Is Thailand Actually Cheap?

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Thailand has a reputation as a very cheap place to live. Whenever I talk with my friends in Taipei and other countries, they always comment on how much I must be saving by living in Thailand compared to somewhere else.

At first glance, Thailand is very cheap. There are many expats here that survive for under 30,000 baht per month. That’s less than $900 US dollars, and that’s their entire salary. They can rent a very modest apartment, eat local food and live pretty well for this kind of salary.

In this way, living in Thailand is very cheap. But if you want to have a better lifestyle – the type of lifestyle you can get in most Western countries, with a house and car – Thailand can get very expensive, very quickly.

For example, I was looking at used cars on One2Car.com the other day. Because of the import taxes in Thailand, even a very basic Volkswagen Golf from two to three years ago costs more than $30,000 US dollars. That’s a huge amount for what most of us would think of as a simple, affordable car.

The only way to reduce the cost of buying a car in Thailand is to buy a Thai-made car. Lots of Japanese companies like Honda and Toyota have licensing agreements with Thailand and make their cars in Thai factories, thus avoiding the import tax. If you want a simple, made-in-Thailand car, prices are low. If you’d prefer a Ferrari (or even a BMW) you should be prepared to pay two, three or even four times as much as in other countries.

There are some ways in which Thailand is cheap, aside from the basics. It’s also very cheap to go to hospital here. Medical care costs virtually nothing. I had lasik two months ago for just over $2,000 US dollars, which is a fraction of what it would cost from a good clinic in Australia. You can get dental veneers done in Thailand for $200-300 per tooth, compared to a fortune more elsewhere. In this way, Thailand is an amazingly cheap place to live.

So, to answer, Thailand is very cheap if you can live a Thai-style life, but quite expensive otherwise. It’s also expensive in ways that we often take for granted as being cheap, such as buying a car or searching for a house. Land, vehicles, luxury goods and just about anything imported costs a lot in Thailand, and over time, those costs can add up to an expensive lifestyle.

My One Gripe About Shopping in Thailand: Why are Imported Products so Expensive?

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For the most part, Thailand is a shopper’s paradise. There are more shopping malls in Bangkok than you could ever possibly need, with more going up every day. It’s easy to find very cheap clothing, electronics and other stuff from malls like Platinum and Pantip. Markets are everywhere and you can haggle the price of almost everything.

However, there’s one way in which shopping in Thailand isn’t such a good experience. Imported products, from clothing to food, cost an absolute fortune in Thailand due to the import taxes applied to basically everything.

Case in point: I wanted to buy a pair of formal shoes (I have to travel to a friend’s wedding in California in January). I looked at reviews online and found that good brands were Loake, which is made in the UK, and Allen Edmonds, which is made in the USA. I googled “Allen Edmonds Bangkok” to see if they were available here and couldn’t find anything. Luckily Loake is sold here in the department store in Siam Paragon.

I visited to try on a few pairs and choose the ones I liked. The price here is almost THREE TIMES as much as they cost in the UK. I’m fine with paying 20% more, but paying three times the retail price for a pair of shoes is crazy.

I’m not the first person to notice this. There are hundreds of threads on Thai Visa about the cost of imported goods (wine, in particular, is ridiculously overpriced here) and many other bloggers have commented on this before. It’s not just shoes; everything that’s made outside of Thailand or China is highly overpriced in 99% of Thai shops.

In the end, I ended up buying the shoes from Japan on Yahoo Auctions using a proxy shipper and having them shipped here. It costs slightly more than it would to get them in the UK, but I at least get them at a price that’s close to the regular retail price. Hopefully they don’t get held at customs on the way here, which would mean I have to pay another huge tax to receive them in Thailand.

I like living in Thailand a lot and love shopping here, if it’s for cheap things like locally made clothing or electronics, but the prices for imported goods in Thailand need to get more reasonable if the malls want people to shop here instead of flying to Singapore or Hong Kong, or buying o

Should You Stay on Khao San Road?

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Fried insects for sale on Khao San Road, perhaps found in a nearby hotel room.

Fried insects for sale on Khao San Road, perhaps found in a nearby hotel room.

Over the last two months I’ve had several friends visit me in Thailand. Two made the mistake of staying on Khao San Road. One didn’t. His experience was (I estimate) 100 times better, at least from the perspective of actually experiencing what Bangkok is about, than those of my friends who stayed on Khao San Road.

Here’s why I don’t like Khao San Road: it’s not a good sample of life in Thailand. People that stay there have the misguided idea that they’re staying somewhere that’s “uniquely Thai” or “off the beaten path” when they are actually staying on a street that’s in a bubble away from normal Thai life.

