Living and Working in Bangkok Accommodation
Bangkok has a huge range of accommodation options from houses to apartments, guesthouses to hotels, condos to mansions. Foreigners staying long term generally initially choose an apartment over a house because they are more readily available and tend to be cheaper to rent as well as being more secure. The cheapest apartments start at about 1,500 a month but really, that gets you little more than a dive, a place with four walls and a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. You might not even get a fan and you'll almost certainly be sharing the bathroom which is down a dark, dirty corridor with all of the other unlucky souls who have found themselves in such inauspicious surroundings. Fortunately, few Westerners end up in such digs. At the other end of the scale, prices can go up to and exceed 200,000 baht a month for the most luxurious executive properties.
My attitude is that you battle a lot in Bangkok and that the environment can be, while certainly not hostile, shall we say "a challenge", that the place to stay should be as nice as you can realistically afford and with a bit of luck, tranquil and relaxing. Your rent will probably be your biggest expense but in my opinion it's worth spending a little extra to get something that where the feeling is right. Decide where you want to live, which will probably be largely dictated by where you work (of if you are retired, by where you tend to hang out), and then start searching in that area. Take your time and look at as many places as you can before making a decision. If at all possible, talk to other foreigners who are staying in the area / building and see how they have found it. Ask them about any problems they may have had and how those have been dealt with by the apartment staff.
Searching for and selecting the ideal rental property in Thailand is not that different from the West. Look at the upkeep of the premises. Are things clean and maintained? What is the security like? Are there many guards? Can anyone wander unchallenged into the building / compound? Is there a car park and is it secure? The principles of accommodation hunting in the West apply in Bangkok too.
Whatever you desire in terms of accommodation, Bangkok has it. From executive condominiums, fully serviced apartments and luxury houses to cheap and nasty, dimly-lit rooms in slum neighbourhoods where you couldn't swing a cat, Bangkok offers a huge choice and rage of accommodation options. The nature of accommodation in Bangkok with the city centre full of high rise apartments and the suburbs full of houses means that most Westerners go for an apartment over a house. Apartments are both plentiful and affordable while houses, in central areas at least, tend to be a lot more expensive. If you could find a house to rent in downtown Bangkok you'd probably have a heart attack at the asking price, a reflection of the land prices in the downtown area. Notwithstanding this if you don't mind living out on the edges of the city, houses in the suburbs can be surprisingly good value for money. The problem is that Bangkok is a very large city and this could put you quite a distance from downtown as well as other areas.
The Sukhumvit Road (pictured below) area has traditionally been the location where Westerners have settled for a medium to long term stay in Bangkok. It's an area with a lot of hotels, farang-oriented businesses with book shops, restaurants and bars as well as entertainment areas and is home to some shopping centres. It's not known as the farang ghetto of Bangkok for nothing. The familiarity that many Westerners have with this area from previous visits as a tourist makes it an easy option.
Sukhumvit Road is longer than you think…it goes all the way down to Pattaya and beyond, more than 150 km away, but for all intents and purposes here, we'll just discuss the section of it in Bangkok. The start of Sukhumvit Road at the expressway just west of the JW Marriott Hotel, sees it in a very central area and as you'd expect, property prices in this area are high. Still, as is the case in Bangkok, you can still find some remarkably god deals if you are prepared to look hard. Anywhere between that section of the expressway and Soi Asoke (Sukhumvit Soi 21) is generally going to be fairly expensive because you're paying for the location. The further down Sukhumvit you go (as the soi numbers get higher), generally the prices of accommodation fall, although there are some upmarket neighbourhoods that break this rule such as some of the sois around the Emporium shopping centre where a lot of Japanese live (as with most everywhere, wherever the Japanese are found, prices tend to be much higher than elsewhere) as well as the upmarket area of Soi Thonglor, home to some very expensive apartment buildings and many well-to-do Thais and successful foreigners.
Sukhumvit Road, where many Westerners choose to live.
Like much of central Bangkok, traffic on Sukhumvit Road can be a nightmare, especially when it rains. You can find yourself stuck and unable to get anywhere in a hurry. Still, as long as you are no further down than Sukhumvit soi 77 (Soi Onnut), you're never going to be too far from a skytrain station.
