Bangkok Phil

How expensive has Bangkok got?

Have you noticed how much more we have to pay for things?

"Just get yourself over here. Ok, the flights are expensive but once you're here, you just won't believe how cheap this place is"

For a long time, this was my standard response to anyone who asked my opinion on whether Thailand made a good choice as a holiday destination. These days if people ask me the same question, I tend to go very quiet and start cleaning my glasses - anything to avoid giving a straight answer.

As sterling plummets to below 50 baht to the pound, dragging the US dollar down with it, I wouldn't be alone in stating the obvious. Thailand is not quite the travel bargain it once was. But the truth is I haven't subscribed to the ‘Amazing Thailand' myth for quite some time.

I have recently become something of a one-man crusade against the outrageous food prices charged by the British theme pubs in Bangkok. I'm not yet at the stage where I'm chaining myself to the railings outside Government House but I think it's high time more folks became aware of just how much we ‘ex-pat Bangkokians' are being ripped off.

Looking for a mid-week venue to hold an function. I happened upon a website for a theme pub in the Sukhumwit Road area. Actually it was a recommendation from a few of the pub's regular drinkers. I was looking for an informal bar or restaurant that was centrally located and offered plenty of space for teachers to stand around and enjoy a chat. Quite a few thought that this particular establishment fitted the bill. But it was most certainly a British theme pub.

I didn't look at much of the website in all honesty. I would feel uncomfortable asking teachers to spend an evening in a joint that charged 280 baht for a gammon steak, a pineapple ring and a fried egg. That's almost six pounds. That's almost nine dollars for a meal that students rustle up when they live in a house and share a cooker with six other students. The gammon steak and pineapple ring combo is the last culinary bastion for those who are desperate for their end of month paycheck or those who are simply useless in a kitchen.

How does one justify charging such an ungodly amount of money for a meal that's so embarrassingly easy to make? Someone offered me the excuse that it's an ‘unusual' meal for Thailand. Oh please - don't insult my intelligence. Unusual in what way? Prices of restaurant dishes are determined by the availability of the ingredients and the complexity of putting the dish together. You'll be telling me next that a microwaved baked potato with a spoonful of baked beans is worth five bucks.

Did you know that the British theme pubs in Tokyo - supposedly one of the most expensive cities in the world - are cheaper than the theme pubs here? I was outside a British pub in the fashionable Shinjuku district just a few months ago. The Rose and Crown, The Dog and Doublet, I forget what the pub was called - but I couldn't believe that the menu prices were lower than what we pay for the same traditional British fare here in Bangkok.

I'm off to England next week where at least I can indulge in some affordable dining out. The Wetherspoons pub chain might be a bit ‘hit and miss' depending on which branch you go into, but their lunchtime specials for 1.99 (that's less than a hundred baht) are sure to include gammon and pineapple. You may find yourself in an inner city branch complete with flashing fruit machines and overflowing ashtrays, but they know how to fill a plate at very reasonable cost.

With such a favorable baht to pound exchange rate, there has never been a better time to holiday in England - even though the opportunity to escape Songkran should alone be reason enough.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on Bangkok's British pubs. Let's turn our attentions to the Thai travel industry and more specifically the cost of plane tickets.

I always fly to the UK with Emirates Airlines wherever possible, mainly because they are one of the few airlines who fly into my hometown of Birmingham. The cheapest seat I could get for this coming trip back home was a shade under 50,000 baht. Thai Airlines, who fly direct to London, are asking in the region of 48,000. Tapping figures into a calculator, that's virtually a thousand pounds! How is that my brother, who came to visit me in Thailand last month, paid almost half that price to fly in the other direction with Thai International? I'm yet to find a Thai travel agent who can furnish me with a decent answer but it's not for want of trying.

I'm not coming at these price differentials from the angle of an expert economist. I'm just an average Joe consumer who looks at the prices on menus and clothes tags and wonders what's wrong with this picture.

