It was certainly an interesting column a couple of weeks ago, with a nice little satirical view of the future Bangkok.
I note from that satire the age old debate about whether Bangkok has become less attractive for foreigners is maintained as a theme in your postings. I thought I might add my own perspectives and experiences, particularly since I still maintain a positive view of how things have changed (which I suppose is the bubble syndrome referred to by Hugh Watson in Siam Smiles – Secrets of the Thais). I am not sure if this really fits into your stories section, but is something that I thought you and probably a lot of your other readers would enjoy reading, and I certainly enjoyed writing it and taking some time to reflect on my own experiences and memories.
Essentially, I first arrived in Bangkok in 1983 as an expatriate kid and spent years growing up there, with both foreign and Thai friends. Since leaving, I've continued to visit regularly, often living in country for one to two months at a time.
I'll start off by describing how Bangkok was in 1983, which in addition to providing some interesting history, will help set the scene about the positives and negatives of the time and also for a comparison of what has changed. First off, the city looked nothing like it does today. There were only a few skyscrapers, such as the Chokchai building and Bangkok Bank building both on Sukhumvit, and there weren't that many apartments taller than 8 floors. There were only a few shopping centres: two Thai Daimarus, Siam Center (which was really boring then so no one went there), one Robinsons outlets, and a few outlets of Central, with the only decent ones being Central Chitlom and Central Plaza. There were not too many western food options either. There were heaps of the traditional Thai curry places and street stalls, but not much that served a standard of Thai food that a newly arrived Westerner could handle. There were a small handful of good or reasonable Western restaurants at the time though, but these were scattered around and weren't always easy to find until you became really familiar with the city. There were very few western chain restaurants. Pizza Hut only had 2 outlets: Patpong (Suriwong Rd) and Pattaya. Getting around in Bangkok at that time, you really felt like you were in a third world Asian city and it was unusual to see foreigners in pretty much all places even the central shopping district (which at that time was the area between Central Chitlom and Robinsons / Thai Daimaru on Ratchadamri). The only concentrations of foreigners at the time would be at the US embassy, one of the three main international schools (ISB, Pattana, Ruam Rudi), the British Club, Silver Bell (an NTSC video rental) or at the Sukhumvit 33 branch (the only branch) of Villa Market.
There were many difficulties in living in Bangkok back then, including the feeling of being a bit of a pioneer and therefore a bit out of place. Some of the bigger hassles of the time can be summed up by the following points.
(a) Traffic was really bad in the early 1980s. I only had a short trip down Sukhumvit each morning but the school bus still took over 1 hour. I could have actually walked, but the school would not allow it. There were fewer options for resolving congestion problems back then and as a result, people really did just have to live with it and couldn't seek out alternative routes or modes of transport.
(b) Pollution was bad. Cars used leaded fuel and furnace chimneys sprouted all around Bangkok, belching out smoke. There were probably still coal power stations within the city at the time as well, given I recall my Thai guardian at the time telling me that was a big cause of the heavy smog that I had to wake up to each morning.
(c) Double pricing was a problem. Most national parks, temples and places of historic / tourist interest would have a bit of a difference between Thai and tourist entry fees. Of course, the prices quoted were so low that no one really blinked. Taxis were a problem though as there were no meter taxis then and fares had to be negotiated. As a foreigner, it was extremely difficult to get a local rate for any destination. However, other than taxis, I cannot recall too many other commercial operations operating on a dual pricing system. The government was really the worst offender. For instance, restaurants charged the same price as did hotels, as did amusement parks. Rent was a different issue and landlords would of course become opportunistic when they realised a foreigner wanted to rent. Residences located in Sukhumvit that were fitted out to Western tastes were often offered for rent at really high prices compared to Thai residences. That being said, it was still possible at the time to find good townhouses in Sukhumvit with Western style fittings (but not really built targeting Westerners, but middle class Thais) for rent for 4,000 baht per month.
