Some major cities are impossible to tackle when on a tight budget. Between the cost of transportation, accommodation and, most importantly, food, you might find yourself having to cut certain ventures short due to a lack of funding. I am here to tell you that Bangkok, Thailand is not like most major cities. You can experience Bangkok on a budget – and this is how to do it.
If not for its suffocating heat, array of street dogs scattering the sidewalks or temples tucked away on even the busiest street corners, Bangkok is different to say the least. One thing I love about living in the City of Angels is the cost of living. I am able to live here without worrying about living paycheck to paycheck. After having explored the city for months now, I am here to offer you some advice as to how to spend a weekend in Bangkok on a budget.
Friday: Eat ungodly amounts of food in Chinatown
I’ve been to Chinatown in both San Francisco as well as New York City and neither holds a candle to the Chinatown in Bangkok. If you arrive here in the afternoon, explore one of the Chinese temples. Wat Traimit, or the Temple of the Golden Buddha, offer amazing sights to kick off your day… and it’s free!
After dark, anyone with proper taste buds should make their way to Thanon Yaowarat, or Yaowarat Road, the main road that runs through Chinatown. While Thai food has yet to leave me disappointed (though sometimes running for the nearest restroom), Chinatown, by far, has been my favorite hub to visit when I’m feeling extra ravenous. Grilled bread rolls with filling of your choosing, from chocolate to tea butter, black sesame dumplings in a ginger soup, fried noodles… I’m honestly thinking of clicking save and grabbing dinner as I salivate at the thought of it. Be sure to go to Chinatown on an empty stomach, because you will be disappointed when you find yourself loosening your elephant pants when realizing you can not eat anything more.
If you want an even more authentic experience, venture into one of the many side streets to find even more amazing street food. I would suggest getting one plate everywhere you go and splitting it amongst others so you have room to try as many things as possible. This is also a good way to keep your foodie experience on the less expensive side although you could easily leave full and content for under $5.
Saturday: Lumpini Park, Chatuchak Weekend Market and a night out on the town
Start your day off at the BTS stop Saladaeng, just walking distance from Lumpini Park. Lumpini park is a treasure amongst the busy, polluted city. It’s not everywhere you can find a relaxing escape from the busyness that is Bangkok to stumble upon a park filled with monitor lizards and very few foreigners. And, of course, it’s free.
After spending the morning at the relaxing Lumpini park, take the BTS or MRT to the stop Mochit, where you will find the Chatuchak Weekend Market. The market might be crowded and overwhelming in stark contrast to Lumpini park, but you will find everything from unique clothing to secondhand shoes for overwhelming cheap prices. I have bought the majority of my items from this market since arriving in Thailand. All of the vendors are willing to bargain as well. You could spend anywhere from an hour to an entire day exploring the stalls of this market. JJ Green Market is a smaller, cleaner version of Chatuchak, but a little less well-known. I would highly suggest making the short walk to JJ Green before heading downtown for the evening, which is only a five minute walk from the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Don’t forget to grab food at either of these markets as it will be loads cheaper than purchasing food downtown, which brings us to the most fun part of our Saturday itinerary: Bangkok’s nightlife.
The nightlife in Bangkok can really suck you dry; it’s not unheard of to hear people spending upwards of thousands of baht at a single club. While the seizure-worthy lights and pulsing music might sound like a good idea at the time, it is sure to break your bank. In order to hold onto some of that hard earned baht, I would head down to the BTS stop Nana where you will find Cheap Charlie’s. Filled with expats and cockroaches, it might seem like an unlikely place to spend your Saturday evening, but before completely writing it off, you should know that the drinks, and I mean any drink, from Red Bull Vodkas to beer, are only 80 baht which is about $2. I’ve had the same exact drinks for over 300 baht at different bars, so if you are sticking to a budget, Cheap Charlie’s is definitely the best place to start your night out. Be forewarned, the bar shuts down fairly early so get down there to get your cheap drinks before it’s too late!
There are plenty of bars and clubs near Cheap Charlie’s to reside in after having your fair share of cheap drinks. Levels Club & Lounge is all but a five minute walk, and there is no cover fee. There is also a sky bar just minutes from Levels. While the drinks are on the pricey side, you can go up and enjoy the view for free. Just a friendly reminder that many of the clubs will not let you in if you are not waiting proper club attire, for example, closed toe shoes.
Sunday: Spend the day in Ayutthaya
The last stop on our weekend trip to Bangkok is a little outside of the big city. If you are confined to the holds of only a weekend in the City of Angels, I do believe that visiting Ayutthaya is a must on your travel itinerary. Ayutthaya is the old capital of Bangkok and the city reflects all of this history with every corner you turn. Temple after temple scatter about the small city and it’s only about an hour bus ride from Bangkok depending on the traffic.
In order to get there you can either get a bus from the northern bus terminal by BTS Mochit stop to Ayutthaya which costs around 60 baht ($1.70). You can also take the BTS to Victory Monument to grab a minibus. They depart about every 30 minutes, but when they depart depends on how quickly they can fill the minibus. They usually cost about a little more than the buses do. I have found that the buses leaving the northern bus terminal are much more comfortable anyway.
Once you get to Ayuthaya, you will be hard pressed to find ways to really spend the money you aren’t wanting to spend in the first place. The cost of walking through the ruins of breathtaking temples is only about 350 baht ($10), depending on which ones you go to and how many you choose to explore. Some of the ruins are free to explore, while others charge you about 50 baht ($1.50).
I must advise this: avoid the tuk tuks at all cost! I was charged 900 baht for a tuk tuk to drive me around to all of the temples for the day. While that is still only about $25, you can rent a motorbike or moped for 200 baht ($6), or a bicycle for even less if you are feeling ambitious and rather athletic. Regardless, most of the temples you can see from the tops of others because they are so close together, so getting a taxi or hiring a driver to get you to all of the different ruins is simply a waste of money.
Ideally, one could spend weeks in Bangkok and still not become acquainted with every crevice and nook of the city. That doesn’t mean, however, you can’t experience a good chunk of the city in just a weekend’s time. If you follow my daily itinerary above, I promise you will leave Bangkok feeling satisfied, cultured and extremely full.