What Being Poor in Bangkok is Like

What it is like being poor in Bangkok, what type of lifestyle can one live?

I’ve been poor and for at least 2 years I’ve lived in Bangkok on less than $800 per month.

You could make the argument that living on $800 is not at all poor as the minimum wage in Thailand is around $300, which Thai seems to live fine on.

However, I’m from the UK where the average monthly salary is $3,050, so moving to Thailand with a $800 monthly budget means I’m poor.

You can read my past articles to see how I budged on $770 per month if you’d like (the article was written in 2014).

Poor me

In case you’ve not been following my blog from the start, I came to Bangkok with $9,000 in the bank and no real skills other than playing poker (and I sucked at playing poker).

I was making anywhere between $500-$1,250 per month playing poker online.

With no stable income I budgeted like a Jew and did my best to make my life savings last.

Living on a tiny budget was really easy for me, but I’ve seen friends go from $20,000 or more in savings to broke in under 6 months and they have no idea how (hint: it was the girls and booze).

As I was trying to figure out how to increase my life savings, half the people around me were dropping like flies while others were progressing and moving forward.

To ensure I never broke my budget I would write down everything I spent in a spreadsheet, my costs were never above $800 for the first two years.

Here’s what it’s like being poor in Bangkok.

No money no space

It wasn’t until I had money that I realized how important having a nice apartment with lots of space in Bangkok was.

Bangkok is a hectic city with a lot of pollution, traffic, heat and noise. It’s a clusterfuck.

Having a nice clean space which you like being in makes a huge positive impact on your mental health (well mine anyway).

I hated turning on my laptop to play poker, I thought I just hated playing poker but the more I look back on my eariler years, the more I realize I didn’t want to be in my apartment because it was too small and depressing.

View from PP mansion, my first apartment ($150/month)

When your budget for an apartment including bills is $200~/month, a BIG and clean space is out the question in Bangkok.

In my first 2 years I stayed in the following apartments:

My rooms were never bigger than 25 square meters and they were all stuidos. All three condos had almost no foreigners and furnishings and fittings all dated back to the 60s (just a bed, no sofa).

None had a kitchen, the first two didn’t have a fridge or TV and all 3 had ants and cockroaches about.

I quickly learned that cockroaches weren’t a big deal if I cleaned my room every day and didn’t eat inside, but 3 days wouldn’t pass without me seeing one.

One time a snake someone got onto my balcony from the second floor, I think through the pipes. I went outside and paid a motorbike driver 100b to get rid of it for me, because fuck that.

If my neighbor had an illegal stove (they usually did) and cooked a lot, it would heat my room up and draw more ants and roaches.

Walls were thin and you could hear when they were watching TV or having sex (this is common with new Bangkok apartments too).

My apartment was a place to hold my things and sleep. I never bought friends there to chill or enjoyed relaxing there.

At my current place, I often dream of going back to my room to relax on my big L-shape sofa watching Netflix (who said money doesn’t change people?).

Being poor in Bangkok means you’ll never stay anywhere nice, most rooms will be in a bad location and look like the above.

My mattress didn’t have any foam and I could feel every rusty spring digging into my back. That didn’t matter though, I was 23 and in Thailand, I’d have been happy sleeping on the floor.

What about food?

Very few gains are being made when you spend $800 per month in Bangkok.

No kitchen meant I could not cook my own food, looking back I should have bought a stove cooker because buying food outside while very cheap is very bad for you, it’s almost impossible to find something healthy.

Cooking yourself is also cheaper than eating street food.

I was mostly on a street food diet which was fine, as I love food exploring food and was open to eating anything.

My diet was mostly white rice and questionable meat, and before going into a place I’d have to check out the prices because I didn’t want to spend more than 100b for a meal unless I had to.

If you’ve not been to Bangkok before, there are dozens of unlimited western buffets from $15-$25 with a wide choice of cuisines, and Thai buffets for $4-6 (yes a buffet).

Eatigo is a website where you can book and get 50% of many of these buffets, whenever I ate out I’d usually go to a buffet or street food.

I didn’t eat at al-la-carte restaurants because I thought they were bad value compared to buffets, which they were if you’re simply going by calorie count.

When you have no money you can’t exactly splash out on a $40 meal, well you could but then I’d be eating noodles and dust the following two days.

