Featured photo: Meat Stall, Muang Mai Markets
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 27 April 2016
What Travel Costs 7: Chiang Mai, Thailand (& Hyderabad, India)
The main purpose of my trip was to go to India to undertake a promised visit to my friend Rukmini to catch up. I chose to fly via Bangkok rather than take a cheaper trip with another airline through Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. There were two reasons:
- To visit my nephew’s new baby in Bangkok for the first time, and
- I wanted to end up in Chiang Mai and this way was the least hassle.
I left Australia on the evening of 18 February with Thai Airways and arrived Bangkok at 3.30 am on the 19th (9.5 h flight). This was a really stupid idea on the basis that coming from Canberra, if I caught the 10am flight I’d have to spend an expensive night in a Sydney hotel. I’ve since found a cheap alternative near the airport and the saving wasn’t worth it!
I flew to Hyderabad at 10.10 pm on 21 April arriving at 12.25 am (3.75 h) and back at 1.30 am on 10 March (3.5 h) arriving at 6.30 am (this is also a really horrible flight but unavoidable). I flew to Chiang Mai from Don Muang airport at 11.30 am (1h 20 min) and back to Bangkok at 10.15 am on 30 March (1h).
I left Bangkok at 7.20 pm on 31 March and arrived in Sydney at 8.20 am on 1 April (9h flight).
Hence I spent 2 nights in the air (actually 2.5), 18 nights in India, 21 nights in Chiang Mai and 3 (paid) nights in Bangkok for a total of 44 nights away.
|Thailand-India General Expenses (AUD)|
|Murrays Coach Canberra Sydney return||$74|
|Airfare Sydney Hyderabad, via Bangkok return||$1373|
|Worldcare Travel Insurance||$226|
|Total General Expenses |
(825 GBP, 1088 EUR, 1185 USD)
There is no point going into my Indian costs in much detail because I was staying in friends’ homes, besides which Rukmini was subsidising all transport, except for one plane fare. I was paying restaurant bills, but little else. Rukmini paid for everything until we squared accounts finally. At the end of the trip all she asked for 20,000 rupees (INR) to cover expenses and I decided this wasn’t fair, so I gave her an extra amount in US dollars for her to use overseas. This was in part to compensate for what she’d spent and in part a donation that would in one way or another go into Gramya or another NGO. Let’s forget the donation aspect. I’ll give a rough accounting but it is not indicative of actual travel costs in India. I do recall from previous trips that hotels and other accommodation in India is increasing in cost significantly.
The most galling part of paying Rukmini the 20,000 INR was the cost forced on me by my Australian Bank for the privilege. Unfortunately, the only ATMs nearby would only give a maximum of 10,000 INR per transaction. The Indian Bank charged $3 AUD per transaction, which I could tolerate, but my Australian Bank (one of the big 4) charged me $11.50 AUD International ATM Withdrawal Fee for each transaction. In Europe in 2014 the fee was ~$27 but that was for 500 EU (or more than $700 AUD) still a rip off but more acceptable.
Then with the Indian transaction the Australian Bank also charges you a currency conversion fee, which I calculated by two methods (one was the bank’s own currency calculator) and realised that the bank had also charged me about $11.50 on each transaction with a lousy exchange rate. Let’s call 20,000 INR $400 AUD. My wonderful Australian big bank had charged me $46 for the privilege of paying Rukmini back or in percentage terms 11.5% (I’ll talk about this in more detail in further Information).
Not including the bank rip off, and adding a notional $150 on the cost, the cash component of my trip to India was AUD $550, but $200 of that was paying for my return airfare from Hyderabad to Indore. I also spent $128 on goods (clothes, books, presents) and $175 on restaurants (taking Rukmini and various friends out).
If I remove the airfare, the cost of my trip of 18 nights to India comes to $653 or $36 per day; and with the air fare included to $853 or $47 per day. I haven’t presented this as a table because it isn’t very useful information.
Another friend of mine Peggy and her husband did a camping tour a couple of years ago. The guided tour with a small group focused on visiting national parks and rural areas for three months in northern India. The tour was organised by a small Indian company and Peggy said that it cost about $100/day all up, which I thought quite reasonable. India is still a relatively cheap country and the travel is much easier than it used to be. But, if you want to stay 4-5 star and take an upmarket tour India can be quite expensive.
