Daily Travel Costs in Thailand on a Shoestring Budget
US$25 | 900 Thai Baht
How much money you need to travel in Thailand depends on who you speak to and how you travel. The main problem here is that large numbers of ‘travellers’ in Thailand are in reality on little more than an extended holiday and most spend well in excess of $25 per day, a large percentage of which goes on partying. Sure the party culture is big in Thailand and it’s hard to avoid unless you really find yourself off the beaten track. Even though alcohol is cheap, if you’re going out partying late every single night then you can’t expect to get by on so little.
However that is not to say it is not possible. As you will see from our sample prices below, you can still find some incredibly cheap accommodation and food. Our suggested Thailand backpacking budget of $25 per day will require a little discipline given temptation is all around but it should be enough to cover budget accommodation, eating out in local restaurants, street stalls or places that are obviously geared to backpackers and a bit of partying with the odd extra daytime activity thrown in. If you’re really sensible or are a non-drinker then you can probably get by on even less.
It is also worth noting there is a great deal of regional variation in prices. If you spend more time in the North, you will find it as cheap as anywhere in Southeast Asia or the world for that matter. Bangkok and the touristy South is more expensive.
These days $40 per day is becoming more the norm, particularly in the South of Thailand, which has islands that are now more like Ibiza than the secret paradise they once were. With US$40 per day, you can certainly afford to go out partying every night and will have a bit more for extra excursions and trips. It should be pointed out that if your intention is to do a diving course or something major of that ilk, you are still likely to need extra funds.
Sample Prices in Thailand
Flight from Krabi to Bangkok (1 hour 20 mins) – from $18 with Thai Lion Air including hold baggage
Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (about 12 hours) – $30 AC sleeper, $20 AC seat, $9 Non AC seat
Large Chang Beer in cheap restaurant/bar – 60-80 Baht (roughly $2)
Pad thai in street stall or cheap restaurant – 40-80 Baht ($1-2)
The Thailand backpacker scene has changed dramatically over the past 20-30 years and some would say for the worse but travellers continue to flock to the so-called ‘land of smiles’ in ever-increasing numbers. The main backpacker destinations, particularly the most popular islands in the South have become much more commercialised and predominantly party-orientated, which is great if you want to party all night and recover by day on beautiful golden beaches. If that’s not your scene, it’s not hard to find quieter more peaceful destinations sometimes even on the same island.
Bangkok remains the beating heart of the country, a true city of sin which love it or hate it makes for a truly intoxicating travel experience. It’s almost impossible to visit Thailand and Southeast Asia for that matter without passing through Bangkok at least once or twice given it is the core of the country’s transport network and home to the biggest two airports. The North still retains much of its old charm and places like Chiang Mai are the ideal spots to really get to grips with ancient Thai culture while there are plenty of natural wonders to be discovered outside of the towns.
Many of the destinations on this backpacking route for Thailand have already been covered in our South East Asia travel itinerary but split into two separate parts to get around the need for a visa (see bottom of this page for info on sorting out a visa for this route). However given it remains the most popular backpacking destination on the planet, we figured it could use its only dedicated route and here it is!
TIME NEEDED – 2 MONTHS
Allow 2 months to get round the whole route although it could be done in less time particularly if you are not so fussed with the party/beach element.
Backpacker budgets in Thailand vary dramatically depending on the kind of trip you want to have. The lower figure we have quoted is a real shoestring budget and would involve staying in the cheapest places, eating local food and not going wild on the partying. The higher figure is perhaps a more typical backpacker budget these days but still requires some self-discipline as even though Thailand is cheap, there is temptation to spend almost everywhere, particularly if you are a party animal, in which case you should definitely allow for a bit more.
These figures were updated in January 2017 but DO NOT include the cost of flights to/from Thailand, visas, vaccinations or travel insurance.
Logical starting point with flight connections to all 4 corners of the world. The Thai capital has many faces and chances are you will find one that is to your liking. It has a reputation as a real life Sin City and certainly it’s seedy sexual side is hard to ignore but there is plenty more to it than that. Great shopping, vibrant nightlife, buzzing street markets, delicious food and a few stunning palaces mean you will never be short of things to see and do in Bangkok. Most backpackers head straight to the Khao San Road which is the biggest backpacker hub in Southeast Asia and the perfect place to make some travel buddies, which is handy in those lonely early days, particularly if it’s your first time travelling alone.
Can be done as a long day-trip from Bangkok or with an overnight stay. This ancient city, the 2nd capital of Siam was the largest city in the world in the early 18th century with 1 million residents. It is a shadow of its former self now but the remnants of its heyday are still spread across town and give clues to its former grandeur.
This chilled out riverside town has becoming a big backpacker destination in recent years. The bridge over the River Kwai is the main point of an interest and most of the sights relate to the dark history of the so-called Death Railway to Burma during World War II. Nature lovers will also find plenty of thrills around the town and there are several interesting historical sites dotted about too with highlights including the Tiger Temple (very popular but has come in for fierce criticism from animal rights groups), Hellfire Pass and Erawan National Park.
Thailand’s oldest beach resort is getting its groove on once again. It’s popular with Thais in Bangkok due to its proximity to the capital and gets lively at weekends and during national holidays. Budget travellers tend to prefer the islands further South but Hua Hin is still a popular stop and breaks up the journey from Bangkok down to Southern Thailand.
Getting to Southern Thailand from Bangkok and Hua Hin
You have many options, the most interesting of which is to take the train down to Chumphon and connect to a boat to Ko Tao (All-in-one tickets can be bought including train, bus to the ferry port and ferry to Ko Tao or one of the other islands). Hua Hin is on the main trainline from Bangkok to Chumphon so it’s very easy sort out.
Time Needed – roughly 4 weeks*
* This depends on how much you enjoy the beach and party life. The time-frames suggested for each destination are just a guide. It’s very easy to extend your stay on any of the islands if you are enjoying it. Each destination has its own subtle differences and points of interest but there is an element of ‘same same’ about the backpacker scene at each place so some travellers choose to skip a few of these destinations in favour of spending longer in one place and perhaps doing a diving course, a bit of voluntary work or if you’re low on funds perhaps finding a bit of work for one of the bars or hostels. Either way it’s probably best not to plan a rigid schedule in this part and just relax, enjoy the lazy beach lifestyle and move on when you feel ready.