Going back to my brother's recent visit, I met him off the first early morning flight at Swampy Bum airport and even though he was clearly jetlagged and had spent ten hours in economy sitting next to a chatty couple from Yorkshire, I asked him what he fancied doing on his very first morning in Bangkok. Concerned that he hadn't brought enough summer wear (it was five degrees when he left London) he asked if we could go to a shopping mall so he could pick up some new threads.

"What are you after exactly?'

"I was thinking of maybe some polo shirts. What would a nice polo shirt cost here?"

"I guess about three or four hundred baht provided you steer clear of the designer labels"

"That's not bad. That's about eight pounds. A decent polo shirt would cost double that in the UK"

We dumped his suitcase back at the house, had a quick bite to eat and then caught a taxi to Central Bang Na. This was not The Emporium or Siam Paragon or one of the glitzier, up-market shopping malls. This was good old middle-of-the-road Central Bang Na.

We walked around the menswear department and fingered every polo shirt on display. We didn't see a single price tag lower than what he would have paid back in England. My brother eventually turned to me and said "it's not as cheap as I thought it would be" And I had to agree. I was even more disappointed than he was. He'd only been on Thai soil for a matter of hours and already I had let him down. I just didn't realize that decent clothes were so damn expensive. Even in the lower-end retail clothing stores such as AtoZ and Body Glove, the clothes were hardly what you would call a bargain.
Plane tickets, meals in Bangkok's British pubs and polo shirts - they are just three components of what is becoming an increasingly disturbing bigger picture. What's the real cost of living in Thailand these days?

Of course much of this analysis - casual as it may be - could be used to support my argument that a 35,000 baht salary is not enough for a teacher to survive on in Bangkok. Not if you buy polo shirts, eat at the Rose and Crown and like to take the occasional trip home.


I recently came back from BKK and was surprised by the changes I discovered. Whilst I was there I thought even the price of a McDonalds was quite a bit more than the bargain I remembered.
Still, the moment you arrive back on English soil you will realise that although people are complaining about the prices it's still an absolute bargain in comparison.
I always convert everything back to Baht even when I'm at home. 600 baht for a pack of ten is ridiculous.

By Andy, Lodnon (12th March 2013)

If you nonchalantly think MBK is quite cheap, then in comparision to provinces such as Guangdong you are seriously ill-informed.
Thailands economic climate is changing and those thousands skimping by on pensions or money saved through a few months work in their home country will be changing their game plan pretty soon. It's obvious that toursit driven and local areas are completely different, but i would definitely agree living local is easier said than done. Im wondering where people would go as a second choice in South East Asia?
Maybe there will be floods of people heading to Esaan to fight the crunch!

By Lukey, U.K (13th January 2011)

My Thai friends tell me that everything there is negotiable. If the Thai vendors see floods of ferangs arriving with big bucks, they'll try to get more and it's up to you to get a lower price-doesn't work after you've already eaten a meal.

For example of a negotiation, upon arrival, stay somewhere cheap for 3-5 days while you shop around. I've seen good rooms raise their rates to B 3,000 per month. If you look at the room and like it, tell them you'll sign a six month lease for a lower rate. If no go then keep looking because rent is a high, locked in expense you'll have for a while.

As for food, go local during the week. I see locals eat for B 30 per plate X 2 per day. (I only have coffee for breakfast). Then when it's time to do happy hour with friends you and your budget won't feel bad about spending B 300 or so. By doing this you can continue to enjoy Thailand.

By Michael Terry, USA (13th January 2011)

Forget about thailand, and for sure Bangkok. Its now more expensive then in Switzerland. I kept track of every single penny i spent - precisly AND compared the same period of times in each country side by side. I couldnt believe what i calculated first hand but is it true. Unless you live like a dog - you will pay lots in BKK those days, in surroundings filled with pollution. I dont like, but i have to find a new second place to stay and finally change a 10 year odysee with thailand.

By Jim, BKK (17th September 2010)

Bargains can still be had if you 'go local'- There are decent Thai restaurants all over where 2 people can eat really well for less than 150 Baht. You can drink a big beer at these places for 45-60 Baht. That's a bargain if u ask me. The theme pubs are totally overpriced and quite simply not worth bothering about

By PaulJ, BKK (11th May 2010)

Actually Pratunam work clothes are on the whole, not expensive and still look good.
Just bought some good quality polo shirts for 350 baht and they are well worth the money.

