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Experience Bangkok on the cheap

Image: Bangkok, Thailand
You can pay as little as a dollar per meal at a neighborhood street stand. Follow the crowds. Any place packed with customers is bound to offer tasty, fresh fare. David Longstreath / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

From 15-cent train rides to excellent, one-dollar meals, Thailand's tropical capital is teeming with budget options for the penny-pinching traveler. Where else in the world can you get a free vasectomy?

It's easy to spend hundreds of dollars a day in Bangkok, home to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. But following some guidelines, you can enjoy the city at a fraction of the price.

Accommodations: Most budget tourists head straight for Khao San Road, a lively, colorful area where you can pay as little as 150 baht (U.S. $4.50) a night for a bed in a dorm room. Despite the low price, the accommodations are perfectly decent. It's heaven for backpackers, but more recently is attracting more upmarket tourists as well.

In Bangkok's prime residential area of Sukhumvit Road, one budget option is Suk 11, a quirky guesthouse legendary among backpackers, where the halls have been remade with creaking wooden planks and hanging lanterns to look like old Bangkok alleyways. A bed in a clean, air-conditioned dorm room starts at 250 baht (U.S. $7.50).

Getting around: Buses in Bangkok charge only 5 baht (U.S. 15 cents) for non-air-conditioned service, and up to 17 baht (U.S. 50 cents) for AC vehicles.

Traveling in Bangkok during rush hour is an exercise in Zen patience, so tourists in a hurry would do best to use the excellent BTS Skytrain and underground Metro, with trips starting at 15 baht (U.S. 45 cents).

Trains in Bangkok are cheap. A third-class trip from some suburban areas to the heart of town cost as little as 5 baht (U.S. 15 cents). Or hop aboard one of the public ferries along the Chao Phraya River for some spectacular views from the water for 9 baht (U.S. 27 cents).

Food: You can pay as little as a dollar per meal at a neighborhood street stand. Follow the crowds. Any place packed with customers is bound to offer tasty, fresh fare.

Try the stalls at the Banana Family Park, near the Ari Road Skytrain stop, for tasty vegetarian options. Two meatless dishes cost 25 baht (U.S. 75 cents).

Massage: For a cheap and novel Thai massage, head to the Skills Development Center for the Blind, where sightless trainees charge just 100 baht (U.S. $3) per hour. The center is located just north of the city in Pak Kret.

Madame Joe's, staffed by graduates of the famous Wat Po Massage School, offers affordable massage in the Khao San area, at 180 baht (U.S. 5.37) for one hour.

Bars: Cheap Charlie's, a ramshackle but atmospheric outdoor bar in the Sukhumvit area, has been popular with frugal ex-pats for years. Just 60 baht (U.S. $1.80) for small bottle of local brew.

Some bars have ladies night specials. Try Coyote on Convent Road where waiters will keep your margarita glass overflowing for free 6-8 p.m. on Wednesdays. The trendy Q Bar, in Sukhumvit, allows women to forgo the 500 baht (U.S. $15) cover on Wednesday nights.

Attractions and events: Museums and the more notable Buddhist temples in Bangkok are cheap, generally charging a dollar or two for entry, while parks, art galleries, less famous temples and outdoor shrines are free.

In the wee hours of the morning, the centrally located Lumpini Park fills up with fitness buffs. Look out for groups practicing yoga or tai chi. Instruction is in Thai, but most classes will allow you to join in for free. The fun ends at 8 a.m. when the National Anthem is played, but crowds return at sundown for more exercise, including aerobics classes.

The Lingam Shrine, filled with phallic symbols, is a must-see among Bangkok's free oddities. Traditional dances are performed without charge at the Erawan Shrine, near the Grand Hyatt Erawan hotel.

At Siam Square, a popular hangout for the younger crowd, free break dancing competitions and concerts take place in the shadows of chichi malls and high-end apartment complexes.

Check out BK Magazine or the "Real Time" section of Friday's Bangkok Post for up-to-date schedules of free performances and other events in the city.

Inside info: Just saying "hello" ("sawadee kha" if you are a woman; "sawadee krap" if you are a man) and "thank you" ("khopkhun kha/krap") may well get you a lower price, especially when bargaining in markets.

Never throw the grown-up version of temper tantrums. Thais abhor them — and may add on some baht to your bill in revenge.

As for those free vasectomies? The Population and Community Development Association offers them to any man, any nationality, who has fathered two children already. How's that for a good deal?