Bangkok on a budget: 7 ways to save on your Thailand holiday

Aneth Lim

Posted at Aug 25 2018 10:27 AM

A visit to the Grand Palace is a must for every Bangkok tourist. Photo by author

One of the things that can be tough on a Filipino traveler’s budget is the value of the Philippine peso in countries that you explore. In the United States, you need to multiply all prices by 54, while in Europe the factor rate is higher at 62. That can hurt your pocket and you will be feeling the pain not only during the trip but even when you return home and see the bills you racked up in your credit card.

Thankfully, there are still a few countries where the value of our peso is still, well valuable. In Thailand, for instance, one Philippine peso is equivalent to about 60 centavos in Thai baht or their local currency, making you feel somehow that your money can still go a long way.

Thailand offers many attractions to tourists, especially those who want to be immersed in the local culture. Unlike its Southeast Asian neighbors, Thailand was not colonized, largely through the diplomacy of its former kings. 

Whether you choose to stay in Bangkok or venture north or south, there is something sure to appeal and here are 7 tips to help you stretch your hard-earned peso as you go exploring.

1. Avoid the airport foreign exchange counters. 

Arriving in Suvarnabhumi Airport with not a single baht, we had no choice but to approach one so we can get a local SIM and pay a cab or get train tickets to our hotel. We were horrified to discover that the exchange rate was one peso to .43 baht (August 3, 2018 transaction)! When we finally found our way to a shopping mall later in the day, the helpful Thai at the information counter told us the best rate often comes from SuperRich, and true enough they gave us .605 for every peso. If we do the math, it means our P1,000 got us only 430 baht in the airport, but 605 baht with SuperRich.

You can haggle in Bangkok for better prices - with no fear from polite shopkeepers. Photo by author

Of course, you should shop around for better rates as Thai banks can also be found in shopping malls. There are also many forex booths in popular tourist spots. During our 9-day stay in Bangkok, we discovered some may offer slightly better rates, but charge commission so we stuck with SuperRich.

2. Bring your passport. 

With fear of pickpockets, most travelers leave their passports in their hotels or the BnB where they are staying. In Thailand, the passport comes in quite handy. You need it or a national ID to make any forex transaction. With stores that offer tax refund, your purchases of 2,000 baht or more will be eligible but again, you need to show a passport. 

Shopping centers also offer tourist privileges and presenting your passport will get you instant gifts, discount vouchers, even WiFi access.

3. Switch to a local SIM. 

A local SIM with 8-day access will cost you 299 baht or about P480. It’s loaded with "unlimited" WiFi access plus a budgeted amount for SMS and calls. Not a bad deal considering Philippines telco providers charge about P500 a day for unlimited WiFi. You can Viber, WhatsApp and Messenger to your heart’s content, and have your family and friends "join" you on the trip via updates on Facebook live and Instagram stories. 

Many stores only accept cash. Photo by author

4. Cash (baht) is still king. 

In some countries, a credit card is all you need – from paying cab fares to dining to shopping. Not in Bangkok, though. Taxis require payment in cash, and so does the BTS Skytrain. Some restaurants also only accept cash – and not because their credit card machine is offline. Plus, if you plan to hit the Chatuchak Weekend Market or the Platinum Fashion Mall, only cash is welcome. There are some stores that will accept credit cards, but will slap you between 3% to 7% surcharge.

5. Buy local. 

Check out the local brands. Photo by author

With many international brands now open in Manila, it’s easier to compare prices when you travel. In Bangkok, you will find that it may be cheaper to get the same item from the same store brand in Manila. To indulge your shopping craving, you will get the most bang for your buck by buying Thai products. Haggling is welcome, and some stores greet you by saying "buy 2 or more and we’ll give you a discount." 

6. Eat local. 

Thai food is rich in spices and close to the flavor of Filipino dishes that you cannot come to Bangkok and not dine to your heart’s content. What’s more, the prices at local dishes are so reasonable that you would be able to stay within if not under your budget. 

Tom Yum Goong will wake you up with its spicy flavor. Photo by author

The local sea bass cooked in fish sauce, for example, a must-try for every Bangkok tourist, is about 400 baht or P640. There will be enough for 3 to 4 to share, along with the popular Tom Yum Goong soup, usually around 250 baht or P400. Don’t come home with trying the Crab Rice, which costs around 200 baht or P320.

7. Grab that tax refund. 

When you spend at least 2,000 baht in participating stores, you can claim a refund on the 7% value added tax reflected in your receipt. The VAT refund form must be completed on the same day, and processed with your passport. Bring all the forms with you to the airport on your departure day, and make sure (this is important!) to get a signature from an inspection officer before you enter immigration. Post-immigration check, you can claim your VAT refund in any of the designated counters. 

The queue can be long but what could be worse is when you line up and find that you forgot the signature and it was all for naught. Sadly many tourists walked away with that painful lesson.