MK is not 400 baht per person, all you can eat, or if it is, I've never seen it.

I agree, the flights coming are cheap, but to go home is far, far too expensive. I thought that once the Thais had taken all our money, they would help us to get out of Dodge by offering cheaper tickets.

All electronic goods are overpriced, buy them in the UK.

By Bedu, Bangkok (20th April 2010)

uurrrm go shopping at MBK? Clothes are well cheap there...

By james, UK (19th April 2010)

It surprises me that it doesnt ever occur to any of these people to jump onto a Air Asia flight for 4000 baht and give China a go for a year.
Food, clothes, recreational activities and beer is ridiculously cheaper than that of thailand, with a healthy mutual respect for the 'ferang', something i rarely see now in Thailand. You can also even have a decent business here.

By Lukey, China (18th April 2010)

Hong Kong is the place to go for cheap threads.

By jock, (4th April 2010)

Well, it is up to you Phillip but why eat at MK for 400 baht when you can eat for 70 Baht for 2 on the street. I have been doing it for years. I can eat at KFC for 2 for 200 Baht or a nice Thau restauarant as a special treat for 600 or 700 Baht. I don't consider MK to be special but run of the mill. But if you consider that many teachers are earning 30000 Baht or over or around that, then 400 Baht a meal is quite a lot. You can eat at the food court for 2 for less than a 100 Baht. What is the difference between that and MK...?? Huge... does Japanese food come at such a premium...??

I see many teachers here and a lot of them don't have 2 baht to rub together during the tight times - like now, and now running around doing camps. I know one teacher who did a camp recently and was earning 1100 Baht a day. He was getting up at 7.00 am and going to bed at 11 pm. I wouldn't do it. In light of that does 400 Baht a meal sound excessive...?? I think so. I can eat at 7-11 for 40 Baht... I aint the high-so sort and my GF knows it too..... I know too many farangs who are skint. As for me I am on holiday for the next month. Yeah ...!! While they going scraping around for scraps and all the cr*ppy jobs because they failed to save. Who is wiser...??

Cheers, ML

By ML, Bangkok (30th March 2010)

I think it's a ridiculous notion to recommend farangs live like Thais. I've never seen any westerner keep up that sort of act for any length of time unless they are truly skint. And who wants to be in that position?

800 baht for a meal in MK restaurant? I was there yesterday. Two people can eat until they are fit to burst for less than 400 baht.

And as for wearing clothes from Pratnaam. I'd rather be a hi-so. Now, where's that poodle got to?

By philip, (29th March 2010)

The trick in Thailand is to live like the locals. You may venture into KFC or Mc Donald's, or maybe even Subway but after that it starts to get out of my league. If you want cheap clothes go to Pratunam near New Paetchuburi Road and near Pantip. Lots of people and packed with people but a lot of good bargains. It is where clever Thais go. Forget the malls altogether. They are for Thai's who want to pretend they are high-so. They are all run by the same chains and so are pretty much the same price. I was once with my darling-to-be in Emporium shopping centre and went to a movie there. She forced my hand and told me that I had to take her shopping - and we went downstairs and start to look at the prices for a new pair of jeans starting at 4000 Baht thank you very much. Shocked and in dismay - "Geezus" - it was more than Oxford street in London. My mind was reeling if she thought I was buying her a 4000 baht pair of jeans. I felt like giving her 500 Baht and telling her to buy what she could and then heading upstairs to wait for her at the movies. Well, I didn't do that or even buy anything. The result was that half way through the movie she got up and went to the toilet and never came back and I later got an sms to say she left because I "could not take care of her". Ah..., alas... it seems that the pleasures of Thailand are just not what they used to be.