(d) Corruption and red tape were a problem. The worst, so far as I was affected, was the immigration, wherein I had to attend each year for a renewal, with the constant risk that if they didn't like me, they simply wouldn't renew my visa. My visa application was never rejected, but the ability for them to do so presented enough insecurity as to leave a sour taste in my mouth. There were also significant issues with banks, hold-ups and mix-ups with utilities and hassles in dealing with the power-tripping Thai staff at embassies. Banks were the worst as they would receive foreign funds and hold on to them for weeks before acknowledging that the funds had arrived (most likely so they could earn interest on it for those weeks). There would then be hassles in being able to withdraw funds, more hassles in being able to repatriate funds, etc. Basically everything financial was overly regulated, both by the government, and then separately again by the banks.
(e) There were scams to watch out for. Most of the scams seen today existed back then. Tuk tuk drivers, gem shops, commissions, temple closed due to government holidays, tailors, rigged card games, etc all existed in the 80s. <This is one of the things that really pisses me off. These have existed for so long yet they have not been cleaned up! – Stick>
(f) Crime was a problem. Most of it was petty such as bag and jewellery snatchings by motorcyclists and the occasional razor-blade artist or pick-pocket in busy markets and on buses. We were pretty lucky though and our only experiences consisted of a couple of incidents of my Thai guardian being pick-pocketed (only losing minor amounts), one time thieves stole my BMX from the front yard, and a couple of times opportunistic burglars entered our living room looking to snatch and grab because we had left the living room door wide open (in both cases, they were chased away by maids and neighbours).
(g) Dogs. Dog control and the concept of dog pounds and euthanising dogs only occurred in the mid to late 1980s. Prior to then, dogs really did roam everywhere and rabies was a definite problem. We had a rabid dog in our street and people learned to live with it, not doing anything, until the dog was finally killed by a passing truck. You really had to watch out for soi dogs, and a stick was not always enough given rabid dogs had no fear.
(h) Nationalism. Thais were very nationalistic, although, probably due to being non-confrontational, generally did not show it outright. It was regularly apparent though in things they said or attitudes that they took. As a foreigner, our ways and methods for doing things seemed to be looked at as a bit of a novelty and definitely inferior. The two-tiered pricing by the government was only one example of this nationalistic attitude. Difficulties in obtaining visas and strong restrictions on any form of property / car ownership, working within the country etc were other examples. Similarly, in the case of motor-vehicle accidents (and we had some), the foreigner always seemed to be the guilty, who had to prove his innocence. Thai drivers seemed to get away with minor traffic offences such as changing lanes on a solid white line, while we would get flagged down and told to make a donation.
(i) High prices on Western goods. This was due to the incredible tax on imports, plus transport costs, plus lack of supply. As a result, trying to buy purely Western groceries would mean the weekly food bill would be much higher than in the West. As a result, we had to learn to adapt. You wouldn't believe the number of expats who had cooks that made more "fusion" style meals, having to substitute Thai available ingredients for a Western dish.
Notwithstanding the issues I raise above, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Bangkok during the 1980s. I also cannot think of any expats (other than a couple of newly arrived homesick kids) who did not enjoy their time there. It is difficult putting my finger on just why we enjoyed our time in Bangkok then, when you consider all the negatives we had to endure, but I will have a go below, trying to be as honest to myself as possible on what was actually so great about Bangkok.
(a) The expatriate community. I guess you could live in almost any country provided you had a good support network of friends surrounding you. This was certainly the case in Bangkok, where there was a fairly small but well-healed international community that we used to participate in activities with, such as going to the Royal Varuna Yacht club on weekends, or the British Club for a swim or cricket, or a movie at Washington cinema, or the occasional house parties. Another benefit was this group of friends helped put things into perspective as there was always someone else that had gone through the same problem and even if they didn't have a solution, the fact they also had to go through it helped. It should be noted that notwithstanding the expat community, we didn't meet up with them regularly, especially not early on in our stay, so even though this was a positive part of being in Bangkok at that time, it definitely wasn't one of the primary ones, but it was certainly a subsidiary benefit that acted as the icing on the cake.
(b) The Thai attitude of Sanuk. Basically, wherever you went in Bangkok, things generally felt relaxed. For example, going shopping, you would see many Thais also out shopping, purely seeking enjoyment, buying drinks, popcorn, snacks, etc and really making a fun trip out of a simple chore. This also seemed to be the case at restaurants, and anywhere else we went. Thai people went out regularly for the purpose of enjoying themselves, and this created a very pleasant atmosphere with the end result that we too really enjoyed ourselves. Unlike the West, they are also more concerned with avoiding confrontation, so we seemed to experience fewer stressful situations (other than traffic, or where we have created the confrontation / stress ourselves). This was a major factor that enamoured me to Bangkok and definitely shaped the "feel" or atmosphere of the city and made it an enjoyable place to live.
