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RTW Budget: Southeast Asia in 3 months

It’s been a bit over a month now since we left Asia for Australia and we have finally taken the time to put together our financials from the first 3 months of our trip (excluding the first week in London). It has taken a lot of willpower to keep track of every little expense, but for the greater good (and my sanity – I just have to see where the money goes) we have done just that.

This is what our bookkeeping looks like in practice. Sometimes expenses go into our cellphone's memo first, if we aren't carrying the booklet with us.

This is what our bookkeeping looks like in practice. Sometimes expenses go into our cellphone's memo first, if we aren't carrying the booklet with us.

We compiled our bookkeeping into three segments by destination:

  • Northern Thailand, including Chiang Mai (approx. 5 weeks), Chiang Rai (10 days at the New Life Foundation) and Pai (about a week)
  • Southern Thailand, including Koh Tao (about 2 weeks), Koh Phangan (about a week) and Bangkok (a few days in transit)
  • Cambodia, including Phnom Penh (1 day) and Siem Reap (5 days)

Please note that this budget is for two people traveling as a couple! We were able to share many expenses that would have cost more than half the budget if traveling alone. Still, this should give a fairly good picture of the varying price levels in Thailand and Cambodia.

Northern Thailand (62 days) = 2605 €

Note that the charts are interactive: you can hover the cursor over the slices to see details of each one. You may not see the charts in your RSS feed. If so, open this blog post on our website to see them.

We spent a long time in the north of Thailand because the food was good, accommodation cheap, and the people friendly. It did help that we found great crags for rock climbing and that the CMRCA offered an excellent climbing experience every time. Most of our time was spent in Chiang Mai though we made a week-long trip to Pai and stayed 10 days at the New Life Foundation (NLF) close to Chiang Rai. Pai was more expensive than Chiang Mai, but we only spent 300 baht (7,50€)/person/day while at the NLF for full board (3 meals a day and accommodation).

  • Food: 931 € We ate out every day when in the north, because food was so cheap and guest houses didn’t usually have guest kitchens. Street food is by far the cheapest option, but restaurants allow you to sit down for a while away from the busy markets and noisy streets. A good meal with dessert at our favorite restaurant in Chiang Mai cost about 125 baht (3,10€) per person. At the NLF lodging included food so we left that out of the calculation.
  • Lodging: 469 € We stayed in inexpensive guest houses in Chiang Mai and spent a few nights in nicer hotels in Pai and Mae Sai. Our favorite guest house (due to being right next to the rock climbing center) charged 300 baht (7,50€)/night for a double room with fan and ensuite bathroom.
  • Transport: 159 € Traveling within the cities in the north is mostly done by either songthaew (bus), tuk tuk (motorbike taxi) or rental scooter. We moved between cities by bus (typically 160 baht [4€]/person for a 3-4-hour trip) and minivan (typically 300 baht/person for the same distance).
  • Misc: 182 € This includes various expenses that usually cannot be avoided by any traveler, such as ATM, bank and visa fees; pharmacy essentials such as shampoo, deodorant, insect repellent; phone and internet usage; clothes and laundry; postcards etc.
  • Activities: 865 € This category will vary wildly from person to person. For some a trip is just about relaxing, getting the occasional massage and eating and drinking well. For others, it will include every adventure imaginable: skydiving, climbing, paragliding, scuba diving, paintball, off-road expeditions etc. For us in the north, this includes massages, rock climbing, a trip to an elephant farm, temple and zoo entrance fees and souvenirs/gifts for our families.

As the key metric for the price level in a certain area, we will group food, lodging, transport and miscellaneous (everything except activities) into one number that we’ll call essential costs. You can reduce this number by staying in cheaper places, eating cheaper food and being smart about your bank/visa fees. But if you have the same comfort requirements as we do, this is how much you’ll spend per day, traveling as a couple.

Essential costs = 14,50 € / day / person = 435 € / month / person

Southern Thailand (24 days) = 1966 €

  • Food: 586 € We ate in fancier places while in the south, partly because street food was next to nonexistent. And again, guest houses usually did not have guest kitchens to prepare food in. Restaurants were about twice as expensive on the islands as they were in Chiang Mai.
  • Lodging: 384 € Accommodation was also about twice the price of Chiang Mai, although for one week while Tiu’s brothers were visiting, we stayed in fancy hotels and bungalows, spending 3-5 times as much on lodging as we did in CM. Bangkok was about the same price level as the south.
  • Transport: 285 € This includes the train trip to the south, ferry trips between the mainland and the islands, scooter and car rentals in the south as well as a few taxi trips.
  • Misc: 207 € Same as before. Visa extensions were the costliest expense here.
  • Activities: 503 € This includes a rainforest canopy adventure, tickets to a Half Moon Party festival, a couple of movie theater visits, massages, snorkeling gear rental, kayaking, and of course scuba diving courses and fun dives, which were by far the most expensive activities.
Essential costs = 30,50 € / day / person = 914 € / month / person

For the record, I did check if moving the train trips to North Thailand’s budget would tip the scales in favor of the south. Not really: the south would still be nearly twice as expensive  (1.9x to be exact) as the north.