But my advise is when you come here, live like the locals. Forget the theme pubs. I never understand why anyone wants to eat at expensive MK restaurant at 800 Baht a crack in the bright lights when you can go to a Thai resturant in the shade and in the trees all romantically lit and eat Thai food for around 500 Baht and have a feast. Most food chains are a rip off here and for Thai wanting or pretending to be high-so. Forget them. Down on Soi 36 Sukhmvit (close to Thong Lor BTS station I think it is you can eat good quality food for around 50 Baht a plate. always look out for bargains and where the locals go, not the shopaholics and wanna-be high-sos. Stick off the beaten track, buy clothes on the street and same as the food. When you buy a bowl of noodles at 35 Baht why would anyone want to spend 200 - 300 Baht in a restaurant for sometimes 10 times that. Even the food courts in malls are good normally. As they say when in Rome do as the Romans do, and the best advice I can give is leave those food chains at home and eat there only when you have to or when you know the prices and are prepared to pay them. It is true I have been told by my darlings that I am "Kinneeeeow" (in a whining tone) (stingy) but the glory days of 70 Baht to the Pound and loads of ignorant farangs may be over.

By ML, Bangkok (28th March 2010)

Thanks for your comments Matt.
It's a shame you were not around in Thailand during the early 90's when for one magical day, just one unforgettable day - the exchange rate peaked at 100 baht to a pound, after several months in the nineties.
Will we ever see the likes of that again I wonder?

I buy most of my clothes outside of Thailand these days. The UK is no more expensive for clothes than here. Japan is about the same but has a far better selection of good quality stuff. And as for Hong Kong, it's worth shelling out on a plane ticket just to bring back a big suitcase full of kit. The clothes shops in HK - especially during sale times - are at least half the price of those in Bangkok.

By philip, (28th March 2010)

Couldn't agree more with your blog.

I have just purchased a return ticket for my Thai girlfriend to come and visit the UK with EVA airlines and it cost 38,500 which was a PROMOTION flight. 770 pounds!!

My friend has also just booked a return flight with Emirates and that cost him 49,000. which with todays current baht/sterling exchange rate is over 1000 pounds which is DOUBLE the price you would pay in UK.

The problem right now is simply the exchange rate.

I have been coming to Thailand since 1996 and i have never been here when the rate was less than 50 baht to the pound. It has always been 55-70 baht.
Why with all the current political problems/protests and the drop in tourist numbers does the baht remain so strong against all currencies??

Just does not make any sense to me!

This ultimately will make TOURISM worse than it currently is as other destinations and currencies are better value for money right now.

The regular ex-pat guys who do the usual 6 month in Uk/6 months in Thailand may have to consider other destinations if the baht remains so strong.

And I'm sure the long-term resident expates living off a UK/US pension must be hurting right now and having to really watch what they spend each week/month.

I think the problem with the flight costs is simply supply and demand, with obviously more demand from travellers leaving London and flying to Bangkok for a holiday than Thai people or ex-pats returning to UK for a holiday. However the mark-up on the BKK-LON flights is simply too much and will ultimately put people off returning home for a holiday during the school holiday and they will stay in Thailand and holiday here or take a holiday in another S.East asian destination during April which is better value.

I still think the price of Thai food is very reasonable but as you said (if you want a bit of western grub/stodge) then the British themed pubs are just too expensive (always have been but when your here for 3 weeks as a tourist it's no problem but when you live here and living off less than 40k a month, i stay well clear of these places)....not only on food but also drinks as well.

Finally my friend and I who are also returning to the UK next week were also considering going into Bangkok to buy some cheap polo shirts, T-shirts etc to take back, but both agreed that these days in UK there are lots of big sports shops, factory outlets, Primark etc that you can NOW actually buy T-shirts, polo shirts, shorts etc for less money and more importantly better QUALITY products than you can in Bangkok so we are saving our hard earned baht for a shopping raid back in Blighty.

And we too will be enjoying a QUALITY pint of lager and a cheap "Curry Night" at our local Wetherspoons for a lot less than you would in a British style pub in Bangkok.

Good article and total agreement from a fellow Englishman.

By Bangkok Matt, Bangkok (27th March 2010)

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