Thailand is known worldwide as a country with inexpensive and very diverse food. Compared to countries in Western Europe, the USA, Japan, and other countries with a high standard of living, the cost of food in Thailand really seems very low. Everywhere in Thailand you can find food from 10 THB to 3,000 THB and above. At the same time you must know, that Thailand is a country in which the cost of the same dish can vary several times. In this short article I will tell you some secrets of local food service, thanks to which you can save a lot of money on food during your vacation in Thailand. I will also indicate the approximate prices of popular Thai dishes and drinks and advise places where you can buy them at the best prices.
1. Street food instead of restaurants
The street food industry in Thailand is so widely developed that literally every tenth resident of this country somehow takes part in this business. If you want to save on food in Thailand – street cafes, mini markets and mobile hawker stalls – your choice. Speaking of street cafes, I mean traditional cafes for local residents, not street cafes for foreigners in resorts. Cafe for locals is easy to distinguish by a simple interior (often plastic tables and chairs) and a small selection of simple dishes. Often on the tables there may be jugs with drinking water, and next to the cooking place there is a container with ice.
On mini-markets, usually prepared dishes of chicken, pork, beef, fish and seafood, as well as many soups in large containers. And, of course, local residents dine in institutions for local residents. To find such places, you don’t need to visit any areas remote from tourist places, because you can find street cafes even in the side streets on Walking Street in Pattaya, on Bangla Road in Phuket and next to Nana Plaza (Soi 4 Sukhumvit) in Bangkok. And mobile hawker stalls are generally found everywhere in Thailand and you can buy meat and fish dishes, traditional salads, soups and many types of BBQ.
As for prices, small skewers of chicken on skewers (satay) usually sell from 10 THB, pork skewers from 20 THB, a large piece of chicken on a bamboo skewer – 50-60 THB, a plate of delicious Pad Thai fried noodles – from 50 THB. Spicy papaya salad (Som Tam) from 30 THB. Prices are for tourist destinations, and if you move further away from them, the cost of dishes will be even lower. For example, I spent several days in Bangkok (the good and affordable At Mind Executive Suites) and ate at street cafes on Sukhumvit Road. I took fried rice with chicken and vegetables or Pad Thai with chicken, and my girlfriend a spicy salad or something else from meat and vegetables. For this food and 2 bottles of drinking water, we rarely paid more than 110 THB (3.5 USD). Delicious Thai fruits are also better to buy in mini markets outside of tourist places or at supermarket sales (more on this below).
2. Refuse food on the beaches
Buying food at beach cafes and from merchants who walk along the beach and offer you to buy fish, shrimp, fruits, BBQ and drinks is very convenient. You get the opportunity to get food right on the spot, but you pay too much for it. Therefore, if you want to save on food – you have to abandon the purchase of food on the beach. Surely on the way to the beach you will pass a grocery store where you can buy food and drinks at a good price. I recommend having breakfast in a Thai cafe before visiting the beach, and the next time you can get a good meal after leaving the beach. Do you remember that spending too much time on the beach is bad for your health and you know, how to sunbathe in Thailand correctly?
3. Cook for yourself
You may find this advice somewhat strange. Not only in large cities of the country, but also in small Thai villages, many people almost never cook for themselves and their families. It is often really cheaper to buy inexpensive street food. But my long trips to Thailand have proved that self-cooking does save a lot of time and money. Of course, if you live in a standard hotel room, the possibility of cooking is very limited. But if you prefer to live in private apartments, as I do with Airbnb (here you can get a bonus of 41 USD for registration in this app), then you will have a full kitchen. This means that in addition to the microwave oven, you will have a gas or electric stove, often a toaster, a set of dishes (at least a pot and frying pan), plates and cutlery.
It is not at all necessary to cook for yourself three times a day and spend the precious time of your vacation at sea on cooking. But you can always cook a simple breakfast for yourself and your family using products from 7Eleven or Thai supermarkets Tesco Lotus, Big C or Macro. For example, I often cook omelet with sausages or chicken for breakfast, adding fresh vegetables to it. It turns out quickly and very inexpensively. It is very convenient that in Thailand you can buy raw eggs not only in 10 pieces, but also in packages of 2, 4 or 6 eggs. I also sometimes indulge myself with french fries, which in cafes and markets in Thailand are usually not very cheap (a portion costs from 50 THB, while in the supermarket you can buy 1 kg of frozen french fries for 60-70 THB , and this is about 5 servings.
4. Ready meals at 7Eleven and Family Mart
You will find these two chains of convenience stores in all Thai cities and large villages. And if we are talking about Thai resorts, then these shops are often located every 50-200 meters. The advantage of shops is that in addition to products, classic snacks and bottled drinks, you can buy ready-made portioned dishes there. As a rule, these are dishes based on rice or noodles with the addition of various types of meat, fish and seafood. Not all of them are equally tasty and healthy: some are too spicy and have a strange taste due to the use of exotic spices and herbs. But there are dishes that I personally really like and that I could eat every day.
