5 Tips For Getting Affordable Thai Food In Bangkok

Thai food ain’t about simplicity. It’s about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Like a complex musical chord it’s got to have a smooth surface but it doesn’t matter what’s happening underneath. Simplicity isn’t the dictum here, at all. Some westerners think it’s a jumble of flavors, but to a Thai that’s important, it’s the complexity they delight in.

David Thompson

If you are a food lover, you will simply fall in love with Thai cuisine -its sweetness, spiciness and freshness. Whether you are a budget traveler or you just want to try different food on the cheap when in Bangkok, the good news is this city offers healthy and nutritious meals at very affordable prices.

A Thai cook is holding cooking equipment
Local cooks will welcome you nicely

How much do you reckon you would pay for a plate of aromatic papaya salad sprinkled with nuts? Let me tell you – a dollar! How to do it? Where to find such cheap places to dine out? Here is the answer:

1. Stay away from touristic areas.

Going to touristy spots to dine out will not increase your chances of a cheap eat. Once you go a little bit further from Khao San Road area, you will find a lot of local places where the cheap food is served (the prices start from $0.50).

Locals prepare Thai food in the street
The food prepared in the street

Visiting quiet local areas, unknown to ordinary travelers, will give you a great opportunity to try authentic Thai dishes on the cheap and interact with some locals who can show you how the food is prepared on a regular basis so you can try to cook it when you’re back home.

Papaya salads
Papaya salads served with rice at the street vendor

You can either pick up a small local Thai restaurant or grab some take away meal with grilled chicken, rice and fried vegetables on the street. Take away food is cheaper than eating in, so do not be afraid of eating in a park or in your hotel room.

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When you decide to dine out in a local restaurant, go only to one-dish places. You will pay for one meal only and avoid extra service charges.

2. Say YES to street food and NO to Western restaurants.

It’s not a big surprise that street food in Thailand is sold everywhere and it’s much cheaper than restaurants, even the local ones. There are fruit and vegetable markets in every corner, small local shops with Thai sweets if you feel like having some biscuits or cookies, food markets in the city centre and food stalls across every street. There is a variety of places where you can dine out on the cheap.

A great variety of street food in Bangkok - from local dumplings, bananas to fresh spring rolls
A great variety of street food in Bangkok – from local dumplings, bananas to fresh spring rolls

Dining out in restaurant is a good idea if you are going to share the bill with fellow travelers or locals.  The portions served in restaurants might be too big for one person, so if there is more people with you than 2, then feel free to taste several things and feast well, whilst spending less!

Rice with meat
Time for Thai lunch!

3. Go for local dishes, forget the Western cuisine.

Go for local food, do not choose places where Indian, American or other Western food is served. Prices reflect the trouble they had to learn these recipes.

Local Thai dishes - chocolate pancakes, pork soup, papaya salad
Local Thai dishes – chocolate pancakes, pork soup, papaya salad

Did you know you can get a Thai soup with fried vegetables served with a big bowl of rice and a drink for less than BigMac in McDonald’s? It is much healthier and more delicious, not mentioning the money you can save up for attractions or some souvenirs.

4. Haggle, haggle, haggle!

Locals in Bangkok don’t speak much English so you might struggle a bit to understand each other when it comes to bargaining. However, you can take a small Thai dictionary with you and pick up some basic words such as  “hi”, “order”, “food”, “how much”, “too expensive” and try to haggle in a nice way.

Two people are drinking a Thai beer
Having a street beer in Bangkok

The more language you know, the more chances you have to bring the price down local level and locals just find it so adorable when they hear you speak their mother tongue.

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5. Pay in local currency ($1= 30Baht).

Some locals will ask you to pay for the food in $. If it happens, just cancel your order and walk away. In most cases they will try to rip you off. Basically, people who quote prices in dollars base the prices on US standards and not Thai. You will often hear “it is still cheaper than you pay in your country” while at the same time you pay twice the local price. They think $1 for a bowl of rice is not much in your country, however in Thailand for $1 you can buy a whole meal!

two people are eating pad thai in the street in bangkok
Us enjoying famous pad thai in the street

Imagine spending less than $5 a day for your food in Bangkok. How does it sound?

