Bangkok, Thailand Report of what it's like to live there - 08/26/14
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, this was my fourth experience after Shanghai, China; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and Frankfurt, Germany.
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?
If going to the West Coast of the USA, then the trip is approximately 18 - 20 hours with connections. If going to the East Coast, then the trip is about 24 hours with connection. Direct flights to Europe are approximately 12 - 14 hours. The direct flight to Sydney, Australia is about 9.
3. How long have you lived here?
From August 2012 to August 2014 - 24 months.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I was associated with the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
If you want to live in the city, commute times will vary depending on what time you go to work. If you work at the U.S. Embassy then generally you will arrive around 7-7:30 - in which case, driving isn't too bad at that hour. Note: parking is limited, if you arrive after 7:30 you will have a hard time finding a parking place. If you live close to a BTS or MRT station then you may use this method, however the Embassy is a bit of walk from both and by the time you arrive at work, you will have had your "second shower" of the morning (sweat). The BTS and MRT are also both very crowded in the morning.
If you have children then you may have the option of living out in the suburbs in very nice (but far from the city) villas. The U.S. Embassy offers shuttles to and from these compounds, but traffic in the afternoon can be quite bad so it may take a while to get home. There are very few townhouses in the city that a few families get to live in. They are very nice, but some families complain they are too small compared to the villas. There are international schools close to the suburban housing compounds and downtown as well. I don't have children so I can't say which schools are better.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Depends - but foreign goods are imported, and will be quite expensive. If you have a maid, you can have her buy food at local markets, which will be much cheaper than buying food at the international supermarkets.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All major U.S. fast food chains are available, however, why would you want to eat that when you could eat delicious Thai food for about half the cost. Cost for meal at McDonald's is comparable, if not slightly cheaper than the U.S.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I had a mosquito problem in my condo, but that was also largely because I lived on a low floor. Other than that, the usual developing world insect problems: cockroaches and what not. Bangkok is, however, a fairly developed city, for the most part you won't be overwhelmed with biblical plagues of insects.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
U.S. Embassy personnel use the APO and/or diplomatic pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Abundant, and prices very. I paid 2500THB (about US$75) every two weeks for twice a week/8 hours each time. My housekeeper was very good, and spoke English relatively well. You can find service for cheaper, but the quality will vary. A full time, live-in is probably about US$300-400 a month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many many. The Embassy has a couple, and every shopping mall has one, but they aren't cheap. The longer term you sign up, the cheaper it gets - however, you have to pay in advance - and that usually means a couple thousands of dollars out of pocket. I want to say the average is about US$50 to 70 a month.
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?
Credit cards are accepted at many places, however, the more local the vendor, the less likely they will be willing to accept them.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I think all major denominations - but I am not sure.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can survive with very little, however, I strongly suggest (if you want to make the most of your time) that you learn as much Thai as possible. I wish I had learned more, and my Thai was so-so. It will also help when you have problem with a taxi driver, or when trying to shop or eat at a local establishment.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, extremely. That's all I can really say, but this is a developing city and there just isn't enough thought going into these types of things.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes. Long distance buses can be dangerous only because of accidents, but otherwise they are safe. Taxis are safe, but unscrupulous drivers will refuse to use the meter - arguing with them at the wrong time of day (say at night) can result in a serious altercation. Again, please see comment above: Thailand has some of the highest road fatality rates in the world.
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?
Thailand is right hand drive (British style), but you can bring a left hand drive automobile if you choose. Most major brands have dealers, however, U.S. manufacturers' models are not the same as the models sold in the U.S.; and thus, if you bring a U.S. spec American car you may have problems obtaining parts. With that said, I know many people who did have U.S. spec American cars and didn't have any problems. My colleague had a BMW that wasn't sold in BMW, and the BMW dealers in Bangkok refused to work on it. Roads are generally ok, and you'll be fine with a sedan for the most part. If you plan on exploring the real countryside then you may want to consider bringing a SUV.
There are plenty of used automobiles available on the local (diplomatic community) market. Driving in Bangkok can be crazy, but I have seen worse (China, Cambodia etc.). Traffic in Bangkok is very very bad though, and if it rains it can take hours. Note: Thailand has some of the highest road fatality rate sin the world - this may affect the type of vehicle you choose to bring.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but the quality varies, and I don't think it's that great overall. I paid about US$30 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are three major local carriers: AIS, TRUE, DTAC. All are relatively the same - AIS has the widest national cellular coverage, but TRUE's data service seems to be better in Bangkok. Everyone says DTAC isn't good, but I had friends that used it and seemed happy. You may purchase a post paid plan for about US$30 a month.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
No. I am not sure how good the vets are, but there are definitely many.
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?