The entire street is full of hawkers selling cheap products, usually at silly prices. The food isn’t even remotely close to actual Thai food! I bought Pad Thai on Khao San Road and it was just cheap instant ramen noodles with sauce, while people that stay there rave about how “authentic” it is. It’s the same story for other Thai dishes there — Western “Thai” food that’s watered down and poorly made, all sold to people that aren’t aware.

The other problem is the quality of most hotels on Khao San Road. There are some nice hotels there (the Dang Derm Hotel is the only one I recommend to friends, if they insist on staying there) but many are poorly maintained and are infested with all sorts of vermin. I stayed on Khao San Road the first time I visited Thailand (we all make mistakes) and remember seeing more cockroaches in the three nights I was there than in the last two plus years in this country.

If you want to experience a bubble life that’s completely unlike Bangkok, stay in Khao San Road. If not, stay in a hotel along Sukhumvit Road, preferably from Phrom Phong to On Nut. It’s still a “bubble” (this is the most upmarket residential part of Bangkok) but it’s at least a better sample of life in this city than Khao San Road is.

Visiting Pattaya, A Convenient (But Awful) Beach Resort in Thailand

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Living in Bangkok makes it easy to access places like Phuket and Koh Samui, both of which have beautiful beaches, by plane. However, sometimes I don’t want to buy an expensive plane ticket (prices go up a lot on weekends and major holidays) to visit the beach, and just want to catch the bus to my destination.

I’ve written before about visiting Hua Hin, one of my favorite beach resorts in Thailand. Hua Hin is close to Bangkok, but it isn’t quite as close as Pattaya, and as such doesn’t attract as many visitors.

Pattaya is a beach resort city that’s about two hours from Bangkok. It’s easy to get there from Ekamai Bus Terminal, which is located close to Ekamai BTS Station on the BTS Skytrain. I get the bus there for just over 100 baht and usually arrive within two hours, although sometimes it can take longer.

Pattaya has a lot of beautiful resort hotels, including the new Hilton right beside the beach (winner of several hotel awards and arguably the nicest place in town). There’s also the Dusit Thani and other nice places, many of which are older but have great facilities.

The beach in Pattaya is horrible, with lots of dirt and garbage, as well as street hawkers everywhere. At night, the entire road along the beach is full of prostitutes (this is a recurring theme in Pattaya, which I will talk about later) but there are other better beaches nearby Pattaya, including Jomtien, which is a quieter beach (but still not very quiet) just around the headland from Pattaya city.

The worst point of Pattaya is the constant sleazy nightlife that’s present everywhere in the city. Almost all hotels in Pattaya are full of older male tourists with escorts in various sleazy states of dress, including high end hotels. In Bangkok some hotels allow people to bring guests back (there is a list here so you can avoid them) but most nice hotels bar this type of nightlife from intruding into the property. It’s very annoying to pay over $100 per night for a beautiful room only to arrive at breakfast and feel like you’re in the middle of a dirty nightclub.

Aside from this, Pattaya is an alright beach resort and an okay break from life in Bangkok. With that said, I recommend spending an extra hour on the minivan and visiting Hua Hin instead, which has a much nicer beach and less of the sleaze factor of Pattaya. Hua Hin doesn’t have quite the selection of hotels and activities as Pattaya, but overall it’s a much better destination, especially for couples and families.

A Visit to Hua Hin, Thailand

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Hua Hin is a small beach city close to Bangkok. It’s not the most beautiful beach in Thailand, but it’s very close to Bangkok (I got there in about three hours from Victory Monument using the mini van) and it’s a lot nicer than other destinations close to the city such as Pattaya and Bang Saen, both of which have dirty water and too much nightlife for a relaxing weekend trip.

One of the best features of Hua Hin is the amazing range of great hotels there. I stayed in the Centara Grand Hua Hin, which is one of Thailand’s oldest hotels. It was built in the 1920s and has the most amazing facilities of any hotel I’ve ever stayed in. It’s very hard to find old hotels in Thailand as most buildings aren’t constructed to last a long time, which makes a place like this very special indeed.

There are other good options in and around Hua Hin, besides the Centara Grand. The Hilton is right on the beach and also has good facilities, although it’s a newish building (I think from the 1990s) and isn’t quite as nice. The Intercontinental, which is only a few years old, is also nice and backs right onto the main Hua Hin Beach.

I try to visit Hua Hin at least once every 2-3 months when I’m in Bangkok, because it’s the best beach resort close to the city and it’s very easy to access. If you want a relaxing place to spend the weekend with your partner, give it a try!