I stayed three nights in Bangkok. As a rule of thumb Bangkok is twice as expensive as Chiang Mai. Paul my nephew paid for my dinner twice while in Bangkok. Hence to cover my unrecorded cash expenses I’m just using pro rata the Chiang Mai rate.
I took four taxis from and to Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Muang Airport whilst in Bangkok and got ripped off on three of the four occasions using public taxis (this is high but not unusual for the airport). I don’t especially mind the money (as it is not huge) but spending an unnecessary hour in a taxi, while the driver perpetrates his scam, especially when you are tired is really irritating. Mostly taxis downtown are fine, though years ago I remember one occasionally had to pay more when arriving at bus stations.
I like Suvarnabhumi Airport and have known it from its teething days when it was opened slightly too soon. But, one has to be careful because there are many minor scams. You occasionally need to check your change and the money change booths are notorious, if you aren’t thinking. Rukmini told me that the whole Indian contingent to an International Conference were over-charged a uniform amount at the visa on arrival counter (the poor Thai Conference organiser apologised later, but was in an impossible position with loss of face and no recourse). The spread at the money changers is also not as good as in town, but that is the same all over the world and is less bad in Bangkok. Apart from such minor instances, most Thais even in Bangkok are friendly, helpful and scrupulously honest.
I was mainly in Bangkok to see my nephew and his family. Also I did some shopping for things I needed or forgot to pack and went to some of my favourite lunch spots. If one doesn’t include airport taxis the cost goes down to $127 per day.
|Overall Expenses Bangkok (AUD)|
|One person 3 nights|
|Patumwan House Hotel (2 nights) 19 February||$92|
|Citadines Hotel Soi 23 (1 night)||$71|
|Airport Taxis (x4)||$77|
|Credit card goods||$95|
|Cost per night (80 GBP; 103 EU ; 115 USD )||$152|
In Chiang Mai I stayed at The Sakorn Residence Hotel on a monthly deal, if I’d stayed the whole month it would have been cheaper but it suited me. I also chose to provide my own breakfast because their breakfast is too much food to have daily. I did have it one day (150B or about $5.75 AUD, good value). In addition to a fixed fee for accommodation, I had to pay for electricity and water based on usage and 1000B for cleaning. I think the cleaning used to be about half this. It was quite hot in Chiang Mai (unseasonably) at 38˚C most days I was there and I over-used the air-conditioning on purpose.
I have written about my habits in various articles on Food in Chiang Mai and particularly on this trip in Food in Chiang Mai 5 and updated my previous food in Chiang Mai articles to 2016. I really enjoy eating in Chiang Mai and I eat well while I’m there. The other main ongoing expenses are usually massages. Unfortunately on this trip my favourite masseur whom I call the ‘Zen Master’ had been ill, I found after some investigation. I tried other masseurs but couldn’t find anyone I liked much. Hence my massage costs were about half the norm. Unless you go to a spar the cost for oil massages is around 350B per hour, although some places are dearer. In Bangkok it is 500B and up for a good massage.
|Overall Expenses Chiang Mai (AUD)|
|One person 21 nights|
|Air Asia Bangkok to Chiang Mai return||$103|
|Airport Taxis (x2)||$15|
|Sakorn Residence (21 nights)||$799|
|Credit Card Purchases|
|Cost per night including Air Asia Flight||$100|
|Cost per night not including Air Asia Flight (50 GBP; 64 EU ; 72 USD )||$95|
The hotel cost AUD $38 per night (including about $5 per night for electricity, water and cleaning). Sakorn Residence is a pleasant boutique hotel experience with large rooms had I stayed the month the total would have been AUD $27 per night. The motorcycle was about $6.50 per day. I could have had a slightly better bike a little cheaper through a bigger company, but the convenience and the hotel connection made the hirers very obliging.
All of my supermarket purchases for breakfasts and and other things to make my stay pleasant were placed on my credit card, but only a few restaurants. This is unusual. Most small restaurants this time wouldn’t accept a credit card unless you spent 500 or even 1000 Baht (~$10-$20 AUD). This is new but I can sympathise with the restaurants. Supermarkets, department stores and chain restaurants, however, will accept credit cards even for small amounts. Chiang Mai has always been a cash town as are most places in Thailand outside of Bangkok and also for many small concerns in Bangkok.
