Millions and millions of backpackers move through Thailand each year, probably more, all looking for golden sands, cultural experiences, outdoor activities and more. Thailand is a huge centre for us all to forge connections, friendships and to chase that elusive backpacker dream of being the first to discover something amazing all the while treading a path that has Ben walked by billions before us. Yes I have been reading Alex Garland's The Beach, and yes it is amazingly accurate to several tourists I have met along the way, although it's definitely not the incredible utopian thriller I hoped for. Anyway, I digress, it's no surprise that along the way much of Thailand has filled up with tourism agencies, guides and basically all kinds of Thai people who are offering to plan your trip for you and make it all easier... For a cost. Many of the tourism agencies try to outbid each other and in certain areas off the same trip for various prices leaving you to find the best one. In other areas, they all work together to keep the price the same, but still at the added cost for the traveller.
It's difficult to know whether you are ever really getting a good deal and that's why so many choose to just organise the whole thing themselves, but others, out of laziness or just misinformation choose to book all the trips on offer, often seriously affecting their budget and limiting their experience of Thailand. I was most definitely one of these people who likes to organise everything myself from the beginning, I hate brag ripped off and would rather shop around or barter for a good deal, but I know there are others who feel less comfortable doing this. So I wanted to share something with you guys, in case you haven't already discovered it, that might help save you a bit of money and organising. I had never heard of this until I was halfway through my time in Thailand, but it was sheer luck that I found it when I did. And it really helped shape the rest of my trip.
While staying in Bangkok, I walked out of my hostel one morning and not paying attention fell straight over a woman in the street. Of course, in the British way, I was busy apologising profusely while she was far more interested in having a chat with me. She spoke great English so I explained where I was from and what I was planning to do that day, she was really excited about our plans for food and to go visit some of the smaller and lesser known temples. She was really interested in the rest of my trip as I told her my friend was due to fly home in days and I would once again be travelling solo but up to the north this time. I was touched by her interest do siding I had nearly floored her out of nowhere, in my experience Thai people are very friendly, warm and welcoming, but this woman was something else altogether. She was so kind, helpful and clearly wanted us to have the best day in her country, and for me to have an amazing rest of my trip.Within minutes she had found a government tuk tuk, which is slightly different to all those that drive around manically on the street and overcharge you - but are very hard to spot. They have a licence in the front window that you have to look for, and they charge a hell of a lot less than the rest. She told the lovely tuk tuk driver where to take us - to an amazing little temple with a huge standing Buddha in the centre - with an adorable food market and fair happening outside. After waiting for us to eat and check out the temple, he took us to the Red Mount where he left us to explore but we only paid 30bht! We were so astonished he didn't ask for any more money for a trip that could normally have cost five times the price, but it was purely because he was working in a government run tuk tuk. I never knew these existed before but it was a revelation and definitely helped our purses over the next few days of exploring.
Inbetween the temples, the tuk tuk driver also stopped off somewhere else at the orders of this amazing Thai woman after she heard about my plans to travel north. The Thai Tourism Agency is a government-run office in Bangkok, just a short walk from Khao San Road, and it is perfect for anyone who doesn't know where to start when planning their trip, or who is worried about being ripped off. I was greeted straight away by a lovely half Indian and half Thai woman who was eager to help me plan my trip, she straight away booked us on the Floating Market trip for way cheaper than I had seen it elsewhere, we would go the next morning. Then she planned for me a full two weeks of travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for just £250. Doesn't sound much? Well I've been budgeting about £250 a week and this was for twice as long and that price included travel, accommodation, some food, and a three day hill tribe trekking trip. It also meant I would be stopping off in some really amazing places including Sukhothai and Ayutthaya - the old kingdoms - along the way to Chiang Mai. It was incredible that she managed to get it down to such a good price and was promising me air conditioned buses, my own room and bathroom in each place and time to explore with flexibility to move travelling dates at a day's notice.
Put simply, I was really bloody impressed by the whole thing and when it came to the travelling and accommodation, it really was pretty good. Everything ran smoothly and I met some lovely people along the way who were on the same trip. The hill tribe trekking was so much fun, and I will write another post on it for you. This post was just to say a huge thank you for organising this section of my trip, something I had very little motivation to do myself after two of my friends flew home. It was also to try and help wise travellers up to this huge money saver that is right under their noses. It's suitable for those backpacking for months or a year like me, it's suitable for retired couples, for young couples, for friends - for anyone. You can only use this service in Bangkok, but you can organise trips for all over Thailand for a couple in weeks of your whole trip - why not go see them and see how they can save you money?
Have you booked travel with the government-run Thai Tourism Agency? How did your journey go? Have you got any other Thai travel cost cheats to share with my readers?