Bangkok, Thailand Report of what it's like to live there - 05/05/14
Personal Experiences from Bangkok, Thailand
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, also lived in Tokyo for 4 years.
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?
Mid-west, USA. 6 hours to Japan and another 14 to home (be it Mid-West or DC). Alternatives are to fly through China and Korea; or via Dubai through Europe.
3. How long have you lived here?
For 2 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
For the embassy community there are two options: downtown in an apartment (most are high-rises around the Sukhumvit or Sathorn areas); or outside the city in a suburb called Nichada where the ISB school is located. The Nichada community, I've been told, is like living in a country club community with golf carts, minus the golf course. Downtown is lively, with the fantastic sky train systerm getting you to most key points in the downtown area, and a large number of nursery, preschool, primary and secondary schools abound.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are several "international grocery stores" in the downtown area that are the same cost as any high-real estate location market (think Whole Foods prices for Safeway products). As an embassy employee you may have access to a small commissary at post and/or order through APO.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Paper towels. A car (or get one soon after moving here - solely for excursions on the weekend). Sunscreen (it is expensive here).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of decent restaurants everywhere and lots of fast food (vendors on every open space on the street). American fast food is also available in any of the many malls and elsewhere. Costs range from US$1 to US$10/person.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It's a bit tricky. There is some wonderful helpers and we have a very good experience personally. That said there are issues. Most helpers are either Thai (often low English skill) or Burmese (higher English skill, but discriminated against in Thai society and you have to ensure they are legal and valid with their visa to live and work here). There are also Filipinas but they are often considered to be the most expensive due to their experience, skill and language. But like Burmese, you have to ensure they have a visa and are legal to work. The Burmese are considered cheaper in rates, though more and more, this seems to not be the case. Costs range from US$400 to US$700 (though I've only heard rumors that costs are as high as US$700). Many people with more than one child will have two helpers - a nanny and a house keeper. There is a lot of demand for quality helpers, so it can be difficult to keep a great helper and / or there will be fierce competition.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many of the apartments have workout facilities; plus there are gyms downtown throughout. No idea for cost.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A good set of "Taxi thai" phrases will get you far - enough to get you home at least. Beyond that, the language is very difficult and many, many expats know very little. Those who know more can perhaps explore off the beaten path more easily and more often.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes and no. While a wheelchair would be challenging to get around the city, there are many opportunities and options that would enable someone to live a very exciting life here anyway. Other types of disabilities... Bangkok is a big city that has some very sophisticated options. Anyone could make it work. Plus there are amazing medical facilities here that might be useful.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are generally safe, though some caution and "street smarts" are sometimes required. They all have meters and are supposed to use them; but many love to roll down their window and throw out some arbitray cost to you if you are in the tourist areas. Usually by the third taxi you flag down, you will find your gem and have a very pleasant, metered cheap taxi ride to wherever you need to go.
The sky train here is fantastic! As is the subway. If only there was more of it!
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?
This is a left-side drive country. You can bring your American car but it will take some getting used to. Very large vehicles seem to be a problem, though possible. No carjackings. Generally speaking, your car will be considered average and suitable if it is a medium size car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. About US$25/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get one here. Very cheap to have a phone here and generally very reliable.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
For embassy family members, no, as there is no bilateral work agreement and we are not supposed to work on the local economy. If we do, we must have the sponsoring company secure our work visa. If you have a teaching background there should be opportunities. UN offices and opportunities in the region. Beyond that, volunteer.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Very similar to what you may find in DC in the summer months - from the tacky to the very hot business blue suit and tie.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Generally, no. We've lived here during the recent political protests and blockades. The stress of expecting violence took its toll but the actual violence was very minimal and specific to the protests. We easily learned to "walk around it" (literally, at times). Day-to-day safety is very comfortable and in fact, one can feel a bit over-confident in the safety situation. As an expat and because of where we live, we are limited to typical street crime. I am comfortable to go out alone or in small groups, take taxis, and use the public skytrain systerm. However, our Thai helper expresses concern related to 1) not wearing gold or flashy jewelry at night; 2) never taking a taxi at night alone; and 3) walking with friends.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Excellent medical options here. And affordable. Concerns include dengue.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Moderate. Very few days have been "bad days." Similar to what you could expect in summer time in DC or other big American cities on hot humid days.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot. Humid. With a couple months of blissful "cool" (November-January). And when they say "hot months," it is really, really, really hot. But the city is full of air-conditioned spaces and so more often than not you're wearing a scarf to stay warm when indoors.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
A lot. All have pluses and minuses but are generally well respected. My child is still in a preschool.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I don't have direct experience with this but can say that I know of several families who have. I have been told that some are very open to "shadows" in their classrooms, others are not. I understand that parents have to work very hard to coordinate special needs but that there are resources and options here.
3. 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?
Yes. Costs vary as does quality but there are lots of options. Costs range from US$1500/term (12 weeks) to US$15,000/term! But you do NOT always get what you pay for so it is worth exploring the different options, ask for recommendations and most importantly: choose a school that is easy to get to for you and your child! Location is everything here.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, at schools, private lessons, and businesses. There are great swimming classes, tennis, soccer/football, basketball camps, baseball (I think only at ISB), and dance.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
VERY large and, generally, very good.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Food. Dance. Drink. And more food. Everything revolves around food here. There are also many meet-ups and groups that gather for book clubs, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great city for families, though it may take a bit of time to adjust (especially for the parents of small children). This is not a very stroller-friendly city, but a baby carrier and/or an umbrella stroller will get you far. Older teens love it (what I'm told); younger kids love the numerous activities. Lots of interesting family trips to take.
I suspect this could be a fun place as a couple without kids. And I think it may be a challenging place for single women.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
As an expat female, no direct problems. But watching the old slimey men grab on the (often very) young Thai women in the streets is very frustrating and takes a toll. While there are problems between the majority-Muslim South and the majority-Buddhist North, you don't see such problems on the surface in a day-to-day environmnet in the city of Bangkok.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The food, the beaches, the expat community is large and diverse and very social. The Thai smile (most of the times).
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Eat. Eat. Eat. And travel - beaches, mountains, theme parks, wats (temples). There is no end to the list of gems here.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Furniture! Art work. Clothing from local designers.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There are many, many wonderful places to visit as a tourist both around Thailand and the region (Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar).
9. Can you save money?
Not at all. Not even close.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
It would take a while to adjust. Longer than I had expected. And keep things close. Really close. Even the difference of a few kilometers can mean a 5 minute versus 50 minute commute at times. And try to relax.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Furniture. Come and shop!
4. But don't forget your:
Your summer clothes, camera, and patience. Also, bring a few wintery things so you can take trip on a direct flight from Bangkok to Hokkaido and go skiing.
Bangkok is a very urban sophisticate city but Thailand is still a country that is developing. Don't forget the latter, despite all the glitter.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
The King and I
- also banned apparently.
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej (though it is banned in the country so delete it from your Kindle/iPad before arriving!). Not fantastically written and gets a bit boring as it begins to discuss current affairs. But the first 2/3rd is interesting.