Tell me about Bangkok, please
November 26, 2009 2:39 PM   Subscribe

What's living in Bangkok like? Should I consider moving there?

I have a potential opportunity for a job in Bangkok. It would be for minimum two years, with my current company. Am a little hesitant to do it, so am wondering what living there is like for an expat? Culture, livability, cuisine, expense, weather, neighborhoods, transport, smog levels ... all topics fair game.

Background that may be useful:
* Single/unattached; mid-30s.
* Likely salary there (this just a guess): US$45-55K/year, paid in dollars.
* US-born; have lived abroad before in multiple countries.
* Never been to Asia.
* Speak two languages besides English, one of them rather well. Do not speak a word of Thai (job would be almost entirely in English) or any other Asian language.
* Averse to hot, sticky weather. (How bad is it, really?)
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Thailand (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Averse to hot, sticky weather. (How bad is it, really?)

I was there during the "cool" season and it was hotter and stickier than I could deal with most days. I can't imagine what it would be like in the summer. Chang Mai in the north is much more comfortable, but that's relative. Thailand is a hot and humid country. So, from someone who is averse to hot, sticky weather, it is bad.

That being said, I absolutely loved Thailand.
posted by qwip at 3:49 PM on November 26, 2009

I used to live in Bangkok in the early 2000's, and I'd do anything to be back there now. I'll go through your points one by one.

Not sure if you're male or female, but either way there's a lot of expats living in Bangkok - and not all of them are of the old man looking for docile subservient arm piece variety. A great place to meet these people which is not in Banglumpoo (backpacker tourist area) is Wong's Place.

On that salary, you'll live like royalty. My top floor apartment (with fantastic patio) on a Muslim soi off of Petchaburi was about $150 a month. You can easily find a nice 2 bedroom apartment with all the amenities for around 5 bills a month. Amazing street food will run you about 50 cents a meal. A dinner at a more upscale restaurant like Cabbages & Condoms would be more in the range of $15 for two.

As for language, it's pretty damn easy, save for the tones (which are pretty damn hard). There really isn't much grammar to learn. Pick up a small language book - a hell of a lot more useful than the actual guidebook.

As for the weather, yeah, it can be unbearable at certain times of the year - March - June, when it is almost always 40 degrees Celsius and fairly humid. After that comes the monsoon season with much higher humidity, but more bearable temperatures. This ends in early November, and it's frickin' gorgeous til March.

Random shit:

1) For the best price and selection on any electronics, head to the six floor Pantip Plaza.
2) You'll notice a big difference in the way the Thais treat you in the Banglumpoo area or any other place which sees a lot of tourists as compared to the Thais in other parts of Bangkok. I've never felt a sense of community like I did when I lived off of Petchaburi.
3) The public transport consists of buses, a subway, and a sky train. All cheap. If you want to cab it around the city, always use metred taxis - and get out if they won't turn on the metre. Tuk Tuks overcharge huge these days.
4) One of the best parts of Bangkok is the weekend market.

posted by gman at 3:58 PM on November 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

I lived in Bangkok for a year, a few years back, and have visited regularly since (three times this year). This'll be long...

First, if you are a single, unattached female who is hoping to form a relationship, I suggest strongly that you do not live in Bangkok. Western men are very charmed by Thai women, Thai men (in general) are not so interested in Western women. You may find yourself restricted to dalliances with Swedish backpackers (you may think this is not a problem!).

Language - not a problem. Of course, you will find taking taxis and buying food off street stalls a bit easier if you pick up a bit of Thai. The cinemas show films in English, there are great English bookshops (Kinokuniya), many restaurants will have English menus, and there are many educated Thais who can speak English.

Cuisine - worth living in Bangkok for the food alone, in my opinion. Fabulous food, far better than you will ever find in a Thai restaurant at home (so many dishes that never seem to make it out of the country). Increasingly good range of other cuisines available. Some great supermarkets/foodhalls available with all your Western desires (Siam Paragon foodhall is magnificent and worth a visit by visiting foodies). Of course, great local markets.

Weather - terribly hot and sticky at some times of year, city doesn't always seem to get a good breeze. In April the year I was there, the temperature exceeded 40 degrees in the day and was 30 degrees overnight (Celcius). To an extent, this doesn't have to be an issue as indoors can be highly airconditioned (I used to take a spare pair of socks to the cinema), but it does sort of limit outdoor activity at some times of year.

Transport - either live near the office, or live near a skytrain or subway station that will take you to the office. Both run regularly and are a good way to get about, although increasingly overcrowded. I don't know any foreigners with a car in Bangkok. Taxis are cheap and as a 'local', you can always get them to run on the meter, but traffic can be shocking. Many Thais commute for two hours each way.

Location - Bangkok is perfect for opportunities to travel in the region, and Thailand itself has many beautiful beaches, islands and hill areas.

