Despite being one of the most visited cities in the world, Bangkok, luckily, remains also one of the cheapest destinations to visit in the whole wide world. Boasting beautiful and awe inspiring glistening temples that can be found literally on every possible corner, having one of the best and yummiest street food on this globe and being home to some truly incredible parties and nightlife, Bangkok can get tad pricey if not done the correct way. So if you’re wondering on how to do Bangkok on a budget, you’re lucky, because you’re about to get some really valued info from a Bangkok regular.
I am not going to state the obvious such as accommodation. If you have some common sense and you want to save some serious coin, stay in hostels instead of hotels. I personally stay in hotels, they can still be cheap if booked in advance. Check websites such as Booking.com or Hotels.com for some good deals. But honestly, if you want to save money stay in hostels.
How to get around Bangkok
If you”re on a really tight budget I recommend staying in a hostel around the area you want to be exploring throughout your stay. So if you stay on or near Khao San, you can easily walk to the main temples like the Royal Palace and Wat Pho. You can also walk to China Town and the riverside as well as khlongs from where you can get cheap water taxis to pretty much anywhere.
Cheaper than taxis are motorbike taxis. They are the real thing and 100% legit. They can be a bit scary for tourists as most often, you won’t even wear any helmet, but they are very cheap. The drivers are fully trained and licenced so it’s a real, you’ll usually spot motorbike taxis outside the stations or around busier areas. Loads of office workers and Thai people use this service for quick five-minute journeys.
Now, let’s talk about the obvious. The cheapest option are definitely Bangkok’s infamous buses. Yes, getting a bus in Bangkok is dirty cheap. I never went on a bus in Bangkok myself, but if you;re serious about stretching your budget furher, this is the way to go. The bus system can seem a bit chaotic and overwhelming for the first time visitors (I think it’s the largest bus network system in the world, tying closely with London), but as anything in this world, make sure you study the route maps and I am sure you can get the hang of it- people and locals alike swear by it. Another mode of transport available to you, is Bangkok subway and skytrain system. Just a bit pricier than buses, Bangkok’s rail system is very reliable and modern, although it can get busy in the mornings and after 5pm- as expected.
Generally avoid taxis and tuk-tuks. Only get taxis if you have to, like late at night and if you’re drunk and you really have to get back to your hotel room just use them. If you hang out with locals, you can get a good genuine taxi fares or sometimes you can even get a free taxi ride if you’re on your way to a certain nightclub- that way the taxi drivers get commissions, your Thai friends will know about this and will organise it for you. Make sure taxi drivers use meter, although most often they will refuse to use it and will just drive away. Read my guide to using taxis in Bangkok here.
Alcohol and partying in Bangkok
Alcohol is probably the thing that you’ll spend most of your money on, well, in my case anyway. Alcohol in nightclubs can be pricey, but if you know a thing or two, you’ll be able to have a cheap night out in Bangkok too.
Okay, so if you’re on really really tight budget, then I’m going to mention the obvious. Get your booze from 7/11 or other supermarkets and drink it in your hotel/hostel room or drink it outside. In Bangkok you can drink everywhere and anywhere, you can even walk and tour the town with a bottle in your hands (of course not inside the malls or temples) you’ll be allowed to bring your beer to most street food restaurants, so don’t worry about that. And if there’s a street party happening, like they usually happen on Khao San Road, you can comfortably get all your beers from 7/11 and just drink and dance outside. Usually when it gets busy, sometimes you’ll be even able to take your beer inside the places, but recently it’s got a lot stricter, so it’s a bit trickier to sneak in alcohol. But still, you’ll be able to dance and socialise with people like you would inside the bar.
If you happen to be going on a proper night out, let’s say to a nightclub or a bar, local beers such as Chang or Leo are the cheapest options. If you want spirits, then your best option is to get a whole bottle of Thai rum/whiskey brands. Even if you don’t finish the whole bottle, they can label the bottle with your name and put it behind the bar so you can return the next day or in a few days’ time and finish it. It’s a normal thing and most Thais do it this way, just have a look behind the bar next time you visit, there’ll be loads of bottles with name stickers on them. Sometimes you can even put all your entry tickets together (most nightclubs for where you pay entry fees will give you vouchers for a free drink) and get a whole bottle of local whiskey, just ask at the bar how many tickets are required for cheapest bottle of Thai rum.
Now, buckets are another economical way to enjoy the legendary party scene in Bangkok. Make sure you make the most of happy hours or ask for promotions (this also applies for regular cocktails and other spirits such as vodka), like three buckets for 400B, which means 135B per bucket if it’s three of you. Sometimes one bucket will be 200B alone or even 400B in some clubs.
Food in Bangkok
Now, you can save some serious cash on food. Food is really inexpensive in Bangkok and cheap food can be found literally everywhere. Avoid touristy traps and western restaurants like Italian or American cuisines. Korean and Japanese restaurants can be pricey too. Generally speaking, street food in Bangkok is incredible and most often, it’s the best food you can get in Bangkok, better than in restaurants, and what’s best you can get it for literally nothing. Cheapest dishes tend to be various broth soups like chicken noodle or Thai clear soup, fried rice dishes and instant noodle soups, you can also get dirty cheap barbecued meats on sticks like chicken wings, chicken thighs or pork fat. Chinatown has some incredible street food, and for me, probably the best one in whole of Bangkok. It’s not strictly Chinese food, it’s somewhat a fusion between Chinese and Thai and the seafood is legendary even amongst Thais themselves. If you want a good crab dish, you come to Chinatown.
If you do happen to crave western food, go to 7/11 where you can get toasties or cakes for next to nothing. Quite literally.
Sightseeing and generally doing things in Bangkok
Okay, you will probably want to see some sights in Bangkok. I don’t blame you, Bangkok’s temples are worth every penny, even if you’ll have to pay around 500B for an entry fee to the Grand Royal Palace. And yes, it might be the most expensive sight you’ll probably pay on this trip, it’s totally worth it and you simply have to do it. You have to do Wat Pho too, the temple with reclining Buddha, the entry fee to Wat Pho is reasonable and again worth every penny. Most temples in Bangkok are free so make sure you research beforehand which ones you’ll have to pay for and which ones are completely free. Most sights and activities in Bangkok are free, I recommend walking around so you get the sense of how life really is in Bangkok. I recommend walking along its many canals- khlongs- it really feels like an open-air museum.
Now some really valuable tips to bear in mind while in Bangkok…
- Never pay with big bank notes in bars like 500B and 1000B notes if you;re expecting some change back. They can scam you and say you only gave them 500B instead 1000B. Always go to 7/11 and get your money changed, they are really reliable there.
- Don’t use travel agents if you want to do any sort of sightseeing and especially don’t book any tours online (except the Elephant sanctuary in Kanchanaburi- you have to book for this tour online as they have limited spaces each day and it’s a very popular activity) try and make your way to those sights yourself, like getting buses or trains to places yourself.
- Always book train or bus tickets at the stations yourself, not through any travel agent as they charge around extra 100B or 200B for their own commission
- Haggling is the key here in Bangkok, you have to haggle for everything. Always go half of the price to what they initially suggested. Let’s say a bracelet is 200B, suggest 100B, and end up somewhere in the middle like 150B.
- Avoid scammers and people who try to sell you things- never pay entry fees to any temples you are not meant to pay entry fees for.
- If using taxis, make sure they use taxi meters.