The Thai word "soi" is one you will hear frequently in Thailand. Streets running off a main road in Thailand are called sois and they are numbered. The odd numbered sois are on one side of the road and the even numbered sois on the other. The numbering system on Sukhumvit Road is a little irregular so on one side on the road you may be at soi 39 but directly opposite, it is soi 24.
While you can find reasonably priced Thai food and general services anywhere in Bangkok, the lower numbered Sukhumvit sois (read: West of Soi Asoke, sois 1 – 19) are a major tourist area featuring many big name hotels such as the JW Marriott, the Sheraton Grande and The Landmark as well as being ground zero for much of the Westerner-orientated naughty nightlife area of Bangkok. With this in mind, prices in the are quite a big higher than further down Sukhumvit Road. There are a lot of more expensive restaurants and other tourist-oriented businesses. Much of what is for sale in the area between Emporium up to the expressway above Sukhumvit soi 1 is more expensive than many other parts of Bangkok. You can live in this area on the cheap – there are inexpensive apartment options and cheap food vendors in the area – but you may have to look a little harder than elsewhere, and be a bit further away from the main road. Having said all of that, there are some excellent restaurants in this area so if you are happy to spend extra, the area may just appeal.
For me personally, Sukhumvit just has too many foreigners for my liking and there is a bit of a Sukhumvit clan like in the area. I often feel that many of never really escape Sukhumvit to go anywhere else and I guess they don't have to because just about everything one wants is there. But then that is not my idea of fun and hanging out with other foreigners all the time and eating Western food is not the reason that I came to Thailand in the first place.
My preferred area to live used to be Patumwan, specifically the area surrounding Siam Square and the MBK shopping centre. What I liked about that area is that one is close to major shopping areas meaning not just regular shops but supermarkets and restaurants too. There are a number of living foreigners in the area and many of them are there because they are one of the number who want to live in a central area but explicitly want to avoid Sukhumvit. I lived in that area for 5 years before moving, part of the decision made because I felt that I lived a lifestyle that was somewhat like a tourist, the convenience of living there really is that good! Other than the fact that I worked in a central area, it's close to the major shopping centres, is a short bus / sky train ride to the areas popular with farangs at night, but perhaps most importantly, from this area you can easily take one of a number of forms of public transport to virtually anywhere in the city. Many Westerners I know living here have followed a similar pattern to me where by they started off their Bangkok life living in a central area such as Patumwan or Sukhumvit but in time gravitate out towards the suburbs where you can get a bigger place for less money. Nowadays, almost everyone agrees that the best place to live is a maximum of 10 minutes walk to any skytrain station. 10 minutes is ok but anything more than that and one starts to sweat a lot – and that is hardly ideal if you are on your way to work. With this trend, the prices of accommodation on or within walking distance to the skytrain have soared but for some strange reason, rental prices have not moved much at all. Funny that.
If time is of the essence, or you are new to the city and hopelessly disoriented, you can also enlist the services of a property agent to help you find a place. There are many agents all over the city. Traditionally they used to be Thai nationals who advertised daily in the Bangkok Post and their tools of the trade consisted of a mobile phone and a car but the modern Bangkok real estate agent has a website with a number of listings and a car and driver. The agent has a number of properties that they have agreements with and they will run you around all over the city showing you all sorts of places in the area / price range that appeals to you. You do not pay them directly so if they are unable to find something that you like, their service is essentially free – though some of them might get a bit shitty at you because Bangkok traffic being what it is, it is conceivable that they could spend all day with you, with only enough time to show you a handful of places, none of which you like! Generally what happens is that for every placement they make, they get an effective commission of one month's rent. They are paid by the apartment building if they introduce you to a building and you decide to take out a contract. Note however that this may reduce your chances of bargaining down the price.