Not so much, but it depends on the skill set. If people have any experience working for major NGOs then it will be better. The U.S. Mission has a fairly wide array of jobs for family members.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Many - elephants, HIV charities, orphanages, street dogs, etc.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Pretty relaxed, but usually a button down shirt and slacks for men, woman would generally be expected to wear a blouse and a skirt.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
For a large, developing city Bangkok is very safe. There is the occasional violent crime that one may read about in a local newspaper, but in general most of the crime is opportunistic, and more of a nuisance than a threat. Scams, of course, are prevalent, but once one lives in the city, one learns what areas of the city scams are common in and what the usual scams are.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Thai hospitals are for the most part very good. Thailand is a medical tourism destination after all, and Thai hospitals cater to these types of tourists. With that said, medical care isn't necessarily cheap. If you are associated with the U.S. Embassy and need medical assistance, they will pay for your hospitalization, and get reimbursed from your insurance provider later. If you don't have medical insurance, and want to go to a good hospital then you will have to pay out of pocket which can be expensive. I suggest purchasing medical insurance that will cover you during your time in Thailand, so as to ensure that you have access to the best medical care in the country.
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?
Unhealthy. I was surprised actually how bad it could be. Probably akin to Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s (or maybe even now). The air would often clean up after a heavy rain but there were days when visibility was very bad.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot, hotter, and really really hot. Between late December and early February the temperature can be comfortable - in the 70s F (20s Centigrade) and not too humid. However, the rest of the year it is pretty humid with the average daytime temperatures in the 80s to low 90s (hottest time of the year is from March to July). rom June to November it rains a lot, and the rain comes down in buckets, often resulting in massively flooded streets. The upside is that it rarely rains all day with no shower lasting more than 30-60 minutes.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Massive (the U.S. Embassy alone is over 400 direct-hire employees) and very very good. I have met few expats who didn't love Bangkok. They practically had to drag me kicking and screaming to the airport.
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?
Go to bars, leave Bangkok on the weekend, go to one of thousands of night clubs, go to house parties, run around some of the parks, go shopping - go to more bars and nightclubs. Social life really isn't a problem.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes - some Western spouses complain about the city but most people find end up loving Bangkok. It's perfect for singles, very good for couples, and families generally enjoy the city as well.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Haha, that's like asking if bees make honey. Don't expect gay pride parades, they tried that for a while, but it didn't really catch on. With that said, gay life is vibrant in the city. There are gay bars, clubs, ladyboys, etc. Thai culture, however, is still relatively conservative, and many Thai men and woman cannot tell their families about their true nature. his is contrary to the impression that most foreigners have regarding Thai culture, in that they think that Thais are accepting of everything. This is definitely not true - Thai people have more of a "as long as it isn't in my house" attitude. In other words, they will never openly judge you about your "lifestyle," but if you are their son or daughter, then you better not be "one of them." This isn't the case for every Thai family, but it isn't uncommon to find (especially among men) Thais married to people of the opposite sex for appearances only. In summary: an openly gay foreigner will have absolutely no problems meeting friends, developing relationships, in Thailand. Note: Thailand has one of the highest HIV rates among men who sleep with men in the world.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Eating the local food, traveling around the country, spending time on the beach, enjoying the always busy nightlife, taking in the local culture, learning to be more patient and understanding, and never having to wear cold whether clothing. Oh, and of course the fantastic shopping - especially the "Weekend Market" and Terminal 21.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
So many I can't begin - one thing I would definitely suggest for everyone to do at some point, maybe when one has visitors, or when one is about to leave is to go to a place called "Deck Bar" that overlooks the Temple of Dawn which is beautifully illuminated at night. I did this my last night, which made it all the more meaningful, but I wish I had gone to this place before - it truly was magnificent.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Tons of art, clothes, silk, suits, gems - just about everything. NOTE: Exporting Buddha images from Thailand requires special permission, and if you purchase a lot of Buddha images, you will have a lot of bureaucratic paperwork to fill out when departing Thailand (and also pay a fee of about US$100 to a moving company to have them taken to the appropriate Thai Ministry to be examined).
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Numerous. Numerous. If you truly like Thai food, and can eat like the locals (on the street, in local establishments, etc.), then the cost of living is super cheap. Bangkok is truly an up and coming (if it hasn't already arrived) world city. People always that New York City never sleeps, however, the true is the same of Bangkok. No matter what day of the week it is, there are always people out, and many bars and clubs will be packed to the brim even during the week.
Outside of Bangkok there are unlimited exploration opportunities throughout the country. From the islands in the south and in the Gulf of Thailand; to the less traveled Northeast "Isan" Region; to the northern border next to Burma - the truly adventurous will never run out of places to see and explore. I only wish I had had more time to explore the country.
10. Can you save money?
Depends - yes if you don't go out a lot, and don't travel too much, and don't eat at expensive restaurants then yes. But going out and traveling are some of the greatest aspects of Bangkok and Thailand. Thailand is definitely not expensive, but it's getting more and more expensive, so it just depends on what type of lifestyle you want to live. I chose to enjoy myself.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I had been there many times before so I knew what to expect.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Without thinking twice... I would live there forever if I could.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, bad attitude, and intolerance for bad traffic and heat.
4. But don't forget your:
Good attitude, open-mindedness, and tolerance for spicy food. Oh, and umbrellas and shorts.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej - illegal in Thailand - do not bring the book to Thailand, or discuss the book with Thai people;
"Thailand's Era of Insanity" (online article, use google) by Andrew MacGregor Marshall - do not discuss with Thai people - however, last time I checked, Thai censors had not yet blocked it in Thailand.
7. Do you have any other comments?
Thailand will be one of the greatest experiences of your life if you allow it to be. Be respectful, and adventurous, and you will have a fantastic time in their Kingdom.