Living in Bangkok
Bangkok is the classic expat destination. From typical age retirees trying to stretch their dollars to younger digital nomads, it’s a popular place for expats. Sometimes it feels a little overrun by the sheer number of foreigners present here, but then again that’s to be expected of the city that attracts more visitors per year than any other city in the world. Take that London, Paris and New York.
We first came here six years ago and I instantly fell in love with the place and all it has to offer. Exocitic describes it well. Also huge, loud, chaotic, hot, and a little overwhelming at times. There is so much going on here, the action never stops, the city never sleeps. We’ve been back a few times over the years, but always just a short visit for a few days. You don’t really experience a place in only a few days, especially a place as vibrant as Bangkok.
We’ve been toying with the idea of living here ever since that first trip. I’ve always wondered, what would life be like in this city? So, in the interest of answering that question we ran an experiment. We rented an apartment for a month to try out life in the city.
The upsides of the city are pretty tempting.
One half of noodles & fish feels like she needs to work for a while longer. Bangkoks job market is full of the type of jobs she might be interested in. I suppose even I could be convinced to trade a bit more of my time for some more money, maybe. Acquiring a job with a work visa here is pretty easy.
Most importantly Bangkok has got a lot of great food everywhere. It’s one of the most food obsessed cities in the world – from the incredibly cheap, plentiful and delicious street food to the many excellent upscale restaurant options and everything in between. It offers every possible type of food your heart or stomach desires.
It’s a good jumping off point for other adventures. It’s easy and cheap to go anywhere from here with two efficient airports.
Thailand used to be an extremely cheap place to live. These days it’s still pretty cheap, but costs are rising, especially in Bangkok. Still, compared to most places in the states it’s cheap. And compared to pretty much every other big city it’s cheap. My dollars go pretty far here, geographic arbitrage baby!
The pace of life is somehow slow in this bustling city
The lifestyle here is a bit less stressful than what I’m used to back home. There is a bit more of a balance between work and the rest of life. The Thais are generally what I would consider pretty laid back.
It’s got great healthcare
We went to the dentist while here to get our teeth cleaned, and it was just like getting it done at home. The only difference was the price, which was about a quarter of what it would have been back home. Anything else we could possibly need related to health care is here, which is usually not the case for expats living in cheaper places.
After a month long experiment we have results
Bangkok is an awesome place to visit. We love it. But there are some things I’ve noticed during the last month that I didn’t necessarily think about when here as a shorter term tourist.
Bangkok is hot. All the time. Exercising outside is rough. At our rented condo we have access to a gym with cardio machines, weights, and a pool. The gym has air conditioning and is pretty nice.
But for me finding the motivation to exercise is a struggle. Sitting on a bicycle or running on a treadmill and going nowhere is about the most boring thing imaginable. There is a big difference between doing a fun or rewarding activity and getting exercise in the process and exercising for the sole sake of staying in shape. Of course, for millions of people exercise in a gym is normal, and I’m sure I could eventually get used to it. I should probably stop whining.
Bangkok is too spread out
Congestion often slows traffic to a dreadful pace. The trains are a pretty good way avoid most of this. Even when there isn’t traffic, things in the city are far apart and it frequently takes more than an hour to get anywhere. Most of the time everything you need is right in your neighborhood, but when you do venture out transportation takes a while.
Having a home base is awesome
Having a space to come home to, rather than a hostel or hotel room feels really awesome. Being able to cook at home instead of eating out every meal is also a great thing. After more than a year traveling we were really ready for some space of our own and some consistency in our daily pattern. I like adventure, but I also really like having a place to come home to.
Some of our most enjoyable time over this last month has been while in our neighborhood. You really don’t need to go far to find interesting things in this city, just go down the block.
Finding our luxury* apartment
I looked for an apartment that would be in our price range as a yearly rental. Ideally, I was looking for rent costs somewhere between $200 and $400 a month, as that seems enough to fetch a nice studio apartment in a good enough part of town. There are cheaper options, but those start to get pretty dingy. More expensive just gets us more space which we don’t need, there’s only two of us and a large studio or a small one bedroom is the perfect size.
These prices are for a furnished apartment. If we moved here I wouldn’t want to have to buy a bunch of things when I can just rent them instead. We’re not planning on moving here forever, probably just two to five years, and ditching the acquired stuff at the end of that time sounds like too much of a hassle.
The other important thing I was looking for is proximity to transportation. I wanted an apartment within walking distance of a train station. Prices are a bit higher closer to the stations, and much higher the closer one gets to downtown.
Finally, I knew I wanted a kitchen, onsite laundry, a gym, and wifi. Even with all of these criteria there were tons of options. We basically just picked one randomly from all of the nice looking places.
The condo we ended up with is about 350 square feet and almost brand new. It’s nicely furnished, and similar apartments in the building rent for about $250 a month with an annual lease. With utilities and internet it would probably be around $300 per month to live here, not bad. Of course we paid a bit more than that since we rented through airbnb for only a short term.
Having this opportunity to try out a month without committing to anything was super valuable. Changing continents is a pretty big decision!
Though we’ve enjoyed our month here, Bangkok is not quite the place we thought it was. Or maybe we’re not the in the same place in our lives as we were six years ago. Either way we’ve realised that we don’t really want to move here.
We would do it if we find a really compelling reason (i.e. an awesome job or significantly impactful volunteer position.) But even with having a purpose here it’s probably not for us. The problem is that we are just not city people. We like what cities have to offer – the food, job opportunities, lots to do, and the food, but we miss all of the things outside of the city. That said, we are still very interested in setting up a base in Thailand, just not in any of the big cities.
We’ll keep looking. Next we fly to Taipei to try the experiment again. We’ve never been to Taiwan outside of the airport. They have one of the highest population densities of any country, but we hear they have plenty of mountains and national parks as well. And they have a reputation for great food. Taiwan sounds pretty good, except it might be a little too expensive. We’ll just have to wait and see what we find.
*Luxury is a perspective. Our final week living in Kathmandu we were sharing two bedrooms and one squat toilet with seven adults and two kids. And that place had no running water. This is very luxurious in comparison to that. It’s also much nicer than every place I’ve ever lived in back home, so it’s luxurious by that metric as well. But alas, it doesn’t come with an accented butler or a chauffeured Rolls Royce.
I’ll keep thinking of this as a luxury apartment, but my girlfriend says it’s just nice, and I suppose some would consider it pretty spartan since it doesn’t even have diamond chandeliers. It’s all about how you think about things.