Bangkok, Thailand Report of what it's like to live there - 02/19/09
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?
2. How long have you lived here?
Arrived August 2008.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Trailing spouse of wife who works for a U.S. multinational.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
To U.S. direct to LAX in 16 hours. All other flights connect through Hong Kong or Japan going east and many points in Europe and the Middle East going West. Takes about 22-24 hours to get to NYC whichever way you go. There are direct flights to most European Capitals and take anywhere from 8-11 hours.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There is lots of available housing of all types. We live in a new apartment tower, but friends live in housing developments here in the city center. There are also older Thai houses and apartments available at a fraction of the price of a place in New York and much less than most other US cities. Most buildings or housing developments have a pool, a playground for the kids and security. I recommend that you live close to where you work because the traffic is still quite bad at rush hour. While most U.S. Embassy staff and Americans working for other companies live in Nichada north of the city (30 minutes no traffic, 90 minutes or worse at peak rush hour), we chose to live near the city center to be closer to my wife's office and our children's school. We do not have the benefit of the shuttle service which conveys most Americans to their jos at the Embassy (the US Embassy here is the third largest in the world, so we're talking about a lot of personel). We really like where we live. There is so much to do.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
About the same as the U.S. for basic staples, but MUCH more if you want things like Florida style orange juice or Cheerios. For 9/10 things there is a suitable local alternative.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Framed pictures and things that remind me of home because there is so much empty space in our apartment.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Every single one.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes. Everyone here is afraid of Dengue Fever. I have two kids and there is no vaccine. I worry about it too. Read the CDC guidelines if you have any questions. It is a treatable disease, but it's not what I'd like my kids to go through.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Mail service here is acceptable. When sending anything from the states by any means (DHL, FEDEX, UPS, USPS) mark "returned/used goods", take off all labels and declare a nominal insurance value. Otherwise you will pay a ridiculously high tarrif on your packages.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very cheap US$450-600/month for a Thai helper. Even less for Burmese help. Some speak English. Some friends have gone through several maids before settling on one they like. Most are great.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. Many buidlings have gyms. There are also large chains you can join (California comes to mind) as well as hotel gyms which offer memberships like the President Park or Patumwan Princess hotel.
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?
Be careful with the credit cards. ATM's are fine (so far) and ubiquitous.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Many Christian denominations. There is also a Shabbat house here.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Bangkok Post and the Nation are local english papers. IHT and WSJ-Asia are also easy to get here.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, but a little helps.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. This is a city with few facilities for the differently abled. The curbs are ridiculous!
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are air-conditioned and super cheap. Learn a little taxi thai to get around, although most drivers speak some English. The Subway and skytrain are fast, affordable and super clean. I do not know of a cleaner subway. The lines are a touch limited in the areas they serve, but most of the major tourist areas are accessable from mass transit.
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?
A Toyota Camry is a large car here. Minivans are a good option. Small cars are fine. Large ones will haves problems on the side streets (sois).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is available, but not the best. Download speeds are slow and the same cost as the US.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Buy a local prepaid wireless phone. I hear many of the service plans can be difficult to manage and are a bit opaque. The rates on prepaid wirless are very reasonable for calling the states.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
We have used the Thonglor pet hospital, and have been quite pleased.
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?
If you want to take any job, English teaching jobs are fairly easy to find. To get a job at a better school, whether Thai or international, you'll need a teaching credential and need to do a more formal search. Get your ducks in a row before starting your search.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Wear long pants. Dress smart casual for most occasions and you'll be fine.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate to unhealthy, but getting better. The air quality in New York was better, but they are actually trying to cope with the problem; thus the new subway, skytrain, airport rail line, and all of the Natural Gas/LPG busses and tuk tuks.
2. What immunizations are required each year?
The number of shots I had to take to come here made me tear up, and I don't mind needles. For most children, they need fewer, because they have already had some immunizations.
