Farang Life in Bangkok in 2012
In that past, I've tried to estimate the cost of living in Thailand. I've now been living in Bangkok for a while, and thoroughly enjoy it, despite the numerous pitfalls which others have discussed in detail. Here are few insights that I've
COST OF LIVING
People including myself have attempted, at great pains, to estimate the cost of a basic Western-style living here. (1-bedroom basic condo, decent food, basic medical care, with no car, no luxuries, and no social life). I've come to the conclusion that we've all been using the wrong method. We've been looking at a list of likely expenses, and adding up the bottom line. Inevitably, this method leads to forgotten expenses that only show up when we're unprepared for them. So instead, I'd prefer to look at the real data. Then suggest a very counterintuitive conclusion that I think most of Stick's readers are missing.
So if I look at my friends here in Bangkok, and account for what I know about their amount of income coming from outside Thailand (i.e. apart from their jobs here), I'm quite confident that none of them are having much fun below about THB85K/month, pre-tax. (By the way, Thai taxes aren't all that cheap, although I've heard that English teachers get a special break. Otherwise, you get a THB90K/year deduction, and pay at the bracketed rate from there. Google "Thailand personal income tax".)
I know one guy who makes THB140K/month. He has a wife and 3 minor wives and has lots of fun, apart from his stressful job. Let's just say that's believable, based on what he was doing when I met him!
I have another friend who makes THB60K for a local company here. He lives with his girlfriend in a decent (but not luxurious) 1-bedroom condo. He says that he can only afford about 500 baht/day for miscellaneous expenses, because between the pair of them, they spend the whole salary otherwise. Granted, she doesn't work for pay, but she does do a lot of the shopping and housework which allows him to go to work everyday and earn money. He has very little free cash for going out.
Yes, I do know some people making the crumby THB30K/month bottom-line English teaching salary. Some of them have external pension money coming in periodically, while others live rough. I certainly don't recommend it.
The top-end teachers make THB200K, as far as I know, but their jobs are very stressful and very difficult to obtain even so.
So what's my counterintuitive conclusion? Basically, that you should not move here at all, expecting to make a living in the local economy, unless you happen to land an expat package which gets you transferred from elsewhere with a salary north of THB100K/month, per person. Most definitely, the best idea would be to have a mix of Internet-based business, annuity/pension payments, stock dividends (not trading income, where you're hopelessly competing with JP Morgan's computers), or bond interest payments. Then either get a part-time job just for a visa, or bus it back and forth every 3 months to Cambodia. (A new 60-day tourist visa costs about THB5K, including hotel nights while you wait. It's extendable for THB1900 for an additional 30 days, in Bangkok, giving 90 days total.)
Oh and by the way, a TEFL English teaching certificate is now mandatory for a work permit, and sometimes even a college degree, depending on which officer interviews you.
But yeah, think of THB100K/month as baseline required income, unless you want to eat dodgy food and live in a dump. You can live here for less, or you can even earn that kind of money here with a high-end teaching credential at an international school, but either way, your life will be too stressful to afford the kind of lifestyle that you're no doubt seeking by trying to move here in the first place.
Now wait! I know, I know, your friend Jack lives on THB40K/month and has fun in Phuket. Good for him. How long can that last, with no funds for medical care, eating crap food, living in a house and getting robbed through the windows, and sucking traffic fumes on motorcycle taxis? Do it if you want, but not on my recommendation.
My biggest shock, after reading the postings here for years, was just how legitimate this place actually is. I came here expecting monkeys who scam at every twist and turn. But I've literally had people run after me, to return the ATM card that I left in the machine. I think a taxi ripped me off by 50 baht once, but otherwise I've always gotten my correct change. At one point, I found that I was overcharged for something on my grocery store receipt, and they refunded my money on the spot. In fact, I wouldn't even be here, but for a dear Thai friend of mine, who dared me to visit Thailand again, to see if it was really as bad as I thought. She won the bet, hands down.
I'm not going to say that this place has no scams. But I think there's a bias in the data because most of the people who write about Bangkok, and Thailand in general, do so from the perspective of tourists. It's as if everyone who visited America just went to New York or Las Vegas, and thereby concluded that all Americans must be a bunch of conniving materialistic bastards. Look, when you deal with hookers and mafia all day, what else do you expect to conclude?
And of course, I'm careful. My hard drive is encrypted. There is no public record of my address. I have no landed phone line. I use Tor to anonymize my sensitive Internet traffic. I change mobile numbers frequently, and always prepay in cash. I don't use SMS for sensitive messages. I don't talk on the phone, opting for encrypted voice chat whenever possible. I don't use social networking sites. I don't invite anyone to my place unless I really trust them. I don't keep bank accounts in my own name, and have my assets offshore. I never eat food that I don't cook myself. And I always sit in the front seat of a taxi, which never fails to scare them into turning on the meter! Use your head.
