Money shock in Bangkok

Shoppers outside a Bangkok mall.

Last Updated on June 3, 2023 by Ellen

Bangkok gives me a money shock following more than two years in a rural area of the Philippines.

No sari-saris here (mom-and-pop convenience stores); only 7/11 chain stores.

No motorcycles with side carts loaded with people. Instead, here there are subways, sky trains, and western-style taxis.

No beaches within a short walk – only skyscrapers and digital advertisements.

It is in the malls where I feel the greatest money shock in Bangkok. (In affluent areas of Southeast Asia, malls serve as air-conditioned meccas. I have previously written about them.)

Not much seems different in the COVID era – the malls here still attract a great number of people from the sweltering city streets, unlike in the vacant, relic malls in the United States.

Most public toilets in Bangkok have paper and soap, unlike in the Philippines.

In the upscale Bangkok malls, toilets even have fancy options like what’s pictured below:

In one of the countless Bangkok malls, there was a line outside Chanel.

A. Line. Outside. Chanel.

This is a far cry from watching Ati tribe members so hungry they ate raw fish from their meager catch on the beach back in Malay, Aklan, Philippines.

Ati women on the beach to fish in Motag, Aklan, Philippines.

When I was a kid, I asked my parents for the latest ‘name brand’ clothing with ridiculous price tags. I was lucky then – my kind parents tried to grant my wishes.

But later in life, I learned how foolish I was. I am lucky now – I am not on that line, and I wish those people could see how foolish they are.

It has been a long, long time since Theo and I went out to dinner in a traditional-style restaurant. Here in Bangkok, we have already eaten at mall food courts, which are somewhat reasonably priced, we’ve had street food, and for the first time, we went to a sit-down dinner in a regular restaurant.

It was just a burger joint, but we dropped about $35 (!) on two burgers with fries, a large Guinness and a Coke Zero. The bill had seven percent VAT, and a 10% service charge.

I thought it would feel good to spend money on ourselves after spending virtually nothing on ourselves for years. Instead, it feels wasteful and frivolous when I know $35 can feed a family rice for weeks back in the Philippines.

A while back I wrote about Narbin, the young Philippine boy with a toy plastic pellet stuck in his ear.

We are happy to report: Narbin had surgery, and he is on the mend! His hearing — saved.

It cost $668. Roughly half of that was for the anaesthesia. The doctors made a small incision behind his ear to reach into the canal and extract the pellet.

We covered that cost, along with an angel donor. (You know who you are — thank you!!)

Narbin’s father will get reimbursed some of that money once health care paperwork is filed. We will let him keep it. Narbin’s mother has signed up to be an overseas foreign worker — the only way she had to earn decent money.

Saving a boy’s hearing feels better than spending that money on 19 dinners for two at $35, or a new handbag or shoes at Chanel. I cannot even imagine what dinner for two costs these days in places like the USA.

Street food — here we come!

2 thoughts on “Money shock in Bangkok”

  1. Money shock in Mexico. A bowl of seafood soup with 4 shrimp a piece of fish and a tiny inedible crab, at the open air market, on the sea, was 175 pesos or $11.00 Canadian. A small cup of ceviche $12.00. The same price as Canada. Even Mexico is expensive. I don’t even bother going to a restaurant. I gave an elderly woman, who was with her young (maybe 4 year old) grand daughter begging), 10 pesos (0.64cents) . She almost cried and hugged me.

  2. The burger dinner gave me US prices sticker shock.

    When prices change on us, our mental models take longer to adjust than for other things. You two have really become acclimatized to the cost of living in Aklan, so even Bangkok will seem outrageous for a while.

    Don’t beat yourself up for your spending. You’re a better steward of your money than most!

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