Thailand Travel Budget
Ton Sai and Railay offer a whole range of accommodations and eating options to suit any pocketbook. On Railay we sit on the beach in front of exclusive five star resorts with uniformed attendants and on Ton Sai some of our friends stay in bamboo huts in the jungle with no electricity and shared squat toilets. Like most climbers here we have opted to operate somewhere in between. After living and climbing here for one month we have drawn up a budget of the cost of living on Ton Sai. Note that this is for the high season (November through February) and prices are a bit lower for accommodation during the shoulder and low season.
Kyle and I are definitely operating on a small budget, which requires a lot of self control. As much as we would like to order a fruit shake and beer after climbing everyday this is one surefire way to limit your travel time. Our travel goal is two years and Ton Sai is our first stop. We are not eager to watch our well-earned savings diminish too quickly. In passing we have met quite a few people who have needed to cut their trips several months short because they ran out of money.
Below is a table showing our targeted daily budget per person with local prices in Thai Baht and USD given based on our cost for Baht (the current conversion rate plus average ATM charges). An easy mental conversion is that 100 Baht is roughly $3. Our total budget comes to only $12 per person per day, but it excludes some sundries that we will get to in a bit. When you make your budget you should plan for the lifestyle you are going to want while you are traveling.
I am pretty sure that the five star resort on Railay runs about 100,000 Baht ($3,000) per night. That’s more than we plan to spend during our whole two months here. When we arrived on Ton Sai, I left Kyle on the beach with the heavy bags and did the loop around town in search of our new home. If you are staying long term you can usually negotiate a discount on your bungalow. My strategy is to ask everyone “How much is it for one night?” then “How about one week?” and finally, “What if I stay for an entire month, is there any discount?” Success varied. Some resorts were only willing to knock the price down by 20 Baht or so and others were willing to give me as much as 25% off.
Bamboo huts without electricity can be had for as little as 180 Baht (with long term discount). With electricity you are looking at anywhere from 250 to 600, depending on the resort and how much luck you have. Sealed wooden or concrete rooms are 700 and up with a lot in the 850 range. The advantage to these is that you are more likely to be able to keep the critters at bay and the mattresses are usually nicer. If you want air conditioning be prepared to pay 2,000.
The first day here I found our bungalow at Paasook Resort pretty easily. We had planned to do some cooking on a campstove and a lot of the bamboo huts didn’t allow any cooking because it was a fire hazard. Paasook had the cheapest non-bamboo bungalow offered at 400 Baht per night. They also gave me a generous discount to 300 Baht. Our cinderblock castle leaves some things to be desired but all in all it suits us well. Cockroaches, frogs, centipedes, mouse poop, and geckos are pretty much par for the course unless you spring for something fancy. The mattress is lumpy and generally uncomfortable but at least we don’t have any bedbugs.
Kyle and I also have the benefit of wanting to share the room. A lot of huts are the same price for one or two people and we know of several single travelers who have found roommates to split costs while climbing here.
Everywhere on Ton Sai serves Pad Thai. How much it costs varies by where you get it. Pad Thai can be had for as little as 25 Baht in cities in Thailand, but here on the peninsula the cheapest you can find it is 50 Baht. Pull up to a fancy restaurant and you should be prepared to spend 250. Yes, that’s 5 times the price as other places and 10 times the mainland price. You had better believe we are careful where we spend our lunch money.
One of our biggest money saving tools has been cooking our own breakfast and more importantly making our own coffee. Nescafe powder is far more popular among locals than coffee from the bean. As a result, “real” coffee comes at quite a premium, usually costing about 60 Baht at a minimum. If you, like Kyle, are addicted to your daily cup and don’t want to go without I highly suggest bringing a little travel french press. Our guest house gives us hot water for free (though some do charge as much as 10 baht to fill your thermos) or you can boil some up on your own stove. At about 2 Baht per cup we are saving big.
For breakfast we are making sticky rice with coconut milk and bananas. We actually noticed the recipe in the climbing guide and after giving it a try we loved it and have had it every morning since. To spice it up we sometimes get mangos and pineapples but these cost (gasp) 10-20 Baht more so we usually stick to the little bananas.
After a few weeks of purchased meals we decided that an average of 75 Baht per meal is completely attainable and offers a decent and delicious selection. The cheapest meals on Ton Sai are 40 Baht and a lot of options are available for 60 to 70 Baht. If you want green curry with rice (which I often do) it will run you 80 Baht. All the cheaper meals are from Chicken Mamma and the boatmen restaurant which is where we eat almost every night. If you decide you have a hankering for some new scenery Ton Sai’s 15-20 other restaurants have extensive menus as well but everything costs 50-100% more. You can also look out for regular lunch and dinner specials at some restaurants which are competitive with Chicken Mamma, though generally limited to phad thai and fried rice.