Although cheaper places exist, you will probably need to spend 3,000 – 5,000 baht to get somewhere very basic and not too far out in the sticks. 3,000 – 5,000 baht will get you a small (about 20 square metre) studio apartment in the central areas or a slightly more spacious (35+ square metre) apartment further out. Places in this price range are strictly English teacher material! Obviously, the further away you are from Central Bangkok, the cheaper the cost of accommodation gets but even then, and possibly contrary to what you have heard, 5,000 baht will never get you anything great in Bangkok. Paying any less than this and you are starting to look at some real doss houses. The cheapest place I have ever seen was this room for 1,000 baht a month – to say it was awful would be a major understatement. We are talking about a single room in a shophouse that had been divided up into lots of smaller rooms, all rented out at a mere $US 20 per month! Yeah, $20 gets you a few square metres and NOTHING else. Paying around 10,000 baht will get you a reasonable, centrally located studio around 30 – 40 square metres that should be nicely furnished including TV and fridge. You usually need to pay more than 10,000 baht if you want a newish, centrally located place with either a separate bedroom or kitchen or both. As a rough guide, figure around 15 – 25K baht for a pleasant, clean, secure centrally located one bedroom apartment, 20k up for a centrally located two bedroom place. Obviously, the bigger the place, the better the facilities and the better the location, the more you will pay, so these prices should be looked at as a guide and no more. Note: In many of the smaller places, particularly studio apartments, kitchens are not that common. Space is obviously at a premium and Thais may find it easier to eat out – and it may even be difficult to cook in for less money (and that is forgetting time and hassle) than you can eat out! Balconies are nice but too often the balconies in apartments in Bangkok are so small that you can barely fit one or two small chairs out there. Still, if you can get a place with a balcony, you can sit outside, sink beer and bitch and moan about life in Bangkok while watching the nice sunsets like this one pictured here from a friend's old place. Bangkok pollution being what it is, if you are in a centrally located area, it is best to keep your balcony closed most of the time as you wouldn't believe the amount of dirt and crap that can build up. If you wash your own clothes, a balcony is extremely useful as you can hang your clothes out there to dry.
If you are a professional on a big package, you can get some beautiful fully EVERYTHING apartments from around 35,000+ baht a month and could pay up to, or even well over, 100,000 baht or so per month for something that could only be described as opulent. In a city where the traffic moves at a snail's pace, location becomes even more important and you should consider getting an apartment AFTER you have found a job and know where you will be working. Bangkok traffic is an absolute nightmare and you will want to be as close to where you work as possible to reduce travelling time. Obviously the facilities will vary from place to place but you want to consider the following: Does the apartment have good security, a restaurant, laundry facilities, a balcony, a gym or a pool? How old is the building? Good security is paramount – the other services are really to your personal preference. I also believe the "culture" of an apartment building is important. Try and look for a building with a mix of both Thais and foreigners – this type of apartment building will be geared for providing service to foreigners, notices and bills will be in both English and Thai etc. (Alternatively, you may want to be in a predominantly Thai occupied building which is fine if you want to save or simply don't have a lot of money.) Unless on a real budget, I don't think it would be a good idea to be the only foreigner in an otherwise all Thai occupied building – unless of course you speak quite good Thai. While most Thais are very helpful, being unable to speak Thai will make is tricky if any issues arise.
There are some really incredibly beautiful apartment buildings in Bangkok but like I've said, the prices are not cheap. I personally like the Evergreen Apartment building on Phyathai, not far from the Asia Hotel. Very good quality everything, right across the board, and for 30 odd thousand you can get something that is really quite nice – and priced reasonably. Moving further up, there are some really nice apartment buildings near Soi Lung Suan, the road that runs down from Central Chidlom to Lumpini Park. This is prime real estate, right in the heart of the city, convenient to most place and thus some of the buildings in this lane are very expensive and you could easily be looking at 100,000 baht a month for apartments in this area. All around town, you'll find various upmarket buildings. Bangkok is a little unusual in that you often find a really good building in a very average area, or vice versa!
As far as cheap places go, there are virtually unlimited options, though these places tend to have higher occupancy rates and tend to be full most of the time – and it is often chance to get into a really cheap building. Over the last few years, occupancy rates in the cheaper apartment buildings in central areas seem to be either 100% of just a little less. While finances may force you into a cheaper place, try not to go too down-market because the cheaper places are fraught with problems, noise being the biggest one, but security is also a major concern – and as a Westerner you are a real target! Also, it doesn't seem to take long before a building becomes cockroach infested and once you've got them, they are bloody hard to get rid of.
