Backpacking Thailand On A Budget: What Travelers Should Know

looking out to sea while backpacking thailand on a budget

Find out everything you need to know for backpacking Thailand on a budget. Learn about the best travel tips, money, important information, top places to see, and more in this guide on the ultimate backpacking destination, Thailand!


Thailand is a must-visit destination and a highlight for many people traveling Southeast Asia. From palm tree-covered beaches, lush jungles, and incredible cities, backpacking Thailand will have you in awe of all the varied landscapes.

It is also a popular destination with young travelers due to being located on the famous banana pancake trail. You’ll find plenty of like-minded people backpacking Thailand on a budget.

Think $3.00 Pad Thais, $5.00 massages, and $1.00 beers. For any budget traveler, this is absolute paradise. Also, Any mistakes you make won’t cost you too much money and any scams won’t financially ruin your trip (speaking from experience).

There is an assortment of places you will want to visit, which I will get into later. Though you’ll find most backpackers generally spend around 1 month in Thailand. This gives you enough time to explore the country relatively in-depth and check out all the top spots. It is a big place so you’ll need to either splash out on a couple of flights or take a few overnight trains.

Though, before we get into all the details of the best places to see in Thailand, let’s start with the basics. I will cover for you everything you will never need to know about backpacking Thailand. From money matters, visas, when to go, accommodation, getting around and so much more before finally getting into where exactly you should go and do during your adventure traveling Thailand on a budget.


Backpacking Thailand On A Budget: All You Need To Know


What Is The Currency In Thailand

The local currency in Thailand is the Thai Baht.

Check online exchange rates.


Travel Budget For Backpacking Thailand

I actually kept track of all my costs to travel Thailand on my first trip. This includes transportation, food, accommodation, activities, and even some souvenir shopping. I tracked all my expenses to make sure I kept on budget and it has also allowed me to hold onto that information to share with you.

In total, I ended up spending $23.60 per day. This was done by staying in the cheapest rooms, taking overnight buses, and only doing a few tours. I had actually budgeted to spend $25.00 per day, so came in just slightly below this.

The largest portion of my budget actually went towards food. This is because accommodation is so cheap, spending $13.00 or so each day on food eventually adds up. I could’ve kept this cost lower by eating street food. Though I am a bit of a fussy vegetarian so I preferred to eat at locally run restaurants where it would cost me $4.00 or so for a meal and a drink.

Your budget will go a lot further than the North compared to the South. The most expensive place I visited was Koh Phi Phi and looking back I definitely should’ve spent less time there. Especially considering I didn’t actually like it there.

exploring koh lanta national park on thailand on a budget
exploring some awesome landscapes in Koh Lanta while we were backpacking Thailand

Entry Requirements For Backpacking Thailand

Depending on your passport country of origin, you may not need a visa to enter Thailand. There is a list of countries that can enter visa-free for a period of 30 days. Some of these countries include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and The United States.

Though you will be required to show proof of departure when arriving at the airport. This is because many people travel to Thailand for work and end up overstaying. Alternatively, in the past, it has been a popular place to do visa runs to neighboring countries and then your 30 days stay restarts. Though in recent years these rules have changed where you can only stay 90 days in any 6 month period.

If you do not have proof of onward travel many travelers use such services as Onward Ticket. The company books a legitimate ticket in your name and cancels it after a certain period. You just need to pay a small service charge. This provides you with an actual ticket for proof of onward travel. I have used them before, but remember you still need to leave the country within 30 days of arriving. Though this is the perfect amount of time for my 3 week Thailand itinerary!


Best Time To Travel Thailand

The high season in Thailand is between November and March when the weather is at its best throughout the country. This is also known as the dry season, with minimal rain and clear days. During this period, there is an influx of tourists as people come to visit and as a result accommodation prices increase.

I have traveled to Thailand during the months of February, April, and May. February falls in the high season, though April and May fall in the shoulder season. During this time the sunny days had a short period of thundering storms with pouring rain. Though these often occurred in the late afternoons or evenings. Most of the time we had already settled in for the night.

The good thing about Thailand is that when the weather is bad on one side of the country, for example, Koh Lanta, you can always travel to the other side and it will be better, e.g. Koh Phangan.

The North of the country is best to visit between November and May. Whilst June to October is the monsoon season up there and you will want to avoid traveling there then.

The East Coast Islands are best avoided from September through to December as this is when they get hit with heavy rainfall. Though the rest of the year they are perfectly fine to visit. Alternatively, the West Coast Islands should be avoided from April and October. Also, think twice before taking ferries in Thailand during the wet season as there have been numerous incidents throughout the years.

beautiful sunny palm tree days in thailand
beautiful sunny days in Koh Lanta, the perfect weather in Thailand

Sleeping In Thailand On A Budget

You can find an assortment of accommodation in Thailand. Though be aware that the further South you travel the more expensive the options are. Though cities themselves generally provide a good mix of hostels, guesthouses, and hotels for all budgets. No matter where you are in the country and what your budget is, it is very likely you will be able to find a suitable option.

