Bangkok is a beating metropolis that’s filled with golden pagodas and sizzling street-food stalls, vast temples and sprawling floating markets. It’s hardly a surprise that it’s a regular on intrepid traveler’s bucket lists. But the Thai capital also doesn’t have to break the bank. It’s been a haven for backpackers and hippy globetrotters since the 1970s. With more affordable hostels and wallet-friendly food bazaars than you can shake your peanut-infused noodles at, there are loads of ways to explore Bangkok on a budget!
It’s true that many will be drawn to the city for the high-class hotels and elegant sky bars that have popped up in areas like Sukhumvit. This guide will steer away from those, into the immersive food courts where you can eat for just a handful of baht and the low-key backpacker drinkeries with their enticing happy hour deals. It’s also got info on some of the free-to-see attractions in the great capital, including mystical Buddhist shrines and tropical urban gardens.
Let’s get started…
Things to do in Bangkok on a budget
Just because you don’t have tons of money to spend, Bangkok doesn’t have to be boring. The city offers a host of exciting activities for everyone. If you’re into history, you will be blown away by the beauty of Bangkok’s palaces and temples. If you enjoy experiencing culture through food, Bangkok is home to many delicious, traditional Thai dishes that can be enjoyed in authentic restaurants or as on-the-go street food. For those who prefer a holiday of leisure, this city has some incredible shopping malls and nature spots that are easily accessible by public transport. There really is something for everyone. Let’s take a look at what you can do without dipping too far into the budget…
The Grand Palace
If you want to experience culture in Bangkok, be sure to head to the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace is a complex of age-old buildings in the centre of Bangkok – right at the heart of this vibrant city. It’s the official residence of the Kings of Siam, and has been since 1782! Although the king does not permanently live here anymore, the palace is still used for official events.
The majestic landmark is located on the side of the Chao Phraya River, on Rattanakosin Island. It covers a combined area of 218,400 square metres and includes all sorts of eye-catching structures and areas:
- The Temple of the Emerald Buddha – the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand, located in the outer court of the palace.
- Siwalai Gardens Quarter – A stunning garden filled with decorative hedges, flowers, and traditional ornamentation.
- Chakri Maha Prasat Buildings – A traditional building containing an impressive display of ancient weaponry. Also houses the royal guards.
The highlight of the Grand Palace is unquestionably the Temple of the Emerald Buddha extraordinary building is only partly open to the public and is considered sacred all over Thailand. Visitors are required to dress respectfully. This means that both men and women can’t wear vests or any clothing that reveals shoulders, midriff, back or ankles. Oh – no flip-flops, either! (Aussies, we’re looking at you!). If you do not arrive in the correct attire, a small fee can be paid to borrow clothing from the entrance of the palace. The palace is open as a museum and costs 500 baht (around $16 dollars) to enter.
The Chao Phraya River
The Chao Phraya River is one of the major rivers of Thailand. It is known to many as ‘The River of Kings’, and is a vital resource to many of the residents of the Land of Smiles, who earn a living thanks to its waters. As well as being a lifeline for many residents in Bangkok, the river is a must-see for any tourists who want to experience the real Bangkok. Chao Phraya River allows people to travel through the city via canal boat. It’s a relaxing and alternative way to get through the central districts. But, most of all, it’s cheap – just a handful of baht is enough to get you from one end of town to the next!
Many people explore the waters onboard various public ferries. The include the Chao Phraya express, which starts from just 10 baht per ride (that’s only 33 cents!). From the river, you will be able to see an array of spectacular attractions. Keep your eyes peeled for visions of soaring Wat Arun, the Grand Palace, and the vast marketplace of Wang Lang on the eastern banks.
Lumpini Park (also spelt Lumphini Park) is a spectacular green space, one of the largest of its kind in central Bangkok. The park covers an impressive 500,000 square metres and houses a variety of unique plants and trees and animals. This park is the perfect location for a relaxing afternoon in the sun. Many local residents enjoy using the park for jogging, walking, picnicking, or simply spending time with friends and family. The atmosphere in the park is lively but still makes for a restful break from the busy city.
The people watching in these parts is second to none. It is common to see elderly people practising Muay Thai, couples splashing around the waters on paddle boats, or young children enjoying themselves in the playgrounds.
On top of all that, classical orchestra and Jazz groups often perform in outdoor concerts. They’re usually free of charge for those who want to be serenaded in the sun. Simply strolling around means encounters with beautiful rivers and pristine lawns threaded with palm trees. It is completely free to enter the park, too, so spot on for those looking to do Bangkok on a budget.
Where to eat in Bangkok on a budget
Bangkok is hailed as the street-food capital of the world! You won’t have to look far to find a soy-scented cookhouse or a roadside noodle chef whipping up some seriously tasty dishes. Here are the places to look out for when you’re aiming to do Bangkok on a budget…
Chatuchak Weekend Market
A walk through Chatuchak Weekend Market is a overload for the senses. The smells of spice and ginger waft through the air, while crowds of people move around everywhere and the noises of pulsing bars and sizzling woks abound. Street food is everywhere here. The most popular varieties are seafood and sweets, often locally sourced and provided by small, family-run businesses that make their living through the market.