(c) Shopping hours. Shops were open 7 days a week and until 9 in the evening. The Chinese proprietors of our neighbourhood delis were willing to serve us 24 / 7, even if they had already closed up shop, they would open up if we needed anything. In both Norway and Australia, I found restricted opening hours to be a real pain and you could not spend your weekend just hanging out in a mall, not that there would be much to do in there in any event.
(d) Lack of boredom. Even though there were fewer malls and restaurants in the 1980s, I still cannot recall ever being truly bored while in Bangkok. There was always something to do and somewhere to go. If we felt like trying something new, the option was always there. For example, if we had spent too many weekends in shopping malls, our Thai neighbours would recommend we go check out a fair that's just opened up on the outskirts of town. If the weekend market wasn't that great, no problem, check out another one in Ratburi, etc. Temples getting a bit boring, then go check out the museum at Siriraj. I suspect the bigger problem was we actually had too many options of what to do instead.
(e) Feeling alive. This was from a combination of a traffic filled city with constant activity, together with numerous options for activity, and a few really spiffy shopping malls and department stores located nearby. Even simple activities became a challenge that added to this sense of living, such as crossing certain intersections (The Rama IV / Silom intersection was great fun to diagonally cross in 1983) or the adventure of trekking down to Ratchadamri to hang out in air-conditioned malls. Constant change in the city and regular events seemed to expand on this concept of feeling alive. For instance, from 1983 onwards, quite a few new malls and Western restaurants started opening up and each time, there would be large crowds and constant activity. Even more invigorating was the fact that there were so many hidden secrets around Bangkok, that I often felt like an adventurer, trekking around and seeking them out. There was always a thrill to finding something new, and believe me, we made plenty of discoveries, such as a windsurfing lake, called Taco Lake, a little outside Bangkok, or the little radio control car club down my own street in Sukhumvit, or the little Westerner-oriented shops hidden down Sukhumvit side-streets selling hard-to-find goods.
(f) Lack of Western products. This might sound like a negative, but it wasn't. At the time, it was difficult to get Western supermarket items. However, there were plenty of Thai substitutes, and it didn't take long to learn to enjoy the substitute (in many cases, I ended up building a preference for the Thai or Asian products instead). As a simple example, I did miss hubba bubba bubblegum, but learned that the Thai / Japanese fruit filled gum was really addictive as well. Similarly, there was a lot of adventure and plain sanuk in searching out Bangkok and discovering places that sold hard-to-find products. I eventually discovered I could get hubba bubba gum at the US Commissary. Similarly, I was a big collector of Star Wars action figures in the early 1980s and was really disappointed that it was hard to find Western toys in Bangkok, until I discovered a small, unknown department store in Prakanong that actually sold a heap of Star Wars figures. The fact that it was a challenge to find made the acquisition much more enjoyable.
Bangkok has changed dramatically since 1983 and the majority of these changes are positive. Transport has become more modern and there are more transport options available. There are tall, modern buildings everywhere and parts of the Sathorn and Silom areas could be mistaken for any modern first world city. Similarly, some of the shopping malls put many Western malls to shame. The nature of supermarket shopping has drastically changed. The mom and pop local delis have become a rarity and instead everyone buys convenience items at the local air-conditioned 7-Eleven, Tops, Big C, Tesco Lotus, etc. Similarly, Western style supermarkets litter the city and even Villa has branched out with stores scattered all around Bangkok. Electricity, water and telecommunications infrastructure have all improved, and ADSL has become a fairly common option for households, as has cable television. The city itself has expanded dramatically and areas that were once considered the outskirts, such as Prakanong (or at least the original area that was classified as Prakanong, but which is now part of Khlong Toey and Wattana) are now classed as inner suburbs. In addition to a physical change, the demographics of the city have also changed. Even though on an overall population level, foreigners still only account for a fraction of the total, Bangkok has a much more cosmopolitan feel than in the 1980s and foreigners are seen everywhere. I can wander around suburbs and side streets that previously had never glimpsed a foreign presence in the past and it would be no surprise today to see a blond or brown head passing by. Thais will still stare, but they always did.