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Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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59 thoughts on “5 Tips For Getting Affordable Thai Food In Bangkok”

  1. Avatar of Katie

    Great tips, and so true! It’s easy to find really cheap and amazing food in Bangkok. My favorite meal in all of Thailand was a to-die-for pad Thai we ate street side in Bangkok for $1. I personally prefer the atmosphere of street food to a sit down restaurant anyways!

    1. Avatar of Agness Walewinder
      Agness Walewinder

      Pamela, I not only tried bugs, but also scorpions and cockroaches :D! pretty good, but extremely salty.

  2. Avatar of Andrew

    Always go proper local if you can! No reason to fork out for McDonalds or KFC in Thailand. If you are like me though and are allergic to peanuts, you do need to be ultra-careful though, especially in Thailand!

  3. Avatar of Lauren

    Thai food is so delicious! I try to prepare some of it at home sometimes. I think the main struggle for us in Thailand would be trying to find meals that are vegetarian that aren’t prepared with fish sauce. I would love to eat the local food there so I would try my best to learn some local language words :)

  4. Avatar of Mike

    Hi Agness and Cez! Sorry we’ve been away for the past 3 months on the blogosphere but we had some life stuff to attend to :) Not sure how frequently we’ll be around now but we are checking in from time to time!

    I absolutely love, LOVE Thai food! I love your idea of haggling and I’m totally down with eating food from reputable street vendors! Absolutely awesome advice on not paying in $ too! Your blogging beauty continues and we are so thrilled for both you!

    We’ve missed you…your friends, Mike and Phoenix :)

  5. Avatar of Franca

    A part from the haggling which I’m terrible at, it’s pretty much what we did while in Bangkok. We never had a Western meal whilst there and enjoyed a lot of the street and local dishes instead :)

  6. Avatar of Rachel of Hippie in Heels

    I love Thai food!! I was only there one month but the last week I was a rotten tourist and ate mcdonalds and BK like mad because I knew I had 8 months in India before I’d get it again :) Oh well ! gotta do what makes you happy!

    1. Avatar of Agness Walewinder
      Agness Walewinder

      So true! I’m not a big fan of McDonald’s, but I will binge on Polish dumplings when I’m back home :D!!

    2. Avatar of ROHINTON

      Dear Rachel,
      Macdonalds, KFC and Subway are all available in all cities of India.
      If you are in India, please eat southindian food like dosas(steamed)
      It is not only cheap but also wholesome.A thali containing chappatis, vegetables, curd and rice will fill you up like no fastfood can.
      Have a nice time in India.


  7. Avatar of Greg

    Great tips, although number 5 baffles me – in all the times I’ve been in Thailand, in the most touristy areas or totally local areas, never have I been asked to pay in anything other than baht. Not sure why they would expect anyone to even carry USD?

  8. Avatar of ROHINTON

    I just love Thai street food. mmmmmmmm. Those bannana pancakes,sticky rice with mango and those waffles and smoothies.

  9. Avatar of Karisa Blake

    I love street food in Bangkok! This was the first place in the world where I learned to actually love street food and try out different things :)Roti pancakes, khaosuay, khaomangai…so many yummy choices!! And I love that street food in BKK is available literally 24/7

    1. Avatar of Agness Walewinder
      Agness Walewinder

      I agree that Thai food is one of the best street foods to start off your culinary adventure on the cheap.

  10. Avatar of Stef

    OMG I’m getting so hungry right now, that looks so super tasty, I want to eat it all :) Great tips, I will keep them in mind when I finally make it to Thailand (hopefully soon, even though I’m heading in the wrong direction in September:P)

  11. Avatar of Mary {The World IS A Book}

    Such great tips! I’m also very hungry now and have a sudden craving for Thai food. This post also makes me sad because we canceled the Bangkok part of our trip. My husband is too paranoid and didn’t want to take the chance with everything going on over there right now. I was so looking forward to eating all the Bangkok street food. Next time… Thanks for the visual feast for now.

  12. Avatar of Emily

    I’ve really been missing outstanding Thai food. In Uruguay we went to a place and I tried some pad thai and it wasn’t bad, but it was not really pad thai but rather some noodles with a teriyaki-like sauce on them. Oh well…I guess we need another trip to Thailand instead :)

    1. Avatar of Agness Walewinder
      Agness Walewinder

      Me too Emily, but I’ve been cooking a lot of Thai dishes recently. My latest one – rice with mango simply rocked!

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