As any budget backpacker or luxury traveler will tell you, there's something indescribably special about the city of Bangkok. True, the sights and sounds can be an all-out assault on your senses and the city might even take some getting used to. But really, it's all apart of Bangkok's charm.
From awe-inspiring temples and towering shrines to mammoth shopping malls – best used as air-conditioned reprieves from the Thai heat – and exclusive rooftop bars, Bangkok seamlessly blends the ancient and modern. And when it comes to good eats, Bangkok's world-beating street food scene is there for you into the early morning hours.
Because Bangkok can be a bit daunting for first-time visitors, we've put together this travel guide to show you how to visit Bangkok on a budget.
Bangkok on a budget: Know before you go
Tuk tuks are for tourists
We're sorry to break the news to you. But at the same time: Who cares?!
True, tuk tuks are much more expensive than a taxi or Grab (Southeast Asia's premier rideshare company) and it's definitely not good for your travel budget to use them as your main source of getting around. But if you've always wanted to take a ride and grab your own tuk tuk selfie, we're not here to judge.
Make sure your taxi uses the meter
Taxis are required by law to use their meters but many drivers will still try to charge tourists an inflated flat rate. Especially if you're getting picked up in front of a hotel or major tourist attraction. Ask your driver to use the meter. If they refuse, politely exit the vehicle and find another taxi. There will almost certainly be one close by. If not, download the Grab app and call a ride that way.
Bring water, drink water
Because average temperatures in Bangkok can exceed 90º, it's important that you stay hydrated. Carry a water bottle with you, as you cannot drink the tap water in Thailand, and drink more than you think is necessary. If you don't have a reusable bottle or can't find a reliable refill station, rest assured that you're never far from a 711 in Bangkok.
Free and cheap things to do in Bangkok
Visit the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
If you want to experience Thailand’s famously colorful and ornate temples, there’s no better place to do that than the Grand Palace. This sprawling complex consists of the former residence of Thai Royalty, as well as Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), the most sacred Buddhist temple in the country that houses a sacred 15th century Emerald Buddha statue. With a 500 baht (approximately $16) entrance fee, the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew complex isn't exactly a budget attraction, but it's a small price to pay for one of Thailand's most impressive sites.
Tip: Arrive early. Before the gates open, if you can. As one of Bangkok’s most popular attractions, tour buses often bring throngs of tourists here as their first stop in the city. You’re going to want to beat the rush.
See the massive reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
Wat Pho (pronounced “Po”) is just a 10-minute walk from the Grand Palace, making it an easy addition to your itinerary. The entire complex here is worth your time, as it’s home to the largest collection of Buddha images in all of Thailand. But the main draw of Wat Pho is the massive golden reclining Buddha, which measures an astonishing 151 feet long and 50 feet high.
Embrace your inner backpacker on Khao San Road
Bangkok’s famous Khao San Road has long been considered to be the center of the budget backpacker universe. It’s a disorienting, bustling road filled with travelers from all over the world, each making a pilgrimage that’s long been on their bucket lists.
Khao San Road is filled with hostels, night clubs, restaurants, kitschy T-shirt vendors, and street food stalls serving everything from pad thai and mango sticky rice to deep-fried scorpions.
As word of Khao San Road has gotten out, travelers have certainly developed a love/hate relationship with it. Some feel that Khao San Road represents all things “touristy” and lacks authenticity. Others contend that Khao San’s complete embrace of budget travelers is what makes it so uniquely special. Either way, anyone traveling to Bangkok should take a stroll down Khao San and decide for themselves.
Sharpen your bargaining skills at the Chatuchak Weekend Market
As the largest market in Thailand, you can find everything you’d ever need or want inside of the sprawling Chatuchak Weekend Market. Stocked with one-of-a-kind souvenirs, beautiful antiques, possibly-knock-off designer clothing, and even pets, you’re not likely to leave Chatuchak empty-handed. And once you’ve worked up an appetite from shopping alongside throngs of Thai locals, you can duck into one of the food stalls serving a variety of delicious, budget friendly eats.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to haggle at the market! It’s perfectly normal and all a part of the dance in Thailand. Just remember to remain friendly and try learning a few Thai numbers. You may score a better deal!
Where to stay on a budget in Bangkok
Novotel Bangkok Sukhumvit 20
The new Sukhumvit location of this chic hotel chain is the perfect place to stay if you plan on seeing Bangkok on foot. Novotel Bangkok Sukhumvit 20 is located near the bustling Sukhumvit Road, one of Bangkok’s most popular areas and a hotspot for nightlife and dining. Inside, the hotel has all the features you’d expect from a quality city hotel, including modern rooms, a rooftop restaurant, and an infinity pool.