For example, I really like fried rice with crab and egg. This dish could be packed in round or rectangular plates, but it is always very fresh and tasty. The composition of the dish includes natural crab meat, not crab sticks (as you might think). The cost of one portion is 40-45 THB, while the store cashier will warm up the dish for free in the microwave and add a disposable spoon and fork. I also really like the taste of scrambled eggs with shrimps (peeled). This dish costs even less, about 35 THB (a little over 1 USD). Still sometimes I buy rice with fish, but this dish is suitable only for those who like spicy food. But I don’t like ready-made pork dishes in 7Eleven, because instead of meat there is minced meat and a lot of unpleasant spices. Also at 7Eleven you can cook a burger, warm up ready-made sandwiches with fillings, make instant soup, etc.
5. Cooked Food at Supermarkets Big C and Tesco Lotus
Big C is my favorite Thailand supermarket chain, not least because of the wide selection of ready-made meals. Every morning after the opening of large Big C supermarkets, you will find many prepared portioned dishes in disposable containers. These are rice dishes, and fish, and spaghetti with additives, and stuffed omelettes, and much more. The cost is very affordable for everyone! You can use the microwave to warm up the food or ask a store employee to help you with this. A very important advantage of supermarkets is the ability to cook fresh fish right in front of you. This service is FREE and you pay only for fish, and not for the cooking process. I advise you to pay attention that the cost of fish and seafood can be indicated both per unit and per 100 grams or 1 kilogram. The situation is similar in a many Tesco Lotus supermarkets.
6. Evening discounts in supermarkets
In Thailand, it is not customary to re-stick labels and change production dates on products (deceive customers). Large supermarkets try to sell all finished products on the day of manufacture. To do this, a big sale is held in the evening. You can find small tables with packs of prepared food right at the entrance to the supermarket. After 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. (depending on the particular supermarket), yellow price tags with a new price are pasted on the packages with ready-made food. Usually the initial discount is 25% of the original price. But if after an hour the goods remained unsold, the store employees again paste new price tags with an even lower price (50% discount).
You can find discounted products, first of all, in the culinary department. You are waiting for fried fish, rice dishes, omelettes, noodles, pieces of pork or chicken, boiled eggs with salads, sushi sets, etc. In the bakery department you will find bread, rolls, donuts and other flour products. It is very profitable to come to supermarkets in the evening for fruit. You can find many fruit plates with sliced fruit at a good price. Most often, sold at a discount are chopped watermelons, pineapples, ripe papaya, mangoes, dragon fruit, jackfruit, and fruit platter. I often buy packaged clusters of large grapes.
You can often find drinks at discounted prices. For example, I bought my favorite chocolate milk in large bottles several times. The discount in this case was due to the fact that several days remained before the expiration date. I hope you understand how profitable it is to visit Big C supermarkets in Thailand in the evening. Unfortunately, the choice of my favorite dishes is not always available there, and by the end of the first hour of the sale, the assortment may narrow significantly, so it is better to come to the beginning of the sale.
7. Thai buffets – a feast for the belly
Sometimes in Thailand you want to not only satisfy your hunger, but also try a lot of varied food. In such cases, I recommend visiting Thai buffets called mookata (self cook BBQ buffet). The essence of such institutions is as follows: you pay a fixed amount of money and cook for yourself on an individual grill pan in the center of the table. The grill pan is universal: the top is suitable for frying meat, and in the container around the perimeter you can simultaneously cook a delicious soup. At the same time, you can pick up various types of meat, vegetables, herbs, noodles, etc. without restrictions. There is also something like a buffet with ready-made dishes (french fries, pasta, rice, salads, fruit slices, desserts, pastries, etc.). Sometimes for large fish and seafood you must use a large common roasting pan (BBQ) and periodically turn the fish over so that it does not burn on the coals.
As you probably already understood, this is the best way to fill your stomach and have fun at the same time, because cooking in such establishments is very exciting. And if something doesn’t work out for you, employees of the establishment will always come to the rescue and show how best to cook this or that dish. The cost of visiting this kind of Thai buffets starts from 150 THB, but in the largest and most popular buffets it can be 199-249 THB. The disadvantage of this type of institution is the need to pay for drinks separately. Also keep in mind that in some buffets you have to eat everything you have gained (if you ruined a lot of food and didn’t eat half of it, you will have to pay a small fine).
In addition to the classic street buffet, which I talked about, in Thailand there are specialized buffets. The cost of visiting the latter is usually higher and can reach up to 1000 THB, especially when it comes to seafood buffets. More often such buffets are located in the area of popular beaches and are designed for tourists. Some hotel’s buffets specialize in breakfasts. The cost of visiting in such cases is often 99-150 THB, but the choice of dishes is not too large. Finally, you can find interesting buffets in large shopping centers. Often in such establishments, visit times may be limited. For example, in the popular network of Japanese buffets, you can eat any dish in any quantity, but within 1 hour, for 300-350 THB.
