Thailand on the cheap

Nicole Hendry

“Travel while you’re still young,” they say. “Before you’re tied to a house, drowning in mortgage payments and formula milk.” If only it were that simple. Yet when summer hits, most students find their bank balance to be far more red than any sunburn they could hope to get. Finding something affordable and worthwhile to do at home is a struggle, let alone going abroad. However, there is still hope. There are ways around the seemingly cash-guzzling affair of backpacking, which means you might still be able to get that unfortunate tattoo in Bangkok to provide many a water cooler tale.

Thailand is a fantastic place for a novice traveller, as it can work out a lot cheaper than other backpacker hotspots. You can easily live out your own ‘Hangover’ in Bangkok, trek the jungle in Kanchaniburi, explore ruins in Ayutthaya and kick back on a Krabi beach – all on a budget. Follow these tips to start saving, and summer 2014 might not seem quite so dire.

Firstly, flights: make sure you sort these first. The website Skyscanner.com is a perfect start. It’s also a good idea to begin early; the prices tend to fluctuate a lot so if you’ve got a good grasp of the typical price and keep checking back, you’ll be able find the perfect time to pounce and buy.

Next it’s time to decide on a route. It’s fairly easy and quite rewarding to just wing it as you go along, but to avoid steep hostel costs, make sure you know where you’ll be spending the first couple of nights. Try the website Hostelbookers.com to find cheap accommodation. Depending on how many home comforts you are prepared to sacrifice, you can find rooms as low as £1.93 per night. Keep an eye out for hostels with bars or other communal areas that could make it easier for you to meet fellow travellers.

Third, haggling. I know the British are famed for their reserved disposition, but the dreaded H-word can really work wonders for your budget. It’s not only encouraged in markets, it’s expected – buy on the starting price and you’ve been seriously had. This also applies for tuktuks, the motorized rickshaws. Check with your hostel what you should be paying before you set out, and never accept a taxi that refuses to go on meter as you could easily be paying way above the normal fare.

Food costs can eat up your budget quicker than you realise. But if you are careful, you can easily get by spending less than £3 a day. Street food is a perfect way to both lap up the local culture and save a few quid. You can find a delicious noodle soup dish for around 30-35 baht (around 72p).

To supplement this, the ever expanding 7-Eleven chain is a perfect place to get snacks, and, with the franchise claiming 6,800 stores in the country in 2012, you will never be far from one. They sell all manner of heavenly junk foods, and if you go for Thai products rather than the imported ones, you can get a snack for 15-20 baht – literally, pennies. This is a good plan if you are expecting to head into a tourist hotspot where food and drink prices soar.

Be wary of any restaurants tuktuks may take you to. They will be overpriced, and the driver won’t be taking you there out of the kindness of his heart, but rather for the generous commission of 30% of your bill.

Finally,  transport can be simple and cheap if done wisely. When getting trains, always opt for third class. You can end up getting a four hour journey for a little over £1. The seats are perfectly workable and there’s no need for air conditioning when the natural breeze whizzes through from open windows. Buses are slightly more costly, and you should be mindful to check where they drop you off. But they can be a very useful alternative to tuktuks on short journeys, so don’t rule them out entirely.

In Bangkok specifically, there’s no better way to see the city than by boat. The Chao Phraya express will take you all the way up the river, with a chance to hop on and off to see the sights as often as you wish, all for only 140 baht. As you approach the piers to board, be careful not to agree to anything fishy as people will approach you trying to sell “tours” you don’t need for up to 500 baht. There are also longer boat tours that will take you around the canals, where you can see snake farms and floating markets.

Thailand is a big and bustling place, and can be a little daunting – but so long as you keep your wits about you and stick to your plan, you can enjoy this backpacker’s paradise for a quarter of the cost. And the stories you gain will certainly get you through the evenings 20 years from now, as you worry over gas bills and screaming babies.