If you do decide to go down-market, there seems to be a big difference in the quality of the apartments either side of the 5,000 baht per month mark. Pay less than 5,000 baht and you get a dump – it's as simple as that. I have yet to see anything reasonable for under 5,000 baht and really, this is for poor teachers only. The average Westerner wouldn't dream of such a place in the West and I am shocked that so many Westerners live in such places here in Bangkok. Still, that is their choice and not mine… Between 5,000 and 10,000 you are generally looking at something basic, something which could be considered satisfactory, but really no more than that. One thing you most definitely need to consider is the type of people living in your building. In the cheaper places, you get the Thais who are perhaps not so well off and some of these folks tend to lead a lifestyle that doesn't make them the ideal neighbour. You might find them up all night, with the TV volume turned right up or God forbid singing karaoke while piling into cheap Thai liquor. They may have undesirables around playing cards or they might get the whisky out at 3:00 AM. Their friends may come and go at all hours or in a worst case scenario, they may be a bunch of service workers who return in the middle hours of the morning every day. Basically, this can keep you awake at night and for me, there are few things worse than a bad nights sleep. On top of all of this, as a farang in such a building you may be a target for theft, whereas in a better building, the chances of theft are far, far less. Many people have a great time in the cheaper apartment buildings and it is a great way to meet down-to-earth Thai people and make some Thai friends, but for me, the cons outweigh the pros and I would rather a pay a bit extra to avoid any of the potential – and often inherent – problems.
The sweet spot for apartments for foreigners in Bangkok seems to be in the 10,000 – 20,000 baht per month bracket and in the last two or three years it has become quite difficult to find vacancies. It seems that when a Westerner has a place in this price range and moves on, on or other of their friends is ready to step straight in, meaning that it never actually becomes available on the market as such. In the late '90s it was very easy to find such apartments but like I say, now, in 2005, it is much more difficult.
Reality check: You might be surprised at exactly what is termed an "apartment" in Thailand. Often it is just a 20 square metre room with an add on toilet / bathroom. Back in the West, if someone says apartment to me, I think about a nice lounge / living area with full sized kitchen, bathroom, a couple of bedrooms and of course, a decent balcony. Of course, such apartments are available in Bangkok but a new one in a good location will be quite expensive.
Be wary of slightly older apartment buildings. Once an apartment building is several years old it can become a hive for cockroaches and other undesirable pests. The better apartment buildings will spray the entire building including each room every month and this service should be free but in the cheaper apartment building, this simply doesn't happen. Don't be shy to buy lots of insecticide and use it liberally because once you have got cockroaches or other unwelcome guests, it is really hard to get rid of them!
I don't know if it is me, but I have had terribly bad luck buying groceries at some of the minimarts operating on the ground floor of apartment buildings. Whenever I buy Coke it seems to be flat, ice-cream is stale as are potato chips and other products invariably have some problem, often due to age. Turnover of stock in some of these stores can be very low and as the minimart is often just run by the apartment building (and not privately managed), rotating stock is not always a priority. With that in mind, stick to supermarkets for your groceries where possible – and the supermarket will be cheaper too!
A swimming pool is always nice, like in the apartment building pictured below. In the heat of Bangkok, it is very relaxing to come home to a place that has a pool and go for a later afternoon dip. And in such a hot climate, swimming is one way to get exercise. Full marks to those guys who run here. I tried it a couple of times and gave up. It's just too hot!
If you want to use the internet, the telephone will be important to you. Most apartment buildings have a limited number of phone lines so when you make a call, there will be a time limit after which the call gets cut off and you have to dial again – and you have to pay each time! Time limits vary between 5 and 60 minutes – hardly enough to keep an internet junky happy. Calls from apartment buildings usually cost 5 baht flat rate for a local call. You can get your own direct phone line installed which bypasses the apartment switchboard giving you 3 baht phone calls with unlimited duration. The two most popular companies offering direct lines are the TOT and True. The installation cost of your own line is about 4,000 baht of which about 2,000 baht is deposit. The monthly rental charge runs at 100 baht per month. Some buildings will allow you to install a direct line in while others will not – some may even have the audacity to charge you an extra 500 baht per month for this (God only knows why – bunch of greedy so and sos…) If you do have a direct telephone line, you will get much better, faster internet connections…and then you can tune in to the Stickman Weekly each week without any problems! Now there's a reason to get a dedicated line!
