Average spent per day: $41.51
Total days in Thailand: 51
Kyle and I decided to split up Thailand into two separate trips between the north and south. My parents were arriving in Bangkok on December 28th right after Christmas, and since we’d heard such great things about the northern part of the country, we wanted to give ourselves ample time to explore. As such we arrived in Bangkok for the first time around mid-November before taking the overnight bus to Chiang Mai and remaining in the north for 13 days before moving on to Laos. The second time around we headed to Koh Chang from Laos via Bangkok to spend Christmas on the beach before going back to Bangkok to meet my parents. For southern Thailand we spent a total of 38 days there (after buying a two month visa at the Thai embassy in Vientiane, Laos), which in all honesty was too long. Our opinions between north and south differ immensely, considering areas like Pai and Chiang Mai were two of our favourite spots we’ve visited on this trip so far. While northern Thailand had a very relaxed vibe, southern Thailand was like its rowdy cousin who never knows when to call it quits. As such it’s difficult to sum up these two areas in one post, but I’ll do my best to differentiate our opinions between the two.
Out of all of the people we’ve met on this trip, our opinions of Thai individuals have fluctuated the most. In northern Thailand we had no real complaints, and apart from a late pickup from our hostel for one tour most things ran relatively smoothly. It was especially nice to walk around and not constantly feel like a dollar sign to the locals. In Southern Thailand our opinions shifted, and while we still found certain people helpful and fun to joke around with, it eventually became tiring to constantly ignore every shout-out asking passersby for a taxi, tuk-tuk or massage. The scams tended to be more prominent in the south too, and in Bangkok we foolishly listened to a man who told us certain temples were closed, only to direct us to his buddy’s boat business for a cruise down the river. Remember this when sightseeing in Bangkok: never listen to local Thai people who tell you certain attractions are closed during the day. They are lying 99% of the time and relying on a commission from redirecting your money elsewhere.
My other gripe with Thai people was just general laziness. While staying in Koh Chang, we stopped to grab lunch at a local restaurant. After ordering a sandwich and seeing the waiter bring what looked like my meal out for delivery, he then walked around a few times, gave up trying to figure out what table the dish should go to, then walked back into the kitchen. After another half an hour Kyle went to the bar to ask where this mysterious sandwich had gotten to, only to look down and see it sitting below the counter.
“Oh, here you go,” said the waiter, handing Kyle the plate.
Apparently instead of pursuing the issue further the waiter decided it was a good idea to just put the sandwich down and forget about the whole thing.
To sum it up I would say the Thai people were fun at times with a decent sense of humor, but were also extremely inefficient. When traveling throughout the country for 51 days, the latter character trait did become a source of irritation.
One item that Thai people have down pat is the fruit smoothie. For 30-60 baht ($1-2), you can have a delicious drink filled with anything from mangos to pineapple. The classic Caesar is the usual hangover cure for most Canadians, but after traveling through Thailand for over a month with my fair share of rough mornings, I would add the Thai smoothie to the morning-after-cure list in an instant. These can be bought at almost any restaurant or on the side of the street from various vendors.
Two dishes that we ate the most were Thai curries and Pad Thai. The curry is more like a soup with a side of rice, which was a decent go-to staple. At first I felt like I could live off Pad Thai – that is until I keeled over from one of the worst bouts of food poisoning of the trip so far in Tonsai (most likely induced from the large plate of Pad Thai consumed the day before). Unfortunately this was more towards the end of our Thailand leg, and left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth regarding the food here. My parents traveled the country for 5 weeks and loved it, but for us we were just getting tired of so many rice and noodle dishes (which is almost everywhere in Southeast Asia).