Long gone are the days backpacking Thailand staying in cute little bamboo huts, well nearly. These used to cover the islands, but nowadays they are a lot harder to come by. Nevertheless, if you look hard enough to should be able to find a couple on each island. Though whether they will be affordable or a pricey Instagram hotspot is another question.

In Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Phuket you will be able to find an assortment of relatively affordable luxury hotels. These three towns are quite well trodden on the backpacking Thailand scene and as such cater for all types of travelers. Almost all towns in Thailand now offer at least one hostel for those travelers on a budget. The only place I haven’t found one is in Chiang Khong, though instead, I booked a private room in a resort for $3.50.

Overall, if you are a dorm bed person I would budget about $8.00 per day to spend on accommodation. If you are like me and enjoy simple guesthouses, and also have someone else to split private room costs with, I would budget $12.00 per day just to be safe.


Getting Around Thailand On A Budget

In my opinion, Thailand is super easy to travel around on a budget. Buses and minivans cater to tourists and are able to take you around the country with ease.

Planes: If you are on a budget then you probably won’t be taking any flights within Thailand. Though if you can afford to domestic flights connects Bangkok with the major hotspots in the country. There are quite a few airlines operating domestically in Thailand which creates competition to keep prices relatively low. There are a couple of long trips which you may consider a flight, for example, Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Mini Van: Minivans are a popular way to travel when backpacking Thailand. They will pick you up from your guesthouse or hostels and drop you off at the bus station in the city you are traveling to. The prices are only a little bit more when compared to a bus. Though the journey will be a lot faster. The one downside is they will full up the minivans to the brims, full seats plus bags for each traveler does not make for a comfortable journey.

Bus: A slightly cheaper option than a minivan, the bus is a good choice for those who aren’t in a rush and are traveling Thailand on a budget. From experience, I generally find buses in Thailand of pretty decent quality. Most have comfortable seats and working air conditioning. They will also stop every few hours for a bathroom break. Though this isn’t the most convenient when you’re on an overnight trip and just want to sleep.

Train: Taking a train is a great way to travel around Thailand. In terms of pricing, it is generally somewhere in between a bus ticket and a flight. Though the plus side of the train is it makes for a super comfortable journey. This is especially true on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai where you get an actual bed to sleep in compared with a seat. The train can take you as far north as Chiang Mai and as far south as Hat Yai.

Boat: If you are wanting to head to the islands in Thailand, which you likely are then you will need to take some sort of boat. I personally like taking Lomprayah to the islands on the east coast such as Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui. They have a great reputation and they are always on time. Though on the west side of Thailand I have only booked random ferries through my guesthouses so don’t particularly have a preference. Just be aware that ferries in Thailand can be quite pricey, which you can check out in my Thailand Travel Budget post.

Motorbike: A less popular, but still doable option is to motorbike around Thailand. As you will likely be traveling North to South or vice versa then renting will not be an option. This means you will need to purchase one. It may not be as popular as doing it in Vietnam, though I can tell you it is still possible and people definitely give it a go.

taking one of the trains in while backpacking thailand on a budget
a less than impressed james while on the train, though these are the things you do while backpacking thailand on a budget

Food & Drink In Thailand

In Thailand, you can easily find a wide assortment of food. This is even more true in tourist hot spots such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. From vegan, Italian, Indian and Vietnamese. There is a variety of cuisines here for foodies.

Though wherever you find yourself in the country good food will not be far behind. I am a fussy eater and a vegetarian, luckily I had no issues whatsoever finding something suitable in Thailand. My personal go-to options were small locally run restaurants offering various stir fry tofu dishes.

In terms of local dishes, Thailand is a foodie paradise. From Pad Thai, Red Thai Curry, Khao Soi and so many more. You can easily find yourself exploring Thailand with your mouth.

At local eateries, you can plan to spend between $2.50-$3.50 per meal. Though, eating out at Western-style upscale restaurants you can easily double this amount.

enjoying a cocktail in bangkok
a watermelon mocktail and smoothie while in bangkok
getting a meal on khao san road while backpacking thailand on a budget
a cheaper alternative to the above, a smoothie from a street stall vendor

Internet Access In Thailand

Internet access is pretty decent in Thailand. As a result, it is a pretty popular place with digital nomads as they can easily work remotely. We never really had any issues with an internet connection, even when we were staying on islands. The price of the internet should be included in your accommodation as well.


Buying A SIM Card In Thailand

The easiest way to buy a sim card in Thailand is definitely at the airport when you arrive. The people at these booths are trained to help foreigners and know what plan will be best for you.