Most apartment buildings have a laundry within the building where you can drop off all of your smelly, sweaty clothes and get them back in an umm, err, well, you get them back – most of the time! The quality of the work provided by apartment building laundries is variable… Some do a great job while others quite simply butcher your favourite garments. Generally speaking, there are two different types of services, either a per piece charge whereby every piece of clothing has a certain price e.g. jeans 15 baht, shirt 10 baht etc. This service usually includes washing and ironing. The other service offered, and the one which is more popular in the cheaper types of buildings, is a bulk service. Some laundry services have a system whereby they will wash all the clothes that you can throw at them for a certain monthly charge – usually 1,000+ baht per month. Other places have a deal whereby you give them one load (maybe max 4 – 5 kg – whatever the machine can take) and the cost is say around 100 baht. These places have a deal that may be something like 15 pieces for 100 baht. Lastly, and perhaps the most popular is where you pay an upfront cost of around 500 – 800 baht and they will wash anything from 50 – 100 pieces over whatever period of time. The prices vary from place to place, as does the service. Some places will wash and iron, others will only wash. Some will deliver to your room while others you have to go and collect it. I must say that I have had a lot of bad luck with laundry services – and I know I'm not the only one. In summary, I have had some items lost – never to be seen again, items shrunk, white shirts come back pink, the hot iron put on garments that have a warning tag saying expressly not to do that. Basically, if you find a good laundry service, stick with them! And if you have a live in Thai girlfriend, be wary if she wants to wash your clothes by hand as these Thai girls tend to use a hard brush and they scrub and scrub and scrub and while they get the clothes looking clean, the brushes that they use have very coarse bristles and have a tendency to tear the fabric to bits! If you have any favourite or expensive items of clothing, it sometimes pays to wash them by hand yourself, or get a decent washing machine in your apartment and do it there.
When choosing where to live, you also need to consider the price per unit for electricity and water. Generally speaking, the way it works is that the apartment building has a contract direct with the electric and telephone companies whom they pay at the standard rate. However, the rate that the apartment building charges you will invariably be higher and you pay the apartment who tack on their surcharge. The standard power rate as charged by the electric company is 2.61 baht per unit, but many apartment buildings charge their tenants between 3 and 5 baht per unit and this surcharge can really add up! Some of the very low end apartment buildings, usually the real dives, may charge an all inclusive fee which includes water and electricity – though places like this tend to be places without air-conditioning, the most power hungry appliance.
Beware that power for the air-conditioning unit, especially in the hot season, can easily run up to 5,000 baht a month if you have an inefficient air-con unit operating at a low temperature every day and night – and this is worth keeping an eye on if you are on a budget. English teachers take note! Purchasing a fan (500 – 700 baht for a small Japanese brand) will save money because fans don't consume much power at all, especially when compared to an air-conditioning unit. A fan should be the very first item that you purchase and it is better to go for a bigger one, as opposed to one of the smaller sizes. The bigger fans seem to be a little quieter and less prone to breaking down, at least in my experience. Further, the bigger fans are definitely more effective. A couple of fans can be almost as good as air-conditioning. Actually, on the subject of household appliances, where ever possible, try and avoid the cheap Thai brands. The locally made goods are always much cheaper than the imported goods and upon initial inspection usually look ok. However, I have had nothing but trouble with Thai made household goods and now always buy Japanese brand names. Kettles, fans, clocks, basically all of the Thai brand goods that I have bought have died. While I want to support the Thai economy and do my little bit for Thailand, buying goods that later die and then having retailers refuse to honour the supposed warranty has taught me a lesson – buy Japanese! The funny thing is that so many of the Japanese appliances are still made right here in Thailand. Buying cheap goods seems to be a bit of a false economy. I went through four kettles in less than a year, all Thai brands! When buying such appliances, make sure you keep all of the receipts – though remember that unless you bought the item from a large store, a refund may not be available.
A lot of apartment buildings will provide a partial cable TV service to you. When I say partial, I say this as you do not get the full service with all of the channels. The main cable TV provider is True Visions, previously known as UBC. Their standard service provides about 30 odd channels and many of them you can select English or Thai soundtrack. Many apartment buildings offer a limited cable system where in addition to all of the free to air Thai channels, you get a handful of the UBC cable TV channels too, usually all included in the cost of your apartment. The pirate systems, prevalent in so many apartment buildings do not allow you to select the soundtrack language though. Also, the pirate systems usually only have a limited number of channels to select. Still, it is essentially free so wile you don't get the full service, it is nice nonetheless! I am not impressed with cable TV in Thailand. You get a mish mash of material, much of it very old. The sports channels seem to be very big on British football and shirk most other sports. In recent years, their rugby coverage has been very poor, and their cricket coverage virtually non-existent.
