Perhaps the number one question that Southeast Asia travelers want to know: How much money do I need for Thailand?
How much money you spend in Thailand obviously depends largely on what you do, how much luxury you expect, and which parts of the country you plan to visit.
Budget travelers and backpackers can often get by in Thailand for US $25 to $30 per day, while others with higher budgets and less time can spend that much on one night out in an upscale place!
Note: All prices are in Thai baht due to currency fluctuations around the world. The current exchange rate may affect prices, and you'll always find exceptions for these daily living expenses in Thailand.
- See more about how much money you need for Asia.
Understanding Daily Expenses in Thailand
Finding the best prices and spending less in Thailand is ultimately up to you. Patronizing upscale restaurants and hotels that cater only to tourists will obviously cost more, as will doing more activities (e.g., scuba diving, taking tours, etc) and paying entrance fees to tourist places.
You'll often find better prices depending on the neighborhood in which you are staying. Competitions between sellers causes price wars, unless they've come together to form a stubborn "mafia" with fixed prices. Traveling during the high season in Thailand will cost a little more as people are less willing to negotiate.
By default, the Sukhumvit area in Bangkok is the most expensive, while the Khao San Road / Soi Rambuttri "backpacker" neighborhood in the Banglamphu area of Bangkok can be cheaper. Less touristy neighborhoods in Bangkok will also be cheaper.
A small bottle of beer in the more expensive Silom or Sukhumvit areas of Bangkok will cost 90 to 180 baht, while you can find a large bottle in the Khao San Road area for around 60 to 80 baht during happy hours or 90 baht during regular hours.
You'll nearly always find better prices in mostly Thai neighborhoods away from tourist areas, however, you may need to fight for them. Dual pricing is common throughout Southeast Asia. Farang (foreigners) are often expected to pay higher prices because many tourists are considered "rich."
Plain and simple: the islands cost more. You've got to pay to play in the sun. Plan to spend slightly more while in the islands on food, basics, and accommodation. Islands cost more for a reason: anything and everything must be brought to the island from the mainland either by boat or plane. Rent for businesses is invariably more expensive near the sea, so they have to make ends meet by increasing prices.
Chiang Mai and destinations in Northern Thailand such as Pai are relatively less expensive than Bangkok and the islands. If you're on a shoestring budget, you'll get more for your money in Chiang Mai and surrounding areas.
Some expenses are disproportional and unavoidable. For instance, ATM fees in Thailand have reached a menacing 200 baht (around US $6) per transaction.
- Get help planning your first Thailand vacation.
Potential Expenses in Thailand
Here is a list of things that will have you opening your wallet more than you expect in Thailand.
- Food, drinks, snacks
- Ground transportation and domestic flights
- Partying and socializing
- Tours and activities
- Entrance fees (foreigners often pay more than double)
- ATM fees (as much as US $6 per transaction)
- Unexpected scams
- Motorbike rentals
Accommodation in Thailand
The cost of your accommodation depends largely upon how much luxury you expect. Remember, with such an exciting country waiting outside, you'll probably only be at the hotel to sleep! You can save money by taking rooms with only a fan rather than air conditioning.
Avoiding the large Western hotel chains and staying in local, independently owned places will nearly always save money.
Moving around frequently adds to the cost of your trip. If you intend to stay in a place for a week or longer, try negotiating for a better nightly rate. You may get a better deal -- particularly during the slow season. There is an art to negotiating better room rates in Asia.
You'll find backpacker guesthouses in Thailand for $10 a night (350 baht) and less, as well as five-star accommodation where the sky is the limit.
- Learn more about what to expect from accommodation in Asia.
Eating Western food nearly always costs more than Thai food in restaurants. Street carts and simple, open-air restaurants will always be cheaper than eating at your hotel or in air-conditioned restaurants. Even with miles of coastline, adding seafood or shrimp to traditional dishes increases the cost. The default meat served with nearly every meal is chicken; beef and pork usually cost a bit more.