Cambodia (5 days) = 662 €

  • Food: 87 € We ate in restaurants, most of which were expensive because we didn’t know where to look for the cheaper ones (it always takes a while to get to know your surroundings in a new destination). On the next to last day we did find a nice cheap restaurant in Siem Reap but I forget the name.
  • Lodging: 68 € We were so tired of the heat at this point that we only stayed in air-conditioned rooms in Cambodia. In Siem Reap we stayed at a very nice hotel (Siem Reap Garden Inn) for only $17 (13,50€)/night. In Phnom Penh the price was the same although the room and guest house were not nearly as nice.
  • Transport: 89 € This includes all tuk tuk and bus fees. We only made two bus trips: one to Siem Reap and one back. The essential costs exclude our flights to Cambodia as this price will vary greatly from case to case.
  • Misc: 67 € Same as before. Visa fees were the largest expense here as well.
  • Activities: 122 € This includes one dinner + show, the Angkor archeological park entrance fee and one 2-hour horseback ride.
”Essential” costs = 31 € / day / person = 930 € / month / person

Note that we spent such a short time in Cambodia that our ”essential” costs were quite a bit higher than if we had stayed there a few weeks and gotten to know the best price/quality ratio guest houses and restaurants. Therefore ”essential costs” is a bit misleading – these were our actual costs of food, lodging, transport and miscellaneous whereas the essential cost would probably be much less. You should be able to save 20-40% rather easily off our expenses if you stayed longer in one place.

What we would do differently

If we were to go to this part of Asia again in a few years’ time, we would definitely plan on spending more time in Chiang Mai. Some expenses are way cheaper if you stay 3-6 months, because many places offer long-term accommodation for a monthly rate which can be 50-70% less than the daily rate. You will also learn how to find good food for a cheap price and get to know some locals. If climbing, you can become a member and receive significant discounts on transportation to the crags, courses and equipment as well as free bouldering. You can rent a scooter long-term as well and save heaps on transportation. Moving around on a scooter makes the city more familiar and lets you discover all-new parts that you would not otherwise visit. In addition there are great sites to visit from the city such as the twin peaks Doi Suthep/Doi Pui, the Elephant Nature Park, and various caves and hot springs.

Chiang Mai at sunset, Doi Suthep mountain in the background. Source:

Chiang Mai at sunset, Doi Suthep mountain in the background. Source:

That said, Pai was a great place but we were there at the completely wrong time of year. It was full of smoke (because the northern Thais burn their forests in February-April) and devoid of activity. We will definitely give Pai a second chance, but next time we will try to visit it with friends. Or maybe make new friends there. This time we didn’t succeed in that. :D

Iconic bungalows by the Pai river by night. Source:

Iconic bungalows by the Pai river by night. Source:

We would only go to the beaches in the south of Thailand for a little while, maybe to start with and then move to the north. The water is great but the price level is just so much higher and the people are not as friendly as in the north. The south is a bit ruined for us by its booming tourism. The diving was spectacular though, and personally I would like to try Krabi to compare to the islands of Tao and Phangan. Also, I would love to try deep water soloing around Krabi. ;)

The paradise scenery of Koh Tao. Source:

The paradise scenery of Koh Tao. Source:

Bangkok seems like a city of opportunities, but you would have to know someone in the city to show you around. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the city’s size, both in population (14 million) and sprawl (7700 km², more than twice the Helsinki Capital Region). Perhaps we will try to couchsurf the next time we visit. :)

Bangkok by night. Source: Wikimedia commons

Bangkok by night. Source: Wikimedia commons

Cambodia was nice enough, but we didn’t become acquainted well enough in just a few days. We would have to commit to spending a few weeks or a month in Siem Reap and other big cities, but Phnom Penh did not impress us. It was big, loud, and dirty.

The temples were nice though. Entrance to Angkor Thom. Source: Wikimedia commons

The temples were nice though. Entrance to Angkor Thom. Source: Wikimedia commons

Finally, we would spend a few weeks climbing in Laos and would still like to visit Vietnam and Myanmar. We shall see how it all pans out.

In conclusion

At the start of our Australia segment we had spent 5233 € in 3 months, which makes 2617 € / person or 28,75 € / person / day. In Australia we hope to keep our expenses under control and spend no more than 30 € / person / day on average. It will be a big challenge, but with lots of couchsurfing and camping, some working and volunteering and plenty of home-cooked meals we might just make it.

We hope that this look into our finances while traveling Southeast Asia is helpful to other travelers. We wanted to provide some numbers that help others plan and budget their trip and make the most of their time while traveling. If this was helpful, please leave a comment below. :)