I’m currently in Thailand with my 2-year-old and partner, Rob. We came here half for me to do more extensive research for the YA science fiction trilogy I am currently writing that is set in this area, and half for Rob to research Thai cooking and woodworking. I also want to expose my child to as many other cultures as possible throughout his life, so that his understanding of the world is built upon his experiences rather than from words on paper that he reads from the inside of a classroom. Books are amazing, but seeing things firsthand is something you just can’t replicate on the page.
This first post from Thailand is more of a logistical one than one of reflection because I’ve decided to keep track of our expenses for other people out there who are like me. Before going somewhere, I always wonder things like – how much does it really cost if you only eat street food or if you try and find the cheapest guesthouses? How much is a good budget for extra stuff, like fisherman pants or a brass wok?
Today is day 8 for us in Thailand, and from spending a few days each in Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, I’m ready to give a small breakdown of costs:
Food and water – if you stick to street food (which, honestly, is the most authentic experience, the food is fresher, and it tastes amazing), two people and a toddler can eat three meals a day and spend only about $10 USD. Water depends on where/if you buy it. We planned to buy it from stores until we came here and found a bunch of water booths on the side of the roads (see below) that boast fresh water through reverse osmosis and you can fill up a 1 gallon bottle at one of these for only 3-5 Bhats (10-15 US cents)!
Otherwise water runs at a cost of about 50 US cents per litre when bought by the litre (or $1 USD for a gallon).
Guesthouses – again, this is all a matter of preference, but we are fine with shared bathrooms and the possibility of only cold showers, which you can find for around $10 USD per night here (in Bangkok, however, a room with just a double bed that you share with your toddler can set you back between $12-15 USD per night).
So, without moving between cities much or doing tours or filling your hiker backpack with scarves and jewelry and small elephant statues, this comes down to about $20-25 a day. (I’ll write more about the stuff you can buy here in another post.)
We commuted between the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai by train. The second class sleeper trains (non A/C means you have open windows and can take photos or just enjoy the breeze) cost roughtly 500 Bhat ($15-16 USD) from Bangkok to Chiang Mai per person (toddlers are free), and you sleep in what resembles a bunk bed with one person on the upper narrower berth and the other on the lower berth with your toddler. Bringing a lot of snacks, even on the overnight trains, is recommended because sitting for so long made us just want to eat stuff!
I recommend spending 1-2 weeks (or more if you can!) at a time in one place in Thailand, especially if you have a toddler. It gives you time to get to know a place and time to get your child used to a new country. And, most importantly, time to make a few friends, both local and foreign, that you can visit on your next trip!
In comparison to other countries I have spent time in during my solo travels, Thailand is easier and feels safer in a lot of ways than India, Kenya, and Morocco. I’m glad we didn’t try one of those countries on our first trip abroad with our son, but I still want to go back to them within the next few years.
I’ll post more soon, but I just want to get this out there in cyberpsace, because I think a lot of Americans are afraid to backpack in SE Asia alone, and likely more afraid to do it with a toddler.
But honestly? You shouldn’t be.
It’s amazing and children under age 7 will be able to take in so much more than anyone else from these kinds of experiences – especially when it comes to language skills. I may not be able to hear my son try and speak Thai words, but I love that he’s doing it as well as picking up on the gestures and body language of the local people more so than a hearing child who isn’t already bilingual with ASL and English. And despite my own deafness, I love trying to speak Thai. It’s a challenging language, but when you speak even a few words of Thai to a local person, their faces light up and they open themselves to you. It’s beautiful.