One reason I needed to come to Chiang Mai was to see my dentist. I’ve had quite a bit of dental work done in Chiang Mai over the past five years because it is a centre for high quality dentistry. Prices for dental treatment are at least one quarter of the price in Australia. Many young Australians come to Thailand (principally Bangkok) for cosmetic surgery, but Westerners also come occasionally for elective surgery. Considering how the public hospital system in Australia is in disarray, and the cost of medicine in the USA is unaffordable, I’m surprised that medical tourism isn’t growing more rapidly in Asia, but it is growing. (Food for thought and a topic I’ll come back to later.) I also had my eyes tested and bought some new computer glasses while I was there.
|Other Major Expenses|
|Total General Expenses |
(364 GBP, 466 EUR, 525 USD)
I had two crowns replaced: one had broken and had to be replaced at full cost and one was a very difficult crown that wasn’t quite right and was replaced under warranty. I estimated that I’d saved about $1000 by coming to Thailand, over what the same would have cost me in Australia, not including the warranty replacement.
|Overall Expenses (AUD)|
|India (incl. Aus Bank Fee)||$899|
|Thailand (not incl. dental & glasses)||$2563|
|Total Overall Expenses |
( 2707 GBP, 3463 EUR, 3900 USD)
The whole trip cost me AUD $5135 and perhaps that was subsidised by a 1000 saving on dental treatment.
This was meant to be a simple little article about my most recent trip overseas and to give an estimate of what it cost me to stay in Chiang Mai. Should you be travelling down South to beaches or engaging in tourist activities in Thailand (which I didn’t) things will cost more. Tourist excursions, cooking schools and the like tend to be moderately expensive compared with just hanging out and eating, occasionally swimming in the hotel pool and visiting friends.
Unfortunately, I have opened a can of worms by introducing the idea of currency exchange through mentioning being ripped off by my Australian bank in India. I also estimate that I lost $30 in changing AUD $500 because of the fee I was charged for each of five 100 Australian dollar travellers cheques. I decided to do this because I had $1000 AUD in traveller’s cheques from some years ago. Currency exchange is a complex subject but I’ll give a brief introduction in Further Information.
To some extent you are at the mercy of your country’s currency when you go overseas because no-one but a maniac will go away only when the currency exchange is favourable. Denise and I were lucky when we spent 8 months in Europe in 2014. European tourists thought Australia was a cheap place to visit until the last few years because they got such a good deal on their Euros or British Pounds. Similarly, when I went to Vietnam for the first time with my cousin Lesley in 2008 the US dollar was very strong against the Australian dollar. As everything in Vietnam is based on USD prices we estimated that our holiday cost us 35% more than we were expecting (probably an exaggeration, but the AUD had dropped to 64c against the greenback).
Notionally I find that getting 26 baht to the Australian dollar, which was the average for this trip, seems too low. Let’s see if I’m right or not.
|Historical value AUD vs Thai Baht||Thai Baht|
|2011 (1 Feb)||31.26|
|2016 (22 April)||27.06|
It seems as if I’m not wrong to have a notional value of 30 Baht to the dollar but with the collapse of the mineral boom perhaps 25 should be the new notional value. Who knows. Australia’s Reserve Bank want the currency to depreciate further, but overseas investors are seeing an interest rate of 2% attractive in today’s world. On my notional value of 30 Baht and experiencing an average of 26 in 2016 means that what I was paying in Thailand was around 13% higher than my notional expectations. I didn’t notice this so much, but should Thailand suddenly become 13% cheaper I think I would. Thailand is still a very cheap country by Australian standards.
Key words: Hyderabad, India, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Thailand, travel costs, currency conversion fees
1 Additional information on tables
Two dates and series of exchange rates were used to compare AUD with GBP, EU and USD. In table 1 Thailand-India General Expenses an arbitrary date of 1 February was used. For the three other tables a relatively arbitrary date of 20 March was used. The Australian dollar went up between these two periods. For the conversion of the Indian rupees 9 March was used. In the last table on currency exchange all the annual figures are for 1 February, except the last which is 22 April 2016 around the time of this post.
