In Thailand, it’s much more common to eat at (local) restaurants on a daily or weekly base compared to Western countries as the food they serve at restaurants in Thailand is relatively cheap. One of the first things you will notice once you land in Bangkok for example is the abundance of food stalls, restaurants and markets all over the city. It’s as if the city breaths food. It would be foolish not to take advantage of this.
The best ways to eat cheap in Thailand are:
1. Visit night markets
One of the best ways to experience what locals eat in Thailand is by visiting night markets. These markets can be found in the majority of the cities where tourists often go. Night markets are specifically designed for food stalls, although some larger markets do have some entertaining areas too, where visitors can enjoy live music as well as buying clothes, vintages goodies and much more.
The variety of food that is sold at night markets is among the cheapest you can find in Thailand and often more hygienic compared to street food stalls. To give you a good impression of what to expect at night markets, have a look at our article about the best night markets in Bangkok.
2. Eat street food
Although the cleanness at some street food vendors is debatable, one of the best ways to eat cheap in Thailand is to eat street food. We wrote a full article about Bangkok Street Food that covers everything you should know about street food. We highly recommend you to read this article if you're planning to eat street food in Thailand. Here are some pictures of what kind of street food you can expect:
3. Visit local restaurants (that are busy)
For obvious reasons, visiting local restaurants that don’t have fancy looks is a great way to eat cheap in Thailand. But when you visit Thailand for the first time, you might find it scary to try new things due to the lack of knowledge of the local cuisine. As a general rule of thumb, visit restaurants that are packed with locals. Although some of these local restaurants can lack the hygiene you’re used to in Western countries, restaurants that are busy do have the (local) reputation to serve amazing, relatively clean food.
Note: as we're living in a Digital Age nowadays, check for local restaurants where delivery guys on motorbikes are waiting in line to pick up their orders. The more delivery guys you see in front of the restaurant, the better the food is!
4. Avoid touristic areas
This tip is pretty obvious, but difficult to execute. There is a reason why touristic areas are popular to find Thai food and that’s because a lot of eateries and other business can be found at locations where many people gather. There is also a reason why restaurants outside these areas are cheaper because they must compete somehow to these restaurants in popular areas.
But another reason why you should try to avoid touristic areas is that you will find completely different food at non-tourist areas as the restaurant that does serve Thai food in touristic areas often changed the flavour to the Western taste palate. Good examples can be found in our article about the best local food in Chiang Mai and the best local food in Bangkok, although some local dishes are not necessarily cheap due to the unique ingredients that are being used. In the next paragraph, we explain to you exactly how to find the best, cheap food in Thailand.
5. Find cheap food with the TopTravelFoods app
We believe that the best way to eat cheap in Thailand is by using the TopTravelFoods app. Instead of recommending good restaurants, we recommend the best food these restaurants offer. The reason for that is simple, we had no clue what to order in Thailand and because of this lack of knowledge, we often stick to that what we know: like pad Thai, fried rice or a green curry.
So how to eat cheap in Thailand with the TopTravelFoods app? Well, you can use a budget filter (for example, all local food up to 100 THB) and you will find the best Thai food up to 100 THB, rated and reviewed by fellow travellers, at popular Thai destinations.
6. Visit food courts
In larger cities, food courts are a common phenomenon where you can find some of the cheapest foods in Thailand. Most commonly, you can find food courts in shopping malls. Food courts are like a cafeteria where you can choose from dozens of vendors and are among the best ways to eat clean and cheap Thai food. One of the most popular food courts in Bangkok can be found at Terminal 21, which is a shopping mall at Asok BTS, right in the middle of Bangkok. Here, you can still find cheap Thai food under 40 THB that is clean too.
7. Avoid seafood, stick to pork, chicken or vegetarian
Thai food, in general, is affordable, however, you can make it as expensive as you want. Seafood, for example, is much pricier than other ingredients such as pork and chicken, although seafood is still well-priced compared to Western countries. Avoiding seafood will most-definitely help your wallet, but seafood does play an important role in Thai cuisine. If you do plan to try Thai seafood, find a local restaurant in places near the ocean outside touristic areas.
8. Go for Thai buffets
Thai love to eat buffets. In every larger city, there is an abundance of all-you-can-eat restaurants and if you go for a Thai buffet (Mookata), you often pay less than 300 THB per person to stuff yourself for two hours long. Not only is it value for money, but it's also really fun to do. Have a look at our article about all-you-can-eat restaurants under 300 THB in Bangkok for more details.
Best cheap eats in Bangkok
Best cheap eats in Chiang Mai
Best cheap eats in Pattaya
Best (street) food in Chinatown Bangkok
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