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Money & costs
The Thai unit of currency is the baht (written B, Bt, Bht, or THB) and is divided into 100 satang. Tiny copper coins represent 25 and 50 satang; silver coins are 1B, 2B (rare), and 5B. The larger 10B coin is silver with a copper inset. Bank notes come in denominations of 20B (green), 50B (blue), 100B (red), 500B (purple), and 1,000B (brown).
Travel in Thailand is affordable and therefore attracts all types of travelers. In 2007, the average Thai income stood at around 8,400B per person, per month, so standards of living and corresponding prices reflect this. Compared to home, many excellent hotels and restaurants cost a fraction of the price in Thailand, and, because of this, Thais consider any foreigner to be extremely well-off.
Always bear in mind that throughout Thailand, the baht will be the only acceptable currency, and foreign currency is rarely, if ever, accepted for everyday transactions.
There are no restrictions on the import of foreign currencies or traveler's checks, but you cannot export foreign currency in excess of 50,000B per person. Before the currency crisis in July 1997, one U.S. dollar could buy you 25 Thai baht. During the worst of the crisis, the value was 55B to the dollar. Though still prone to fluctuations, the exchange rate has recently steadied, and amounts listed throughout this book are calculated at US$1 = 35B and £1 = 55B. For the most up-to-date figures, visit www.xe.com. The above box shows rough cross-values with major currencies.
Some travelers like to change a little money before leaving home, though it is not really necessary. You can sometimes buy Thai baht at your local American Express or Thomas Cook office or order baht at your bank; however, it is much easier to visit an airport exchange booth or ATM on arrival in Thailand. There are exchange kiosks at most international airport arrival halls in Thailand, which are generally open when flights arrive, but don't rely on them being open 24 hours.
Note: Though most prices in this guide are quoted in baht, some hotels quote their rates in U.S. dollars. Where that is the case, I provide $ rates in the listings.
If you have an ATM or a credit card, these can be used in 24-hour cash machines that dispense money in 100-, 500-, and 1,000-baht bills. Thai ATMs accept most international bank card systems. Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the kingdom. Look at the back of your bank card to see which network you're on, and then call or check online for ATM locations in Thailand. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart. You'll also need a 4-digit PIN in Thailand, so if yours is a 6-digit number, get it changed before you go.
The best banks to visit are Bangkok Bank, Thai Farmer's Bank, Siam Commercial Bank, and Bank of Ayudhya, as each has major branches in every city and many small towns.
In Thailand, traveler's checks are seen less nowadays, having been largely replaced by ATMs. Given the fees you'll pay for using an ATM overseas, though, you might be better off with traveler's checks, if you're withdrawing money often. In Thailand, traveler's checks are best exchanged in a main branch of city-center banks or in a five-star international hotel. They may be accepted in Bangkok at the small exchange counters, but not always. (The best rates are at banks.)
International hotels and larger businesses in Thailand accept major credit cards. Despite protest from credit card companies, many establishments, such as supermarkets and department stores, add a 3% to 5% surcharge for payment by credit card (this is above and beyond any fees levied by your credit card company). Be sure to ask before handing over your card, and keep all receipts. When using your card in Thai department stores, also be aware that each section must ring up its receipt separately -- so don't be alarmed when a clerk walks off with your card to process the transaction.
MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted credit cards in Thailand, followed by American Express. Most hotels and restaurants accept all of these, especially in tourist destination areas. Discover and Diners Club are far less commonly accepted.
Never leave your cards with others for safekeeping (such as during a trek). If you don't want to carry them, put them in a hotel safe. There have been numerous reports of charges made while cards were left at guesthouses, or small shops running extra slips against a card.