Expense - depends on what you need to live. Basic studio apartments can be had for 12-15,000 baht (here's an example), one bedrooms can be had for a bit more, but a good quality apartment in a central area of the city can be quite expensive - think a few thousand US dollars a month (like this example). Local food is cheap. 30 trips on the skytrain is about 400 baht, taxis are usually not more than 100B around town, airport run is up to 300B.

Culture - it does sometimes feel like all of Bangkok is just shopping malls. There are cinemas, including art house, galleries, limited theatre/opera etc, plenty of rock concerts. There are things that aren't shopping, but they require a bit more hunting. Lots of expat groups around - writers, touch football etc etc.

Overall - I think it can be a really enjoyable place to live. It is a big and dynamic city, with fabulous food, great opportunities for travel, reasonable living costs if you don't want an executive apartment. I really like the neighborhoods north of the city for a good mix of Thais and foreigners who aren't on ridiculous salaries - eg Victory Monument, Ari.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:16 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

My first thought when reading your question about Bangkok was the hoirrble air pollution. I did not live there, only visited for a couple of days, and 90% of the time I was thinking about how I could feel and taste the dust coating my lungs. Don't know if this would bother you as well, but if you don't like it, 2 years is a long time to endure unhealthy air. Also, it is really sticky. And as far as culture, I absolutely could not stand people grabbing me and touching me as I was by to try to sell me things. Maybe it's just me and you'd be able to ignore that. Or maybe after a month or two there you'd look less touristy and would be grabbed less. Aside from that, the food is great, the nightlife is fun, Thailand is beautiful, and I'm sure it'd be an amazing experience. Do you have a chance to visit before making this decision?
posted by KateHasQuestions at 4:49 PM on November 26, 2009

Disclaimer: I've never been to Bangkok, but I wouldn't move there without visiting it first. Or at the least, are there other people in your company you could ask for honest opinions? The one thing I've heard about Bangkok is that it is Dirty, dirty, dirty. However I don't know if it's any dirtier than any other major town in SE Asia.

As far as the weather, again I've never been to Bangkok, but I was in Hanoi, Vietnam for a month in July, and OMG was it hot/humid! I've lived my entire life in Southern US, so I won't even blink over 100 degree plus temps, but the humidity there coupled with the high heat just about did me in. Imagine waking up in the morning, taking a shower, and an hour later thinking, "ick, I need to take a shower".

That being said, i would totally live in Hanoi (or roughly equivalent Asian city) ..... even being there for a month changed the way I viewed our world. But it's certainly not for everybody.
posted by texas_blissful at 5:35 PM on November 26, 2009

This: "Averse to hot, sticky weather. (How bad is it, really?)"

Thailand is a lovely country, and 45K USD/year would allow you to live like a king. But it's humid and hot as hell.

Of course, you could afford air conditioning in your apartment. Do you have any idea what your work situation would be re: climate control? Because that's the only reason I'd say don't do it.

Being a sweaty foreigner visiting Asia is annoying, but not a huge deal. Working somewhere where I was that physically uncomfortable would be a deal-breaker.
posted by bardic at 8:02 PM on November 26, 2009

On preview, this post became a little long and rambling. I like living here, but have seen many, many people who can't stand Bangkok. I'm going to focus on some of the negative aspects, so you know what people don't like.

Currently living in Bangkok.

I think almost all the above advice is spot on. At your salary, you will live like royalty. That puts you in a sticky situation where you might be tempted to recreate your current lifestyle while in Thailand. Thailand is a great country on its own merits, but can be maddening when you try to pretend it's a western country.

Generally the $1 meals on the street will be better than the $10 western meals in tourist restaurants. The fine dining is usually a great deal though. Bangkok has become much more expensive in the last few years. Some of the above quotes are a little low.

500 dollars will get you quite a nice apartment. Your travel expenses can amount to less than $60 a month. You could easily eat for about 3 dollars a day. You could easily eat well for 10 dollars a day. You could easily eat good western food for $40 dollars a day.

You can get by without any Thai, but you will be able to pick up intelligible, basic Thai quite easily. Thai grammar is practically non existent. For example, I want to eat = "want eat". I don't want to eat any spicy food = "no take spicy". Just listen to how the locals say the words, and try to do an impression of what they sound like. Don't even think about the tones, just make your sentences sound the same.

Bangkok is hot and humid. More so than the rest of Thailand. It's dirty and sticky and smelly. It was built on a swamp and much of the infrastructure was hastily built on old canals. Avoiding sweat is a Thai national sport. Many Bangkok Thais treat going outside like leaving a space capsule. People will double the cost of their taxi fair just to pull a 2km u turn so they can avoid climbing up the stairs of a sky-walk. As said above, Bangkok usually hits about 100 degrees Fahrenheit almost everyday from about March until maybe June/July.

