The cost of living in Thailand and Bangkok is a highly contested subject; long-term expats complain that prices are skyrocketing, whilst first time tourists are left in awe of how cheap everything is as they chow-down their $1 plates of fried rice outside their $10-a-night guestrooms.
The truth is, living in Thailand – or more specifically, Bangkok – can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it. Whilst that might seem like an easy answer, the price spectrum between budget and luxury is often huge.
To give you an idea about the cost of living in Thailand and how much you should budget for your holiday, we’ve given some price comparisons below, including eating, shopping, sightseeing and most importantly, beer!
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Tour
- Banyan Tree's Apsara Dinner Cruise
- Vertigo & Moon Bar Rooftop Dining
- Ayutthaya Ancient Capital Tour with River Cruise
- Shangri-La Hotel's Buffet Dinner Cruise
- Bridge on the River Kwai & Historic Railway Tour
- Siam Niramit Dinner Show
- Calypso Bangkok Cabaret Show
- Chao Phraya River Dinner Cruise
- Grand Palace & Emerald Buddha Half-Day Tour
Hotel for the Night
Those wondering about the cost of living in Thailand should rest assured that hotels here are cheap, meaning your budget is going to get you so much more than in most other major capital cities. Modern, clean and safe dorm rooms start from as little as 300 baht ($10), economy private double rooms start from around 1,000 baht ($30), and you can often steal a luxurious five-star room for less than 3,000 baht ($100) a night!
There’s usually a direct correlation between how run-down a Thai restaurant looks and the price of the food. Look out for plastic chairs, stained table cloths, and open air-cooking in a greasy kitchen to find the cheapest prices (yet often the best taste!) Street food starts at 30-60 baht and you’ll pay closer to 100 baht per dish if the restaurant is shiny, new and has air-conditioning. Some of the more upscale and creative Thai restaurants in Bangkok can charge more like 2,000 baht per head for a set dinner.
To make things fair, we’ve used a good old bottle of Singha (small) as a comparison. The most expensive places to drink Thailand’s famous beer offer premium service, a refined ambiance and often present stunning views over the city, whilst if you go for a more budget-friendly option, you’ll be lucky to get a roof over your head.
Bottle of small Singha:
SHOPS AND DIVE BARS: 45 baht from 7/11; 70 baht at Cheap Charlie’s Bar (Sukhumvit 11)
COOL BARS AND PUBS: 100 baht at Tuba Bar (Ekkamai 21); 95 baht at The Dubliner (Sukhumvit 33)
ROOFTOP BARS: 199 baht (after service and VAT) at Above Eleven (Sukhumvit 11)
Travel (Bus, BTS, Taxi)
The cost of living in Thailand can be greatly influenced by the amount you spend on travel, which is just as true for anyone taking a short holiday. When getting around Bangkok, there are several options, including the bus, BTS Skytrain, MRT Underground, taxis or private taxi companies.
BUS: Buses in Bangkok 7-22 baht per journey
SKYTRAIN: BTS Skytrain 15-45 baht per journey
TAXI: Taxis (starting fee of 35 baht + 2 baht per kilometer or 1.25 baht per metre when moving under 6 km per hour)
There seems to be an ever-increasing trend of nightclubs in Bangkok charging entrance fees, often only for tourists. Whilst this might seen unfair, the fee of 200-500 baht almost always includes drinks vouchers, so you’ll usually re-cooperate your money back by the end of the night. Find the cheapest places to party around Khao San Road with the swarms of backpackers, or head to Thonglor to find a dressed up, hi-so local and expat crowd.
BUDGET: The Club (Khao San, 250 baht + 1 drink); Brick Bar (Khao San, 150 baht + 1 drink), Lava Club (Khao San, free entry).
MID RANGE: Levels Club (Sukhumvit 11, free entry but more expensive drinks!)
Thankfully for holiday makers, even the more expensive day drips and tours are relatively affordable, and most of the entrance fees to major attractions are just a few hundred baht. The added cost of an experienced tour guide can be well worth it, especially if you’re new in a strange city and looking to learn more about the place you’re visiting.
DO IT YOURSELF: Walk (free!) Entrance fees to main tourist attractions: Grand Palace 500 baht; Jim Thompson House 100 baht; Wat Pho 100 baht; Wat Arun 100 baht; Markets, free!
Head to any outdoor market and you’re guaranteed cheap prices; even lower if you try your hand at a spot of bargaining. Popular items such as sunglasses, flip flops, jewelry, t-shirts, wallets, hats, bags, postcards, headphones, ornaments, toiletries and stationary can all be found for less than 100 baht, depending on quality. Expect prices to jump as soon as you step foot inside one of the city’s shiny new malls, with international clothing and electrical brands offering the same sort of prices as anywhere else in the world.
Travelling around Thailand
More good news for visitors on a tight budget: travelling around Thailand is cheap and easy! The most affordable way to escape Bangkok is by heading to one of the nearby beach destinations via minivan (departing daily from Victory Monument). Those looking to go further afield to Chiang Mai in the north or the islands in the south also have the option of getting a cheap overnight bus or train, with tickets costing as little as 500 baht. Domestic flights can also be snapped up typically for around 1,000-3,000 baht.
SHORT TRIP: Minivan from Victory Monument to Pattaya (97 baht), Hua Hin (180 baht), Rayong (160 baht), Kanchanaburi (120 baht).
OVER NIGHT TRIP: Overnight bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, 500-800 baht; overnight bus + ferry Bangkok to Koh Samui 800-1,200 baht
FLY: Thailand-based airlines including Air Asia, Nok Air, Thai Smile, Bangkok Airways, and Orient Thai have flights running daily from Bangkok to Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui, Surat Thani, and Chiang Mai; prices typically vary between 1,000-3,000 baht for a one way flight, although can be bought even cheaper than this during sales.
Renting Bikes, Scooters and Cars
Renting your own set of wheels in Thailand is common, with many shops dotted around tourist hotspots specialising in car and motorbike rentals. By law, you are required to own a full driver’s license and most places will require you to leave your passport as a form of deposit (at your own risk).
BICYCLE RENTAL: Some guesthouses around the quieter tourist areas in Thailand (such as Chiang Mai, Pai, Ayutthaya, Sukhothai or on an island) offer bicycle rentals, which usually cost as little as 50-100 baht per day.
SCOOTER RENTAL: Motorbike and scooter rentals are typically between 250-400 baht per day in Thailand, depending on the model. (Please note that renting a motorbike in Bangkok is not recommended).
CAR RENTAL: Daily car rentals in Thailand are typically between 800 -2,500 baht per day. Read more about top rentals in Bangkok here.