A guide for South Africans visiting Thailand on a budget part 3: Money, transport and sorting out your phone

If you’ve been following my guide to doing Thailand on a budget then you’ll already know how to find a cheap flight and book a great hotel so let’s talk about landing.

When you arrive in Thailand, be it Bangkok or Phuket, you’re going to be given a little landing/departing card on which you’re to fill in details like your name, passport number and the name of the hotel at which you’re staying. Fill this in and head off to the immigration counter followed by the baggage claim. Do not lose this card. You’ll need to hand it back in again when you leave.  

As I flew in via Addis Ababa I had to do the above via the health counter where I had to fill in another quick form and state that I was SOUTH African and not African and thus didn’t need a yellow fever vaccintion but if your stop over was in Dubai or somewhere else you don’t have to worry about that. Just go straight to immigration. The airport serves up two hours of free Wi-Fi so you can stare at your phone while your queue. 

Once that’s sorted and you’ve been reunited with your luggage head to an ATM where you can draw cash using your credit card. There’s no need to bother with travellers cheques or anything like that. Drawing from the ATM will cost you about R100 which is pretty steep so draw a large amount and look after it. When you’re in town you might find ATMs that charge a little less so consider trying a few before committing on your next draw. (You’re notified of the fee before you commit.) Just don’t do my famous trick which is to leave my bank card in the machine. OMF! (Thankfully I always travel with two credit cards for this very reason.)

Right! So, you’ve got cash and the first thing you’re going to buy is a dtac Happy Tourist SIM card. You’ll find the counter right at the exit of the airport. It’ll be the one with the large but fast-moving queue. All you have to do is hand your cell and cash over to the friendly chicas behind the counter and they’ll pop out your SIM, tape it to a card for you and then insert your new Dtac SIM and set it up for you and you’re good to go.

Trust me when I tell you that you REALLY want a Happy Tourist SIM. You can pick from 7 days, 2 weeks or a month or whatever and it gives you access to unlimited super fast 6GB speed internet plus a certain amount of air time to make calls. This way you’ll have internet access wherever you go (even through Wi-Fi is pretty much everywhere in Thailand), be able to use your phone like a GPS to get around on foot and be able to WhatsApp everyone. WhatsApp is connected to your phone, not your SIM so there’s no need to tell your WhatsApp buddies your new Thai number. You can also use internet banking. (I’m with the awesomeness that is Capitec and, again, their app is connected to your phone, not your SIM, so you can transact as per usual without missing a beat.

I bought the 2 week SIM and it was R242. The one week option is even cheaper and the full month one isn’t much more than the 2 week one. If you decided to stay longer you can top up your with more time at any 7Eleven which are literally on every single corner.

Thai 7Eleven’s rock my world. I’ll probably do a whole post on them.

Okay! So we’ve got cash in our pockets and we’re online. What next? It’s now time to get to your hotel. If you’re in Bangkok you can use Uber, Grab (which is kind of like Taxify but I’ve found their drivers often taken forever to arrive) or just nab a taxi outside the airport. At the time I looked Uber was about R150 but being peak traffic it would’ve taken forever.

What’s fast, dirt cheap and easy, however, is the Bangkok BTS sky train. Simply follow the signs to the air port rail link (a separate train line that leads to the sky train) and buy a token to Phaya Thai station for 45 baht (R17,50). The journey is just 26 minutes long and, once you’re at Phaya Thai, you can buy a ticket to the station that’s nearest to your hotel and it won’t cost more than 42 baht (R16). Remember when I said picking a hotel that’s in walking distance of a station is ideal? This is why. If you’re far away from a station, however, and hauling heavy bags then you can always arrive at that station and then grab a super cheap taxi that will take you the short distance to your hotel.


Arrived in Phuket? Your journey is even easier. As you walk towards the airport exit you’ll be greeted by companies offering private taxi and mini bus rides to your hotel. Ignore the over priced taxis and pick the mini bus. It’s 180 baht (R70) and, as you share the bus with other tourists it will make a few stops so you can expect a journey that’s about an hour to an hour and a half long but you’re going to save cash and still get dropped off right at the door of your hotel.

This is Maya Beach on Phi Phi island. I always take a day trip here when I’m in Phuket and hope to head there tomorrow.

I hope this guide’s been useful so far. Next time we chat I’m going to be telling you what I always pack as well as what I don’t.

Love, love


P.S. I’m typing this by the bath water-warm pool of my hotel in Phuket where I’ve got a margarita to the left and a clutch of adorable Asian kids dancing to Katy Perry on my right. Hate me long time?








18 thoughts on “A guide for South Africans visiting Thailand on a budget part 3: Money, transport and sorting out your phone

  1. Loving these posts of yours!

    I usually just take dollars, and change it daily at the millions of money changers around. And use my card for any in-store purchases.

