cost to the bus. The one-hour journey form Bangkok to Ayutthaya costs only 20 baht.
With so many options, Thailand can accommodate all kinds of travellers on all kinds of budgets. The baht is getting stronger, so dollars or euros don’t go quite as far as they used to, but even with an unfavourable exchange rate, Thailand remains an attractive option for the many possibilities available.