Country recap and budget tips: Thailand


Posted by Beth | June 10, 2016

Days in the country: 15

Cities visited: Ko Tao, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Samui, Bangkok, Pak Chong

Favorite lodging: The Conrad Ko Samui, easily the nicest hotel we’ve ever stayed in

Favorite food: Caleb discovered he loved Thai curry, and though I made myself eat more than just chicken cashew nut stir fry this time around, it’s still my go-to.

Not gonna lie, these food truck tacos were a great break from Thai food and satisfied our Mexican food cravings

Not gonna lie, these food truck tacos on Soi 11 in Bangkok were a great break from Thai food and satisfied our Mexican food cravings

Favorite drink: Fresh fruit shakes you can buy on nearly every street corner (at least in the touristy areas) for around $1.

Favorite activities: Thai boxing lesson on the beach in Ko Samui, kayaking around Ang Thong Marine Park, and the horse races in Bangkok.

What we enjoyed the most: Though it’s hard to beat lounging around at beaches on gorgeous islands, I was most impressed with our time in Bangkok. We had been to the city several times before but this time was by far our favorite. We stayed in the best area, at the Aloft on Sukhumvit Soi 11, ate some fantastic meals, embraced the mall culture (hello, AC!), and had a blast shopping at the Chatuchak Market.

Caleb stumbled upon Terminal 21 Bangkok, a shopping mall set up with each floor designed to be a different major international city.

Caleb stumbled upon Terminal 21 Bangkok, a shopping mall set up with each floor designed to be a different major international city.

What we enjoyed the least: I didn’t love Khao Yai National Park and the Pak Chong area. It was certainly a different side of Thailand we hadn’t seen before, but was just too damn hot to be able to enjoy trekking while we were there in May. But Caleb would probably say that the bat cave there was his most memorable experience in Thailand.

What surprised us: The toll tourism has taken on the country in recent years. Before this RTW trip Thailand was our FAVORITE place in the world. I first fell in love with the country after living for a month in Chiang Mai on the World Race in 2012. Then Caleb and I went in early 2013 on our first big trip together, capping off a month of adventure and sand and sea with the most perfect engagement. There was never any question if we’d go back to Thailand on our RTW trip, but there was some admitted nervousness of “what if it’s not as perfect as before?”

By no means in 2013 did we stumble upon one of the world’s untouched treasures. Tourism was already alive and well in Thailand and we could tell it was only going to keep blowing up. But one of the things we remember most is how friendly the locals were. Yes, there were tourists everywhere, but the country genuinely seemed to live up to the name “The Land of Smiles.” Maybe it’s the different parts of the country we visited this time around, maybe it’s just the individuals we happened to come across; but, we got the distinct feeling, at least on the islands, that the locals were plain sick of tourists. In fact, one of the most beautiful islands is closing to tourism because the island and the sea’s environment is being destroyed.

What we would have done differently: We would have done a day of the “Try Scuba” diving before jumping head first into the PADI open water diver certification course. We ended up kind of hating scuba diving and deciding not to pursue it after all, and it would have been less time and money if we had done a trial dive with a guide first instead of assuming we’d love it. We laugh about it now and it was a good reminder for us that we don’t have to love everything we try, we have enough expensive habits thank you very much.  But if you are sure you want to get certified the tiny island of Ko Tao is the place to do it, as it’s very cheap there compared to most of the rest of the world.

We managed to get exactly zero photos of us actually scuba diving, but did get some photos during a snorkeling stop in Ang Thong

We managed to get exactly zero photos of us actually scuba diving, but did get some photos during a snorkeling stop in Ang Thong

Favorite person we met: We met another couple on our Ang Thong National Marine Park day trip that were very interesting. He was from Istanbul and lived in Moscow with his Russian wife who was a lawyer for a Russian oil company and she looked just like Rebel Wilson. Enough said.

Our best pro tips: 

Transportation:

  • Most of the hotels and guesthouse on the islands in the Gulf of Thailand include a free shuttle to/from the ferry pier so double check before paying for a taxi.
  • You can buy combination ferry/bus/taxi tickets. When we arrived at the Surat Thani airport we booked a combo for a bus to the ferry, then later getting from Ko Pha Ngan to Ko Samui our ferry ticket also included a taxi to the hotel.
  • If possible buy your ferry tickets directly from the office at the pier. We paid quite a bit more at one point by booking through our guesthouse instead.
  • Uber is really cheap in Bangkok! You can even use Uber Moto if you’re brave enough.

Currency: Baht. $1=35.21 Thai Baht. Thailand is already cheap, but this great exchange rate (if you are traveling on the dollar), makes the country even more affordable.

Hotel points redeemed: 11,000 SPG points at the Aloft Bangkok, one free weekend night certificate (Citi Hilton Reserve card annual bonus after $10K spend) at the Conrad Ko Samui and one free Hyatt night (Chase Hyatt card annual bonus, valid on category 1-4 hotels).

We flew free within Thailand thanks to flexible points. The Ko Samui Airport was all essentially outdoors, unlike any airport we've seen before.

We flew free within Thailand thanks to flexible bank points. The Ko Samui Airport was all essentially outdoors, unlike any airport we’ve seen before.

Flexible points redeemed:  23,428 Barclaycard Arrival points and 22,014 Citi Thank You points.

Total out-of-pocket expense: $1,372.17

Daily average: $45.74/per person

Click here to see our itemized Thailand expenses

Thailand Budget

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