The Market is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Friday it starts around 6pm and goes until Midnight. On both Saturday and Sunday, the market is open all day from 9am till 6pm. The desserts that are available at the market shouldn’t be missed by anyone with a sweet tooth! You can pick through a selection of delicious treats including chocolate-dipped bananas, crepes and brownies.
Food Courts in Bangkok
A very popular place to stop for a bite to eat whilst spending a day in one of Bangkok’s shopping malls is a food court. Food courts provide the very best of Thai food and will have something that appeals to everyone. Many of the food courts in Bangkok take the form of markets spread across an array of different stalls, cafes, and restaurants that you can browse through and enjoy. The only real difference to street bazaars is that these courts are located inside major shopping centers.
Some great food courts that you should not miss whilst shopping in Bangkok are:
- Paragon Food Hall in Siam Paragon
- Food Republic in the Siam Center
- Gateway Ekami
- Food Land in the MBK Center
For those who may want to indulge in some familiar foods, many of the food courts offer fast-food options as well as Southeast Asian stir fries and soups.
Thai Restaurants in Bangkok
You won’t have to forgo classic restaurants if you’re keen to do Bangkok on a budget. There are so many establishments in this buzzing megacity that many offer sit-down evening meals for reasonable prices.
You could consider heading over to The Sixth. It’s a modern, hip place that serves excellent Thai food. With only five tables, it has a unique atmosphere that’s perfect for a social lunch. Thip Samai is said to serve Bangkok’s best pad Thai – and that’s seriously saying something! It isn’t pricy but it is popular. Queues sometimes stretch all the way down the road, so get in early if you’re looking to try it.
Where to Stay in Bangkok on a Budget
Bangkok does not disappoint with affordable accommodation. This city has been a backpacker’s mecca for decades, after all. These days, the classic hostel bed is now joined with a few more stylish posh-tels (that’s posh hostels). There are also a few boutique hotels that might be worth a look in if you’re willing to splash a little extra baht…
Siamaze hostel is one of the best hostels in Bangkok for couples. Why? Well…it offers private rooms, making it seem more like a hotel than an out-and-out budget choice What’s more, the rooms are all nicely furnished and some even come with a balcony with city views. Many people are unsure about staying in hostels at first. However, they are the best option for cheap travel and give you the chance to meet other likeminded people who are also visiting the city. This hostel is in a great location, an 8-minute walk from Sutthisan MRT Subway station.
Hostels on Khao San Road
Khao San Road is a very popular destination for party-goers and is a common name when you’re looking for hostels in Bangkok. The street is at the epicenter of the district of Bang Lamphu, and is the bona fide backpacker hub of the city. It’s riddled with vibrant bars, neon-lit clubs, and – of course – cheap and cheerful hostels. It’s a good place to go hunting for accommodation if you’re wanting to do Bangkok on a budget.
One thing to bear in mind if you do like the sound of Khao San Road is that the area is always noisy and full of people trying to sell you things! It is recommended that you look for hostels around Khao San Road instead of on it. That means you’ll be close enough to experience the nightlife but also be able to bag some shuteye.
Bangkok Venice Suite
The Bangkok Venice Suite is a pleasant hotel located in the downtown area of the city. It offers suites with a few luxury frills – we’re talking flat screen TVs, air conditioning, free WiFi. Generally speaking, this is a cheap hotel that’s perfect for exploring Bangkok on a budget. Double rooms start at $62. That’s a great price for the facilities that you get! The hotel is located between the uber-vibrant quarter of Sukhumvit and the long shopping strip of Phetchaburi Road. It’s a top spot if you want to be in the thick of the action but not in the midst of the main backpacker area.
Hotel Clover Askoke
Hotel Clover Askoke is one of the many boutique hotels in the area of Sukhumvit. The USP of the joint is its ladies-only floor, which is perfect for solo female travellers. The interior of the hotel is chic and modern. You will find beautiful wallpapers, pristinely made beds, and colourful artwork in each room. In fact, the art gives the hotel a homely, casual feel but also draws on the edgier side of Bangkok. There’s also an on-site gym and swimming pool for you to relax and unwind after exploring the wonders of BKK. Budget rooms start at just $73 per night.
How much should I budget for a trip to Bangkok?
We hope you’ve seen how it’s possible to travel Bangkok on a budget! The truth is, the Thai capital is a highly affordable city, with many free activities and cheap places to stay. It’s likely that your main expenses will be on long-haul flights getting to Bangkok in the first place, which can often be around $700 from Europe, and even more from the US. The next biggest outgoing is surely accommodation, although it’s possible to cut that to around just $10-15 a night by opting for one of the bargain hostels near Khoa San Road!
In total, we’d say it’s possible to live in Bangkok on around 1000 THB ($32) a day. That’s being frugal, though, eating mainly in street stalls and steering clear of the beers. The average traveler spends between 1000-3000 THB a day, which could involve some luxuries like a hotel and a meal in a local restaurant.
Going to Bangkok on a budget can be done easily if you live like a local. This means enjoying street food, staying in small hostels, taking days out to the parks and appreciating people watching. One thing’s for certain, though: A cheap trip to Bangkok is in no way a boring one!