Cheapest Places in Thailand: 9 Destinations for Budget Travel

Cheapest places in Thailand
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So you’re planning a trip to Thailand’s tropical shores, but you’re wondering if a surge in tourists has bumped up the prices in this once inexpensive backpacker haven. Well, you’re in luck. Cheap travel in The Land of Smiles is still possible. From bustling Bangkok to its uninhabited islands, Thailand is scattered with budget-friendly accommodation, free attractions, and unmissable street food that goes for just a few baht.

Cheap pad Thai and cold Chang beer are waiting for you around every corner. You just have to look in the right places. Thailand might not be the cheapest Southeast Asian country, especially not when compared to the neighboring nations of Laos and Cambodia, but there’s still plenty to be said for this corner of the globe when it comes to low-cost travel – it is the erstwhile anchor of the uber-famous Banana Pancake Trail backpacking hub, after all!

This guide looks at nine of the cheapest places in Thailand, from ultramodern cities to small mountainous towns and even tropical islands. Veering off the tourist track promises the best deals and the most authentic Thai culture. But you’ll find that some of Thailand’s most popular destinations can still be traveled on a shoestring, and we’re going to show you how.

Bangkok

Bangkok
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The capital of Thailand is an epicenter for trade, nightlife, and history. Every year, tourists flock to Bangkok for its eclectic mix of temples, regal heritage, and the iconic Koh San Road party scene. But in recent years, Bangkok has started to appeal to ex-pats because of the cheap property ownership and employment opportunities.   

Bangkok is one of the cheapest places in Thailand to live. A one-bedroom apartment rental in Bangkok averages at just $400 per month, while you can purchase a condo for less than $200,000. With a population of over eight million, Bangkok is predicted to become a megacity in a few short years. This means the city is crowded and polluted, but it still has something for everyone. Enjoy a cocktail at the iconic Sky Bar for views of the city and its field of high-rises, or take a local riverboat to visit the Wat Pho Temple’s reclining Buddha statue.   

Bangkok is the place where most foreigners enter Thailand, with the cheapest international flights landing in Suvarnabhumi Airport. It’s also a gateway to the rest of Thailand with abundant, affordable travel options for accessing the north and southern islands. So if you’re passing through, bag a stay in a nice hotel for just $30. Or stay in one of many hostels and guesthouses for as low as $3 a night. You also won’t struggle to find street food for less than $2 all along Bangkok’s busy streets.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai
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Thailand’s sizeable northern hub of Chiang Mai, best known for its digital nomad crowd, trekking tours, and night markets, definitely deserves a spot on your shoestring travel list. Chiang Mai shows that Thai culture is so much more than tropical waters and resort towns. And the northern region that surrounds the city is by no means lacking in stunning scenery.

For around $10, you can travel from Bangkok by van or bus to this ancient city. It was once the capital of the 14th-century Lanna Kingdom, and remnants of walls and moats can be found all over. Chiang Mai is a slower-paced alternative to Bangkok, with mountainous landscapes and lush hilly towns within the city’s reach. 

Our advice would be to skip the edgy nomad and hipster hub of Nimmanhaemin in the west and the old city area at the heart of it all. Districts like Wat Ket and the walking streets for the night bazaar tend to be a lot cheaper for accommodation. Remember, too, that street eats are the way to go here. Thankfully, the legendary Chiang Mai Night Bazaar has stacks of options on that front – none should cost more than a few dollars for something special!

Krabi Town

Cheapest places in Thailand
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Krabi town is the perfect low-cost stop-off point if you are traveling through the south. With cheap hostels, local entertainment, and cozy restaurants waiting for weary backpackers, one or two nights in Krabi will let you press the reset button on your travels.

The bus from Bangkok will only cost you around 500THB, or $15, and Krabi is a fantastic vantage point to the islands. By speedboat, you can reach Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi in a few hours for less than $20 per person. 

While island hopping is all-the-rage and possible on a budget, it’s not a must with all that Thailand offers, especially if you’re trying to make your dollars stretch. Instead, visit the coastal resort town of Ao Nang, which is only a 20-minute drive from Krabi. Treat yourself to a beach day and take in the picture-perfect Jurassic cliff views. Beach bungalow lodgings start from as little as $20 a night on Ao Nang Beach and Krabi hostels from just $5. 

