Thailand in 2024: A Short Travel Guide & What Costs to Expect

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Thailand is one of the destinations that are top of mind for travellers around the world, whether it be for its temples, pristine beaches, friendly smiles, cuisine, or nightlife.

It can be a bit challenging to decide what to see or do in Thailand, as it is a country that has so much to offer. For a first trip of 10-15 days, we recommend visiting Bangkok, the northern part of the country, Chiang Mai, and the west coast of the Andaman Sea to have a first impression of the country. You can always come back again; in my case, I have visited Thailand six times since 2013.

This post provides a concise overview of the costs associated with a trip to Thailand, covering flights, accommodation, transportation, activities, and tips for avoiding common mistakes first-time visitors make in the Land of Smiles.

Planning the Trip to Thailand

In this article, we want to help you avoid making rookie mistakes on your first trip to Thailand and ensure you have a smooth experience without having to spend hours searching for information.
Fortunately, Thailand is quite lenient on visa matters. In fact, just a month ago, they doubled the tourist stay from 30 to 60 days for many countries and increased the number of visa-free countries to 100.

When to Travel to Thailand

The most pleasant time to visit Thailand is typically from November to February, when the weather is predominantly dry and temperatures hover comfortably between 25-30°C. Should those months not be feasible, March and April also offer dry conditions, although with warmer temperatures averaging 28-35°C. Alternatively, the shoulder seasons of May and September to October can be enjoyable, with occasional rainfall and temperatures similar to March and April. It’s advisable to avoid June through August due to the monsoon season.

Flights to Thailand

Flights are usually the largest expense when it comes to a trip to Thailand, and where people tend to make mistakes. Depending on the season, airline, and how far in advance you book, travellers from Europe should expect to pay an average of between €600 and €800. However, we have published deals as low as €420 in the last months.

The most common mistake travellers make is booking round-trip flights to Bangkok, as this requires arriving in Bangkok, flying to another destination (such as the coast or the north), and then returning to Bangkok for the flight back home, resulting in an extra flight. A less stressful option is to book a multi-city itinerary with the outbound flight to Bangkok and the inbound flight from Phuket (or vice versa if you prefer the beach first).

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Places you Should Visit on Your First Trip to Thailand

Thailand has 76 provinces, but even a year wouldn’t be enough to explore them all. For first-time visitors, a mix of Bangkok’s urban energy, the beaches of Krabi and Phuket on the Andaman Sea, and the temples and cuisine of Chiang Mai in the north offer a perfect introduction to the country.

Bangkok

The Thai capital is a concrete jungle that can take weeks to discover in-depth, but on a first visit, you can see the main sights without much stress in two or three days.

You can spend the first day visiting the Grand Palace, the Wat Pho temple, crossing the river to visit Wat Arun, and from there taking a longtail boat ride along the Chao Phraya River to Chinatown, ending your day at the new viewpoint.
You can spend your second day exploring the city at your own pace, visiting markets and parks, or going to a Muay Thai fight. If you have more time in Bangkok, we recommend taking a day trip to Ayutthaya or the floating markets.

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Photo by Waranont (Joe) on Unsplash

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the ideal place to spend at least two or three days on your trip through Thailand. With more pleasant temperatures than Bangkok and a different pace of life where you can stop and enjoy the moment. You can spend a day exploring the old city and hundreds of temples, enjoying the food of the north of the country, or trying speciality coffee shops. If you want to make the most of your time in the city, there are many activities where you can spend half a day or a whole day, e.g. with a Thai cooking class, visiting an elephant sanctuary, or trekking through the jungle.

If you want to visit Doi Suthep on your own, you can try your luck at the shared taxi stop north of the wall, but the Songthaew drivers will try to take advantage of you. The last time I was in Chiang Mai, we joined another person and went up to the temple in a Grab (Southeast Asian Uber), paying €2 more per person for an air-conditioned taxi. To go down, you can take a Songthaew for the experience to the zoo and from there take another Grab to your final destination.

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Silver Temple, Chiang Mai. Photo by Peter Borter on Unsplash

If you haven’t booked flights to Chiang Mai and plan to visit Chiang Rai, the other main city in northern Thailand located 180 km from Chiang Mai. It is known for its White Temple. Consider flying into Chiang Rai from Bangkok and then taking a bus to Chiang Mai. If you’re flying from Krabi or Phuket and heading to Chiang Mai, it might be more convenient to fly directly from there to Chiang Mai and then fly from Chiang Mai back to Bangkok.

Krabi

If you don’t have many days for your trip to Thailand and want to enjoy the beaches, Krabi is a good base camp for excursions and offers plenty of nightlife. Don’t make the beginner’s mistake of staying in Krabi Town. It’s better to stay in Ao Nang, otherwise, you will be half an hour away from the sea. You can do two-day trips with speedboats from Ao Nang, the Phi Phi excursion and the Seven Islands excursion. I chose not to stay in Phi Phi because the accommodations have a much worse quality-price ratio than in Krabi.

