At this point in our life, we spend most of our time in Asia. We are currently based in Bangkok, and during many of our holidays we tend to end up in another Asian country.
They say you don’t really notice how much a culture has affected you until you leave, so who knows what might be the cause of any reverse culture shock when we do move on, but for now we’re going to guess that one of the hardest adjustments we’ll have to make is having to pay “normal” prices for things again.
A Christmas Train Ride
Let’s start with a story. This happened last December, when we were back in England for Christmas. At this point we had both been living abroad for some time and we were probably taking the easy cost of living in Thailand for granted.
We’d already spent way too much money on only a few days in Iceland, even leaving us homeless for our final night in a drafty bus station. We couldn’t wait to get to England and make our way to the cozy home of Simon’s grandparents.
Our train tickets from London were already reserved and paid for, so it should have been a straightforward and painless journey with no extra expenses. Except after our sleepless night, a blizzard postponed our plane by about six hours.
So we missed that train, and had to pay for another. The second train cost £89 each. Keep in mind this is only a one-way ticket for a journey of about an hour and a half.
This arctic blizzard was the cause of the £89 payment.
So Let’s Compare
When you convert £89 to baht, the currency used in Thailand, it equals 3,877. This is substantially more than we each spend in a typical week, even eating out every night and going out on the weekend.
We were horrified to watch that much money disappear on something so small – to the point where we still discuss it today. It has almost become a game – how much can you get in Thailand for the cost of a short train ride in England?
Get ready to be shocked! We’ll start with flights, which you would assume to always be more expensive than a train. (All prices were found on Skyscanner.)
A return flight from Bangkok to Phuket is £67 – the train ride was only one way and it was still £22 more.
A return flight from Bangkok to Yangon, Myanmar is £37. So you could go there and back twice and still not pay as much as a train ticket in England.
A return flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia? £46
A return flight to Hanoi, Vietnam? £53
A return flight to Singapore? £55
A return flight to Hong Kong? £78 – for six hours of flight time, compared to that hour and a half on the train.
Now let’s look at domestic flights from within these countries.
In Vietnam you could fly from Hanoi to every other major airport in the country including Nha Trang, Phu Quoc, Dalat, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City for cheaper than that train. Ranging from £43 to the most expensive we found to Ho Chi Minh City for £80.
In Cambodia, a flight from Siem Reap to its other major city, Phnom Penh, is £31. For only £4 more than the train prices in the UK you could make this journey 3 times.
And we had to throw this one in – the cheapest flight from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Indonesia comes up to only £12. You could make that journey 7 times and still have £5 to spare when compared to our train.
Moving on to Other Trains
Let’s actually compare the train in England to train travel in Southeast Asia.
The best available seat on a train from Malaysia to Singapore, which takes roughly 7 hours, is only about £11 one-way/£22 return. To put that into perspective, for the cost of our England train, you could go from Malaysia to Singapore and back four times.
If you want to get from the top of Thailand (Chiang Mai) to the bottom (Hat Yai), you would take two trains, with a stop in Bangkok. The total for your trip would only be £63 and you would be traveling for over 24 hours.
The most expensive bed seat on a train from the top of Vietnam (Hanoi) to the bottom (Ho Chi Minh City), a 26 hour ride, is around £69. You can basically tour the whole country for £20 cheaper than that train in the UK.
Other Modes of Transport
A VIP bus from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia is only £21. https://www.travelertick.com/destination/bangkok-to-siem-reap
A bus from Hanoi, Vietnam to Luang Prabang, Laos, totaling 25 hours, costs about £38. https://www.travelertick.com
Singapore’s so small, only a simple metro and bus ticket would enable you to see most of the sights. A 3-day pass can be purchased for about £11. http://thesingaporetouristpass.com.sg/
We even totaled up a train and bus route from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam across most of Southeast Asia to Yangon, Myanmar, totaling over 36 hours – the final cost? About £58. For this journey, you would cross 4 countries: Vietnam, Camdodia, Thailand and then into Myanmar.
Finally, we had a look at the cheapest overland route from Bangkok, Thailand to Beijing, China – a trip that would take 4 days and 8 hours. It would only come to £113. Just £17 more than that shitty one and a half hour train journey from London to Doncaster, United Kingdom.
Travel around Southeast Asia for next to nothing.
So for those at home who are always saying “how can you two afford to travel so much?” – here’s the answer! We aren’t rolling in money, we just don’t need much to travel in many parts of the world.
We absolutely recommend Southeast Asia to anyone who wants to travel the world with a limited budget. It’s gorgeous here, fun, and the prices are affordable.
Tell us – were you surprised by any of these prices? If you had the £89 we spent on our train ticket, how would you choose to use it?
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