Understanding the Thai Baht – don’t take a Bath!
The Thai Baht currency (yes, it’s a “bart” and not a “bath”) is not too hard to get your head around. Read this guide and you’ll be shopping in Thailand like a pro in no time. But you do need to understand how far your money will go in Thailand (and usually it’s a very long way) so you don’t blow your budget or pay too much.
For most travellers, Thailand is a very cheap place to visit. We did our first trip to Thailand with two teenagers on a budget of $2400 for three weeks! Mind you, my brother and his wife spend that on a Chiang Mai hotel for a week, but that’s another story. We travel on a budget, but we do it in comfort.
As we write this, the US dollar is exchanging for around 30 Thai Baht which will buy you a good meal for two with a couple of beers thrown in, or a night in a cheap backpacker hostel. But it’s easy to get carried away with how many Baht you have in your wallet or purse, how cheap things appear to be, and not realise how much you’re spending! On the other hand, the numbers get so high at times you think you’re spending far more than you really are. For example, a night in a decent 4-star Bangkok hotel will cost you 1000 Baht, but that’s only $300.
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The major unit of currency is the Thai Baht (which we abbreviate here to Bt, as in 200Bt). The notes come in denominations of 1000Bt, 500Bt, 100Bt, 50Bt, 20Bt and 10Bt. We typically get about 30Bt to the dollar, but check your current exchange rate on arrival.
There are also coins which we don’t talk about much here as they are a bit of a nuisance (I give them to my wife and she makes sure we spend them or give them to a good cause). Coins come in denominations of 10Bt, 5Bt, 1Bt, 50S (Satang) and 25S. If you get these in your change, give them to someone who needs help as they are of very little use to you. Even the largest of these coins is only worth USD 30 cents.
Changing your money into Baht – don’t get ripped off!
Don’t buy a lot of Thai Baht before you arrive in Thailand. You’ll pay far too much for it overseas or even in the airport when you arrive. We make a practice of arriving with no more than 1000Bt which is enough for a snack and a taxi to your hotel. Once at your hotel, you’ll find it easy to exchange your money for Thai Baht at a good rate. If you’re worried about whether you can easily change your local currency in Thailand, bring US Dollars or Euros.
The easiest way to get Thai Baht is from an ATM (hole in the wall cash machine) or a money changer, both of which are everywhere and often tend to be close by each other. We prefer to use a Visa or Mastercard debit card to carry our travelling money as it’s easy to use and you get a pretty good exchange rate from the ATMs, although you do pay about 100Bt in bank fees each time you withdraw cash, so try not to do that too often.
You can also use travellers cheques, major credit cards and major foreign currencies in most parts of Thailand, though I believe you often get better deals using local cash.
You do have to be a bit careful when you change money in Thailand! Even the most honest money changers can accidentally rip you off by giving you the wrong notes. Do the math in your head and know how much Baht you should be getting (remember that it will be a little less because of commission). Some smaller money change booths may also slip counterfeit notes into your bundle, so check each note carefully before moving away from the window. Once you’ve walked away, they won’t want to know about you.
The biggest risk for counterfeit notes is the 1000 Baht note and you’ll quickly see that most small stall holders will carefully examine any 1000 Baht note before accepting it. They’re looking for the magnetic strip up the middle of the note and the holographic image in the blank space on the right hand side.
Although the 1000 Baht note is only worth 30 dollars or so, a lot of small vendors and taxi drivers will moan and groan if you try to give them one. Think about it, you’re spending 100 Baht and giving them 1,000 Baht, so they have to find 9 x 100 Baht notes for your change. Often this will mean going and begging for change from other vendors or drivers. So spare a thought for the little guys and keep some 100 Baht notes in your wallet.
What it costs to stay and eat in Thailand
The great thing about Thailand is that it’s so cheap – everything is cheap except perhaps wine and spirits, most of which is imported. If you’re like us and don’t throw money around stupidly, you’ll get by comfortably on 500-1000Bt per day for a couple, except in places like Phuket or Pattaya or perhaps Bangkok – because prices do tend to be a little more expensive in those heavily “touristed” places. This will cover your accommodation (300-600Bt per night), food (300-500Bt), transport (100-200Bt) and a few drinks to end the day.
Of course you can easily spend more than that, but even if you eat, stay and drink in fairly good places, you should not need much more than 1500-2000Bt per day.
Here’s a guide to some of the things you’re likely to want to spend money on during your stay in Thailand:
- A bottle of beer (e.g. Singha, Chang, Leo) – 60Bt
- A bottle of water – 20Bt
- A plate of Thai curry and rice – 30Bt
- A 30 minute Thai massage – 100Bt
- A room in a cheap hotel or guest house – 500Bt and upward
- A tuk-tuk ride of around 3-5 km – 100Bt
Note: These prices are averages – things are cheaper in Khao San Road than in Sukhumvit, cheaper in Chiang Mai than in Bangkok and cheaper in Chiang Rai than in Chiang Mai. Beach resorts like Phuket and Pattaya are the most expensive.
Of course. if you’re the kind of person who wants to eat and drink the good stuff on your holidays, your spending will look more like this:
- a bottle of imported beer – 100Bt
- lunch in a mid-range restaurant – 500Bt
- dinner in a good restaurant – 2000Bt
- 30 minute ride in a taxi – 400Bt
- pair of Nike training shoes – 2500Bt
- pair of Levi jeans – 1500Bt
- room in a mid-range hotel – 2500Bt
The best rule of thumb when shopping in Thailand is to think in US dollars, then drop a zero and divide by 3. For example, if you’re buying something that’s 900Bt, drop the zero to make it 90, then divide by three to make it 30 … so that’s US$30. It’s always easier to think in a currency you understand.