A basic meal of pad thai noodles with chicken can be found at street carts and from simple restaurants for 30 to 40 baht, particularly outside of tourist areas. The average for pad thai in tourist places is around 50 baht per plate. One of the famous Thai curries can be enjoyed for 60 to 90 baht; sometimes an additional 20 baht is added for rice.
The average cost of a basic Thai meal in a restaurant is 90 to 150 baht. Seafood invariably costs more. A plate of noodles in a basic restaurant in Sukhumvit is around 100 baht.
Note: Thai portions are often smaller, so you may end up eating an extra meal or snacking during the day!
Tip: If you find yourself near the Asok BTS stop in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, check out the food court at the top of Terminal 21. Although the mall is among the most posh in town, local residents head to the food court to enjoy good food for great prices in the area.
A 1.5-liter bottle of water from any of the ubiquitous 7-Eleven shops found all over Thailand costs around 15 baht (less than 50 cents). The tap water is unsafe to drink in Thailand; hot temperatures will have you drinking far more water than you do at home. In the islands, a fresh drinking coconut can be enjoyed for around 60 baht. Water refills are free in some hotels, or you can find water-refill machines that cost only a few baht per liter.
A nostalgic, glass bottle of Coke costs around 15 baht.
A large bottle of Thai Chang beer can be found in restaurants around Khao San Road / Soi Rambuttri for under 90 baht. 7-Eleven price for a large bottle of beer is usually less than 60 baht. Other beers such as Singah and imports will cost at least 90 baht and up, depending on how nice the venue is. A small bottle of Sangsom (Thai rum) costs around 160 baht in minimarts; there are cheaper brands (Hong Thong is one) if you're brave enough.
A night out in an establishment with band or DJ will always cost more than a night of socializing in a restaurant or somewhere quieter.
You'll find no shortage of offers for transportation from taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. Hailing a taxi on the street is best; always make the driver use the meter! If the driver refuses and tries to name a price, simply pass and wait on the next taxi. You'll eventually find an honest driver willing to turn on the meter. The prices for taxis from the airport are constantly changing. You're better off taking a train closer and then hailing a taxi. There are sometimes minivans running from the airport (ground floor, far to the left) to Khao San Road for 150 baht.
Although riding in tuk-tuks is a fun experience, you must first negotiate a price before getting inside. In the long run, taking a sweaty, exhaust-choking tuk-tuk is rarely cheaper than going somewhere with an air-conditioned taxi.
TIP: Beware of tuk-tuk drivers who offer to be your dedicated driver for the day!
Ferries running the Chao Praya River in Bangkok can get you around the city for far cheaper than a taxi. Depending on the destination, a single ride averages 30 baht. You can also purchase an all-day ticket for 150 baht to make unlimited hops.
The BTS Skytrain and MRT subway in Bangkok are cheap and modern ways to move around the city. The fare rarely exceeds 30 baht. An all-day ticket can be purchased for 150 baht.
Night buses and trains are a good way to move across Thailand; both save a day on your itinerary and double as accommodation for the night. Overnight buses from Bangkok to Chiang Mai can be booked in travel offices for 600 baht or less. Trains cost more than long-haul buses but offer a more comfortable experience.
Other Expenses in Thailand
- A pack of Western-brand cigarettes costs 100 to 140 baht in Thailand, depending on the brand.
- You can purchase prescription medication, birth control pills, and medicine directly from local pharmacies without a prescription. The prices are far cheaper than those found in the U.S.
- Outside of luxury hotels and nicer restaurants, tipping is not expected in Thailand.
- Using any ATM in Thailand now requires a 200-baht bank fee for each transaction. See how to access money while traveling in Asia.
- Coin-operated laundromats can be found in the cities. Laundry is charged by the weight and is typically air dried. Prices vary, but a kilogram of laundry costs around 50 to 60 baht.