Pai

Pai
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Pai is small village tucked into the forested hills north of Chiang Mai. It’s enfolded by mountains that run along the border with Burma, which glow a haze of yellow and orange and ochre when the sun dips low in the evening. Between them, dusty canyons have formed and farmers till the land with help from water buffalo.

The town itself straddles the gurgling Pai River with rows of bamboo-built backpacker shacks. The pace is slow. The people are happy; a strange mix of Woodstock-era hippies and Harley Davidson fanatics. Most days, you’ll spend your time hiking the jungles to lookout points or cycling to hot springs to bathe. There’s also a lovely weekend night market and some lively reggae bars tucked into the side streets.

We put Pai down as one of the very best places to go to chill out. But it can also be a budget spot, so long as you don’t plump for one of the all-new resort hotels and their infinity pools. Two of the best low-cost options are well-rated Pai In The Sky Hostel ($) and old-school Tribal Pai Backpackers ($).

Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi
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Kanchanaburi straddles the Kwai River to the west of Bangkok. It’s shrouded by misty mountains and lies on the doorstep of the Erawan National Park, a vast reserve that’s carved trough by turquoise waterfalls that come in multiple tiers. As such, it’s a haven for trekkers and explorers, but also seen as something of an affordable escape from the headiness of the Thai capital.

Yep, a waterfront hotel here overlooking the iconic bridge over the River Kwai (the same from the film) will set you back something like $90 a night, while a hostel in the heart of the town can be as little as $5-10 a night. Food is cheap if you stick to the bazaars on the main river road, and there are some enthralling WWII museums that cost just a handful of baht.

We would avoid Kanchanaburi on the weekends, though. The proximity of Bangkok and the good rail and road connections ensures that the town fills to bursting with crowds of locals and expats looking for a break from the metropolis. That cranks up prices and means the whole town loses that sort of sleepy, provincial veneer.

Koh Samui

Koh Samui Cha Weng view
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Koh Samui might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of the cheapest places in Thailand, with its sprawling party strips, beachfront hotels, and tourist-centric infrastructure. Chances are, Thailand’s second-largest island is already on your radar and not for being affordable. But there’s a reason that the island’s palm tree-lined beaches, lush forests, and magical lagoons are so popular. Koh Samui is a must-see if you’re in Thailand, and we’re here to tell you that you can still experience the best of the island without spending a packet…

One of the great things about Thai tourism is that the most popular attractions are usually free. In the case of this island, that really means three things: Beaches, temples, and nature. You can easily visit the Namuang Waterfalls, the Samui Big Buddha, Wat Plai Laem temple, and all manner of sands along the east coast, from Lamai to Chaweng, without dropping a single cent (apart from the cost of transport).

Some guesthouses and hotels on Koh Samui go for $20 a night, and, with the dramatically improved Wifi over the years, Koh Samui has also become a hotspot for remote workers. A monthly vacation rental will set you back $1,500 on average. Not bad for a slice of tropical paradise, right? 

Phuket

Phukey street dancer
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Phuket is the largest of the Thai islands, although you wouldn’t think it when you look at that developed infrastructure and thriving capital city (called Phuket Town). This tourist hotspot is strategically placed and has a lot to offer. Importantly, due to Phuket boasting its own airport and direct road link to the mainland, lower import prices make it cheaper to eat and lodge than nearby islands. 

But Phuket is not just resorts and crowds. The Thalang Road in Old Town is host to rows of Sino-Portuguese buildings and 19th-century shophouses. You can also visit the Thai Hua Museum, located in a 1930s mansion, to learn about Phuket’s rich culture and heritage. And there are even some off-the-beaten-path beaches to adventure to, from Airport Beach to Kalim Beach.

Phuket is a more affordable alternative to the nearby party haven of Koh Phi Phi, where you can find the picturesque Pi Ley lagoon and Maya Bay, the filminh location for the Leonardo DiCaprio-featuring The Beach. All these spots are reachable from Phuket’s shores, and you won’t have to fork out for expensive accommodation on the remote Phi Phi island. The average price for a hotel room in Phuket is $50 a night, but hostels can start at $10.   

Koh Lanta

Cheapest places in Thailand
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Reachable from both Krabi and Phuket, Koh Lanta Yai is a delightful bohemian island with balmy weather and pristine beaches, set away from the crowds of tourists. Known for its coral reefs, palm-fringed golden sands, and rainforest mangroves, Koh Lanta is laidback, unpretentious, and a must-see for a taste of authentic Thai island life.  