Bangkok Tree House
Situated on the banks of the Chao Praya River and surrounded by trees, Bangkok Tree House is a nature escape in the middle of a city that is always on the go. As its name suggests, the draw of this popular Bangkok accommodation is the unique setting, as it can only be reached by a 3-minute boat ride. Inside the eco-friendly hotel, wood, and bamboo accents make the rooms feel as though they’re a part of the surrounding nature. After waking up amongst the palm trees, enjoy a free breakfast along the waterfront.
Mad Monkey Hostel
It’s all about the social scene at Mad Monkey. This famous budget friendly hostel is the number one place to go if you’re a backpacker looking to mingle with other travelers. Mad Monkey has an outdoor pool, an on-site bar and restaurant, and both dorm and private room options. The hostel is also located less than 10 minutes from Khao San Road, the center of the backpacker universe, so you’re just a short walk away from the action but just far enough to not be disturbed.
Cheap flights to Bangkok
Recently, Dollar Flight Club members have saved between 70-90% on cheap flights to Bangkok. On average, our members spent $447 on their tickets to Bangkok and saved over $550 per ticket.
Here are a few samples of cheap flight deals that Dollar Flight Club members have received recently.
Newark (EWR) to Bangkok (BKK)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $508
Average Price: $1150
Toronto (YYZ) to Bangkok (BKK)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $362
Average Price: $900
Los Angeles (LAX) to Bangkok (BKK)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $379
Average Price: $887
Best cheap eats in Bangkok
Most Bangkok food guides will point you to the famous (and absolutely delicious) Jay Fai restaurant, but with lines that last hours and a need for reservations weeks in advance, it might not be the best pick for budget eats in Bangkok. Luckily, as one of the world’s best street food cities, Bangkok is absolutely packed with other delicious, budget-friendly food options.
For decades, the small restaurant known as Thipsamai has held the unofficial crown of “best Pad Thai” in Bangkok – no small honor in a city packed with incredible food and discerning locals.
As with many places, the combination of popularity, internet reviews, and blogs (like this one) has led to long lines and wait times. But believe us when we tell you that this place is worth the wait. Plus, the line moves pretty quickly, especially if you choose to take away.
There are several Pad Thai variations on the menu that range from about 75 to 400 baht (approximately $2.50-$13). The recommended Original Superb Pad Thai, made with shrimp, prawns, and wrapped in a thin layer of egg, is a perfect budget pick at just 120 baht ($4). Just don’t forget to wash it down with a bottle of their sweet and tangy fresh squeezed orange juice!
Som Tam Jay So
Located in the Silom business district, Som Tam Jay So is an unassuming Bangkok restaurant that specializes in food from Isaan (Northeast Thailand). As the name suggests, the main star of the show here is the beloved Thai dish Som Tam, a vibrant, intensely flavorful salad made of shredded green papaya salad, garlic, fish sauce, palm sugar, and a generous amount of chilis. In addition to their famous Som Tam, customers love the smoky grilled chicken wings and beautifully grilled and marinated pork neck.
Because Som Tom Jay So is filled with Bangkok’s office workers and neighborhood locals (expect a wait around lunch time) instead of tourists, the prices are incredibly budget friendly. Expect to pay about 17 baht (approximately 50 cents) per chicken wing and 50-60 baht for other dishes.
Yaoworat Road in Chinatown
In the foodie paradise that is Bangkok, Yaowarat road in Chinatown is the place to be once the sun goes down. Come nightfall in this bustling, neon-lit neighborhood, the street and sidewalks fill with tiny tables, plastic stools, and street vendors as far as the eye can see.
With countless options for cheap, delicious food, it’s hard to have a bad meal in these parts, even on a budget. Highlights include seafood dishes, Thai classics, Chinese cuisine, and noodles just about every which way (if you like spicy, try the spicy, garlicky pad kee mao AKA drunken noodles).
Start planning your trip to Bangkok
Bangkok is an incredible city with something for every traveler and every budget. You can live off the most delicious street food you've ever had for just $1 or you can treat yourself to a world-class Michelin-starred restaurant. Haggle at the market for kitschy-but-classic tourist elephant pants or get a custom suit made. Bangkok is truly what you make it.
So before you cross Bangkok off of your bucket list, be sure to save this budget travel guide, and sign up for cheap flight alerts today!
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BY: ZACH ANDERSON, CONTENT MARKETING & FLIGHT EXPERT
Zach is a digital marketer, copywriter, and flight deal expert at Dollar Flight Club where he helps 1 million people travel more. As a digital nomad, he is deeply passionate about location independence, Thai food, and helping others see the world affordably.