In addition to True Visions which is available nationwide, there are a few smaller cable TV providers. Sophon Cable is a Pattaya based operator with 60 odd channels but a lot of them are really obscure and not necessarily the sort of thing that appeals to your average Joe. For example, there is one channel that seems to feature Sikh funerals, that is 24 hours a day of Sikh funerals! For fans of British sports – read cricket and rugby – your best bet is to buy a satellite dish which will set you back around 30,000 baht and then you can pick up South African cable TV which is available for a small monthly fee. That way you get all of the decent British sports as well as some of the other more popular cable channels. I am not a big TV junkie so the poor cable really doesn't bother me but if you like your TV, then Thailand may disappoint.
Apartments usually require a deposit of one month's rent and two month's rent paid in advance. (If you are an English teacher or someone moving to Bangkok without a lot of capital, you need to consider this.) Many apartments insist on a twelve month contract but you may be able to negotiate this. Rates too are up for negotiation but if you are going to be there for a short period of time, they may be less willing to negotiate. Figure on knocking at least 10% off the asking price in places over 10,000 baht a month, and a lot more on places over 20,000 baht a month. Rental rates in the cheaper apartments tend to be less negotiable and dearer apartments tend to be far more negotiable but obviously it depends on many factors – take a Thai friend along for best results if you don't speak adequate Thai or don't really know or understand the market. Of the people that I know who have broken apartment contracts and left early, they have always lost their deposit, even if there was only one month to run – keep this in mind if you are unsure how long you are going to stay. Other than this, Thai proprietors seem to be ok with returning deposits – at least in the experience of both me and my friends. If you are moving into an apartment building without any recommendations from people that you know and trust, it may be an idea to sign up for a minimum contract, just in case. Like many things in Thailand, you never know what might happen and it is nice to keep your options open.
Paying bills in Thailand can be a bit of a nightmare. If you live in an apartment building you will probably pay everything at the end of the month to the apartment building office, with your rent, water, telephone and electricity all easy to pay in the one place, all itemised on the same bill. However, if you are in a condominium or have separate, direct accounts, with the water, telephone and electricity companies, you cannot pay the bill in your condo office. (In some instances you can but that is a different story.) Generally speaking you can pay the bill for various utilities at the office of the service provider, a bank, or in some cases at other locations such as any branch of 7 Eleven. However if your bill is even one day overdue, you can generally only pay it at the office of the service provider, and sometimes not at just any office, but just one particular office. Now this office could be on the opposite side of Bangkok, miles away from where you live. It might not even be the head office. It's a crazy system! The moral of the story is simple do your best to pay your bills on time! Oh, and Thailand is not a cold country so you're not going to die of exposure to the cold. With that in mind, the electric company does not send you out multiple reminders of your outstanding bill as well as reminders of the overdue amount. They just cut you off. Bang, done!
There is a lot of development going on in Bangkok and you should do your best to make sure that none of this is too close to your apartment. If it is, you will not be getting any sleep because construction in Thailand is often a 24 hour a day business!
If you are in the market for executive style apartments, the internet and the Bangkok Post are good places to look as they tend to have listings for the dearer, more upmarket places. Most places that advertise in the Bangkok Post are considered expensive. In addition to all of the websites that have sprung up advertising the rent or sale of Bangkok properties, there is a Bangkok apartment guide that is published and available at book stores like Asia Books for around 200 baht. It is printed on high quality paper and has many luxurious and super flash places available. You know the prices in it are dear as the info is not just in English, but also in Japanese! Still, if you are in the market for an upmarket place, this is another place to look.
The power system in Thailand is not quite as stable as what we are used to in developed countries and power cuts are not uncommon although the power usually comes back on within an hour or so. Such power outages are especially common in the rainy season. I'm not sure what the causes or contributing factors are but the state of the wiring in Thailand is quite unbelievable. Whatever street you walk along it seems to be a veritable bird's nest of wires as you can see in the photograph here, taken in a soi right in the heart of the city!