Thai island life
The smallest and quietest of the 3 main inhabited islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Ko Tao is a beautiful island and very popular with backpackers, some of whom end up staying much longer than intended. It is a fabulous place to do a PADI diving course and many of the centres also provide accommodation.
Ko Pha Ngan
Home of the famous full moon parties. Once a month the travellers flock to Ko Pha Ngan’s Haad Rin beach for a night of debauchery under the moonlight. The island gets very busy during this time although the other end of the island is much quieter. It’s a good idea to book accommodation in advance here around Full Moon night, something which isn’t really necessary anywhere else. There are big parties every week though so you don’t have to come for full moon with black moon and jungle parties also worth checking out and arguably better than the main night itself.
The Southernmost island in the Gulf of Thailand is less popular with backpackers and is unquestionably very touristy but it’s a big island and there are so many different beaches that you are sure to find one to your taste and it’s a fun place to explore for a day or so.
Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park is the country’s largest natural reserve and home to the world famous Cheow Lan Reservoir, but it’s not like any man made lake you’ve ever seen. With it’s towering limestone cliffs and crystal-clear blue waters, it is surrounded by the world’s oldest living rain forest. One great way to see everything this place has to offer is to join a group for an overnight trip to the floating bungalows of Khao Sok Lake. You’ll ride a traditional long tail boat, sleep in a bamboo floating bungalow and eat three meals per day. You’ll also be able to explore the jungle on foot hiking to caves and waterfalls or spend your time relaxing in the water or kayaking.
Krabi (Ao Nang or Krabi Town)
Krabi is the name of the province and most visitors either stay in Krabi Town, its capital or Ao Nang, its principal beach resort, which is about 30 minutes by bus from the town. The town is full of dirt cheap accommodation and restaurants and has a few interesting things to see and do but nothing remarkable. Ao Nang is a lively beach town packed with bars, restaurants, hotels and massage parlours (mostly not of the ‘happy ending’ variety). There are a couple of great beaches to relax on.
Rai Leh (Railay Beach)
Rai Leh is only 15 minutes or so round the coast and although it is not an island, it can only be accessed by boat as it is engulfed by huge cliffs on all sides. Active travellers and anyone who wants to do more than just bum around on a beach and get drunk should definitely check it out and might want to spend a fair while here. It’s a great destination for climbing, perhaps the best in Thailand and is also popular for its hiking, kayaking and snorkelling possibilities.
Ko Phi Phi
Phi Phi is one of the iconic destinations of the Thailand backpacker trail. Phi Phi Don is the only island that is inhabited and possible to stay. 20 years ago it was a very quiet island and although it is still beautiful, the main beaches and village on Phi Phi Don are now full on party-orientated not dissimilar to Haad Rin on Ko Pha Ngan. There are numerous boat trips you can do around the bay, most of which include plenty of stops for swimming and snorkelling in beautifully clear water and a visit to Maya Bay, where the movie ‘The Beach’ was filmed.
If you found all the other islands a bit too crazy and just want some time to rest and most likely detox, then Ko Lanta is the perfect place. It is home to miles and miles of long white sandy beaches, clear waters and not many people!
Getting from Southern Thailand to Northern Thailand
Getting from Ko Lanta or any of the other Southern destinations to Northern Thailand is best done by flying unless you want to spend in excess of 24 hours on buses and trains and still end up spending roughly what you would have had you opted to fly. Thai Lion Air offer the cheapest flights and allow you to put your backpack in hold for free which is a big advantage on Air Asia that also offer good deals also but place heavy charges on anyone with more than just hand luggage.
From Ko Lanta, it is best to fly from Krabi Airport, which is about 2 hours away via boat/bus transfer. You may find it cheaper to book two separate flights to move onto the next leg of our route. The first would be from Krabi to Bangkok and the 2nd from Bangkok to Chiang Rai. If you are a bit flexible with your times and perhaps willing to spend a night in Bangkok, you should be able to do the whole trip for around 2000 Baht (roughly 50 Euros). Note flights will be to Bangkok’s older Don Mueang Airport (which handles domestic flights). A taxi to Khao San Road or Central Bangkok should set you back between 250-400 Baht and take 20-30 minutes depending on traffic and whether you take the toll road (which you will have to pay an extra 150 Baht or so for so tell the taxi driver ‘No Toll!’ if you are in no rush) or not.
Given you will most likely need to return to Bangkok to leave the country it is probably best to start your Northern Thailand adventure in Chiang Rai which is the furthest away from the capital and then work back. The town of Chiang Rai has 1 or 2 interesting sights and some nice museums that can occupy you for a day or so but its main purpose from a travellers perspective is as a base that will allow you to explore the region or even do a day-trip to nearby Tachileik in Myanmar (no need for a visa).
Most travellers also head to the golden triangle, which is a small area in Chiang Rai province where the River Ruak meets the mighty Mekong River and where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar. It was well-known as a famous opium growing region and there a few interesting sites where you can learn about the trade. Nowadays though the Golden Triangle is undoubtedly a tourist trap and is more or less completely dependent on tourism for income so those looking for a more authentic Thai experience, sometimes turn their nose up at the mention of it.
This can also be done as a day-trip from Chiang Rai but there are a few guesthouses with rock-bottom prices in town so it’s nice to stay overnight in what is a really small village with beautiful surroundings. It has a fascinating history and was the home of a group of 12,000 Chinese Nationalists who fled China to Mae Salong in 1949 following the rise to power of the Chinese Communists. They continued their insurgency, part-funded by the opium trade for several decades from Mae Salong. There are several museums relating to this in the village, which nowadays is famous for producing excellent oolong tea.
Another key destination on any backpacking route in Thailand. Chiang Mai is a cosmopolitan city with a very international vibe like Bangkok, but much smaller and more relaxed and without a lot of the hassles that go with the capital. It’s a great place to get to grips with traditional thai practices such as massage, muay-thai boxing and thai cooking and has a reputation as the country’s cultural capital.
You could potentially split your time in Chiang Mai into two separate stints as you will probably need to return after Mae Sariang in order to take a train down to Sukhothai as there are no easy and certainly no direct connections between Mae Sariang and Sukhothai.
