I know that when I came to Thailand as a volunteer I had no idea how much money I was going to need on a day to day basis, how much things cost or how much I would actually need to live on. Now bear in mind that I was staying at the elephant village where meals and water are included, so my monetary needs were always going to be less than volunteers on other projects; this however didn’t help me plan how much money I may or may not need for my month in Thailand.
Just know that however much money you spend you won’t ever use or need Travelers Cheques; people won’t know what they are here and even in Bangkok you won’t be able to use them at any of the places that we take volunteers on our tour.
This is what the national currency of Thailand looks like; it is called the ‘Baht’
Now that I have spent a long time living in Thailand I definitely have a much better idea of how to live and how much you should be spending in a day or a week whilst volunteering here so take a look at the rest of this post to see what you should really be spending in a day or week.
The best meal in Thailand, Chicken Fried Rice with Garlic, Pineapple and Omelette
The first amazing thing is that you don’t have to pay for anything like rent or bills so all you need to pay for is the things you will need everyday like food and water. I have spoken briefly about food prices here in Thailand in a couple of other blogs but I can’t stress enough just how cheap it is to eat here, and I mean eat, I don’t mean packets of crisps and bottles of coke. You can get those in every country you go to so you should always try to eat the local food that is made at the hundreds of vendors and restaurants in Surin.
My personal favourite meal is, chicken fried rice with pineapple and garlic with an omelette, now I can eat this several times a day, not because I’m hungry, but because it is beautiful and by far one of the best meals I have ever eaten. I have traveled a lot and eaten at some amazing world famous, expensive restaurants but I would always choose the tiny road side restaurant that is made from plastic bags and bits of metal any day. This isn’t just because their meals range from 35-50฿ which is around 1GBP or $1.50 for a huge plate, but because they remember that I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes so only put a few in, that I adore garlic and put in so much that I could kill off any vampire that’s within a ten mile radius but also that they make genuine Thai food and are some of the happiest people I have ever met. The couple that run the restaurant can make pretty much anything and will cater to any likes and dislike that’s you might have, if you are vegetarian or if you just don’t know what you fancy that day then they will help you in any way they can; I still haven’t found anyone who dislikes the ‘Pineapple Place’.
Another well known dish is Pad Thai
There are more expensive restaurants that can be found throughout Surin that have an average price of 100-200฿ per meal and as with anywhere in the world, there is always Western food around like the KFC at Big C or the few foreigner run establishments in town; I would obviously discourage you to eat at places like that as you can eat that when you get home, plus it can sometimes reak havoc with your system if you have eaten Thai for a week and then go to Western food.
No matter which brand of water you drink, make sure you a drinking enough each day to not get dehydrated
Water is super cheap here, you can by single bottles from as little as 13฿ or the bigger bottles for 20฿, or if you want to be super prepared you could buy the big multipacks from Big C for around 60฿ for 6 big bottles. The price just depends on the brand of water you like, whether it be Chang, Singha or Nestlé, I personally don’t know the difference so normally get the cheapest one! Just make sure that you always throw any empty bottles in the public bins around Surin or give them to the house cleaner so that she can recycle them.
The famous Singha Beer
Now I don’t think that you should come to another country just to get drunk which is why you will never find me in Zante or Ibiza, Thailand is rather famous for its beers and its wonderfully strong Thai whiskey. Volunteers work for four days a week and we obviously discourage you from drinking on those days and evenings to ensure you are your best on project but if you do want to drink there are several ways you can do it.
As with every country, there are national brands of beer, whiskey etc and Thailand is most famous for Chang, Leo and Singha beers as well as Hong Thong and Song Saem, two very famous Thai whiskey brands. If they aren’t your cup of tea you can always try Spy, the Thai wine cooler brand that’s pretty much like Bacardi Breezer, you can always buy western brands but as with all imported products these can be expensive.
Alcohol can be as cheap as 35฿ for a small bottle of Leo from a local shop or 10,000฿ for a bottle of Black Label Reserve Johnny Walker whiskey, so you can make it as cheap or as expensive as you want to.
Nights out are very much the same, there are several bars and one club in Surin that all vary in style and price range. We have everything from the local Regge bar Jarbar that you will find our Teaching coordinator Nicky singing in every night, to the bar/shops that many Thai people like to hang out at to the club known as Speed where you can choose between 5 drinks. For a normal night out I would recommend people to budget maybe 500฿, this will cover your TukTuk rides there and back as well as a couple of bottles or your share of a larger one and if your lucky, might even leave you with enough left over to get one of the famous ham and cheese toasties from 7/11.
