So many places, so little time
March 1, 2012 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Expat-Filter: Help me choose where to live next!

In the early stages of planning an overseas move later next year, interested in hearing opinions on the places I'm considering. The move would be for work, wherever I go I'll most likely be living there for about two years.

Some background: I'm in my early 30s, unmarried, no kids. I'm a city person through and through - I thrive on having lots of excitement around, good transportation, good nightlife, etc. I don't mind crowded living conditions and urban noise - I actually kind of prefer it (at least, to an extent)! I also enjoy outdoor activities from time to time (skiing, scuba diving, etc), traveling, etc.

Been living on the US East Coast for a little while now and have generally enjoyed it. Prior to that, I lived in Seoul (and before that, Tokyo) and absolutely loved it. Besides Korea and Japan, I've traveled to England, Hungary, China, and West Africa. China was awesome, Hungary was okay (the nightlife wasn't bad and the "ruin pubs" were pretty cool).

Overall, I'm used to traveling and have become reasonably good at dealing with culture shock, language barriers, etc. I will likely be moving overseas by myself, although my girlfriend could potentially be coming from the US to join me at a later date (if possible; we're still figuring that out at the moment).

Compensation in any of these locales will be pretty good (and housing will be provided as well) so cost-of-living, etc isn't much of an issue. While I don't speak any foreign languages fluently, I can *probably* (fingers crossed!) get a few weeks of basic/survival language training provided by my employer before I leave.

Anyway, here's where I'm looking:

Frankfurt, Germany
Pros: Easy access to the rest of Europe, direct flights back to the US. Good beer!
Cons: Not sure how exciting it is, or if there's any sort of nightlife/things-to-do (co-worker described it as "very suburban"). Cold/snowy winters(?) - I'm more of a warm-weather person. Also, I've heard some neighborhoods are very Americanized (or at least the neighborhood I'd be living in).

Bangkok, Thailand
Pros: Huge city, lots of expats, always plenty to do, good food, beautiful beaches and good scuba-diving nearby. Plus, opportunities to see the rest of SE Asia. Lots of old temples and other similarly cool stuff. Lower cost-of-living than Western Europe.
Cons: *Really* hot & humid, somewhat dirtier (or so I've heard), further from the US.

Manila, Phillipines
Possible third option - Still researching this one, but open to thoughts on it.

I have several other options available, but these are my top three.

So MeFites, can any of you offer any thoughts on these destinations? I found a good AskMe thread on Bangkok, but would be interested to hear other opinions (particularly on Frankfurt, I haven't found much info on it). Thanks in advance :)
posted by photo guy to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I've never been to Frankfurt. I recently visited Bangkok for a week, though, and I currently live in China.

If you love China, I think you'll like Bangkok. Though they are quite different, it seems to me that you are looking for the fast-paced and adventurous (to Westerners) life that Asian cities offer. Also, your "pros" for living in Frankfurt don't seem to be that convincing, as compared to the "pros" you listed for Bangkok.

But I will leave someone else to measure in on the benefits of living in Frankfurt.
posted by bearette at 8:34 PM on March 1, 2012

A photographer friend has left the US permanently and has lived and worked all over the world for a number of years. He's currently in Bangkok and LOVES IT. It has everything you could want - he's using the Aussie phrase "happy as a pig in shit" to describe the fabulousness of his Bangkok life :)
posted by honey-barbara at 8:40 PM on March 1, 2012

PS- I meant to say, Thailand and China are different in many ways, but similar in others. Also, I found Bangkok to be cleaner than China :)
posted by bearette at 8:40 PM on March 1, 2012

Another vote for Bangkok. Frankfurt is squaresville.
posted by dydecker at 9:08 PM on March 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Frankfurt = bankerfurt. There's a little more to it than that, but nobody moves there for the kind of urban expat lifestyle that you're talking about. Berlin seems a better fit, or even Vienna at a pinch, though you may feel like you've 'done' central Europe in Hungary. I'd also say Amsterdam for US flight connections, but if you live there, rather than just visiting, the pace slows down somewhat.

