An Insider’s Guide to Living in Bangkok

lily-evansAbout the Author

This Month’s Guest Post is by Lily Evans.

Lily is the founder of SkyWeFly, where she and her team blog about photographs, stories and travel tips that will help people have a great journey.

She hopes to bring her passions to more people via SkyWeFly!

*Photography by Ben Farrell where watermarked


 

 

An Insider’s Guide to Living in Bangkok

Bangkok is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world. A place that once began as a small port community 200 years ago is now Thailand’s capital, the largest city and the center of business, politics and culture. Bangkok is a city of contrast. In as much as there is the glamour of its luxurious malls and tourist attractions, there is a sharp difference between high-end areas to the clench of its slums. With almost half of Thailand’s population crammed into its capital, you will not be surprised that the city is polluted and extremely busy.

For someone who has lived here, they will tell you that Bangkok’s environment is abrupt and abrasive. Most people develop a negative impression the first time they set foot here. I’m not surprised by this. You can imagine the crazy traffic jams, extreme pollution, spicy foods and the tropical heat are some of the things that are going to welcome you into this city.

A guide to living in Bangkok

Most people who have known about Bangkok know that Thai people are the kindest in the world but again, they were never prepared for things like “Why is every Thai trying to rip me off?!”, or that there are so many words that mean the same thing, or why is there too much spice in Thai foods. Most people are not aware of the Thai’s cultural practices like taking off their shoes when entering a home, temple or building that has a Buddha image inside. That is why most of us are hit by cultural shock once we start living here. However, once you are over their initial shock, you will become enthralled by the thriving life and culture. Bangkok is one of the most beautiful places in the world to live in. Most people speak English and this makes it easier for visitors to adjust fast. If you are planning to come live here I have come up with a guide for living in Bangkok. The guide includes the cost of living, visas, rent, and food activities safety among many other things.

A Guide to living in Bangkok

Visa

The ruling Thai military issued restrictions on Visa runs hence slimming the once highly flexible visa regulations which allowed foreigners to make short trips and also extend their stays. Today, visa extensions have been greatly curtailed. Foreigners who choose to base themselves in Bangkok get their work permits sponsored by companies. What you need to do is first get a non immigrant visa for category B ( which is business and work). This is done abroad and it requires several documents from the person who is going to employ you in Thailand. This is the reason why you are always advised, if you are planning to work here, get a job there before coming, or sign a contract for an expat assignment then you can now obtain the necessary Visa.

A guide to living in Bangkok

Cost of living

I have heard in the past, people claiming that the cost of living in Bangkok is pretty low. Well, this can be relative. As far as am concerned, after 2001, things changed. The numbers can be lying to you but if you choose to live your life extravagantly, then I can guarantee you the cost of living here will definitely be too expensive for you. Nonetheless, it is a very easy place to live in if you are earning a decent salary. Most expats love becoming English teachers here therefore most of the figures reflect that. Some people can comfortably live on a salary of less than 20,000 baht ($6,000 per month), while some will definitely struggle with that. Mostly, your cost of living in Bangkok is mainly determined with how you choose to live your life. If you are eating in high-end restaurants or staying in 5 star hotels and indulging in entertainment, then it can become too pricey for you. However, if you decide to eat in more standard restaurants or sometimes cook in your apartment and limit the number of times you go out, you can definitely limit how much you spend.

A guide to living in Bangkok

Traditional Thai monks cross a road in Bangkok, Thailand

With about 60,000 baht per month, you will live a pleasant and comfortable lifestyle. Basically, most things you need to survive in Thailand are reasonably priced. The things that tend to be expensive are luxury goods, cars and anything that is not made in Thailand hence imported like good beef and dairy products.

A guide to living in Bangkok

Riding in a Thai Tuk Tuk in Bangkok

Rent

Bangkok has a number of accommodation options which range from houses to apartments to hotels, condos and mansions. Foreigners staying for a long time go for apartments and guesthouses and some hotels since these are more readily available. If you are looking for the cheapest apartments, you will get some that go for as low as 1,500 baht. These are some of the most horrible apartments that won’t even give you the opportunity of enjoying your own wash room. You can also go for cheaper housing that go for 3,000-5,000 baht. This is likely to get you a small about 20 square meter studio apartment in the central areas or maybe 35+ sq meter apartment further out. Your rent is likely to be your biggest spending but in my opinion it is worth spending a little more to get something much better. Your decision to where you live will greatly be dictated by where you work or, if you are retired, where you mostly hang out. One more thing, like most cities, the father you move from central Bangkok the cheaper the rent will be.

