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How To Travel In Thailand On Less Than $20 A Day

How To Travel In Thailand On Less Than $20 A Day
Diana Star Oct 23, 2017
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Thailand’s tourism sector seems to be increasing by the second as more and more people are getting savvy on the cheap prices and rich culture of this foreign land.

Being a relatively safe travel destination this is a country frequented by young and solo travelers. It’s no surprise. Thailand is a gorgeous country that is filled with culture, white sand beaches and amazing sights.

So, let’s take a look at how to keep costs down allowing you to travel for even longer with less money. Be sure to read to the end where you will find a cost breakdown of your trip.

Never Pay Full Price

Thailand is a place that you can negotiate any price. This is especially true in markets and small shops. If you’re shopping in big establishments or malls you can expect to not only pay full price but drastically higher than those in markets.

This can be a tricky proposition. If you come across an item that you want and the person stands firm on the price you either pay or walk away.

Even though haggling is implied you need to be respectful. After all this is the way that the merchant feeds their family. Be sure to not haggle for sport and instead consider the time and effort put into making the item as well as your money.

Strive to find a price that you believe to be fair and both you and the store owner walk away happy.

If you see an item in a shop you can expect to see many more of them along your travels. It’s not uncommon that two shops right beside each other will sell the exact same item.

If you’re shopping in a street market we recommend going to a few shops before handing over your money.

How to negotiate: If you want to get the rock bottom price the trick is to act like you really want that item and after negotiating the price say that it’s too high and act like you’re going to walk away. This way you will surely find out how low they are willing to go.

If you see an item that you truly want buy it before you leave the city. Even though you can find some items throughout the country other items are city specific.

This is especially true if you have no plans to return to the city in your travels. Items that this applies to are things that look handmade, art, and some bags.

Even if the price seems high compared to others in Thailand it’s still going to be world’s cheaper than trying to purchase it back home.

Stick To Street Food

Street food is found everywhere in Thailand and is the most popular and definitely the cheapest food you can get. In Thailand, the street food is safe for foreigners to eat too – well safe-ish.

While the food is delicious and cheap you will have to turn a blind eye to the lack of safe food seen in this area. As a general rule, things that are cooked in front of you’re generally okay to eat.

If you have a weak stomach it’s best to stay away from kebabs that have been sitting out for a while.

Something to consider: We strongly recommend bringing Imodium and Gravol with you on your trip. It will save you from having to pay more for it when you’re traveling.

Obviously places along the beach are going to be more expensive so for the cheapest foods head to markets and street vendors a block off the main drag.

While you will find no shortage of pad thai, pancakes and smoothies, try branching out to find other delicious commodities on the market.

Negotiate Accommodation Costs

You may think that when you walk into an affordable hotel or hostel that the prices they offer you’re fixed. While in fancier hotels this may be the case, the majority of the time paying full price is not needed.

Start by doing your research. Make a habit of checking prices through tripadvisor and agoda so you know a start price that you should expect. With some knowledge in your back pocket you will be much better suited to get the best price.

Have a price in mind that you’re looking to spend and don’t be scared to ask for it.

Pro Tip: Even though you can usually find the cheapest prices through many hostels and hotels don’t like people who use this company. It can be that they charge a higher fee for their service but regardless we recommend to not use this site.

Many times, through negotiations hotel workers will offer to throw in free breakfasts rather than bringing the price all the way down.

This is not a bad option as with the ability to fill up on a nice morning buffet you will not need to spend as much money on food throughout the day.

It depends where you’re going in Thailand but for a double occupancy private hotel room you can expect to pay around $20. This often works out to be about the same price as a hostel if you can split the cost with a friend.

Opt For Cheaper Transit

There are many ways to get from point a to point be in Thailand. In fact, your options are much wider here than in most other countries of travel.

In general travel agents will tell you there is a fast way and a slow way when in fact there are many ways. While you may find a taxi to be quick and easy, there are much better ways of traveling between destinations both long and far.

Scooter / Motorbike

For local transportation putting around a city try renting a scooter. While technically you do require a special license for anything over 50cc’s this is not strictly enforced.

If you do happen to find yourself in a road block no more than $20 USD will get you out of trouble with the police.

Bikes typically cost around $8 USD per 24 hour period and gas prices are a mere $4 a tank for a 250cc bike. This is the best way to fully explore an area as you will have free range to go wherever you choose for a fraction of the price.

