Having lived purely on my fight purse in Thailand for over a year, I found myself in some pretty tight spots and had to constantly think of ways to make my money stretch further. At the level I was fighting at, money wasn’t easy to come by so I soon learned every trick in the book when it comes to making every penny count. Some of the tips are very basic and easy to implement, some are extreme. Do whatever is necessary to make your budget last the required amount of time. Of course, I could write a whole book on how to save money in Thailand, and there will be more in my later blog posts but here are a few to get you started.
Remember – If you want to maximise the time you spend in Thailand, you need to make sacrifices along the way. when you return home, will you remember that extra coffee you bought or the luxury apartment you stayed in? Or will you remember the extra couple of months training and the fight you had?
1. Travel to Thailand During Low Season
Visiting Thailand between April and September (low season) will cost you a lot less than in high season (October to March), particularly in the tourist areas. Accommodation, food, air fares and motorbike rental prices rocket during high season so if you are on a budget then you should avoid traveling during those months.
It is much easier to haggle the prices of accommodation during low season as many of the apartments will be empty around this time and the owners will want to get whatever business they can. Food in restaurants will also be cheaper and you will experience restaurants that have different price lists for high season and low season.
Travelling via taxis, train and bus will also become cheaper. I have actually haggled the price of motorbike rental down to a third of the price during low season. When booking air tickets you will instantly notice the price difference between high season and low season.
Low season is my favourite time of year in Thailand anyway, regardless of the difference in expenses!
2. Avoid Thailand’s Tourist Traps
When you step off of the plane in Bangkok, everything is affordable. When you climb into the north of the country such as Chiang Mai it’s even cheaper and it’s almost unbelievable that you can live with so little money. Another inexpensive option is to head to Udon Ratchathani in the north-east or Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south.
Then you hit the tourist areas. Although the islands down south are cheap compared to other places in the world they are relatively expensive when compared to other parts of Thailand.
Remember, any product you buy on an island has to be transported there from the mainland, either by plane or by boat so the price will inevitably be hiked.
Everything from rooms to restaurants, internet cafes to nightclubs are more expensive here. So, if you’re looking to save money in Thailand stay away from places like Phuket and Ko Samui and head off the beaten track.
3. Live in Chiang Mai
OK, the training in Chiang Mai isn’t on par with Bangkok or some other regions but it’s one of the cheapest places to live in Thailand, while having pretty much all of the creature comforts you would expect back home. You already know that travel is really cheap in Thailand and, if you find that you’ve over-spent your budget or you just want to squeeze an extra week or two out of you trip then you should definitely consider living in Chiang Mai. You can get a night bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for around 900 baht ($27), accommodation for 200 baht ($60) per month and Thai dishes for 30-40 baht ($1.20) each.
4. Don’t Rent Gym Accommodation! Go Back to Basics
Thai boxing gyms charge crazy prices for accommodation. They may have en-suite, air conditioning, TV etc. but that isn’t what you are paying for. You are paying for the location. So what if you have to drive a few extra miles to the gym every morning?? Rent a room a few miles from the gym and go back to basics.
The cheapest accommodation to go for is a 2 or 3 bedroom bungalow with fan rooms and share with friends. Alternatively, rent air conditioned accommodation where you pay bills separately and only use the A/C when you really need it.
As a tourist, you will probably be charged more for a room than you would if you were Thai. Try to get a Thai girl or a trainer from the gym to negotiate the price for you. You could even share rooms to cut costs further. I once rented out an abandoned wooden shack, painted it, bought a rug, threw a mattress in there and lived in it for a couple of months. Became known as “the love shack”. Good times!
I have a mate who have pitched a tent in the boxing ring and just slept in there too – no excuses for not turning up for training every morning and free accommodation. You could also travel in traditional Thai style and bed down in a local temple for free.
5. Cook Your Own Food
Apart from the times I was being sponsored by gyms and getting free food, I would cook all of my food in a rice cooker so I wouldn’t even have to eat out. A rice cooker can be bought for about 550 baht from Tesco, 1kg of chicken breast – 66 baht, 1kg of rice for 70 baht and veg will vary. Vegetables are actually the most expensive item on the list, rice costs next to nothing and chicken is so cheap that you feel really guilty eating it.