I think you're after the crazy-urban face-slap culture shock of Bangkok.
posted by holgate at 9:10 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I moved to a tropical area with the same trepidation that you have about Bangkok's heat and humidity. I was surprised at how quickly I adapted. In less than a year I became like the locals, putting on a sweatshirt and complaining about the cold when the temperature dips to the low 70s F.

Bangkok! Bangkok!
posted by ceiba at 9:41 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Philippines can be lovely but Manilla is not. A bit dangerous to boot.
posted by bardic at 11:24 PM on March 1, 2012

+ Bangkok. In addition to what others have said, I didn't find it to be that dirty. And you can get used to the heat.
posted by MillMan at 12:03 AM on March 2, 2012

Seconding bardic. Manilla is not a pleasant city.
posted by rsk at 12:19 AM on March 2, 2012

Best answer: I lived in Frankfurt for four years. It was actually very nice, very liveable, very different from its reputation, but definitely not "exciting" in terms of nightlife, and the expat community, especially Americans really stick together. (I went out of my way to avoid it and make German friends, but note: I had to go out of my way.)

And yes, quite suburban, in that affordable accommodation tends to be far out of the inner city. If you are a banker and your employment puts you up, you will be more central (walking distance to the centre) and it will be very classy. But not exciting.

Nightlife is okay - I had housemates who were into clubbing and seemed to go out most nights pretty successfully. One was into the goth scene and found it well represented. But all that is a bit hidden away and it takes a while to find it, and it's still a pretty small scene compared to most European major cities.
posted by lollusc at 1:42 AM on March 2, 2012

Best answer: I've spent a lot of time in Frankfurt (while living in Zurich. I know, I know; pot, kettle, black...) and always found it to be a bit soulless. That said, the villages around the outer edges can be very nice. And as you said, it's central in Europe and all that provides. I've also been to Bangkok any number of times for work and pleasure. It can be very full on, interesting and challenging. I haven't been to Manilla so can't comment on it.

At this point in my life, I would probably choose Frankfurt. Mainly because I just finished several years in China and while I love Asia, I have a lot of friends in Europe and would like to be back there. Home is currently in Australia. For what it's worth, I found China to be "cleaner" than Thailand and I spent a lot of time in the non-shiny parts of the country.

But, Bangkok is going to whack you in the head a lot more than Frankfurt will. Plus, Asia is where the immediate growth and change is happening in the world. Having that experience now will make you that much more valuable wherever you happen to head to next.
posted by michswiss at 2:16 AM on March 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so far everyone! I'm a bit early in the research phase (wouldn't have to make a decision for a few months yet, and wouldn't be moving for over a year), so just collecting as much info as possible at the moment. Asked about these three because they sounded the most appealing, and because I don't know as much about the countries in question (FWIW other options include New Delhi, India and Cairo, Egypt). Will continue researching, but think Thailand is still looking to be the best bet for me.
posted by photo guy at 5:46 AM on March 2, 2012

Best answer: I was only in Bangkok for a few days, but it was awesome! All the perks of a big city, but still a lot of exotic SE Asia about it. They have an excellent metro-type train system that will get you everywhere (you most likely won't need a car), plus it's easy to get around the rest of the country and other points in Asia from Bangkok. Thai people are generally very friendly (although note of caution: I nearly got mugged in broad daylight on a busy street, so do keep your guard up) and English is widely spoken. If you pick up a few words/phrases in Thai, they'll love you for it! Cuisine is amazing. Lots of expats. There's a carefree, bohemian, life-loving vibe. I think it would have more of an "adventure" feel than Germany or Manila. Good luck! :)
posted by phoenix_rising at 5:49 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've lived in Thailand and it is quite love it or hate it IMHO.

The heat, the traffic, the noise, the relative lack of green spaces apart from Lumpini Park, the culture clashes at being treated like farang and so forth can be quite oppressive if it is not your thing. I knew few people who didn't like Bangkok, but I also met my fair share who did their two years and weren't too gutted to go.