Just keep in mind that Thailand’s traffic is not like home. Not only do they drive on the opposite side of the street there seem to be few traffic regulations.

Scooters and motorbikes bypass cars and trucks at streetlights and line up in the front, even if there is already a lineup of cars. It can take a bit to get used to but by mimicking the locals you will fit in in no time.

As a bonus many people purchase the motorbikes, or rent for weeks or even months at a time, and use this to take them around the entire country. This requires some mechanical know how but is sure to provide irreplaceable memories.

When you’re renting either a scooter or motorbike the rental company will ask for some sort of damage deposit. If you’re renting a bike for a single day it’s not uncommon for them to ask for your passport as a deposit.

This can become a nightmare when you go to return the bike. Other places will ask for a large cash deposit. This can be scary to hand over but is necessary.

Ask your hostel or hotel where you should rent a bike. They will often know of a reputable and trustworthy place. You can also ask fellow travelers who have already rented scooters.

Pro Tip: Beware of scams involving renting scooters. Some places will rent you a bike with existing damage and say that you caused it and make you pay the damage deposit.

If you’re renting a scooter it’s highly recommended that you take pictures, or even a video, of the condition of the bike. Walk around and film every aspect of the scooter, even the undercarriage.

It may seem silly but could end up saving you hundreds of dollars.

Pedal Bike

If you’re uncomfortable with renting a scooter many cities will offer pedal bicycle rentals. Some hotels and hostels even throw this into the price of their rooms (if they don’t you can usually negotiate to include that).

These come at a minimal price while still providing you with the freedom to travel where you choose. It may take more effort to get around but it’s much cheaper and you don’t have to worry about a steep damage deposit.

Other Ways Of Getting Around

If you’re traveling long distances from city to city taking buses, flights, trains, or even ferries is the most common way to travel.


Buses are the cheapest form of travel and from there you have the more comfortable overnight VIP buses and the less comfortable and much slower city buses.

These buses will have air conditioning and seats that can recline so you can get a decent night’s sleep.


If you’re going from island to island you will be traveling on a boat. There are many different kinds you should be aware of. Speed boats will be the most expensive but also the fastest.

These will have comfortable seats, televisions, electrical outlets and even a minibar.

Slower boats will be significantly less expensive but also have less amenities. There will be nowhere to charge your electronics, the seats will be closer together and there will be no tv’s or place to get snacks.

If you’re traveling a short to medium distance you can ride in a longtail boat. These are the most common boats pictured in most of the images you’ve probably seen of Thailand.

They are called longtails because they have a long driveshaft with a propeller from an engine attached to the rear of the boat. This looks like a long tail, hence the name. These boats can be cheap and the most negotiable when it comes to price.

Tuk Tuk

If you’re looking for a more laid back experience, you can hire a tuk tuk driver for the day. While a fun experience, tuk tuk drivers are often the most expensive way of seeing the city.

Taking the city bus is a great way to see the city and travel with locals.

Regardless of the method of travel you choose, be sure to always shop around and negotiate prices down where possible. Often checking between three different travel agents can save you about 100 baht in cost.

Stick To Hostels

If traveling alone be sure to stick to hostels. Not only is it the much cheaper route to go, it’s also much more social which will give you more opportunities to meet new friends.

You may think that hostels are dirty and cramped but that isn’t always the case. Yes they have been designed to fit up to 20 people into a room, but they can be spacious and somewhat private.

You should expect to share a bathroom with other travelers. But you do get hot water, wifi and air conditioning – all you will come to appreciate when backpacking.

While this is true for solo travelers, when traveling in pairs or groups, opting for private hotel rooms can work out to be the same price, if not worlds cheaper.

But if you’re traveling by yourself you can find rooms for less than 8$ USD a night (less if you’re good at negotiating).

Find Cheaper Entertainment

Thailand is definitely not short on entertainment. From burlesque shows, fire dancers, street performers, festivals and endless historical sites, you will certainly be able to busy yourself.

Like everything, there are cheaper ways to experience this and much more expensive.

Be sure to skip the cruelty of the many elephant riding and tiger parks and instead head to a more cost effective and humane sanctuary.

Here you will be able to still interact with the giant creatures with the assurance you’re adding to these gentle giants lives.

Head North

Most tourists tend to travel south when traveling through Thailand.

Spending a lazy holiday island hopping through the many white sandy beaches of the Thai islands soaking up as much sun and drinking till the early hours of the morning is a right of passage in this country.

