Thailand is the most popular destination for tourists in South East Asia with around 20 million visitors every single year! But don’t let the massive amounts of “farang” that go there put you off. With the exception of a few places this country somehow manages to keep its magic.
I fell in love with Thailand in 2005 when I went on a weeklong vacation with my family. It was my first time to Asia, and I found the country chaotic, beautiful, and energetic and filled with incredible things to see and do, delicious food, and friendly and happy people. And of course…LOTS OF SHOPPING..I had never experienced a place so beautiful and fulfilling. Since that initial visit, I had made up my mind that Thailand is one destination I will revisit.
So finally after years I reunited with my childhood buddy at a party and over conversations came up the most random plan of – Let’s Go To Thailand. A random conversation turned into a series of meetings, crazy research over the web, late night coffees, tracking flight deals…and so much more. Now we were just two mid-level management working professionals aspiring to make our first international trip without our folks. We didn’t do this before, but we knew we had a budget in mind and had to work towards it. Budget travel is unique to everyone.
For some of my friends, it means downgrading to a three-star hotel instead of a luxury property. For others, it’s giving up their private rooms for hostel dorms. The broadest definition of budget travel is being financially conscious during your travels. It’s not just the initial bookings that matter but how you spend during your trip is also very essential… Oh and also travelling with company of three is always cheaper. Because everything is on triple sharing. So we managed to tag along another common friend who was equally as keen as us and a free soul open to any suggestion.
So we started off with fixing an overall budget (Rs 80,000), excluding the shopping. We had already looked for flights deals by then, so we knew that a certain amount was to be kept aside for the flights and internal travel (Rs 23,000). And Air Asia comes up with some very cheap deals if you look out well in advance and keep a watch on their promotions.
(Download the Air Asia app on your phone; you can stay updated with the promotions). Then we decided on three destinations, because we thought that would fit our bill. However, we ended up touching four destinations. So we decided that we’d start off our trip on high, with partying at Phuket and end it with shopping in Bangkok, so we don’t have to tug the luggage along everywhere we go. Also we travelled with hand baggage only – one way (Air Asia allows you to pay lesser if you opt for that) and booked our return through Spicejet which included check in baggage in the fare.
Outside of Bangkok and the main tourists areas like Phuket you can easily find hotel/hostel rooms for around 100 baht per night, decent meals in a local restaurant for 30 baht, beer in a shop for 25-30 baht per 500ml, or if you just want to enjoy life like a local you can get bottles of delicious Sangsom rum for around 110 baht per 700ml!
Thailand has a strong couch-surfing community of both locals and expats so finding a host should be easy. But we were more on a budget yet leisure travel, where we didn’t want to compromise on safety or a clean comfortable bed to crash on after a tiring day.
So we started with looking at hotels that were in the 3 to 4 star category, price per night ranging anywhere between 1500-2000 baht, which split by three is just Rs 1000 a night. Whoa…cheap…Lucky for me I work with the Marriott International, so with staff rates we enjoyed the luxury of staying at 5 star luxury properties at most of the destinations. We chose hotels that were to the closest proximity to the areas we wanted to explore.
We were very sure about a few things that we definitely wanted to do in Thailand. So narrowing down on destinations wasn’t difficult. We knew we wanted to party hard, and since the full moon party in Koh Samui was cancelled, we chose two nights in Phuket.
Our next stop was Krabi. The three of us are water babies, we knew soaking our feet in the sand, chilling by the beach with a beer in hand, island hopping, fun diving, snorkeling were all on our to do list. And choosing Krabi was the best choice we made.
Crystal clear waters, clean beaches, untouched islands, restaurant and karaoke bars by the beach.. aaahhh bliss… Our next stop was Khao Lak, a destination selected blindly following a friends recommendation.
When we reached Khao Lak, it was 8pm and the place was dead, not a single soul on the road, not a single restaurant that was open, just absolute silence. We were beginning to think we messed up with this one. We mentally prepared ourselves that we would just relax for the next three days in the hotel.
In fact the first night at Khao Lak was just an endless night of conversations by the pool. But the beauty we woke up to next morning was just astonishing. Mountains on one side, beach on the other, with numerous waterfalls to just explore, beautiful diving sites with abundant underwater life to be mesmerised by, this spot was bang on the best pick of our trip.
We ended it at Bangkok, where we shopped until we literally dropped. We also ensured, that we landed in Bangkok on the weekend, so we can shop at the Chatuchak Market, which is only open on weekends.
At places like Phuket and Bangkok, its best to choose a property with the least proximity to the targeted area based on your interests during your travel, this helps in cutting cost. We stayed at a 5min walking distance from Bangla road, so we never had to pay for travel, as we walked every bit.
In Bangkok, we stayed right opposite the Platinum shopping area and for the Weekend Chatuchak Market, we did our googling on the cheapest way to get there, and it was an easy sail through. A public bus that runs every 20 mins and costed us a bare minimum of 7 bahts.
Whilst at Krabi, staying at the Riviera can be quite expensive, so we stayed a little off, still walkable, but the city is so beautiful that you’d like to explore. So we hired bikes, costed us about 250 bahts per day, similar to goa, but efficient and gave us the free space to move around at our convenience.
The same goes for Khao Lak, hired bikes and just went from mountain to mountain. The city is actually built around a national park, and it’s not as commercial yet. So you get to live like the movies, where you take random turns, explore random valleys, unknown grounds. We in fact walked into a place, where we had the opportunity to watch the elephants take a bath and just wander around like it was their playground.
Between cities, such as Phuket to Krabi or Krabi to Khao Lak, we used the mini vans, which is a sharing service. These are very comfortable 12 seater sharing air conditioned vans, and you pay by person. This is way more affordable when compared to taking a cab. All these cities are at a distance of a two to three hour drive from each other. If you had to cab it, it would almost cost you double, even when split by three people. We decided to fly back to Bangkok as the distance was too much to drive through, but you have various low budget airlines that have multiple flights to popular destinations at a very low cost, as low as 500 bahts.
Food and Beverage
Food is never a problem in Thailand. The street food is at its best and the cheapest option available. You have everything under the sun available. You can have a meal by roadside for 30 bahts or in a restaurant for 60 bahts and combo it with a sangha beer or mocktail for hardly anything. They are plenty of seven elevens as well, in case you want to stock your hotel room with munchies for the night.
I think Thailand has managed to master this art. With thousands of travel operators sitting on the road selling various set or customised deals, you don’t really have to worry to pre-book. Do remember to bargain though. We did a six island hopping inclusive of snorkeling, food and water at just 800 baht per person, whilst the first amount quoted to us was 2000 baht per person.
If you are shy to bargain, you’re the one to lose out, because everyone in Thailand bargains. Just like Phuket, every other popular destination has tour operators in the commercials areas in abundance and I would recommend buying the package at the destination instead of pre booking online, it works out way cheaper. In Khao Lak, everything was slightly more expensive as the city hadn’t received its share of tourists yet. But I’m sure it will get there.
There’s a lot of activities around the national park, like the tiger kingdom, rafting, heated pools, etc, ranging between 1000-2000 baht but definitely worth it. If you’re planning to dive, ensure you do your research before you reach the spot. It is an expensive sport, but totally worth every penny spent.
All in all to sum it up, a budget trip isn’t that hard to execute, but needs a lot of research and planning. Thank god for google, life is now a beautiful place, with travel made so easy.