According to Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel 2010’, Thailand has been rated number two on the list of best value destinations for the money. As a westerner, who has lived in Thailand for many years, all I can say on that is Lonely Planet must be looking at figures that are at least five years old. Thailand used to be one of the world’s best value destinations, but that title disappeared years ago. With the cost of living in Thailand having gone up more than 25% in the last three years alone, with Bangkok hotels charging 10-20% more than they were charging three years ago, and with alcohol and groceries also going through the roof, Thailand’s days as a ‘best value destination’ are long behind them.
Even for backpackers, who are the ones who mostly read Lonely Planet, the cost of a guest house on Khao San Road (the popular place for backpackers) has gone up 10%. Street food now is 5-10 baht more expensive than it was only a couple of years ago, and even a bottle of beer is up in price.
On top of that, for any backpacker that wants to stay in Thailand for a few months, they now have to travel out of the country every 15 days once their original tourist visa is up and, at over $60 a trip, that adds another $120 a month onto any Thailand expenses. Lonely Planet obviously hasn’t done a comparison to the cost of things two to three years ago because, if they had, there’s no way they could come to the conclusion Thailand is good value for money.
If you want to come to Thailand and survive on street food at $1 a plate, sure, you can eat cheaply in Thailand but most westerners wouldn’t touch the stuff. So, off they go to a Bangkok indoor restaurant that serves a bit of western food, only to discover it’s around the same price as a similar lunch or dinner back home in the west. Add onto that the strong baht, which does not weaken no matter what next political crisis happens in Thailand, and you get very little Thai baht (the Thai currency) for your dollar, pound or euro anymore.
Unfortunately, it’s not only holiday makers who will see prices having gone through the roof since the last time they were here, Thais too are complaining about how expensive everything is now. A loaf of bread has gone up 10 cents in the last six months, a quart of milk 20 cents, and even a packet of dried noodles is 3 cents more than it was a year ago. Now, this may not sound much to a foreigner but to a Thai who earns the average Thai salary, around $200-$220 a month, they’re barely scraping by, because salaries sure as heck haven’t gone up.
Malaysia, at number nine on the list of the best value destinations is actually cheaper than Thailand now in many respects. Hotels are cheaper than similar hotels in Bangkok, food is definitely cheaper in Kuala Lumpur than Bangkok, and even things like t shirts and DVDs are 50 cent -$2 per item cheaper.
That may not sound much but, if you’re traveling on a budget, like most Lonely Planet tourists are, it makes the difference between staying a few extra days in a country and not.
Overall, I would have to say Lonely Planet needs to check it’s figures and it’s not just me saying that. Before I wrote this article, I checked several expat forums in Thailand and almost everyone agrees the cost of living in Thailand has gone through the roof in the last few years. Add onto that the fact that the Thai government really isn’t that welcoming to tourists any more, not unless they have a lot of money and, no, Thailand isn’t a good value for money destination. Sorry, Lonely Planet. I wish it was.