    Also, good to mention, don’t ever accept a ONE STOP taxi/tuk-tuk.

    1. Thank you so much! I love hearing that. I’ve been several times now and I keep on telling myself I need to see more parts of the world but Thailand has my heart.

  2. Thank you so much Leigh for all your advise on Thailand Travel. I will be going in Feb ’18 and made notes what u shared. It is so helpful. Thanks again and God Bless

  3. We are going to Phuket in a few days, I’m unsure what to expect as this would be my first time travelling, if I take my Capitec debit card with would that be okay?

    Also is there something you would recommend us doing/going there?

    1. I’m not sure. I think it’s best to call Capitec and ask if you can use a debit card to draw cash at a foreign ATM. I’ve only ever used a credit card to draw and pay when I travel.

      1. Sorry – hit reply too soon. Phuket is fantastic in that there’s lots to see and do there. Stay in the Patong area as it’s the heart of the action. You have to visit the craziness that is Bangla road at night. Also do a day trip to Phi Phi island. There will be lots of little tourism stands in the area and you can negotiate with them for a good price. This usually includes a pick up from your hotel and then a boat trip out to Phi Phi and a few other islands with a lunch on one of them.

    1. They’re all much of a muchness and you spend very little time in them so just find something within your budget in an area you want to explore. I like to stay in the area around MBK and Siam Paragon etc. Just make sure your hotel is no more than five minutes walk to a sky train station and then getting around will be easy. Uber is cheap in Bangkok too, often cheaper than the tuk tuks.

    1. Pleasure! Nope, there’s no need to bring any kind of currency. I just travel with my credit card and use it to draw baht from an ATM. Easy as pie!

  4. Hello 🙂

    Thank you ever so much for your awesome advice. My husband and i are first time travellers and will be going to Thailand in March 2019 🙂 yay 2 months to go! We are spending 3 nights in phuket then head to Koh Lanta for 6 nights, then back to phuket for 1 night before we fly back to SA. I have a few questions i’m really hoping you can help me with?

    1. flights and accommodation have been paid- How much spending money in Baht should i prepare for per day per person, for food, drinks, transport etc.. -+

    2. We only have 3 days in Phuket, what do you recommend we do? I don’t need to do Phi Phi from Phuket as we can do that from Koh Lanta, however i was thinking of a day trip to Cheown Lan Lake in Koh Sok? do you think its to far for a day? Then in phuket, how long will it take to see all the temples and beaches? If we do a tour of phuket, would it be cheaper to Hire a tuk tuk or a guided tour? i don’t fancy driving in phuket on scooters, ill do that on Koh lanta where is a lot less touristy.

    3. Tips on great street food? We are staying in Patong at Nicky’s Handle Bar 🙂

    My biggest concern is a daily budget for food drink and entertainment, oh and of course the transport…eeeeek. We are chilled so we don’t want any fancy restaurants etc..

    Thank you for reading my rambles, i really hope you can help calm these nerves haha


    1. Hi Kelley

      Apologies for the shockingly slow revert. I made a mental note of replying later when I’d have time and then clean forgot. Eeek!

      1. Tricky question. Do you want to live like a queen getting massages every day and drinking cocktails at 5 star hotels or cheap and cheerfully? I’d say add up the cost of everything you want to do if you were doing it in Cape Town and then divide by half.

      2. I don’t ‘do’ much in Phuket. I lie on the beach or at my resort’s pool and then head out at night to eat in a restaurant, grab a dop in Bangla road and just wonder around soaking up the party atmosphere. I’m a bit of a savage that way. Phuket is kind of like the Vegas of Thailand and I take it for what it is. I think if you spend three days (which is short) chasing temples and different beaches you’ll be so busy ‘doing’ you won’t absorb enough of anything. You’d be better off just living it up on the beach that’s nearest to you. Once you get there, you’ll see what I mean. Leaving the area you’re in (which is interesting in itself) to go somewhere else for a short time will just be odd. Like renting a house in Camps Bay but spending all your money on getting to Stellenbosch to go wine tasting.

      3. Great street food is everywhere. There will be 100 options on every road so don’t worry, you won’t miss it. Make a point of getting drunk and trying the shwarma (spelling?!) at the entrance to Bangla road. Like if you’re standing at the beach end and looking down the road then it’ll be on your left. I lie in bed at night and dream of that shizz. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Turkish-Kebab-Bangla/575381082524683. Thai Taco (also close to you) is a nice Tex-Mex spot; No. 9 2nd Restaurant (also walking distance) is always a vibe with great sushi and Sea Hag (an old staple) does the best cashew chicken in all of Patong.

      Relax! You’re going to have a jol!

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