For volunteering opportunities near Chiang Mai, check out Mindful Farm:
Pai is another stop which has turned into a real backpacker place and it’s not hard to see why. With only 3000 permanent residents it is very small and is located in a really beautiful valley North of Chiang Mai. There are a whole range of different ways to witnessing the nature from lazily chilling out in one of Pai’s plentiful backpacker bars and taking in the views to tubing, trekking, zip-lining, white-water rafting and plenty more.
Mae Hong Son
This is another very small town not far from Pai. You probably won’t need as long here but it’s certainly worth hiring a motorbike or at least a bicycle for a day or two and getting out to the surrounding areas which are home to a few points of potential interest including a mud spa, a bamboo bridge, a waterfall, a palace and a fish cave!
Close to the Myanmar border and without the crowds of Pai and Chiang Mai, this is a good place for trekking in the mountains and getting to see small local villages and tribes. Its remote location means the ‘hilltribe’ experiences are much more authentic here so be sure to get out to the Karen and Lawa Hilltribe villages.
Thailand’s original capital is located 1 hour by bus from Phitsanulok, which is on the main trainline between Chiang Mai and Bangkok at almost exactly the halfway point (express trains take about 7 hours to reach either city from Phitsanulok) so it is a convenient stop if you opt to get the train back to Bangkok for your flight home or onwards. The train journey alone allows you a glimpse into the remoter areas of Thailand away from the travelling hordes so it is well worth doing although price-wise there is usually little difference between flying from Chiang Mai to Bangkok or taking the train.
Old Sukhothai is 12km west of the modern city and quite a lot of effort has been put in to restoring it to something like its 13th Century glory and it has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Consider renting a bike (which you can do for as little as 50 Baht) and exploring the ruins.
And that’s the end of our Thailand backpacking itinerary although you may want to spend another day or two in Bangkok taking advantage of the great shopping centres to grab a few bargains while you wait for your flight home. Certainly don’t rely on the train to deliver you from Phitsanulok to Bangkok on-time for a flight the same day.
Extending Your Trip
There are plenty more destinations in Thailand that are worth a visit and where it might be easier to escape the crowds and get a more authentic Thai experience. Head over to Indie Traveller for an in-depth Thailand travel guide.
Most travellers in Thailand these days, visit at least one of its neighbouring countries too. Our Vietnam backpacking route takes you on a train-ride to remember from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City with numerous stops in between. Alternative options include neighbouring Myanmar.
Check out our Burmese backpacking route for some inspiration there. Leaving mainland SE Asia behind you might also want to check out our Indonesia route, which takes you around some of the country’s most popular islands.
Budget Accommodation in Thailand
Advanced booking isn’t important as there are backpacker districts or streets almost everywhere on this route and some of the beaches on the islands are almost entirely full of hostels and backpacker accommodation that rarely sell out. That said advanced booking during festivals and certainly for full moon parties is an absolute must.
Do I need a Visa for Thailand?
If you are from Korea, Brazil, Peru, Argentina or Chile you get 90 days visa-free and therefore won’t need a visa for this route.
If you are from one of those 52 countries you have a few more options. Seen as this route is scheduled for 2 months, the 30 days visa exemption will not be enough so here are your choices:
Option 1: Get a tourist visa valid for at least 60 days before you enter Thailand
This is something you should do before you leave home but it can also be arranged at a Thai Embassy in other countries if you are doing a long trip visiting various places. It’s best to sort it well in advance of your trip though and you most likely won’t be required to visit the embassy in person. Prices vary from country to country but this is certainly the most hassle-free option and once you are in Thailand you can relax and not have to worry about such issues.
Option 2: Visa Run
You can do a visa run, which basically means you will leave Thailand for a neighbouring country before your 30 day visa exemption expires and then return immediately or after a few days and you will get a fresh 30 days visa-free in Thailand. Note that only people from UK, USA, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Macau, Hong Kong, Laos and Vietnam get 30 days when crossing at both airports and land borders. Other nationalities get 15 days at land borders but 30 at airports.
The most obvious points for visa runs on the route are to Malaysia from any of the destinations in Southern Thailand (particularly Krabi, Ko Lanta or Ko Phi Phi) with Penang or Pulau Langkawi on the Andaman Coast of Northern Malaysia a nearby popular destination for a couple of days or so. Alternatively in Northern Thailand you could head to Laos and the town of Huay Xai very close to Chiang Rai although the need for a Laotian visa makes this option a bit less attractive unless you particularly want to go to Laos.
It may also be tough to fit this into this route without rushing your time in Southern Thailand although you could always leave the first section (Bangkok & around) until the end of your trip (i.e. spend 4 weeks in Southern Thailand first, leave then come back and do Northern and Central Thailand within your new 30 days). You can also often get very cheap flights to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore from cities across Thailand, which may be handy especially if you are from one of those countries who only gets 15 days at land borders.
Option 3 – Extend your 30-day visa-exemption while in Thailand.
Since August 2014, you can now extend your 30 day visa exemption to 60 days by visiting an immigration office in the country and paying 1,900 Baht (roughly US$55). The immigration offices are plentiful enough and wherever you are, you won’t be far away from one but queues can be long in some centres and it isn’t the most enjoyable way to spend a morning or afternoon so getting a visa in advance seems more logical if you’re certain you will be spending more than 30 days in Thailand.
PLEASE NOTE – This is correct as of March 2016. The Thai government does from time to time change these visa rules so try to verify this info is still correct if you are reading this at some point in the distant future ;).
Feel free to post a comment below if you know of any changes to these rules and we will update this info. Also let us know what you would include in your backpacking route for Thailand and any of your favourite off-the-beaten track destinations, which can be a welcome relief from the tourist trail.
You could be in a café in Quito or a rickety bus in Kenya but it is a small street in Thailand that bizarrely continues to strike a chord with travellers as the centre of the backpacking universe. It seems every other traveller you meet has been here and has formed their own opinion of it. For some it’s a vibrant international community with everything you could possibly need and more in the space of just a few blocks in the Thai Capital. For others it’s a busy sleazy street full of exactly the types of people you left home to escape from plus a few dodgy locals trying to exploit visitors.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle and after a few days it is pretty easy to make your mind up which end of the spectrum your opinion lies at. The road stretches for what can only be a few hundred metres but often it can seem like you are running a giant gauntlet. Everyone seems to want a piece of you and for the uninitiated it can be closer to being mildly traumatic than an exciting travel experience.
