Bangkok bargains: Best ways to save in the Thai capital
Thailand is a paradise for budget travellers. Here are our tips on how to travel smart and save money in Bangkok to stretch your holiday budget further.
The worst way to exchange currency is to do it at home before you go—the rates you’ll get in Bangkok will be better. Avoid exchanging money at the airport or at hotels; shop around and use a currency conversion website or app such as XE to find out the mid-market rates. Superrich Exchange is Bangkok’s most famous currency exchange with the best rates.
You may get better rates by simply using ATMs and credit or debit card transactions. Check with your bank’s international transaction fees, taking into account both the withdrawal fee (likely to be a flat fee) and the currency conversion fee (usually a percentage of the total withdrawal).
ATM charges in Thailand are high – THB 200 (around $7) for each withdrawal (not including any fees charged by your bank). Plus, many ATMs have a withdrawal limit of THB 7000 (around $260)—multiple withdrawals will add up.
Shops, hotels and restaurants often charge a fee for credit card payments (usually around 3%). If you’re offered the choice of paying in your home currency or local currency, always choose local—your credit card company will give you a better rate.
How to get around
Getting around Bangkok is super cheap, and easy too—you just need to take the plunge! (But not into a canal while leaping from a khlong boat.)
Use the BTS Skytrain. While it can be intimidating at first, it’s reliable, fast (no traffic jams), easy to use, and cheap, with Skytrain fares around THB 30 ($1) per trip (even less if you buy a pass).
Anywhere you can’t reach by Skytrain, you can get to by MRT (underground metro), or, more scenically, on the water. As well as being a bargain (from THB 3 for a river crossing to THB 40 for a river express), travelling by boat is a unique way to experience the city. If you’re feeling adventurous, hop a canal (khlong) boat for a view of Bangkok life you won’t otherwise get. These speedy little boats don’t come to a complete standstill at stops, so be prepared to leap and pray!
Taxis in Bangkok are cheap and plentiful. The fare starts at THB 35, and after the first two kilometres goes up roughly THB 2 per kilometre. If there are two or more of you, this can work out cheaper than public transport. Follow these simple rules for taxi travel:
- Make sure the driver uses the meter. If they insist on a fixed rate, simply wait for the next taxi.
- Communication can be an issue, so carry a map or the name of your destination written in Thai.
- Carry plenty of change—drivers often pretend not to have any.
- If you need a taxi when it’s raining or during rush hours, you’re in for a wait.
Where to eat
Forget saving money (although you will): Bangkok’s best food is at its countless street food stalls. Barbequed meats, noodle soups, fresh papaya salad… the range is endless and the quality is high. For an average of 50 baht (around $2), you’ll enjoy the best of Thai cuisine. If you’re serious about finding Bangkok’s best street food stalls, read up before you go and be adventurous: after all, if you don’t like that mystery package wrapped in banana leaf, just throw it away—it was only $2—and try something else!
For a more comfortable experience, explore the food courts in the big shopping malls. They have chairs and tables, air-con, and a huge range, usually with picture menus in English. Airport-themed Terminal 21 is a cheap family-friendly option, and the two food courts at the MBK mall are the city’s biggest and most popular.
Our top tip for good-value eating: avoid Western food. Chains like McDonalds and KFC are more expensive (and not as tasty) as the local food. OK, it can be hard to get used to noodle soup or spicy grilled chicken for breakfast—our advice is to buy some fresh fruit from the market, yoghurt from 7-11 and make breakfast yourself. And for your other meals, set yourself the mission of finding the best pad thai in Bangkok!
Where to shop
If you’re primed to do some cheap shopping in Bangkok, you’ve got loads to choose from. The city is famed for its markets and heading the list is the legendary Chatachuk Market. A suburb-sized sprawl of over 8000 stalls, Chatachuk is a not-to-be-missed experience and a bargain hunter’s paradise—although its prices are generally higher than at other markets. It’s worth planning before you go and grabbing a free map from the information kiosk. JJ Green is a calmer, bohemian-style outdoor vintage market nearby, with a hip, social vibe.
You’ll find even cheaper prices and loads of atmosphere at Bangkok’s night markets, selling cheap and cheerful souvenirs, vintage goods, local designer fashion, electronics—anything you can imagine. Do some research and get ready to haggle!
If you want more air-con and less chaos, hunt down a Bangkok shopping mall. MBK is the best all-purpose mall, while Pantip Plaza IT Mall specialises in cheap electronics. Central Platinum Mall is best for bargain trendy fashion; along with Pratunam Market across the road and Palladium diagonally opposite, this is Bangkok’s bargain-hunting hotspot.
Our top shopping tips:
- Shop around: you’ll find a big range of prices for the same item.
- Carry cash: even at malls, traders won’t always accept cards.
- Know your size. Many traders forbid trying on clothes, and sadly, the average Westerner often won’t fit into tiny Thai-sized clothing.
- Haggle, haggle, haggle! Here’s some good advice.
Drinking in Bangkok
Buying cans of Chang from 7-11 is cheap—but you want to get out on the town, right? Here are our tips for having a quiet one (or two) without losing control of your budget:
- Drink local—imported alcohol attracts high taxes. Chang and Singha, the local beer brands, are delicious, and Sang Som and Mekhong (brown spirits sometimes sold as whiskey but actually more like rum) are much cheaper than brands you know from home.
- Wine drinkers, start to cultivate a taste for beer—wine is rare and expensive in Thailand. Beer suits the climate better, anyway!
- Do what the Thais do: buy a bottle for the table. The cost of numerous rounds of beer or cocktails adds up—it’s cheaper to buy a bottle of Sang Som spirit, mixers and ice.
- Rooftop bars are expensive, but they’re an unmissable Bangkok highpoint (literally). Cheaper options are River Vibe near Chinatown (skip the food) and Sky on 20, atop the Novotel in Sukumvit.