The island district is actually comprised of 52 smaller isles, but Koh Lanta Yai is the largest and most famous. The Mu Koh Lanta Park that encompasses several surrounding islands makes for a fantastic day out. It even spans to the southernmost point of Koh Lanta Yai, which is home to the semi-nomadic Chao Leh sea people. Koh Lanta is exotic, remote, and diverse in landscape. Make the most of Thailand’s most popular and inexpensive form of transport, and zip around the island on a moped visiting Khlong Chak Waterfall and the ancient Khao Mai Kaew cave network. 

Koh Lanta Yai has also recently become one of the most popular Thai destinations for digital nomads due to the various working spaces that have opened across the island. Check out KoHub at Long Beach for a relaxed and friendly working space that’s free to use. Out of the southern islands, Koh Change is one of the cheapest places in Thailand to live. Settlers benefit from average apartment rental costs of $1,000 a month and hostels start at $5 a night.

Koh Chang

Cheapest places in Thailand
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At first glance, this could look like any other picturesque Thai island. But situated over 1,000 km from Phuket, Koh Chang will show you a different side of Thailand. Wild and rugged, Koh Chang, or “Elephant Island,” is part of the Mu Ko Chang National Park, along with Thailand’s other eastern-most islands. Koh Chang is closer to Cambodia than Bangkok, but you’ll still find quaint Thai charm and local cuisine around every corner.

Koh Chang combines dense, steep rainforest peaks with white-sand beaches and slow island life. Fringed with coral reefs, there are a host of rustic beach villages to explore, including Bang Boa, which is built entirely on piers. Bang Boa boasts a thriving market and floating restaurants with views of the hilly bay. 

Hat Tha Nam is the best spot for backpackers. Translated as Lonely Beach, this spot has no shortage of beach shack bars and cheap hostels. You can eat for $2 and grab a cold Chang for the same price. If you’re going to drink the local beer anywhere, it should be on the island with which it shares its name. Standard hotel rooms start at $20 a night, and you can bag a dorm for $15. 

What city is the cheapest in Thailand?

The cheapest city in Thailand is Chiang Mai, where you can escape the crowds of Bangkok and enjoy ancient architecture and excellent street food on a shoestring. The estimated living costs per month in Chiang Mai are $800 with cheap rental accommodation and great local food spots. 

Bangkok is also one of the cheapest places in Thailand. Unusual for a capital city, Bangkok perfectly balances ultramodern cityscapes with rustic tradition. You can get by on $20 a day and travel to any other part of the country cheaply and easily.   

Is it cheap to stay in Thailand?

Once dirt cheap and on every backpacker’s agenda, Thailand’s tourism boom has hiked up prices, but you can still find great deals all over the country. You can even enjoy Thailand’s most touristy spots on a low budget because Thailand costs as much as you want it to. Staying in hostels, eating the local cuisine, and using public transport will keep the costs down. 

Is everything cheap in Thailand?

Thailand is a low-cost travel destination where foreigners can benefit from inexpensive property ownership, budget accommodation, and local dishes priced at less than a dollar. But not everything is cheap in Thailand. The country thrives off tourism, and many popular areas use tourist traps to lure in visitors. You can end up paying twice the price for tours, taxis, and entrance fees if you don’t know what you’re doing. But Thailand also has a luxury side. Elegant five-star resorts are dotted around the country in secluded locations. One night in a Four Seasons Resort in Thailand could set you back almost $800.   

How much money do I need per day in Thailand?

Backpackers or anyone looking to save money should budget 800 to 1,200 baht per day in Thailand, which is roughly $25 to $30, depending on where you visit. Vacation-goers looking for a taste of luxury can expect to spend closer to $75 to cover hotels, meals, alcohol, and activities. The more traveling you do, the more you’ll pay in Thailand. But booking slower, local travel like public ferries and third-class train cabins will help you save.  

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Esmé is an English literature graduate and freelance writer. Originally from London, Esmé is lucky enough to call Bali home. Her travels have taken her from the far corners of the East to the islands of the Caribbean. When she's not writing, you'll find her lying on a beach somewhere, lost in a crime novel.