You want massage? You want t-shirt?
You get the impression that almost anything is on sale here. In and around the KhaoSan Road there are dozens of cheap Thai Massage joints, a popular daytime and early evening pastime for visitors to Bangkok. The street is lined with stores and street stalls selling various printed t-shirts and clothing items. They all seem to sell exactly the same crap but every other traveller seems to be wearing a T-shirt with ‘Chang Beer’ or another famous brand written on it. If you really look around you can actually find some imaginative original clothing for a few hundred baht.
If you’re not being hassled into buying clothes or getting a massage then there you’re probably being pestered into renting a room for a few nights. There is LOTS of basic budget accommodation in the area although the better and indeed cheaper places are off the main drag. Cheaper places still can be found a short tuk-tuk ride away by the train station (left).
How about some fake ID or even a degree?
If you’ve found a room and don’t want to get a massage or buy t-shirts then why not get a masters degree? There are a couple of guys who for a few dollars will issue with authentic looking forms of ID and even TEFL or degree certificates from your chosen university. Not sure how useful they are back home but the fake student ID at least is pretty good at securing discounts in shops and bars in the world you left behind.
The Khao San Road attracts all sorts of inventive sales ideas, most of which work pretty well but there also a few major oddities. For example, on a street full of scruffily dressed backpackers there are numerous smartly dressed seemingly Indian men who are very keen to sell you a suit. This makes little sense. Nobody wants to go backpacking around Thailand with a fake Armani suit. As you approach the end of the KhaoSan road and think you are about to escape the madness of it all you run into a bunch of tuk-tuk and moto drivers very eager to take you to see some ping-pong.
Anyone for Ping-Pong?
If you’ve never been to Bangkok, then you may not be aware of Thailand’s long ping-pong traditions. This ‘sport’ is very popular with visitors to the country. If you couldn’t fit your trusty table-tennis bat into your backpack then fear not as the rules are a bit different here. Put simply it involves ladies shooting ping-pong balls out of their vaginas and hitting targets with an impressively high success rate. This takes no little skill and presumably many years of practice. Eager to keep the show fresh it seems no two performances are the same and if stories are to be believed you may also see toads, frogs, rabbits and even darts popping out.
Moving swiftly onto the equally sex-orientated Bangkok nightlife. By night, the Khao San Road changes into the nightlife hub for travellers staying in the area. Despite this there is only really one club on the street (imaginatively named ‘The Club’). It is roughly midway down the street, has a couple of beefy Thai bouncers, blares out the latest club tracks and attracts a steady flow of people coming in and out. Inside it’s a mixture of Thai prostitutes, ladyboys (see above for token Thai ladyboy picture) and wasted foreigners but it’s a good crack. It’s open till 3am when everyone spills out onto the streets to be greeted by even more prostitutes and guys selling cheap beer.
Fill up my Bucket!!!
Just hanging out in the street here having a few drinks can be great fun and in many ways is the best way to soak up the KhaoSan Road experience. There are many street barbeques selling tasty and dirt cheap Thai snacks if you get hungry and you won’t have to move too far to get your hands on a cold Thai Beer or cocktail. Meeting people is incredibly easy but shaking off unwanted ‘new friends’ is harder as you keep constantly seeing the same people in what is a pretty small if crowded area.
The Khao San Road certainly couldn’t be classed as the real Thailand or even the real Bangkok but it is nonetheless an experience in its own right. While it’s not in the very heart of Bangkok, it is located centrally enough to explore one of the world’s most exciting cities. There’s always something happening on the Khao San Road and it isn’t hard to work out how it found its way into backpacking folklore.
When travelling to Thailand, one of the best things you can do is eat! In this country, you can enjoy all the lovely flavours in one bowl. I’m fortunate enough to be staying and travelling around Asia where I can always have access to Thai food. But of course, nothing beats getting them in the most authentic way possible – in the restaurants or food stalls in Bangkok’s busy streets.
And whenever I get the chance, these are the 5 dishes that I always indulge in.
Tom Yum Gung
This is the one that’s on top of my list. Maybe it’s because I’m a seafood lover. But maybe it’s also because it simply tastes amazing. It has an explosion of all the flavours that I like – sour, salty, spicy, sweet, and even creamy.
It’s a bowl of soup featuring shrimps and mushrooms and oozing with the Asian tastes of kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass. You can take it with coconut milk, which really makes it an incredible concoction. But if you want to stay away from the creamy ingredient, you can specify that when you order. You can tell that I prefer the original version.
You’ll find various rice noodle recipes in most Asian countries, and this one’s a real favourite not just for me, but for many tourists. Imagine the tastes of bean sprouts, garlic, green onions, peanuts, scrambled egg, shrimps and tofu combined with the classic Thai seasoning combo of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chilli peppers.
You’ll find this treat everywhere in Thailand – from the outlets in luxury hotels to the street stalls. And it’s great as a meal or as an accompaniment to another Thai dish that you like.
Yam Plah Duk Foo
If you find it hard to memorize the local name of this dish, try “crispy catfish and green mango salad.” Because that is what this dish is all about. The fish and fruit are bonded by cilantro, lime, red onions, peanut sauce and sugar. The shredded catfish, by the way, is deep-fried so it’s light and crunchy – adding texture to the already incredible tastes of the dish.
This is a great appetizer to a main course of fried rice and some basil-flavoured chicken or seafood. Like all the other dishes here, you can find this in almost every food establishment in Bangkok and all over Thailand.
Gaeng Kiew Wan Gai
Here’s another challenge for the non-speakers of Thai. You can easily call it in English as green curry chicken. It’s often preferred by those who aren’t into the spicier type of Thai dishes.
Aside from chicken, it has lots of eggplant and some basil and kaffir lime leaves. The green curry paste is traditionally made from lemongrass, chillies, shallots, galangal, cilantro, basil, fish sauce and a host of spices.
You can also find green curry dishes with seafood or all vegetables, instead of chicken. But chicken is the more traditional one and is the most-loved by both locals and travellers.