The negatives that I have observed with the Bangkok of today are listed below.
(a) Traffic. Although traffic is becoming a problem in all major cities around the world, it is still pretty bad in Bangkok and certain events such as a big flood or a truck driver rally can really cause traffic to bank up. Add to that the fact that many people live in outer suburbs and have a long distance to travel to work, and it is not uncommon to hear of people regularly spending two hours in traffic. Putting that aside, the traffic does seem to actually flow these days, whereas in the 1980s, it was quite common to see true gridlock in the inner city areas regularly. Those same areas flow better today. Also, the little bits of technology that are now littered around the city such as digital timer displays at traffic lights and digital maps highlighting congested areas, add a nice touch. For people that are able to live and work along the subway or skytrain route, things really are easy and this option was certainly not available in the 1980s. Back then, to travel from post Ekamai Sukhumvit up to Ploenchit for a bit of shopping at Central Chitlom could be a major exercise. My options were either to stand in a crowded non-air-conditioned bus with people hanging off the windows (air-con buses didn't come into operation until sometime in 1984), or sit in the back of a large songtaew, or alternatively, in a stale-cigarette smelling taxi. In either of those cases, you would be stuck in traffic and the only other way to get there was to walk or take a real risk on the back of a motorbike.
(b) Pollution. Things are much better pollution wise than I can remember, either in the 80s or 90s. Leaded fuel is not used, the coal power plants are no longer in the city, there are practically no inner-city smoke stacks, and the ones that do exist are required to have scrubbers / filters, and therefore the air itself is visually clearer. There are still a lot of harmful chemicals in the air, and there are still plenty of smoke-belching diesel vehicles roaming the city. Visually, things do look better at street level in Bangkok and even the smell is not as bad. It is still bad though and Bangkok air is not something I would want children growing up in. In terms of canals, Khlong Saen Saeb actually seems to have less things floating in it than in the 1980s, although it is still pitch black, so I doubt it is any less polluted, just that people aren't dumping as many large items in it or there is some mechanism of filtering the water a bit more. The most dramatic change is there are fewer open sewers running through Bangkok today and it is less often that I catch that wonderful sewer aroma while walking down any given street.
(c) Double pricing. This is a worse problem than it used to be and the difference in prices is becoming more dramatic. For example, at one stage certain historic sites charged 10 and 20 baht (Thai / Foreigner) for entry, which changed to 10 and 50 baht, then 10 and 100 baht. Last time I visited Ko Samet, the National Park entry fees were 20 and 400 baht and worst of all, the Thais didn't even have to pay their 20 baht! Double pricing does not exist anymore with taxis, thanks to the introduction of meters. In fact, taxi prices felt a little cheaper at the time meters were installed, which probably just demonstrated that I was poor at haggling a price for particular destinations. Taxis still have their opportunity for rip-off pricing via the predators that purposely wait for tourists outside hotels or Patpong / Nana etc at closing time. Most disappointing is that many commercial establishments have honed into the government's lessons on dual pricing and implemented their own systems. For example, Siam Park introduced 200 versus 400 baht for Thai / foreign visitors (but fortunately, most guidebooks did not support this practice and therefore stopped mentioning Siam Park in later editions). Student or pensioner discounts are rarely available at various venues for foreigners (although I suspect this was probably also the case in the 1980s). Sometimes, simple things like internet cafes will require a different foreigner price even if that price isn't listed on the sign, and there are countless similar examples available. I've also found when bargaining today that it is much harder and in lots of cases impossible to bargain down to a local price on goods. As was the case before, property prices still get escalated when a foreigner is interested, although the problem now is property prices in general have become quite high. However, it is possible to negotiate down to what a local will get charged, but the problem is there are a lot more places in Bangkok that seem to be targeted at foreigners and irrespective of whether a Thai or foreigner rents, the price will be high and for nicer properties, the rental prices seem fairly similar to prices for equivalent properties in Australia.
