Thailand is quickly growing into one of the most touristic countries in the world. 38.28 millions tourists visited the “Land of Smiles” in 2018. It’s not hard to see why : Beautiful beaches, tasty food, numerous temples, diving in crystal clear water… Thailand has a lot to offer to its visitors no matter what your budget is. After visiting this country multiple times, I decided to make a list of 10 things to know before traveling to Thailand ! The main goal is to help you to travel Thailand on a budget.
Table of Contents #10 Things to Know before Traveling to Thailand on a budget :
- ATM fees are very high, how to avoid it ?
- How cheap is the food ?
- Where to find a hostel ?
- Free place to sleep
- Cheap deals to rent a scooter
- The train is the cheapest way to go around
- Hitchhiking is very easy in Thailand
- The Wi-Fi sucks, but you can get a Sim Card
- Thailand shares a border with 4 countries
- You probably don’t need to apply for a visa before traveling to Thailand
1. ATM fees are very high in Thailand, how to avoid them ?!
As a long-term traveler, avoiding ATM fees is an inseparable part of my journey. I did everything to make sure that my own bank will never charge me for any transaction. Sadly in Thailand I had a problem when I discovered that every ATM charged a fee to all foreign cards. I wish I had known that before traveling to Thailand. The fee is the highest I’ve ever seen in the world, they will charge you an inevitable 200 Thai Baht (5.6€ / 6.3$) no matter how much you cash back.
- Do a cash advance. You can go to an exchange office such as the Bangkok Bank or Krungsri Bank, pay by card and they will give you the cash without any fee from their end.
- Pay with your credit card whenever you can. The Thai economy is more cash-based, therefore not so many places accept cards. Some require a minimum amount to spend, for instance 300 baht in a 7/11.
- Bring your own currency before traveling to Thailand. American dollars or euros are best, and exchange it in an official money exchange place. Banks can exchange, but their rates are usually lower than a currency exchange place. These places are unavailable in cities that are not very touristic, so you’ll have to do it in a bank in that situation. Remember to always bring your passport when you want to exchange money !
- If you do decide to cash back in an ATM, try to withdraw as much as possible. Citibank is recommended because of its 50.000 baht maximum withdrawal limit. You can withdraw 30.000 baht per transaction in banks like Krungsri, the Thai Military bank and CIMB bank. Be aware with this solution, the fees can add up quickly, and not the best option if you are traveling to Thailand on a budget.
2. The cheapest food starts at around 20 baht
Yes, 20 baht (0.56€ / 0.63$), we found that price outside of the touristic areas when we rented a scooter. You can get a noodle soup with some meat, or rice with fried chicken at that price.
Another great option for people traveling Thailand on a budget who wants to eat well, is to go to the local market. There is often a lady with many dishes in front of her. You can order a plate of rice and point to a dish. Dishes are usually super tasty (and spicy…) at usually 30 baht per plate, or 40 if you mix two dishes.
40 and 50 baht are the going rates when you order food near a touristic area or near the center. Of course it’ll get much more expensive if you go to a fancy restaurant or order western food.
Thai people eat around 5 or 6 times a day. That’s probably why the portions are usually smaller than average. My wife didn’t mind so much, because the heat is so intense that she felt like eating less.
3. Book a hostel with Agoda
We love booking.com, and we’ve been using the app many times in our travels around the world. It’s usually cheaper than its competitors, unless… you are in Thailand ! Yes, when traveling to Thailand you’ll find more options on Agoda than Booking.com. EVERY hostel that we found on both sites was cheaper on Agoda.
Things to know : Book on Agoda with your credit card ! By booking with your card, you’ll get a cheaper deal and you can avoid ATM fees !
4. Or… Sleep for free
With our tent it had been easy to find places to stay for free. We camped a couple of times on the beach. We sometimes asked the tourist police to camp near their premises, as it is safer than camping outside and they usually have a patch of grass for you to do so. Plus, sometimes you get a shower in the police station. Camping is a great option to travel Thailand on a budget!
If you are not into camping, you’ll be welcomed in a Buddhist temple anywhere around Thailand. Just don’t expect the service and comfort of an hotel and you’ll be fine. A great way to get some hindsight on the Buddhism and the temple life.
5. Rent a scooter
Scooters are very convenient, and you’ll see many in Thailand. As a foreigner you can rent a scooter with only your passport and a cash deposit. The cheapest offer I’ve seen was around 150 baht per day (4.2€ / 4.7$), but most places will rent it for 200 or 250 a day. Of course you’ll get a discount if you rent per week or month. One of the things to know is that scam are quite common, so have a look on Google Maps to find a reliable company with some reviews.
Thailand drives on the English side, the left side, so that could require some time to adapt if you’re not used to it.
Some smaller cities don’t have public transport. Renting a motorbike could save you money and time !
6. Take the train to live a local experience and save money
The trains in Thailand are unbelievably cheap. Apart from hitchhiking, that’s the cheapest way to get around ! There are buses and minivans connecting most destinations, it’ll be faster but the train is quite an special experience.