Khao Niew Ma Muang
And I just have to have this dessert. It’s a perfect way to cap a meal, especially with dishes that are more on the spicy side. It looks like a small pillow of soft, sticky rice topped with ripe mangoes that Thailand is famous for. It’s drizzled with coconut cream for a final touch.
What’s great about these dishes is that you can find them in the menus of almost all commercial food shops in the country. It’s best to enjoy these treats in one of the restaurants or carts along the streets after a tiring shopping spree or a relaxing trip to an authentic Thai spa.
Sofia Angeli is a PR & communications consultant for companies in various industries. In particular, she brings her writing skills and passion for culture and travel to the online world, including cheapflights.com.au.
For those of you who didn’t pay attention in Science classes at school, full moons occur on the same date everywhere in the world once every 29 or 30 days. However sometimes the more organised parties can occur a few days before or after the official full moon date so it is worth checking to be sure.
Full Moon Dates 2017 & 2018
January 12th 2017
February 11th 2017
March 12th 2017
April 11th 2017
May 10th 2017
June 9th 2017
July 9th 2017
August 7th 2017
September 6th 2017
October 5th 2017
November 4th 2017
December 3rd 2017
January 2nd 2018
January 31st 2018
March 2nd 2018
March 31st 2018
April 3oth 2018
May 29th 2018
June 28th 2018
July 27th 2018
August 26th 2018
September 25th 2018
October 24th 2018
November 23rd 2018
December 22nd 2018
Where Do Full Moon Parties take place?
Full Moon raves don’t just happen on remote islands off the coast of Thailand, in fact there’s loads and on all corners of the globe. If you’ve been to one not listed below or want to write about your experiences at full moon parties then do let us know!
Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
The original and by some distance biggest full moon party. Tens of thousands flock to Haad Rin Beach on Thailand’s Ko Pha Ngan every full moon to dance the night away with drink and drug fuelled mayhem. It may not be as crazy as it once was in the 80’s and 90’s since law enforcement has stepped up greatly in recent years but it is still without doubt an all night party you will never forget.
Kendwa Beach is the place to go on this African island paradise for full moon festivities. It normally takes place on the Saturday closest to the full moon date and crowds can be quite large in the tourist season.
Magnetic Island, Australia
A few thousand Aussie and backpacker ravers dance to groovy tunes from dusk till dawn on Magnetic Island.
This beach shanty town has a party vibe whatever time of the month you arrive, but when the moon is full, backpackers head to the beach by Kumara Hostel where all night raves take place to trance and latino tunage.
Revellers dance all night to traditional Croatian music along the seafront and drink local spirits. This event only happens once a year however (normally July).
Anjuna Beach in Goa has been a hippy hangout since the 1960’s and is a popular spot with young backpackers. Parties take place every full moon, in the bars and spilling into an all night affair on the beach. Numbers vary greatly depending on the time of year.
Europe’s best party island, is positively buzzing with nightlife especially during the summer months. All night fiestas take place on Benirras Beach and the ones in summer especially are some of the best full moon parties around the world.
Southeast Asia is one of the cheapest parts of the world to travel in and your money really can go a long way! Here’s an idea of shoestring travel costs in South East Asian countries. Click on the links for more detailed info on each country including a shoestring & more comfortable backpacker budget as well as sample prices for thing like buses, beds and beers:
(The US Dollar is the reserve currency in most countries and often accepted)
These figures are all based on staying in cheap hostels and eating/drinking in budget or local restaurants and bars. It allows for a bit of partying but if you’re going out getting drunk almost every night you will end up spending more than this!
There are big regional variations in some countries particularly Malaysia and Indonesia. Away from Java and Bali, Indonesia is as cheap as anywhere in the region but the large amount of travelling needed to get around and the island nature of the country makes it a bit more expensive to travel around. Mainland Malaysia although much richer and more developed is cheaper than Malaysian Borneo for the traveller due to the poor infrastructure in Borneo which makes life more complicated and more expensive for getting around.
Monthly Backpacking Budget for Southeast Asia
A realistic shoestring monthly backpacking budget for Southeast Asia, allowing for a few connecting flights in the region but not your main flight to/from SE Asia is therefore around:
1 month – £660, €760, $800
2 months – £1320, €1520, $1600
3 months – £1980, €2280, $2400
4 months – £2640, €3040, $3200
5 months – £3300, €3800, $4000
6 months – £3960, €4560, $4800
(Exchange rates are correct only as of January 2017. Use Dollars as a guide & convert to your currency on current exchange rates if in doubt.)
This is still designed as a shoestring budget and if you don’t have experience of travelling on the cheap you might want to allow for a little more. If you wish to go to the Philippines or parts of Indonesia that will require extra flights, you might want to increase it a little bit too. Everywhere else is accessible by land or short ferries and getting around in the region is typically very cheap. Think $1-2/hour of travel if you take the cheapest available option. If you’re just visiting Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and/or Vietnam then you can get by on a bit less if you’re smart but these countries have a big backpacker party scene which can eat away into any travel budget.
Remember there are still going to be quite a few extra expenses on top of this in terms of sorting out flights to/from the region, vaccinations and travel insurance. The latter can be quite costly but is important. We recommend World Nomads for excellent travel insurance packages for backpackers.
If you have a slightly larger budget than suggested above but are limited on time, you might want to check out Stray Travel’s Southeast Asia Flexi Tours. They will help you cram a lot into a short time and are also a nice idea for anyone who’s a bit nervous about travelling alone.
If you have travelled recently in the region then please use the comments section below to share with us your experiences of backpacking costs in SE Asia. Budgets really do vary considerably amongst travellers here so there will never be a definitive right figure for each country but the more people who comment, the easier it is for us to keep this page as accurate as possible. Thanks!
Backpacking around South East Asia is ever popular and it’s not hard to see why. It’s very cheap, home to unique and varied cultures, fantastic weather and scenery but with such a thriving backpacker scene, home comforts are never hard to find. Perhaps it has lost some of the mysticism it had back in the day when traveller numbers were still relatively small but there is still undeniably a certain magic about this part of the world.
The route on this page aims to give you a basic idea of what a typical backpacker itinerary in Southeast Asia looks like. It’s not the definitive answer to travelling around the region so don’t treat it as such but hopefully it will help shape your plans for travelling around this wonderful part of the world.
