Thai currency is called baht. Currently trading around 30 to a U.S. dollar, it takes a lot of baht to buy something . . . which means it takes very little US$ to do so. A decent hotel, meaning clean and somewhat spacious, will run you around 1,800 baht a night or US$60. A scrumptious meal for two about US$18 and a Big Mac Deal US$3.00. Most all prices are negotiable, so learn to barter well because though there’s little value in baht, it all adds up.
There are money exchanges all over the city, especially where tourists congregate. A bank of them at the airport too, right outside the arrivals hall. The rates here suck so you’ll want to exchange just a bit of cash to cover your transportation to your hotel, (should run around 500 baht) bell hop tips, etc. to tide you over ‘till you cash a few of the $100 bills in in the morning.
Your hotel will exchange money for you. They are glad to do so because the exchange rate will greatly favor them. Don’t do it. Walk outside, hit the first exchange booth you pass and you’ll get a better deal. The best rates I’ve found are at a Super Rich in the Pratunam area, though any of their branches in the major touri area will be giving a better rate than their competition. To get to the main branch, take the BTS to Chit Lom, walk through Gaysorn Plaza, down the street past Big C and then down the small soi just before the bridge over the klong. The real Super Rich has orange awnings, the fake Super Rich across the soi has green awnings. Don’t ya just love Thailand?
You have options in getting some baht into your pocket. You can exchange cash, cash in travellers checks, or withdraw it through an ATM. I’m not a big fan of travellers checks, they’re just not as usable as cash. The exchange rate is a bit better than it is for cash normally, but then there is a fee for using them to make the exchange and you could actually end up with less baht than if you had exchanged cash. Your call.
If you exchange cash, you get a better rate on $100 bills than smaller denominations, So stock up on ‘em before leaving home. Get the new bills and the freshest looking ones you can. Most money exchangers won’t take the old bills any longer and soiled and/or heavily used bills won’t pass muster with them either.
Getting money from your bank account through an ATM is a breeze. But watch it: the fees charged can quickly add up. Your bank may charge you for using an ATM that isn’t theirs even if it is on their system. Visa and MasterCard both tack on a exchange fee and your bank probably does too with both easily adding up to 3% and higher. Check first before you go, it might be better to take the cash with you. The ATM’s in Thailand also impose a 150 baht fee. So it can get pricey to use ATM’s. If you do opt for the ATM, they are all over the place in Bangkok, just like in your home town.
The nice thing about baht is that the notes are different colors and sizes with the larger denominations being the larger size bills. Makes it easier to pull out the correct bill in a dark bar.
Coins are a pain in the ass in any country. The usable coin in Thailand is 10 baht. It’s about the size of a quarter, silver with a bronze colored middle. Great for taxi fares and for using on the Skytrain. The five baht coins can be collected and used in lieu of the 10 baht coins. The 1 baht coins are worthless. Drop ‘em in any beggar’s cup to get rid of them. You’ll free your pockets up from the weight and make merit at the same time.