While this is one of the most relaxing and ideal ways to spend your travels heading north will prove infinitely valuable as well.

The tourist path is much less traveled up north and so you will be hit with much more culture, and much cheaper prices.

Booking a night bus up to cities like Chiang Mai is the most popular of the northern towns. Here you will find lush jungles to trek through, many animal sanctuaries to visit and festivals like nowhere else.

The culture is rich in this area so you can expect to find many temples and religious sanctuaries as well as many small mom and pop shops that will allow you to more closely interact with locals.

Heading even further north to Chiang Rai and east to Pai are other unique cities that will prove infinitely rewarding on your travels.

These excellent spots are much cheaper while still providing many memories.

While traveling the country’s lush north you will spend significantly less on every single item including transport, accommodations and even food.

This will allow you to bank more money that will be required in the more expensive southern islands.

Other Aspects to consider

Before you travel to anywhere it’s important to be fully prepared buying the appropriate coverage options to help ensure you’re fully prepared and to keep you safe.

This includes the obvious such as secure comfortable shoes, a travel safe day bag, and luggage locks. It’s wise to go to your trip as well prepared as possible.

It’s much cheaper in this country than in most others for most street vending purchases.

With that being said, there are some things you know you will need and will be much easier to just pack along with you rather than splurging on this cost later.

This is especially true with some basic medical supplies and everyday toiletries. Be sure to bring along some wound cleaner as any wound you get will likely become infected with all the time spent in the sand and salt water.

Similarly, packing along contacts supplies and other everyday essentials will cut down on the costs spent while traveling.

This also includes the most important items that will cover you in case of any emergent situation abroad such as travel insurance.

Medical Insurance

Even though this is something that is usually overlooked it can literally save you thousands of dollars. All it takes is one bad meal or a gravel patch in the road for you to end up in the hospital.

To treat food poisoning in Thailand can cost upwards of $800 USD.With the cost of travel insurance being around $100 USD for your entire trip it’s easy to see how valuable this can be. This will cover you for as many visits as you need.

This will also cover injuries from scooter accidents, simple falls scrapes and injuries that are likely to get infected and many more injuries. This is not something to be overlooked.

Even if you don’t use this coverage it will give you peace of mind. Getting hurt abroad without coverage can cost you a tremendous amount of money that can likely bring an early end to your trip.

Cost Breakdown

Being a frugal living enthusiast I took to Thailand on a hunt of how affordable it truly is. What I found was that I was able to travel all over this beautiful countryside and in the end my costs accounted for less than $20 a day.

This obviously depends on how much you plan to shop but if you’re looking for a cheap getaway Thailand should be near the top of your list.

The truth is you could easily do Thailand for much cheaper if you stayed still in one place. This is because after your plane ticket your biggest expense will be transportation between cities.

This isn’t something you should avoid as heading north to cities like Chiang Mai and Pai are just as rewarding as heading south to island hop through Koh Lanta and Koh Tao.

This can sometimes be as expensive as ฿1200 ($35 USD). Negotiating this price down and planning for the expense ahead of time is key. If you account for these relatively large lump sums ahead of time it will only equate to a couple of dollars a day.

Your largest day to day expense will likely be accommodations. For backpackers you can find dorm rooms starting at around ฿300 a night ($9 USD).

For those looking for private rooms, they typically start at around $15 for double occupancy making it a cheaper option if you’re sharing the expense with a friend.

The cost of food is marginal against all other costs for your trip. Here you can comfortably eat for the whole day on less than $5. While tipping isn’t mandatory it’s so appreciated and with prices so low it’s easy to simply round up.

While you may not want to have a full budget spreadsheet to stick to, it’s important to be realistic with how much money you’re planning to spend.

Final Thoughts

While Thailand is known for being a cheap travel location, if you know what you’re doing there are many ways to travel even more frugally than you think.

The most expensive part of traveling to Thailand is buying your plane ticket. Once you land in this country everything from food to a place to sleep will surprise you by how inexpensive it’s.

Thailand is not only a beautiful country but is one that is affordable for almost every traveler. It’s easy to see the cheap prices and live like a king in this country.

Traveling for cheap in Thailand is not only easy but will still allow you to get the most out of your travels.

Be sure to follow these tips for keeping costs down and let us know how your travels went in the comment section below. Thanks for reading and happy frugaling!

Diana Star

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