Strictly speaking foreigners cannot buy property (i.e. house and land) in Thailand but can legally buy condominiums so long as they are on level 4 or higher of a building. There are a few other regulations such as the money must be transferred into Thailand from abroad and there can only be a certain percentage of foreign owned condos in the building. While it is only my opinion, if you are thinking of investing, be careful. The Bangkok property market is totally different to that were used to in the West. The determinants of price are different and buyer behaviour is total different. Many Thais, especially those with money, do not like to buy second hand so while your place might increase in value, it might be very difficult to actually sell it – and you might be forced to try and sell it to a foreigner which makes it a very small market indeed. The property market crashed in Bangkok just a few years ago and with the economy heating up again since around 2003 / 2004, just what is going to happen in the future. Also, we are talking about buying a place in a building here, a building which you have very little control over. The care and maintenance of such buildings in Thailand is not quite what it is in the West and once a building is 20 – 30 years old, just what condition will it be in? If you intend to live in the building for a long time, then perhaps it would be god purchase but property speculation and the option that property increases in value by 10% on average every year cannot necessarily be applied to Thailand. Yeah, odds are, a purchase would probably be a good decision, but then, you just never know what might happen. Me, I'm in no hurry to buy.
I have heard the following story which may or may not be true but certainly sounds plausible. Foreigners with a Thai wife can buy land in Thailand up to a certain size. However, what the foreigner must do is transfer the funds for the purchase of the property into Thailand from an offshore account. Once the funds have arrived in Thailand, they must then be transferred into the wife's bank account and from there, the property can be purchased and it is put in her name. The apparent reason for all of this is that if the marriage later dissolves, the records will show that money for the purchase of the house came from the wife's account and that therefore the property reverts over to her. Like I say, I'm not certain of this one. A number of long term foreigners who want to buy property but are nervous about the anti-foreigner laws that cover property purchases buy a place and put it in their wife's name but then take out a 30 year lease on it in their own name. Others still buy a place and put it in their child's name.
The way the Thais live is a whole lot different to the way that we farangs reside. As the Thais generally have a far smaller salary, they will often be more in one residence than we would be used to. In the case of living in Bangkok, extended families may all live together or in the case of Thais from the countryside who have moved to Bangkok in pursuit of work, they may live three or four to what is usually a very small apartment. Such an apartment, typically 3,000 – 4,000 baht per month may even house an entire family. By night, the floor will have many fold away mattresses laid out as everyone kips down and sleeps on the floor together. In fact the Thais may even sleep two or three of the same family members in the one bed. Farangs living alone is just one of many things that the Thais do not understand about us. They find it particularly strange that we choose to live like this, not just because of the higher costs, but also that we are not scared of ghosts at night…yeah, I'm serious!
It is not that common to find foreigners in a shared accommodation situation in Bangkok. I guess it jut goes back to the fact that accommodation is so cheap in Bangkok and that it is unnecessary to share with others as there is no need to have to reduce the cost. Still, I'm surprised that more people don't do it as you can get some decent three bedroom places for around 20,000 baht a month, and almost all three bedroom places will have a large lounge and kitchen and at least a couple of bathrooms. This offers a nice alternative to living alone in a basic studio for say 6,500 baht a month. Still, my days of sharing are long behind me and I couldn't imagine sharing with another foreigner. Anyway, it is an option and a way to get a much nicer place than you would likely otherwise have. From my experience shared living is more common amongst younger Western females in Thailand, particularly those teaching, than any other groups.
With the cost of labour so low in Thailand, many Westerners have a maid to help keep their place nice and carry out all those awful tasks like doing the washing up and my pet hate, ironing! There are two major options here apart from getting a maid through an agency which costs a lot more. The first option, and this is really only for those who have a lot of money, a big residence, or both, is to get a live in maid. The maid will not only be responsible for keeping the place clean and doing everything from sweeping and mopping the floor to scrubbing the bath etc, but also things like the dishes, the washing, the ironing, pretty much all of the domestic help. Some maids will even do the cooking too. Rates paid to live in maids vary greatly and I have heard of some working for less than 5,000 baht a month, but they also get free board and food. What I perhaps more common is to arrange for a maid to come in each day or perhaps a couple of times a week and to give your place a general clean up along with doing the washing and ironing. How much one would pay a maid for service like this, I am not sure, but I am always surprised at how little these poor women are paid, and I can't help feeling sorry for them. One friend gets a maid in every day, Monday to Friday for a couple of hours each day and she does all the cleaning as well as the washing and ironing. He pays her a bit over 2,000 baht a month, meaning about 50 baht an hour. Some people say that this is a fair wage but I think it is a bit cheap…but that is just me. Personally, I prefer to do all of this sort of stuff myself and the idea of an outsider in my apartment when I am not there is not something that I find thrilling.
