5 Simple Ways to Stretch Baht When Traveling or Staying in Thailand
Thailand is known to many as one of the best deals for your dollar as far as international travel goes, and indeed, you can come here and live like a rock star for about 2 weeks with $1000 in your pocket. Hell, I’ve lived extremely comfortably with that much money for a whole month and well enough on HALF of that.
But today’s backpacker, young expat, or senior on a dwindling pension are looking for ways to get even more out of their dollar. Not because it isn’t dirt cheap already but because, let’s face it, we want to hold off the trip back home as long as possible.
Here are 5 simple ways to get some leverage and cut way back on your travel budget so you can spend just a little more time in the Land of Smiles.
1. Cut Back on Drinking
I would say that number one, without an ounce of doubt, is to cut back on the alcohol. Most things in Thailand are far cheaper than back home—the most obvious being the food and the lodging.
Those two alone are responsible for why Thailand is such a bargain, but alcohol prices aren’t all that different. Drinks are a little bit cheaper, but not that much cheaper, and when you’re on vacation there is a serious urge to spend every single night in the bar (or was that just me?).
So make an obligation to yourself to only spend a certain number of nights in the bar if setting a strict budget isn’t possible. Also, you can save a lot by choosing when or where you drink. Thai bars are typically 2 or 3 times as cheap than the backpacker bars, and a bottle of Sangsum among friends at the beach goes a long way towards a good time.
2. Watch Where You Eat
Another place to easily save money is on the food. You’ve typically got 3 different price ranges in Thailand for restaurants. The super cheap street-food and bare-bones restaurants that charge about 30-40 baht per dish. These are the ones you see most Thais eating at, especially during the daytime, and many close in the early evening, although if you know where to go you can always eat this cheap.
Then you’ve got the mid range restaurants where most meals are about 60 baht per dish—and twice that or more for seafood dishes. On big tourist islands, the prices for the mid-range will be quite a bit higher.
Then, finally, you’ve got the fancy restaurants where you’ll very rarely find a meal under 100 baht and it may be as much as 300 or more per dish. Of course, it goes even higher for fancy restaurants in Bangkok. The point is obviously to stick with the low end.
Whether or not I’m strapped for cash, I personally eat in the basic Thai restaurants for all my meals unless I’m out with friends or want to treat myself on the weekends. I like to save my money and my “cheat meals” for when I’m socializing, so to me that just makes sense. And the rest of the week I’m making it by on about 90-120 baht per day for food. Pretty solid.
3. Shut Off the A/C
If you’re paying your own electric bill, you will find out that air conditioning in Thailand, especially in the hot season (they are all pretty hot, by the way) can really shock you. You’ll learn the hard way that the electric bill can multiply by 3 or 4 on any given month when the hot season hits and you didn’t even really expect it.
For a while, I sort of just took it as it came, and finally, after months of paying way too much for an air conditioner that wasn’t even really doing its job, I broke down. People had been telling me all along that a fan could be just as good, but I shrugged it off, thinking, “Yeah, right.
Boy, was I wrong. I bought one nice little fan at Carrefour and I never have problems anymore. The air conditioner was working so poorly I was drowning in my sleep, but now, with the fan, I keep my covers on. And if your bill stays low enough, you pay nothing at all.
4. Drive a Motorbike
Forget the dangerous, exhaust spewing, expensive tuk tuks and rent yourself a cheap, not-as-much-exhaust-spewing, possibly more dangerous motorbike and you can save a mess of money. I rent my motorbike for 1500 baht per month. If you’re here for the short term, you’ll pay 200 baht per day, but that’s still a lot cheaper than taking tuk tuks—not to mention it gives you a lot more freedom and saves haggling with shady drivers.
If you’re a little turned off by the risks of driving motorbikes in Thailand—and you have plenty of reason to be—stay in a walkable area and save the transportation costs all together. Make sure there are markets, a beach, shopping, and restaurants nearby—you won’t need much more than that.
And when you’ve got something further away that you absolutely must see, rent a motorbike for a day or get into the songtheaws, which are far cheaper than tuk tuks.
5. Get a Long-term Apartment
Finally, you can save a lot on already cheap lodging by staying in one place for a month or more and getting a real apartment. Some places even rent out bungalows or hotel rooms at monthly rates, and it’s always a deep discount—not all do, but don’t think just because they say no and are rude about it that it isn’t the norm.
Staying in the city becomes cheaper in plenty of other ways too. You get to know where all the cheap places are and don’t feel like you need to go out every night as you get to know the nightlife. Not to mention that, as I always say, you get way more out of a trip to Thailand or anywhere else in the world if you stick to one location and really get to know the lay of the land.