Two of the most popular drinks in Thailand, Hong Thong and Chang
Just be responsible and remember that it is hot and humid here so as much as you will disagree with me, you WILL get drunker than you think you would, so just be careful. I have had to look after too many volunteers that have drunk to the same level that they do in their home country and not realised how quickly it goes to their heads, I don’t need to be giving anyone a piggyback to a TukTuk; again!
Getting a Sim in Thailand is super easy, thanks to the people in 7/11 for this picture 🙂
I would always recommend that volunteers either get a Thai SIM card to put into their current phones or they buy a cheap, disposable phone that is set up with a Thai SIM card. Calling back to your home country is always cheaper with a Thai SIM card and they are only about 50฿ to pick up at any 7/11. Don’t get sucked into buying one at the airport, yes they may seem cheap when you get here and offer you unlimited 3G which for anyone with a smart phone is awesome, but the thing is is that Surin is in the North West of Thailand, near the Cambodian border and you have to go through or around mountain ranges to get here so we don’t get 3G, all I ever have on my phone is E; and I don’t even know what that is!
I can tell you from personal experience that accidents with phones happen when you least expect it, like when a Thai boy who is supposed to be your friend tells you that the river isn’t deep so you will be fine but then it turns out to be over your head so your iPhone 4S goes for a swim it wasn’t ready for. Replacing any smart phone is expensive so if you are worried about getting yours damaged or ruined in any way then there is always the idea of buying a cheap phone over here to use. I have a cheap one that I use for work that was 500฿ (£10) from Big C, it’s not a Nokia 3310 sadly, but it’s a decent Samsung that texts and calls just fine.
Credit is super cheap here, texts to other Thai numbers are a few bah so you really shouldn’t be putting too much money onto your phone whilst you are here. I would recommend 200฿ a month for your phone if you are just texting staff; obviously if you are very popular then you will need more credit every month.
The houses that you will stay in are both Wifi enabled but obviously when the houses are at capacity with everyone having at least one smart phone with them, the Internet won’t be able to cope with all of you. So just keep in mind that when you are logged on the Wifi all day then it might be stopping others from using it so just log off when you aren’t using it. If you still can’t get connected then there are two other choices you can look at, the first is walking across the street to Cafe Amazon which is a really nice coffee and ice tea place that has free Wifi for customers, so just buy one of their beautiful ice cold milks, sit down and surf away.
The rainforest that is Cafe Amazon
If you aren’t thirsty or don’t like coffee then you can always visit one of the many, many Internet cafes that are in and around Surin. The closest to the volunteer houses is around a 5-10 minute walk and is just behind Big C, it is very cheap at 10฿ an hour, a price which is pretty much regimental in Surin per hour, and everywhere is Skype capable with headsets and cameras provided.
Travel in Thailand is very cheap indeed, within town I will never pay more than 60-80฿ to go anywhere, I know this is the price so will haggle with TukTuk drivers until I get it, as a new foreigner to the area you will be quoted a lot more than that, if you are comfortable with the price then take it, I personally don’t think I should pay anymore than a Thai because my skin is paler than theirs.
If you are wanting to travel further afield to the National Park to go jungle trekking, Cambodia to see Siem Reap, Chiang Mai or even the islands then we can help you arrange all of that. I am the local expert on Cambodia due to my several visa runs and weekends there whilst living in Thailand, but me and other staff members can help you with other travel arrangements. We often run weekend trips to locations such as the National Park and islands that are lead by a member of staff, this not only makes them cheaper as they are arranged by a Thai, but also gives you a translator. If you ever want to go to the islands then Nam or Al should be your first port of call, they regularly take volunteers to Koh Samed, Koh Samui, Cha Am and Koh Tao just to mention a few. We will always do our best to help you with travels within Thailand but also with your ongoing travel, I have helped with a lot of different visa forms and applications for example as well as recommending hotels, hostels and destinations to travel to. Just ask and we will do everything we can to help.
Other Bits and Pieces
Whenever I travel to Bangkok to drop off or pick up new volunteers I always take a super slow walk down Khao San road just to watch the vendors that sell there, this is because they are very good at their jobs and know exactly who to target and what prices to quote. Please take note that whatever you buy in Khao San will be extremely overpriced for what it is and chances are you will be able to find it cheaper elsewhere, however, if you are insistent in that ‘I Love Bangkok’ T-shirt that every other traveler is wearing, then you will need to haggle.
