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.

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.

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
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. Becky Padmore

    I used to live on the Pad Thai street food and banana milkshakes when I was in Bangkok, I still miss them now! :-)

  2. When I was in America and Europe, the localized versions of Asian food there totally distort the original taste (imagine tom yum that tastes sweet) which the restaurateurs claim are necessary to cater for local tastes. I was never convinced with that. Watching you guys and girls enjoy authentic Thai food (or Asian food in general) proves that notion to be utter bullcrap. I’m glad for all of you :)

  3. Christopher Wallace

    I miss Pad Thai so much. I tried to make it by myself but it didnt come close to the real thing. You cant beat street food in Thailand.

  4. Great tips and awesome food pics. Tip #5 is indeed very important.. i think that is probably the biggest reason travellers end up paying more for most stuff!

  5. I am in love with all the food in Thailand and I have had meals there for even less than that. I think our cheapest meal to date was a delicious Pad Thai for literally 40 cents… I mean… try that in Amsterdam! And you’re right; if you go where the locals go, the food is delicious and so good.

  6. Shikha (whywasteannualleave)

    When I went to Bangkok many years ago, I still had a bit of a fear of streetfood (after a bad tummy bug in India many years ago had left me with an ongoing fear) so as a result, I must admit that I totally missed out on the street food out there. Since then, I’ve conquered that fear so now I really regret missing out on all these delicious and cheap street food finds in Thailand and if I go back, I’d love to try them properly, especially as Thai food is some of my most favourite food in the world!

    1. Agness Walewinder

      Thanks for sharing Shikha. I hope you can make it to Thailand once again to catch up with the street food! :-)

  7. I absolutely love Thai food. Great tips. The amount of money I spend on it in Australia (upwards of $25 each meal) I could save myself the trouble and just buy a flight to Thailand haha. I used to love sourcing out new street food vendors when I was there, but that was back in 2006, feels like a lifetime ago now. Hopefully back to S.E Asia end of the year :)

    1. Thanks guys. Who doesn’t like Thai food :)? :) Are you planning on getting back to SE Asia? Keeping my fingers crossed for you! :)

  8. I’ve lived in Thailand for 11 years and never been asked to pay in dollars, even when I first came here. Interesting that you have been :)

    And completely agree with you on the food, it’s amazing, and particularly street food. I eat so cheaply here (I think it’s probably one of the top 3 cheapest countries in the world to eat in when you consider the high quality of the food), so I’m so spoiled when I go anywhere else having been used to a meal for a dollar.

    I always tell everyone too, eat most of your meals at street stalls. Not only will you find some of the best food in the country, but it’s ridiculously cheap.

    Gorgeous photos, btw!!

  9. Wesley Travels

    Agness I love Thai food.. I am going to be back in Bangkok in four weeks I can’t waith to check out your tips. I love eating and in Thailand it is all so cheap..

  10. Hey Agness, great tips. Street food def the way to go. I loved getting Papaya salad off the side of the road for 30 bhat, I called it smash salad due to them pounding to together in the mortar. Delish!

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