Thailand: Not as Cheap as You Think

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 03/06/10 •  5 min read

Over the past month of living in Thailand, I’ve learned something very important about myself: I am very easily persuaded. Now this could be perceived as either a good thing or a bad thing, and in the context which I am referring to it, its both.

When I first arrived in Thailand, I thought it was going to be the cheapest place on Earth.  And who knows, it still may be, but there are obvious caveats to any such blanket statement.  I would like to go on the record in saying that Thailand has NOT been as inexpensive on the whole as I expected it to be.  And let me also make clear, this is entirely my fault.

I’ve noticed a series of patterns in my life here that have led me to make this statement.  On most days I spend anywhere between 5 t0 8 hours in front of my computer.  Thats a lot of time with a mouse and coffee.  By the time I’m finished, I’m usually looking for some kind of social interaction.  After all, my room here is about as barren as it gets, and there really isn’t a whole lot to keep myself entertained after I’ve finished work for the day.  So the obvious solution, go out and be social! Which is entirely too easy in this city.

Every single night of the week in Bangkok there is something totally awesome going on.  And you (and by “you” I mean “I”) always feel as though you need to be a part of it.  There is a steady influx of

Not so cheap...

Not so cheap...

travelers and entrepreneurs to meet, and Cheap Charlie’s is always beckoning.  I’ve always felt justified in partaking in the evening activities as well considering how much time I spend working during the day. Every night someone is calling to invite me to do something, and it usually sounds like a great idea.  And even if it doesn’t, I now realize how easily persuaded I can be.

Well all of these nights add up.  Alcohol is one of the most expensive things in Thailand. In fact, I would almost go as far to say that it is MORE expensive here than back home.

I also realized that on any given week back home I would only “go out” a night or two a week.  Well, when you start doing this EVERY NIGHT, with an income that is substantially lower, the world starts to get out of balance very quickly.  And ok ok, every night may be a bit of an exaggeration, but still, more frequently than I should be.

Take last night for instance, two of my very good friends happened to be in town and we went to a club.  I paid 200 baht for a beer.  Thats almost SEVEN DOLLARS.  Yes, I just admitted to paying seven dollars for a beer, and I’m completely ashamed by it.  To put this in perspective that is 8 times the price I paid for dinner; which was one of the most fantastic dishes I’ve ever had.  Ever.

Food is cheap. Noodles and a strawberry banana smoothe: 40 baht

Very cheap. Noodles and a strawberry banana smoothie: 40 baht

This is a great illustration of how Thailand can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be.  On many occasions I’ve gotten by all day on less than 100 baht ($3).  There are also days (nights) where I’ve spent a *little* bit more than that.

Bangkok will not stop you from spending money.  When living here, you have to be able to show a little self control, otherwise you will go broke very quickly.  On the plus side, I’ve still been able to get a tremendous amount of work done, as well as eat some of the most amazing meals imaginable, for next to nothing.  I think from here on out, less nights at Q Bar, and more with a book on my bed will be necessary.  Maybe if you are lucky, this new change will even prompt a few more blog posts, which I am very aware have been seriously lacking as of late.

Ok, now I am going to do a bit of a 180 with this post, just because this is something I’ve been thinking about over the last few days…

I still find myself constantly reminded by how much different my life is now compared to just six months ago.  I admitted for the first time today that this is the happiest I’ve ever been.  I’m being fulfilled in just about every way imaginable.  It’s pretty cool to spend months working up the courage to make a life changing decision, and then to see it work out even better than you could have ever hoped it would. What is even cooler is to be able to go back and read old posts documenting exactly where I was and what I was struggling with, and to see that those fears and insecurities have been overcome.

These posts are particularly interesting:

A lot has change in 6 months.

If you have been putting off a major change in your life because you are afraid of the uncertainty surrounding the decision, stop now.  Take the leap.  You won’t regret it. I promise.

What has been your experience living abroad?  Do you spend more or less money than you do back home?  Also, I am more than happy to answer any questions regarding cost of living in Thailand.  Feel free to shoot me an email, or ask in the comments and I will get back to you with my experiences!

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Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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27 comments on "Thailand: Not as Cheap as You Think"

  1. Is this a loquacious way of saying you’re not coming out tonight? Hahaahaha… see… now I don’t have to feel like Yoda when I tell y’all that Bangkok will eat you alive or I think I’ll pass tonight.


