Living Cheaply in Koh Phangan

Living Cheaply in Koh Phangan

There is a large disconnect about prices in Thailand. A commonly asked question by people who are about to visit Thailand is: “How much money should I bring?” The answers usually given are to budget on $100 to $200 a day. That is the same as a teacher makes in a month. And for many Thais a teacher’s salary is well worth having.

Dual Pricing

It is normally ex-pat residents who give the latest figures about the prices of hotels, meals, transport and nights out on forums. They live in Thailand and in most cases expect a good standard of living. They are also acutely aware of the dual pricing system in operation throughout the Kingdom where foreigners are charged 30% or more than ‘locals’ for the same goods and services.

Life Can be Hard For Normal Working Thai People

Not luxury living

Not luxury living

I have made several Thai friends over the years and they often have nothing more than pocket money to spend. They might treat themselves to the occasional bit of cheap food, some, a magazine or a bottle of Lao Kao (cheap rice whiskey). All these things are more expensive for them on Koh Phangan than they are on the mainland of Thailand. Otherwise they spend nothing: their food and lodging comes with the job. They borrow everything (type of communal sharing) and can simply forage things like coconuts, pineapples, cashews etc. In many cases their tiny salaries are sent home to look after a baby or feed the parents. Despite the absence of life’s luxuries they manage and more importantly manage to maintain a positive outlook on life. 

Why Is It More Expensive For Foreigners

When Thai people can live on virtually nothing how come it costs $200 a day for a foreigner to stay in Thailand? In India it is easy to live relatively well on $20 a day using cheap guest houses and hunting down local eateries. The answer has something to do with culture. Thailand might think it is the winner pushing up the prices for foreigners but it is causing inflation that affects everyone.

Koh Phangan Used To Be Cheaper

Koh Phangan in the 1990s used to be one of the cheapest places to live in Thailand. It was easy to get a basic bungalow near a beach for $3 a night. If you shared the bungalow the price comes out halved. Even on the beaches you could find cheap food in shops and in the smaller, more obscure restaurants that kept food costs down to $15 a day or less. It left enough money for the odd bag. If you stayed put and didn’t take taxis or drink alcohol you could really make your money go a long way.

Price Rises

Times have changed. The cheapest bungalows all have toilets and cost between $10 and $15 a night. The beach restaurants, even the ones tucked back in the villages, have raised prices. Taxis have tripled in price. Bags have halved in size. Everything seems to have jumped in price well above the rate of inflation.

The rationale behind this, if there is one, is that Thailand wants short stay, high paying guests, not hippies who never leave. The issue is clouded with mistrust and cultural confusion on both sides.

Tips On Living On a Budget in Koh Phangan

Ways to save money living on Koh Phangan:

  • The cheapest way to stay in Koh Phangan is to find a bungalow you can rent by the month. There are still some basic ones owned by locals where it is possible to negotiate a price equivalent to $3 a night.
  • Once you have found your cheap bungalow go to Tesco Lotus in Koh Samui and buy a basic electric hob. Buy vegetables, rice and fruit and do your own catering.
  • Another good tip is to buy in bulk. The Tesco in Thongsala is a good place to go to get an idea about the real price of things. It is also worth checking Big C.
  • For a cheap treat try the Pantip night market in Thong Sala where you can buy plates of curry and rice for 40 Thai Baht ($1.3). Similar prices can be found at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant down ‘walking street’. That is the road running parallel to the main street where the post office is located.
  • For those with a lot of determination and a penchant for going the extra mile to save money, and experience something different it is possible to pitch a tent and stay for free on Haad Nam Tok on the east coast. The beach is down a bad road off the Baan Tai to Thong Nai Pan Road and there is a further 20 minute walk down to the beach from where the road stops. You have to bring all your supplies of water and food with you as most of the time there is nothing to buy.
  • Hitching in Koh Phangan is problematic but not impossible. Many Thais who stop will expect payment. The occasional friendly foreigner may give you a lift on the back of their rental bike. Sometimes trucks carrying hotel staff will stop and give you a free ride. Distances on the island are not that great, but the blazing heat makes dehydration a real problem. Few people seriously consider a bicycle as a good transport option.
  • Since it is suicidal to attempt to drink the tap water or even cook with it, fresh water becomes a major expense. Thais buy large plastic drums of water that cost $1 or so. You bring back the old empty one and pick up a full one. The first drum costs about $4. The water is purified locally and is far from the fancy ‘spring water’ offered in the up-market hotels and restaurants.

It is Still Possible to Live Cheaply in Koh Phangan

Probably best not to try picking wild food on Koh Phangan

Probably best not to try picking wild food on Koh Phangan

In conclusion, it is still possible to live really cheaply in Koh Phangan, it is just much harder and demands a lot more determination as well as Spartan discipline. Gone are the days when you can roll up to any beach and find plenty of cheap and close accommodation and food options. It is worth noting that the several changes in visa laws since the 1990s have largely been about making the cost of living in Thailand more expensive.

Nowadays tourists and backpackers are prepared to spend more in Thailand, and in Koh Phangan; and accept that the country is becoming a luxury destination. It is just a shame that the majority of Thais are not tasting a concomitant increase in their lifestyles and spending power.

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