My average meal consisted of one steamed chicken breast, rice and vegetables and cost me 25 baht per meal. Apart from two of my mates that I lived with, I don’t even know many other westerners who have done this as it is so cheap to eat out but if you are on a tight budget then it is totally worth it. Even a cheap restaurant in the area, at that time of year, would have charged about 4 times the price for the same food.
6. Don’t buy VIP Muay Thai training sessions
“VIP” training sessions were invented purely to make extra money from westerners visiting muay Thai gyms. I’ve never paid for a VIP session (and probably never will) but when I watch other students receiving this private tuition, it looks like the exact same training as they are getting (or should be getting) in the group sessions.
If your goal is to get some extra conditioning work in then VIPs might be a viable option but if you aren’t being worked hard enough in group training and you feel the need for extra rounds then something is definitely wrong.
7. Don’t Get Scammed by Taxi Drivers
There are certain times and places in Thailand where you are expected to haggle. One of these times and places is when getting a taxi. A taxi driver will NEVER give you, a foreigner, a fair price. Quite often it will be doubled. The way around this is to get a “taxi meter” cab which has a built-in meter and is a cheaper price than a driver would otherwise quote you. Always make sure that these meters are on display before you set off as, quite often, they will cover the meter up with a cloth or other object!
If you are unsure of where you are going or how far it is, ask a local Thai you can trust (easier said than done) or another foreigner who has lived in the area for a while how much you should pay for a taxi to a specific location and refuse to pay any more than that price. Always agree the fare BEFORE getting into the taxi/tuk tuk/motorbike so that there is no confusion or arguments on arrival. If you are haggling for more than 30 seconds just walk off and you will usually hear “OK, OK..”…followed by the agreed price!
I have often arrived at my destination and handed the money over to the driver, only for him to start inventing “service” charges and add ons. Just refuse to pay him the extra money and leave the cab.
Remember – if you are only going a short distance and don’t have much luggage, a motorbike taxi is far cheaper than a car. Tuk tuks are usually somewhere in between.
In a lot of places in Thailand (mainly tourist spots like Phuket), Thais will see you as a walking $ sign. Therefore, you need to be prepared to haggle because the prices you get quoted are probably inflated due to the fact that you’re a foreigner and they think you have an endless amount of cash to spend. Markets are a good place to haggle, but you generally don’t haggle over food prices.
9. Travel Overnight/Travel Second Class
Overnight buses and trains will save you a whole lot. Firstly, the tickets are cheaper at this time because most people prefer travelling in the day. Secondly, you may be travelling for around 24 hours for a long trip so it also saves you spending money on a room for the night. Of course, the trips can be long and tiring but the air conditioned buses are actually really comfortable and easy to sleep in. All the normal conveniences are open when the bus stops off so you can get hot food, cold drinks etc. just like you would in the day time.
Trains are slightly cheaper but cover less routes than buses. If you are travelling on a budget then it goes without saying that you should avoid travelling by plane.
Travelling second class is hardly any different than travelling first class – except the price. OK, you may get a little more room and a weird kind of roll and a biscuit to eat, but that’s it. You’ll pay almost double for this privilege.
10. Rent a Motorbike
And if you don’t know how to ride one – learn! This will save you a lot of money depending how long you are in the area and is waaay more fun than getting taxis everywhere. You can usually rent a 125cc bike for between 3000 and 4000 baht per month depending on the bike and whether it is low season or high season. This is advisable in places like Phuket and Pattaya where the taxi system is largely corrupt and a total rip off. However, In Bangkok you’re better off using the awesome MRT and BTS system. It’s cheap AND it’s a lot safer.
11. Buy a Motorbike
If you are staying for more than a few months then it is worth investing in a bike. You can buy a 2 year-old Honda Click 125cc for 30,000 baht and sell it before you leave for almost the same price. If you think about it, 1 year of renting bikes in Thailand will end up costing you around 40,000 baht. You can buy a brand new bike for that.
