Bangkok, Thailand Report of what it's like to live there - 10/02/13

Personal Experiences from Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand 10/02/13

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Not the first.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

D.C., about 24 hours. Flights depart BKK at midnight or 6 AM.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A little over two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Lots of high-rise apartments with common areas (pool, playground, gym, tennis courts, basketball court). Houses in Nichada Thani are large but have very thin yards and old playgrounds from what I saw, and the commute is long.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Anything packaged and imported is much more than at home, but many vegetables and herbs do seem to be cheaper. I can find just about anything I can think of (imported) at Villa.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Baby items (carseats, strollers, toys, etc.) are all double or triple the price here new. The same goes for children's toys, clothing, etc.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

All kinds and all ranges of price. Indian food and Korean food are expensive and not as good as in Northern Virginia. Street food is maybe the most overrated thing about Bangkok. Once you start noticing the rats, lack of running water near the carts--people washing street cart dishes in filthy park ponds, lack of refrigeration, and car exhaust piling onto the Bangkok street food, you kind of wonder why everyone isn't dropping dead from eating it.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

We live in a high-rise and have persistent tiny ants. I have only seen a few of the large cockroaches in our building, but the buildings spray cloudy billowing pesticides into gutters and public areas regularly. You will see rats on the streets during the day and night if you start to look for them.

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Daily Life:

1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We pay US$435/month for full-time, 8 hours/day. Lots of help is available, but this is a huge expat community, so if someone is a terrible employee and gets fired, they can easily get hired again.

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2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Seems safe so far to us--no problems with it.

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3. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It would be very hard unless they had a car and driver take them everywhere, and then it really might not be that bad.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis seem safe during the day and are so affordable. The Skytrain also is very safe and cheap.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

We have a CRV and it's about as big of a car as I would want to drive. The roads are a little narrow and parking spots are narrow and you often have to squeeze into parking garage spots where an extra row of cars is parked in the middle.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Motorcycle purse snatching is the main one, but I think it's also important to be very cautious about taxis at night--the drivers tend to be quite normal during the day, but are more likely to be drunk or on drugs at night.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Great hospitals.

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3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

So hot--don't underestimate the effect the constant heat will have on your life. They say you get used to it, but I think you really get used to always finding shade to walk in and not going outside between 10AM and 6PM if you can help it. If you have small children, it means you will be indoors or at the pool a lot.

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Schools & Children:

1. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I believe there are several schools that will help with this. It shouldn't be a problem in Bangkok.

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2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Many, many preschools. Don't trust other expats when they tell you about their child's great preschool--go spend several hours there yourself and see how the teacher your child will have treats the students. Many of the preschool teachers are young women who want to party for a couple of years in Thailand, many of the Thai assistants are older women who look burned out and like they are there for a paycheck.

Some of the classrooms and playgrounds in quite expensive preschools are atrociously maintained with safety issues and very little for the children to do. There are a few truly great preschools, but you must search for them. Also, prepare to pay much more than in the U.S.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, lots. Lots of swimming instruction and pool time to be had, but also soccer, gymnastics, everything.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Huge expat community. Many people love it here. Many people find the traffic, noise, heat, distance from nature, lack of community to be challenging. Also, a huge expat community means that people aren't as friendly as they might be at a smaller post.

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2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, however, I must say this because all the other Bangkok post reports are so frustratingly GLOWING, I found this to be a really hard city to live in with small children who weren't in school yet. The sidewalks are terrible or nonexistent, so once your child is beyond a weight where you can carry him everywhere (or if you have two or three children), you are really stuck taking taxis or driving everywhere--a 2, 3, or 4 year old can't walk far in the heat, and my children tended to have meltdowns any time we were out in the heat for long. We've spent a lot of time inside, and every expat family I talk to in Bangkok yearns for nature and green space and outside time. This would be a very easy city to live in as a couple or a single person.

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3. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Spending December in Chiang Mai--so beautiful and such perfect weather.

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4. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

For children there are fantastic indoor play areas: Funarium, Playtime, Molly Fantasy, Kidzania, YoYoLand, and also Oceanworld aquarium and many places to go ice skating. In December or January when it's slightly cooler you can go to Dusit Zoo or Rama 9 park.

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5. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Summer all year, inexpensive household help, fruits that are in season all year, nice indoor play areas for children, cheap taxis, and the city feels quite safe.

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6. Can you save money?

Yes, although the high cost of preschool took a big bite out of our savings. The only really inexpensive things here are taxis and household help. Everything else we would want is priced for expats and wealthy Thais.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I wish I had known that living in the "nanny belt" means that playgrounds, playgroups, play areas, and anywhere else you might take a young child during the day are full of little Western children and their Thai nannies. It's been really hard to meet other mothers here.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Really not sure. Probably?

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Good haircuts and highlights.

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4. But don't forget your:

Deep breathing exercises so you can use them while driving.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

If you have small children and have never lived this far from home, you must think about the travel time and the jet lag time and remember that the jet lag is compounded because you won't get to sleep for any of the 30+ hours of travel and plane time. Jet lag is a different beast once you have two or more children and they can take turns keeping you awake for a week or more. If you have an awesome family who will come to visit you, though, then that doesn't matter as much.

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