Breakfast on the Cheap

Relative to most of South East Asia, Ton Sai is a very expensive place to stay. Everything from food to water to accommodation costs approximately twice as much as it does in other places. This is partially because Ton Sai is located on the Pra Nang peninsula where rocky outcroppings separate the beach from the mainland making the area inaccessible by land. In some sense, Ton Sai is an island, the only way on or off is by boat. Costs here are also high because pretty much all of the development exists solely for tourists. Railay beach nearby is host to luxury five star resorts with 24 hour air conditioning and swimming pools. While Ton Sai is comparatively undeveloped, prices soar.

I should mention that things here are still cheap by Western standards, but because we are in it for the long run, we have decided to cut our costs wherever possible. One way to do this is by bringing a small cooking stove and making our own coffee and breakfast. Coffee in particular is very expensive in Thailand. Most of the coffee is from pre-sweetened, mildly caffeinated Nescafe powder and the real deal brings a premium. A tiny cup runs you 50 Bhat at the cheapest (about $1.75 or the price of dinner).


If you are going to be doing any sort of international cooking the best thing you can get is an alcohol burning stove. We use the Trangia Westwind. It is small, lightweight and durable. The stove is basically a well-made brass version of the ever-popular beer can backpacking stove. Before we left I tried my hand at making several backpacking stoves but eventually opted for the manufactured version because it wasn’t too expensive (around $20), was more efficient, and more durable. This little stove burns alcohol which has the advantage of being clean burning, cheap, and available everywhere.


Ethanol and methanol provide the best results and are widely available as solvents. Ethanol has a slightly higher BTU content (will burn more efficiently by volume) but we were unable to find it as easily in Asia. Stateside it is available as denatured alcohol. The denatured part refers to a blend with poisonous methanol making it unsuitable for drinking. Denatured alcohol is generally 90% ethanol and 10% methanol. Regular old rubbing alcohol will work also but is usually only 70% Isopropyl Alcohol with other additives and is much less efficient usually leaving a nasty black soot on everything.

When we arrived in Krabi town we set out to find some fuel. Stores in Thailand are not really organized in the same way as stores back home. There are no Home Depots or Targets where you can find everything you could possibly need and our lack of language skills left asking for directions to the hardware store a fantasy of wishful thinking. After walking around for a while sure enough we found a store selling paint. And where there is paint there are solvents! Some fun gesturing to say “alcohol, but not for drinking, for cooking” led us straight to the prize. About half a liter of 100% methyl alcohol ran us 40 Bhat ($1.30) and will be enough fuel for about 6 mornings of coffee and rice for breakfast. Next time we head into Ao Nang for supplies we will be stocking up! Hopefully a bigger bottle will be even cheaper. As a side note, they sell methyl alcohol here in a glass bottle which is pretty dangerous. Nothing flammable in the US comes in anything but metal or plastic cans. We made sure to pack it separately from our clothes in the event that it broke we wouldn’t need to look for laundry service immediately. Depending on how much cooking you intend to do having another stove and pot/pan can speed up the process. As it is it takes about an 10 min to boil half a liter of water. When you compare that to a Jetboil or Whisperlite stove it’s about double the time. Nothing compares to the flexibility, affordability, and simplicity of the Trangia though.

2 Responses to “Breakfast on the Cheap”

  1. Jeremy Nicholas said:

    is it possible to make wood fires there. cause you could have a henry fowler night with blue rumped parrots. weirdly that’s a real bird down there Please try monkey for me too

    February 10th, 2010 at 3:26 am

  2. Candace Colomac said:

    I really love coffee but don’t know if its worth 1.75 a day! Geez!

    February 10th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

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