Budget: Thailand

This is one of our Budget series of posts to give you an idea of how much we spent traveling around the world. Here we will look at Thailand. Check our posts to see what kind of activities we did and where we stayed!

In Thailand we used the Thai Baht. We converted to US dollars using the current conversion rates at the time of our visit. It was approximately 3 baht to $0.01.

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Total Spent (23 days): $1415.20

Accommodation: $390.07

We stayed in several places in Thailand. Our first time was in Bangkok for a few days in January before we headed to Myanmar. We returned to Thailand on the the 5th of March and we stayed mostly in small hotels or guesthouses. Much of our time in Thailand, we were traveling with Della’s parents. There was one hotel that we stayed at for 2 nights that Della’s parents paid for as a gift.

Activities: $369.65

This included a lot of things! Entrance fees to museums and wats, a movie in Bangkok, a day with elephants, a cooking class, and even a snorkeling trip!

Alcohol: $31.53

We only count alcohol costs when it is not purchased with other food.

Food: $327.73

We loved the food in Thailand and often ate out for lunch and dinner. Only a very few of our accommodations included breakfast, so we often purchased that as well.

Miscellaneous: $46.38

This included a lot of added toiletries as well as several souveniers. It is amazing how many things we start to buy when we know that we can send it home with Della’s parents! 😉 We also had to purchase a new battery for Eric’s fitbit.

Transportation: $249.67

We traveled around a lot in Thailand! This cost is actually quite low when you think about where we went. We traveled by bus from Chiang Rai, to Chiang, Mai, to Mae Sot, to Sukhothai, to Ayuthaya. Then we traveled by train to Bangkok. After that, we flew to Koh Lanta.

This divides out to $61.53/day which is under $100/day budget! Now that’s what we were hoping for in Asia! We even felt like we splurged on activities and accommodations, and we were able to remain this low, so it just goes to show that Thailand can be an inexpensive place to travel.

Lounging on the Beach at Ko Lanta, Thailand

“Mountains or beach?” That’s a question many people ask each other when making small talk. Generally, we choose mountains (as you may have guessed given that we live in Colorado – Della can provide a whole rant if you want), and we haven’t made a big effort thus far on the trip to spend a lot of beach time. Still, we figured it would be a shame to miss out on the world-class Thailand beaches, so we built a few days into the end off our time in Thailand to do so.

Picking a Beach

There are a huge number of beaches in Thailand, and we only wanted to see one. This meant sifting through a vast maze of information, from the recommendations of friends and family to guidebooks and online resources. So many data points just served to confuse us. And, just when we thought we’d made a decision, we’d discover something that turned us off. Wow, this island looks amazing… but it sounds pretty hard to get to quickly. Or This beach would be really easy to get to… but it doesn’t sound like there is much to do once you get there. And so on.

In the end, the island that best fit our criteria was Ko Lanta. It seemed fairly easy to get to for a quick trip from Bangkok, it looked scenic and had plenty of stuff going on, and we could pre-book affordable accommodation. It was nice to get that decision made and get to the beach.

Getting There

It wasn’t quite as easy as we had hoped, but we made it there in one piece.

Where We Stayed

Based on the recommendation of some of our travel friends, we booked a bungalow at The Hut on Khlong Nin beach. (Even once we had decided on the island, we still had to pick the beach on the island to stay on.) Our bungalow was nice and spacious, with a covered front porch and a large bed. We did have an attached bathroom with a Western toilet and cold-water shower… but no sink, which we found inconvenient. The only cooling apparatus was a fan; no A/C, which would have been nice on the hot, muggy days, although we managed to cool off enough at night to sleep. The staff was very laid-back – almost a little too much so at times, but maybe we just don’t have the correct attitude for a beach ;-).  The location was not on the beach itself but just across the road, so not too bad. The price (about $15 a night) was pretty reasonable compared to other bungalows we priced out as well.

What We Did

We were looking forward to some relaxing times and we definitely were able to achieve that. Both the first and second days we didn’t emerge from our bungalow until it was time for lunch. The first day we just stayed on the beach after lunch and read and took turns swimming in the warm waters of the Andaman.

The second day we intended to rent a motorbike to see some of the other sights on the island… but when we admitted to the staff at The Hut where we were going to rent from that it was our first time, they refused to rent to us. Too discouraged to try another place, we spent another afternoon lounging on Khlong Nin beach.