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Railay Beach, Krabi

Phuket

Phuket has a bit of a bad reputation for being too touristy and I tried to avoid it for years, but I was surprised when I stopped for a day on my arrival in Thailand last year. It has plenty of infrastructure, an old town reminiscent of Penang, and possibilities for excursions to the James Bond Islands or Koh Phi Phi. If you want to party, you can stay in the Patong Beach area. If you want a more family atmosphere you have Kata Beach, and if you want something more relaxed, you have Karon Beach.

Getting Around in Thailand

Thailand offers various transportation options for travellers. Domestic airlines serve major routes throughout the country. Trains are also available but can be unreliable at times. Additionally, buses and taxis cater to different budgets, providing flexibility for travellers. Here’s what I wish I’d known before my first trip to Thailand.

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Khao San Road, Bangkok

Domestic Flights

Flying within Thailand is the easiest and safest way to get around the country. The most popular tourist routes have a lot of competition. For instance, to travel between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, you can choose between low-cost airlines like Thai Lion Air, Thai Vietjet Air, Thai AirAsia, and Nok Air, or legacy carriers like Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways. On low-cost airlines, you can usually bring a carry-on bag and a personal item that together may weigh 7 kilos max, but they usually don’t check it.

When booking in advance, it’s common to find flights from Bangkok to the coast or Chiang Mai for around THB 1,000 (~€25). If it’s not peak season, you can usually expect to pay around THB 2,500 (~€63) for a flight to Phuket or Chiang Mai when booking last minute. However, if you plan to travel from Chiang Mai to the coast, we recommend booking in advance as these flights have fewer frequencies and are in higher demand.

The only place in Thailand where flying can be expensive is the island of Koh Samui, which has a private airport owned by Bangkok Airways and lacks budget airline options. However, you can choose to fly to Surat Thani and then take a ferry to Koh Samui, although this will add 2 to 4 hours to your travel time, including the transfer and ferry ride, and cost around THB 800 (~€20). For example, a one-way flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani is around THB 1,200 (~€30), while flying directly to Koh Samui can cost around THB 4,200 (~€106). Similarly, a one-way flight from Chiang Mai to Surat Thani is around THB 3,000 (~€76), while flying directly to Koh Samui can cost around THB 9,500 (~€240). Ultimately, you’ll need to decide whether the convenience of a direct flight is worth the extra cost, or if you’d prefer to save money and spend a little more time travelling.

One thing most travellers don’t know is that airlines offer packages for travel from Bangkok to the islands. For instance, from Bangkok to Koh Lipe, the package includes the flight to Hat Yai, the van to Satun, and the speed ferry to Koh Lipe.

Taxi, Buses and Trains

Taxis in Thailand are affordable, but as a tourist, you might encounter scams. The best way to avoid issues is to use a ride-hailing app such as Grab or Bolt to book your taxis. If you encounter any difficulties, you can reach out to their customer service. Additionally, you can pay for your rides using your card.

Grab is Southeast Asia’s leading ride-hailing and is essentially the Uber of the region and operates in most major towns across Thailand. The Grab app also includes GrabFood (similar to Uber Eats), and the good news is that you don’t need to know Thai to order delivery.

If you have a Bolt account, it also works in Bangkok, and rides to the airport can be slightly cheaper. My ride from Silom to the Suvarnabhumi Airport was THB 300 (~€8) cheaper with Bolt.

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Photo by Mos on Unsplash

To get around Bangkok, we recommend combining the use of the SkyTrain BTS for fast and air-conditioned travel. If you want to go from one point to another in the city, you can compare Grab and public buses to get around if the BTS doesn’t reach your destination. For short distances without being stuck in traffic, you can use motorcycle taxis, but you’ll have to negotiate with the driver.

Chiang Mai’s public transportation relies heavily on songthaews (red trucks), which can be a unique experience but not always the most efficient. For greater convenience and flexibility, consider using Grab for your transportation needs.

To travel between cities by land, you have the option of long-distance buses, which, depending on the company, can be 2-2 or 2-1 in the “luxury” ones, or you can use the train, although don’t expect a European experience. Many people choose to take the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, seeking adventure or hoping to save money. However, the experience may not be as comfortable as expected, and the cost savings might not be significant. On my last night train in 2013 from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, I got a cold as a gift from the air conditioner above my bed.

For ferry travel, we recommend booking in advance if you’re travelling during peak season. If you’re travelling on the same day, we recommend checking the price online before asking at the street stalls. In my case, to go from Krabi to Koh Lipe, they asked for THB 600 (~€15) more than online.

If you want to get around on your own, the favourite option of TikTokers is to rent a motorcycle but keep in mind that if you have an accident and don’t have an international motorcycle license, your health insurance won’t cover you. Even if nothing happens to you, the less honest police officers will charge you a bribe for not having a license.

