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How much to budget for a trip to Thailand

What's an approximate daily budget for a holiday in Thailand is one of our most frequently asked questions so, here'a (very) rough idea.

The question, ‘how much to budget for a trip to Thailand?’ – as with a trip to anywhere else – is of course something of a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question, but it is one we get frequently, so, here’s our best shot at providing at least a rough idea.

Before starting, you need to know that, as of June 2024, a USD gets you between 35 and 37 Thai baht, a UKP 46-48 baht and a Euro approximately 40 baht. Rates can fluctuate significantly and these reflect a particularly low baht value which you may need to round down slightly to get a realistic annual average. (For the purposes of our post, we’ll use 35 and 45 for $1 and £1 respectively.) A second question we’ll answer straight away is; no, USD are not accepted, nor are pounds or Eurpos, or indeed any currency other than Thai baht. Credit and debit cards are not widely accepted outside of supermarkets, hotels and the more upmarket restaurants – especially for smaller sums – however, the vast majority of European and North American bank cards are taken by the ubiquitous ATMs.

A further factor to bear in mind is that prices can vary significantly, depending on which part of Thailand you’re going to. The capital, Bangkok, and most popular tourist destinations such as Phuket and Koh Samui will naturally be more expensive – you can add on a significant percentage to our averages – while smaller provincial towns with no tourist industry can be considerably cheaper. Many island resorts blame transport costs for higher prices, which is to some extent justifiable but also, we feel, sometimes used as an excuse.

Organic spicy pork with 'red rice' - 1 UKP.
Organic, crispy, spicy pork with ‘red rice’ – 1 UKP.

Additionally, how much to budget for a trip to Thailand isn’t easy to estimate since we don’t know your tastes and preferences and while overall the country is cheap by Western standards, you can get through quite a lot of cash. In terms of meals and drinks, as with anywhere else – you’ll see a large difference between a hotel or resort eatery or a specifically tourist-orientated establishment and a local cafe. Residents can budget far less than most visitors simply because; A. they know which local restaurants and bars to eat and drink in and B. they order local rather than foreign food. Imported foodstuffs, not common in a Thai diet, such as dairy products are heavily taxed and mean much higher prices on a menu. So for instance an average lunch or dinner of rice or noodles in a local-style cafe may set you back 50 baht while a cheese sandwich costs you 150 and a pizza 300 plus.

Even if you order a local dish in a tourist restaurant or hotel you can still pay 3 to 4 times what the same dish costs in the cafe over the road. It may lack the tomato roses or fancy presentation but it will invariably taste better and is no less of a guarantee against a dodgy tummy. Furthermore, your 50 baht pat kra pao, (the classic minced pork with chilli and basil), or fried rice invariably comes with a complimentary soup and free drinking water. (This may be served in a jug or water cooler but it comes from large, sealed demi-jars.)

How much to budget for a trip to Thailand
Local cafes can still do fancy – this beautifully presented pad Thai was $1.

Ditto drinks and while we regularly pay 70 baht for a large beer in our local, (it is a hole in the wall, but very friendly), your hotel bar will charge you 120 or even 150 baht for a small one. Note, as an imported luxury item, wine is expensive and only available in tourist-orientated establishments.

Another example would be massages, and where a standard local price would be around 300 baht per hour for a traditional Thai massage, a resort may charge you 3 or 4 times that. The local spot around the corner will offer a service that is at least as good, even if they may lack the potpourris and piped whale song. We do frequently hear, ‘…but the massage was only 1000 baht and it’d cost far more than that in London/Brussels/Milwaukee wherever’. Yes, sure but you’re still paying 3 times more than you need to and you are being seriously overcharged because you’re a foreigner in a fancy tourist-trap spa.

It’s not only about the prices but it’s a lot easier to meet local residents in a local cafe than a hotel bar and, of course, it helps spread the cash among less well-healed inhabitants rather than giving it all to a single hotel owner or hi-so fancy bar or spa owner.

Our Thai tours generally include around 50% of meals, taken at tried and trusted local eateries so, some half of the lunches and dinners will be up to you. We agree that on, for instance, a 2-week Thai tour, it’s nice to have a break from rice at some stage and our guides are happy to suggest their favourite Indian, Italian or pub-grub spot. They’ll also know more local eateries to recommend and, even with ‘free meals’, are happy to accompany travellers and order selections for you should you so wish. (Thai dinners are often eaten communally so the key is to know the dishes and order the right combinations.)

Another intention is for our guests to sample regional specialities – north Thai dishes in Chiang Mai and Isan dishes in Surin for example so again, local knowledge is key.

North Thai noodle soup, khao soi
A traditional north Thai soup – khao soi – will normally set you back 40-50 baht although we’ve seen it for as much as 300 plus on hotel menus

As a rough guestimate then we’d say, if you’re eating local, allow 150 baht or so per day for meals – depending of course upon location – plus a beer or two at say 100 baht each, with an occasional pizza and a glass of wine setting you back 450-500 baht.

As your accommodation, transport and entry fees are included, the above covers most day-to-day expenses. Your guide will point out a local laundry, (as many hotels charge more for washing a t-shirt than it costs to buy a new one), so, in terms of ‘how much to budget for a trip to Thailand’, that only leaves souvenir shopping and tips. For the latter, you can find approximate suggestions on each relevant tour page while the former goes back to the piece of string comment. Just note that, if you’re in a supermarket or modern mall, prices are set while if you shop in a local market or street stall, you are expected to bargain. However, Thailand isn’t like some destinations we’ve been to where the vendor starts with 4 times the actual price and you’d usually be looking to knock 10 to 30% off the initial asking price.

All things considered; go local – it’s more fun, the food’s more authentic, it helps spread the tourist dollar and, of course, it’s much cheaper.