While we have largely stuck to Thai food I should also note that you can get everything from tacos to pesto pasta if you are willing to fork over the Baht.
If you decide to stay here long term you will probably quickly become aware of the pile of plastic water bottles amassing beside your bungalow. Climbing in this heat you should easily be drinking at least 3 liters a day. Buying the 1.5 liter bottles will run you 35 Baht a pop and contribute to huge amounts of plastic waste. Luckily there are reusable 20 liter jugs of water available with a small deposit for the jug. After acquiring a small hoard of 1.5 liter bottles we have been refilling them from our jug which only costs 50 Baht to refill.
While you’re out climbing all day you will definitely work up a hunger. The minimarts on Ton Sai all have the same things: chips, candy, etc, and Chicken Mamma sells delicious banana bread. Again, everything for sale here is pricey. When we are in town we stock up at 7-11 or at the grocery stores on some crackers, peanuts, salty snacks, whatever looks good. These are all pretty cheap and we always manage to find something that hits the spot. While you’re shopping just make sure you take a gander at the ingredients. Even things that seem to have no logical connection to fish can be flavored with intense amounts of fish sauce. Not our personal cup of tea.
If you are storing any amount of food in your bungalow definitely get a good closable plastic container to put it in. I’m not sure this will really keep out the monkeys but it will keep the scent down. It will also deter the squirrel-rats and ants and any other small critters who may come knocking. We have heard of many people who have ended up with a big hole chewed out of their backpack as a squirrel bore it’s way to some M&M’s. In Krabi we picked up a large plastic bin. It was relatively expensive at 190 Baht but it has served us well. There is an opportunity to re-sell things here as well so hopefully we will get some of that back.
Laundry service is not hard to find on Ton Sai but they charge you by the kilo. It is generally 50 Baht per kilo and it takes at least 24 hours to get your clothes back. If you give them a wet pair of jeans or a wet towel your laundry costs can easily double. Climbing all the time will get you pretty dirty and if you’re like us and pack light you don’t have a lot of clothing with you in the first place. On a trip to town we invested in a little washbasin and some detergent and have been doing our own laundry. During the heat of the day in late morning and mid afternoon sometimes laundry is the only thing you can do to keep cool.
Trip into Town
Relatively frequent trips to Krabi Town are one of the costs to our budget lifestyle. A lot of our cost savings comes from avoiding purchasing things in Ton Sai that could be procured in town. Ao Nang is the closest town and is a 15 minute, 80 Baht longtail ride away. Unfortunately, Ao Nang is kind of a shell of a town with nothing but ugly tourist development. For another 50 Baht each way you can hop on the bus to Krabi Town. The transport adds up but you can save a lot. Sunscreen at 7-11 in Krabi costs only 390 while they charge you 700 on the peninsula for the exact same tube. We try to limit our trips to town and make extensive lists of everything we need when we do go. As another bonus Krabi town has a bunch of restaurants that will let you use their wifi as long as you eat there.
Can you really stick to only $12 a day?
Can we? No. The base list doesn’t include any incidentals like when Kyle’s sandals broke or maybe a snorkel tour or chartering a boat to go deep water soloing. The other big thing it doesn’t include is beer. Ton Sai can be quite a scene with bar after bar playing music and having concerts nearly every night. The other problem is that beer tastes doubly delicious after a hot day of climbing. At the cheapest you can get a can of Chang for 35 Baht but at the bar it costs 50-70 Baht. We have been able to exercise great self control and are only indulging once a week or so.
The other big item that the $12 a day doesn’t include is internet. If like us you are connecting often the 1-2 Baht per minute charges can quickly add up. After a few weeks here we got a 3G USB modem and now our hourly internet charges are much lower, around 5 baht per hour. More about that in a later post.
One month in and including every little cost since we landed in Bangkok we are at $17.50 per person per day. That’s about 50% more than the basic budget we drew up. The cost is partially high due to the three day side trip we took to Trang and sometimes that’s just how it goes. If we got the 30 day visa on arrival we would have had to make a border run already and that would also add up.
All in all I am happy with our budgeting; we are living comfortably but being careful not to waste our Baht. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of effort, but if that means the difference between one year and two years of traveling it is definitely worth it.