What can I say? They're all different. But here are a few overall observations:
The hookers are by far the most socially developed. This is unsurprising, considering that their livelihood depends first and foremost on their social skills. But despite what you may think, they don't all just want our money. Some don't want us Western men at all, for whatever reason. Those ones seem to avoid us, preferring Thais or Japanese. That's fine, of course, because we all have our preferences. But it's something to be aware of. Don't take it personally. Anyhow, I do agree that something fewer than 5% of them would make good wives. The trouble is, even if they do genuinely love you, they still need to replace their income somehow. (And by the way, they're making more than you do at your crappy English teaching job, if they're any good at all.) Needless to say, this can create a dependency mentality on their part, and make any long-term relationship a struggle. Not that it's impossible. Just very difficult.
Then there are the office girls. These ladies can be great fun to talk to. But I find that even the best of them are too busy to contribute much to a relationship. And they really lack the social skills that the hookers seem to have. They reschedule dates all the time, and often just don't return calls, even though they gave you a real phone number. On the plus side, they're rarely rude and disgusting like the ogre women we all know back home (not that they're all ogres, but you know what I mean). But still, they're not an easy quarry. And perhaps too much trouble to chase at all.
On the top end, you find the rich girls. In my experience, they come in two camps. One is the over-sheltered type. Really great ladies and well-educated, but without any sexual consciousness whatsoever, and therefore intractable as intimate partners. The other type is the mall bunny, who burns fantastic amounts of money on crap all day, and alcohol all weekend, and would be happy to do the same with your salary as well. When you meet a girl in a high-end club or mall, look at her bag and her sunglasses. If it's a high-end brand, run the other way as fast as you can because she has no sense of modesty or economics. Even if it's fake, just the idea that she thinks that labels are important should scare the pants off you.
So where are the good ones? Well, I think the jury is still out on this one. Although, my own preference is the nice-looking-but-modest girls that you can meet randomly anywhere, especially at the lower-end malls and on the streets. The language barrier with these is often tough, because if they knew English they'd be more likely to end up as office girls or hookers. But it's worth the effort to try to get to know that waitress in the cheap local restaurant, or the cute checkout girl at the store. Just please take my advice, and do not hit on anyone who works where you need to shop all the time, or lives within walking distance of your place. Otherwise, if it goes wrong, you'll have a persistent annoyance to deal with, and potentially violent attacks.
Much better than several years ago. The country seems to be switching toward compressed natural gas and away from horrible diesel. Just don't get a condo facing the road, and by all means, stay close to public transport unless you want to get lung cancer from your daily commute.
Seems pretty clean, to my amazement. Still, I wouldn't drink it, even after boiling.
DSL is world-class. Best connection I've ever used.
3G mobile is crap, on account of the small deployment radius and frequent connection problems. Hopefully this will improve with time.
There is a huge supply of nice condos, due to robust building in recent years. For THB10K, you can get a respectable studio in a high-rise. These aren't easy to find on the Internet (rarely, anyway), so wait until you visit, and ask some friends to help you. If at all possible, deal direct with an owner, not an agent.
I used to think that all the "organic" food here was fake. But when you see live caterpillars and bits of mold on your cauliflower, you start to realize that maybe they've got the real deal. And if you're really paranoid, you can always just buy imported for a pile of money. They do seem to have a fully functional "cold chain" now, which allows them to receive refrigerated goods from afar without them thawing out in the heat. All the stuff you can buy in the West, for a price of roughly 2X what you'd pay back home, or a bit less if it doesn't need refrigeration.
Beyond that, they even have hydroponic produce here, which you can verify due to the potting media and roots visible in the package.
On the minus side, the surface water is polluted in much of Thailand, particularly after the 2011 floods soaked vast swaths of land with petrochemical effluent. So local root vegetables aren't on my list.
As far as sanitation is concerned, the high-end places do it right, with plastic gloves and proper refrigeration. The street vendors, on the other hand, often touch the peeled fruit with their bare hands, then of course show fruit in plastic bags to the customers.
In addition to the multitude of hazards discussed elsewhere on Stick's site, I thought I'd add one unappreciated risk: street food vendors.
These guys are more dangerous than the mafia. Why?
1. They often don't employ proper sanitation, leading to food poisoning.
2. Their stalls often employ sharp metal poles jutting out into the sidewalk. If you don't look straight ahead at all times, you can end up with a metal pole taking your eye out. My friend had stitches in his head from running into a metal sign.
3. Some of them emit vast quantities of smoke from grills, ruining the air quality for tens of meters in all directions, and single-handedly choking pedestrians and devaluing high-rise real estate by millions of baht for the sake of a few kilos of carcinogenic grilled chicken a day.
Don't "just move" here. Try to find a friend online (not a tour guide or a hooker) who doesn't see you as a source of cash. couchsurfing.com comes to mind. Visit, and see what you think. Pay close attention to places where you might live, work, and shop. Learn a bit of Thai. Chok di!
Sorry, I can't be contacted. Anonymity is the only way that I can afford to be honest with you, and I feel as though I had something that needed saying. Send you own post to Stick if you have something good or bad to say about what I've written, so that we can all see your argument and perhaps learn something new.
I might disagree with the odd small detail, but agree with most of what you say.