I've only spent a couple of nights in Manila, but it is more dangerous, harder work and more edgy than Bangkok, with few of the cultural highlights and less opportunity to use it as a springboard to go to Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia etc. That said, in tough places you often find a tighter expat community. The rest of the country is stunning, too. If you want to know what some of the idyllic spots in Thailand used to look like, then you'll find them in the Philippines. FWIW, I also found the people nicer and more genuine than in Thailand, notwithstanding Thailand's reputation as the land of smiles.

As you've got, Frankfurt is your choice for exploring Europe. It is Lufthansa's hub airport. Germany has a reputation generally for being boring but if you can get past the dour shopkeepers, and general sense of order then you will find a fun and edgy underbelly.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:44 AM on March 2, 2012

LOL, Frankfurt vs. Bangkok?

Word of caution: No doubt Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Manila will give you a much better adventure. However, I've seen the negative outcomes as well (increasing hedonistic lifestyle, decreasing focus on career/work/family, distance from the U.S. combined withl 'farang' culture causing increasing levels of detachment).

Places that present a danger of this happening:


'Safer' places:

Hong Kong
New Delhi

All of these places offer nightlife, adventure, interesting experiences.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:09 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lived in Bangkok and think that it does work well for city lovers. I lived there about 10 years ago, but have visited regularly since and think it has improved. The public transport is great, the food is amazing, there seems to be more to do than just shop than there used to be. It is not a great place for single women (absolutely fine in terms of safety, limited in terms of relationship opportunities). Single men seem to rather enjoy it! You want to live somewhere accessible to your work, preferably on a skytrain or subway line.

The things that annoyed me was pollution, lack of green space, disregard for public safety, a feeling that there was nowhere else to go but the shopping malls / consumerist culture, my invisibility as a foreign woman, a tricky language to learn.

The good things were the food, the Thai colleagues and friends that I did get to know, access to vacation destinations in Thailand and nearby countries, the food (worth mentioning twice), a very easy lifestyle with lack of responsibility (my only bill was my apartment rent which covered all utilities, I never had to think about not drinking so I could drive since I didn't have a car but could get taxis or public transport everywhere).

I haven't spent much time in Manila, but suggest that on food alone, it is struck out.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:31 PM on March 2, 2012

Bangkok air is really dirty. You can taste the dust, feel it settling in your lungs with every breath. I don't know what kind of lifestyle you're really looking for, and maybe Bangkok would be perfect in a lot of ways, but I wouldn't move there just because of the pollution, and because being in the heat + humidity every day makes it really hard to want to exercise, and hard to run outside (if you care about that at all), unless you plan to do it super early in the morning or late at night. Clean air + exercise/running are important to me.
posted by at 5:06 PM on March 2, 2012

I would take AnnaRat's comments with a grain of salt.

There is much more to Bangkok than "consumerism and malls" - spiritual, non-materialistic wonders and treasures are found all over and around the city of Bangkok, and they are the primary draws for millions of tourists and visitors. The city is far from the 1-dimensional as was described.

As for Manila - it has a great food culture, and many, many international restaurants, with both upscale and mid-market levels. Food is the center of life there, for both the locals and the expats. It is not a "strike out" on food.
posted by Kruger5 at 5:49 PM on March 2, 2012

Ah, perhaps I didn't make it clear that there is a lot to do in Bangkok aside from shopping malls, but it certainly does take up a lot of city real estate! I love going along the river and seeing the houses along the canals, and there are some magnificent temples. If you like food, Thais are really into food and you could spend your whole time there checking out everyone's favourite street stalls for their favourite dishes. I would live there again just for the food. There are more art galleries than ever, there are outdoor sports teams if you don't mind the heat, book clubs, writers groups, growing environmental awareness, great food markets, some good music venues, free public exercise classes in most public parks.
posted by AnnaRat at 12:46 AM on March 3, 2012

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