Broke In Bangkok 101: The 100 Baht A Day Survival Guide

And so it comes to pass one morning, after six months of robust merriment – most of which you cannot recall – that you search through your pockets only to unearth a beer Chang bottle cap, a half eaten packet of Lays Originals, and absolutely nothing resembling convertible currency.

Congratulations, you are skint.

Flat broke. Tapped out. Penniless. On the bones of your arse.

Bangkok isn’t a nice place to be when you have no money, in fact it’s positively terrifying. The streets and sub sois which were once pulsating veins, bristling with smiling faces and a vibrant assortment of bars, pubs and roadside eateries, are now cold, stoney corridors oozing a thick fug of raw sewage and cheap incense fumes.

Sitting in your apartment now, with the Channel Three news providing a soundtrack to your woeful situation, you weigh up the options.

Buoyed at the thought of Great Auntie Jean’s thrice annual contributions to your bank account, one of which is due next week, you go hat-in-hand to an acquaintance and borrow 300 baht.

It must last you three days.

100 baht a day.

Is it possible to lead a rich and fulfilling existence on such a meagre sum? Well, yes. I think you’ll find it is.

Starting with breakfast, you can’t go far wrong with a packet of Mama Noodles.

At six baht per bag, Mama comes in a variety of different flavours, the most popular being Moo Sub and Tom Yum Goong, and provides adequate carbohydrates to see you through until lunch. After adding the accompanying condiments, Mama makes for a reasonably tasty morning meal.

But you wouldn’t want to eat it everyday. Having to eat it everyday would be very upsetting indeed.

A cigarette is next on the agenda.

That one most sacred of postprandial activities can surely not be eschewed even in these trying times. Not only will it bring cessation to your breakfast but a few puffs of the hallowed leaf will serve to bid farewell to any remaining traces of hunger.

Due to our forced parsimony, the likes of Marlboro, L&M, Wonder, and even the mega-budget SMS are all off the menu today.

Instead, in any Mom and Pop store worth its salt you will find what the Thais call Ya Sen. This literally translates into ‘medicine string’. How very quaint! It is basically homegrown tobacco, cultivated in a number of north and north-eastern provinces, with half an ounce retailing for just three baht.

Therefore breakfast and a cigarette has set you back the princely sum of nine baht. How incredibly frugal of you.

And we still have 91 baht with which to paint the town red… or maybe just a muted shade of maroon.

You may use the time between breakfast and lunch to do as you wish. Begging isn’t encouraged but, yes, it is an option.

And so midday rolls around and it’s time to start thinking about lunch.

Although another packet of Mama would probably be the thriftiest choice, it simply will not wash with your demanding palate.

Having become attuned to the sharp and tangy culinary offerings here in Southeast Asia you deem it necessary to venture forth into a marketplace where 25 baht will secure you a little polythene bag full of fresh chilli, tomato, garlic, shallots, cucumber and limes, and a further 16 baht will earn you some protein, which in this case comes in the form of Pla Ka Pong – tinned sardines usually served in tomato sauce.

These unassuming ingredients combine to form your own economical take on a Siamese classic, and you feast heartily on Yam Pla Ka Bong for your midday meal.

The day so far has been a roaring success: it’s 2pm and you still have a whopping 50 baht in the bank!

A thoroughly well-deserved nap has seen the afternoon hours tick away and the evening set in – complete with the clatter of diminutive prefab eateries set up shop halfway down your soi.

With a whole 50 baht in your pocket, Bangkok is indeed your oyster.

You decide that tonight you will dine on Hoi Tort, a dish generally eaten as an evening snack, comprising seafood – usually prawns, squid and mussels – cooked in a light batter. Weighing in at a budget-friendly 30 baht this protein-heavy dish leaves you with 20 baht to conclude the evening.

And when we say ‘conclude the evening’, we of course mean, ‘get as drunk as possible’.

Obtaining a satisfactory level of inebriation for such an insubstantial outlay may sound a bit pie-in-the-sky to the uninitiated, but you are surrounded by affordable intoxicants in dear Bangkok.

(Don’t drink petrol though. Petrol tends to make you go blind.)

Instead, opt for ‘Siam Sato’; a rice wine that can be found in most 7 Elevens and supermarkets. It weighs in at a fairly authoritative eight percent alcohol. A 660ml bottle (as well as sadly seeing you breach your budget by five baht) will evoke a pleasant sensation and a 30-minute window before you may pass out, perchance to forget all about how much money you haven’t got.

Moving onto the motherload: Lao Khao.

This local favourite is available in varying measures – from tiny sips to literal vats of the stuff – from Mom and Pop shops. The go-to quota for regular imbibers fills a Redbull or M150-sized bottle and will cost the consumer around 20 baht.

At 40 per cent alcohol and with fermented rice the principal ingredient, it tastes – let’s not beat around the bush here – utterly dreadful.

We are, however, looking for function over form, and a slurp or four of Lau Khao – otherwise known as ‘Siamese moonshine’ – is the perfect way to end a day below the breadline.

In future, though, you may want to put Great Auntie Jean’s handouts to better use. Like a ticket home, maybe…


What are your tips for the broke in Bangkok?



About Author

A connoisseur of larb moo and lau khao, Steve Edwards spent 14 years in the Siamese underbelly. He's currently licking his wounds in London, preparing to step back into the breach... Follow him on Twitter @isaansteve

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