In the evening we headed over to check out what we had seen advertised as a free beach exercise session followed by a yoga class. We were a little skeptical, but it turned out to be exactly that! A South African named Yakut first led us through a variety of exercises he seemed to make up on the spot, many involving the use of a large volcanic rock we picked up nearby. After a refreshing swim to cool off, the yoga session started. The yoga instruction itself was a little hit-or-miss, but the opportunity to do a sun salutation towards the setting sun was pretty incredible. We also enjoyed listening to Yakut espouse some of his personal philosophies.

The third day we decided to be a little more active and book a snorkel tour to the Four Islands area. We debated which company to go with, and ended up choosing “Lanta Nature Tour” since it was the cheapest. We were taken on a small “longtail” boat along with five others, including someone from Boulder, Colorado and a German who had gone to the University of Colorado for a year of study abroad – talk about a small world! We stopped at two small islands and hopped out for about 20 minutes of snorkeling. We didn’t see anything amazing, and the coral seemed a little worse for the wear, but the water was crystal clear, and we enjoyed swimming among schools of a smaller type of fish that had no fear.

The third stop was at the Emerald Cave, where we hopped out and swam into a natural opening underneath the limestone karst. Just past the entrance we got to see where the cave got its name from, and the water beneath us glowed in an emerald-esque color as it was lit from the sun outside. After we swam about 100 meters, we emerged into an interior oasis of a small beach open to the sky. It was quite pretty, although the effect was marred a bit by the vast crowds of loud tour groups talking excitedly.

We couldn't take any pictures of the cave since we had to swim into it, but we did get to enjoy a Pepsi afterwards

We couldn’t take any pictures of the cave since we had to swim into it, but we did get to enjoy a Pepsi afterwards

After we swam back out the cave, we headed to our final stop: lunch on the beach at Ko Ngai. This was our favorite stop; the view from our table of the longtail boats bobbing in the bright blue water above a white sand beach with limestone karsts in the distance was exactly what we had hoped to see on the beach in Thailand. We had about an hour to eat lunch and then relax in the water before we took the long ride back to Ko Lanta.

Where We Ate

Khlong Nin has a nice selection of restaurants along the beach, and we visited quite a few of them. Since it was our last few days in Thailand, we tried to eat our fill of curries and fried noodles. Della was especially insistent on choosing places that offered her favorite dish, pad see ewe.

Many of the beachfront restaurants offered happy hour deals on beer, which was great since the beach faces west. We took advantage and made sure to find a good seat to watch the sun fade below the horizon.

Final Thoughts

We are glad that we made our way to the beach, and Ko Lanta was very scenic. Khlong Nin was the right beach for us to choose (we saw some of the party beaches on the way out and were glad we didn’t choose them). It’s hard to say if we chose the right island or not. The frustrations of getting there and the relatively high prices once we arrived soured things a bit, but we might have had similar issues at many of the other islands. So, our trip to the Thailand beaches didn’t change our affiliation as “mountain people,” but it did provide for a scenic and relaxing way to say goodbye to Thailand.

Moments of Misery: Long, Frustrating Travel Days (Bangkok to Koh Lanta)

Most of our posts on this blog will be happy recollections of some moments of our trip. But life on the road won’t always be fun. We feel like we’d like to share some of these moments of misery too. (OK, and vent a little about them too…)

Sometimes travel is exhilarating and challenging… sometimes it is just frustrating. When you’re on the road, you have some relaxing days, some big adventurous days, and some just travel days. The travel days are the ones where you have to move between locations and if you’re lucky, it is a quick and comfortable trip. If you’re unlucky, it can be the opposite.

We had spent a long time deciding which Thai beach to visit and had ultimately picked Koh Lanta after reading some amazing reviews on other blogs and looking at some pictures. The only problem with Koh Lanta is that it is relatively far south of Bangkok, actually a bit closer to the Malaysia border. We had heard that it wasn’t really that hard to get to though – just a quick flight from Bangkok to Krabi and then grab a minibus from the airport that will drop you off at your accommodation on the island. Sounds easy right?

Our long day started in Bangkok where it was hot and sticky. We knew we could get to the airport via the metro/train and were intrigued by the challenge of getting there on our own. Even our hostel hadn’t known about this connection! Their first instinct had been to take a taxi! But, we thought we could do it more cheaply (and more adventurously) ourselves. This involved a 10 to 15 min walk to the metro and a quick trip (just one stop) to the Hua Lamphong stop which is also the main Bangkok train station. We bought our tickets quickly (and cheaply for only 20 baht… though for some reason they were more expensive than the train tickets we had bought a few days earlier that had taken us all the way from Ayutthaya to Bangkok), got on the train, and headed to the Dong Muang airport. It actually all went according to plan! We should have been pleased… except we didn’t take into account how horribly humid Bangkok is. We were leaving relatively early (about 7:15 am) in the morning so we had figured it wouldn’t be too hot yet. But we were wrong. By the time we arrived at the train station, we were already dripping (yes, actually literally dripping) with sweat. The train was unairconditioned. We got some seats (which was lucky) but they weren’t right under the fan which was unfortunate. So we sweated more. When the train was moving it wasn’t too bad as the windows were open, but for some reason the train stopped a lot! By the time we arrived at the airport, Della felt like she had just stepped out of the shower, except instead of being fresh and clean she was stinky and dirty.