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Very few. This is probably one of the safest capitals in the world. It's safer than D.C. by far or even New York. I can think of few U.S. cities where I would feel safer. That being said, there is non-confrontational crime here. Be very careful how you use your credit card. Pay cash if possible, especially away from major chains (Marriot, Starbucks, etc.). We have had one card number stolen and it was a huge pain in the tail to get the money back.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The hospitals here are terrific. Bumringrad is certified by the U.S. Most of the doctors are very competent to excellent. So far not one bad experience. Just be aware that while they will take excellent care of you for a bargain price, these hospitals are a business, and I have had my issues with wrangling between them and the insurance companies.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The most pleasant time of year to be here is defintiely November through Mid-February. The tempeture is cool during the day (83 F) and night (75). There is NO rain. I hear March-April is the WORST time to be here due to the extreme heat. Although it does rain quite a bit during the summer, this also cools things off and makes life here bearable. Much like South Florida during the summer (perhaps even a smidgen cooler).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The three best schools in Bangkok are purported to be ISB (the American school in Nichada, surrounded by a planned community where many Americans live), Bangkok Pattana School (a British curriculum school east of the city), and the New International School of Thailand (located downtown on Sukhumvit soi 15). All of these schools are terrific places. Our daughter attends NIST and it compares very favorably to the private school she attended in New York City. We may even like it even more. There are many other excellent choices as well among the large number of private schools here in Bangkok.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ISB, NIST and Bangkok Pattana have learning specialists who take care of students with learning issues, but for students who have more needs, I am not sure. I have heard that schools are out there in Bangkok, but I cannot name one off the top of my head.
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?
There are many choices for the little ones and most of them are of high quality. They can be a bit pricey (our tuition reimbursement does not kick in until our son is 4 and those "new student fees" are a killer).
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Baseball at ISB. Soccer, swimming, and tennis at many schools and clubs in Bangkok in the afternoons and weekends. Basketball on Sunday, January to May at NIST-BJBL program.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large and diverse. There are many Asian expats here from Japan and Korea as well as a sizable and historic Indian and Chinese population. There are many people from Western Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand. The US and Latin American expat presence is also quite large.
2. Morale among expats:
For us, very high. Other families struggle if one of the spouses is unhappy. Being the trailing spouse, I found things to get involed in. I coach basketball and softball as well as play in a local softball league made up mostly of Americans. I also volunteer a lot at my daughter's school and spend lots of time with my 2 year old son. Get involved and you'll enjoy life more here. The Thai people are great.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is an excellent city for families. The apartments and houses are spacious, and it is very easy to get help at a price much lower than in the states. Our helper cooks, cleans and helps keep an eye on the kids after school if one of us is not avaialable. She lives out (although we do have a "maid's room" in our place). We pay her top dollar and it's only 600/ month. The going rate is more like $450. They do get thai holidays off. We love our helper. For single men, it is great. For single women, it is harder. For couples w/ or w/o children, you must have a stable marriage. If infidelity is at all an issue, don't come here. There is a lot of temptation and many opportunites for men to go astray. On the other hand there is so much for a couple to experience together. Beautiful beaches, exotic countryside, terrific food, some of world's best hotels, a thriving art and music scene.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Thailand is a very tolerant country and most people will mind their own business. There is a very active gay nightlife scene here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
People respect money and the guys in power are rich thugs. The poor here are ingnored too much (but I feel that is also a huge issue in the US).
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
So much. Shopping-Siam Paragon-the most beautiful mall I've ever seen with a killer food hall. There are so many beautiful malls on one end and really cool Asian markets on the other (Chatuchak for the tourists and Klongtoey for the real residents-although I hear they want to tear it down). The cultural sites-Wat Pho, the Grand Palace etc. are terrific. I hear Chinatown is one place not to miss. There are so many great clubs, restaraunts and bars to go to.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Great vacations, excellent silks, nice handicrafts.
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Definitely, although I would have asked for money to bring friends and family here. It is a long way from home.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Closed mind. This is not America. I mean that in mostly a good way. Thais are great people who have a very tolerant society on most levels. They are terrific with kids and don't like people who are pushy or overly aggressive. The only time I have seen a person handcuffed here was in a supermarket after she had slapped her son. They took her into custody and escorted her right out of the store.
3. But don't forget your:
Frequent flier miles to help your friends visit. Don't forget the sunglasses and sunscreen.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
Always show the utmost respect for the King and the Royal family. They are revered here. Not only is it against the law to criticize them, it's stupid and rude for an American to do so.