2 How to avoid losing money on currency exchange
The simple answer is you can’t. This is a complicated topic. Years ago you used to have only two alternatives cash and traveller’s cheques and then credit cards. Although traveller’s cheques are a thing of the past, a few year’s ago my nephew worked out a clever scheme for Thailand only. Australia Post offered free American Express Traveller’s Cheques for no service charge and if you got them in AUD there was no currency exchange. In Thailand some places then offered a slightly higher exchange rate for traveller’s cheques, because of the purchase fee inbuilt in the system, and no commission fees. Now it is hard to change traveller’s cheques in Thailand and banks do charge a fee per cheque. Unfortunately, I had $1000 AUD in traveller’s cheques (from 2 years ago) in 50s and 100s (you get no choice in denomination). I needed to exchange some or use an ATM, so I decided to change the 5 x $100, which cost me a fee of 150B for each one totalling 750B or nearly $30. You could still purchase large denominations directly from American Express for exchange in Thailand but it is probably not for most people. (Large denominations AUD $100 bills in cash used to be more desirable in some parts of Asia, but no longer in Chiang Mai).
The best way to avoid bank charges is to take lots of cash in your own country’s currency but that depends on how much cash you are wiling to carry. Regarding credit and debit cards, there are many options but most of them have issues. The big Australian bank that ripped me off in India has a subsidiary whose Mastercard Credit Card I carry. This card has no fees and the exchange rates are good, as are those for my American Express Card. But, Amex also charges a conversion fee which is not reasonable and has a steep annual fee. I have a third Mastercard which I don’t use enough to comment on and it also has an annual fee. Citibank offers a no fee card and free ATM withdrawals from Citibank ATMs, but Citibank ATMs are found only in large cities and may be convenient only if you live or work permanently nearby.
I have investigated Travel Cards which you load up with money before you leave for overseas, offered by various institutions, but in Australia they are not attractive because to put new money on them costs a fee and sometimes the exchange rates offered are poor (i.e. the bank rate and not the credit card rate).
I have only two pieces of advice to offer:
- Use credit cards (with good exchange rates) as often as possible. However, often it is not possible, in Germany supermarkets don’t take foreign credit cards. In Asia small places want cash.
- When exchanging cash always look for the spread. Most people don’t do this for some reason and don’t understand why they are being ripped off. For example, SK exchange near the Iron Bridge in Chiang Mai is where most expats and people in the know go to change money. On a typical day in SK the rate they offer to change AUD to Thai Baht will be say Sell 26.13, Buy 26.39. The difference between the two is 0.26, this is the spread. What this means is that if you give them AUD $100 you will get 2613 Thai Baht (there is no fee); if you want to buy $100 from them it will cost you 2639 baht. The difference is 26 Baht (the spread) but they make only half this on each transaction or 13 Baht for every AUD $100, that is 50c. (I may be being too generous to SK, but their spreads aren’t high.) Today, Australia’s biggest bank will give me (Sell @ 25.40) 2540 B for my hundred dollars and charge me (Buy @ 29.32) 2932 B to get $100. Hence the spread is 3.92 or 392 Baht, but they make only half this on each transaction 196 Baht for every AUD $100, that is $7.16. I know which exchange agency I want to use. I sometimes get confused as to what Buy and Sell means when I approach a foreign exchange counter, because it is the reverse of my focus, but it doesn’t matter because it is the spread that counts. If there is more than one choice with the same spread I can always overcome my confusion by asking which rate applies. The other general rule is only change money at airports when you absolutely have to, that is, enough to get into town.
Now I also need to convert relatively large amounts of money once or sometimes twice a year for donations (to India or Nepal) or to pay for holidays (for example scuba diving in the Philippines). Usually, I am thinking in excess of $1000 but not always. I have signed up with two foreign currency exchange services to do this but use only one of them. And, yes I’d rather get a better rate, but the rates I do get are much better than those offered by the banks or more well-known financial services. If I’m sending one thousand dollars or more of my hard earned cash to India, I don’t want one of the big banks in Australia to charge me $70-$100 or more for the privilege.
I have had really bad influenza for the past eight days. My brain has not been working and I have had to check everything here more carefully than usual. I apologise if the text is too dense or the content a bit vague.