8. Carefully check the menu in cafes and restaurants
In some Thai cafes and restaurants, the cost of dishes on the menu can be indicated without taxes and fees. As a result, the bill for dinner can be significantly higher than you originally expected. Therefore, carefully study the menu before ordering: at the bottom of each page in small print it can be indicated that prices are without service tax (+ 10%) and VAT (+ 7%). In fact, I came across this only once on the island of Samui, but now I always check the menu. On the Internet you can also find information about cases when before the order tourists are shown one menu, and after billing – another, with higher prices. To protect yourself from this kind of fraud, you can take a picture of the menu before ordering or shoot it on video.
When checking the menu, pay attention to the serving size. In some fish restaurants and cafes with seafood, it is customary to indicate the cost per 100 grams. Those. if you ordered a large fish that weighs 400-500 grams, then you will have to pay 4-5 times more. Usually the menu indicates that the price is per 100 grams. But if in doubt, you can always ask the seller or waiter how much all the fish or lobster will cost. The cost per 100 grams is often written on the shelves in the form of boats with ice, which are located along the sidewalks in Thai resorts.
Give Up Western Fast Food
Fast food restaurants are not very popular in Thailand, and you rarely see a large line in Thai McDonalds. Due to the great popularity of street food and the low prices of products in the open-air stores, western fast food is not very popular. For Thais it is expensive and not very tasty, but for tourists it may not be very interesting. Moreover, the cost of ready meals in and KFC, Burger King or McDonalds is about 1.5 times more expensive than the average cost of dishes in Thai cafes. It was really very strange and unusual, but several times I was the only visitor to McDonalds in the evening in Pattaya when I bought ice cream there.
Choose Thai Restaurants
Resting in Thailand and wanting to save on food, it is better to order Thai dishes and generally choose Thai cafes. This is due to the fact that such establishments use local products. But Italian pizzerias or steakhouses can use imported semi-finished products, which is why your score will be two to three times higher than in a Thai restaurant. This rule is noticeable even on french fries, which costs 70-100 THB in a cafe for a not very large portion, because made from imported frozen potatoes. For the same reason, you will have to refuse to visit such famous chain cafes as Hard Rock and Hooters.
How to save on water in Thailand
Thailand is located in the tropics and it is a country of eternal summer. Therefore, even in the winter months, you will consume a lot of drinking water and drinks daily. Drinking tap water in Thailand is not recommended. And the minimum cost of 0.5 liters of bottled water is 6-7 THB in 7Eleven stores or 10 THB in cafes and restaurants. Locals often sell the same bottles on the street (in ice containers) at 15 THB. It’s a bit more profitable to buy bottles of water with a volume of 1.5 liters (from 20 THB) and large bottles of 5 liters (from 30 THB) in stores. But this is not the most profitable option. Even more profitable is to buy packages of 12-20 bottles in supermarkets, but this is not the most convenient option for an ordinary tourist. Thais and experienced tourists prefer to buy water in special vending machines with water.
Drinking water is sold for bottling to your own bottles. Just drop the coins and use your bottles. The cost of 1 liter of water in water vending machines ranges from 0.5 THB in areas without tourists and up to 2 THB in popular tourist places. But the most popular price is 1 THB for 1 liter of water. You can read more about this on the page “Drinking water in Thailand.” By simply comparing prices, you can calculate the approximate savings on water in cases when you buy it in water vending machines and when in stores. Unfortunately, it is not always convenient to carry water with you during your holidays in Thailand, even when you use a good backpack for traveling. Therefore, I prefer to use bottled water for use in a condo (for making tea) and I can take small bottles with me to the beach that are pre-chilled in the refrigerator.
Saving on alcohol
Many tourists can not imagine their holidays in Thailand without drinking Thai alcohol and Thai beer. Therefore, I will tell you how you can save on this item of expenditure. Strong alcohol in Thailand is best purchased in supermarkets, where prices are much lower. This can be seen even on small bottles. For example, you can buy my favorite Thai rum in 7Eleven stores for 155 THB (0.3l), while the same bottle in Big C or Tesco Lotus will cost 139 THB. The difference is only 16 THB per bottle and it’s not worth it to go to the supermarket specifically for 1 bottle (transport will cost more). But if in any case you will drink alcohol, you can buy it in advance while visiting the supermarket.
The situation is similar with Thai beer. It is most beneficial to purchase local brands in hypermarkets, especially in packages of 6-12 cans or bottles. Even in Family Mart and 7 Eleven, you can find mini packs of 2 cans or bottles that cost less than 2 bottles separately. Imported beers are more expensive in shops and bars, so if you want to save money, choose local beers. When visiting the bars, you can save by ordering draft beer instead of bottled beer. In the evening (until 22:00) in many bars and night clubs you can buy Thai beer at a special low price (happy hour), which is slightly higher than in the store. Often such conditions and for the purchase of low alcohol cocktails.
Using all of the above travel tips, you can save a significant amount of money while relaxing in Thailand. And saving on food does not mean that you should go hungry, spend half a day by the stove or refuse to visit cafes and restaurants. If you will be use in practice at least part of the knowledge gained here, and you can save money even when traveling to Thailand alone. And if you are traveling in a large company or family, the savings will be even more noticeable and enjoyable. Have a good rest and enjoy your meal!
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