Classic haggling on Khao San
Haggling is a talent that chances are, you won’t have, especially with the guys on Khao San, they have been doing it for much, much, much longer than you have and have developed a certain knack for seeing who they can take advantage of. They will also charge you more because you are white as well, I have been on Khao San with Thai friends who have often gotten the same item for a third of the price, just because they are Thai. When it comes to haggling in Khao San you can always have a joke but just remember that this is people’s livelihoods so they do need to make money, don’t ever go in with an offer that is 50% less than what they are asking. Be respectful and don’t be scared to haggle hard with them, I normally go in at 30% less, I know they normally won’t do it for that but then you can haggle them from that point instead of the asking price. Don’t be scared to walk away as well, as much as the vendors haggling skills are incredible they still need the sales so they will often suddenly have a change of heart when they see you are going to leave.
When it comes to haggling in Surin, you do need to be a little more respectful, vendors here don’t have the numbers of people visiting like the guys on Khao San do, so only ever take something down to the nearest 50 or 100฿. For example I bought a pair of trainers that were supposed to be 350฿ from a local market in town, now I know that you can haggle at this market so wasn’t going to pay that price. I first asked for 250฿ which was met with a laugh from the woman I was buying from and she came back with 350฿, eventually I got her down to 300฿ which is what I had originally intended to get her to. You can make haggling as fun and easy as you want to, some people will refuse to haggle so just make sure you check with a member of staff if that market does haggle, pretty much all of them do in Surin, but it doesn’t hurt to check.
Markets are amazing places to visit and different every place you go
Also remember that £5 may not be much to you but for a Thai can be the money to feed their family for a day, if you want to pay the asking price then do so, the same with tipping at restaurants or TukTuk drivers. Tipping isn’t a thing that is done here as much as it is in the States for example. I always leave any coins that would normally be my change, I would be inundated by 5 and 1฿ coins otherwise haha Thai people don’t expect to be tipped but feel free if you want to 🙂
If you want to buy clothes whilst in Thailand then just be aware of the sizes here, Thai people are naturally tiny so some shops or vendors will only deal in tiny Thai sizes, don’t let this get you down though. I see a lot of female volunteers get rather disheartened when they can’t find clothes that fit them, even tiny size 8 figures can have difficulty at times so don’t take it personally or let it get you down. I am a size 16 so think how much more difficult it is for me haha just try stuff on and you might be surprised 🙂 prices for clothes range anywhere from 20-500฿ for a T-shirt so you should really make sure you shop around. Surin has a couple of second hand places that sell really good quality clothes that I have bought from on several occasions, these are great places if you need something for your project like longer trousers or long sleeved shirts!
Like with anywhere in the world, just shop around for whatever you want to buy whether it be clothes, books or nicknaks to take home as mementos of your trip.
An Average Day For Me
For me, I don’t buy clothes or things that I don’t need on a daily basis, all I buy everyday is a smoothie for lunch at 25฿, one meal a day from either of my favourite restaurants at 35฿, and sometimes a bottle or two of cold apple juice from 7/11 for 13฿ a bottle. I never normally spend more than 100฿ a day, I live very comfortably on this and I don’t even normally think of spending any more. I would say for volunteers that they normally spend around 200-250฿ a day which is still only about £5 or $7 a day.
My average spending per day, $3 or 2GBP
But whatever your spending needs know that Thailand has ATM’s everywhere and yes there is a chance you will get your card blocked if you don’t tell you bank, so make sure you let them know. If they still block your card at some point then don’t worry about it, I have had it happen each time I have flown into Thailand, I will tell Barclays that I will be using my card abroad but they just don’t seem to listen haha All you need to do is to call your bank and answer a few security questions and they will free up your account again 😀
You can live as extravagantly as you like whilst you are volunteering but whenever and wherever I travel I always like to spend as little as I can on the essential things like food as it then frees me up to spend money on extra trips, for buying things that I can remember my trip from or even for donating to the project I am working on.
But whatever project you are working on or however much money you spend, just make sure you have an amazing time travelling!! To see some of the projects we offer then check out the Starfish Website and the Starfish – Volunteer Thailand Facebook page.
Build. Protect.Teach. Care. – The Starfish Motto