(d) Corruption and red tape. This is still an issue as it was in the 1980s. It is difficult for me to comment on whether corruption is any worse, as I suspect a lot more escaped public scrutiny in the early 1980s. Red tape is still an issue, but it actually seems easier than before, possibly because procedures and requirements are better explained in English and more public servants can actually speak English. There do seem to be a few more hoops occasionally that need to be jumped through for certain types of visas, however, bear in mind that there are also today more options for how to stay in the country compared to the 1980s, and back then I don't think any countries were granted an automatic 30 day visa on entry, or even a 14 day visa. All visas had to be applied for in advance. In terms of regulation of work visas, it seems the opportunities for work visas has declined a bit as more occupations have been placed on the restricted list under the Alien Business Law, and for certain industries, additional regulation has come into place (such as teaching where new hoops will need to be jumped through). I also feel as if immigration and the tax office take a more active role than before, but perhaps this is just because of the increase in foreigners present than any real change, but I don't have any empirical data for comparison purposes.
(e) Scams. The same scams still go on today, although with more tourists per year, more people get scammed. There are also newer scams that emerge as well as new high-pressure sales techniques, although that would be expected. More interesting is the increase in foreigners seeking to scam other foreigners, but I suppose that would be normal for a country where foreigners are desperate to stay, even when they run out of money.
(f) Crime and violent assault. This has increased, and is unfortunately quite normal for increasing urban populations and increasing drug consumption. Notwithstanding the statistics, I have not experienced any real incidents personally other than in the 1980s, but I do occasionally hear of some horrific crimes and it shows how desperate or ruthless some criminals are. Bangkok Thais that I know go to great pains to keep their premises secure, including not only steel bars, but also a loaded gun. That being said, I feel much more comfortable walking through most areas of Bangkok than I do in many locations in Melbourne, Sydney or even Perth, which also experience violent crime. However, what I see on the news in Australia (and what I've witnessed first-hand) suggests more unprovoked attacks occur down under (usually due to alcohol or drugs or a disgruntled ethnic population, such as the Asian female student who was pushed in front of a train by a group of Aboriginal teenagers because she refused to give them change), while Thailand crime seems to be more focused on theft and where murder is involved it is more a case of someone being in the wrong place when the thief was attempting the robbery.
(g) Nationalism. Since Thaksin, Nationalism seems to be a bit more open, such as a television advertisement (I forget what product or service was being advertised) asking Thais if they really wanted foreigners teaching them lessons on a particular topic.
The land ownership position is legally the same as in the 1980s, although more foreigners have found "loopholes" in which to own land. One positive is the law relating to a Thai national who marries a foreigner no longer being able to
own land has been abolished. Given there are more foreigners in Thailand, they are less of a novelty and so Thais have less fear and therefore more willing to show their Nationalistic tendencies and hence more willing to gang up on foreigners
if necessary. I suspect though that given the increase in more undesirable demographics of some of the foreigners now in Thailand, some foreigners are also pushing Thais a lot more and therefore more likely to cause loss of face, put Thais outside
their comfort zone and therefore into revenge mode.
(h) Rising prices. There is no doubting that prices have significantly increased in Bangkok, compared to rises in the West, causing it to catch up to Western prices in many respects. In the 1980s, things were dirt-cheap, but a big reason for that was there were less Western-standard venues and Western-oriented products. Anything imported from the West was really expensive. Today, things from the West are still expensive by Thai standards, but the difference is not that great. However, there are substantially more Western products available and also more Thai products and services that have reached a Western quality. You need to actually really look around to find the original cheaper Thai products, but it is possible and the majority of Thais still have to rely on these cheaper products in order to get by. That being said, there is a growing middle class, who are more willing to shop in a Western style supermarket than an open-air market and they are spending quite a bit more on groceries than they would have in the 1980s. Visiting in the early 2000s, I was surprised to see how many of my Thai childhood friends now lived very Western lives compared to the more traditional lifestyles that they grew up with in the 1980s. The result of course is prices go up. The huge success of tourism has of course been a separate contributor to price rises, for tourism oriented activities, and similarly the huge number of expats who have migrated to Bangkok have meant an increase in Western facilities and amenities. I really don't think we will ever see this trend reverse itself and instead Thailand will simply have prices that everyday will become more on par with the West, at least as far as many Westerners are involved (unless they really want to go native). What is disappointing though is there are cases where there is a price rise towards Western levels, but without a similar increase in quality towards Western levels. This is more a case of an enterprising owner who decides to either use price as a marketing tool (i.e. the price suggests that the product / service / apartment etc must be to Western standards) or alternatively just considers that demand is high enough compared to supply to justify the high price and is then too stubborn to reduce the price when it turns out the demand is not there.