The Bangkok train station

The Bangkok train station

 

Our flight actually went quite smoothly, no problems at all! But it was on a budget carrier (Thai Lion) that we hadn’t used prior and the space for your knees was the smallest we had ever seen!

The next part was what we were least sure about. Multiple sources had indicated to us that we could just grab a minivan from the Krabi airport straight to Koh Lanta. So, once we landed, we set out to do this. Unfortunately, information at the airport was unhelpful and told us we had to go into Krabi town. We found another desk selling minibus transfers to multiple islands. They had one to Koh Lanta, but it was 490 baht instead of the 350 baht we were expecting. They told us they could take us into Krabi town to the pier for just 90 baht. They also said that the only way to get any bus at all would be to go to Krabi town. We thought we might be able to find the cheaper transfers from there so we got the ticket.

We piled onto a crowded bus and headed into Krabi town which was unfortunately 30 min away (in the opposite direction from Koh Lanta). When we arrived in town, we definitely did not go to the pier, or even to downtown, or even where there were any businesses at all. They dumped us off the bus at their main office and we had one choice – to take their expensive minibus. Either that or to head off into town on a hot day with our bags, not really knowing where we were going or how far that might be. So, we bought the tickets.

They said they would drop us off at our accommodation at Klong Nin Beach in Koh Lanta. There was some confusion as they had never heard of our place and didn’t seem to be able to read the map we were showing them. But they threw up their hands and just shoved the tickets at us. We assumed that meant that the driver would know. After the exchange was made, it was 1:15 and we thought we were going to get on the 2 pm bus. They hadn’t bothered to tell us that the 2pm bus was full so we would have to wait for the 3pm bus. Ugh.

With nothing to do but wait, and having had no food since breakfast, we decided to eat (at their restaurant). We were a little frustrated to give this annoying company more of our money, but we were hungry so we did anyway.

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At 3pm, our bus pulled up. We tried to talk with the driver to make sure he knew about our accommodation. He didn’t speak much English and walked away from us without ever communicating. Rude. But, we piled on with several other tourists. We were almost full to capacity when we left. Then we drove back to the airport!  Here we picked up about 5 more people… even though we had been told when we were at the airport 2 hours earlier that this was impossible. The new arrivals crowded into the bus that only had 2 seats left… Luckily for us, we weren’t squished so badly, but others in the bus had to sit 3 or 4 to 2 people seats. Then, finally we set out for the island.

It is a long drive (about 2 hours by any calculation) with 2 ferry crossings. The first one was fine. But, for some reason, the second ferry crossing took us about 45 min. The crossing itself is quite short, but it must have been rush hour on the island or something because we waited in a line of vehicles for about 35 min before we even got onto the ferry. By this point, everyone on the bus was hot, crowded, and grumpy.

Other cars getting loaded onto the ferry

Other cars getting loaded onto the ferry

After the long ferry crossing, we headed farther onto the island. The minibus stopped at the first main beach where some people got out either to stay there or to be transferred to a taxi to get to their accommodation. Here we tried to communicate again where we were staying. Our driver still didn’t understand us so got one of the taxi drivers to come and help. We said we needed to go to our place on Klong Nin Beach. He said, oh no, this minibus doesn’t go there, you will have to pay for a taxi. This seemed outrageous to us, so we absolutely refused. We had been told we would get to our accommodation and the minibus was going to take us there.

Ultimately, it was no problem, the minibus headed for Klong Nin, and we weren’t even the last ones off the bus. However, they did not take us to our accommodation and we did have to walk a ways. By that point, we were just happy to be off the bus.

We finally arrived at almost 6:30 pm. Luckily, our room was waiting for us. It was fan only, which we knew, but we could have really used some AC just then. We were also surprised that while having a toilet and a shower, our room did not have a sink. Strange?

But nothing really went wrong, and we made it safely and in one piece. Still, days like these can be so taxing. Heat, frustration, fear of getting ripped off, and delays can really take their toll.