One reason to steer clear of the cheaper apartment buildings is that the occurrence of theft in such places is much higher than in the more expensive places. Even if your building has good security with numerous security guards, key card access etc that prevents outsiders from entering, some of the cheaper apartment buildings are home to some decidedly dodgy characters who may take a fancy to some of your goodies. And as a farang, rightly or wrongly, you stand out as a rich individual and an ideal target. Lastly, as bad as it sounds, it is sometimes the security guards who are involved in the theft. I know of a few cases where apartments have been turned over and it was the security guards who did it. This is not common so don't be unreasonably concerned. Actually, I have found most of the security guards to be a great bunch and always enjoy joking around with them.
Most apartment buildings don't allow pets so if you are an animal lover, you will have to consider where you stay carefully. A lot of apartments also don't allow gas canisters for cooking in the units as they are scared of them exploding. Some of the better apartment buildings try to prevent tenants from hanging their laundry out to dry citing that such is an eyesore but in reality, this doesn't stop them!
Of course one doesn't have to live in an apartment and there are plenty of houses to choose from if you desire a larger place. However, unless you have SERIOUS amounts of cash, if you go for a house you are going to be out in the suburbs, a long way from the central city and quite possibly a long way from the skytrain. While most foreigners tend to prefer the convenience of an inner city apartment, houses can represent much better value for money, at least in terms of the size of place you get – and if you have got a family with kids, then the last place you want to be is boxed up in an apartment.
If you look at some of the "deals" offered by Sukhumvit Road real estate agents or some of the fancier agents with websites, you may have a heart attack at the prices for house rental which can range from reasonable money to way over 200,000 baht. Yes, $US5,000 per month up!
But there is no need to fret as houses can be found in the suburbs for around 10,000 baht or so. The advantages of a house over an apartment are obvious and thus don't need mentioning, but the disadvantages are less obvious. First of all, security can be quite a concern and talking with many, many Westerners resident here, most people who have been burgled are those people who lived in a house. You obviously have a garden to take care of although you can pay a small amount of money and have that done for you. If you have a family, a house would be ideal but as a single person – as so many Westerners are in Bangkok – or at least start out that way, a house can be a bit on the large side. Apartments usually come semi or fully furnished whereas houses tend to have little, if any furniture, meaning you have quite an outlay to make, which is fine and dandy if you are planning on staying in Bangkok for a long time, but a pain if you are unsure how long you'll be around for. Admittedly furniture and household goods are a lot cheaper in Thailand than they are in the west. When you first arrive here, a visit to Chatuchak Market would be the way to go as you can get just about everything you need for a new place there. The only problem is you might need a few friends to help you carry it all…
A lot of the houses in Bangkok are within their own complex – gated communities – called a "moo barn" which is Thai for village. These fenced off complexes have their own shops and even their own security so that anyone entering or leaving the moo barn has to pass through a security point. Security guards can also be seen cycling around the moo barn, keeping an eye on things. It is not foolproof by any stretch of the imagination but this does offer a bit more protection than say a stand alone house in a street with other such structures.
If you are wondering about buying a house in Bangkok, you used to be able to buy a place out in the sticks for around 1,000,000 baht – though that would be a very small place – and prices go up from there to sky high levels. In the moobarn (Thai word meaning village or housing estate) pictured above, a typical place like those pictured would go for around 4,000,000 baht up, though there are obviously many, many variables that determine the price of real estate. In reality few foreigners buy houses in Bangkok though a lot of Westerners have bought a house in the provinces. Since around 2003, property prices in Bangkok have really moved upwards. In late 2003, you could pick up a condominium within walking distance of the skytrain with a couple of bedrooms and perhaps 100 square metres in size for around 4,000,000 – 5,000,000 baht. These days you are looking at potentially 6,500,000 – 7,500,000 baht for the same place! Anyone who bought pre-2003 would be very happy with what has happened to the value of their property.