It’s a bit difficult to get a sense of the culture in Thailand because so much of what we saw was the locals catering to tourists. In both the north and south of Thailand, the people are Buddhist, yet the north comes across as a place that is much more -excuse the cliché – zen. Nature plays a large role in people’s lives in the north, attracting Thais (as well as foreigners) who prefer the outdoors as opposed to the concrete jungle. In chatting with the guy who ran the zipline business that we decided to go with in Chiang Mai, I discovered that he used to work as a waiter in Bangkok. Once he’d saved up enough cash, he moved to Chiang Mai and established a zipline company so that he could spend his mornings “listening to the birds sing” and “watching the river tumble.” The streets are clean, street food is plentiful, and overall people seem to be happy and chilled out. Locals can be seen going about their business, the children are often seen playing in the schoolyard or playing with their friends, and restaurant owners are often seen relaxing with their patrons over a couple of beers to end the day.
Bangkok is a different beast unto itself. A thriving business-happy metropolis that doubles as the political center of the country, life in Thailand’s big smoke is hectic and the people are on the move. The city also shows a bit of a shadier side of Thailand by means of scam artists and ping-pong shows, which all allegedly have ties to the Thai mafia. Bangkok is a sin city and a prelude to the overwhelming sense that catering to tourism trumps all forms of tradition the farther south you happen to travel in Thailand. However, there are still a number of ways to seek out the Thai culture in Bangkok. Leaving Khao San Road and exploring the old quarter will give you a glimpse of local life in the form of early morning street vendors, fruit & meat markets, elaborate Buddhist temples where monks can be found praying, and the Royal Palace which is a great place to learn about Thailand’s royal family who have played a large role in determining how the country currently operates.
In the south of Thailand, Jamie and I stopped learning anything about Thai culture. Bars, tattoo shops, “massage” parlors that offer special favors, and fire shows run rampant. Everything is designed for teenagers and those in their early to mid-twenties who have a craving for belligerence, while a number of bone thin ex-pats covered in tattoos drink away whatever painful memories from back home that may still be lingering. The only conversation we made with locals in southern Thailand was when we had to say “no” to their constant sales pitches for taxis, longboats, accommodations, happy hours, and various sexual favours.
If you’re coming directly over to Thailand from somewhere like Canada, the prices will seem extremely reasonable. However, after travelling through places in Southeast Asia like Vietnam where beer is no more than a dollar (and even as low as 15 cents for fresh, locally brewed beer), certain items did seem a bit pricey. On islands like Koh Phi Phi it was difficult to find accommodation that didn’t look like a convict’s escape pod for less than $15 (in Cambodia we paid as little as $2 for a place), and a large beer averaged around $2.50. Again, far cheaper than anything back home, but for us it’s all relative as to where we’ve previously travelled to.
Before coming to Thailand I remember friends saying you could live like kings in this country for less than $30 a day, which nowadays is simply not true. Kyle and I had to budget hard to stay under that amount, and as you can see from our daily average we did not exactly succeed. If you were to budget around $100 a day, you could find some very nice places and have a fair few drinks without breaking the bank, but for long-term travellers the reality is you are going to struggle to not spend more than thirty dollars and still do everything you should while visiting Thailand.
One thing my parents pointed out while they were visiting was how easy it is to book transportation within Thailand. I guess we had just become used to popping into a tourist agency and asking them for the next available bus/boat to anywhere without really noticing how simple this whole process was. Many people come over to this part of the world with a tour booked, thinking transportation and organizing everything while in Thailand will be difficult, but it’s exactly the opposite. Granted, the chances of everything leaving on time are pretty slim, but you get there in the end.
The Final Verdict
If you are planning to come to Thailand, do not miss the northern area of the country. This was one of our favourite regions of not only Thailand, but all of Southeast Asia. I’m glad we saw the south, and I personally loved the two islands of Koh Chang and Koh Tao, however it all just got a bit grating after a while. Everything was geared towards tourism with very little culture, and while I do love a good beach, lying on one for over a month becomes a bit monotonous (although I know plenty of people including my own mother who would disagree). Spending a month in Thailand for both the north and south is a perfect amount of time, and I do think we just stayed in the country a bit too long, causing us to become irritated with certain things that wouldn’t have bothered us before. Would I go back to Thailand? To the north, yes, to the south, probably not.