Can you live in Thailand on $4 a day?
Can you make it in Thailand on $4 (100 Baht) a day? Well… sort of. Here’s a fun video of a young Brit, Alex Putnam, who’s experimenting with living on the Thai minimum wage. It’s not a lifestyle I’d recommend, but it’s an interesting exercise and it shows that living on $500/month is completely do-able:
Budgeting in Thailand: A Reality Check
Until I developed an outside income, I lived on my $1240/mo. Social Security check. Because the cost of living is so low my $1240 paid for a standard of living that would have cost $3,000/mo. back home. Moving here more than doubled my buying power, a you see in the sample budgets above. I lived a stone’s throw from the leafy campus of Chiang Mai University in an air-conditioned studio, ate out three times a day, rented a moped, and lived a comfortable, leisurely life. If I’d had a partner with a similar income we could have lived almost luxuriously. That’s what the second budget outlines.
To help you understand how that’s possible, remember this benchmark: after graduation from university a beginning Thai engineer makes $500/month. When you live in Thailand you enjoy one of life’s great luxuries: forgetting about money and focusing on living.
Ways to Save Money in Thailand
Here are a few tricks to help you save money when you come to Thailand:
- Come in the Summer: Thailand is much cheaper between May and November. Rooms, food and vehicle rental often discounted. There are far fewer tourists around, and you’re more likely to receive personal service.
- Stay on the Mainland: Remember how expensive Hawaii is? That’s because everything you buy on an island is transported by boat or plane. Island life is always more expensive than living on the mainland.
- Choose Basic Accommodation: Simple rooms cost less than 150 baht ($5) a night or you can share with another bargain hunter to split costs. Dorm rooms are even cheaper.
- Travel at Night, by Train, or by Bus: Plane fare from BKK to Chiang Mai is $70 each way and you see nothing. You can go a long way for a few baht on over- night trains because you won’t need a room that night. An air-conditioned seat or a sleeping compartment is around $25 each way BKK to Chiang Mai, about 1,000 km. Third-class rail is even cheaper. Air-conditioned day bus rides show you the whole country for less than half that and you kill two birds with one stone.
- Use Local Transport: Local buses and, songthaews (shared taxi/pickups) go everywhere in town for around 20 Baht (70¢).
- Hitch Hike: Riskier, as it is everywhere, but many people hitchhike around Thailand. Do offer money for gas, even though it’s rarely accepted.
- Avoid Western Food: Foreign food is mostly imported and not well prepared. For the price of a single pizza you can eat three Thai meals a day for three days.
- Eat Like the Locals: Thais love food, and you will always be close to a market selling curry and rice ($2) or a small restaurant making Thai food to order. Just watch the locals and point to whatever looks good, smile, and say “khap”. Road- side stalls are literally everywhere, especially at night, and meals cost around $2.
- Don’t Tip: Thais don’t tip. You need not.
- Accept Offers of Food, Drink and Accommodation: Thais are friendly and gracious and if you’re around them you’ll be invited for a drink or a meal. The offer of a bed for the night is a generous gesture, but consider it carefully.
- Water is Good for You: In this flood-prone country it’s best to drink bottled water. Buy big bottles in local grocery stores rather than small bottles in restau- rants or convenience stores; drink plenty of free water whenever you eat a meal. You can even fill your water bottle free in banks, hotel foyers, and Buddhist tem- ples. There are RO (reverse osmosis) dispensers on every street corner that dis- pense 2 gallons for 3 Bt. (10¢).
- Alcohol is a Luxury: Supermarket beer is $1.65 for a large, cold bottle. Out- side Bangkok you can have it served at your table for $2.10. Lao Kao, the cheap- est alcoholic drink, is a harsh local spirit that’s palatable mixed with Coca-Cola. Thai whisky, like 100 Pipers, is cheap and surprisingly drinkable.
- Use Free Entertainment: Thais exercise at local parks; often there are free aerobics groups, basketball, tennis, tagraw (an amazing mix of football, volley- ball, and kung fu), tai chi, or concerts and festivals. You can watch free films at resorts or read a free newspaper in a library or a hotel. As a rich farang you can waltz into the most luxurious hotel lobbies and take advantage of the A/C, the latest newspapers, even free cups of tea.
- Buy Clothes and Personal Items in Thailand: Clothes are very cheap and well suited to the hot climate. I buy a new cotton long-sleeved drawstring pants and great long-sleeved shirts for $14 total. Toiletries are much cheaper than back home, with free soap in some rooms and sometimes in shared bathrooms.
- Bring Your Own Specialized Equipment: For special activities like diving, it’s often better to bring your own gear rather than renting it. Most such stuff here made in China and not the same quality you’re used to.
- Watch Your Money: Thailand is a cash economy which makes budgeting easy. Put your daily budget, in cash, in your pocket each morning and let that be your guide. This saves you being distracted by obsessive budgeting on the one hand and tempted by credit cards on the other.
- Minimize Money Charges: You’ll be charged $5 for withdrawing money from an ATM plus your own bank’s exchange rate plus any other charges they can get away with. So bring cash with you and, if you need to make an ATM withdrawal, take out your daily maximum: usually around $500.
- Do You Really Need a Guide Book? Do your research on the Internet before you leave. Store the relevant information on your Smartphone or a USB memory stick and use an Internet cafe here. Pick up free brochures when you get here. Or just buy a guide book at a local used book store.
- Haggle: Bargaining for some items is expected in Thailand. Anything from a market is fair game, but keep it real when trying to get an extra few baht dis- count. Room prices can be negotiated, especially in low season and for longer stays.
- Do Your Own Laundry: A 10 Baht packet of washing powder and a few min- utes each day is all that you need. If you buy loose, light clothing here, it will dry in minutes in the hot sun. Buy a sarong here to use instead of a heavy towel. Washing machines are everywhere (in the street!) and a 5 lb. (2 kg.) load is 66c. There’s also a laundry on every block that will happily do your laundry for $2.
- Know the Rules of the Road: They’re like the ones at home, though Thais drive on the left. Bring an international driving license with you (get it from your local motoring club) and always carry it when driving. Always wear seat belts in cars and helmets on motorbikes, or you risk a fine. They’re only $7-10, but a big nuisance. If you are booked for a traffic infraction you will be required to sur- render your license until you’ve paid your fine.
- Obey the Local Laws: Littering is an offense in Thailand, and people have been fined for dropping cigarette butts on the ground. Police will pay more atten- tion to the actions of a foreigner, so be aware, especially in Bangkok.
- Don’t Be a Victim: Google “Thailand scams” and study up. There’s nothing original, but it’s best to know in advance that you’re not in Kansas anymore. For example, at the airport, ask the fare in advance. Avoid tuk-tuks. Read the safety tips in the appendix to this book.
- Get Paid to Travel: Again, Google this idea. Talk to your local newspaper, etc., or act as a buyer for someone or a business at home if you have expertise. Enliven your blog (see the Ten Best Blogs in this book for inspiration). Our workshops include a seminar devoted just to this.
- Avoid Tourist Traps: It sounds obvious, but there are several places, like Pat- taya, Phuket and Ko Samui that are overpriced and overcrowded. You’ll have more fun off the beaten track visiting remote temples and national parks. And if you want to spend some beach time, try Nakhon Si Thammarat where the unique food is a big plus.
So that’s how to live like a king in Thailand on $4 a day. Not so ‘kingly’, you say? True, but it’s still one of the highest living standards with the highest quality in the world!