Turns out, Thailand is VERY affordable! We lived well on just $35 per day. That includes all our food, lodging, activities, and transportation for our travel through Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet, Sukothai, Chiang Mai and Pai (click the cities for more on what we did in each).
Here's how it broke down for the two of us:
- Lodging: $14/day. We mostly got private rooms in inexpensive, but highly rated, guesthouses. We used hotels.com as much as possible, because they give you a free night for every 10 nights you book.
- Food: $10/day. All the noodles we could eat. We stuck to local food - we didn't want the "full american breakfasts" anyways. Most plates of local dishes cost $1-2 USD. A fruit shake also costs $1-2 USD. We bought lots of snacks at grocery stores or the ubiquitous 7-11. We were very well fed.
- Activities: $6/day. This is one place we skimped a bit more than most people probably will. Since we're travelling for a year, we have to make every $1 last, so we sought out free and cheap things to do and avoided the more expensive touristy options. We strolled through outdoor markets (free), had lots of beers at cafes (~$3 for two beers), visited Buddhist temples (usually free), rented bicycles ($2 each per day), etc. But we did also splurge on a few things that were important to us like a vegetarian clooking class ($34 each), entrance to Khao Yai National Park ($11 each), and tickets to see Spectre ($6 each). All in all, we kept busy, saw most everything we wanted to, and kept the cost down.
- Transportation: ($4/day). To get around Thailand (not including getting to the country in the first place, or leaving after we were done), we mostly took buses between the cities. The bus system is quite extensive, reliable, and safe. Between the bus station and our guesthouses, we usually took a tuk tuk, and otherwise we tried to walk whenever possible. (In Bangkok, we also took the metro a lot). All our travel averaged just $4/day for the two of us, though many days that meant no travel at all while we were exploring a city by foot. Another good tip is to try and book a hotel or guesthouse that come with free bicycle use!
- Other: ($1/day). Everything from water to laundry to using a public toilet. In an effort to reduce our plastic consumption, we ended up filling water bottles at water fill stations you'll find all over every major city. A liter of purified water from these machines usually cost just a few cents.
All told, we highly recommend Thailand as a budget travel destination, though of course your costs to get there could be the deciding factor on whether its worth it for you. Once in the country, its exceptionally affordable, with great food, nice people, and lots to do!