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Bangkok is a backpacker’s dream, with inexpensive accommodation, bargain street eats and cheap Changs. No small wonder it is often a traveller’s first time foray into Asia. After several backpacking excursions in Bangkok on a tight budget, here is our Backpacking in Bangkok guide on how to make your Thai Baht go a little further and save money in Thailand:
Backpacking in Bangkok:
OK, it is given that you’ll be visiting 7-Eleven during your time in Thailand. We LOVE 7-Eleven. Literally the first thing we do after checking into our hotel or hostel when first arriving after a long flight from the UK is run across the street to the nearest branch (there is ALWAYS a branch across the street from wherever you are staying). Feel the reassuring ice-cold air con tingling on the back of your next as you grab a four pack of ice-cold Changs.
They also have a fantastic selection of ready meals (like nothing in the UK, putting M&S to shame!) which they’ll also heat for you in the microwave behind the counter, plus the finest crisps and cup noodle selections you’ll likely encounter (green pea crisps are the best).
7-Eleven also do lots of weekly deals, plus you can collect the character stamps they give you to get money off future purchases. To note there are other similar chain convenience stores available (like Family Mart), but none do the retail experience
Backpacking in Bangkok – eating out
So the obvious choice here is to head to the street food traders, where you can get everything from the mundane (pad thai) through to the more exotic (fried insects on sticks) for less than a quid. Our favourite foodie spots include the new Rot Fai and Ratchada train night markets, Wang Lang market, Chinatown and Chatuchak weekend market.
Food courts in shopping centres/malls also offer very good value for money – our favourite and best value food court used to be MBK food court but it seems to have gone off the boil lately. Our current preferred food court fare is Pier 21 in Terminal 21 – the food here is stupidly cheap with lots of variety including several dedicated vegetarian buffet stalls. There is also a huge variety of different budget chain restaurants in this shopping centre dotted around the several themed floors.
Oodles of cheap noodle stalls can be found in backpacker haven Khao San Road (but stick to the street traders away from the main drag – much cheaper and more authentic).
Another new (ish) tip is a rather neat app called Eatigo, which we used several times in Bangkok. This apps allows you to book places at restaurants in advance and get up to 50% off the bill (although the discount will more likely be around 20 – 30% during peak dining hours.
We like this app as you it’ll show you all the places with discounts in your local vicinity – we’ve stayed in several hotels (e.g. Ibis Riverside Bangkok, Chatrium Riverside Bangkok) where we’ve decided on impulse to eat lunch or dinner at the hotel and just book a place an hour before on the Eatigo app, giving us half off the total bill – cash back!
Backpacking in Bangkok – drinking
The obvious choice here is to buy your own beers from the chiller cabinets at convenience stores like 7-Eleven and take it to the prettiest spot you can find. Note: you are not able to buy alcohol from stores between 2pm and 5pm, but we’ve seen a lot of restaurants flaut this rule, and serve you beer in plain cups during this restricted period.
Buying beers in multipacks and looking out for the weekly offers in 7-Eleven can also stretch your beer budget a little further. We aren’t big spirit drinkers but Hong Thong and Mekhong whiskey bottles can be purchased from stores (behind the counter) quite cheaply.
Bangkok also has more Happy Hours than you can shake a stick at – backpacker haven Khao San Road being one of the best.
We often go to rooftop bars during their happy hours, as their normal cocktail prices can be a little steep – some of the best we’ve been to include the Long Room (although views are a little restricted) and Octave Bar at Marriot Sukhumvit (amazing 360 degree views).
The red light district of Soi Cowboy is also worth a visit (purely as a spectator, and more accessible than Nana) and has lots of cheap happy hours up until about 10pm where you can sit outside and watch the world go by.
Backpacking in Bangkok – Transport
Public transport and Grab (the Asia equivalent of Uber) are the way to go when Backpacking in Bangkok. If you do get a taxi from the street or hotel foyer, make sure it is metered one so that you don’t get ripped off (and make sure you ask the driver at the start of the journey to turn on the meter if it is off). Also avoid travelling during the morning and evening rush hours as traffic is notoriously bad in Bangkok – you have been warned!
Grab is widely used by both tourists and locals, and the fares are really cheap! Download the Grab app here and use the code GRABCKTRAVELS to earn a free ride when you sign up.
If you want to spend the day exploring the Chao Phraya river incuding sites like the Grand Palace and Lhong 1912 (the latter is free and well worth your time), don’t pay the exorbitant price of the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat (boat with blue flag) and instead jump on the local river ferries with an orange flag as they are more frequent and much cheaper (cost 15 baht per journey).
