If you ask any backpacker what they love most about travelling southeast asia, they’ll tell you it’s how cheap it is. That’s especially true for Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok. But when we first got there, our wallets always felt empty in the morning. Maybe it was the excessive vodka or the late-night Burger King runs that did us in, but we’re choosing to believe that wasn’t the case. Here at Slumber Party, we believe that you can enjoy every aspect of Bangkok on the tightest of budgets.
It’s true that Thailand’s capital isn’t what it was twenty years ago. At that time, you’d be hardpressed to find the lavish hotels that now litter the city. But even in today’s hustle and bustle, you can find that fifty-baht dinner the travel blogs rave about. Saving money just requires the proper research, effort, and skill. But you’re on vacation, so screw that. Let us do the work for you instead.
Barter to Your Heart’s Desire
Before we get into any of our other tips, we need to emphasize how important bartering is in Bangkok. We know, we know. Back home, it’s probably rude to argue about prices. You’d never walk into a Tesco and tell them their bread was too expensive. But when you’re on the streets of Bangkok, that’s exactly what you have to do.
The price that vendors tell you is almost never the actual price of the item. They’re just hoping that you’ll pay a higher price because you’re a tourist. Something that may cost a Thai person (or experienced barterer) 100 baht could run you upwards of 500 baht. This is especially true in any area frequented by Bangkok tourists, such as Khao San Road and Silom.
Just be sure to approach bartering with Thai vendors as a fun activity. Being aggressive or rude won’t help your case, and some vendors won’t budge at all. It’s okay to walk away if you can’t get the price you want. Saving anywhere from 25% to 50% on an item in a Bangkok market is a sign of success. And learn what the Thai bills look like, otherwise you’ll end up handing over more money than they initially asked for!
Shop at the Markets
Bangkok is home to countless shopping centers, and going inside is a must-do. Terminal 21 is one of our favorites, with each floor representing a different city in the world. But if you’re on a budget, those shops are only good for looking at. If you actually need to buy anything in Bangkok—from clothes and jewelry to bags—one of the city’s many markets is your best option. If you need some guidance, our friends over at Nerd Nomads made a top-six list of Bangkok’s markets.
Take Advantage of the Endless Street Food
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. Obviously eating kebab off the street will be a better deal than a five-star restaurant. But we included this point because so many people go about eating street food the wrong way. Exploring Bangkok on a budget doesn’t have to mean eating pad thai for every meal. You could spent months in Thailand, and still not try all of the food the country has to offer. With all of the street vendors being relatively inexpensive, challenge yourself to try something new for every meal. Personally, we recommend checking out the food on Soi 11 and Sir 38. Both your stomach and your wallet will thank you.
If you’re worried about the safety of street food, we’re here to ease your fears. Our rule of thumb is to eat what Thai people. If you see a food stand that all of the Thais around you are avoiding, you should probably avoid it to. At the same time, if everyone is going crazy over a dish you don’t recognize, you should dive right in. If a stall looks dirty, there’s a chance that it is. But more often than not, the street food in Bangkok is perfectly safe.
Invest in a Rabbit Travel Card
Bangkok’s primary mode of public transportation is the BTS Skytrain. It covers nearly all of the major tourists areas in the city, and is a quick, pain-free way to explore Bangkok. Only a handful of locations (like Wat Pho) aren’t accessible by a combination of walking and Skytrain. A single journey can cost you anywhere from 15 to 45 baht, depending on the length of the trip.
However, you can purchase a Rabbit Card from any ticket office for 200 baht. The first 100 baht is an issuing fee, but the remaining 100 baht is put on your card. When you use the Rabbit Card, every trip, regardless of length, will cost only 21 baht. It’s up to you to do the math. But for anyone going back and forth across Bangkok, the card should pay for itself.
Be Selective with Taxis, Tuk Tuks, and Motorbikes
If there’s ever been a tourist scam in Bangkok, it’s the cost of transportation. Just like with street vendors, be sure to barter with tuk tuk drivers. Before stepping foot in the tuk tuk, establish how much the trip will cost. Dealing with an angry tuk tuk driver post-trip because of miscommunication is that last thing you want to do. And if you feel like you’re paying too much money, feel free to ask another driver how much it would cost to get to your destination.
Also be mindful of scams when you consider taking a tuk tuk. From time to time, drivers may offer you an extremely discounted or free ride. This offer is on the condition that you stop at a store and look around. Most will claim you don’t have to buy anything, but that they’ll get some kind of commission for you showing up. But that’s not the case. Instead, they’ll take you to an overpriced gem or suit-shop where you may end up spending twenty-times more than you should for a low-quality product.
If you’re choosing to take a taxi, demand that they put the meter on. If they refuse, find another driver who will use it. Otherwise, you’re getting ripped off. It’s also in your best interest to avoid taxis that are right outside of tourist sites, hostels, and hotels. They’re going to charge you more than drivers slightly further away, because they’re aware that many tourists in Bangkok don’t know any better.
Lastly, always ask yourself if a tuk tuk or taxi is the best option. Are you in walking distance? Is there a BTS stop that you could use instead? Even though transportation is relatively cheap in Bangkok (especially compared to the south), saving ten baht per trip can add up to a few beers.
People come to Bangkok for so many reasons, but one of the main ones is always drinking. With so many bars (and so many new drinks to try) bar tabs in Bangkok can get pretty big. That’s why you need to make sure you’re always drinking with your wallet in mind.
We promise that you can get hammered in Thailand without going broke! In place of buying single drinks, consider going for a bucket or beer tower. Larger servings are always cheaper in bars, so going out with friends can be a major help to your pocket book. And don’t ever underestimate the power of seven-eleven beer before you hit the bar!
Be Careful with Your Money
Money is sadly a necessary evil when you’re travelling. Unless you’ve chosen to settle down in Bangkok, you aren’t being paid in Thai baht. As a result, you’ll have to rely on cash machines and money exchanges. Withdrawal and exchange fees can add up, and if you aren’t careful you could spend over a thousand baht just to access your own funds.
Use cash machines sparingly, because fees can be upwards of 250 baht. We recommend taking out as much money as you can stomach, and locking whatever you don’t need immediately in your hostel locker or safe. If you’re travelling in a group, a good option is to take turns withdrawing money for the group.
If you have foreign currency you need to get rid of, don’t trust the exchange rates at airports, skytrain stations, or hotels. We promise that you can find better rates. It may take some time, but ask around and see which exchange dealer will save you the most money. TravelVui has some great recommendations on money exchanges to get you started.
Fancy Bars Aren’t Better Bars
We get it, you’ve dreamed of going to one of Bangkok’s rooftop bars ever since you saw the Hangover. While the views are wonderful, the prices are not. Ordering just one drink at the top of a highrise could erase an entire week’s budget for food.
Instead, stick to smaller, local bars. You’ll save money, see less tourists, and experience Bangkok like a local. If you just can’t resist a drink with a view, check out Brewski Rooftop Bar in Asok. Even though it’s still on the more expensive side (with a pint around 200 baht), it’s much cheaper than its competitors.
Consider Visiting in Low Season
Last, but certainly not least, the time of year you visit Bangkok can impact prices. Heading to Thailand during low season (also called rainy season) will mean cheaper rates at every hostel you book. Rainy season takes place from May to September, with heavy rain showers for a few hours every afternoon and evening. It’s not a constant monsoon, but it’s enough to keep some tourists at bay. While things won’t be as busy, they’ll certainly be more affordable.