I’m not a fan of highly structured tours and vacations. I always feel like I’m being herded around like cattle or sitting around waiting for others. So, for me, one of the only benefits of going on a guided vacation tour is that they usually include several interesting excursions that I would have no idea how to book on my own.
But Thailand is so affordable that you can do anything you want if you hire your own driver. We had set aside one day to spend at Elephant Nature Park just outside of Chiang Mai. When that didn’t pan out, we decided to go to Doi Inthanon instead, which is the highest mountain peak in Thailand. Like many other amazing sights in the country that are in the middle of nowhere, the only way to get there is by car.
So the day before, we started looking up private drivers. You can always ask for help booking a private car from your hotel. We did it from a coffee shop in the afternoon so we used TripAdvisor to find companies with good reviews. I sent out about four requests for quotes and got back a couple of options.
The one we went with wrote back with a detailed itinerary of other suggested stops near the mountain. The price was 3,500 baht, which for two people is around $50 each, for a private car to take us and wait for us everywhere on the list including Doi Inthanon, Wachirathan Waterfall, lunch, and even a stop for freshly ground coffee at a local coffee plantation. If it had been 5 or 6 of us, that van would have cost even less.
In Phuket, another last minute tour took us to Monkey Temple (Wat Suwannakuha), on a longboat trip to James Bond Island, kayaking under limestone rocks in Phang Nga Bay, and included lunch at a Muslim fishing village. Because it wasn’t private, that was less than $30. You can’t even rent a kayak for an hour in most places for that kind of money. And if we had booked a similar private excursion to do those things, it probably wouldn’t have been more than $100. And it would have saved me the grief of having to listen to sorority girls from South Carolina talk about how life-changing it was to ride elephants.
That exchange rate goes a very long way in Thailand. This means you can pay someone to drive you around Bangkok all day so you don’t have to worry about hailing cabs (more on that in another post). You can have someone drive two and a half hours out of Chiang Mai to see the White Temple without having to go on a bus with total strangers. And maybe the best part is that when you get somewhere, you can stay there exactly as long as you want and not one second earlier or later.
Does it seem ridiculous that so little money could buy you that much luxury? It is! Enjoy it. You’ll miss it when you’re getting a ridiculously overpriced pumpkin spiced latte back home in a week.