Fuel is really cheap in Thailand but make sure you get a full tank from a station rather than buying it on bottles on the road side. This fuel is fine and is handy when you are running low but it is more expensive then the station.
Again this is more advisable outside of Bangkok.
Hitchhiking in Thailand is actually pretty easy and safe. There are a lot of motorbike riders and pick-up riders who will give you a ride but just make sure you are carrying a rain mac with you! The drivers won’t ask you for money but if you can tell that the person isn’t well-off then it would be polite to offer them money for gasoline or some food.
Some awesome experiences can be had when hitch-hiking from place to place in Thailand. The open-mindedness of other foreigners there makes it easy to catch a ride and gives you a chance to meet locals and other westerners.
13. Avoid Western Food
This is a really simple way of saving yourself a lot of money with little effort (in theory). All foreign food in Thailand is overpriced due to import expenses and doesn’t even taste that nice. If you’ve ever tried a pizza, fried breakfast or pretty much anything else in Thailand then you’ll know what I mean. Eat like the locals; Thailand is a haven for lazy people who don’t want to cook their own food. There will always be cheap local food nearby at a market or in a restaurant.
14. Don’t Leave Tips
Thais don’t expect tips so don’t bother leaving one. This may sound strange and really tight-fisted depending on where you come from but I’m from the UK and it’s not really expected there either. Plus, I’m a cheap-skate.
15. Get Drunk on Beer and Whiskey From 7/11
I’m not advising spending money on alcohol to save money but we’ve all got to have some down-time, right? Bars and clubs will charge you in excess of 100 baht a drink. The same bottle of beer from 7/11 will cost you 35 baht and the big bottles will cost 55 baht. A small “shoulder” bottle of whiskey will cost you 250 baht; mix it with a bottle of coke and a bottle of M-150 and job’s a gooden! Thailand’s bars also have many happy hours and have half-priced drinks and 2-for-1 specials so take advantage of this.
16. Don’t Buy Water From Shops
Fill your water bottle from one of the machines outside Tesco for 1 baht per litre. Either that or pay 10x or 20x the price in a shop. You’ll pay even more for sports drinks or fizzy drinks.
17. Avoid Paying Fees For Tourist Attractions
There are so many things to do in Thailand without having to pay for the privilege. Get together with a group of friends, rent a bike and go and explore.
18. Don’t Pay Excessive Charges For Withdrawing Cash
Avoid making small ATM withdrawals when you need cash. Take out larger amounts and keep it locked away in your room so you don’t charged 350 baht just for withdrawing 1,000 baht. If you get charged every time you exchange a travelers cheque then order larger denominations.
If you use a bank card and are charged a flat fee for withdrawing money, make fewer but larger withdrawals. If you have to pay a fee each time you exchange a Travelers Check or cash, order larger denominations before you come.
19. Don’t Get Fined By The Thai Police
This is easier said than done but there are steps you can take to avoid coughing up the 500 baht every time you drive past a copper. In places like Phuket, Pattaya and Chiang Mai, the Thai police will target foreigners to provide them with cash for things like not wearing a helmet or not carrying your driver’s licence. The cops don’t get paid well (apparently) so they use this money to top up their wages by creating road blocks on busy roads where they know unsuspecting tourists will be heading. Always wear a helmet and always carry a licence. This may not always be enough as they may try and find something else to fine you for but this should greatly reduce your chances of being pulled over in the first place.
It’s also been known for westerners to get fined for dropping cigarette butts on the ground so don’t litter either. Thais will get away with a lot more than westerners so just be careful.
20. Keep Track of Spending
Sounds obvious but it’s so easy to allow spending to spiral out of control when you’re having fun. Keep track of your spending with a simple app or notepad on your phone as you’re going along. Remember, if your plan is to stay abroad until you run out of cash then that extra $10 you spend could be one day less in Thailand.
And the most important tip on how to save money in Thailand…Become a Thai!
Most of the tips you see here are really just one and the same thing; do what the Thais do. The easiest way to save money in Thailand is to simply live like a local. Most of the expenses we incur as a foreigner are to pay for things that we have become accustomed to in our own country. The answer is simple – stop thinking like a foreigner and start thinking like a Thai.Follow MuayThaiScholar