Bangkok, Thailand Report of what it's like to live there - 11/25/16
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?
I previously lived in Japan and the UK.
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?
About a full day in transit back to the east coast of the U.S. You typically have to connect in Hong Kong or Tokyo but there have been rumors that Thai Airways is going to restart a direct west coast flight.
3. How long have you lived here?
A year and a half.
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?
We have a large, 3BR/4BA apartment in central Bangkok, with a balcony. Almost all of the embassy housing is good-sized and centrally located. There is also a "suburban" neighborhood located somewhat outside the city center where larger families tend to live, and shuttles provide transportation (about 45-60 minutes one-way depending on traffic). Otherwise most central USG housing means a 25-35 minute commute via skytrain or subway.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very available and reasonably priced. It is rare that we cannot locate an item here. As expected most specialty items will be more expensive but it is typically not obscenely expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing that I can think of but if you have truly specialized items that you like that you'd have trouble shipping to an APO, bring those.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Bangkok pretty much has everything, and FoodPanda delivers all over the city. Malls galore with food options galore. Street food is ubiquitous but the usual caveats apply--be careful about those.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We haven't had any issue downtown, but we are up in a newer apartment tower. Not sure about the residential housing outside the city.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
APO. Amazon usually arrives in 7-10 business days.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very available. Our Thai maid comes 3x/week for full days and we pay around $300/month. Some have live-in nannies and work out other deals, most all of which seem reasonable. We've been lucky that ours was recommended by a colleague and speaks English. If you choose to go with non-Thai household help, make sure you understand what the visa and employment rules are.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Yes, I use them all the time. Recommend staying on top of your transactions as ATM scammers have been seen here.
4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most Thais in the consumer service industry speak enough English to get by. You should be fine if you don't speak Thai but obviously small polite phrases are always appreciated.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Somewhat. Sidewalks can often be damaged to non-existent, but there are escalators to skytrain/subway stations and efforts are sometimes made to make sites handicap-accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are available and affordable, yes. After 18 months we've honestly had it with the taxis, though. Endless attempted illegal haggling, they rarely know where they are going unless you're going to major areas in Bangkok, lots of unsafe driving, the taxis usually don't have seat belts, etc. I understand that cabbies in large, sprawling cities can be unique characters, but for a city that purports to be as developed as Bangkok does, the taxi situation is honestly ridiculous. We use Uber almost exclusively now and it's worked out pretty well.
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 do not have a car but it seems as though most have small SUVs per usual for the dip community. I think we would probably do the same were we to buy a car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Typically yes. It was surprising that we landed in a building that is only 5-6 years old but was not wired for ethernet, so we have an ADSL connection. It is normally ok for Netflix, etc but it's not ethernet so backing up files/photos/etc to the cloud can take hours at times. We pay $35/month for landline phone/internet.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
AIS, True, DTAC are all basically the same. We've had good service and for a 3G 1Gb monthly plan I pay $6. Literally, $6.
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?
Good vets--ours is Malaysian and makes house calls. No quarantine, just the standard USDA certs and paperwork. We shipped our two cats via separate cargo company because there wasn't an airline/airport routing available to move them with us. No issues.
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?
It seems like there is a mix of everything, although the U.S. and Thailand do not have a bilateral work agreement, so keep that in mind. There are a ton of EFM jobs at the embassy, but this is also a huge Mission, so there is a lot of supply as well.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
No direct experience but there seems to be a lot.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual to business formal depending on any public appearances that day. Men can usually get away without jackets/ties simply because of the heat.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Traffic safety and petty theft are typically the biggest concerns. Theft by those on motorbikes is no joke--it has happened somewhat frequently to USG personnel. Traffic rules appear to be taken more as suggestions.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air quality can be an issue, but nothing like China or India. Medical care is excellent and widely available.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot, hot, and more hot. Be prepared to sweat through everything.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large. Morale seems to be quite 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?
Lots of options available depending on your interests.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Singles and couples, yes. Families I'm not as sure about--I could see how downtown Bangkok might be difficult in terms of long-term living with small kids (due to the traffic and heat, etc).
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I would say the LGBT community is very accepted here.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Great travel options around the region. We've been all over Thailand and to various countries around the periphery. The food options are excellent.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
All of the beaches and natural sites. Chiang Mai is a great walking town. We'd recommend trying to find more out-of-the-way islands that are off the beaten tourist path.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Absolutely yes, but there are also a bunch of cheap trinkets that look unique until you see them at another stall down the street.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Most shopping/food is convenient and fairly cheap. As a hub, you can fly in and out of Bangkok pretty easily to lots of locations.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How much the relentless heat can have an effect on you. The crazy number of people in central Bangkok. The traffic is probably the worst I've ever experienced in any major, developed city. That the whole notion of the "smiley Thai" is a misnomer at best. IMO they are no more/less nice or helpful than anyone else I've ever met in East/Southeast Asia.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In contrast to other writers here, I would honestly have to say I don't think so. Bangkok has been a generally positive experience for sure, and living has been mostly easy. But after 18 months I can honestly say the combination of the traffic, heat, political situation, the Thai people's let's call it "interesting" relationship with the monarchy (this frustration has grown with the recent passing of the king), arcane rules about decency, lack of local traditional culture in Bangkok... I understand that all places will have their issues--for us we will leave Bangkok with great travel memories and feel fortunate to have lived in a place with so many conveniences, but we have never really developed a true affinity for this city and will not really miss it.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Coats, jackets, perceptions about what "normal" travel time connotates
4. But don't forget your:
Sunglasses, sunscreen, umbrella.