    1. Sean says:

      @Dwight I am beginning to have a much stronger sense of why you are constantly turning down my advances…haha

      @Junshien It wasn’t good enough!!

      @Jonny Any chance you will be stopping by again sometime soon? Im currently living across the street from your old abode.

      @Zoe It took me about 3 weeks to realize that it was rum rather than whiskey. And that is generally the route I’ve been taking! Great to meet you while you were in town, keep in touch!

      @Kelsey Absolutely! I don’t have anything even close to resembling a kitchen, but even if I did, the food here is so affordable and good that I doubt I would be doing much cooking. Now if only I could figure out how to brew my own beer in Thailand….hmmm, now theres a business opportunity!

  2. Junshien says:

    Hey buddy. Haven’t dropped by your site in a while, but definitely glad to see things have been going well for you! Life has a tendency to reward those who are willing to step out in faith.

    And as for that $7 beer … I hope it was damn good beer!

  3. Dude you are making me jealous. Currently in India travelling and it is dirt cheap here but nothing compares to the life quality offered by Thailand. Enjoy it man.

  4. Zoe says:

    Clearly, the solution is to develop a taste for Sangsom (which is “rum”, despite that fact that everyone will insist to you that it’s whiskey). Cheaper than that beer you got!

  5. Kelsey says:

    When I lived in South Korea I intentionally chose to live on a rural island because I knew that I wouldn’t be tempted by expensive restaurants or going out with other expats, because there were neither on the island. I had been told by folks that cooking was a good way to save money, so I cooked almost every meal.

    In reality, I spent about as much of my paycheck as I would have spent if I were living in Seoul because what I didn’t find out until almost the time I left was that in rural Korea, restaurants are generally cheaper than cooking for yourself! I could have eaten like a king for the money I was spending on cooking supplies, and since I spent more time in my apartment, I ended up buying more stuff to make my apartment livable than if I had been somewhere with other foreigners that I could hang out with.

    Granted, I did enjoy my stint in rural Korea (minus the infrequent hot water and the lack of indoor plumbing in some of my schools, making latrine trips in the winter not pleasant), but I actually think I would have saved more money if I had been somewhere “expensive” like Seoul. I’m pretty good at limiting the money I spend when I go out because I typically either don’t drink or I only have one, maaaaaybe two beers at the most, so I think I would have done just fine in a city.

    Just goes to show that you have to make sure you’re getting advice that is appropriate to your location and your spending habits!

  6. Chris says:

    I highly recommend venturing out to the Thai bars on Ekamai/Rachadar soi 4 and buy a bottle with mixers and share. Not only is it a lot more economical, it’s actually a lot more fun than hitting the western style bars!

  7. Hey there Sean. What a great. I am not a big drinker but I can see how quickly life could get expensive here. Esp in BKK!

    Love what u said abt taking the leap and we are looking forward to the leap.

    Your friend stated the best in his comments! “Life has a tendency to reward those who are willing to step out in faith.”

    It was great to meet you in person. Hope we’ll cross path again soon! 🙂

  8. Moon Hussain says:

    Whew, beer that expensive? Could buy a bottle of wine for around $10 US 😉

    You seem to love it there. I believe you’re employed by Tropical MBA? What does your job & pay consist of? (If I”M not being too forward).

  9. Nate says:

    It’s funny because I always picture Thailand as this magical place where you show up and automatically live on a small amount. You’ve proven me wrong! This is a really interesting post. It was cool to see the links back to those old ones and how far things have come since then.

  10. Kenn says:

    Related to drinking in general and Zoe’s comment about Sangsom in particular, mekhong has been appearing on a few specialty cocktail menus here in the US. Have you come across bartenders doing anything interesting with it there? For that matter, have you come across any craft cocktails bars over there at all?

    1. Sean says:

      @Kenn To be perfectly honest, as much as I love craft cocktails, they are generally very expensive here, so I have been avoiding the temptation! So no, I haven’t seen anyone doing anything interesting with it, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t. However, I will keep an eye out and let you know what I come across!