We took a night train between Chumphon and Hat Yai, two cities 480 kilometers apart according to the map. It took a little over 8 hours and one ticket was 189 baht (5.30€ / 5.96$). The exact same journey during the day would have been only 79 baht (2.21€ / 2.49$), and it would have lasted 2 hours longer.
At this price don’t expect much in terms of comfort. Trains are equipped with fans, and sometimes A/C but you’ll have to pay more to have a seat in an A/C carriage. You have the option between having only a seat or a bed. Of course, the bed is also more expensive ! It would have been 392 baht (11€ / 12.35$) for the same overnight journey in a bed in a fan carriage and 572 baht (16.04€ / 18.03$) for a bed in an A/C carriage.
Trains don’t get too hot, you can open the window in fan carriages and lower the steel curtain to reduce the sun’s impact. It does get very dusty inside though.
Cheaper trains are often late, usually between 30 minutes to an hour, sometimes more.
It can also be a good option during the day. At a point we took a train between Hua Hin and Prachuap Khiri Khan, a distance of 95 kilometers. It took about an hour and a half, for a ticket at only 19 baht (0.53€ / 0.6$). It was late for an hour though.
These websites will greatly help you to travel around Thailand by train :
- Train36 : It was my favorite website to plan my train trips, with many information, timetables and price on trains in Thailand (and also Malaysia and Singapore).
- State Railway of Thailand : That’s the official website and it’s in English.
- Timetables & fare : Once again that’s the official website.
- Train Tracking System : This is a life-saver. You can check how late your train is. The best way to avoid waiting too long in the inhospitable station. BUT it’s only in Thai, so you need to use a browser that can translate it.
- Train Tracking System #2 : Same as the above, and you can get even more information on each station.
Bonus for parents : If you are traveling with a kid, it’s free until 3-year-old! You can also get a discount for kids between 3 and 11.
7. Hitchhiking is very easy
We’ve been hitchhiking quite a lot in Thailand and we came to that conclusion : Thailand is one of the easiest countries in the world to get a lift. Although drivers usually don’t have a very good level of English, they are quite helpful. In some ways I found it similar to hitchhiking in Japan. You might end up in the trunk of a 4×4 though but that’s part of the fun ! If you want to travel Thailand on a budget and meet locals, hitchhiking should definitely be something to consider!
Wanna know more about hitchhiking? We wrote a complete guide to help you get started!
The roads are in good conditions even though they don’t have a proper highway. You can easily get a ride from one of the huge petrol stations on the side of the road. Most Thai love to stop there, they usually find restaurants, 7/11 and free toilets at these petrol stations.
8. WiFi sucks, get a Sim Card !
Reliable internet is essential as I’m teaching online. I need it everyday to work. I noticed that in most hostels where we stayed, it was not good enough to have a proper video call through Skype. Therefore I did my online teaching job with the data I bought. You can buy a sim card in many places, from an official shop to the airport or just a 7/11.
I bought a sim card for 50 baht (1.40€ / 1.57$) in a 7/11 but it was a bit tricky to top up, they have so many options with different duration ! In the end, one employee in an official shop did it for me with a “special offer” of just 100 baht (2.81€ / 3.15$) for 5 gigabytes, valid for one week. A great deal to travel Thailand on a budget!
9. Thailand shares a border with 4 countries
First a few things to know: From Thailand you can easily continue your overland journey by crossing to Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar or Malaysia. Make sure you get a visa in an embassy for Myanmar before ! You can get a visa on arrival in Laos and Cambodia for around 30$, and Malaysia is a visa-free country for most citizens. I crossed all these borders multiple times except the one with the worst reputation : Between Cambodia and Thailand. I avoided it, and if you do cross be aware that this border is notorious for scams and bribe.
Out of all these crossing points, I did not experience a single scam or had to pay any bribe. I crossed twice to Myanmar at the Mae Sot border, and it was pretty fast and great. It’s definitely the best border to cross into Myanmar.
I also crossed twice the border between Thailand and Laos, once at Vientiane/Nong Khai which was pretty crowded with locals and another time at Huay Xai, a popular border crossing for backpackers. They didn’t have a bridge by then so we crossed by a boat. No bribe or scams but it was a bit long due to the amount of foreigners crossing there. There are numerous borders between Malaysia and Thailand, I tried three of them and it worked well, no hassle !
10. You probably don’t need a visa for Thailand
Most citizens from Europe and Asia don’t need a visa to enter Thailand. Most citizens from Africa or Central/South America will need to apply for a visa in an embassy before.
The duration is a bit confusing. Some citizens will get 30 days whether they arrive by air or land, and some citizens will get 30 days if they arrive by air, and only 15 by land.
There’s a possibility for those citizens who don’t need visa to extend their stay for another 30 days. To do so you’ll have to pay 1.900 baht (53.21€ / ~60$) and go to the immigration office. You can also get a visa in your home country for a longer duration than 30 days. You need to do so before traveling to Thailand. They are planning to create an E-Visa for travelers who want to stay longer than 30 days.
Check the visa policy of Thailand from Wikipedia before traveling to Thailand.
And you, do you feel like traveling to Thailand? Some things to know to add on the list? Feel free to comment with your experience in Thailand on a budget below !