Northern Thailand on a Budget

Northern Thailand on a Budget

If you’re thinking about traveling to northern Thailand on a budget, you’ve come to the right place. Budgeting on this portion of the trip was pretty easy to do. Thailand – particularly the northern region – is super affordable and travelers can make their money go a long way.

When James and I made the plans to leave Korea, I saw my last year in Korea as a time to truly buckle down and really build my savings up so I didn’t have anything to worry about financially post-Korea. In order to do so, I supplemented my income by tutoring 6 days a week, was mindful of my spending and tried my best not to give in to my inner shopaholic.

By making small changes here and there, I realized that it’s actually pretty easy. I was able to get into the mindset of, “these shoes are cute, but I’m moving out of the country and they are worth a day of my Southeast Asia budget,” I found it extremely easy to follow through with the goals I had in mind.

Since I don’t really plan on using much beyond my final paycheck and about half of my bonus, I’ve been able to hold true to my frugal self while traveling – a trend I can only hope continues over the next few months. Here’s a basic breakdown of what it looked like for me to travel 3 weeks in northern Thailand on a budget. I feel as though I did a pretty good job, but naturally there were some hiccups here and there.




northern thailand on a budget

As you can see, I spent a total of $104.76 over the course of three weeks. According to my app, we spent on average $4.99 per day. I knew this category would be much lower than expected as we’ve been fortunate enough to have had some of our accommodation comped during this trip. Nonetheless, we stayed in some pretty awesome places for super cheap rates. While I’ve written about our lovely experience at Panviman Chiang Mai Spa Resort, our other two places in Chiang Mai and Pai ran us about $7.50 per day. We loved absolutely everything about Stamps Backpackers in Chiang Mai and fell in love with the staff and serenity of Pai Chan Cottage and Cuisine in Pai.

Overall, I found that it’s super easy to find nice, clean hostels with friendly staff and atmosphere in this region of Thailand.



northern thailand on a budget

In all honesty, I’m a little bit bummed that this category is as high as it is. According to the app, I spent about $7.04 on average each day which is not too bad. James and I did really well considering none of our hostels offered free breakfast (aside from Panviman Chiang Mai Spa Resort) but what brought the cost up was our meals post-food poisoning. Since I was ill for about 5 days, I wanted nothing to do with Thai food for about 10 days in total. This means I was paying double – and sometimes triple – of what I would have normally paid. All in all, I still feel as though I did a great job in this category and even happier we ate so much delicious fare, both local and familiar.



northern thailand on a budget

Not only did we spend a lot of our time walking around, but transportation in this region of Thailand is extremely affordable. This includes:

  • several tuk tuks
  • 2 subway rides
  • cab fare to and from Chiang Mai airport
  • a plane ticket from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
  • a bus from Chiang Mai to Pai
  • a bus from Pai to Chiang Mai
  • a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
  • a bus from Chiang Rai to the Laos border
  • a boat from the border to Luang Prabang, Laos

According to the app, transportation only accounted for about 22.6 percent of my entire spending, so I’d say that’s pretty reasonable. I decided to keep the slow boat from Thailand to Laos in this budget as I technically purchased the package in Thailand.



northern thailand on a budget

This category should be way higher than it is, actually. James and I were lucky to be hosted for most of our entertainment, including a ziplining tour, valued at $114.03 USD each and a Thai cooking course, valued at $42.72 USD each. Since we were as fortunate as we were, however, the cost of this section is pretty reasonable. This money includes:

  • A tour to the Lod Caves, Pam Bok Waterfall, The Pai Hotsprings and Pai Canyon
  • Tickets to a “ladyboy” cabaret show in Chiang Mai
  • A full-body Thai massage
  • Photos from our ziplining tour
  • Photos from our elephant daycare
  • An entire day of playing with elephants
  • Entry to a temple
  • Entry to a swimming pool

Overall I’d say we were extremely lucky in this case and I can definitely see how people can go over budget when they choose to do fun activities.



northern thailand on a budget

I spent nearly 10 percent of my budget on drinks, which isn’t too bad. This category isn’t just for beer, but also includes tea, smoothies, fresh fruit juices, water and a few extremely strong mojitos from Fat Elvis’ in Chiang Mai. To be honest, I didn’t drink much while in Thailand. I certainly went out and enjoyed myself, but thankfully, it was never to the expense of my budget.



northern thailand on a budget

I spent less than $0.50 per day of my budget on clothing! If I’d traveled to Pai a few years ago, this category would have been much higher. I absolutely loved a lot of the clothing in Chiang Mai and Pai, but I chose to love them from afar instead. It certainly helps knowing that at the end of this trip I’m still not technically going to be wanting to accumulate more clothing as I’ll be living abroad again, so it helps me keep my head straight.

I’ve never been too fond of flip flops, but the ones I had at the start of my trip were definitely on their way out. They were good to me for two years in Korea and broke one fateful evening on Kao San Road. Luckily there were flip flops everywhere, so I bargained my way for a reasonable price. In addition, I purchased a belt which I really love and was in need of as well. The only thing I bought that I didn’t need at all were those stereotypical backpacker pants, which are great for when I want my knees covered up at temples.



northern thailand on a budget

I luckily didn’t have to go to the hospital at any point during this leg of the trip, but I did have some horrific – and I mean bad – food poisoning. Since this was the case, I purchased some medication that hopefully killed the parasite. We also bought some Tiger Balm which was an expected purchase. All in all, this area of the budget was wonderfully low and as always, I’m thankful for no major health or medical issues.



northern thailand on a budget

I spent $1.15 on laundry for a considerable amount of clothing. This is an expense that really can’t be avoided, though I have heard of people washing their clothes in the showers of their hostel. To each their own, but I don’t mind paying a few dollars here and there for my clothes to feel fresh.


Total spending

northern thailand on a budget

I was happy to find that I was under my budget, managing to spend $25.82 on average. I think I would have been able to stay way under this amount had I not chosen to eat more expensive food after the food poisoning. In addition, a few excursions such as the elephant day care and the slow boat to Laos assisted in the spike, but they were totally worth it.


Yes. Well, for the most part. As I mentioned earlier, it was a bit easier to keep the spending down as I was being extremely conscious by not shopping or really spending too much. In addition to the Western food, accommodation could have made this amount much lower. There are plenty of places in this region with extremely cheap rooms, but we paid a few dollars here and there for private spaces and nicer dorms.

I’m not sure what to expect in the next few countries – including the more expensive southern region of Thailand. If it’s anything like this past trip I’ll be a happy gal. Please let me know if you have any questions or are wondering about budgeting yourself. You can find Trail Wallet, the app I used, in the iTunes store (sorry Android users!) I highly recommend it as it is intuitive and super easy to use. I will say that consumers do have to spend a bit to gain the full advantages of this app, but that’s not a problem once you realize how amazing it is!

northern thailand on a budget

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Have you ever traveled on a budget? I’d love to hear your experience!


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