We’ve covered the UK, Russia, and today it’s Thailand with some on-the-ground money advice by folks who know whereof they speak. Check back on Saturday for a post about being savvy with your money in Nicaragua!
How to keep your wallet happy in Thailand – “The Land of Smiles” is brought to you by a former colleague, Heidi. She is a teacher-turned-banker-turned-teacher and is currently teaching primary school at the British Columbia International School of Bangkok.
Probably the most expensive part of your trip to Thailand will be the airfare over here, but once you land, here are a few tips to help you save some Baht along the way.
Cash is King
Before you fly over here, order some Thai Baht and ask for a mixture of denominations (20’s, 50’s, 100’s). The exchange hovers around 30 Baht to the Dollar, so about $100 worth of small bills will be plenty – otherwise you’ll need a briefcase to carry away all the Baht!
7-11 the Unofficial Bank of Thailand
There is no problem using your ATM or Credit Card in ATM machines in Thailand, but the problem occurs in that they only spit out 1,000 Baht bills, and you’ll be hard pressed to get 970 Baht change from the streetvendor who just cooked up some Pad Thai for you. So “Oh Thank Heaven” there’s 7-11, where I believe it is their unspoken duty to change a 1,000 baht note for that 7 baht bottle of water you just bought (yes, only 25 cents for bottled water!) Not only will you appreciate the sub-arctic temperature they keep the store at, but you won’t get a deathly stare when you present them with a 1,000 baht bill. And 7-11 over here truly is like a bank – you can pay your cable, internet and electricity bills or even pay for a flight that you booked online, all while you buy your slurpee!
Getting around Thailand is pretty cheap, but you can make some costly mistakes. Let’s start with when you first step off the plane in Bangkok – they’ve just completed a high-speed train directly from the International airport, so now it’s cheap, easy and fast to get into downtown Bangkok. If you’ve been flying for hours on end though you may just want to hop in a cab – just make sure you follow the signs outside to the official “Meter Taxi” stand – you do not need to negotiate this fare as the meter taxis are on a fixed rate per kilometer.
Getting around Bangkok you’ve got multiple modes of cheap transport: skytrain, bus, taxi, tuk tuk, or if you’re really brave – a motorcycle taxi! One of my favourite modes of transport though is the water taxi. For about 50 cents you can get an hour-long river boat “cruise” on one of the traditional Thai longboats. No need to pay a huge amount for a river cruise when you can hop on their water-transit system for 14 baht!
Everything is Negotiable
I’ve never really been much of a haggler myself, but I’ve had to get into the game here, because I quickly realized that if there’s no sticker price on something (which there rarely is!) then the price is open for debate. Many foreigners come here and feel like they are constantly being “ripped off” because they see the Thais paying a different price, and I felt that way too until I put a few things into perspective, namely that the Thai minimum wage is 300 baht per day (about $10 a DAY!) As a foreigner living in Thailand we would never be paid that low, and as a traveler, you would have brought money with you for your trip, so in their eyes we get paid more, so we should pay more. Saying that though, there’s a difference between paying the “farang* tax” as I like to call it and being taken for a ride.
My advice on making sure that you are paying a fair price is to shop around a bit to get a sense of what the item is worth before making your final purchase. And when it comes to taxis or tuk tuks, either make sure they turn their meter on, or you negotiate the price of the ride before you drive away – otherwise they literally will take you for a ride…like to their cousin’s restaurant or brother’s gift shop!
Overall, your money will go a long way…it’s just a matter of saving up so that you can buy yourself that plane ticket here!
*farang (or sometimes pronounced falang) is the Thai term for a foreigner. The term derives from the word Francais, as the French were some of the first foreigners to come to Thailand. And Francais in Thai is Farang-set…hence anyone who doesn’t look like they come from Thailand is instantly referred to as a farang.
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