(i) Materialism. This is a factor that bugs me a lot. In the 1980s, things were not too bad and the average Bangkok Thai was not as brand-concerned as today. Take a stroll through Siam Square today though and things are very different. Personalities of many of my friends seem to have changed and in some cases, to such a degree that they are no longer friends. One of the more minor annoyances is lack of mobile etiquette, meaning I could have lunch with someone and they will spend 90% of it chatting to someone else on the phone. Some people become desperate to show off their recent brand-name acquisitions and will constantly name drop and try to, usually in a reasonably indirect manner, make me feel beneath them because I didn't waste my own hard-earned money on such brand-name items. In more extreme cases, some of these friends have done fairly extreme things in order to buy their brand name items, such as dating foreigners purely to use them for shopping, expensive restaurants and trips overseas… and then they brag to me about how successful they are and what a great jet-set lifestyle they lead, and rather than take the time to congratulate me on my engagement, spend their time talking about all the different merchandise they have purchased such as the latest iPod, new Macbook, eating at Sirocco, shopping in Soho etc. I am sure you get the idea. This is of course something that is more prevalent in younger generations, but what are these people going to be like in the future. I hope they grow out of it, but who knows.
There are still plenty of positives in Bangkok today and I still think these outweigh the negatives, at least for me.
(a) The expatriate community. While this is no longer the same as what it was in 1983, the expatriate community today is still a positive for me. Firstly, several of my friends from the 1980s still live in Bangkok and it is always fantastic to catch up with them. In addition to this, there are a substantial number of more recent arrivals to Bangkok and I have met some great and interesting people. Of course, there are a lot of dregs that have arrived as well, but then again, I meet them elsewhere too, and it is just a matter of learning who (and where) to steer clear of. Just as it was in the 1980s, there are really still only a few places that represent good opportunities for meeting and making high quality friends, but there are now also lots of places where you can meet people that probably wouldn't make the best of friends, so I guess there is a caution factor there. I suppose that given the large number of expats in country today, things have kind of lost that pioneering feel to it and the exclusivity no longer exists.
(b) Sanuk. This still exists and I don't know if it has really changed in spirit, although the options for sanuk have varied a bit. This theme is still a big factor for why I enjoy the country and I don't see this theme disappearing anytime soon.
(c) Shopping hours. This hasn't changed either and is still a major plus. I note that some regulation has been imposed on closing times for other establishments, and although it hasn't had a significant effect on me as I don't often go out drinking all night and rarely go clubbing, I have felt it from time to time and it does suck, but for me, the shopping centres and the 24 hour 7-Elevens have more of an impact.
(d) Lack of boredom. This has gotten better since the 1980s. Bangkok is even less boring today than 1983, in a substantial way. Shopping centres, for instance, now provide so many more options for entertainment. Due to budget airlines, it is easier to get around the country for little weekend trips to islands, resorts, spas, waterfalls etc. National highways are better. I'll admit though that some of the options that I used to enjoy when I was younger, such as Ocean World in Bang Saen, or the beautiful clear water of Ko Samet, no longer exist, but there are more options to replace those. With the advent of better transport options such as the skytrain, it also means less time stuck being bored in traffic.
(e) Feeling alive. This flows on from lack of boredom. Bangkok today feels like it has even more life than it did in the 1980s. There are now popular international bands that include Bangkok on their world tour circuits, there is the Bangkok Film Festival (and a few of the local made flicks are pretty good too), there are some great places to hang out in during the evenings, and new places regularly opening up, such as jazz bars, Mexican restaurants with great food, there are some fantastic high quality cinemas, etc, all in the one city and most things actually within close proximity. This allows me to live a substantially more enjoyable lifestyle than when I am back in Australia or Norway.