TIME NEEDED – 3-4 MONTHS
Could just about be squeezed into two months but would be a rush. If you’re not limited on time you could easily spend six months travelling in Southeast Asia.
These figures don’t include cost of flights to/from region or other pre-trip expenses such as getting travel insurance. They allow for a bit of partying and the odd organised tour/trip in the day-time but if you are planning on doing lots of that then you will spend more!
This is a realistic shoestring budget for Southeast Asia and it’s possible to get by on less if you stick to local food rather than tourist options. However on the Southeast Asia backpacker trail, temptation lies at almost every corner and it’d be easy to blow this budget if you aren’t great on self-discipline! If it’s your first time travelling then you’d be wise to budget for more.
VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR SOUTHEAST ASIA
Most nationalities do not require a visa for Thailand (30 days) or Vietnam (15 days) but will need to get a visa on arrival in Laos and Cambodia, the cost of which depends on where you’re from. You don’t need to do anything in advance, just show up at the border with your passport and some US Dollars.
Use our visa check tool to confirm which countries you will need a visa for.
The route begins in the traveller hub of Bangkok before heading into mystical Northern Thailand and then crossing through lazy, chilled-out Laos. Next stop is Vietnam, a rapidly developing country with a fascinating history before looping back around into the crazy kingdom of Cambodia. Back in Thailand and returning to Bangkok for the trip to the beach paradise of Southern Thailand. After a few weeks of island hopping, the route takes in the length of Malaysia before finishing off in the exciting city state of Singapore.
Bangkok – The Thai Capital is in many ways the best place to start your South East Asian trip. For starters it’s a major airline hub so it is very easy to get to, and flights are more reasonably priced than ones to other South East Asian cities which often pass through Bangkok anyway. It is the most Westernised city in the region so the culture shock is less than if you landed straight into Vietnam or Laos. It offers you a chance to stock up on anything you may need for your trip, with prices much cheaper than back home but still with great choice. Bangkok is very much base camp for travellers in Southeast Asia. Love it or loathe it, chances are you’ll return at some point on your trip.
As for the city well it’s the sort of place that divides opinion. It’s certainly something of a backpacking Mecca centred around the famous Khao San Road, possibly the most international street in the world. It is a huge place with many different districts and lots of sights to see. Then there’s the seedy side of Bangkok and its infamous sex industry, which is almost unavoidable and probably what the city is most known for around the world.
Ayutthaya – Ancient city and former capital of Siam. Ayutthaya is effectively an island in the middle of three rivers. History buffs will love it and for everyone else it makes for a nice stop on the way to the North of Thailand.
Phitsanulok – Not a on the regular hit-list for people backpacking in Thailand, but it is somewhere to break up the journey between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Explore the nearby Sukhothai Historical Park and visit some of the temples and museums in town.
Chiang Mai – The Northern city of Chiang Mai is an intellectual kind of place with an alternative vibe and many travellers prefer it to Bangkok. It’s a good spot to study traditional Thai practices such as massage and meditation. It is also the best place to base yourself for exploring or trekking into the jungle and ethnic minority villages near the city.
Chiang Khong – Right on the border with Laos, it has a real traveller vibe to it with people heading in both directions. It is in the Golden Triangle, a famous opium growing region which covers areas of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Chiang Khong is also a market town and attracts local hill tribes such as the White Hmongs. Explore the mountainous region, visit some of the other villages and learn about the opium trade which has been cut out in Thailand but still thrives over the nearby Lao and Burmese borders.
Border Crossing from Thailand to Laos: Chiang Khong and Houay Xai are right next to each other so it’s fairly straightforward and you can purchase a 30 day Laos tourist visa for around $30-40 at the border.
Houay Xai – For a border town, Houay Xai is very pleasant and it may be worth hanging around for a day or so to adapt to the chilled out Lao lifestyle and enjoy sitting on the banks of the Mekong or consider visiting the nearby Bokeo Nature Reserve. It’s a decent spot to psyche yourself up for the long journey to Luang Prabang. (Backpacking in Laos isn’t as easy or anywhere near as comfortable as in Thailand thanks to dodgy roads and a basic to non-existent transport system).
Luang Prabang – French and Indochinese culture met here and resulted in an enchanting city, one of the highlights of Laos. The Old Quarter on the banks of the river is home to an array of temples and museums that are worth visiting. The night market is another big draw and there are plenty of companies offering trekking, biking and kayaking opportunities.
Vang Vieng – This is another hugely popular backpacking destination in South East Asia. Hop on a rubber tube and make your way between the various bars along the river. This is the main attraction here but there’s plenty of other adventurous stuff you can do around the ramshackle town of Vang Vieng, which has a real chilled out backpacker vibe. The tubing is not as crazy or dangerous as it once was thanks to a government crackdown but injuries and deaths are not uncommon.
Vientiane – A capital city it may be but don’t let that deceive you. Vientiane is about as friendly and laid back a place as you’ll find anywhere. Set on the Mekong River, this French influenced town is pleasant and picturesque and the perfect place to chill out for a few days. Be sure to visit and support COPE Laos which helps the country’s many people with mobility related disabilities.
Tha Khaek – A small town with a large market selling all sorts of weird stuff including unorthodox dishes like snake and squirrel frogs. Its main use for travellers is as a base for exploring the Phou Hin Boon National Park. Don’t miss the giant Konglor Cave, which is basically a river beneath the surface that can be navigated on boat trips. You can also visit the Tham Nong Pafa Cave discovered as recently as 2004 and home to 200 mysterious Buddha statues.
Savannakhet – Second biggest city in Laos, but again it is very chilled out, with a combo of French and traditional Lao feel to the city. Stuff to do here includes a visit to the Dinosaur Museum which exhibits various dinosaur remains found in the area. There’s also a museum about the problem of unexploded bombs from the Vietnam War that still litter the Eastern side of the province. The city also hosts many different festivals throughout the year which you may be lucky enough to catch.
Border Crossing from Laos to Vietnam: Buses are fairly high quality with air-con and run from Savannakhet to Dong Ha in Vietnam and take around 8 hours. Enquire in town for bus times. Depending on how long you wish to stay in the country, you may need to arrange your Vietnam visa in advance, which is probably best done at the Vietnamese Embassy in Vientiane.
