As a runaway turned budget backpacker, I can’t stop looking for ways to save money, make money, and ultimately travel longer. I always try for discounts because it never hurts to ask. I haggle for everything because there’s always a chance. And I constantly contemplate potential business opportunities abroad.
When I was 16 and trying to survive in Cairo, I brought tourists to perfume shops for a small commission from the shop owner. In Ethiopia I noticed a price disparity between raw sugar cane in the highlands vs the lowlands, and used this to make a small profit. And in Europe I would dumpster dive and sell my finds, and also recycle bottles.
This past week in Bangkok, Thailand, I put my budget and business conscious mind to work. I explored the city like any other backpacker would but the runaway in me kept on the look out for opportunities.
Whether you’ve blown all your money on Thai whisky buckets or you’re trying to salvage your budget, below are a few ways to make money in Bangkok.
1) Become a Ping-pong Tour Guide
It wasn’t until this trip, my fourth time in Bangkok, did I finally decide to see a ping pong show. It’s not because I wasn’t curious but more so because the whole business seemed pretty dodgy. As it turned out, it kind of is. You have to negotiate with a Tuk Tuk driver for a 30 minute ride into a Bangkok Ghetto, and then with a mafia looking club owner.
I would have felt much more at ease if I had gone with someone who had done it before. And then I thought, that’s not a bad way to make some money while ensuring fellow backpackers stay safe and don’t get ripped off. The key to this is to make friends with Tuk Tuk drivers and negotiate group discounts for transport and the show. Check out How To See A Ping Pong Show In Bangkok for more info.
Additionally, if you know Bangkok well enough, you could also offer people a tour of the city.
2) Team Up With Tuk Tuk Drivers
Tuk Tuk drivers have agreements all over Bangkok with various luxury and boutique shops. For each tourist they bring in, they receive gas vouchers for between 30 and 90 Bhat.
To do this you need to make friends with a Tuk Tuk driver. Then propose that you’ll agree to visit 5 or 6 shops if he agrees to split the commission. Although you won’t make much and you’ll have to put up with pestering sales people, it makes for a fun day cruising around the city in the back of a speeding Tuk Tuk. This method works best during the low season when drivers are struggling for customers and more willing to work with you. To see how I did it, check out How To Explore Bangkok For Free.
3) Promote A Club
Khoa San road is full of clubs, restaurants, and massage parlors. Like the Tuk Tuk drivers, some places offer commission, albeit a small one, by bringing in others.
I don’t recommend doing it unless you really believe in what you’re promoting. Otherwise it’s simply capitalizing off your fellow backpackers and that doesn’t feel good.
4) Pawn Your Things
If worst comes to worst, you can always pawn your things. Mid way down Rambuttri road, the road adjacent to Khao San, is a small street side pawn shop. Although they offer terrible prices, it’s better than nothing. And even though you’re in their power, don’t forget to haggle.
Bangkok is a highly evolved organism full of symbiotic relationships between drivers and shop owners, and promoters and clubs. It thrives off tourists who, when they compare their purchasing power to that at home, end up spending way too much for everything.
So if you’re on a really tight budget or in need of money, there’s no reason why you can’t capitalize on these cash flows yourself. Just be sure to do so with good intentions and in ways that make everyone happy.