(f) Quality of food. Food quality has significantly improved and Western standard items are available everywhere. I even quite like the real cheap 7-Eleven sausages if I'm ever up for a bit of a snack or need a quick breakfast. Despite prices having increased in Thailand, I still find food to be excellent value for what is paid. For example, 13 Coins offers some really nice food at really cheap prices. For the cost of a really good 13 Coins meal (several courses), in Australia, I would really only be able to buy a quarter-pounder value meal at McDonalds, and in Norway would probably only manage to get the fries for that price. Alternatively, for a bit more, I would only get third-rate food hall food in Australia, of a quality that doesn't even make it worthwhile to have eaten out. Similarly, some of the Japanese chains in Bangkok are absolutely superb with really low prices. When in Perth, I regularly eat at a nice little Japanese restaurant which does a great wafu steak, but the price for just the one steak would cover a multi-course meal for four at Fuji, and to be honest, I actually feel like the beef tastes better at Fuji, and better again at Zen where I can even select the nationality of the meat.
(g) High-class shopping. I'm not really a snob, but I do enjoy my toys and I do have some expensive tastes. What I like about Bangkok shopping today is the selection of products has definitely improved. I find that I often do have to look around a bit, but that is half the challenge. With the better shopping centres such as Emporium and certain parts of Siam Paragon, I do really enjoy the atmosphere created and it's often fun going on a shopping splurge. Of course, once in awhile there are some interesting attitudes by some of the staff, e.g. one time at Paragon when I wanted to buy some dolls for a niece, I had a real hard time getting served and even when I succeeded, there were no smiling faces and I felt like I had rudely interrupted something important for them. Of course, this treatment is nothing compared to some of the trolls I have had to endure in Australian department stores, where I have literally had some wonderful verbal slanging matches.
(h) Accommodation. Things were okay in the 1980s and at that time I lived in what would be classed as a very middle class style townhouse. It had proper Western bathrooms, air-con, hot water (and water pump to ensure sufficient water pressure) and a semi-Western kitchen (a bit cramped, with lack of preparation space, but otherwise, everything there). Living options today in Bangkok are absolutely fantastic. Yes, they cost more than in the 1980s, but then again, property prices have gone up substantially all over the Western world too. I do consider rent, particularly for selected condos and houses in the most expat centred areas to be a bit high, but what you generally get is really nice. The rates for serviced apartments are also pretty good and this really is the best of both worlds in that you don't have to hire a maid nor have a big enough apartment to house a maid, and you get things tidied up daily.
I could come up with more items for each list, but I think I've covered the main ones that impact my own emotions regarding Bangkok. I have to admit that I miss the Bangkok of 1983 as there were some magical qualities that existed then that no longer exist, such as there being more challenges as a foreigner and therefore things were more of an adventure and you felt more like a pioneer. As an expat group, the circle of friends was a bit closer and relationships perhaps deeper. As I'm sure I've highlighted, the pros of that period did outweigh all the negative aspects. There were some aspects, such as feeling alive and the concept of sanuk that really made Bangkok a much better place to live in compared to the Western countries I have lived in.
I am convinced that Bangkok today is even better than it was in 1983, in many cases, for reasons that I would not have expected. Many of the original pros, such as sanuk, feeling alive, lack of boredom etc continue to exist. In addition, there are many new benefits that have made the city more modern, even more exciting and provided even more conveniences to living there. Almost all the things that I like about the West I can now find in Bangkok, and as a bonus, I can still enjoy all the Thai aspects that I always enjoyed. There are of course many negative aspects to Bangkok and I have definitely considered those, but still consider the positives heavily outweigh the negatives. This is a list of my own reasons for enjoying Bangkok and there will be many who have a different outlook, different priorities, different circumstances, and different experiences, all resulting in a different opinion of the city. I have lived a relatively broad range of lifestyles in Thailand (including roughing it on a rice farm in Surin province), and I have found the best way to survive the negative aspects of Bangkok is with a positive attitude and an open mind. If I'm living in a bubble, as some writers might suggest, well its been 25 years and that bubble still hasn't burst.
I really enjoyed hearing abut Bangkok 25 years ago. It sounds like in the decade before I arrived here Bangkok changed markedly and many traditions disappeared, only to be seen in the provinces. It would have been nice to experience and know the Bangkok you did.