  11. Hugh says:

    Hey Sean I just found your site through Life Excursion. I love it. I like this post because I am traveling to Thailand in May for my honeymoon. I’ve heard it’s dirt cheap, which is why I’m surprised to hear of $7 beers! That’s expensive for even here in NYC! I hope that’s the exception and not the rule. My fiance and I are all about trying out the local spots and not so much the western bars/restaurants, so I imagine we’ll get off a bit less expensive, right?

  12. Ian Borders says:

    I’ve heard Bangkok can be really expensive. I’ve lived in Thailand for almost 8 months and still haven’t been there yet (besides the airport). Even up here in Pai, drinking can get expensive, but since I don’t drink, I easily get by on 100-200 baht ($3-$6) a day and I don’t budget at all.

    I hear rent up north is cheaper as well. I have a nice 2 bed, 2 bath house for 4000 baht/mo ($131-ish).

    So living in Thailand on the cheap can be done for sure. Without budgeting, I haven’t spent more that $1000 a month here (with the excepetion of buying my moterbike).

    Chok-dee, hope to cross paths soon, Ian

  13. Dan says:

    Sean, one of my favorite posts, not only for the touching turn at the end, but I can really relate to everything you are talking about. It’s so so difficult to fight against lifestyle creep when you are in foreign countries, especially in a place like Bangkok where there is just so much you can tap in to. Sounds like I missed some good parties!

  14. Colin Wright says:

    Really good stuff to know, especially since (based on the current voting pattern on my site) it looks like I’ll be joining you Thai-based-folks after New Zealand. Keep a seat warm for me – I’ll be more than happy to eat eat and eat, with or without alcohol!

  15. Yeah, but I sure does sound like you are having fun though. $7 bucks for a beer whoowhee!

  16. Martin says:

    Got to start buying more alcohol from the stores than the bars. Look for a whiskey called “Black Cat.” It’s life-changing…and about 4-5 USD a bottle.

  17. I’ll be honest. Even as someone who has never had much desire to visit Thailand, this post made me unbelievably jealous. Spending money you shouldn’t be spending to hang out with “entrepreneurs and travelers” every night in an exotic place sounds like a pretty damn awesome problem to be having. 🙂

  18. Very true Sean,
    I think I spend the same amount of money on food in Thailand as in the US. HOWEVER: In the States I am eating rice and black beans from the grocery store every night. In Thailand I am eating out at restaurants the best meal of my life every night and feeling like a true KING. Both cost about $2 a day. True that man, take a leap, be a King!

  19. Oh so right you are Sean! This post made me feel guilty when I read it. But what a life hanging out with genius online business guys like you and Walsh, dancing at Tapas with journalists from CNN, getting toted around a major international city in an SUV with a friend’s private driver, meeting friends randomly at nightclubs where the DJ shouts out our name as we walk in, and drinking rounds with the owner on the rooftop terrace at Q Bar again! 😉

    1. Sean says:

      @Cody Man…when you put it like that our lives are pretty awesome arent they?? haha

  20. russell says:

    you are an amazing inspiration. i will follow in your path soon but was wondering how you handle and or get around all of the visa and country restrictions for all of the different places you go?

    it seems most have a restriction on how long a US citizen can stay in their country on a tourist visa? any info would be a great help. thanks again and keep on traveling :))


  21. Michael says:

    Sangsom. Live it, love it. 200 baht for a 700ml bottle. Bangkok is easily the most expensive part of Thailand. Get out in the country and you’ll really see how cheap this country can be. Although most places will probably bore you to death after a few days, but hey, we get what we pay for right?

  22. Tony says:

    I was in some Irish pub on Suk 22 the other day and was charged 150B for a glass of orange juice! I was like WTF? That’s almost $5.00 for something that would cost half that amount back in the US.

    It’s easy to get sucked into the everything is cheap here mentality and start spending money like crazy. The best thing about living in Bangkok is it really teaches you some self control. There is no safety net here and if you go broke no one is going to help you. However if you keep your finances in check and spend wisely you can have a pretty damn good life here.

  23. Glenn Westwood says:

    Hey I am going to Thailand next October for 5/6 months working as a volunteer! And I’m coming on my own! I recently travelled to Ghana West Africa on my own but was luckily working with some great canadiens so it was all good! Could you please tell me all the INS and outs! Are te locals begging? Is it a Rural country? I am really looking forward to it but still a bit nervous! Would you email my private email please!?! Thank You 🙂

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