Now I have money, I’ll almost never eat at a Bangkok buffet because the quality of food is low and the taste is bland. The only buffets I like is the Sway Wings Buffet and The Great Kebab Factory buffet.

Dating girls

If I took a girl on a date, it would rarely be somewhere fancy as a single 1,000b restaurant bill would be 4% of my monthly budget and the Jew in me would not approve that.

I’d take them for street food or go for dessert as it was cheap, if a girl orders wine and two courses at some nice restaurant, it meant for the following week I’d have to sleep with the air-con off and use the free local bus (which I did often),

Some girls weren’t having the street food and suggested fancy places, I just stop talking to them because I could not afford to go there often, and I’m not about pretending I’m a baller when I’m actually poor AF.

I could not take girls to fancy places, holidays or anything like that.

Having no money didn’t make it hard to meet girls, I’m a funny and charming guy, it just meant I could only see a certain type of girl (one who is fine with only eating street food and not doing anything).

Partying with no money

I only ever partied in Bangkok when I had no money. It’s a little harder now, but in 2012 it was easy to GO hard for cheap.

My average rent cost was about $250 yet my partying budget would be $400/month.

You’ll be pre-drinking if you have no money, with beers from the 7-Eleven for around $1.10.

Getting bottle service is a must if you want to get girls around your table and not be that creepy group holding beers in the corner because you didn’t want to chip in for a bottle.

Luckily I had lots of friends and we’d go out together buying bottles in a group (usually $40 investment for two bottles, will cost more in 2018).

I learned that taxi drivers would get up to 400b commission per person at certain clubs (they told me).

Poor Bangkok pro-tip: I’d put myself and 3 friends in a cab and tell the driver to give us 200b each cash and he can drop us off to any club he wished (he’d still make 800b for a 3-minute cab ride after paying us, which is what most drivers earn in about 7 hours).

This would usually happen around 3 am when all the clubs were full so it didn’t really matter where he took us. You’d pay 300b in and with that, you’d get two free drinks (nowadays you only get one).

If I was out till 6am (which happened often), I’d jump on the BTS looking like shit and smelling like piss, while people were on their way to work.

Holiday…what holidays?

You can forget about holidays on a $800 budget. I literally never left Bangkok unless I had to do a visa run, which was every 3 months.

The cheapest way was to do a 12-hour minivan ride for $60.

You could not pay me a $1,000 to make the same trip today.

I only went to Laos, Vietnam or Cambodia because they are the only countries cheaper than Thailand. Often staying in run-down guest houses which always seemed to have a weird smell to them.

Each holiday was done with the mind of spending as little money as possible spending as few days as possible.

My mindset wasn’t to enjoy my time in Asia, it was to figure out a way to make money and not go home.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a blast in Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia, I had a cracker of a time but that was secondary to my goal.

Anxiety and worry

Having no money and being in a foreign country brings anxiety.

I made a move to Thailand, and the fear of going broke and going back home was always a heavy weight on my shoulders.

I would feel this anxiety often throughout the next two years, I think that is why I was able to budget well and not fail.

Anxiety was why I never ate at nice places, always stayed in cheap rooms and didn’t go out if I spent too much the week before.

While the anxiety wasn’t a good feeling at the time, I’m glad it was there as if it wasn’t I may have gone broke and you’d not be reading this article now.

Poor but not so poor

If you had $800 per month to live in London or Sydney, you’d be living on the street eating out of a dumpster, in Thailand, you can eat 4 meals per day and live in your own private apartment.

Beyond simple living, life gets hard, a good Bangkok gym membership can be up to $100 per month, add a few massages and a couple of nice restaurant meals per week and you’ll easily hit $1,000+ per month.

Did I enjoy being poor?

It was the best time of my life. I would not change a thing and think that everyone should be poor once.

This article may read like I hated my first two years but I didn’t, I was at the start of my journey and I knew things were going to get better if I kept focusing on ways to make money, took a little over two years but I got there.

While I would not want to live that lifestyle at 30, being happy is a state of mind and being poor was just an experience, an experience that taught me a lot about myself and Thailand.

I think the fact that I was young (23), dumb and in a new country made it easier for me to enjoy Thailand broke. If you can stick to a budget and are motivated enough to work hard to make money, I would suggest every 20 something to come to Thailand and make a go of it.

If you’re older (30+) then I’m not sure if living this poor would be a good choice.

If you're thinking about moving to Thailand and need help or advice, check out my Online Nomad Group by clicking here.

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