Personally, to get around in the north of the country, I would recommend renting a car for about THB 1,600 (~€40). Remember that you will need to bring your international driver’s license.

Daily Budget

While flights to Thailand can be expensive, the cost of living in the country is quite low. You can often get a boutique hotel for the price of a European hostel bunk bed, and a nice restaurant meal for the cost of fast food back home.

Accommodation

Thailand has options for all budgets, and you can spend as much as you want on accommodation, but if you can spend a little more, you’ll get better value for your money. A hostel can cost between €5 to €15 per night, depending on the number of beds and amenities. A good standard hotel in a double room costs between 30 and €50, and a boutique or luxury hotel costs a little more. On my last trip, I paid an average of €40 per night for a double room with a private bathroom. I could have paid €10 less on average, but I preferred to have a slightly higher quality of life.

Food

The days of Pad Thai for one euro are long gone because prices have gone up everywhere. However, in Chiang Mai, you can still have lunch for €1.5 at local places. Although, if you’re in Thailand, it’s better to take advantage of eating at good places for €5-€15, which would cost you €30-€50 in your city. If you’re on a tight budget, you can eat cheaply and it’s still good, but in my case, I would rather save on accommodation and spend it on food.

Internet

You can buy your SIM card in advance or get an eSIM if your phone allows it, but you won’t have any trouble getting a SIM card upon arrival at the airport or at any 7-11. I usually buy an unlimited plan from True or DTAC for two weeks, although there are cheaper options if you don’t need a lot of data.

Money

Card payment in Thailand is more widespread than a few years ago, but it’s still a country where you’ll need cash. All ATMs will charge you a 5 euro fee whether you withdraw €10 or €500, so we recommend travelling with cash to save on fees. If you arrive at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, don’t exchange money in the arrivals area, but on level -1 before the Airport Link. I usually exchange at SuperRich, but there are no problems exchanging elsewhere. The only caveat is that if you bring US dollars, the exchange rate will fluctuate depending on the denomination of the bill (as today, a single dollar bill may get you 36.30 THB, a 10 dollar bill 36.50 THB, and a 100 dollar bill 36.63 THB), unlike with euros that will always get you the same exchange rate. If you come from another Asian country (like Hong Kong or Singapore), you shouldn’t have any trouble exchanging any leftover currency.

One thing I do to spend less cash is to book accommodations prepaid on Agoda or Trip.com to avoid being charged a 3-5% fee for paying by card.

Activities

Normally, you won’t spend more than €30-40 per day on activities. Here are some examples of the most popular activities in the main destinations in Thailand to give you an idea:

Phuket:

  • Phi Phi, Maya Area, Khai & Bamboo island day tour at €44.49
  • ATV adventure and zipline experience in Phuket at €22.45
  • James Bond and Phang Nga Bay tour from Phuket at €59.60

Krabi:

  • 4 Islands Day Tour from Krabi at €25.09
  • Tiger Cave & Emerald Pool Jungle Tour at €28.15
  • Phi Phi, Monkey Beach and Bamboo Island Snorkeling Day Tour from Krabi at €47.19

Bangkok:

  • Mahanakhon SkyWalk ticket in Bangkok at €22.29
  • Chao Phraya Princess cruise in Bangkok at €22.19
  • Damnoen Saduak floating market, Maeklong Railway & Amphawa day tour at €26.10

Chiang Mai:

  • Thai Cooking Classes by Grandma’s Home Cooking School at €29.20
  • Chiang Rai Iconic White, Blue Temple, Black House Museum and Hot Spring Visit Day Tour at €34.85
  • Doi Inthanon National Park Day Tour at €43.05

Local Culture and Customs

Thailand is a country quite open to foreigners but it is still a traditional country at the same time. For instance, to visit the temples you must cover your knees and shoulders, you should bargain on prices and you have to deal with dual pricing for locals and foreigners, both officially in the prices of tickets to national parks and when negotiating for services. For better or worse, visitors in this part of the world are seen as walking sacks of money.

Conclusion

For a week in Thailand travelling as a couple, you should budget approximately:

  • €250/400 when staying in budget hotels, renting a motorcycle or taking domestic trains.
  • €500/600 when staying in middle-class hotels, rent a car and domestic flights.
  • €700 when staying in upper-class hotels, renting a car, flying domestically and planning one activity per day.

The land of smiles is one of my favourite countries to which I never tire of travelling. For a first-time traveller, it is a fairly easy country to manage, whether you want to enjoy a metropolis that has nothing to envy to a big city in the West, if you want to be on pristine beaches or want to explore the interior of the country, Thailand has something for everyone. Don’t try to do a rally and give yourself time to enjoy the country. As my father would say, “Thailand is not going anywhere and you can always come back.” In fact, I am already planning my seventh trip for November of this year or even sooner if a good deal to Thailand appears.

Cover Picture: © Pixabay-User naiwor, CC0 Lizenz

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