Decades ago, backpackers and budget travels arrived in Bangkok, Thailand and had a incredible vacation on only a few dollars a week. Now in the 21st century and going to the usual backpacker places in Bangkok is no longer the way to have a cheap backpacker experience. They’re expensive, targeted towards tourists and offer some of the worst accommodation, shopping and food in Bangkok. If you want a true Bangkok backpacker experience e.g.: on the cheap and seeing the real Thailand, learn about the secrets to a real backpacker holiday in Bangkok from – a long-term resident of Bangkok who loves to live cheaply – me.
Stay Away From Khao San Road – As Khao San Road is on the ‘backpacker trail’ (also called the ‘banana pancake trail’, as backpackers love ordering banana pancakes), it’s the first place every backpacker to Bangkok goes and most usually stay in a hotel there. It’s crowded, dirty and packed with foreign tourists and backpackers, so about as far from an authentic Bangkok experience as it’s possible to get. It’s also expensive.
If you’re a first-time backpacker in Bangkok, sure, take a trip to Khao San Road for a couple of hours as it is a fun place and you’ll meet other backpackers. But, don’t shop there (the market stalls are double the prices of anywhere else in Bangkok), don’t eat more than snacks there (street food is cheaper and better quality everywhere else) and never book a hotel room there (not unless you want expensive and squalid). For the same money, you can get a much better experience at most other areas of Bangkok or usually even cheaper.
Stay In An Independent Boutique Hotel – While Khao San Road is usually the place to stay of choice for most backpackers to Bangkok, it’s actually one of the worst places in the city to book a hotel room. It’s loud, the crime rate is high,and hotel rooms are dingy and often bed-bug ridden (a lot of backpackers don’t take frequent showers).
Avoid booking a hotel on Khao San Road and, instead, look at other areas of Bangkok as independent boutique hotels at low rates are popping up everywhere. Look at hotels like Baan Waree boutique hotel, where two people can stay in one of the coolest, funkiest hotel rooms with lots of amenities for $20 a night. There are hundreds more hotels like this in Bangkok, all independently owned, all clean, safe and with awesome facilities and in better locations than Khao San Road. Just do an internet search.
Best Cheap Food in Bangkok – Of course, most backpackers in Bangkok, Thailand want to eat on the cheap and that’s an easy thing to do here. While backpacker areas like Khao San Road have cheap enough street food, it’s not the cheapest nor the best street food. Other places are better.
The best secret for cheap food for backpackers in Bangkok is to eat at one of the food courts in the city, which is where Thais eat. The best food court is on the sixth floor of Mahboonkrong (MBK) shopping mall. It’s enormous, with more than 50 stalls selling everything from noodles, to rice dishes, Indian food to American and prices starting at 30 baht ($1) for a huge plate of food. It’s air conditioned too.
At night, don’t miss eating at one of the food stalls on Sukhumvit Soi 38. It’s the most famous street food stall area in Bangkok for Thais and offers incredible Thai food at dirt cheap prices. The street stalls here serve food until 2am, so it’s a great place to eat after a night in Bangkok’s bars or clubs. Take the sky train to Thong Lor station before midnight and it’s at the bottom of the sky train steps. After midnight, take a taxi.
Don’t Take Tuk-Tuks – While many backpackers to Bangkok are under the assumption tuk-tuks are cheap, they’re not. Unfortunately, in the last few years many tuk-tuk drivers now see a foreigner and it’s an instant opportunity to make money. Where a Thai will get a tuk-tuk for 40 baht, a foreigner will pay 100-200 baht or more. If you know your destination and the normal cost in a taxi, and the tuk-tuk driver quotes you the same price or less, take it. But, if you have no idea where you’re going, a metered taxi is usually a much cheaper deal and it’s air conditioned.
Take The Boat – If your destination is close to the Chao Praya River, take the boat. The regular passenger boats go up and down the river with average fares around 10-15 baht (33-50 cents), far cheaper than the sky train or taxis and it’s the authentic Thai experience too.
Cheapest Shopping in Bangkok – Avoid shopping at Khao San Road, anywhere on Sukhumvit, and in most of the downtown shopping malls (Mahboonkrong is okay), if you’re looking for a cheap deal. Instead, go shopping where the Thais shop.
For clothing or gifts, shop at Pratunam Market – t shirts, shorts, designer jeans, kids clothes, Thai traditional clothes, sports wear, you name it they sell it and, as it’s a wholesale market, it’s dirt cheap.
For teenagers or young adult women and men, shop for clothing, jewelry, and bags at Platinum Mall. An enormous shopping mall catering to young Thais, here you’ll find t shirts as cheap as 75 baht ($2.25) each and the more pieces you buy, the cheaper they become.
If you’re looking for cheap Thai handicrafts, clothing, gifts, Thai silk, secondhand jeans, backpacks, bags, jewelry, wallets, pottery, hemp products – just about anything – avoid the tourist spots like Khao San Road and Sukhumvit and instead shop at the weekly Chatuchak Weekend Market. Open on Friday evenings, and all day Saturday and Sunday, with more than 15,000 stalls, you’ll find everything you want and more besides.
If cheap electronics, computers, computer games or DVDs is your thing, don’t go to Pantip Plaza – as it’s a place where backpackers and tourists are targeted with rip-off prices and shoddy quality. Instead, take the underground train to Rama 9 station and shop at Fortune Mall right next to it.
As a backpacker in Bangkok, don’t ask other backpackers where the best deals are as most of them simply don’t know. Instead, ask a Thai at your hotel or in a restaurant or a western expat who lives here. We all know the cheapest places to stay, eat, shop and have fun and they’re nowhere near the backpacker areas.