A guide to living in Bangkok

A rooftop hotel pool in Sukhumvit Bangkok

Activities

I have had a number of people asking me what they can do in Bangkok. One of my favorite answers is usually; Bangkok doesn’t have so many must see attractions. In fact, Bangkok is a city you visit to experience the vibrancy, the energy and heartbeat instead of the attractions. This is a city you visit to have some good times. Bangkok is infamous for its nightlife. There are several snooker and pool halls located here and there. You can ask at your apartment and you will be told where to find the closest hall. The cost mostly varies but usually it is between 100 baht an hour.

A guide to living in Bangkok

A tuk tuk tries to cut through the crowds in Chinatown Bangkok

There are also a number of Karaoke bars, large discos and several gay bars. Most of the nightclubs are hunting grounds for freelancers and high-class prostitutes. If you want to avoid the night girls, go to an establishment with a reasonable entrance fee because that helps to keep them off. For those who wish to indulge in the city’s world renowned women of the night, Sukhumvit road of service girls is the place for you.

A guide to living in Bangkok

Mmm… I wonder what this bar is all about?

After living here for some time, I have also come to learn that apart from the vibrancy, Thais love three things; temples, shopping and food. One of the best things I did was shopping the stalls of the Chatuchak during the weekend market. This is the largest market in Thailand and you will find almost everything including clothes, food, pets, handicrafts, art, and antiques among others. Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Po are the two most prominent temples here. You will be thrilled to see the incredible detail and beautiful colors of the temple.

A guide to living in Bangkok

Shopping (bargaining) at a Thai market in Bangkok

Hiking is also a popular past time among most expats, and the city has a club specifically dedicated for trekking. The other activity you can partake in is going for a river cruise which is a nice way to see some of the older parts of Bangkok. Other interesting places to visit include Jim Thompson’s House and Baiyoke 2 tower. Once you get here, you will realize that Bangkok is located at the heart of the country hence there are so many places nearby where you can escape for a weekend.

A guide to living in Bangkok

Taking a ‘long boat’ tour along the ‘klongs’ in Bangkok

Personally I enjoyed my first few days wandering around, with the exception of the fact that exploring the city alone was a little overwhelming. The most challenging part was me being a “farang” which is Thai word for foreigner created an impression I was a walking Baht (Thai currency). Getting around was slightly tricky since Taxis and tuk tuks tried to overcharge, not use the meter or take you to “Thai Factory” which is a shop for selling jewels. Most of the time they would claim the government gives them free gas but I am certain they get their commissions from the jewel shops.



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Education

Education is a basic motivator to many expatriate families who come here on a company package. The focus on international Baccalaureate programs makes this city a great choice. There are a number of international schools in Bangkok such as the Regent’s School, International School Bangkok and Ruamrudee International School. All these provide International Baccalaureate programs. The other international schools include Harrow School and Shrewsbury International School which offer IGCSE and A Level programs.

A guide to living in Bangkok

University of Bangkok

Food

One thing I have come to love about Bangkok is their food. Food is tasty and inexpensive. No wonder someone once said that food is one of the life’s pleasures in Thailand. The other thing about food in Bangkok is that it is 24 hours. Bangers is full of zillions of great restaurants and places to eat. Therefore, if you are an ardent lover of good food like me, you will definitely love Bangkok. You can also find a number of fast foods here but that is just it. They are very few outside Bangkok. If you are looking for western type of meals such as New Zealand lamb, German sausages and sauerkraut, you can also get those ones. Personally, I tend to find this sort of food less agreeable with my body when am in the Thai environment.

A guide to living in Bangkok

Thai food staples: Kaffir lime, eggplant, ginger & lime

When I am here I prefer Thai food to allow my body to function better in this environment. When it comes to the local restaurants, Penang gai is my favorite. There are several chains of restaurants offering suki style noodles. You can also find cheap foods in the streets. You will be surprised to learn that even these cheap foods are pretty much descent. A good example is gra-pow gai rard khao( chicken with chilly and Basel leaves on rice). Popular with the Thais are also som tum (papaya salad) vendors. These are the people who sell salad in bowls.

A guide to living in Bangkok

Security

 

For a big city having more than 10 million occupants, Bangkok is indeed a safe place. Violent crimes are still not popular. Muggings and other forms of confrontations are still very rare and “unThai”. However, the most popular crime is pick pocketing in crowds. Always be aware of your pockets when you are walking in crowded streets. Political instability is highest in the region next to Indonesia. There is so much monitory bribery and political unrest is an ongoing concern. However, these are just the same evils that are there in any other country.

Conclusion

Bangkok can be confusing and frustrating when you first arrive. This guide is meant to prepare you for the mayhem you may expect and at the same time help you not to make the same mistakes some of us made including me when we first arrived. But generally, Bangkok is phenomenal city, “The City of angles’ as some of us are heard saying. You just need to know how to live here in order to maximize your stay.



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