Dong Ha – The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is very different to Laos and it will take a little time to adjust to the increased pace of life here. The main sight near Dong Ha where the buses from Savannakhet arrive is the former de-militarised zone (DMZ) which used to separate North and South Vietnam. You won’t want to stay in Dong Ha more than a day, if that and many travellers head straight to Hue.
Hue – Ancient city on a musty coloured river with dragon boats. Lots of Vietnam War sites nearby and a pretty decent traveller scene. Good place to try Vietnamese food. It rains a lot.
Hoi An – This riverside town is pretty damn cool. It’s the place to buy tailor-made clothes of all varieties and then prance around like a prize nutter in your new bright purple suit. The beach is a short moto-taxi ride away and is one of the finest in the country. There are also some surprisingly cool bars here catering to a variety of music tastes. It made our Top 10 New Backpacking Hotspots a few years back.
Nha Trang – Nha Trang has a fairly seedy traveller area and a dirty beach but there are a few positives. A peaceful temple near the bus station is home to a giant white Buddha. There’s also a decent beach club that serves cheap cocktails and stays open till much later than anywhere you’re likely to find further north. Some decent water sports on offer here too.
Dalat – 1500m above sea level, Dalat has distinctly different feel to it to the rest of the main places to visit in South East Asia. With a temperate climate that makes nights chilly, it comes as a refreshing change and with lakes, forests and waterfalls that surround the town, it is a paradise for fans of the great outdoors. Hiking and cycling opportunities aplenty here and there’s a few villages nearby home to ethnic minority groups.
Mui Ne – The nearby sand dunes are good fun if you can stand the heat. There is one road, it’s very long and runs parallel to the 20km or so long beach which is largely deserted. Good place to unwind but not much going on.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – It is the biggest city in the country and has by some considerable margin the largest backpacker scene in Vietnam. Hit the Pham Ngu Lao traveller area and you will find numerous cheap places to eat, sleep and drink. The area is busy until late and has cuisines from literally all over the world. The moto drivers here will compete for your business non-stop so it’s easy to get anywhere else in town. Lots of sights relating to the war here in this ever growing and somewhat crazy city. The traffic is mental!
More about Saigon here!
Border Crossing from Vietnam to Cambodia: Buses from Saigon to Phnom Penh are cheap and regular taking around 6 hours. You will have to get off at the border and most bus companies seem to rather annoyingly take your passports off you on the bus and charge $25 to sort out the Cambodian visa as opposed to the official $20. If you refuse and demand to sort it yourself, you risk being left at the border, while your belongings hurtle towards Phnom Penh!
Phnom Penh – On the surface Phnom Penh is a pleasant, aesthetically pleasing and surprisingly peaceful capital city with lots of monks. Dig a little deeper and it’s a lawless, poverty stricken place where just about anything goes. Welcome to Cambodia.
Backpackers here depending on who you speak to get up to just about anything from blowing up cows with rocket launchers to attending cock fighting matches and getting off their faces on ridiculously easily available drugs. If none of that really sounds like you, then you can spend some time reflecting and trying to understand the horrors that took place here all too recently during the days of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge by visiting the Killing Fields and a former prison where unimaginable horrors took place. There’s also some stunning temples and palaces which could grace any of the finest cities on the planet. Inequality is everywhere in Cambodia and Phnom Penh demonstrates it better than anywhere.
Check out our 5 Funky Things to do in Phnom Penh!
Sihanoukville – 24 hour bars and unspoiled beaches are the order of the day here. It’s a bit like some of the Thai beach destinations would have been like 20 years ago before they became commercialised. Much like Phnom Penh there’s a majorly psychedelic backpacker scene.
Battambang – Travelling to Battambang from Sihanoukville is likely to involve going back to Phnom Penh and changing buses such is the limited transport network in the country. The city is full of statues and interesting Wats and has plenty of river based activities to entertain travellers. Once you’re done hop on a boat north to Siem Reap. It may be worth checking the estimated length of the journey as it depends on water levels and can take up to 12 hours, in which case you may well prefer the less scenic bus route.
Siem Reap (for Temples of Angkor Wat) – Siem Reap has grown from nothing into a thriving little town thanks to its proximity to the country’s main pride and joy, the magnificent Temples of Angkor Wat, an essential stop for anyone backpacking in Cambodia. If you’re a fairly well travelled person you’ve probably been to some ancient ruin that’s in all the guidebooks and been left thoroughly disappointed at the crappy little pile of rocks that you’ve payed to come and see. Angkor Wat however is in a different league with hundreds of impressive ruins spread out over a large area of jungle, it’s a pretty amazing place and you’d have to be very hard to please not to be impressed by the scale of it. In Siem Reap itself there are few sights but some decent bars and plenty of great food.
Border Crossing from Cambodia to Thailand: Take the bus from Siem Reap to Poipet, a Cambodian border town which is a total hellhole. Your main objective ought to be to cross the border as quickly as possible while trying not to get scammed. The Thai side isn’t as bad but you are likely to have your luggage sniffed by dogs either at the border or once onboard your onward bus which will probably be stopped by police at some point early on in the journey. They are looking for drugs and penalties are severe if caught. Once you’ve got through immigration, take a tuk-tuk to the bus terminal in Aranya Prathet from where there are regular buses to Bangkok taking 4 hours or so.
Bangkok –Kick back on the KhaoSan Road or hop straight on a night train south depending on how much you enjoyed the city first time around. Having completed the big loop around the North of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia it’s time to hop on a night train and head for the beach paradise of Southern Thailand.
Ko Samui- A large and very westernised island that tends to attract more mainstream tourism than people travelling in South East Asia on a budget. Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai are party central for the tourist masses but there are plenty of quieter spots to explore with a vast choice of beaches to choose from and you’ll probably have to pass through here to get the boat to Ko Pha-Ngan.
Ko Phangan – This island is probably the most famous backpacking destination in the world. A tropical paradise it certainly is and the options are endless when it comes to finding a beach to spend the day on. There are no major developments here so accommodation is basic and dirt cheap with plenty of traditional beach bungalows still available. Hat Rin is the place to party and home of the famous full moon parties which attract thousands at that time of the month. The other beaches are considerably quieter and great places to relax and enjoy your days in peace.