Since you've never lived in Asia, there's something I need to point out. Most people I've met who can't handle living in Bangkok all mention the same thing. Asian cities are NOT like European or American cities. Asian cities are big, and they have lots of malls, but that's about it. There is no cultural center in Bangkok. There are very few intrinsic advantages to living in Bangkok compared to cities like Paris or New York. Most Asian cities have very little in the way of urban planning. Most cities exploded after the advent of cars. Traffic laws are seen as suggestions. Almost everything pleasant in Thailand costs money. It's very difficult to stumble upon a nice small art gallery or impromptu concert. There is nothing pleasant about strolling through Bangkok in the same way that you can walk the streets of Paris, Barcelona, Prague, Seattle or what ever city you are from. You will constantly be bombarded by noise, hawkers, motorcycles on the sidewalks, tuk tuk drivers, hookers, slow walkers, beggars etc etc.

Bangkok is a great place to live. But it is not tranquil or relaxing. Most people go to shopping malls to escape the noise and the heat. There are plenty of interconnected shopping centers which act as Biospheres to keep that keep the heat and the poor people out.

All that being said. It's a cool experience. You will learn about yourself.
posted by Telf at 8:13 PM on November 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Further to my post above:
I think you would be hard pressed to work in an office without airconditioning. Even the elderly government office building I worked in had it. Running your airconditioning all the time is quite expensive though. I had one friend accidently leave hers on while away for a weekend and the electricity bill for that month was almost as high as her (low-ish) rent.

The air pollution can get bad, especially when there is not much of a breeze. Going to the parks or out on the river makes you feel like the air is cleaner, even if it isn't really! I never got any stomach problems in Bangkok, but I did get a few respiratory illnesses. There is top quality medical care available in Bangkok if needed.

I would listen to what people who have visited are saying, but in my opinion, there is much about Bangkok that the casual visitor does not discover and it is better to talk to those who have lived there.

But, yes, it is dirtier than home or somewhere like Singapore, but there are a lot of people out sweeping the streets etc. I did get a bit tired sometimes of the slightly dangerous situations you would come across from lack or enforcement of proper safety standards and building codes, the complete disregard for pedestrians, maniac taxi drivers, and some cultural differences would sometimes grate a bit. When those things start to get to you, you need to get out of town.
posted by AnnaRat at 8:18 PM on November 26, 2009

Disclaimer: I never lived in Bangkok, but I lived elsewhere in Thailand and spent a great deal of time in BKK about 7 years ago. So my advice is outdated! Grain of salt advised, but I think most of the above commenters hit the nail on the head. Most of the great things about Bangkok are actually great things about Thailand in general, ie, excellent food, great shopping, good value for your dollar, friendly people. I really enjoyed my time there a lot, but I don't think I would ever live there.

However, I didn't find it dirty at all - in fact, many parts struck me as a lot cleaner than most American cities. Thais are generally obsessed with cleanliness. The only dirty part of town that I saw was Banglamphu, which is where the backpackers hang out.

The heat/humidity is really awful. I got used to it, though, and if I can, really anyone can. The air conditioning is everywhere and it's arctic. The food is AHmazing. The aforementioned Cabbages and Condoms is great, as are many of the street stalls. There is a big, lively expat community in Bangkok, although the most famous breed of expat (creepy old farang men) is visible and often disturbing.

Downside: I lived in a different city in Thailand that is more remote and less used to farang, so my experience might be different, but the cultural differences were really wearing after a while. Obviously, living in another culture is part of the appeal, but there are some key ways that Thai culture is really, fundamentally different from American culture, which can be exhausting to deal with day in and day out. OTOH, many Americans end up loving Thailand so much they never leave, so obviously that's a personal thing.
posted by lunasol at 10:51 PM on November 26, 2009

My father is an expat living in a suburban area near Bangkok, and owns several condos which he rents out. I've been to visit him a few times, and I am nthing the hot, sticky weather, visible air pollution, some lack of US safety standards, garish/dilapidated buildings, and other things you have heard about Bangkok, but also saying that certain things you may have heard about, such as hookers everywhere and the possibility of catching intestinal bugs, seem to be exaggerated. However, the heat and the stickiness is NOT exaggerated, though my father tells me Vietnam was worse, if such a thing is possible. I just came from a visit of several days this November, during which it was so hot, I wore t-shirts, and so humid, I soaked 'em through with sweat. I had gone one December during what the locals call "Cold Season" and mistakenly expected if not some actual coolness, at least what we Westerners call "balminess". No relief, even in Decmber! The heat is beyond what even the hottest days of summer in NYC can dish out, and that's saying something, considering how miserable NYC can get in August. The sun is also somehow brighter. I used to consider prescription sunglasses to be an accessory for the rich or the wimpy or people who were a combination of the two, but now I own a pair. You can e-mail me, and I'll put you in touch with my father.
posted by bunky at 10:11 AM on November 27, 2009

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