SkyTrain and MRT
There are 2 train systems in place in Bangkok to get you around quickly and cheaply, and are in our opinion the most convenient ways to travel around the city.
The first is the BTS Skytrain which is an elevated train system with two separate lines. A single journey ranges from 15-60 baht, but you can also purchase a one day pass for the BTS for 140 Baht (just over £3), which works out cheaper than single rides if you are planning an epic day of sightseeing.
The second is the MRT which is the Bangkok subway – an underground network system which runs separately to the skytrain (you will need to buy separate tickets). The MRT has 2 different lines and connects with the BTS at 5 different stops.
Note: when booking internal flights, you will find that flying from Don Mueang (the Air Asia terminal) might be a little cheaper, but remember to add in the cost of a taxi going to and from this airport (there is no frequent railway line to Don Mueang yet, apart from a couple of slow trains a day).
We often opted to pay a little extra and fly to the main Suvarnabhumi airport, so we can get the cheap airport express line back into Bangkok city.
Discounted Guided Tours
The general rule here is that unless it is a trip you know will definitely sell out in advance, it is best to walk around your local area in Bangkok when you first arrive and see which tourist office is selling your particular trip the cheapest (some streets have several tourist vendors next to each other so prices are competitive).
We also booked several of our trips through discount sites like Travelzoo, Klook and KK Day, all of which offer substantial discounts. Make sure you double check the descriptions though as itineraries can vary – we once did a day trip to the Bangkok floating markets via Travelzoo and our itinerary ended up being very different than advertised. We wrote and complained to Travelzoo and after finding it was a local operator error, we were refunded the entire cost of the trip.
Thailand has a lot of budget accommodation and there is a huge variety of great and affordable hostels all over Bangkok.
Khao San Road is the place to go when backpacking in Bangkok – it was made famous for being a location in the film The Beach. Here you will find an abundance of very cheap hostels and hotels, plus budget friendly bars and restaurants – it’s the perfect place for travellers who enjoy nightlife and making friends!
Although hostels are the cheapest way to go (especially dorms) when backpacking in Bangkok, we like our creature comforts and try to stay in hotels. We always book our rooms several months in advance, which means that the rates we get are generally half of what you would pay if you were booking the month or week before.
We mostly book via ebookers as you get cashback with every trip, two free airport lounge passes a year, plus we also often find additional 10-15% promo codes on top. Many hotels are also cancellable for free, in case your plans change.
We often stay in the riverside area of Bangkok, as the access to all the main attractions is easy via the river ferry / Saphan Taksin BTS, but the hotels are comparitively cheap, plus with stunning water views.
Other great locations that have a wide range of hotel options include Chinatown, Sukhumvit and Silom. Here are some other recommendations for mid range hotels: Shanghai Mansion Bangkok / 12th Avenue Hotel / Rembrandt Hotel & Suites.
Tip: why not try mixing staying in both hostels and hotels during your stay in Bangkok? Stay a few nights in a cheap dorm, then treat yourself to a night in a more flash hotel with luxury swimming pool (with the Bangkok heat – you’ll pat yourself on the back for doing this).
You haven’t been to Bangkok unless you’ve bought a cheap Chang or Singha T-shirt (probably) and the cheapest places we found for purchasing these were in Chatuchak weekend market plus the stalls off Khao San Road.
Haggling is expected but we’ve seen too waaaay too many backpackers try to get unrealistic discounts and infuriate the stall holders. Remember that a little haggling is fine but don’t be a dick and try and get something for next to nothing. Stall holders need to make a living too and a win win situation will be when you get your souvenir slightly reduced and you both walk away with a price you are happy at.
If you are in Bangkok around mid April then you are in luck as it’s Songkran Thai water festival! Songkran lasts 3 days and is great for backpackers as it is a very cheap experience (you’ll need to purchase some inexpensive water guns and waterproof bags!).
Having data on your phone whilst travelling is almost essential these days – from planning your route around the city, booking a Grab taxi or for staying connected with friends and family back home. SIM cards are pretty cheap in Thailand with generous data allowances and are available to purchase from both of Bangkok’s airports, malls and 7-Elevens (bring your passport along for identification purposes).
You can also prepay online and collect a SIM from Suvarnabhumi Airport, Don Muang Airport or Siam Centre. Just remember to make sure your phone is not locked to your local network provider before purchasing one.
Did we miss anything. We are already planning our next trip back to Bangkok so let us know if you have any more thoughts…
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