Ko Tao – Express boats travel the 45km between Ko Pha-Ngan and Ko Tao taking around two hours. This is the place to come to delve into the ocean and experience diving or snorkelling in beautiful clear waters with lots of marine life. It almost goes without saying that this is also another great island to soak up the sun and laze around on the beach all day. Hat Sai Ri’s bars are the centre of the drinking action, but Ko Tao’s nightlife is nowhere near as lively as that on Ko Pha-Ngan or Ko Samui.
Krabi – Back on the Thai mainland and now the Andaman Coast, hit the popular beaches of Ao Nang, Tang Sei and Rai Leh. Crash out in the cheap guesthouse or bungalows on one of the beaches. There’s also more opportunities for the active traveller here so if you’re bored of lazing around all day, try your hand at rock climbing, a popular activity on Hat Ton Sai and Hat Rai Leh (Railay Beach).
Ko Phi Phi – Ever popular with backpackers in Thailand, this is where the movie ‘The Beach’ was filmed (below). The main action, and again a very lively party scene, is on the larger island though and you will have to stay on it (Phi Phi Don). It’s a bit pricier than some of the other Thai beach destinations and isn’t exactly a secret paradise any more but it’s still beautiful despite being badly affected by the 2004 tsunami and a recent large influx of Chinese tourists.
Ko Tarutao National Marine Park – Over 50 little islands in the far south-west of the country. So far it has managed not to become at all commercialised or overrun by foreigners and isn’t regularly visited by peeps backpacking in Thailand. You can rent out a tent on one of the few accessible islands and enjoy a day or two in unspoiled natural surroundings.
Border Crossing from Thailand to Malaysia: Boats travel between Satun, Thailand and Pulau Langkawi in Malaysia taking 1 hour 30 mins and costing around 300 Baht. Violence sometimes flares up in the largely Muslim provinces in the far south of Thailand so if in doubt it’s best to head straight to Malaysia.
Penang – A small island off the West Coast of Malaysia that is well worth visiting. Hit Georgetown, for a taste of British colonialism and experience the town’s famous markets and religious sites of various faiths. Elsewhere on the island there are some decent beaches and plenty of quaint little fishing villages.
Ipoh – There’s lots of nice sights in Ipoh, even the train station is something of an architectural masterpiece. It is a mysterious kind of place, home to haunted castles, secret passages, weird statues and various caves. You can also go trekking in the surrounding jungle, visit nearby hot-springs, enjoy a day at the water park or for the adventurous try your hand at caving and white-water rafting.
Taman Negara National Park – It can be a bit of a pain to get to but is well worth the effort. You don’t really need a guide so you can wander around the jungle terrain at your own leisure. There are some beautifully clear lakes to swim as well as some spectacular water cascades and a 500m long suspension bridge which cuts through the jungle canopies. Longer treks deeper into the jungle can be arranged as can mountain climbing and 4WD safaris.
Kuala Lumpur – The Malaysian capital is a developed modern city. There’s some excellent shopping and lively nightlife here in the Golden Triangle home of the Petronas Twin Towers, two of the tallest buildings in the world. It is considerably more expensive than most places on the route but still very cheap by Western standards.
Malacca – Another one of these World Heritage Sites, Malacca is considered one of the backpacking highlights in Malaysia. It’s a rather old city having being founded over 600 years ago but there’s still plenty of buzz about Malacca today. There are plenty of interesting and centuries old streets and squares to kick back in, and there’s a good choice of local dishes and drinks to try.
Read about the cost of travel in Malaysia.
Border Crossing from Malaysia to Singapore: Heading to Singapore, one way or another you’ll need to get to the town of Johor Bahru which is connected to Singapore by a 1km long causeway. There are frequent buses from Johor Bahru’s bus station north of the city and Queen Street Station in Singapore. They all stop at both immigration checkpoints where you will need to get off with your luggage and then re-board once you’re through passport control.
Singapore – The glamorous city state of Singapore is full of flashy skyscrapers and is a complete contrast to most of South East Asia. The city is is very multi-cultural and has lots of fascinating districts to explore and foods to taste. The law here is famously strict so behaviour that is considered perfectly acceptable in Cambodia and Laos could be punished by the death penalty so don’t take any chances. Even chewing gum is illegal here!
As far as budget travel in South East Asia goes, Singapore is firmly on the expensive side of the scale. Beer here is probably ten times the price it is in other parts of the region and although not everything is extortionate, it’s a good idea to ensure you’ve not totally blown your budget by the time you get here.
Singapore has probably the best airport in the world and is very well connected to locations all over the world so is the perfect place to end your trip and fly home or onwards to a different part of the world. Alternatively you could make the short sea crossing to Indonesia and continue your travels there.
Advanced booking isn’t really necessary in the majority of places on this route but it’s a good idea for your first destination (probably Bangkok) as you’re likely to be tired from a long flight. Also a good idea during festivals and certainly in or around the full moon on Koh Phangan.
What did we miss out from the Itinerary?
Northern Vietnam especially Hanoi and Halong Bay are well worth visiting and perhaps the most notable exclusions from our route. The problem is they are farily inaccessible from Laos by road. The trip is very long and bumpy so if you do fancy it, your best bet is probably to follow the route to Vientiane and then fly to Hanoi. Check out our backpacking route for Vietnam which follows the Re-Unification Express trainline from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, where you can rejoin this route.
Indonesia is a huge place and could justify 6 months travelling in its own right with the possibility of continuing onto Australia and New Zealand. Check out our suggested backpacking route in Indonesia if you’re interested. The Philippines is also a huge collection of islands and is less popular with travellers, possibly because it is off the South East Asian mainland and parts of it have a somewhat dangerous reputation.
Daytrips to Burma can be arranged from the North of Thailand and longer visits are becoming increasingly popular. For some inspiration have a read of our 3 week backpacking route for Myanmar.If you do decide and are able to visit then you will find a fascinating country with as much to see as any of the others in the region.
For a more complete overview of budget travel across the region, get our full 2017-2018 Backpacker’s Guide to Southeast Asia. It includes a similar route to this plus itineraries for Indonesia, Myanmar & the Philippines. You’ll also find more on vaccinations, visa rules and border crossings for all countries as well as the best festivals, activities, full moon parties and historical sites plus the answers to some FAQ’s we’ve received from first time travellers in Southeast Asia.