This is exactly what I have done multiple times in the past, generally getting a plan with unlimited data for a certain period e.g. 2 weeks or 1 month. The only downside of doing it like this is that it is a lot more pricey than if you were to simply go buy a sim card from 7/11 and set it up for yourself. You are basically just paying for the convenience.

I found the 4G reception pretty good in Thailand, giving me plenty of use. The only times I struggled were on the overnight train journey to Chiang Mai where we obviously went through some patchy areas. It also works for a few hours on the slow boat to Luang Prabang if you are doing that journey (whereas the Laos sim cards will not work).


Top Places To Visit While Backpacking Thailand On A Budget

Chiang Mai

Welcome to one of my favorite spots in Thailand, Chiang Mai. This digital nomad hub is an absolute must-visit, even if you are only in Chiang Mai for 3 days. From elephant sanctuaries, cooking classes, night markets, and more! This is such an incredible city and is one I always recommend to travelers in Thailand. It is also a foodie hot spot with an abundance of affordable and delicious meals around every corner.

one of the many temples around chiang mai
chilling outside of a temple in chiang mai during the start of my backpacking thailand journey

Ayutthaya

This ex capital of Thailand has a super interesting past and is actually a UNESCO Heritage Site. Ayutthaya is well worth a visit whether you wish to stay overnight or make it a day trip from Bangkok. Hire a bicycle or go on a tour and explore the numerous temples which call this place home.

exploring ayutthaya while backpacking thailand
just one of the many impressive temple complex’s you can explore while in ayutthaya

Bangkok

Welcome to the capital of Thailand, Bangkok. It is likely you will either start or finish your backpacking Thailand journey in this city thanks to its great transport links to other countries. Though it is well worth spending at least 48 hours in Bangkok to experience the best of what it has to offer. Check out the impressive Grand Palace and some of the incredible nearby temples. Book a stay in a hostel on Khao San Road and join along in one of the best party places!

enjoying the sunset in bangkok from one of the sky bars
a beautiful sunset falling over bangkok

Koh Tao

Koh Tao is also known as a divers paradise as this is one of the cheapest places to get PADI certified. Apart from that, there are some awesome nearby islands, beautiful beaches, and picturesque viewpoints. I even did a snorkeling tour in Koh Tao, though I had mixed feelings about it.

one of the hills on koh nang yuan
driving past koh nang yuan just off the island of koh tao

Koh Phangan

This place is so much more than the full moon party! Koh Phangan has some of the best beaches in Thailand. If you can definitely hire a motorbike and explore the island at your own pace. From waterfalls, viewpoints, and white sandy beaches, it is easy to spend weeks here!

swimming at haad salad in blue waters koh phangan
the perfect free activity- swimming! this is one of many beautiful beaches in koh phangan we discovered while backpacking thailand on a budget

Ao Nang

I read in so many travel blogs to go to Krabi, don’t, go to Ao Nang instead. Here you will find a couple of gorgeous beaches, some chilled-out restaurants, and an assortment of accommodation options. It’s a lot more relaxed here than nearby in Krabi town. You can also easily take a day trip to Railay Beach to check out one of the most perfect places in all of Thailand (definitely spend a night there if you can afford it).

all the boats lined up on railay beach
the colorful boats lined up on the shores of railay beach

Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta is another perfect chilled-out place. I could honestly stay an extended period there if I hadn’t already planned further travel. It’s the perfect place to explore by motorbike. Get lost in the many viewpoints looking out to the sea, hang out with dogs at Lanta Animal Welfare and watch the sunset turn the sky all shades of red.

sunset from koh lanta national park
watching sunset from the southern tip of koh lanta

Koh Phi Phi

If you are looking for a bit of a party and to let loose during your time backpacking Thailand on a budget then you can’t do better than Koh Phi Phi. Apart from a party, there are also numerous day tours to nearby beaches, islands, and caves. Hike your way up the hillside to one of the many Phi Phi viewpoints.

tasha amy on the koh phi phi viewpoint
a early morning walk up to one of the viewpoints on koh phi phi

Phuket

Now I didn’t particularly fall in love with Koh Phi Phi, though that doesn’t mean you will have the same experience. If I started my trip in Phuket where I didn’t know better, then sure I may have had a good time. Though I visited as the last destination in my trip, having come from the relaxed pace of Koh Lanta. I found Phuket dirty, grimy, and scammy. Just keep in mind that is simply my opinion and I would go back as I honestly think it has more to offer.


Work For Accommodation In Thailand

Give working for your accommodation a try. Many hostels in Laos offer those who are staying a free place to rest your head. Though in exchange you must be willing to help with cleaning, front desk, and other general duties.

Another option is WWOOFing or Helpx.


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Find out everything you need to know for backpacking Thailand on a budget. Learn about the best travel tips, money, important information, top places to see, and more in this guide on the ultimate backpacking destination, Thailand!

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. So, if you click on it and purchase something, I get a small percentage at no extra cost to you. As always all opinions are my own and your support is much appreciated.

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